It felt as if that Detective Kruger guy sent the reporters to my house as his own way of sequestering me inside. All evening the reporters knocked on my door to get a statement. I never once opened up.
The fuzzballs and the ceiling stain creature did nothing but stare out the window at the mobile zoo that had so generously allowed themselves to trod all over my beautiful lawn.
Nadia and I generally stayed out of window sight and played board games in the dining room for hours until the ten o’clock news had passed and the reporters began to wave their white flags.
I went to work a little late due to my lack of sleep, but I was pleased to see an empty lawn when I woke up, save for a few soda cans and Twinkie wrappers.
I drove to work under severe paranoia. I imagined that at any second a newsperson would be jumping out from behind a tree and in front of my car with a cameraman on his back and a microphone in hand, shoving it into the window to get a quote. I pictured a pathetic attempt of getting them off by turning on the wiper blades, only smooshing encrusted insects into his face. I saw the cameraman climbing up to the top of the car, ripping a hole through the roof with a chainsaw to make room for the lens and to say, “Did you do it? How did it feel to burn an old lady to a crisp?”
There came up a red light and I stopped short, nearly bumping a woman crossing the street. She glared at me before I made an oops face.
“Spare some change?” The lopsided bear knocked on my window.
“Argh, I’ve already told you…” This guy had brown fur. Beverly mentioned brown fur in her description. She never said what size it was. I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. “Hey wait a sec, let me ask you something…”
The creature bolted away from the car after a terrified look crossed his fuzzy askew face.
“Hey wait! I just want to talk!” I peeled out and around the block, cutting through the red light, the camera flashing a picture of my license plate. The creature was visibly terrified, bounding down the sidewalk, every few seconds looking behind him. His fur began to matt with sweat. He pumped his arms as if her were a marathon runner or exaggerated cartoon character. I drove keeping pace, but rode contemptibly, yelling at pedestrians and an old woman driving a Cadillac, veering into one or two rear view mirrors. The creature kept its peripheral eye on my car the whole time. I tore around the block, driving past the whooshing noise of the oaks that had been planted perfectly apart half a century before.
The bear ran fast, and would scream shortly every time he turned his head to look at my car.
“Eeee!” He squealed exactly how you would imagine if a lopsided giant bear-thing could talk. “Maaa!”
He maneuvered like he had invented it, never needing to see where he was going, weaving in and out of people, trees, dogs, mailboxes, long legs, bicycles, and other miscellaneous things one might find on a sidewalk.
“Meeep!” I pulled over as he turned down a dead end street. Some unsightly creature in the bushes laughed at his impending doom, shaking the stems as prison bars while I ran to corner him in.
“Hey man, why are you running away from me? I just want to talk.” I panted, and was aware but didn’t care that some people were beginning to eavesdrop and spy out their windows.
“This Is A Neighborhood Watch Community,” the sign on the corner said.
He saw me and froze. He looked over my head, his frown turning down further, his fuzz quivering and trembling in terror. I turned quickly, falling for what could have been a trick, when behind me a fuzzy brown thing flying faster than I could barely take a glance at was… a moth.
“A moth? Seriously?”
“What was that?” The bear was in total panic.
“I don’t knowww!” he wailed, trailing the know out to short pathetic sobs.
“Ok, Ok I’m sorry.” I patted his shoulder (even without my handy bottle of Purell) and said, “We have to go. We’re starting to gain an audience and I’ve already been in the news once already today.”
I grabbed the melancholy hairsack’s paw and led him back to the main street, nodding at the glaring neighbors, phones in hand, as we passed. His hand was trembling as we left the dead end.
“Want to go for a ride? I swear I’ll be nice.”
Without hesitation he shook his head no. He seemed in shock and speechless. He gave me a hug.
“Dude, it was just a moth.” I reached into my pocket and handed him a dollar. He took it swiftly and crumpled it into the palm of his hand with a smirk.
“Do you have a name?”
“What is it?”
The bear turned away and began to walk down the sidewalk. He looked back for a second and beckoned me to go with him.
My phone vibrated. WHERE R U? said the text from Veronica, one of my girls.
LATE, I texted back.
Veronica instantly responded, THEY R LOOKING 4U. I hate abbreviated texts.
TELL THEM TO F@$* OFF
NO. STOP TEXING AT WORK
Apparently my troubles were far from behind me, but I had this gut feeling that if I followed this giant faux teddy bear I was going to be somehow leading myself to redemption.
I trailed behind him mostly, until I walked into someone who was walking toward him and almost ran into me. It’s hard to see in front of a giant invisible bear.
