At some point in the evening he turned around and realised he was somewhere he’d never been before; that he couldn’t remember any of the people with whom he’d been in that wherever it was he thought he had been before ending up where he was.
What it boiled down to was that he was alone, when at some point in the near past it had been otherwise . . . and now he was lost . . . which had not always been the case in that same shifty construct of reality he had assumed was his normal everyday life. Mostly he stayed on top of things.
What frightened him was that it was, nevertheless, familiar; that the sudden crushing weight of what-the-fuck was not new; that he had been there in the Nowhere a thousand times since the day/night/whatever when Timothy Thomas Garmin had woken up screaming because in the dream he most assuredly had been lost in a tumbling tide of something he was too young to face up to or comprehend with anything but terror.
The dreams had begun in a setting that had seemed to be far too mature for someone only six years old, but as with all things that become commonplace with the passage of time, Tim-Tom got familiar with the landscape of his nightmares in a big hurry. Familiar, but not ever comfortable.
“Timmy it’s almost time for dinner your father’s gonna be home any minute. Can you set the table for me?”
Her voice found him upstairs, in his bedroom, playing with toy soldiers fighting valiantly to save his small teddy bear from a horrible fate at the fangs and claws of the mean and rotten invisible Stuffy Vampire horde. For a moment he debated Silence. Buddy Bear was in grave danger and had no one to protect him but the tiny plastic soldiers and their commander-in-chief. He forced himself to answer.
“Okay in a minute, Mom,” he called out with his eyes never once leaving the field of battle. “I’ll be down in a minute.”
“I need help now, Timmy!” she shouted, her voice strained and angry and sounding so far away even though she was just downstairs in the kitchen. “You know he likes to have supper ready when he gets home.”
Tim-Tom sighed and air-lifted Buddy out of harm’s way, tucked him down into a corner of the drawer where he kept his t-shirts and underpants.
“Okay, Mom, I’m coming,” he called back to her and softly whispered, “Okay Mom okay Mom okay okay okay . . . ” with tears in his eyes because he could feel something bad coming.
And looking back over twenty years he remembered how—somehow—he hadn’t been able to find the stairs and so he’d never gotten round to setting the table because by the time he did find the stairs his father was home and the bad shit had already arrived.
In much the same fashion as this instant in space and time, although now there was daylight and he couldn’t remember having been to sleep or waking up. Both had stopped being of any real concern to him. Awake or dreaming, he couldn’t tell the difference anymore. His life had become a jigsaw puzzle fashioned from jagged-edged fragments of mirror glass that had been broken back when his mom called him Tim-Tom and there had been possibilities of exhilaration and joy in something as simple as a broomstick solidly connecting with a brand-new pink Spalding . . . the arc it made up into a cloudless blue summer sky before returning to the asphalt-covered Earth well beyond the glove of the outfielder four houses down the street.
“Garmin d’you think you can get your head out of your ass long enough to actually do some work today?”
He knew the voice and recognised the face, even if he couldn’t recall the name of the job foreman or what he was supposed to be doing there. He put his head down a little bit and tried to look like he was apologetic. He could hear voices laughing softly, making snide derogatory comments about Nutball Garmin in the shit again. He smiled apologetically as he swung his framing hammer at the face in front of him, saw shock and total surprise shatter into the dark place he had been a few moments before.
“You got sent to the principal’s office again, didn’t you? Is that what this letter is all about? How many times has it been this month, Timothy? When are you going to start acting like an adult instead of a baby, upstairs in your room playing with toys and dolls like a little girl?”
He knew enough to remain silent; that his mother expected nothing in reply, only that he sit quietly while the cruelty and insults multiplied in proportion to the degree of pain his father had inflicted on her the night before . . . until somewhere in the middle of supper he would turn on his mom and tell her to leave him alone, and his father would get angry and send him back upstairs so his meal wouldn’t have to be interrupted by slapping “little Timmy” around for sassing his mother.
