5

Kyle grabbed the shirt of Purvis. “How do you know my son is coming?!” asked Kyle. It wasn’t the reaction Purvis hoped for, but it was the one he expected.

“Manny Marlow.  Said your kid came to his house looking for you,” replied Purvis, trying to breathe through his tightened shirt collar.

“And Manny told him!?”

“Your kid did that thing to him. You know when he looks at ‘em and people do what he wants.”

“He could only do that to animals.”

“Well, apparently he’s a lot stronger now. And Manny said he seemed real angry.”

Kyle released Purvis’ collar, and walked across his once green lawn, now covered in areas of dead, brown grass. “Figures. I give that kid something that people would kill for and he’s angry. Ungrateful little fuck.” Kyle let out a slight cough. “Well, there’s only one thing I can do.”

“What?”

“I’m getting the fuck out of here, and I suggest you do too.”

“What are you talking about, Kyle?” asked Purvis.

You remember how those animals would all start getting sick after he did that thing to them. I imagine that’s what he plannin’ on doing to me … anyone else who gets in his way.”

“Oh, shit … Manny.”

“Manny is as good as dead, and if you don’t want to end up like him, I suggest you get the fuck out of here,” said Kyle as he started towards his house, leaving Purvis with his arms at his sides and a mix of fear and confusion on his face.

Purvis had finally left the yard after standing there for almost twenty minutes. Kyle saw him leaving through a dusty, cracked window in his attic. Dust was caked on stacks of cardboard boxes, old Christmas decorations, and hardened rat turds. Kyle told himself “essentials only,” but knew that there were some non-essentials that he couldn’t part with. He walked over to a stack of boxes, tripping over a small shoebox on the way. The shoebox fell open, revealing several photographs.

One picture stood out to him, because it showed something that Kyle hadn’t seen in almost thirty years–Johnny with a smile on his face. Kyle had his arm around Johnny as they stood by the old oak tree that grew in yard behind their first home.

Kyle remembered that day well…

“Hey, Kyle,” called Johnny from the backyard of his old two-story home in western North Carolina. Johnny was wearing an old Ramones shirt from the first concert he ever went to. He and Kyle had to search forever for a kids’ size, but after they found it, Johnny never quit wearing it.

Kyle stepped outside, and onto the perfectly mowed lawn. Kyle had looked a lot better in his thirties. Clean, full head of hair, and eyes that were bright, instead of sunken in. He was holding a warm cup of tea. “What’s going on, son?” he asked.

“Look.,” replied Johnny as he pointed to the sky.

Kyle looked up to see a blank sky, devoid of any clouds or birds. “I don’t see anything, boy.”

“No, in the tree.”

Kyle looked up and saw three squirrels stacked on top of each other’s shoulders like three kids in a trenchcoat. Kyle dropped his tea. “Di…did you make them do that?”

“Yup,” Johnny said with a huge smile. “And watch this.” Johnny sang the first verse of America the Beautiful.

Kyle could feel his body start to get warmer and warmer with each word his son sang. It was as if he had taken a shot of whiskey on an empty stomach.

From sea to shining sea…

The squirrels paused for a moment, as if in a daze, then leapt from each other’s shoulders, and climbed down the tree. They ran up Johnny’s legs, causing him to laugh from the tickle of their furry feet. They stopped on the tip of his head and started to chirp. “Isn’t it cool, daddy?”

Johnny noticed his dad staring with eyes wider than he thought his eyes could open. “It…it worked?” Kyle stared for a few more seconds, then started to cry.

“Dad, what’s wrong?” Johnny asked. “Did I do something wrong?”

Kyle walked over to Johnny and wrapped his arms around Johnny’s head, causing the

squirrels to fall, and run back up the tree. “Oh my god, boy, you …. you are going to be something amazing.”

The front door opened, causing Kyle to come out of his daze.

Kyle climbed down the stairs to a woman in her late 50s entering the front door. She was tall, pretty, and her hair was pale brown, like coffee with too much creamer.

Kyle stared at her, arms at his sides, and eyes to the ground. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Get the kids. We have to go.”

 

2

Johnny and Bill rode in Bill’s red Toyota Camry down an empty two-lane highway.  They were about two hours outside of Wichita, Kansas.  Johnny’s hands, callused from years of guitar playing, tightly gripped the steering wheel.  Bill watched as the sea of fences and wheat fields passed by.
“I’m hungry,” said Bill.

“I think I saw a sign for a Burger King a few miles ahead,” replied Johnny, not averting his eyes from the road.

