I reach forward and shut the music off before the calliope crashes to the ground again. I’ve been sitting here in my car, stalled, for almost an hour, listening to and pausing this crazy song over and over. This used to cheer me, an impossibly nonsensical koan. Merry-go-rounds, sneezing, wheezing, and tripping. Yet despite my best efforts, the magic isn’t happening today. I’m only haunted by memories of the relief the song used to give me. But that was all before Freddy, long before Freddy.
I need to get out of my car and go into the facility and say goodbye. Before I go in there, I need to find some shred of joy. I owe him.
If anything, he owes me.
Pulling my brim down tight, I suppress that negativity. Besides, there’s no way I can prove any of this is dad’s fault.
I can do this.
I flip the music back on and let the nonsensical lyrics wash over me some more. I’m stalling.
I can’t do this.
I’ve not found the joy I’d hoped. The most I can manage today is a mildly whimsical dread, a morbid curiosity to see how this will play out.
It’s not like he will understand what I’m saying, anyway.
Honestly, he’s been gone for years. I tell myself this to rationalize my infrequent visits to him here. It’s easy to cancel on your father when you’ve convinced yourself his essence departed years ago.
I can do this.
Why am I even here? I should leave. Everyone would be better off when I’m gone. Safer, at least.
I keep my head tilted down, pull the bill lower, switch the music off again, jerk the keys from the ignition, and exit my car.
Time to see my dad and say goodbye.
Scanning the sidewalk leading to the home, I can almost convince myself that Freddy is casting a shadow.
I’m forever scanning the ground before me. I’ve never seen Freddy cast a shadow before, but I keep looking for one. Neither Freddy nor his drool is physical.
My calliope is about to crash big time and unfortunately, there’s no go-cart Mozart to drive me away from here. It’s just as well; I’d probably end up killing him.
I stop and look back at my car.
I owe it to him.
I chastise my weakness, set my resolve, and hurry to the heavy wooden doors before I lose my nerve.
Time to say goodbye.
Christ, how did things get so bad?
He’s always here, always with me. I keep praying one day I will open my eyes and he won’t be, but he’s always here, smirking that evil, damned grin.
When he arrived, I started wearing baseball caps with the bill pulled low. My prospects of being an MLB outfielder evaporated when Freddy arrived. I told my teammates and the other kids in my class that cared it was bone spurs. Inoperable, I told them. The lying came easy. They bought it, and my propensity for always wearing a cap was overlooked.
Going to the dentist was impossible for me. How could I? Even with my eyes closed, he was still there, hovering, grinning, frowning, gnashing his teeth together, or (worse) drooling. Doctor Palmer gave me extra nitrous, but I just couldn’t put anyone else at risk, not after what happened to Christie. I tell myself that her car accident wasn’t necessarily my fault, not Freddy’s work. Maybe.
Who am I kidding? Not me, that’s for sure.
Freddy is an evil that lives in my brain. I’m the only one who can see him. He hovers just above my eye line, a huge rabbit-faced demon with an enormous mouth, overfull with misaligned, discolored teeth. His posture, lying face down, with his head propped in his hands like some gossipy girl at a slumber party, is wholly incongruous with his true nature.
I tried religion; don’t think I didn’t think of that. A lifelong atheist and what happens during my first trip to a church? Freddy showed me his displeasure in a most painful way. The second the thick enormous door shut behind me, I felt pins and needles swimming through my brain, shredding my brain from the inside. The pain was so intense I nearly fainted. When I stumbled back into the daylight, I threw myself behind the bushes and threw up.
I blame the solar eclipse, that or Dad’s magick. Probably it was both.
Dad had done his first ritual during a solar eclipse. He never talked about it much then. My father hardly ever shuts up now, but he’s in a home now. He hardly ever shuts up now, but it’s only incoherent muttering.
Scientists had told us this solar eclipse was okay to look at. I found one of dad’s notebooks. Saw his calculations. The day and time were the same as the solar event. It was perfect. He had written and underlined it in his notebook, the ravings of a crazy man. But I looked at the eclipse. That was when I first saw Freddy. The magick had, according to dad’s notebook, not been successful in contacting mom, but it opened some portal from the sun. Apparently, the sun was hell.
Overnight, I went from a staunch atheist to an agnostic who no longer doubted the existence of demons. I never did acquire a belief in God or souls even. I’m a deeply troubled agnostic who happens to see a demon floating overhead every time I look straight ahead.
When someone approached me from the front, I pointed my head slightly left or right. You can imagine how off-putting that is.
They chalked it up to my bitterness over my spoiled baseball career. People weren’t unsympathetic. Not at first, at least.
It’s not like I could tell people about Freddy.
I do not know what his real name is. I only called him that because I believe my father summoned him. My father had this thing he would say to me and mom. He would say, “Are you ready for Freddy?”
