fiction by Patrick Doerksen — from issue eleven
Why do mom and dad shut their door every night? Liz says they do. I haven’t seen it. I go to bed too early. I wonder if they have one too, coming after them. I wonder if they know a door can’t stop it?
I’ve never thought that maybe everyone has one. If Liz has one it would be something with wings. Liz spends all day with her friends in the tree fort. She likes to jump from the high dive at the pool. She says if she had one super power she would choose to fly.
If I had a superpower I would fly too, but for different reasons.
Mom and dad are in the military. It’s nothing to do with guns and bombs. Actually, it’s more boring than even being a plumber. I watched the plumber last week fix the sink. He seemed much happier than dad. Dad’s behind a desk and sometimes he doesn’t talk to anybody at all for a whole day, except on the phone. Mom’s behind a desk too, but she’s the opposite, all day she’s talking to people. She’s a chaplain. That’s probably just as boring.
In the military you always have someone telling you what to do. Mostly they tell mom and dad to move here, now move there. We’ve moved twice in the last four years. This is great for me, it keeps me away from it. I don’t like to think what will happen when we stop moving. Liz hates moving, but maybe she should be grateful if she also has one.
I dreamed last night about a forest of bonsai. Bonsai are trees shrunken by a laser beam so that people can put them in their house. I don’t really believe that, but how else do they get so small? Dad says he has a friend with a shrink ray, and now we have a bonsai in the bathroom. I like to imagine an owl got caught sleeping when they shrunk the tree and woke up tiny and now lives on the sow bugs behind the toilet. In my dream I was walking in the bonsai forest trying not to break the trees. It turned out the whole world had become a bonsai. I could see everywhere, over mountains even, like I was looking at a map, and I could see it coming towards me.
That’s not so different from what I imagine during the day though. When we’re in a circle and Mrs. Schulz is reading I look out the window and am afraid it’s there moving along the fence. A couple nights ago I imagined it wriggling through the muck beneath a river somewhere miles and miles away. It’s something like a slug or a leech, shot out from some weird place in the ground, or maybe from space.
It’s very slow, and that’s my only hope. It takes an afternoon to cross a road, a year to cross a state. But it’s still scary because it never stops moving. It’s not annoyed by buildings or lakes or anything in its way, it just keeps going. It doesn’t need to sleep or eat. I don’t know where it gets its energy from. Everything needs energy to keep it moving. Maybe there are things that don’t? Maybe it’s not doing the moving, maybe it’s being pulled, reeled into me like a fish.
I’m not sure what happens if it catches me. I used to have nightmares of falling into a pit of leeches. Something like that I’m guessing.
I tried to explain this to mom. She just kept asking me why I was so sure.
But I’m not sure. I can’t be sure. So sometimes when I’ve been playing for too long with lego in the basement, or reading too long under the trampoline, I need to get up and go somewhere else, just in case.
Today Mom did something she’d never done before. She brought back a map and a big sheet of paper from work and spread it over the kitchen table.
Where did you see it last, she said.
When we were camping by the lake near grandma and grandpa’s, I said.
It’s summer time and I do a lot of exploring. I collect things. I was climbing a tree to get this huge pinecone when I thought I saw it across the lake.
How long would it take to get from the fridge to where I’m standing, mom said.
Half an hour, I said.
Mom wrote all this down on the paper. I stood on my tiptoes watching her write down numbers and cross out numbers. Eventually she circled one big number at the bottom.
I’ve calculated it out, she said. From the lake to us it will take a year and three months.
I looked at the paper but it was just a bunch of numbers.
Are you sure, I said.
I’ve used math, she said, and math is the surest thing in the world.
I’m not sure I saw it at the lake, I said.
Mom grabbed up the paper with the numbers and crunched it into the garbage. She was mad.
I’m sorry, I said. I didn’t know she was going to do all that work. She had her hands all tangled up in her hair.
The only sure thing is that it always moves towards me, I said.
She sat down at the table then and told me to sit down too.
I want you to imagine something for me, Hans, she said. Imagine it showing up right here in our kitchen, right there on the floor where the carpet becomes tiles. It’s so slow, you could leap right over it! You could even tap dance around it if you wanted!
I’d be too scared, I said.
Then I’d help you scoop it up into a box and ship it to Africa, she said.
When it arrived there it would just start crawling back towards me, it wouldn’t even be angry, I said.
We could send it into space, she said.
No we couldn’t, I said.
We could confuse it, she said. Maybe it was tracking me by my hair, maybe we could cut off my hair and send it to uncle Bernie out east and make it go there?
But we can’t confuse it, I said.
The only way we could confuse it would be if I died. I didn’t say this though. It was a new thought.
Last night mom and dad were yelling with their door closed. I only know because I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking the new thought again. I was thinking that maybe if I did kill myself it would finally get annoyed. But when I try to imagine it out there, growing slack and stopping under some rock, not moving at all, I can’t. It’s like it needs me. To be itself. It would be like if a rock were falling and suddenly the whole earth disappeared and the rock was left with nowhere to fall.
Is this what would really happen? I feel weird when I think about it, because I can never know. It’s set up that way. If I die I won’t be able to watch what happens, but if I don’t die nothing different will happen.
Today Liz told me that we were going to live with grandma and grandpa for a while. Five minutes later, mom told me the same thing.
I’m really scared. Mom didn’t make any calculations for that. It would reach me much quicker, I can’t say how quick, but a lot quicker, since I saw it out there when we went camping. I told mom that I wasn’t going. She just hugged me and kissed me again and again on my forehead.
Please mom, what should I do, I said. I was crying. Mom was crying too.
I’m laying a spell on you, she said. She was still kissing me.
What does the spell do, I said.
It’s so that it can’t touch you, not for moment, she said. If you see it, if it comes to your door when you’re in bed, don’t be scared.
How long will the spell last, I said.
Two days, she said.
That’s not very long, I said.
It’s the best I got, she said. But I will renew it every two days. I will never let it expire.
I’ve been at grandma and grandpa’s now for five days and I haven’t seen it. Mom’s come twice, dad’s come once. I’m not sure kisses are enough to stop it. I’m not sure because Mom kisses Liz too and Liz is starting to get really sick. I think hers is getting really close. Everyone has one, I’m pretty sure of that now. I’m telling mom and dad we need to get Liz back home, we need to or something horrible will happen, but mom and dad don’t understand, they just keep kissing us like that will make everything OK.
PATRICK DOERKSEN lives in British Columbia. His fiction, poetry, and haiku have appeared Aurealis, Abyss and Apex, and the Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2016, among others. He wishes his carbon footprint were smaller and his memory for large German compound words were bigger. “Leech” is his first published story.