Fiction – “Trapped Inside of Good” by Adam King

I got Boom a half-collie mutt because he’s stupid and he likes that kind of thing. At the time we were living in an abandoned hole on the outskirts of Geauga County with no lights and a roof that leaked. It made Boom gloomy to hear the raindrops echo in the empty rooms, and I couldn’t get him to do what I wanted, and that meant more… episodes for me. When I asked what would make him happy, he looked at me with the hopefulness of a child and said, ‘I kinda want a dog.’ I hate animals.

I got it from a shelter. Its name was Ajax, a female runt with sad eyes that Boom fell in love with and I had to feed. When I got back with the mutt, I tied it to a door and took Boom out, and we stopped a man from kidnapping a little girl from a mini mall just as he slid her drugged body into his van. Boom, seven feet tall, four hundred pounds, eclipsing the man in his shadow, tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and his legs went weak and crumbled and I lifted him into the air with my mind before he fell. I didn’t have to, but I broke his arm in three places, just to hear it snap, and then I let Boom take the girl back to her mother knowing in advance that his hugeness would incite suspicion, and that we would be blamed for her disappearance.

It wasn’t long before the police found us and ran us out. We left Ohio as we’d left so many other places before—condemned buildings, all of them, with overgrown grass and weeds and cracked sidewalks. The smell of rust and mildew permanently etched into my nostrils. Nothing in our pockets but lint. Nothing in our stomachs but acid and noise. What I wanted was to flip their squad cars and crush their bones with a thought. When I think of the things I could do it kills me.

***

I was forced to break Boom out of a psychiatric institute by the thing in my head. I saw him sitting in a cell because everybody was afraid of him. He was a child trapped inside of a hulking mutant. I didn’t want anything to do with him, but when I resisted I watched my face split in a mirror, and my eyes fell from their sockets and the floor trembled. When I broke into his cell, dank and smelling of urine, he sat on the floor with his legs crossed. I told him I was there to help him, and he looked up at me with the trust and awe of a disciple. When I asked him what his name was, he said, ‘Boom,’ and I didn’t ask for an explanation.

I was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder and schizophrenia at an early age. I don’t have schizophrenia. I used to think there was a worm inside my head, but when I saw a video of a giant millipede eating a rat, I knew there was a millipede skittering around inside of my skull, rearing its body when I think things it doesn’t want me to, striking at my brain matter with its mandibles, telling me to do things, making me see things. I feel it moving at night.

Boom drools and I hate him, and I hate his dog and I hate people.

***

We walked across Ohio and up into Michigan, where it was still cold in April. It took us weeks, stopping each night to sleep in the woods or to help some stupid old woman who lost her purse, or to foil a home invasion. I hadn’t bathed in nearly a month and I stank. My clothes were old and ripped.

What I wanted was a palace, with throngs of terrified subjects to bow before me and force struggling slaves to a gory stone pit where they would be sacrificed to slake my violent thirst. What I got was an old factory with broken windows and a dingy brick façade.

I sat down and took my shoes off, the soles flopping like a puppet’s mouth, duct taped and torn and duct taped again. My socks had holes in them. I threw the shoes aside and sat against a wall, shivering from the cold. Boom crashed down and his mutt jumped in his lap and licked his face. The capacity for people to be happy in the face of utter misery has always fascinated me, in the way that a small boy is fascinated by a nest of writhing larvae. I could mimic a smile so others believed I was glad, but I’d never experienced a thing that could warm me and turn my lips without conscious effort.

The insect stirred and I knew we had to go out soon.

‘Bennie,’ Boom said. ‘I’m hungry.’

‘I know,’ I said.

‘Ajax is hungry, too.’

‘I know. Just let me sit a minute.’

‘Okay, Bennie.’

We went out when it was dark, and the rumbling in Boom’s stomach was loud enough to interrupt my thoughts. He found a loose brick from our building and put it in his huge mouth and sucked on it.

‘Put that down,’ I said. Ajax whined and looked up at him expectantly. I could feel my own stomach eating itself. I was already thin, and I imagined that every day I could see more of my ribs, more of my cheeks become sunken.

‘I don’t like being hungry,’ Boom said, but he set the brick down. Boom ate as much as four normal people.