“Where are we going?” I asked simply, to no response.
We walked for some time. I wished we drove. The idea of walking all the way back to my car was not my most anticipated. The neighborhood changed slightly from suburban main street to just over the tracks main street- not the worst, but definitely not the greatest. I saw a man pick a cigarette butt from a garbage can ashtray and moved up closer to my guide.
“We almost there?” He nodded, and pointed to a little storefront neatly nestled in between two vacant shops with broken windows. “Thangadurai’s Tea?”
The creature nodded.
The outside glass was tinted an opaque orange, an unfriendly broken plastic sign hung above the beaded door. The creature went in first, the beads violently clacking together, the tiny ting of the bell announcing his presence. I followed closely behind.
“Buttercup!” welcomed the shopkeeper. “Always good to see you my friend!”
Buttercup stepped aside.
“Dick, actually.” The Indian gentleman appeared friendly but hesitant. I watched as his smile twitched as he tried to retain one expression. I made like I was a normal.
“Actually my friend I call everyone Buttercup! Always good to have a new customer, you know!”
Sure you do, I thought.
His accent was thick but decipherable, and he raised his hands as he spoke, palms forward. “How may I help you today? Hm? Looking for some special blend tea? A pull or two on the hookah, hm? Some of my regionally famous curry?”
“I watched the man as he spoke, instantly recognizing his eyes darting from my face to the bear’s. The creature stood aside quietly as if practiced, observing our conversation and waiting for one of us to make a move.
I turned to him and said, “Buttercup?”
“Are you a girl?”
Buttercup pouted and the shopkeeper chimed in. “Buttercup is asexual.”
For the sake of identification I’ll call Buttercup he.
“I haven’t really talked to another one of us,” I said frankly. I really hadn’t. I’ve seen some people here and there interacting or at least what seemed like it on the street. Over the years I’ve mistaken schitzophrenic and crack-addled for creature-seers, all of which were horrible encounters.
“Then today is your lucky day. Come, come!”
The shopkeeper took Buttercup and myself behind the counter to a dark back room that reeked of flavored tobacco, chai, and curry. Buttercup plopped down familiarly on the deep soft couch and glanced around satisfied. He oozed of excitement when the shopkeeper handed him his usual blend of tea in exchange for the crumpled up dollar I had gave him prior to our visit.
“Everybody has their vices, even the unseen ones. This is exciting, no?”
I nodded and sat on another couch. Overwhelmed, I felt faint, there were so many questions and comparisons I wanted to talk about, though he probably knew just as much as I had. The shopkeeper disappeared around the counter and pulled out a bowl of curried chicken and rice prepared just prior pending the anticipated guest.
He handed it over to Buttercup, who promptly slurped up every last bite, licking the bowl and sitting back in sate.
“Thangadurai,” said the shopkeeper, extending his veiny hand to mine.
“Dick Dickson,” I said shaking his hand. “I don’t know how to approach this conversation.”
“Well Mister Dick Dickson, let’s pretend we already know what each other is thinking or know or have seen and spoken to.”
“That works for me.”
“Buttercup comes to me all the time for my delicious teas and cuisine like clockwork, hm. Always in the morning before I’m really open. I’m surprised he actually paid me a full dollar! Ha! Usually it’s pennies he finds on the ground, very Bohemian mm hm.” Buttercup nodded in agreement.
“I gave him that dollar,” I said. “He knocked on my car window. He always knocks on my window for change. He’s pushy, needy. I don’t even give change to people panhandlers, it annoys me.”
Tangadurai seemed disappointed. “They are not needy, they are lonely. Buttercup was friends with an old man many years ago who made him tea all the time. He died. Now he comes here because it’s nostalgic and comforting. It’s not his fault.”
“I guess. Are you Catholic?”
“Protestant.” I wasn’t sure about Protestant guilt. “I saw you on the news,” he said, sipping his cup of oolong. “I know it wasn’t you.”
“Do you know something?”
“Not exactly, but I have seen this before.”
“So has Buttercup over there.” Buttercup opened his relaxed eyes and attempted to get up quickly from the couch, resulting in a stumble and a plop back down. “Why’d you take me here if you didn’t want to talk about it?”
Buttercup pointed to Tangadurai.
“He wanted us to meet I suppose,” he said. “What have you seen?”
“Right before we came, Buttercup knocked on my window asking for change. I thought he might have been the culprit. Seems as if the culprit had possibly had brown fur, you see, so I asked him to talk and he ran away…”
“I got spooked!” defended Buttercup. “ I saw that thing, on top of your car! A-a-and when you were chasing me it stayed on the car. Hooked itself on! That’s why I ran!”
