The Drowning, Man

Written by Chris Lackie

Edited by Sarah Lackie

***

Did I ever tell you about the time someone tried to drown me?

Man, that’s a crazy story. I should tell you about it some time.

Anyway, so I was changing my kid’s diaper the other day, and I realized…

Hehe. Just kidding. Here’s the story.

It all happened one day in the early spring of 2007. I was in Waterloo, Ontario, finishing my final semester at Wilfrid Laurier University. It was around this time that I had begun planning for my big move to Hamilton so that I could attend grad school at McMaster. It was an exciting time in my life. Too bad all the good times had to take a pause while I suffered through what turned out to be the worst day of my life.

One moment I was sleeping, and the next I found myself wrapped up in a wet sheet. This can’t be good, I thought to myself before I realized how bad it really was. I tried to breath, but got nothing but a mouthful of dirty water. I tried to pull the sheet off, only to realize my hands were tied together with nylon rope. I struggled to pull free, but the rope just dug deeper into the back of my hands and wrists. My legs were equally useless, as my ankles were also tied above my running shoes. Even as my brain started to process what was happening to me, I didn’t start freaking out until I felt myself sinking.

I started to panic. Then it really hit me. Oh my God, I thought. I am drowning and I am about to die. After a few more seconds of thrashing I started to settle down. I was exhausted and I didn’t want to fight anymore. The motion of the water washed the tension out of my muscles, and the world around me was getting darker. I would be at peace in my eternal sleep.

But then there was a flash. A spark in my mind that was clear as day. There was something I was missing. Something that I had waiting for me. Something I had to live for.

I had a Milky Way back at my apartment. I couldn’t let that go to waste.

I used all my remaining strength to push apart my hands, giving them enough room to slip out of the ropes that bound them. I managed to rip off the sheet that cocooned me, and dolphin-kicked my way to the water’s surface. The sun was bright and the wind was cold. I took three huge gasps of air, all the while continuing to tread water. Once I got my breathing under control, I swam towards the piece of land that appeared to be closest to me, my ankles still tied together. Once I made it to the deserted beach, I dragged myself through the sand and coughed up what felt like my lung. Once my chest relaxed I decided to give the rest of my body a break too, so I laid down on my stomach for a few moments. Afterwards, it took me a couple more minutes to pull the rope off my ankles. I studied the long piece of nylon, hoping it would give me some sort of clue as to how I ended up in the water. When I realized that it was of no use to me,  I tossed it back towards the water. The rope didn’t make it far, as the wind picked up and pushed it back towards me. I let the length of rope sit in the sand a few yards away from where I sat. I then stood up and took a look around to see if I could figure out which body of water had almost taken my life.

That’s Silver Lake, I thought. I’m in Waterloo Park. What am I doing here?

I made my way through the park’s petting zoo and up a small grassy incline towards the street. I stood on the sidewalk, feeling a bit of a chill from the wind that was blowing through my soaking wet blue jeans and faded black t-shirt. I stood there for a moment, trying to process what had just happened to me. Did I really just almost drown? Did I really just pull myself out of a lake in the middle of a public park? Did that emu I walked past really laugh at me? And the most important question of all: What do I do now?

All that thinking made my brain hurt. It hurt a lot more when a dark blue Mercury Sable with a rusty driver side door and squeaky brakes pulled up in front of me.

Oh, what fresh hell is this now, I thought to myself as the driver rolled down his window. The face of the man looking up at me was clean shaven with a pointed chin and featured wrinkles around his mouth and eyes, making him look older.

“You look like you could use some help,” the stranger offered.

He also had pale blue eyes, which I found oddly comforting. But not so comforting that I wasn’t immediately a jerk to him. “What gave it away?” I mocked. “Was it the someone-just-tried-to-kill-me look in my eyes, or the fact I’m standing by the side of the road looking like I just crawled out of that lake over there? Which, by the way, I just did.”

The stranger responded in a much kinder fashion. “Um… The first one, I think. Why don’t you hop in and I’ll take you where you need to go?”

Now, my mother always told me to not get into cars with strangers, but I was scared, cold and didn’t know what else to do. So I nodded, walked around to the passenger side, opened the door, which happened to have no rust at all, and got in. My new friend started asking questions as soon as he pulled away from the curb. “Why are you all wet?”, he asked.

