AFTER A QUICK breakfast of Blueberry Pop-Tarts and a short cruise down Catalpa Drive in Curt’s (thankfully), stench-free ride, JJ and Curtis walked confidently into the library of Driftwood Heights High. With HB (hatchet-buddy), stowed safely out of sight in his duffle bag, JJ had felt a quite cool about him. Both boys thought it more prudent to leave the wooden case locked safely in Curt’s footlocker back in his garage. The library at Driftwood Heights High resembled any other standard high school library: Bays with dumpy PCs, catacombs of bookshelves containing various tomes, a row of tables dividing the cavernous room in twain, posters about literacy versus illiteracy plastering the industrial cinderblock walls, and the checkout desk where Miss Slam the librarian ruled over her precious books with an iron fist. No one dared to return a book late or damaged in any way—no one.
Today the library was virtually deserted. No clamorous card playing could be heard; it was as quiet as a tomb. Miss Slam sat perched at her station behind the checkout desk reading the newspaper with a solemn countenance. As the boys approached her to ask about occupying a computer for a few hours, JJ got his first real look at the school librarian and almost fainted. He did stumble back a step, stopped, and stood open-mouthed, staring stupidly at the beautiful blonde from the street and his dreams.
“Is something wrong, sugar?” Michelle Slam asked as she looked up from her paper into JJ confused face.
“JJ, you okay, homie?” Curt asked, shaking JJ by the shoulder. “Snap out of it!”
“Oh my goodness,” Miss Slam exclaimed. “You’re the boy from the street the other morning!”
“And you’re the woman from my dreams,” JJ said, finding his voice.
“Nice play, Shakespeare.” Curt elbowed JJ, who looked more than slightly embarrassed.
“I’m flattered, sweetheart,” Miss Slam addressed JJ as she would a crushing twelve-year-old, “but it would never work honey. You’re just not my type of guy. I’m also happy to see you seem no worse the wear from your accident.”
“That’s not what I mean!” JJ blurted, hurrying up to the desk to drown in a pair of deep-blue eyes.
“Well then, what do you mean, sugar?” Miss Slam inquired, with a dubious look on her unblemished face.
“I-I, I c-can’t tell you. You’ll just think I’ve lost my m-mind.” JJ tore his eyes away from hers to closely examine the due date stamp and ink pad to his left.
“Yeah Miss Slam,” Curt said, stepping up to jump in the conversation. “If we told you, you’d probably try and have us thrown in the or something. Ya know what I’m sayin’?”
“Why don’t you guys try me, anyway? I may only be twenty-three, but I was raised in The D and got my degree at NYU. So, trust me when I say: I’ve seen some strange things, boys.” Miss Slam stated with a tone that resonated a truth and grit that made JJ’s mind up. Dictating what he said next.
“We’re on a mission to eradicated evil, Miss Slam.”
“Oh, that’s noble, sugar.” She fought to contain a cynical smirk. “Maybe you’re not as unharmed as I first thought. I mean, why would I be guest-starring in your dreams? I would expect this sort of behavior from my regular bookworms, but I think I’ve seen you in here a grand total of twice, and you never checked anything out. So I ask you again, young man: Why do you dream of me?”
JJ was flummoxed. He couldn’t seem to make his brain form the words that he wanted to say, let alone the words she probably was expecting to hear. Curt was no help whatsoever. Standing there hands clasped behind his back—looking like a scared dog for some reason—admiring his shoelaces intently like they held the secrets of the universe. JJ forced himself to look Miss Slam straight in her beautiful blue eyes, the look on her face brokering no other answer but the truth. JJ hardened his resolve and chose to enlighten her.
“I’m not sure where to start, Miss Slam,” JJ confessed.
“JJ, no don—” Curt began; JJ cut off his words with a look that could’ve instantly frozen boiling water.
“Whoa, this sounds like you boys really do have something to say. Something real.”
“We do, Miss Slam,” JJ and Curt replied in tandem.
“Is this a long and sorted tale?” Miss Slam inquired.
“It is,” the boys spoke in tandem again.
“Then may I suggest we start with a seat and a couple of cold pops.” She gestured toward her office and the comfy looking chairs within. “What do you guys say?”