“That was a moth.”
“It scared me.”
“Did you see it?” asked the shopkeeper.
“The moth? Yeah but I highly doubt that’s anything to be concerned about.”
Buttercup seemed like he had something important to say, but didn’t want to say it, sinking into the sofa like a punished child.
“Something wrong buddy?” I asked, wary of his expression.
“No,” he quickly answered. “Gas.”
Tangadurai blinked at the bear before going to the kitchen to get more chicken. “Think the moth had anything to do with it? Sometimes we see things and think it it something else. Was the moth a creature?”
“I don’t think so.” Could have been. Was it? “Buttercup?”
He shrugged. “M’dunno.”
Tangadurai sunk into an old pilly purple papasan and contemplated quietly.
I felt a little paranoid about this thing that Buttercup was so afraid of. Why was he so afraid of it? Harmless. Stupid bear was probably afraid of everything. Probably only a plain old common moth, wasn’t it?
I had a flashback.
It was maybe ten years before I had been conversing with a creature in my apartment at the time. She was a medium sized critter, not the most attractive. She lived at the bottom of the building’s garbage chute to get lazy access to rancid sustenance. I’d seen her roam the halls and knock on doors in an attempt to ask people for more broken eggs or chicken legs (she had an affinity for fowl products). I decided to be neighborly and invite her in for garbage, letting her have her pick of the rotten litter.
She ate happily, slurping moldy by-products while making heavenly noises. “Mm! Oh! Mm this is good…”
It was disgusting.
When she had her fill we talked about the neighbors and the things he found in their garbages. I generally hate small talk and making friends with creatures, but this was too easy access to my weird neighbor’s skeletons. She was good conversation, and I got drunk on tequila as we spoke.
“You know Betsy, from down the hall? Apartment 603?” She went on. “Well, honey, she has the worst taste in food, and men! Every other week there is a new shredded photo of some loser she probably went on a few awkward dates with. There’s almost always dried up roses or half eaten boxes of chocolates, and by half I mean each piece of chocolate is half eaten, the cow. She must be such a freak or just picks the worst! One time I found a porno DVD amongst some leather clothes and anal beads. Freaky stuff, baby! There was a horse on the cover.”
“I’m not sure I need to know these things,” I laughed. “though now I know to stay away!”
“You’re better off, sweetness. Thanks for the trash, I’d better be going.”
“No problem, good talking to you.”
“Who you talking to, me or him?” She was half in the hallway.
“No, who him? There’s nobody else here.” I flicked away a moth. “The moth?”
“Yeah. Get outta here moth! Mind your business.” She flapped around an arm authoritatively. It flew out the window. “Nasty little thing.”
“Dick?” Tangadurai said. I had spaced out.
“Yes! Oh, sorry. I should go. It was nice to meet you Tangadurai, Buttercup. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Very sure.”
“One thing before you go,” said Thangadurai as he stood up, “Be careful. They are spiteful, and remember everything. A brotherhood, hm? They are on each other’s sides.”
I nodded and we shook hands. Buttercup stayed on the couch, head back, eyes closed, savoring the fill of hot tea and spicy chicken.
I texted Veronica: NOT COMING IN TODAY.
She texted right back: KRUGER JUST LEFT. SAYS 2 COME 2 PRECINCT.
I replied: I TOLD YOU NOT TO TEXT AT WORK.
To which she replied: YOU TEXTED ME FIRST.
I replied with a tongue-out emoticon.
I had no intention on going to the precinct today. Instead I headed back to my car, through the weird neighborhood with the broken windows and hobos digging for cigarette butts, afraid I was being followed by some harmless insect.
I drove sixteen miles to my old apartment building. The door code (I was shocked I remembered) still worked so there was no need to wait or annoy some random tenant.
The place was exactly as I remembered, outdated, musty smelling, the same disgusting stains on the embattled carpet. I flashed back for only a moment before heading down the clinky metal stairs towards the garbage dump in the basement.
As luck would have it, I heard the expected rustling in the trash and the same gross yummy noises I had heard drunkenly that one day.
“Mm. Oh yeah. Oh man,” the creature said, tossing out papers and packaging intermittently.
“Hey!” I shouted. I never did get her name.
The rustling ceased.
“Hey you, in the trash. It’s OK I know who you are. I just want to talk.”
I heard a smacking of lips. Just one smack.
“We chatted years ago in my apartment? I gave you eggs and…”
“Chicken legs!” She popped out from the center of the bin as if she were a hooker in a birthday cake. “How’s it going, honey?”