“I just told you,” I replied. “I pulled myself out of the lake.”

“You went swimming in the lake?” my clueless saviour asked. “I don’t think you’re supposed to do that in the park. And why would you go in with your clothes on?”

I was already getting frustrated with my new companion. “I wasn’t swimming. Someone threw me in there. They bound my hands and everything.”

Finally the light bulb went on in the driver’s head. “Wait, so someone really tried to kill you? That’s… messed up.”

“No duh,” I half-heartedly responded. Despite the fact that this person was trying to help me, I couldn’t find it in myself to be polite. But even in the face of my rudeness, the man who picked me up continued to show concern.

“What happened?” he asked. Given he actually seemed to care, I decided to fill him in on what I knew.

“I can’t remember,” I said. “I was at home studying for my film studies midterm by, you know, watching Van Wilder, and I got to the scene where Ryan Reynolds and his friends jerk his dog off, and the next thing I know I’m drowning with a sheet wrapped around me.” I pondered something for a moment before I spoke again. “You know, something just occurred to me.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?” asked my companion.

I thought about it for another second before responding. “Maybe I’m a ghost.”

“What?” My new friend seemed to think that was a little ridiculous, so I laid out my arguments.

“Think about it,” I said. “I just managed to slip out of the rope that bound my hands, found my way out of a wet sheet, and then somehow managed to find the strength to swim to the surface of the lake with my feet tied together.”

“You’re a very lucky man,” the driver posited.

“That’s the thing,” I countered. “I’m not. What I just described is impossible. I don’t know how to slip out of knots, and I can barely swim.”

The person sitting next to me in the car could sense I was getting agitated, so he tried to reassure me. “Listen. What’s your name?” my new friend asked.

“Chris,” I answered.

“I don’t think you’re a ghost, Chris,” he said, but it was no use. I was in complete crazy mode.

“Well, maybe you’re a ghost and you’re supposed to help me transition into ghosthood!” I shouted more loudly than I should have.

At that moment, the driver reached over and slapped me across the face.

“Ow!” I screeched as I was brought back to Earth. “Why did you do that?”

“To put your mind at ease,” he said with a friendly smile. “If you were a ghost, could I have slapped you in the face?”

As much as I wanted to believe that I was living in a ghost world, my companion’s logic made sense. “No, I guess not,” I replied.

“Good then. So, where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Just take me home,” I told him. I just wanted to go to bed and pretend that this whole experience didn’t happen. “Head up here to the lights and hang a left. We’re not too far from it.” After giving my new friend directions to my place, I thought it would be a kind gesture to ask a little bit about him. “But enough about me. What’s your story? You always been a good Samaritan?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that,” he began. “But, you’re probably wondering why I’m wearing a tuxedo.” To be honest, I hadn’t noticed, but it seemed rude to say otherwise so I kept my mouth shut while he continued. Well you see, I was actually supposed to get married today, but in the middle of the ceremony my bride-to-be decided that she ‘wasn’t feeling it’ and then she…”

It was around this point where I stopped paying attention to my new friend. I had more important things to think about than whatever his deal was. But that didn’t stop him from telling his story.

“…and then she told me that she never truly loved me and that she never really thought of me as a man…”

Why the hell did someone dump me in the lake, I thought to myself. Whoever did this must be crazy. There is no way I deserved this. I mean… I’m so damned loveable.

“…and then my mother told me that I was adopted…”

It was driving me insane. The Milky Way I had at home would have to wait. I had a mystery to solve, and I had a pretty good idea where to start.

“…and then I found a lump on my–”

“Hey, shut up for a second,” I interrupted. “Can you turn right up here?”

I seemed to catch my companion a little off guard. “Uh, yeah I guess. Why?”

This was important, so I made sure to lock eyes with the driver before I responded. It took a while because he had this crazy notion that he should look at the road instead of me. “Because I need to find the person who tried to kill me.”

The driver seemed a little confused. “Oh, well, I was just going to drive you home, but if you want me to help I guess I can tag along for a while. Where are we going?”

Again, I made sure to lock eyes with my new friend, which didn’t take as long this time around. “To confront my worst enemy. Obviously.”

“Oh sure, of course,” he responded, clearly understanding what I was talking about. “My name is Rod, by the way,” I think he said. I was too focused on my new goal to really care.