JJ smiled. “That sounds wonderful, Miss Slam. Lead the way.”
Seated comfortably in Miss Slam’s office, sipping an ice-cold can of Faygo Red Pop a few minutes later, JJ felt like his mind was in order enough to spill his guts to the gorgeous librarian concerning the whole Boogeyman ordeal. He wanted to start from the beginning. Tell her of the first nightmare about the terrifying tree creature. And the hideous, grisly, burning basement ballerina—both incarnations of the Boogeyman, JJ concluded—but something was nagging him to start with answering her question more directly, first. JJ said a quick silent prayer for eloquence, when a third option occurred to him out of left field. He decided to go with it.
“Miss Slam, have you or any of your family ever owned the house on the corner of and , in our corner of ?” JJ asked, waggling his thumb back and forth between Curt and himself.
“I don’t see how this pertains to—” Miss Slam started, but was rudely cut off.
“Just answer the damn question!” Curt snarled, irrationally perturbed.
“Jeez, Curt. Bite her damn head off, why don’t you. You don’t have to be so rude, homie. I’ve got this.” JJ admonished his best friend, before returning his attention to the lovely librarian. “Please, Miss Slam. Would you be so kind as to answer my question?”
“Well, like I was trying to say before I was so rudely interrupted,” she continued, giving Curt a contemptuous look. “I don’t see what this has to do with you dreaming of me, but yes. My father lived there for a time after my parents split up. It was when I was very young, so I don’t remember much. I do remember that I was never allowed to go see my dad at his new house, because the place was in such poor shape. It was a true fixer-upper, I’d guess you’d say, and my mom thought I’d get irreparably injured. Then for whatever reason after about six or seven months, he just up and moved to without so much as a see ya later alligator.”
“Did he keep a picture of you on his mantel?” JJ inquired.
“Yes, I believe he did. But millions of parents keep photos of their children on mantels all over the world, JJ.” She was getting a little irritated herself now.
“Sure Miss Slam, but the picture I’m speaking of is of a four- or five-year-old little blonde cutie with pigtails, a smile with a missing front tooth, dressed in a pink sweater with ‘Jesus Loves Me’ stitched on the front.” JJ took a sip of his beverage.
All the color drained from Miss Slam’s face, as JJ finished describing the little girl in the picture. It was all she could do not to toss her cookies all over the desk. This unassuming young man sitting before her just described a picture that not only sat on her father’s mantel, but was destroyed along with her father and all his possessions, when he set his house in ablaze a decade past.
“But how—no—you couldn’t have. How could you have?” she queried incredulous.
“But I did, Miss Slam.” JJ assured the skeptically, stunned librarian. “I’ve seen that picture of the little girl—the picture of you—in my dreams half a dozen times or more.”
Curt egged him on: “Drop the beat on her, homie.”
“What do you mean by that? What does he mean by that JJ?”
JJ gave Curt a quizzical stare, trying to convey confused wrath to his best friend. Something was up with Curt. He was never usually so rude to a hot chick. JJ couldn’t worry all day about what crawled up his friend’s ass and died, as the librarian’s level stare was boring a hole through his head.
“What my hostile homie means,” JJ clarified, fidgeting in his seat, “is that me dreaming of a picture of the five-year-old version of you, Miss Slam, isn’t the most unbelievable part of what we are dealing with here.”
“Really. Well, please. Enlighten me,” she challenged.
“Okay,” JJ began hesitantly. “I don’t expect you to believe what I’m about to tell you, Miss Slam. Hell, I wouldn’t believe me either if I wasn’t living it, but, um—well, we know who’s been killing all those kids.”
“Is that so JJ? And have you told the police this hot bit of information?”
“No. I haven’t yet because not only would they not believe me, but they can’t do anything to stop him. They haven’t been chosen by God like I have.”
“Hold on a second here, young man,” Miss Slam interjected, as JJ paused to take a breath. “What are you trying to tell me, JJ? That you know who the child murderer is. That you know who’s been plaguing our fair city, and that you of all people have been chosen—by God no less—to what, kill this person?”
“Not kill, Miss Slam, destroy,” JJ clarified. “And he’s not really a person, he’s more like a—”
“Like a fucking demon straight from Hell. Ya know what I’m sayin’?” Curt offered, offhandedly.