We stopped outside of a 24-hour convenience store. I told Boom to stay put, and to keep his mutt there, too. Inside I got a basket and filled it to brimming and brought it to the counter, and then I filled four more baskets with the junk food that Boom liked, and with dog food and canned food that would keep for a long time. I got sandwich meat and cereal and crackers and potato chips. The clerk watched me with his head tilted back in disapproval but said nothing. Shoppers kept their distance. A reminder of how I looked, and stank. The insect allowed me to steal to eat, but I couldn’t get a room at a hotel, or a new change of clothes unless I happened on them in a dumpster or a homeless shelter.

‘I’ll take these in plastic bags,’ I said, and when the clerk began to ring the items, I pushed at his mind and said, ‘I already paid,’ and he looked at me confused for a second, and then shook his head and said, ‘Of course, sir,’ and bagged the groceries. When I got outside I handed Boom a candy bar and he tore the wrapping and ate it whole. I opened a package of bologna and threw some to Ajax and took a few pieces for myself, and then gave the rest to Boom.

‘It’s good,’ he said.

‘Take these,’ I said, handing him the bags. He pinched the handles between his massive fingers and held them gingerly.

‘We’re taking these back to the house, and then we’re going out,’ I said.

‘And can we eat first?’ Boom said.

‘You can have a snack. Quickly.’

‘And then we’re going to stop bad people from doing bad things?’

I sighed. ‘Yes.’

‘I don’t like bad people,’ he said. ‘Do you like bad people, Bennie?’

‘Let’s go home,’ I said.

***

Boom stretched a long stretch and burped and rubbed his stomach. He’d eaten a quarter of the groceries. I’d have to go shopping again soon. ‘Time to go,’ I said.

‘Okay.’ He stretched again and patted Ajax. ‘Can she come?’

‘The dog cannot come,’ I said.

‘She wants to come,’ he said.

‘We’re leaving her here.’

‘She wants to help.’

This could turn into a long argument. ‘Okay,’ I said. ‘If she gets in the way, she doesn’t come again.’

‘She won’t,’ he said, and he rubbed her belly and she wagged her tail.

We’d stopped in Wayne County, on the outskirts of Detroit. We walked a few miles into the city and I canvassed the area with my mind until I found a disturbance. Finding people to help had never been a problem because there is always somebody hurting somebody else. The overriding principle of people is that they are bad.

‘Find anything?’ Boom said.

‘This way,’ I said.

We came to a downtown district like so many that we’d been to before, sucked dry and broken, the people hunched by the weight of failure and the realization that failure is the stuff of life. We stuck to the dark side of the road, and to alleyways and parking lots. Boom tended to draw the wrong kind of attention. He lumbered after me, arms swinging at his sides like Cro-Magnon. Eventually we stopped at a library, its bricks smoky and old. We went around back, to a multi-level garage, and circled our way up until I found what I was looking for.

I held a hand out to Boom. ‘Don’t move,’ I whispered.

We hid behind a wall that curved to the top level and looked on an old van. A man stood backed against the van with his hands in the air. Another man stood before him with his back to us. His posture suggested that he was holding a gun.

‘Let’s go help him,’ Boom whispered. He was confused that we hadn’t already gone.

‘Wait a minute,’ I said. I reached forward with my mind and touched the man with the gun. An ordinary man. A father and husband, angry, empty, desperate. The other man was afraid. They were talking but I couldn’t hear them.

‘He’s gonna hurt that man,’ Boom said. Ajax whined.

‘Shut up,’ I said. ‘Give me a second.’

It was the other man who interested me. The millipede held me at bay and I needed to know why. The mind is like a home. To some it is a castle, others a hovel. I probed his mind and found it to be a dank keep of twisting corridors and locked doors. I made my way through long hallways, down a winding staircase and along a lengthy passage. Something was wrong with this man and it was well hidden. Cobwebs hung along the ceiling. Mice scampered around my feet. I’d been in places like this. I came to the lowest level and the thickest door, oaken and scarred, and opened it and knew.

‘We’re not here to help,’ I told Boom. ‘We’re here to witness.’

‘What do you mean?’ Boom said. ‘Bennie, what does that mean?’

‘That man hurts people,’ I said. ‘Little children. Women.’

‘I don’t wanna watch this,’ Boom said. ‘I don’t know what to do.’

Thirty seconds passed before the father shot the other man. I watched him slump against his van and to the ground, and then the gunman walked to a nearby elevator and disappeared.

