A bombardment of knocking rips Hilter away from his computer screen. He sets the laptop on the pizza box sitting on the couch cushion beneath his legs and stands up, cracks his stiff back, then hobbles over to the front door. The knocking doesn’t stop until he answers it, and Cooper nearly flattens him to the ground with the force of his entry.
“I wanna go home, Mister Williamson,” Cooper squeals in a short, high-pitched burst. “I don’t wanna… I don’t… I wanna go home. I shouldn’t have come here, this was a bad idea. I’m going to be okay, I’m going to get over David. I want to go home.”
Hilter closes the front door and guides Cooper into the living room. “Cooper, please calm down. I got us a chicken bacon ranch pizza, it’s cold but I can warm up a couple slices for you, if you’d like. I–”
“I’m not hungry, I-I want to go home. I need to get out of here. Bad things happen so good things can happen, and that’s okay. I understand that now, I’m not going to come back. I shouldn’t have come back, I–”
The beeping of a dialed phone number cuts Cooper off. “All right, I’m calling your folks right now. It’s about a half hour drive to get here from Haskull though, so you’re going to have to wait regardless. Are you… what can I do for you, Cooper? You’re very distressed.”
Cooper, sitting on the chair to the left of the couch, the one next to the broken end table, brings his knees up to his chest and hugs them tightly. He says nothing.
Hilter sighs heartily, then presses the call button on his phone. The ensuing chat with Cooper’s mom is very short – yes, Cooper is fine, the session went about as expected, he’s all ready to come home now – and when he hangs up the phone, he notices how wet Cooper’s clothing is.
“Cooper, what happened to your clothes?” But Cooper just keeps breathing hard through his nose, Cooper keeps rocking back and forth in the chair, the cushion of which is now very muddy. “All right, ehm… I’m going to warm up a few slices of the pizza anyway, okay? If you don’t want it when it’s warm, then I’ll just eat it. Please don’t go anywhere.”
Cooper watches Hilter slowly pick up the pizza box from the couch. His eyes follow the doctor as he walks into the kitchen, then they linger at the doorway; when Hilter comes back through, Cooper’s gaze is waiting for him. Hilter sits down on the chair across the room from Cooper and takes his notepad and pen from the end table.
“Look, Cooper, I ehm… I know I shouldn’t have yelled at you before. I probably shouldn’t have let you go for that walk either, but–”
“Not that.” Cooper says flatly into his knees. Hilter relaxes a bit and waits for Cooper to continue, and after a few minutes, he does. “Not… not your fault. I… do you have my knife?”
“Your knife?” Hilter asks, confused.
“My dad’s old knife. The one my parents thought I used to kill David. I always carry it with me now, but I didn’t have it in the woods. I needed it in the woods but I didn’t have it. Did you take it?”
“I most certainly did not,” Hilter says, his voice laced with concern. “Why did you need the knife in the woods?”
“Because,” he says, then snaps his jaws shut. He almost said it, he almost just out and said it.
“Because…? You can tell me, Cooper. I won’t share it with your parents, it won’t leave this room.”
“You won’t believe me,” Cooper states as fact.
“Do I need to, though? I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but I have another patient who believes he sees genies whenever he lights incense products. I don’t judge him for it, I don’t try to tell him he’s wrong. For all I know, he really has made contact with the genies, or djinns, as he calls them. It’s important that we don’t bottle things up inside, Cooper. Please, tell me what happened in the woods.”
Cooper looks left and then right, as if checking to make sure nobody else is in the house. “Fine. I um… I went back down… wait.” Cooper climbs down from the chair and gets on his hands and knees to look beneath it. He reaches his hand into the dusty darkness beneath the chair and pulls it out in a closed fist, then climbs back up.
Hilter smiles. “Find your knife?”
Cooper clicks the blade open and holds the slim black grip tight in his right hand, with the blade on the pinky side, like David showed him. David said that’s how a knife fighter holds a knife. “Yeah. Okay… so I went back down where The Serpent grabbed David. I thought it would make me feel better to be down there, but it didn’t. I just felt worse and alone. But I ran all the way there and I was really sweaty, so I waded into the water to cool down… oh my God.”
“What, what’s wrong?”
“I forgot my shoes by the lake.”
A moment of silent passes, as neither of them really know what to say. Then, Cooper ventures, “Fuck it, whatever. I’m never going back in those woods.”
“Cooper, your mom is going to–”
“Fuck my mom.” He grips the knife tighter. “I don’t care, I’ll just make something up. She wouldn’t believe me if I told her the truth, anyway.”
Hilter makes a scribble in his notepad. “All right, if you wish. Now, you waded into the water…”
“Yeah, I was wading in the water, and then I saw this… thing. This glowing thing.” Cooper lets his feet fall to the floor, but he keeps his grip on the knife. “It was attached to the lakebed, maybe seven feet under the water. It was really stuck there, if I had the knife I probably could have cut it loose really easily, but I might have broken it, too. It doesn’t really matter though – look, I found The Serpent’s egg. It’s real, Hilter, I’m telling you The Serpent is real, and it’s reproducing. I don’t know how, maybe Doctor Weis gave it the ability to reproduce asexually like Komodo dragons.”
Choosing not to delve into all the information he learned about the Weis Ecology Center and the surrounding woodlands today – including the fact that the center was originally a farm owned by a family with the last name of Carrigan, that it’s been around since the eighteen’hundreds. that it’s had many’a moniker since then, and that the whole Nazi neighborhood theory is just a rumor that was allegedly started by a certain blogger who’s a fan of the color purple in an attempt to drown out the rumors about herself being a witch – Hilter says, “Komodo dragons reproduce asexually?”
