Chapter Four: Look At Your Boy Now
There were too many voices swimming around in Bobby Bland’s head. He’d been bashed in the face, both with a wooden cane and a metal frying pan, but neither pain had been as concerning as the lack of vision in his left eye. Bobby didn’t think the vision loss would be permanent or at least he hoped so. He could make out little, white snakes of light rising and sinking into a sea of black. The white snakes grew dull and harder to make out. He wasn’t sure if that was good or bad. The entire left side of his face throbbed. His throat felt like it was swelling shut, trying to choke him alive. He thought there were tiny, hard-shelled things crawling beneath his skin and that the ground, beneath him, was rolling like a washing machine set on its agitation cycle.
The dark man demanded that he stand, that he pursue the two that had injured him and Bobby was trying, but his body was too heavy. He thought that the hard-shelled things were connected to hooks cemented into the ground. They dug into his skin whenever Bobby tried to pick himself up. He’d get to his knees, a Herculean effort, and then he’d come crashing back down to the dry, cold grass, his muscles protesting and misfiring. It was a small, vague thought like a tiny bird flitting through the forest. He might be dying. He could have some severe internal bleeding from the cane strike or the frying smashing into his skull. There was another fear. The dark man might not let him die. That might imply that Bobby wanted death. In reality, Bobby actually wanted an end to pain.
That want was illusive because there were voices like little bees stinging away at his mind. There was the dark man who was like a blaring horn in his head, cracking and shattering his skull. Then there was his father. His father was dead. Bobby knew that, but his father was also somewhere close, looming with a pair of closed fists. After his father, there was his mother who wasn’t dead, just long gone. She was a whisper, begging him to stop, to lay down, and to give in to the urge to sleep. There was a fourth voice that was outside his head, but it also hummed like a phantom passing through the foggy, purpled-leafed forest inside his mind.
“Dude…are you okay?” The voice asked over the shuttering pulse pounding away in his head. The things ferreting beneath his skin were slowing, but he couldn’t see any bulges underneath his skin. They weren’t real. Telling himself that they weren’t real helped. The weights slid from his back and the vision in his left eye was clearing. Pinpoints of scummy, red light bled in through the darkness. The pain in his head hadn’t let up and neither had the voices.
Up, Bobby. Get up, Bobby. Now, Bobby. The dark man said. Each one was accompanied by a bolt of pain. The dark man was trying to drive him like a stubborn mule.
“Dude…you’re bleeding a lot.” The phantom voice said to him, somewhere above his head.
Bobby. Baby, stay down. You’re hurt, You could die. Lay down. His mother told him.
That’s right, boy. Stay down. Take a knee like you always have. Your mother left me with you and I can’t stand the sight of you. I tried my best to make you hard, but you’re soft. Stay down, boy. Bobby just heard the voice, but he saw the image that would have accompanied it. He saw his father; sitting in his easy chair, clutching a cold, sweating Coors. His voice wafted over the tuned down sound of football announcer rattling off statistics. The lights were off in the living room while his father told him how weak he was. Bobby’s hands landed on either side of him and Bobby found his feet.
“Dude… No. No. You probably shouldn’t get up. You’re hurt, man.” Bobby was looking down at a skinny, green eyed boy and it took him a small while to place him. Concentrating on who the boy was, detracted from his balance, but he caught the memory and his balance at roughly the same time. He was a little, black-haired skater boy Bobby had sent to pound on the front door of the Peters house. The boy had been happy to help, flashing Bobby a dark smile before disappearing around the side of the house.
The boy doesn’t matter. The dark man whispered in Bobby’s ear.
“Yeah.” Bobby said into the morning air. Bobby was noticing more and more that his face was sopping wet and his lips tasted coppery when he ran his tongue along them.
“What were you trying to do, man?” The skater boy asked, looking up to Bobby with his wide green eyes. Bobby ignored the boy, moving past him and gathering up his baseball bat. The ground was still swaying beneath his feet and Bobby adopted a drunken sailor’s stagger.
Lay down, Bobby. You’ll hurt yourself. Bobby’s mother cooed in his ear, but Bobby shook the sound away like it was an annoying mosquito. Where was she now? His mother was on the other side of the country. She’d left Bobby with his father. How much could she have really cared? Bobby stumbled into the lonesome street, preventing himself from crashing into the middle of the road by catching hold of the tall, knotted gofer wood fence.
“Where are you now?” Bobby said to no one in particular. It had originally been intended for his mother, but he wasn’t thinking of her when he said it. That thought and every other thought was slippery like slimy fish in from the Merrimack. His father had a truck, a rusted out fishing truck. Ultimately, that truck was repossessed, but Bobby’s father had taken him fishing one summer afternoon. Bobby thought of it as fishing, but in reality it was Bobby’s father getting drunk in close proximity to fishing poles. Bobby had looked down into the cloudy brown water and could actually see the shiny scales on fish that his father was making no attempt to catch. Why was he thinking about that now? He was making a connection between his father’s repossessed fishing truck and a rusted Ford pickup parked far down the street. There was an old man and a young man. Both of them were climbing into the cab of the Ford. The young man had a frying pan and was climbing into the driver’s seat. The old man sparked his memory. The old man had a crimson colored cane. Luke and the Old man. The old man’s name didn’t really matter. Neither did Luke’s name. Bobby was supposed to kill them both. He didn’t know exactly why. Bobby started running.
Somehow, running was easier for Bobby, charging down the uneven, cracked street with the metal bat clenched in his hand. Running, for Bobby, meant falling without ever hitting the ground. He just had to make sure one of his feet was under him. Even still, he would need to steady himself with his hands from time to time. The skater boy was yelling after him, but Bobby barreled forward. Jimmy, the neighborhood terrorist, looked down the street at the bleeding, abused Bobby Bland as he disappeared across the corner.
Possibly, the dark man was propping him up, but it was as likely that Bobby had his father’s imagined words burning in the back of his brain. His vision hadn’t fully come back and he could have been struck by a car and killed without ever knowing exactly why he died. The way he was running , he could have missed Luke and Perkins all together, but he hadn’t. The two of them were climbing into a rusted Ford pickup truck with a back bumper secured on with long strips of black duct tape. The German Shepherd, Cesar had already been loaded into the backseat of the pickup’s cab. The pickup puttered away as Bobby charged forth. He kept running, surging after the flashing tail lights. He managed to bash in the truck’s left tail light before it disappeared over the horizon.
Sweat pearled back the length of Bobby’s back only to chill in the cool morning air. There was something fundamentally horrible about losing these two men he’d been set to kill. He hadn’t been aware of them prior to that day, but his stomach soured at the sight of the truck’s tail lights speeding away.
“What do I do now?” Bobby said shakily.
What we do is wait, Bobby. The night shall fall and bare its teeth. The dark man told him in a low whisper. Bobby nodded, balling his fists and trying to hold back the roving pain that carved its way through his skull.
Bobby hadn’t known a few very important things and those things were more similarities between Luke and Bobby. Neither teenager understood the world they were thrown into. Neither teenager understood the men who thrusted them into that world. Neither teenager questioned why they hadn’t run away. Bobby failed to question the attempted murders of an old man he’d never met and a young man he’d only vaguely knew from the crowded hallways of their school because of the pain and the purple leafed forest. Bobby had a measurable reason, but what’s Luke’s problem?