The entries in the
journal had stopped over a week ago. Carl knew that he hadn’t
long to find his missing person or else it could happen all over
again. It should have been a straightforward case, the kind he
dealt with all the time, only this one felt wrong. Failure had
visited Carl too often in his life, but he was determined to
break the pattern. He knew the consequences could be disastrous
if he didn’t. Sifting through the box he dug out another memory
2000. “Dear Diary…”
2001. “Dear Diary…”
2002. “Dear Diary…”
It wasn’t exactly
War and Peace, but it was proof of an existence. Then nothing
for five years. Carl rubbed his forehead, felt the pain behind
his eyes and knew he was getting too close to it again, too personal.
It happened sometimes. It was late, he was tired, he had drunk
too much. He reached for the bottle of Scotch. Somehow it slipped
through his fingers. He tried once more only to find he had trouble
focusing. He desperately needed to rest and wondered if his mind
would allow him. He stumbled backwards, tripped and fell. The
bed was somewhere behind him, yet it seemed like years until
he hit it. His eyes rolled a little as he fought the battle to
sleep. He must hurry up and find him. He must find him soon.
“Never heard of him.”
“It’s a photograph.”
“Never seen him, either,” Jimmy
Everyone was a smart-alec
these days. Carl blamed TV. “You were at school together.”
“You must remember.” Carl
looked at the dead eyes in front of him and knew his question
was in vain. He picked the photograph up from the table, carefully
stored it in his pocket and went to leave.
Jimmy’s hand caught
the sleeve of Carl’s coat. “You drag me all the way down here
Carl looked at his
contact questioningly. “I paid you for your time.”
“More than enough
for what you told me.” Carl shook his arm free and made his way
to the toilets. As soon as the door closed behind him, he knew
it was a mistake. A small, enclosed, silent, space. The door
re-opened. Carl bolted for a cubicle and tried to lock it shut.
He was too late. The lavatory door slammed into his face knocking
him backwards. Jimmy loomed over him.
“Now are you going
to pay me?”
“No.” Carl knew what
the answer meant. Taking a beating was all part of the dirty
It wasn’t a particularly
savage encounter, but dabbing the cuts and bruises that night
Carl realized that he barely felt them anymore. It was a bad
sign. The worst of it was it had cost him the best part of an
evening, which could prove fatal in the long run. He looked in
the mirror, swabbed and remembered the first time.
“What do you mean?” Staddon’s
voice erupted across the classroom.
“You’re just what?”
Silence was usually
safer, but the way Staddon marched towards him, Carl knew that
he had to answer. “I’m just not sure, sir.”
Staddon reached Carl.
It was as if the boy had been cast adrift from the rest of the
class. The teacher stood barely two feet in front of him. Heads
in the classroom swiveled to focus on the eye of the storm. Did
they really believe? All of them? Was he the only one who doubted?
“You’re not sure?” It
was barely a whisper. When Staddon whispered it meant real trouble.
Carl braced himself
for the blow. It never came. Staddon wanted an answer first. “I
suppose what I mean, sir, is how do you know?”
Staddon’s eyes blazed
with the glow of certainty. He grasped Carl’s hair and yanked
it until the boy was forced to look at the crucifix nailed above
the teacher’s desk at the front of the class.
“I have faith, boy.
I do not doubt. I believe. Do you believe, Watts?”
“Yes, sir.” Carl was
“You lie to me, boy.
I know you don’t, for if you truly believe, if you desire strongly
enough, anything is possible. What is possible?”
“Anything, sir,” echoed
the class in unison.
“I want to believe,
Staddon let go of
Carl’s ear. He marched back to his desk and sat down. “Do you
hear that, boys? Mr. Watts wants to believe. Do you know what
I think? I think he needs help. Would you care to help him, boys?”
Like a chorus the
class chimed, “Yes, sir.”
Carl sat down with
dread in his heart and waited agonizingly for break-time.
Complete story available in the
print edition of Big Pulp Winter 2010