I was going to find the person who tried to kill me. I was going to find out why they tried to kill me. I was going to have my revenge.

And then I was going to have my Milky Way.

***

I directed my new friend, Rod, to the main parking lot in the middle of the Wilfrid Laurier University campus. After showing him how to pay for parking, we made our way to the computer lab on the second floor of the brown and drab Frank C. Peters building. That’s where my mortal enemy, and the most likely person to have tried to drown me in a lake earlier that day, preferred to spend his free time. As my new friend and I approached the room, I looked in the window and saw that the man I was seeking was the only one there. He was sitting at one of the computers at the far end of the lab with his back to me and my new companion.

He’s probably working on something stupid, I thought. “Look at him,” I snorted. “He’s probably working on something stupid.”

“So that’s your worst enemy, huh?” my new friend asked as if he couldn’t believe it. “He looks pretty scrawny. What is he, about five-foot-three? I don’t think he could even lift you, let alone drag you from your home and dump you in a lake. And more generally speaking, he doesn’t look like an attempted murderer.” The warm blue eyes shining through Rod’s wrinkled face almost made me believe what he was saying, but I remained steadfast in my belief that the man we were staring at in the computer lab was the one who tried to kill me.

“That’s what he wants you to think,” I stressed.

“What did this guy do to you?” asked Rod in a concerned tone.

This was a very sensitive subject for me, so I didn’t want to talk about it, but at the same time I didn’t want the person I just met and dragged to a computer lab to stare at someone who may have tried to kill me earlier that day to think I was crazy, so I bit the bullet and spilled my guts. “What did he do? What didn’t he do? He beat me in intro to microeconomics, intro to macroeconomics, intermediate microeconomics… need I continue?”

“So, he got some better grades than you?” Rod asked as if I hadn’t just explained it to him. He may have helped me in my time of need, but he certainly did have a way of getting on my nerves at the drop of a hat.

“Not just some!” I squeaked out so as not to draw my enemy’s attention to us. “All! His grades are always better than mine!”

“And he always rubs it in your face,” my friend proposed. “Is that it?”

“Basically. He says things like ‘That’s a good mark, Chris, you should be happy’ and ‘another A? That’s five in a row, right?'” I said in my most mocking tone.

“What a… jerk?” my companion said in the form of a question for some reason. It was like he was on Jeopardy or something.

I pretended not to notice that he seemed to think he was talking to Alex Trebek as I nodded and reached into my pocket to pull out my lab access card, only to realize it wasn’t there. “Perfect. There goes the element of surprise. Can’t play it quiet now,” I sighed.

“We were playing it quiet?” my new friend asked. That was the fifth thing in a row that Rod said to me in the form of a question. It really bugged me. A lot. So I decided to use that rage to get my mortal enemy’s attention.

I banged on the glass as hard as I could. “Hey Jin, open the damn door you cock sucking wannabe murderer!”

Jin turned around pretending to be surprised, and then a big fake smile appeared on his Cheezie dust-covered face as he waved frantically like you would if you saw a really good friend you hadn’t seen in a long time. What a faker, I thought. Trying to make me think it wasn’t him who tried to kill me by pretending to be nice to me. Well, I wasn’t going to fall for it. When he opened the door I gave him the stinkiest stink eye I could. I knew it was good because the corner of my left eye was twitching.

“Hey Chris, good to see you, man!” Jin said, excitedly. “What’s going on, you forget your pass again? And what’s the deal with your eye?”

“I’ll be the one who asks the questions around here!” I exclaimed as I pushed my way past him. Rod also entered the computer lab.

Jin still acted as if he was happy to see me. “Ha! That’s what I like about you, Chris. You’re such a funny guy. Who’s your friend?”

“He’s not my friend,” I said of my new friend. “His name is Rod.”

“Hi, Rod, I’m Jin. Nice tux.”

“Thanks,” replied Rod. “By the way, my—“

“Are the introductions over now?” I interrupted.

“Hey,” said Jin. “Why are you all wet? Is it raining outside?”

Is it raining outside? I couldn’t believe the gall of this guy. “No, but I’m about to make it rain fist bombs in here, you son of a bitch!” I yelled at him. I was about to punch Jin in his stupid mug, when Rod got in between us. I guess the confused look that Jin pulled out of his ass and slapped on that thing he calls a face managed to convince my companion that he wasn’t the cold calculating murderer that I knew he was.