“God, not Burger King again.”

“What’s wrong with Burger King?” asked Johnny.

“We’ve had Burger King over four times in the last 32 hours.  If we eat any more I think my shit is gonna start coming out with the Burger King logo.”

“Well, where do you want to eat?” said Johnny as he rolled his eyes.

Bill thought for a moment, then exclaimed, “Ihop!”

“Jesus Christ.”

“What’s your problem with Ihop?”

“I can make pancakes better than that overpriced shit,” said Johnny.

Bill crossed his arms.  “Well, I’m not eating at Burger King again.”

“Well, how about this, we’ll stop at the net gas station, and you can get some goddamn Boston baked beans.  How’s that sound?”

“Better than Burger King,” Bill replied quietly.

“Sorry.  I didn’t mean to be an asshole.  It’s just..”  Johnny fingers squeezed even tighter against the leather steering wheel.

The two quietly stared ahead for a few moments.

“Look man, if you want to turn back, it’s fine.  We can get you some actual help.  A therapist.  Some medication,” said Bill.

“That shit isn’t gonna cure me, Bill,” replied Johnny through gritted teeth.  “And we’re not turning back.  My dad…my father, is gonna to pay for what he did.”

“You ever going to actually tell me what he did?” asked Bill

“There’s a sign for Ihop.  Ten miles,” said Johnny.

….

Johnny and Bill sat in a booth near the back of the restaurant.  They both ordered a coffee and a water.  Bill looked around the restaurant.  Only an elderly couple and a lone twenty-something occupied the other seats.

“So, how far are we?” asked Bill.

“About an hour and half from Ellsworth.  My mom said that’s where Manny Marlow lives,” replied Johnny.

“And who is this guy?”

“An old contact of my father’s.  The only one my mom actually knew.”

“And you actually think he’s going to know where your old man is?”

“He’s the only lead I got.”

Bill took a sip of coffee.  “Why didn’t you just email him, or something?”

Johnny took a sip.  “Because, if he knows where my father is, he probably knows that my father doesn’t want to see me.  In which case, I may have to take specific measures to get the information from him.”

Bill raised his brow to Johnny.  “Specific measures?”

The waitress dropped three plates in front of Johnny.  One with pancakes and eggs, the other with toast, and the last with two slices of bacon.  Bill started eating his French toast before the waitress even finished handing him all his plates.

“You boys need any more coffee?” she asked in a soft tone.

“We’re good for now,” replied Johnny with a half grin.  The waitress grinned back, then walked away.  He took a large bite of the pancakes.  “How’d you manage to get your girlfriend to let you come on this little adventure anyway?”

“Told her we were going to a Motley Crue Reunion Show in Las Vegas.  Just a boys’ road trip for old time sake,” Bill replied with a sly smile.

“You gotta quit lying to that girl so much, or she won’t be around much longer.”

“Oh, so I shoulda told her were going to shake down an old man, so we can get some information about your dad’s whereabouts?”

“No, I’m just sayin’.”  Johnny lets out a loud belch.

“Jesus, man, have some manners.”

“Sorry, I-” He belched again.  This time, he felt a wad of food collect in the back of his throat.  “Uh, give me a second.”  Johnny jumped out of his seat, and ran to the bathroom while he covered his mouth.

Johnny slammed open the bathroom door, and dove into the nearest stall, barely closing it behind him.  A beige mixture of pancakes, eggs, and bacon exploded from Johnny’s mouth, some getting on the floor, some hitting the toilet rim, but most going in the bowl.

With every painful expulsion from Johnny’s mouth, the mixture became darker and darker, until it was as black and thick as dirty motor oil.

“It’s getting worse,” he whispered to himself.

After three more expulsions, Johnny collapsed back onto the bathroom floor, his throat swollen and his mouth on fire.

Johnny crawled over to the sink, and forced a handful of water into his mouth.  He pulled himself up to the mirror and examined his face.  There were pieces of food and the dark-colored liquid surrounding his face, and every vein from the base of his neck to the top of his forehead shown a bright purple-reddish color.

“I’ll kill you for what you’ve done to me!” Johnny exclaimed to his reflection.

Johnny stormed out of the bathroom and over to Bill.  “Come on,” he said as he grabbed Bill’s arm.

“But, my French toast,” replied Bill as he was being pulled out of his seat.

They exited the restaurant, and ran over to the car.  Johnny slammed his head against the steering wheel.

“What the hell is going on with you?” asked Bill.

“…I haven’t been entirely honest with you.”