“I thought you’d like them,” Richard said defensively.“ Like the soldiers we played with when you were a kid. You remember, don’t you?”
When Billy was five, his father presented him with a bag of plastic soldiers, then left. Billy did the best he could alone, staging battles between the US Army and rocks he’d dug out of the backyard because it would have been unpatriotic to have the soldiers fight each other. He remembered convincing his childhood friend, Dwayne, to bring Dwayne’s samurai soldiers over so his men wouldn’t have to fight rocks.
Billy ignored his father’s question, instead asking: Why are they carryin’ tools, Richard? Hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work we go?
. . .
Still silence. Though his headache was a seven on its way to an eight, Billy spoke aloud. With exaggerated calm: “Richard?”
“This ugly house, the tramps, your cars—all that cost a lotta money, right?”
. . .
Less calmly: “So you’re tellin’ me the money you didn’t spend on that crap, you spent on these statues? Chrissake, how stupid is that?”
Richard stood up from his wheelie stool. “Hey! Watch the tone, Buckaroo. Show some respect for the man who attended your baseball games.”
“You came to two, and you were drunk both times.”
“Those games were so long. And it’s hard to get booze at little league games, I really had to hunt for it.”
“Yes, I did. Now, let’s see, didn’t we work on your dirt bike together?”
“Wrong. That was Dwayne’s dad, Mr. Grady. Try again.”
“Okay, what about that brand-new PlayStation I got you for your birthday?”
“Auntie J and Uncle Mickey gave it to me—for Christmas. Not you. And it was used.”
“Well, Buckaroo, I can’t help it if they’re cheap. Anyway, coulda sworn it was me.”
“Mom told me everyone pretended it was from you! And they’re poor, Richard, not cheap. Uncle Mickey would give you the shirt off his back.”
“’Shirt off his back?’ Who’d want to wear that ratty old wife-beater?”
On it went, Richard purposefully missing his son’s points, Billy illuminating Richard’s shortcomings—alcoholism, absenteeism, and avarice—in Broadway floods. The mechanics of the old ranch hand pattern were shifting, however. Richard’s whininess hadn’t changed, it was the strength of his voice, its unsettling volume, which had been growing ever since the funeral. And his father sounded so lifelike—not some phony Hun—and so close, as if sitting in the Corolla’s passenger seat. Was he really hearing him, were Billy’s thoughts still his own?
“Richard, you a mind reader?”
. . .
Out loud, it sounded stupid, but BK took the silence as proof of mental confidentiality. This was too small a comfort, however, to offset hearing what his doctor called auditory hallucinations, however. That was the bad news. The good news was the cure: Quetiapine, medication a doctor had prescribed for him a month ago. Within days of the first dose, Richard’s unsolicited commentaries began fading, ceasing by week’s end. Better living through chemistry—not just good news, but great news! The med came with strings, however. The Quetiapine, or “Q” as he called it, shut his father up, but produced energy-sapping nausea which threatened his job. He’d stopped taking it.
Between no Q and seeing these goddamn statues, he told himself, no wonder Richard’s workin’ the mic.
“Okay, time to break out the sign,” Billy said aloud, then palmed his forehead and looked at the dashboard clock: 12:18 PM. He put the car in PARK, not knowing how long this might take. Drawing a breath, closed his eyes, and went on the defensive, imagining a blue stop sign, just as Dr. Singh had taught him. He struggled at first to maintain this strange image—the sign begged to be red—but soon Richard’s voice started hitching and bucking, so BK kept at it. At 12:25, Dick’s voice climbed to a whine and by 12:26, went inaudible.
The whole deal took only eight minutes, but they were costly minutes. Billy’s sweat-soaked t-shirt felt clammy, and his eye was still painful despite a pressed palm. Still, holy crap, it worked! He had silenced Richard with an imaginary prop! This, the blue stop sign’s first successful field-test, had been very satisfying; until now, he’d only practiced it in Dr. Singh’s office, without his opponent, Mental Richard, present.
He slowly opened his eyes, focusing on Richard’s army. There were at least a dozen statues spaced about seventy feet apart, standing in a line along the checkerboard wall. Billy thought it a safe bet that the parade of tool-holding men, like the wall, completely encircled the property. They stood facing away from the barrier as if guarding it, all except a strange, three-party greeting committee, about fifty feet up the driveway. This trio stood close to the drive, like tollbooth operators, but were no collectors of fees. The center one was large and imposing, easily eight feet tall—the only statue not holding a tool. It was flanked by two swordsmen and it looked important, like royalty—some sort of emperor or king. The muscular sculpture stared menacingly at Billy, holding its thick arms across its torso as if expecting something. For a moment, BK considered the eight dollars in his wallet, then felt foolish.
Ain’t payin’ no toll, Hoss, he thought. Good luck with that.
Excerpt of the first chapter of horror-fantasy novel 22 Dutch Road