“Thank you, homie. He’s right in his assessment, Miss Slam. This child killer that’s out there is more a demon than a human. Plus, we know his identity,” JJ said, nodding toward his suddenly aloof friend.
“And the killer is?” She scoffed.
JJ replied stoically: “The Boogeyman, Miss Slam.”
“Get the hell out of my library!” Miss Slam ordered, furiously.
“But Miss Slam—”
“Don’t you ‘But Miss Slam’ me, mister. What do you take me for, some sort of imbecile? Please tell me I’m the first person you’ve played this sick little joke of yours on.”
“It’s not a joke, Miss Slam. I’m, we’re being deadly serious with you right now. The Boogeyman is real and I’ve found him.”
“You truly believe what you’re saying, JJ.” It wasn’t a question. “Yes, I can see in your eyes that you do. And you believe this ludicrous hypothesis too, Curtis?”
“I believe JJ believes, and that’s good enough for me. Ya know what I’m sayin’?”
“What proof do you boys have that this tall tale of yours is factual?”
“Show her your neck, homie,” Curt suggested to JJ.
With a sigh, JJ deftly slipped out of his hoodie to bare his battered neck to Miss Slam. To JJ, it seemed like those few seconds that Miss Slam sat slack-jawed staring at his terribly bruised throat, stretched on for hours. Curt chuckled presumably because of the look on her face, but JJ couldn’t be sure. He was really beginning to worry about his friend’s mental state. Had dropping all this Boogeyman drama in Curt’s lap, made the butter slide off his biscuit? JJ wondered, as he waited for Miss Slam to process all of this terrifying information. Slowly, she stood and made the short trek to where JJ was seated to inspect his neck up close.
“Oh, JJ. Who did this to you, sugar?” She grimaced, lightly caressing the vicious purple welt on JJ’s throat.
“I told you already. Boogeyman. As in, the Boogeyman!” JJ shouted, thrusting his hoodie back over his head.
“She doesn’t believe us, homie. This was a mistake, JJ. Let’s bounce.”
Curt stood and left the librarian’s office to go flirt with a group of pretty girls, that just strolled in to apparently give one another makeovers. JJ stared up at Miss Slam forlornly, as she in turn gazed down at him with a look in her eyes that gave him a slight impression that just might be starting to believe. She slumped into the chair that Curt so recently vacated, hid her face in her hands, and began to make a sound that JJ couldn’t quite discern. Was it a sob or laughter? At any rate, JJ closed the office door once more, and waited for Miss Slam to compose herself. The next words out of the pretty librarian’s mouth were like a bucket of ice water to the face. JJ had her repeat it so he was sure he had heard her right.
“Say that again, please. I didn’t quite catch that.”
“I said no one believed me either when I tried to tell them how that clown-faced bastard was tormenting my father, me being a little girl and all.” Miss Slam confessed, grabbing a tissue from the box on her desk.
“I think it must be my turn to be confused and inquisitive, Miss Slam.” JJ looked the librarian square in the eyes. “Now, what are you telling me?”
Miss Slam scooted closer and lightly took JJ’s face between her delicate hands. JJ took notice of how soft they were and subdued a shutter of pleasure. This was not the time to be pitching any tents! As he brought his brown eyes up to meet her baby blues, JJ couldn’t help but noticed a discoloration on the inside of Miss Slam’s left bicep. A tattoo! It seemed the beautiful, unassuming little librarian had a card up her sleeve. JJ couldn’t contain his smile as he locked eyes with Miss Slam, having just realized in whose company he was with.
“I’m saying that I believe what you’re telling me, sugar.” She removed her hands from JJ’s melon.
“Fresh, Miss Slam, I was hoping you would!” JJ was relieved. “Miss Slam, can I ask you a question?”
“You just did, JJ,” Miss Slam teased, nudging JJ’s boot with the toe of her chucks. “Go ahead and ask away, sugar.”
“Are you down, Miss Slam?” JJ asked over his shoulder, as he exposed the First Joker’s Card tattoo he obtained from Curt’s cousin Cletus, last summer vacation.
“Until I’m dead in the ground JJ, ’til I’m dead in the ground.”