“Yes, they do… sometimes. But that’s not the important part. I found The Serpent’s egg and I took it out of the lake, but The Serpent knew.”
“I heard its scream. It made the same noise before it ate David, this horrible, ear-splitting scream… it knows the egg was taken, but I was pretty far away from the water when it found out. I still ran though, I wasn’t about to take any chances.” He looks at the knife. “Not without this.” He looks at Hilter, then, “Do you believe me? I was so scared with the egg alone that I didn’t even think to put my shoes back on before I left. You believe me, don’t you?”
Hilter says nothing, just keeps writing in his notepad. Then, “I’ll give my views at the end. You don’t have the egg with you now, so I must presume you lost it – what happened?”
The corners of Cooper’s mouth rise up in tiny curls. They’re almost unnoticeable, but they sure are there. Then, as he continues recounting the events of his final walk through the woods around Fricker Drive, his mouth falls back to a frown. “I ran along the old logging road, and I was going really fast. Like really, really fast – David was a really good trail runner and he taught me how to do it, but I guess I was so afraid of The Serpent that I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going. And I uh, I missed a turn and just kept going, and the trail brought me to a shack.”
“A shack…?” Hilter asks.
“Yeah, a uh… an old ratty shack with a moldy plywood door. And there was… there was a guy living inside it. A creepy guy. He was wearing a ski mask–”
Time seems to freeze as Hilter’s mind flashes to the notes he took during his second session with Scotty Mells, the patient who sees the djinns – in a dream, Scotty saw a despicably similar ratty shack set far back into the woods, a ratty shack that was occupied by a man wearing a ski mask.
“–and nothing else. His body was… it was fuckin’… I don’t even wanna talk about it. But he took the egg from me. He said it looked like breakfast. No, not breakfast; he said beck’fust. If I had the knife I could have fought him, maybe I could’ve saved the egg, but…” Cooper’s holding the knife so tightly in his hand that his knuckles are white, but still he tries to grip it harder. The knife is the only thing that makes him feel safe anymore. “But I guess he might have hurt me… or… or worse…” Cooper gulps down a wad of thoughts he’d rather not think about. “The man took the egg and gave me back my shirt and I ran, Hilter, I ran back here as fast as I could. I didn’t even think to put my shirt back on until I was in the front yard.”
“Why did you have your shirt off?”
Cooper’s grip on the knife loosens a bit. “Because I was using it to carry the egg. It was heavy.”
A moment of the point of Hilter’s pen scraping against paper is followed by a moment of tension so dense that Cooper’s ears begin to ring.
Then, “Well Cooper, I’ll have to make this quick because your mom will be here soon.” He sets his notepad down on the end table and folds his hands, resting them on his lap. “I believe your story.”
“Yes. I believe that you believe every word of it – that is to say, I don’t believe you’ve made any of it up – and I see no reason why you would lie to me. There are certain…” he waves his hand in the air, as if trying to grasp the words. “There are certain ways to tell if a patient is lying to their therapist, and I don’t believe you are. Now, as far as all the Nazi stuff from earlier goes–”
“Um… I’ll be honest, I’m not really set on all that. I just… I don’t know what else would make sense. The Serpent just didn’t look like a natural thing. It looked almost… it looked alien.”
“Well,” Hilter says, crossing his right leg comfortably over his left and clicking his pen, “while you were out walking, I was doing some research, specifically on the Weis Ecology Center and the Wanaque Reservoir. I didn’t find anything about Nazis, which is probably a good thing, all things considered.”
“But, I did find some old reports of yoU-eFf-Oh sightings over the Wanaque.” Hilter shrugs. “I don’t want to load your mind up or anything, but um… let’s just say that some things are not meant to be totally understood by us mere mortals.” He drops Cooper a wink, and this time, Cooper catches it. “Let me ask you this: after having today’s experiences, do you feel more ready to move on from your brother’s death?”
“Yes,” Cooper blurts without letting even a millisecond go by. “Yes, I’m ready. When I first came here this morning, I thought being back home would make it easier, but it didn’t. It just… and, and then the walk back in the woods… I thought my brother died a really bad, really terrible death, but… I almost feel like a fuckin’ asshole for saying this, but he died a pretty cool death. I mean… he could have been abducted by that scary man. At least with The Serpent it was probably quick and painless, you know?”
Hilter smiles. “I do indeed, and I certainly don’t think you’re an asshole for saying so.”
“Thanks,” Cooper says with a little smile. “I don’t think I’m gonna come back, though.”
Hilter’s smile does not break. “Well Cooper, in your case, I believe that’s a good thing. This session has been… unorthodox, to say the least, but as long as we arrived at the proper answer, the formula we used doesn’t particularly matter. Hey, you aren’t still not hungry, are you? I think I smell that pizza.”
“You know what? Yeah, I think I could eat now.”
Hello Commons, this has been the fourth subchapter of the twelfth story from Convenient Incidents, an anthology of fifteen interconnected short stories which revolve around a man by the name of Hilter Odolf Williamson.
Convenient Incidents is part of the Third Spiral, an anthology of sorts called The Here and Now which is comprised of stories told from the various planes of Existence.
Convenient Incidents is available to read for free in its entirety on my website. Click here to check it out.
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. Be well Commons~