‘Why did we let that happen, Bennie?’ Boom said. ‘I don’t understand it. I don’t get it.’

‘Let’s go home,’ I said. ‘We’re done tonight.’

‘But I don’t get it,’ Boom said. ‘I don’t understand it.’

I told him some people deserve to die. Maybe I shouldn’t have.

***

Boom’s mind was comprised of no more than a single room, everything categorical and neat. The room was dim but rigid, a cell not unlike the one I had saved him from. Inside it he raged. Watching the man die had crumbled his notions of good and evil, and of the punishment of crimes.

When we got back to the old factory, he secluded himself in the basement and wouldn’t come out for many hours. Ajax followed him.

He finally came out to eat, glowering at me and chewing his food slowly and with no relish. When he finished he went back, the dog whining after him. I let him be, thinking it would be best for him to come to his own conclusions.

Late the next day my vision became red, and my head felt filled with enough air to make my eyes burst from their sockets like deadly, wet projectiles, the optic nerves stringing after. And through the red, hands burst from the floor and clawed at the ground. Zombies pulled themselves up, their faces gray and shrunken and decayed, their hair knotted like ropes. They reached for me, dozens of them, and I shut my eyes against them, telling myself that it was the insect.

‘Okay,’ I said, squeezing my eyes until they hurt. ‘Okay.’ When I opened them, the zombies had disappeared. My vision was normal. If I could have dug into my head with a spade and hollowed the millipede out I would have.

‘Boom,’ I yelled. ‘We’re going.’

When he didn’t come, my vision reddened around the edges and I quick-stepped to his room and knocked, and went in. He sat in the shadows with his head low and the dog next to him, and when I called to him, he looked up at me with a face that I did not recognize, for he had eaten of the tree of knowledge and it had awakened him to the earth, and he had become dead to it.

‘I’m not going,’ he said.

‘Yes you are.’

‘I don’t want to help anymore.’

‘Don’t you want to do good?’

‘There is no good,’ he said. He had rearranged the room in his mind and fortified it with his will. ‘You said yourself that everybody is bad.’

‘Yes,’ I said. I would have let the thought stand, but my vision reddened. ‘But not everybody deserves to die,’ I said quickly.

‘But some people do.’

‘Yes.’

‘What one person deserves everybody does.’

I didn’t care to argue moral philosophy with anybody, let alone a half-wit ogre, but I needed to manipulate him. I thought I still could. ‘Nothing is simple,’ I said. ‘There are degrees of evil.’

‘Tell me how.’

‘It is better to kill an ant than a person, and better to kill a murderer than a thief. It is worse to steal a life than a loaf of bread.’

‘But both are bad.’

‘Yes.’

‘And we’ve punished both before.’

‘Yes.’

‘I’ll go, then,’ he said, grinning the crooked grin of an intelligent ape, and I didn’t trust him but we left anyway.

We walked to the part of Detroit called Delray, a rubbled ghost town paved in splitting asphalt and sidewalks through which grass had long since broken. A forgotten world inhabited by forgotten people. We walked beneath I75 and north toward the River Rouge, where I’d felt something large.

By the time we reached the river, the lamppost lights had switched on, many of them flickering or dead. We followed the banks east, Boom saying nothing the entire time, Ajax at his heels, until we came to a group of ten or so teenagers harassing a young couple. None of these people were of any consequence to the world. The teenagers were clothed as poor thugs, their jeans old and baggy, their shirts faded and burned with cigarette holes. The couple was similarly dressed in clothes likely bought from Walmart or some consignment shop. If any of them died nobody would notice.

This was the fate to which I had been cast. Saving the lives of the meaningless so that they could continue on in their meaninglessness. I massaged my jaw and clicked my tongue. This was my life.

The teenagers, some kind of gang, it looked like, had grown used to their poverty, and resentful of it. And as anybody who lives in resentment, they looked for an outlet as an angry husband who kicks a dog after an argument with his wife. They had found a momentary object in the couple that they surrounded, jeering and throwing things at them. I could see in their faces that there was something dark surfacing from beneath their jeering.

‘We just want to leave,’ the woman said.

A boy with a bandanna around his face like a bandit mocked her. He stepped into the circle the gang had made and pushed the woman, and then Boom spoke.

‘We’re here to punish you,’ he said, his voice loud and low.