“Chris,” Rod said calmly, his warm eyes attempting to comfort me as he spoke. “This guy seems to genuinely like you. And judging by all the empty Red Bull cans and chip bags around that workstation, it looks like he’s been here for a long time. I don’t think he would have been able to tie you up, dump you in the lake and get back here in time to leave such a giant mess.”

Jin acted as if he was actually surprised. And a little impressed. “Whoa, someone tied you up and dumped you in the lake? And you got out? Dude! That’s so intense! You must be, like, a super soldier or something!”

Rod seemed less impressed. “Oh, Chris is definitely something.”

I ignored Rod’s comment and instead locked eyes with Jin, trying to ascertain whether I believed what my new friend was suggesting. I gave Jin my steeliest glare (which I knew was steely because the corner of my right eye was twitching), and he returned it with a look that I can only describe as, well, empathy. Needless to say it sickened me, but at least I figured out I had the wrong man. “Alright, Jin. I’ll believe that you didn’t try to kill me. This time.”

“You thought I tried to kill you? But, I thought we were friends,” Jin said, looking like I just hit his dog with a car.

“Cut the crap, Jin,” I told him. “So tell me something, mister smartguy. If it wasn’t you, then who tried to kill me?”

Jin thought for a moment. “Well, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to hurt you, but, I don’t know, maybe it was your boyfriend?”

“Wilford,” I whispered. I hadn’t thought about him in ages.

“Who?” asked Rod.

“His gay lover,” answered Jin.

“You have a gay lover?” Rod asked me.

“No,” I replied to the question I had been asked a million times before by a million different people. “But if he was my lover, wouldn’t his gayness be implied?”

“Not necessarily,” offered Jin without anyone asking him to. “I mean, I don’t want to contradict Chris here, but there are lots of different sexual orientations. Two men having sex doesn’t necessarily mean that either one is gay.”

“He has a point,” said Rod, a stupid smile spreading across his face.

I had had enough of this conversation. I raised my arms in surrender and started making my way out of the computer lab. “Okay, that’s enough. It’s time to get going. C’mon, Rod.”

Jin started waving again. “Cool, see you, buddy!”

“Eat shit and die, Jin,” I said without looking back.

“Yeah, whatever you say, Chris! Such a funny guy.” Stupid Jin and his stupid optimism. As Rod followed me out of the lab, Jin continued to wave goodbye like he wanted his arm to fall off.

As we approached the car I was content to remain in silence, but my companion had other ideas. “So what happened with you and your boyfriend?” Rod asked.

“Ugh. Nothing happened,” I told him. “I mean, we had a fight, but he wasn’t my boyfriend.”

“Oh, so it was just a physical thing between you two, then?”

“That’s enough. Get in the car, we have somewhere to be,” I said as I opened the passenger side door.

Rod gave me a little smile as he got into the car and started the ignition. Before he pulled out of the parking lot he turned to me and asked, “Where are we going?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked as I tilted my seat back, put my feet up on the dash and closed my eyes. “We’re going to see the ghost of Wilford Brimley.”

***

Once I told my new friend, Rod, that we were going to see the ghost of Wilford Brimley, he braked the car so hard my head snapped forward. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a guy I had just met, and who agreed to come with me as I searched for the person who tied me up and tried to drown me in a lake. Telling him that he was about to meet a ghost was probably just a little too much to handle.

“I’m sorry, did you just say we’re going to see the ghost of Wilford Brimley?!” he gasped.

“Yes,” I snorted as I glared at Rod for giving me whiplash.

“The actor, Wilford Brimley?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“From the Waltons?”

“Yes.”

“The guy who was in those Quaker Oats commercials?”

“For the last time, yes,” I said. “Now, I’m going to try to get some sleep, so just head east on highway seven. I should wake up before we need to get off.” Then I closed my eyes and muttered. “Hehe. Get off.”

“Grow up,” Rod tried to say authoritatively. He then continued. “So where are we driving to?”

“A haunted diabeetus research facility,” I responded as straight-faced as I could before I started chuckling under my breath.

My friend’s expression changed from surprised to disgusted as he realized the joke I was playing on him. “Ugh. That’s terrible.”

