Monday, October 23, 2006

That's Where the Eel Man Lives

Old Charlie Turkwood finally got fed up with the neighborhood children hopping the fence and swimming in his backyard pool every afternoon when he and Maude went to the picture show. So one night he snorkeled down and screwed a submarine hatch cover into the plaster at the bottom of the deep end.

Then over the next few days he let it be known around town that people needed to be very careful when entering his yard, especially near the pool, 'cause that's where the eel man lives.

And that did the trick. The children stayed away. Most children have highly attuned monster sensory mechanisms. They don't know what an Eel Man is and don't think to question if such a thing even exists. Because, see, they know what it could be, and that you sure as heck wouldn't want to swim with it.

Old Charlie pulled his easy chair up to the sliding patio door and spent the next two weeks peeking through the blinds and giving Maude up-to-the-minute updates. He was continually pleased to report that the level of unauthorized activity in the general pool area remained at zero and holding.

***

"I think I found you a home."

Little Christie stood on the shore of an industrial pond, pinching her nose against the smell. Her wide blue eyes scanned the sludgy surface, watching for the ripples.

"It's two towns over."

The sun broke free of the clouds for a moment and set rainbows alive in the patches of oily slick that dotted the festering water. The swirling colors caught Christie's eye, and made her heart catch at their beauty. But it's an uneasy heart that beholds such beauty because there's also a darkness to the shimmer. And such a vibrant display isn't natural, not on the surface of clean water.

"Gray Boy?" Christie called. "Gray Boy did you hear me? Apparently a man named Turkwood has built you a wonderful home."

The eyes that slowly surfaced two feet in front of the underwater tire pile were human eyes--logical and alert.

"There you are Gray Boy." Christie smiled and knelt on the shore, absolutely ruining the hem of her pretty dress.
"Don't be afraid--I'll help you get there."

And to accurately describe the face and body that followed those eyes, up and out of the water, would take much more time than you and I can spare tonight, what with tomorrow being a work day and all. Let's just say it was the Eel Man and leave it at that.

***

One minute the backyard was empty and Old Charlie Turkwood swiveled in his easy chair, chortling glee to his wife. When he looked out again, he beheld a little blond girl sitting cross-legged on his diving board.

"Great Eisenhower's Ghost!" Charlie exclaimed and bumped the reclining lever by accident. His feet shot up in the air. One slipper smacked the ceiling. The other one knocked over a vase.

"What was that dear?" Maude inquired from the kitchen.

"Interlopers!" Charlie bellowed and stormed out into the yard.

***

Every pool owner has a certain expectation of the sort of thing he's likely to find drifting in his backyard pool. Leafs. Leafs probably top the list. Next come assorted debris. Pools are good at collecting assorted debris. The carcass of a rodent. Yeah, sure, from time to time.

Well, Old Charlie Turkwood looked down into the waters of his tiled reservoir and saw an abomination of evolution: Eight and a half feet of gray, undulating flesh with intelligent eyes at one end. Old Charlie Turkwood stared into those eyes and could practically hear the crunch of a grave robber’s spade splitting his skull in two.

"That hatch doesn't go anywhere, it's just bolted to the plaster."

The little blond girl was speaking to him but Charlie didn't know how to look at her. He was so horribly transfixed by the coiled thing at the bottom of his pool that it felt like if his head were to turn away, his eyes would be torn from their sockets.

"You said you built him a home." Christie continued with the cold fury of one who doesn't yet understand what betrayal is and is struggling to come to grips with the emotion it invokes.

"We crossed four highways to get here. He nearly died out in the sands."

The thing in the pool opened its mouth, showing its teeth and Old Charlie responded with a less-than-eloquent series of babbling groans.

"I had to bring him water in a Dixie cup. Dogs torn one of his flippers off."

Christie stretched out flat on the diving board and dangled her hands in the water. The thing in the pool swam up and nuzzled her fingers with its snout. She smiled and scratched its chin and then stared at Charlie with such an innocent determination that something inside him toppled over and the regret of a childless life threatened to tear him apart.

"You're going to build a cavern beneath this pool and make that a two-way hatch. You're going to breed salmon in the jacuzzi and stop using chlorine to keep the water clean."

Christie rolled off the diving board and splashed gently into the water. The thing looped itself around her and they touched noses underwater. Then she swam back to the surface and spoke to Charlie again.

"And I get to visit whenever I like. And if I'm ever not here when the sun goes down, you have to read him a story."

Christie pulled herself out of the water.
"That's all Mister. You start tomorrow."

Christie and the thing in the pool stared at Old Charlie Turkwood, waiting for his response.

