Day Eight: Bequeathal
Jacob put his pen down and pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. Summer had finally come to his corner of rural Maine, and it was having its effect on everyone. The blackflies droned outside, and the air was humid enough to curl books. What’s more, Jacob’s students were itching to go on summer vacation and do… whatever it was teenagers in a town of two thousand people could do. Drink and have sex, probably.
He picked up another paper and wished he was somewhere else. Anywhere else. “The major theim of Tom Sawyer is that you shouldn’t paint something if people asks you to becuz he probly just doesn’t want to work.” Jacob sighed and just scrawled “See me” in bright green ink across the top of the page. At this rate he was better off just berating the class as a group than seeing them individually. Clearly none of them had read the book, none of them wanted to read the book, and none of them cared enough to hide the previous two facts.
If nothing else, he had to teach them how to bullshit better.
“Tom sawyer was a kid like me becuz he didn’t like niggers in his -” Jacob wrote “See me” at the top and, for good measure, circled it.
There was no good reason for him to be teaching here. None. None at all. Winter Falls was an out of the way spot near the mountains in rural Maine, a town that was best known for its two feuding lumber mills and the highest rate of alcoholism in Piscataquis county. It was one of those tiny rural towns that people never escaped from, occasionally collecting newcomers and never letting them go. People like him. Him and his damned father.
The pile of papers, most of them scrawled in barely-legible handwriting, glared up at his from his kitchen table. No more, he thought. Maybe if I just throw myself into Moosehead Lake with a couple of pounds of concrete…. No, that wouldn’t work. He couldn’t get out of this life that easily.
There was a knock on the back door and he glanced up at the microwave. Nearly nine-thirty at night. He stood up from the folding card table he had set in the middle of his perpetually cluttered living room, squared up the essays and slid them back into a manila envelope. Maybe if I feed them to the deer. No. Not fair to the deer.
Jacob opened the door. “You’ll want to be comin’ over, Jake,” Alex said without any preamble. “It’s startin’ up again.”
Alex Bordeau was Jacob’s nearest neighbor – about a ten minute walk away – and the whole reason Jacob was in this town to begin with. He was in his late sixties, had lived in Winter Falls all his life, and had been good friends with Jacob’s father, which is more than Jacob could have said. He was heavyset, wore just as much plaid as Maine fashion law allowed, and knew more about this part of the state than anyone had a right to.
He was the one who called Jacob when his father died, who explained why Jacob was going to have to leave his trendy Tribeca apartment, his friends, his gym membership and his job at a real school to come up to Winter Falls. To his credit, Jacob held out for at least a week, until Bordeau came down on an overnight Greyhound to convince him. And convince him he did.
“Yer father,” Bordeau had said, looking so out of place in Jacob’s modern, white, almost Zen-like kitchen. “Yer father was a good man.”
“Sure he was,” Jacob muttered, pouring another glass of shiraz. “I’m sure that’s why mom stayed with him all those years, never left his side and loved him with all her heart. No, wait,” he said, shoving the cork back into the bottle. “I have that backwards. She hated him to her dying breath and made me promise never to go back to the little shit-stain town he came from.” He put the wine back into his brushed-steel refrigerator. “So it’s your word against hers, and if you think I’m not taking my dead mother’s side on this one, you’re nuts. The only reason I would even think of going up there would be to piss on his grave, but I have better uses for my piss.”
“Y’ever wake up in the middle of the night?” Bordeau asked.
Jacob shrugged. “Yeah, sure I have. Who hasn’t?”
“Covered in blood?”
“What?” Jacob put the wine glass down. “Covered in blood? Who the hell wakes up covered in blood?”
“Yer father did. Sometimes. Though in his defense, he fell asleep like that first.”
Jacob took the old man by the arm and led him towards the front door. “I think I’ve heard about enough,” he said. “You can get the hell out of here and take my father with you.”
Bordeau planted his feet and Jacob nearly fell over when he stopped. The old man said… something. It was a word, but it wasn’t a word. It was an idea wrapped in sound, it bypassed his ears and went straight for his brain, and the first thing Jacob did when he heard it was to throw up all over his hardwood floor.
Once he stopped heaving, he wiped his mouth and managed to say, “What… the hell… was that?”
“Want me t’say it again?”
“No!” Jacob stood on unsteady legs. “No. God, no. Don’t say it again. Just tell me what it was.”
Bordeau didn’t answer right away. He walked into the living room and sat on one of Jacob’s imported sofas. He held his Red Sox cap in his hand and looked up at him. “What did you see when I said that?”
Jacob looked ruefully at the puddle of wine-colored vomit on the hardwood. That would need sanding and refinishing, he thought. But that thought flew away under the pressure of all the others. He sat next to Bordeau and too deep breaths. The old man looked at him. No pat on the back, no sounds of sympathy. How very New England.
“I saw… I saw a black…. I dunno, I think it was a… a tumor.” He looked up. “That’s all I can come up with. It was huge. I could feel it in my brain, but it wasn’t there. It was somewhere else, and it was horrible.” He shuddered. “The size of worlds. And it’s in everyone. And nobody knows about it.”
“Now you do,” Bordeau said.
“Yeah,” Jacob said. “Now I do.” He looked over. “But what does it have to do with me?”
“Not so much you as your father,” Bordeau said. “And now that he’s gone, it means that you have work to do.”
“What kind of work?”
“Fight th’ thing. The ‘tumor’ you saw. Good name for it, by th’ way. Probably as close as you’ll get to what it is.”
“What is it?”
“I can tell you more on the drive up. All you need to know now is that it killed yer father. Not the booze, and not nothin’ else. That thing.” He crumpled the cap in his hands and smoothed it back into shape. “And he went down fightin’ it.”
“Wait,” Jacob said. “I’m not going up there with you. If that thing is real, and it’s there, then I’m not getting anywhere near it!”
“Remember what you saw, Jake.” Bordeau stood up, stood over him. He seemed like the only real thing in Jacob’s perfectly decorated apartment. “That thing is already everywhere. There ain’t nowhere you can go where it isn’t. And even there were, you couldn’t go there. You have work to do.”
Jacob stood up quickly, nose-to-nose with Bordeau. “I don’t have to go anywhere. And you can’t make me. And don’t ever call me ‘Jake’ again, I -”
Bordeau said it again. Fortunately, there was nothing left to throw up, but Jacob spent a few good minutes curled up on the carpet, sobbing.
“I’ll take the other sofa for the night,” Bordeau said. “We leave in the morning.”
Jacob spent most of that night on the floor, curled up around a pain that he could barely describe. His dreams, what he could remember of them, were full of panic and horror. Everywhere he went there was that shiny black thing. It curled its horrible arms around the world, infiltrated every city and town and room. It wanted him, too. It sang to him in a voice that sounded the way decaying flesh smells. But where Jacob touched it, it died. It flaked away like scabrous skin and melted into the ground. And when he touched it, it screamed. And the world shook.
When he woke up, Bordeau was cooking eggs and had already packed two suitcases. “Get something in you,” he said. “We have a long drive.” Jacob passed on the eggs, but called his school and told them he had to take a leave of absence to take care of what his father had left behind. They offered their full sympathy and support and told him to come back when he was ready.
Two years later, and he never had.