“But funny,” I insisted. “No, we’re not really going to see the ghost of Wilford Brimley. Besides, Wilford Brimley isn’t dead. We’re just going to see someone who looks an awful lot like him.”

Rod thought for a moment before speaking again. “So you had sex with a guy who looks like Wilford Brimley?”

It was my turn to sound authoritative. “No! Just… ugh. Wake me up in half an hour.”

“Fine, fine. Have a good sleep,” Rod said.

I most certainly did not have a good sleep. Instead I dreamed I was drowning again, but this time I couldn’t get out of the ties that bound me, and the calming sensation I felt as I began to accept my fate transformed into a feeling of dread and despair that sucked the remaining air out of my lungs. All the while I could feel myself sinking to the bottom of the lake.

Then I would feel nothing.

After about a moment’s peace, the dream would start over again. I must have had the dream a hundred times in those 30 minutes. Drowning. Dread. Nothing. Drowning. Dread. Nothing. Over and over again.

The cycle finally ended when Rod shook me awake. “Okay, Chris, it’s been half an hour.”

I peeked out the car window and surveyed where we were. “Good timing,” I yawned as I sat up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. “Take the second exit and head north. He’s not far.”

We were heading towards a farmhouse in the area surrounding Guelph, Ontario. The person I was looking to confront had moved back into his parent’s house after he dropped out of school.

“So what’s the deal?” asked Rod. “If he’s not an ex, and he’s not the ghost of Wilford Brimley, who is this guy?”

“His name is Lawrence, and he’s a friend,” I told him, but then I corrected myself. “Was a friend.”

“What happened?”

“Does it matter?”

“It might,” insisted Rod. “We’re out here in the middle of nowhere, about to confront someone who may very well have tried to murder you. Before I face the real possibility of being killed and buried in the woods, I think I have a right to know what I’m getting into.”

It was hard to argue with him. “Fine,” I began. “It was the summer of 2006-”

“You mean last summer,” interrupted Rod.

“Yes,” I confirmed.” Lawrence and I were looking forward to the new Superman movie that was coming out-”

“The one with Brandon Routh?” Rod interrupted. Again.

“Yeah, that’s the one,” I confirmed. Again. “Anyway, we were really excited. Especially Lawrence. He loves Superman more than anyone, and it was really important to him that we have the best seats for the premiere. So we waited outside the theatre for days, and of course it rained, and it rained, and it was unseasonably cold for June. It was completely uncomfortable, but Lawrence didn’t notice. He was just so excited for a new movie with the Man of Steel. I, on the other hand, got more and more pissed off. I mean, I wanted to see the movie too, but it had to be pretty damn great to make up for how miserable I was becoming. And then, finally the time came when we could finally go in and watch the movie.”

“And how was it?” asked my new friend.

“It. Was. Awful,” I told Rod. “But what made it even worse was that Lawrence liked it. He actually liked that piece of cinematic garbage. It made me so mad that I just unloaded on him, berating him for liking such a stupid movie and for liking such a stupid character in general.” Then I smirked a little bit. “Hehe. I said unloaded.”

My companion tried to be authoritative again. “Grow up.”

And I of course resisted. “No. Anyway, the point is after that he hated me and we stopped being friends. We lost touch.”

Rod seemed puzzled. “That’s it? You and your friend stopped talking because of a movie? You think that’s enough to make him want to kill you?”

“Yup, pretty much.” There was a brief pause between us before I continued. “And I banged his mom.”

“There it is,” Rod said as if he expected it.

We pulled up to Lawrence’s family’s farmhouse just as the sky began to dim to a purplish hue. The house was located on about 25 acres of land, most of it taken up with soybean plants. As both my new friend and I exited the car and headed towards the front door it occurred to me that we were about five kilometers away from the closest neighbours. If something happened, no one would be around to help us. This was not lost on Rod. “Is coming in the front a good idea?” he asked. “I mean, if this guy did try to kill you, aren’t you about to make it easy for him to finish the job?”

I tried to keep a brave face. “It’s important to face your fears head on. Otherwise, they’ll always keep sneaking up on you.”

“That’s… actually good advice, Chris,” Rod said, impressed.

“Thanks. Oh, and Rod?”

“Yeah?”

I smiled. “You said coming in the front.”