Tim-Tom put his head down and tried to look like he was apologetic. His father slammed a knife and fork down on the table and stamped out of the kitchen . . . stamped upstairs . . . slammed doors . . .
The next afternoon, Buddy Bear was gone from his dresser drawer and his mother hadn’t—wouldn’t—look at him when he asked what had happened to him, only just glared at him until he went away. He knew the Stuffy Vampires weren’t the culprits, and any other explanation was too painful to think about.
When he went to bed that night he couldn’t sleep for the longest time, but exhaustion dragged him down into the dark and there he was all over again in some place he’d never been before . . . all alone . . . again . . .
“Timmy are you okay?”
“I got fired again, Joey.”
“Oh honey no.”
“I wanted t’hit him with a hammer.”
“They were teasing you again.”
He nodded. Pushed some peas and chunks of potato around on his dinner plate but didn’t look up so he wouldn’t have to look at the disappointment or resignation or any number of other things much worse on her face.
“I shouldn’t have paid any attention.”
There wasn’t anything much else to say. This was the third time in last twelve months. Joey didn’t seem to mind being the one who brought a pay-cheque home without fail, but he still felt bad . . . like a loser . . . like sitting at the table when he had eaten dinner with his parents.
“I’m sorry,” he said, still not looking at her.
“Timmy don’t . . .” she said, but he wasn’t sure what she meant by don’t and it was so hard not to cry, to run silently screaming into the empty default of five-years old all over again—the go-to place when the world stopped being friendly.
“Why do you stay with me?” he whispered.
This time he did look up at her, and he could see was crying soundlessly.
“Why?” he asked again.
“You need me, Timmy,” she said. “And I need you.”
“Are we both so fucked up that that’s all we’ve got holding us together?”
She shook her head, scattering tears; one of them spattered across his face
“Timmy we’ve been together since we were kids.”
“Both hiding from the crap we lived with at home.”
“It’s how we survived.”
“Joey, you could be so much better than this, workin’ your ass off because I can’t keep a job I—“
“I don’t care,” she sobbed. “You took care of me when nobody else would. You loved me. We kept each other safe. There was never anything bad about it then . . .”
“But there’s nothing good about it now, Joey! Don’t you see? We’re still kids, but the only difference is now we know how to pretend we’re adults a little bit. You do, at any rate. I keep fucking up . . .”
She seemed so small . . . fragile . . . still not much more of anything than what she was when they were kids; when she looked at him there was a heartbreaking tilt to her head, the glisten of tears in her eyes, the flutter of her tiny hands. She always had been so small . . . so vulnerable to anything large . . . the world . . . sometimes it was like she invited disaster.
“Timmy don’t say anything else, okay?” she whispered. “I’m gonna pour you a hot bath and wash up dinner. You just stop—you just stop thinking about them . . . please. . . . I love you. It’s gonna be okay.”
She took one of his hands in both of hers and led him into the bathroom. Started the tub. Turned and unbuttoned his shirt, unsnapped his trousers, kissed him where his ribs stopped and his belly started.
“Just don’t worry it’s all gonna be okay,” she said softly, again.
She left him there, steam rising from the tub. He slipped out of his jeans and underwear, lost in the small leftover smell of her hair and the faint echo of her small voice his only defense against the world.
He stepped into the bathtub, hopping up and down as the hot water hit his ankles. Stood there shivering with the pain of the water on his feet, forcing himself not to make any sounds at all—to wait until the heat became bearable—and then he slowly lowered himself into the tub and again tried not to scream after all this was only right and proper after one more failure. . . .
Joey came back ten minutes later, found him slumped against the tiles of the tub-surround crying. She knelt down on the bath-mat and soaped him up and down until he looked at her with so much desolation in his eyes and something else that frightened her so that she fled away—abandoned him to the endless guilt of his existence.
“If I can’t take him home can I at least see him?”
Truscott tried to sound as sympathetic as possible without stressing the magnitude of his concern. “Mrs. Garmin, I don’t think it’s a good idea. He seems to be getting worse . . . more and more violent . . . and I’m nowhere near certain he’s even processing anything from our reality anymore. . . .”