Seconds ticked by. They turned into minutes.

"Does he have a name?" Old Charlie finally rasped.

"I call him Gray Boy." Little Christie replied.

"Where did he come from?"

"I don't know. But this is his home now."

And the next morning Charlie rented scuba gear and jackhammer and started excavating a cavern beneath his pool.

When he needed to rest he surfaced and held on to Christie’s air mattress and she shared her lemonade with him. And for the first few weeks he fully expected to be messily disemboweled in the very next instant. But as time passed and his intestines stayed where they belonged, Old Charlie Turkwood came to enjoy the eel man’s company.

And the years went by and Christie grew into a young lady, complete with all the distractions that come with that. And she no longer visited as often. And more and more Charlie found he was the one reading the bedtime story by the pool to the eel man as the sun went down. And then he had a stroke and shortly thereafter his wife Maude died and his friends all told him to sell the house and move somewhere more comfortable. But Charlie Turkwood didn’t sell.

“I’ll never sell this house.” Old Charlie slurred, through a mouth half-paralyzed. “Christie is coming to visit today and this is where the eel man lives.”

They chalked it up to dementia and called the mental health professionals. But Old Charlie drove them back with a broom. Well, that and the fact that several of them saw an unholy shadow in the pool behind Charlie. Something that couldn’t possibly be. Something with human eyes but way too many razor teeth. They left screaming and Charlie laughed as they ran, even as his heart failed in his chest.

And he was nearly dead when Christie found him, stretched out beside the pool. The eel man sat coiled in at the bottom, writhing with grief for his friend.

“Oh Charlie.” Christie whispered and knelt at the side of the dying old man.

“Oh Christie.” Charlie replied. “I’m so afraid for the eel man--where is he gonna live now?”

“Don’t you worry Charlie Turkwood.” Christie leaned over and kissed Charlie on the cheek. “I’ll find him a place and help him get there. Thanks for letting us use your pool.”

“Where did he come from Christie?” It was the last thought Charlie ever had. A moment later Old Charlie Turkwood died in Christie’s arms.

Christie struggled to speak through the tears.
"Good-bye Charlie."

She turned to the pool.
“Come on Gray Boy.” She whispered.

Human eyes broke the surface.

8 Comments:

At 6:33 AM, Anonymous ATD said...

Words fail me. They fail me probably because it's 6:20 in the morning and almost time for me to catch my train to school. But they fail me nonetheless... this story is utterly beautiful, especially that last line. Birth, middle age, death, then renewal, all encapsulated in a story about a mutant made from industrial waste. It's like M. Night Shyamalan meets Bambi on the set of the X-Files with a script written by Rachel Carson.

Also: Latigo, I know this lady who's sure that all that glitters is gold, and she's, like, totally buying a stairway to heaven. What should I do?

?~ATD

 
At 7:43 AM, Blogger Ethan Greer said...

You knocked it out of the park with this one. Excellent work. This is my favorite line:

"Old Charlie Turkwood stared into those eyes and could practically hear the crunch of a grave robber’s spade splitting his skull in two."

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Lovely, Latigo.

 
At 4:24 PM, Anonymous Nicolas Papaconstantinou said...

Humph.

First time I've been by in an age, and this is the first one I read...

Mr Flint, we are all charlatans beside you. That's Where The Eel Man Lives is the perfect short story, what with the love, and the horror, and the mystery...

 
At 9:33 PM, Blogger Ari said...

From slimy icthyian threads you wove a deeply sympathetic character, and that will be all I have to draw about me for comfort when the night terrors come.

Still, happy Dwight Yoakam's birthday today. ;)

 
At 11:06 PM, Blogger the Monk said...

The soul of a poet, Mr. Flint, that's what ye have.

 
At 12:42 AM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

No problem ATD--just remind that lady that at some point the forests are going to echo with laughter... and that sort of thing is really, really creepy.

Thanks Ethan Greer. I sometimes worry that I don't write about cowboys and desperados enough anymore. But I'm relieved the betrayal doesn't bother you much.

So are you Sam.

And it has an Eel Man in it Nicolas. Don't forget about that! More short stories should have eel men in them. 'Cause then even if it's not very good, hey, at least it had an eel man in it.

I adore you Ari. You remembered. Happy Birthday Dwight. Your guitar is the only thing that keeps me hanging on.

Thank you very much Monk. And, I'd just like to add, the body of a Scandinavian warrior god.

 
At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Strange Forces said...

It really is something of a crime that you're not better known.

Have you ever thought of turning your skills toward the short film? I'm sure there are teams in your area who would jump at the chance to work with an inspired writer such as yourself.

(don't forget the National version!)

 

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