I’m sure the invitation to possess his son was unintentional. It must have been a mistake. Some mistake in his Latin verbiage, and now instead of channeling your dead wife’s spirit, you’ve saddled your son with a demon.
Oh, life, you wacky trickster, you.
Mom has been dead for almost seven years. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t bail on my baseball dream when she died.
I was a freshman. Because the weather was nice, she’d decided to walk to my first high school game. I’d shown actual skill and instincts in playing my position. I was no slouch with the bat, but where I truly shined was reading the fly balls. I never dropped one. I was fast. I’d regularly catch pop flies and line drives while sprinting full speed with my left arm thrown out instinctually, knowing where the ball would be. But watching a ball high in the sky becomes way more difficult with a seven-foot-tall, rabbit demon floating before you.
On a back road, a car hit mom. Her body ended up in a deep ditch on a seldom used road. Her cracked wind-up Timex (a gift from me on Mother’s Day) told us the specific time of death. I was crushed when I noticed that it was close to me catching my first pop-up in my first freshman game.
Losing my potential to play pro-ball and seeing an infernal creature constantly were bad. But the worst thing about Freddy was the drooling.
Early on, I’d decided to ignore him. Just act like he was some set of misfiring neurons, some twisted and faulty circuitry in my brain (maybe a tumor?), and live my life as I always had.
That didn’t work.
I dropped ball after ball. Before Freddy, I could count on one hand how many balls I’d dropped since turning eight. Technically, I could count on three fingers how many. In my first week with my new resolution of willful ignorance, I dropped eight.
Then I learned the ramifications of letting Freddy drool on someone I was talking to.
It wasn’t good. They died within 48 hours, all of them, in horrific freak accidents. My guilt was unbearable.
I stopped making eye contact. I’d still talk to people, but my vision was always turned down and to the side. I was miserable, lonely, afraid, and depressed. For the first time in my young life, I contemplated ending things. But Freddy meant demons existed. (I knew all along that it wasn’t something in my brain, that had always been wishful thinking.)
The drool was the worst of it. Anytime I talked too long to someone, Freddy would eventually drool. And his drool, which, as far as I could tell, existed only in my mind, would cause such hellish hallucinations. I’d see a dual exposure. The person was still before me (Keith, our pitcher, was first), but then I saw a second, somewhat translucent image of their face twisted in pain and agony as Freddy’s thick, green saliva flowed over their features. The second image was a death mask, twisted in a rictus of horror.
Six friends died after talking to me; I avoided people. After three more died, I bought the gun.
If demons existed, then that meant angels probably existed, right? Then if they existed, how could I be sure God and Satan weren’t also real? And heaven and hell? If life on earth could be this bad, how much worse would life in hell be? Suicide wasn’t an option. Not for me, it wasn’t.
I threw the gun in the reservoir out on Route 3.
This was my life now, I decided. It was a form of service or penance. I had been called to a pseudo-monastic life. If I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes for fear of causing their death, then I must have been. I would live this way. I would dedicate my life to not harming others. I would become a hermit.
I pull the Sleepy Pines front door open and shiver as the blast of cold air slaps me across the face. Dad’s room is the third on the right, directly across from the nurses’ station.
“Good morning, Hank. No doughnuts this morning?”
Sheila, the morning shift nurse, is gorgeous, professional, and helpful
Don’t forget married.
“Sorry, Sheila. It slipped my mind this morning. I’ll bring two dozen next time.”
A lie. It is unlikely I will ever be here again.
Besides, I’ve never seen Sheila eat even a single doughnut I’d brought.
“Your dad is having a rough day. He’ll be happy to see you,” she says before turning to answer the phone.
“Sleepy Pines, this is Sheila speaking. How may I help you?”
Damn, even her voice fills me with feelings I can no longer afford.
I pause in the doorway, let my eyes adjust to the unlit room. Dad always keeps the curtains drawn.
My eyes adjust. I see my father. Sitting in the red armchair beside the bed. There’s just enough daylight seeping in from the blinds I can see his nodding profile. He’s either sleeping or doing his muttering thing. His head pointed down to his lap.
I step into the room.
I hear him muttering.
Okay, so not sleeping then.
I step forward three steps, pause again, and listen.
I only hear one word before my blood runs cold and my legs threaten to buckle and throw me to the floor.
“Freddy.” My father sounds hoarse.
My father had said. He’s repeating the word over and over.
I want to run away from this place. Run to the woods, build my hermitage, and never come back.
“Freddy, Freddy, Freddy,” dad says.
Oh, this is new.
The music is playing in my brain on loop. I mentally crank up the volume before stepping forward and sitting next to my father, keeping my head pointed slightly away from him.
“Ready for Freddy, Freddy, Freddy?” he whispers.
I sit in the wooden chair at a right angle to dad’s.
When I entered, I thought his eyes were shut. They aren’t shut. His eyes are barely open, scanning left and right, over and over.
