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10. the voice from a memory

A picture of Mickey standing in a muddy gully down an embankment from willow trees and weedy grasses. He holds in his hands a hood made of burlap with two eye-holes cut out of it. He looks down at the hood. He is dressed in a leather jacket with spikes on the shoulders, black pants and black boots.
You’re right. You could do so much. So many things. You just need to believe in yourself. You remember what happened before. Put it all on. Now. You’ve got a lot of things to do.

MICKEY LADDOW

Mickey’s heavy biker boots made the trip to the willows relatively easy, but slow.  The mud got up to his ankles after a while, and then well-above that.  Fortunately, his boots went up halfway to his knees, so it wasn’t a problem for him to navigate the area.  Since leaving the Dirt Clod behind him, he’d been walking for almost half an hour and the phone hadn’t rung.  He hadn’t heard any sirens, either.

All kinds of insects were bothering Mickey, though mostly clouds of gnats.  Mickey didn’t swipe them away, though.  He let them land on him, let them crawl across his cheeks and up and down the insides of his nostrils.

Make it stop, Mickey thought.  Please — I  just want to make all this stop.  But he kept walking.

Knock it off, came further thoughts.  Are you going to let some bugs bother you?  Think about it like this — who’s bigger?  You, or them?  You can do anything you want to them.  So why do they matter to you?  Insects count for … what?  Discomfort?  Are you weak?  How are you supposed to handle the difficult things in life, if you can’t even handle this?  You want to end up like Gunny?

I’m not like Gunny.  Mickey climbed over a log, landing with a wet thud on the other side of it.

Of course, you’re not.  You know what Gunny’s all about, even if Gunny doesn’t.  

But you can’t stop thinking about it.  It’s so sad, Mickey thought.

Yes.  Gunny is very sad.  And  you know — ending up like that, yourself, would be even sadder.  Consider that, in the long run, you’re probably doing Gunny a big favor.  

Mickey came to a body of water deep in the heart of the willow trees.  The river ran through the woods further on, spilling into creeks like the one in front of him.  Mickey could see that the creek was full of crayfish, and he found himself thinking about a time when he’d been out at this particular creek as a very young child, with his father.  They’d collected crayfish in a glass jar.

How long ago was that?  How old were you?

You were five, the thought came to him.

He wondered if it had really been that long since he’d come there with his dad.  He remembered the image of his father, wearing that white fishing hat Chris Laddow had always worn back then — the one that was full of all kinds of weird fishing hooks that Mickey didn’t understand.  Mickey pictured his father teaching him how to pick up a crayfish, how to delicately place it inside the jar, how to get a hold of them the right way.  He thought of the sound of their voices; easy laughter, the two of them throwing jokes from ice-cream sticks back and forth.  And then the memories changed — to his father falling face first into the creek, gutted, the water turning muddy red.  And the crayfish were crawling over Chris Laddow like a mass, working as one, dragging away the man’s hat to yank at receding hair and bald, sweaty scalp.

That didn’t happen!  Mickey wanted to cry.  He wanted to force his eyes shut, to make himself cry or scream or just to somehow react.  But he just couldn’t, no matter how hard he tried.  He couldn’t even force himself to blink out pretend tears.

You’re getting distracted, Mickey.  Live in the now.  It’s like trying not to think of a thing, so you end up just thinking of that.  Over and over.  You’ve got a lot of things ahead of you, and you’re getting distracted.  So stop reminiscing, or you’ll just end up with more and more pictures like that in your head.  Just get what you came for, and you can move on.

Mickey got down onto his knees in the mud near a pile of rocks.  The mud made squashing and popping sounds beneath Mickey’s weight as he began tossing the rocks over either shoulder.

What if it sank, Mickey thought.  You could think like that.  Maybe it stops here.  Maybe it sank.

But, soon enough, beneath the rocks was revealed a hole dug out in the mud, and inside of that a big brown burlap sack.

Of course, it didn’t sink.  Don’t be stupid.  It’s not quicksand.  It’s just mud.  

Mickey turned aside from the hole, the mud beneath him making thick plops of noise with his movements.  He found the opening and began inspecting the filthy contents.

First, he withdrew a sheathed military knife.  As he pulled the rusted knife from its sheath, he reached up to press the tip of his left index finger against the edge.

It cut him, and he bled.  But he didn’t cry out or jerk his hand away.

He simply bled.

Setting the knife down into the mud with the the hand that wasn’t bleeding, he withdrew a set of filthy clothes that looked too big for him.  There were black trousers — with a big black piece of rope to cinch them — and a turtleneck shirt, also black.  After that, Mickey pulled out a leather jacket that looked much bigger than his own, bulkier and with metal studs across the shoulders.  He slipped into the jacket, trying it on.  He felt waves of disgust roll over him even as his arms slid into the sleeves.

Next were a pair of boots.  You don’t need the boots.  You have boots.  I’ve decided I like the boots we have on better.  I couldn’t wait for that part.  I had to get around.  But the rest, you definitely need.  Especially …

Mickey found himself withdrawing another — smaller — sack of burlap from the larger one.  He recognized it from memory.  He recognized the stitching around the two adjacent holes on one side.  He recognized the drawstring at one end that could be used to cinch it tight.  He brought it to his nose and inhaled deeply.  He recognized the smell of it, most of all.  He’d dreamed that smell many times, lying in bed at night or even when he was awake.  And he’d seen it — seen this cowl and mask he now held — so many times, in his head.

You could stop.  You could just walk away.  You could quit this now, and go back home.  You could see what your dad is doing.  You could call your grandma.  You could do so many other things.  Things that won’t-  

More thoughts came to his mind:  noisy, grating, popping-grinding sounds.   You’re right.  You could do so much.  So many things.  You just need to believe in yourself.  You remember what happened before.  Put it all on.  Now.  It’s all true.  You’ve got a lot of things to do.

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Published inpart 1

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