They turned to him, some fingering their pockets like they had concealed weapons. Boom stepped into the washed-out light of a lamppost and there was a collective gasp, but a mob is a pack of hungry wolves, or any other group of stupid, desperate animals, and there was a momentum that wouldn’t be stopped.

The boy with the bandanna eyed us before stepping out of the circle. ‘Who the fuck are you?’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘You’re going to leave those people alone. You’re going to go home right now.’ I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want to hurt them, but I’d learned quickly to subdue my distaste for humans out of fear of my mind.

‘We’re not going anywhere,’ the boy said. ‘And now neither are you.’ He reached in his pocket and pulled out a small blade. A few of the other boys likewise brought out blades and clubs. One pulled an old, dirty gun from his waist.

Bullets wouldn’t harm Boom, but there was nothing physically powerful about me. My arms were thin, my bones as brittle as those of any normal person’s.

‘You’re right,’ Boom said. ‘You’re not going anywhere. Any of you. Ever.’ Before I could say another word, he charged at them. When he reached the first boy he literally pounded him into the ground, blood splashing, organs twittering. The teens stood watching. Violence had long been a part of their lives, probably beginning with abusive, drugged parents, but they had never encountered anything like Boom. A nearby teenager swung a bowie knife, but Boom caught the blade and lifted the boy and crushed his head in his massive hand.

The couple ran off, as well as some of the gang, but most of them stared, transfixed by a kind of violence that spoke to their innermost urges. I realized that in his flawed logic, by giving voice to the violence inherent in all, Boom had become more like a normal human than he’d ever been.

He leapt to the next teen. His strides were long. I believe that he would have killed everybody—the couple, too, had they stayed, and then in his blind fury he would have turned on me. Awash in the dim street lights, Boom glistened with blood, his small eyes peering hatefully beneath grimed flesh.

‘Boom,’ I said. He turned to me like a rhinoceros before charging. ‘You’ve gone too far.’ I didn’t know if the words penetrated.

‘Everything is wrong,’ he said, his voice the bellow of a beast, and yet pleading with me to make things right and simple again. From somewhere in the storm of his mind he looked out with a child’s eyes, but he was deep and far removed, and he would never journey back. I saw in him how we all totter on the precipice of chaos.

The insect stirred me to action but offered no direction, and I stood like a fool gazing into his lost eyes. He was my child and I hated him, but I needed him because he loved me, as he had come to need Ajax. Is that what love is? My mind tells me I’m not missing much, but in that moment an unused part of me reached out to him and felt something that I can only describe as a joining together with all things, and I felt what it is to be normal, and I knew that there is a kind of knowing that eclipses the mind.

That small part of him that still clung to dignity fell to its knees and beseeched me, and my eyes burned. With no understanding of the nature of sadness, or of the emerging feeling inside of me that was plastic and new and hopelessly hollow and a thousand other things, I wept. How a feeling could be so large and yet so utterly empty terrified me. I do not envy you, humans.

I couldn’t save Boom and he knew it. His eyes bored into me and went blank and dumb, and I knew that he was gone. I suspended him in midair and twisted his spine painlessly. He fell to the earth with a thud that shook the ground. The few remaining gang members watched, their eyes wide and wondering.

‘Go home,’ I said.

‘Shit,’ one of them said, pocketing his knife. They backed away and ran, leaving me with the bloody mess of pulped bodies. I would be blamed for all of this, I knew, and the police would search for me. But Delray was a dead town filled with dead people for whom the police didn’t much care.

I opened a hole in the earth and dropped Boom in and closed the hole. I put a part of myself in the hole with him. The millipede writhed inside of me, but it had become mutilated and legless. I walked home, Ajax following with her tail between her legs, and I lay down in the big, condemned building and tried to sleep, the dog close by keeping me warm. It began to rain. Everything was quiet but for the drops echoing in the darkness.


.

About the Author

“Trapped inside of Good” is Adam King‘s second story in Crossed Genres. His first, ‘The Near-Sighted Sentinel,’ was published in their ‘Crime’ issue, and subsequently their first yearly anthology. Recently, he’s also been published in Best New Writing 2011 and A Thousand Faces, and has forthcoming work in A Capella Zoo. He’s the winner of the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose. You can check him out at www.adamkingbooks.com, if you’re into that kind of thing.