“He’s never been that way before,” she said.
Truscott sighed. “Mrs. Garmin, we have no way to measure how long it’s been simmering inside him, but Tim isn’t the same person he was when he first arrived here. It’s been a long time, and maybe this isn’t the best place for him, but the only way to know that would have been to risk leaving him out in the world trying to deal with it on his own.
“Can I ask you a couple of questions, just to clarify some history? There’s been some new developments.”
Mrs. Garmin nodded, pulled a Kleenex out her coat pocket and dabbed at her eyes.
“We video-tape most of our patients, for safety’s sake as a rule, but also for insights into what we can do to help them. Late at night he’s been talking to people . . . one of them is someone named Buddy?”
She looked up, wiping mascara off one cheek.
“Buddy was his teddy bear,” she said. “A few days after his father left, Timmy went looking for him in the dresser drawer where he kept him—in his bedroom—and the bear was gone.”
She got up to leave.
“Okay, that explains quite a bit. Can I ask one more question before you go?” said Truscott.
He nodded at the attendant, waited as the door to Timothy Garmin’s room was unlocked, stepped into the softly-padded off-white nightmare of his patient, heard the door-lock click behind him. Timothy was on the floor, in a corner, chin on his knees staring into infinity.
“I saw your mom today, Timmy,” he said softly.
That his presence was even acknowledged by a slow turn of his head was something out of the ordinary. Mostly, Tim Garmin stared into space and declined to participate.
“She wanted me to tell you that she loves you . . . that she’s sorry.”
Tim looked straight ahead again, said nothing.
“She wanted me to tell you it’s okay to come home now, if you can show us you’re up to being back out there.”
Tim looked straight ahead and said nothing.
“Is there anything I can do for you, Timmy? Anything special I can get for you? It’s almost your birthday . . .”
Tim looked straight ahead, once again saying nothing. Truscott nodded to no one but himself.
“Okay then. Just remember I’m close by if you need anything, all right?”
Timmy looked straight ahead, and Truscott might as well have not been there at all. He sighed as soundlessly as he could manage, turned and knocked gently on the door.
Outside in the hallway, the attendant unlocked it again.
Then he heard the voice of an anguished little girl.
“Y’know what’s so horrible . . . watching it happen to him . . . tryin’ t‘stop it he got so angry . . .”
He turned around. There was no one else in the room. Timothy still was huddled in a corner, eyes wide open staring at nothing.
“. . . He was like a tiny little bird flying flying flying with nowhere to go, looking for a place to hide and be safe and still having nowhere to go and then he started to change.”
Truscott shivered. He had watched Timothy’s lips move and this other voice had come out.
“Who are you?” Truscott whispered.
“I’m Joey,” said Tim-Tom. “I thought Timmy was my friend.”
“His mother said you died twenty years ago. An accident. You were eight years old, playing with him, and you fell off his bicycle.”
“She’s lying,” said someone who wasn’t Tim-Tom anymore. “It wasn’t an accident. . . .”
Michael Summerleigh lives with a cat named Mina northwest of Kingston in rural Ontario, Canada. Years ago when he was someone else he wrote fantasy & horror fiction…sold stories to a number of amateur and semi-pro fanzines, as well as professional anthologies. In 1979, Donald M Grant published a short novel entitled The Black Wolf. Prior to that he reviewed books and wrote Sunday features for the Montreal Star, as well as a Bookmans weekly article that became the introduction to the Citadel Press edition of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. In the last two years he has placed stories and poetry online with cc&d magazine (Scars.tv), Horla, Scarlet Leaf Review, Literary Yard, and excerpts from an unpublished novel with The Fictional Cafe, Lamplit Undergound. Cough Syrup and Scarlet Leaf.
He’s been a bookseller, done late-night public radio, CSR/dispute resolution for the telecom industry, engineered the 10th World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa in 1984, and recently took a stab at some concert promotion (wherein he was never in any danger of turning a profit).