“Everything okay, dad?”
The eye scanning stops.
He swivels his head toward me but stops short.
What is going on?
“Everything is fine, Hank.”
His voice sounds shaky. I worry he’s not sleeping enough and make a mental note to ask Doctor Fendley about his nighttime meds.
Going to be hard to do from the woods, bud.
“You were saying a name. When I came in, dad. You were saying…, ‘Freddy.’ Why were you saying that, dad?”
“Evil, damn creature from hell,” he says.
If I weren’t sitting down already, I would’ve fallen to the floor.
“Don’t say that…, unclean name here, son. You hear me?”
My revelation lands fully formed. The downward tilt of his head, the eye scanning, never looking me in the face? How had I never noticed this before?
I steal a quick glimpse up at the ceiling. Freddy’s face is a terrifying mask of insatiable hunger, but his attention is locked on dad. His desire is easy to read. I swivel my head a few degrees away from dad.
Freddy growls. That’s never a good thing.
The tree is never far from the fallen apple. Like me, a demon haunts my father.
My heart bursts with irreconcilable emotions: empathy and anger.
Dad’s magick had saddled both of us with demons. Demons we had both independently called Freddy.
I see what I’m going to do next, and I feel nothing but dread. I will never forgive myself for this, but somewhere there’s a tiny hope that this will liberate one of us forever.
Dad did what he did because he never got over mom’s death. (We never found her right leg; it had been ripped off from the knee down. The driver must have been in for quite a shock when he got to where he was going and saw it hanging from his front bumper.)
This will at least close his loop, I think.
“I love you, dad. I’m so sorry.”
I look directly at my father.
I can sense the bulk above me shifting; Freddy’s not been fed in years.
Tears stream from my eyes as drool seeps from Freddy’s mouth.
An enormous gob of slobber hits my father in his stubbly face.
He smiles just for a second before the dual-exposure effect happens. I must look away.
But for a second, my father, my senile father, had understood and smiled at me, his only child.
He is free now. My dad’s suffering is over.
I think this as I crash through the doors and back into the sunshine.
Tomorrow or the day after, my dad will die.
The sunshine feels good on my skin. Warm. Familiar.
Memories from before: standing in right field, reading the batter’s stance, anticipating the trajectory of the ball, and running, already before the crack of the bat reaches my ears, running full speed. The joy of my limbs doing my bidding. I was so strong, so fit, so capable.
I knew where the ball would be. Unerringly I’d throw out my arm and catch ball after ball without looking. I just knew.
Walking back to my position, pulling my cap away, wiping the sweat from my eyes with the back of my sleeve, staring up at the sun.
Without thinking, I pull the cap from my head and lift my head to the blue skies and bright sun above.
Thinking returns with a startle.
What the hell, man?
I fall to my hands and knees and shove my head to the manicured lawn beneath me.
But the sky…,
I saw them both.
For the first time in years, I had looked directly upward. I’d seen the sky and the sun.
But, most importantly, I didn’t see Freddy.
You’re kidding yourself. Stand up and leave this place. You’re causing a scene.
I pull my head from the ground and look around. No one seems to have noticed my little upheaval.
I place my cap on my head.
I must know. Is he gone or not?
I pull the cap away again, steal my nerves, hyperventilate, and look to the sky again.
Freddy is gone.
I make it back to my car before the crying starts.
I’m an ugly crier. There’s nothing manly or graceful about it. I cry with my whole body, convulsing, shaking, slobbering, howling in suffering and sadness.
Don’t forget about the guilt.
I should go sit by my dad. His time is limited now. He will be gone soon. And I’m no longer a threat to him, or anyone else, if I’m finally free of Freddy?
But dad has a demon of his own; I fortify my rationalization as I twist the key and shift into reverse. I know what a brave man would do. He’d go sit by his father in his final two days on earth.
Twelve people. That’s how many I’ve killed with Freddy-drool.
I punch the gas, the Mustang lurches backward out of the parking spot.
Despite living with a demon for six years, I’m no expert on these things. If I go back inside…?
Would dad’s Freddy try to possess me?
I don’t know the answer to that question, and I’m already turning onto Dekker Lane.
Sorry, dad. I can’t live another day with a demon.
Sheila is the one I ought to apologize to.
I shiver and cry.
Tomorrow. I will find something, some strength, anything that will help me go sit with my father. Yes, I will. My actions today closed the loop on the Freddy demons. Dad will most likely still die tomorrow or the day after. And if not, baseball season is starting. As two of the only Cubs fans in upstate New York, dad and I must stick together.
For now, however, I want to shag some balls. I will retrieve my glove from where it is buried deep in the garage and give Joey a call. I’m only 22. Maybe I could still turn things around. All I know is that it will feel good to be on the field again, squinting up at the sky between batters, the sun so bright it hurts, the thick green turf beneath my feet, the crack of the bat, the cheering, all of it.