Walking Alone

Hi Betty:

I saw Barney again today—you asked me to keep an eye on him—so here’s a little report. I know you feel badly and still care very much about him despite all that’s happened—we all do.

If only he’d kept his mouth shut.

Earlier today he was walking up 3rd street coming from the Downtown Mall—probably going back to his apartment—the one over Blue Ridge Fulfillment Services’ Garage. I don’t know if you knew but he’s living there now. It’s that 4 car garage behind Saint Patrick’s Church. He told me it’s roomier than the place he had under the French restaurant and has cheaper rent.

He walks up and down the mall 3 or 4 times a day for exercise as you remember —once in a while he stops at Chaps and gets an ice cream and I’ve seen him chatting with that new kid who’s running the Marvin Gallery across from the bank.

He seems to be getting by. He looks well-nourished but I notice his movements are getting stiffer and a bit shaky—the neurological impairment starting to kick in from the radiation. The doctor said it would only be a matter of time—a little more deterioration every day. It won’t be long before Alice and I will have to see what sort of nursing care he can get. It won’t be much—all he has is Social Security and that sad little pension from Hannaford County.

If only he hadn’t said anything.

He was lucky as hell to get that—I guess the Board of Supervisors felt sorry for him—they didn’t have to give him anything. The board and everyone who knew him praised his years of service—he was probably the best County Manager Hannaford’s ever had.

I still can’t believe what happened—him disappearing for 3 days then telling everybody he’d been abducted by aliens. I used to think that was all tabloid hogwash but a few days after he showed up Parker and I drove out to Russet’s farm—the field by the creek—and there it was—this 40 feet wide circle of burnt grass—bits of rock melted—right where he said it happened.

In the 3 years since it happened the radiation levels have dropped some but I’m told it’ll be years before it’s completely safe to stand around in that bare patch. Cows won’t go near it—nothing will grow there—they found a goat dead 20 or 30 feet away a month ago. Glen Russet said it glowed at night for a few days at first. I drove by a few weeks ago at night—I couldn’t see anything.

I just don’t believe all that crap—aliens abducting people, eviscerating cows, government cover-up, area 51. I just don’t believe it.

Well—maybe it would be fairer to say I don’t want to believe it.

It’s too pat—too much an expression of that need, that appetite—all humans have for mystery. We want to believe we’re not alone—that there is transcendent, secret knowledge, understanding and technology out there that will move us to another level and coincidentally save from our own breath-taking stupidity. Talk about the ultimate bail-out—and the ultimate cop-out. We want to be able to indulge our collective asinine impulses then invent a hero who will save us from ourselves. It comes out of the same part of us that cooks up myth, religion, fairy tales, traditional and urban legend.

It scares me—there—I said it. I hate lying.

You remember when we were kids playing “Truth or Dare” at your birthday party—I think it was your 12th—I told you about the nightmares—the goblins that came into my bedroom and took me away into the nothingness.

The dreams stopped when I started to mature—about age 13 or 14—hormonal changes I guess. I know it sounds like the same abduction stuff you hear on those bullshit sensational TV shows but I’m guessing in my case it was all just archetypal childhood abandonment anxieties probably influenced by the science fiction I used to read—and write. Remember—I won that short-story contest the American Legion Post put on about the same time as your birthday party. The judges loved the illustrations I included—I just drew from my dreams.

I never said anything—except to you at your party. Even if I thought now there was something to the dreams I had as a kid—I’d certainly never say anything. God—why did Barney have to open his mouth? He went from a highly respected county manager to the village idiot—almost overnight.

At first I didn’t think much about what happened to Barney other than just feeling bad for you and him. But as time went by it was on my mind more and more.

I hate that this happened—these last few months I can’t think about anything else. I’ve started sleeping during the day—afraid to sleep at night. I never told anyone—even when I was a kid I never told mom or dad—but I’ve got those same three little holes under my right arm like Barney has.

I bought a gun but I know I won’t be able to use it. I sit up all night with all the lights on and the gun on my lap—just waiting. Everything was going fine—it was long dead and buried—well buried anyway—until Barney told the whole world what had happened. Now it’s all back—it’s like I’m a terrified 12 year old again—and there’s no one I dare tell—except you—now. Sorry I had to dump all this on you Betty—I just had to tell somebody.

If only he’d kept his mouth shut.

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