XV: Course & Recourse
Judging by the fact that Tasha and Daff elect not to follow the rest of us home, I suppose it’s safe to assume that they at least trust me enough to get Ty from here to our house without messing up again. Either that, or they just trust Bump to keep a close watch on the both of us. It’s kind of hard to tell, when it comes to those two. They’re both more than a bit inscrutable.
Regardless of the reasoning, the outcome was the same. Ty, Bump and I had been left on our own. For a moment or two, the silence that there had been between us before my earlier outburst had found its way back into the air. It isn’t just that I was embarrassed, though (I was). It has a lot more to do with the fact that, in this situation, I can’t help but feel as though I’m a glorified middleman. Ty is unable to interact with Bump, which makes me feel uncomfortable doing so because of how awkward it would feel to basically look as though I were having a conversation with myself in front of him – even though I know that he would understand what was happening. Bump seems to sense this, and chooses to remain mostly silent as we walk.
Eventually, It’s Ty who finally chimes in.
“So…crazy stuff, huh?” he doesn’t seem to know what to say, but long periods of silence have always seemed to make my cousin uncomfortable. He looks away as he speaks, clearly feeling just as unsure of how to proceed as I am.
“Yeah… crazy,” I agree.
“So, Bump – that’s his name, right? Bump? – He’s here right now? Following us?”
“Well, he’s actually standing next to me,” I clarify, even though the distinction seems minor.
“But, like, he’s here, though?”
“Yeah. Yeah, he’s here.”
I cast a sideways glance at Bump. He’s fidgeting a little. I try to imagine what it might be like for somebody to ask questions about you to another person, in front of your face – not because that first person is being rude, but because they’re simply unable to see or speak to you. I don’t imagine that it could feel all that great.
“Can I talk to him?” Ty asks. “Like, can he do that thing that he did back in Tanner’s office, so I can ask him some stuff?”
At the mention of this idea, I see a momentary spark light up in Bump’s glowing green eyes, only to be replaced a split second later by a grimace which I understand all too quickly. We had made amends, but the argument which we had had yesterday still hangs heavily in the air between us. We still need a bit of time before either of us will feel comfortable being in each other’s heads like that again.
“Maybe some other time,” I answer. “It’s kind of draining to do, and we’re both a little exhausted.” That isn’t the complete truth, but it isn’t a total lie, either. Sleep had been hard to come by over the past several days.
“Oh,” Ty nods. “Yeah, that makes sense, I guess.”
His eyebrows furrow, and he puts his hands in his pockets. He looks dejected by my response, but he doesn’t press the matter any further than that. The reaction isn’t like him at all. I’d been expecting some pushback – some small resistance, at the very least. Instead, he had just folded.
Ty has never liked to allow people to see when he’s feeling anything other than his usual, obnoxiously chipper self. It’s never that hard to figure out though, even for me.
“How are you feeling?” I ask him. The words feel foreign on my tongue. I can’t remember the last time that I asked them of anybody. I feel a twinge of guilt, but I push it back down. I can feel bad about myself later. I’ll have all the time in the world for that, assuming that some guy possessed by a Boogeyman doesn’t kill me at any point in the next few days.
“Oh, you know,” he shrugs. “Kinda how you’d expect. Ready and raring to go toe-to-toe with the monster who used to live under my bed. Definitely can only see that one ending well.”
He’s trying to be funny, to play off the fact that he’s scared. Instead, the words come out sounding bitter. It’s impossible to blame him.
“Everything will be fine, as long as we stick to the plan”.
I don’t actually know that, but the words sound more reassuring than if I were to saying, “we’ll see how it goes,” so those are the words that I pick.
Clearly, the words sound hollow to him. Maybe, one day, I’ll be half good at this whole being-a-good-friend thing. I’m not there yet, so the best I can try to do is to substitute quality for quantity. Since I’m still new to this, I elect to take a page out of Ty’s very own playbook. I step in front of him.
“What’s up?” Ty asks.
I honestly had not thought that far ahead. Normally, it seems like Ty has some whole course of action mapped out when he does this. This was as far as I had gotten before acting on it.
“I’m trying a… thing,” I replay.
“Um… is it working?”
“Well, it’s not not-working yet, which is really better than I hoped for.”
“Dude, you’re acting weird,” Ty says as he tried so step around me.
“You’re acting weird,” I retort. It sounds childish, but it’s also true.
Ty tried to step around me again, but I continue to block his path.
“Come on, man. It’s been a long day. I want to go home.” It’s more a sigh than a sentence.
“Yeah. Me too.”
He tries to get past me again, but I’m surprisingly good at playing the human wall.
“Then why are you doing this?”
Finally, he stands still, and so do I. That’s one question that I think I actually do have an answer for.
“I guess… I guess I just need to know that you’re going to get through this.”
Ty hadn’t been expecting that. I hadn’t expected the words to come so easily, either. Maybe I’m getting used to this stuff. After a moment, my cousin speaks.
“I wish I could help you, Jim – I do – but I don’t know if I’m going to get through this. I mean, this is crazy, man! And, like, I know that I really don’t have any choice but to accept it, but that doesn’t suddenly make everything that’s happening okay. This is nuts. Some dead guy wants to make me into a puppet. Like – what? How do even -” he stops himself, and begins to rake his fingers through his mop of red hair, gasping air into his lungs in short bursts.