“Good, thanks! I’m glad you remember me!”
“How can I forget? You’re the only person who’s ever bothered to be nice!” She climbed out, positioning herself with her tripod legs. She wriggled her gnarled toes. “So what brings you back to this dump?”
“Nostalgia,” I said semi-truthfully. “I have run into some problems and I think you might be able to help.”
“After one conversation ten years ago? I don’t know…”
“How well do you remember that conversation?”
“I remember everything, honey. Always. I still remember what was in your wastebasket. Used condoms, liquor bottles, frozen pizza boxes, porn…”
“I was a bachelor back then!” Granted these things still pop up in my wastebasket from time to time. “Do you remember when you left my apartment, I said goodbye and you asked me if I was saying goodbye to ‘you’ or ‘him’ and you yelled at the moth that was floating around my head?”
“You were drunk at the time, baby.” She looked down, obviously hesitant to talk,
“Yes, but I remember. The moth, did it happen to be one of you guys?”
“I’m not sure I remember.” She began to climb back into her cave of refuse. She seemed afraid.
“You said you remember everything, always. Who was it? Come on, it’s just between you and me. What are you keeping from me?”
She sighed and carefully looked around the room. “Sometimes what you see is not always what you get.”
What vague words of wisdom. “So you mean…”
“I mean,” she looked around again and whispered, “You need to be careful. I wouldn’t trust most of ‘em with the littlest secret, honey. Spiteful bastards, mostly.”
“Spiteful? I haven’t pissed off any of them, I don’t think.” I sped through my brain’s database in reverse.
“Sure you have,” she said matter-of-factly. “Honey, we talk. You can be a real prick-o when you want to be.”
Great. Gossipy things. Probably Marisol. “Know a bird named Marisol?”
“Ha! Know her? She’s our Paul Bunyon!” I think she meant Paul Revere. “Tells us the word when it’s good.”
“But what about the moth?”
“Moth, schmoth,” she scanned the room then whispered, “I don’t want to talk about it. I’m afraid. You should be too. Keep your eyes open. I don’t know what it is, but I have this bad feeling about it. I heard about your problem. Word spreads quick. Lay low. Disappear for a while. Trust me.”
The vent clinked. She dove under a greasy styrofoam hamburger holder.
“You have to go.”
The terrified look on her garbage spattered face told me that we were no longer alone in this basement. An odd chill came through the air, likely from the clanking vents. But was it really just air in the vent?
I shivered and ran out the door. Through the window I saw a flapping shadow of something with wings. A bird? Could it have been the moth? It could have been any type of creature, or not a creature at all. A bat? A sparrow who had built a nest in the walls?
The shadow made It look bigger than a moth… Couldn’t have been. I felt crazy, paranoid.
Maybe I was being framed for this murder for some reason. I can’t think of any creature that I had done wrong or offended or insulted. I hadn’t slept with any of their girlfriends (a horrid thought). Was Margie O’Malley into something sinister? Did she know all about the creatures?
Did this have anything to do with me at all? Maybe I was giving myself too much importance.
I got in the car and headed towards work, all the while paying very little attention to the road and more attention to what was inevitably about to try and rip my roof off and burn me to a crisp. I know I ran a few stop signs, pissed off a few pedestrians. I’m pretty sure I even ran over a gosling crossing the road.
I pulled slowly into the lot, scanning over every car, making sure there were no strange autos with any kinds of hidden lights inside or POLICE INTERCEPTOR stickers on the rear.
Chico straightened his back nervously as I pushed though the doors. The door to the supply room was locked up tight, wrapped up nicely like a present whose bows were caution tape, its gift tags orange cones.
“You are a very popular man today, Dick.”
“I know.” I cut to the chase. “Margie O’Malley, she married?”
“Yes, her husband Guy. Why?”
“Do you have their address?”
“Dick, I don’t think it would be wise for me to just hand over such information. I mean Kruger and them still seem a little fishy about you.”
“Chico,” I pouted, “I thought we were friends. You know I don’t have anything to do with this, right?”
Chico gave me the once over before looking around and typing speedily into his computer. “570 Birchwood, you know where that is.”
“Thanks man. How is everyone?”
“On edge. Your girls are in panic mode. They all say their supplies went missing again and they can’t access the room. They keep begging to go down there, even with the stains on the wall…” Chico turned flush and shuddered at the thought.
I grumbled. “I was never here. I was going to go up to see but I’m really not in the mood to listen to whining. I’m taking a hiatus, if anyone asks. See you in a few days. I’ll be home if you need me.”