Rod wasn’t as impressed with my wit. “Spending time with you is like spending time with a child,” he said.

Once we made our way up the three squeaky wooden planks onto the porch, I reached out and pressed the little white button next to the door. This caused a booming DONG sound to vibrate through my bones. It wasn’t long before we sensed movement inside the house. My heart started to beat a little faster when I heard a series of thundering steps approaching us. When Lawrence opened the door, I was reminded that while he looked like Wilford Brimley, he was a six foot, three inch tall Wilford Brimley, with a big bushy brown moustache that made it clear that he was a much younger version of his clone.

The moment he saw me I was hit with that fiery gaze of his. It was the kind of look that an alpha lion might give a sickly member of his pride if it was foolish enough to try to eat a scrap of gazelle before its turn. I was certain my chest was going explode. That, or Lawrence was going to finish what he started and punch a hole in my head.

This was a bad idea, I thought. We shouldn’t have come here. Confronting Jin was easy. I could take him in a fair fight if it came to that. If Lawrence did try to kill me, I should count my lucky stars I survived and I should get as far away from him as possible and hope he assumes I drowned in that lake. What am I doing here?

I started cringing as soon as Lawrence opened his mouth to speak. “Chris, is that you? Hey man, how are you? It’s been a long time. You look… damp.”

I was relieved that my brain didn’t explode. “Thanks. And yeah, yeah it has been a long time.”

“So what brings you out to my neck of the woods?” Lawrence asked. “I know how much you hate the country.”

“Oh, you know,” I started without really knowing where I was going to finish. “Something happened today and it made me think about you and I thought it would be a good idea to come by and see how you are doing.” That could have went worse, I thought to myself, proudly.

Lawrence paused for a second before responding. “That really doesn’t sound like you.”

“Yeah,” Rod chimed in. “I just met you and I know that isn’t you.”

Alright, maybe it wasn’t perfect, I conceded.

“Who’s the guy in the tux?” Lawrence asked, sticking his thumb at Rod.

“Oh hey, yeah, this is my new friend, Rod. New friend, Rod, this is old friend, Lawrence.”

Lawrence and Rod exchanged nods.

“You know, you look a lot like a younger Wilford Brimley,” Rod felt the need to tell Lawrence.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Lawrence replied. He really did get that a lot.

After a few minutes of looking at each other awkwardly, I decided to try to end the conversation. “Well, this has been fun, Larry, but we oughta be going. We’ll talk soon, kay?”

I tried to leave, but Rod decided to stop me. “That’s it? Aren’t you going to ask him?”

Lawrence looked puzzled. “Ask me what?”

I came this far, I figured. I may as well ask. I tried to mutter as quietly as I could. “Um. Did you try to kill me?”

“What did you say?” asked Lawrence.

Did you try to kill me?” I said a little louder. Oh boy, I thought. Here comes the death punch.

“What the hell are you talking about?” asked Lawrence, sounding a little insulted.

“Someone tried to drown Chris today,” Rod informed him. “Tied him up and dumped him in the lake in Waterloo Park.”

Lawrence looked a little flabbergasted. “And you think it was me?”

“Well, maybe,” I answered, sheepishly. “You know, after how things ended between us.”

“What, the Superman thing?” said Lawrence. “Dude, I don’t hate you for that.”

“You don’t?” I said, finally feeling confident that the Wilford Brimley looking dude in front of me wasn’t going to bury his foot in my ass.

“Of course not. I mean, Superman Returns is the most underrated film of all time-”

“It’s not,” I interrupted. “But continue.”

“But thanks to you,” continued Lawrence, “I realized that the Man of Steel isn’t everything. By challenging me on my blind devotion, you forced me to think more critically about my interests, and realize there are more things in this world to appreciate. As a result, you helped me find my new passion. I no longer need Superman to make me happy.”

“Oh, that’s great, that’s really great,” I beamed. “What are you into now?”

“Green Lantern,” replied Lawrence.

My beaming turned to rage and confusion. “Green Lantern, are you shitting me? Green Lantern is even worse than Superman!”

“What are you talking about?” Lawrence insisted. “Green Lantern is incredible! He has a ring that can create anything he imagines, and it runs on willpower!”

“Yeah,” I mocked. “And all he ever imagines is boxing gloves and fishing nets. Green Lantern is incredibly stupid and lame.”