I move to put a hand on his shoulder, but it feels like too much. Maybe I’m not used to this stuff yet, after all. Instead, I take my chances at attempting to comfort him verbally and hope that it doesn’t turn out as badly as it had earlier.
“I understand,” I say. “This wasn’t easy for me either.”
“Okay dude, respect, but your guy doesn’t want to turn you into a piece out of the Buffalo Bill designer collection. It’s kind of different. Willing participant is not the same bag of chips as living meat suit.”
“I mean… technically the women that Buffalo Bill made is suits out of were dead?”
Ty gives me this look that says that right now is clearly not the time to try to figure out comedy. I try again.
“Okay, look, all of us – me, Tasha, Bump – we’re going to do our best to make sure that that doesn’t happen. But, in order for that to work, I need to know that you’re on board. I need to know that you’re going to do what needs to be done. Otherwise, this isn’t going to work.”
“Starting to sound a little bit like Jimmy 1.0,” Ty points out.
“Sorry.” I look down at my feet.
“No, man. It’s actually a lot easier to deal with than this whole nice act you’ve been putting on. There’s already a lot going on. It was kind of way too much to have to deal with you trying to be this other person on top of all that.”
“It isn’t an act,” I insist. The fact that he seems to think that makes me wonder if I’m kidding myself, though.
“You know what I mean, man. It’s just a lot, okay?”
“Yeah, I get it.” I keep my response brief, since he apparently prefers that.
“I’ll do what needs doing,” he says.
“Promise?” I ask, perking back up. I hold out my hand to him. He accepts, and we shake on it.”
Then, something occurs to me.
“Ty… where were you yesterday? When we couldn’t find you.”
He takes his hand away, and his eyes go distant. He looks down at his feet.
He doesn’t speak. Instead, he just reaches into his pocket, and pulls out an orange pharmaceutical bottle. I look from the bottle, back up to him, unsure what to make of the gesture. He nods, indicating that I should take it. So, I do.
The prescription on the label reads “Zolpidem,” but the name is one that I don’t recognize.
“What are these?” I ask. “Where did you get them?”
Part of me hope that he’ll say that he doesn’t know what they are – that he found them somewhere, and that he’s trying to track down the person who they belong to. The rest of me isn’t so naïve.
“They’re sleeping pills,” he says. “I bought them off of Ken Walsh.
Walsh was a burnout who had dropped out of our class last year, with dreams of becoming a professional rapper. Clearly, he had found something to keep him occupied in the meantime.
“Ty, what the hell?” I try to keep a level head, but I’m fuming. This has to be the stupidest thing that he’s ever done. “How long have you been taking these?”
“I don’t know, man… two years? On-and-off, give-or-take.”
I can feel myself about to go off, so I take a deep breath. For a long moment, I say nothing. Then, the sheet-thin veneer that Ty had been managing to keep up for who-knows-how-long cracks and peels away. The person underneath is barely recognizable.
His breath catches, and there’s a quiver in his voice.
“Jimmy, I just couldn’t sleep. The nightmares… they were coming back. They weren’t as bad as before, but they were getting worse. I just – I couldn’t put Mom and Dad through all of that again. They’ve been through so much. So, I went and I handled it.
“I swear that I’m not addicted. I only took them when I needed them. And then, one day, that nightmares stopped. I waited for months, but there was nothing. I was so relieved, man. I took all the pills that I had, and I flushed them. It felt so good to just be rid of them.”
He waits for my reply, silently. The only audible noise aside from the world around us are his ragged breaths, which he attempts desperately to keep in check, but to no avail. Once I’m sure that I can trust myself to speak evenly, I respond. I have to. The sustained hush between us is clearly wreaking havoc on Ty.
“…Then, they came back.”
Another moment of lingering silence.
“…They were so much worse this time – even worse than when I was a kid. I just… couldn’t handle it on my own.”
There was so much to unpack, in everything that Ty had just said.
If he had felt like he could come to me, would he still have resorted to pills? Or am I jus making his whole ordeal about myself?
Did the nightmares that had led to all of this have anything to do with Mr. G? If so, then how long had the Boogeyman been watching Ty? How much more dangerous had he become for it?
The silence is growing long again, and I need to fill it. I look down at the bottle in my hand. I think back to the horrific scenes I had witnessed this week – to Ty writhing in his sleep; to the manic laughter, the daunting journal, even the nightmare that I had had yesterday.
Seeming to sense what I’m thinking, Bump places a hand on my shoulder. I startle for a second, having almost forgotten that he was there. Recomposing myself, I look over to him and he nods. It’s a simple gesture, but the meaning is clear. Without looking up from the pill bottle, I speak.
“You only take these when the nightmares come back?”
“…Yeah,” he replies.
I agonize over the decision for what feels like hours, before holding the bottle back out to him.
“Keep it that way.”
He accepts the tiny vessel, and replies with only a single nod. It’s a somber exchange. I don’t like the idea of my cousin taking stolen sleeping pills that he bought off of a drug dealer, but our good options are few and far between right now. This resort isn’t a great one, but it’s the best bad choice that we have available to us.
For the rest of the way home, nobody speaks. That night’s dinner is a quiet one, filled up almost entirely by Bobby and Clarice attempting to make conversation by talking about their days.
As we prepared to lay down for bed, Ty poured a single pill out into his hand and swallowed it without water.
With the way that things had been going, we both agreed without having to say it out loud that it was better for us to be safe than sorry.