“Well, he’s definitely cooler than Batman,” said Lawrence, as if it wasn’t the stupidest thing that anyone had ever said in the history of everything. Everyone knows that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time.

“You take that back, you son of a bitch!” I yelled as I took a step towards Lawrence, ready to punch the giant in his stupid moustached face. Thankfully Rod got in between us, because Lawrence probably would have ripped me in two.

“Whoa Chris,” Rod said, his warm eyes calming both Lawrence and I. “I think it’s pretty obvious Lawrence here didn’t try to kill you. But let’s go before he starts thinking it’s a good idea.”

“Fine, fine,” I agreed, but I still wanted to figure out who was responsible for trying to take my life, so I decided to ask Lawrence if he had any ideas. “So Lawrence, any thoughts on who would want me dead?”

Lawrence didn’t hesitate. “Well, I imagine most people want you dead, but there is only one person I can think of who would actually take steps to make that a reality.”

“Really? Who?” I asked Lawrence.

He answered with a single word. “Her.”

A chill ran up my spine. It was so obvious. Why didn’t I see it before?

“Her?” asked Rod. “Her who?”

“I’ll explain on the way, c’mon,” I told Rod before turning to Lawrence. “Thanks, Lawrence. I’ll see you later.”

“See you. Nice meeting you, Rod,” Lawrence said as he started to wave goodbye to us.

“Nice to meet you, too. And by the way, my name is-” Rod started to say before I grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the car. Why would he feel the need to repeat his name? I thought. Did he hit his head when I wasn’t looking?

Rod and I had started to take our leave, but it still really irked me that Lawrence thought Green Lantern was better than Batman. It bothered me enough that just as we were about half way back to the car, I turned back towards the farmhouse.

“Geez,” I said. “Where are my manners? Hey, Lawrence?”

Lawrence was now back inside the house, but had yet to close the door. “Yeah?”

A Cheshire cat-like smile stretched across my face. “How’s your mother?”

Lawrence’s fiery eyes appeared again. Now I was the gazelle. “You son of a bitch!” yelled Lawrence. “I’m going to rip out your arms and beat you to death with them!”

As Lawrence started to bound towards us, my companion and I hightailed it back to the car, and barely managed to get out of there before the younger, burly version of Wilford Brimley could catch up with us. We took a few moments to catch our breath as Rod drove away before he started up with his questions again. “What did you do that for?”

“Because I’m a gentlemen,” I answered matter-of-factly. “It would be rude to not ask about a woman I had relations with.”

“Yeah, right. So, who is this ‘Her’ you guys were talking about?”

“She’s my ex-girlfriend,” I told him.

“I take it things ended badly,” Rod guessed.

“You have no idea.”

“So what happened?” Rod asked.

I really didn’t want to talk about it. “I really don’t want to talk about it,” I told him.

“Listen, Chris, I’m happy to help you on this adventure of yours, but if I’m going to continue you’re going to need to give me something here. What am I about to jump into?”

“You’re about to jump into a hornet’s nest,” I said. “It makes sense that she would be the one behind this. It should have been obvious from the get go. Maybe I just didn’t want to believe it.” At that moment I hung my head and started looking at my still damp shoes.

“Alright,” Rod said. “I’ve come this far already. Guess I may as well stick with you until the end.”

I smiled a little, but I didn’t lift my head up when I responded. “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“So, where are we heading?” Rod asked.

I raised my head to look at my companion. “To the hornet’s nest.”

We continued driving for a few moments before Rod decided to break the cool silence we had going. “So, is that, like, a bar or something?”

***

My new companion, Rod, and I were on our way back to Waterloo to see my ex-girlfriend, whom I strongly believed tied me up and tried to drown me in Waterloo Park earlier that day. Having already questioned my mortal enemy, Jin, and my former best friend, Lawrence (whose mom I had banged), I knew in my gut that it had to be her. The thought of seeing her again terrified me, but if I didn’t confront her I knew I would be living in fear for the rest of my life.

I directed Rod to drive us to the King Street Trio; a quaint little open concept restaurant in an old, what some may call historic, building located on, funnily enough, King Street. When we arrived, the sun had completely set and it had started to drizzle. Great, I thought as I felt the rain sprinkling my face. Now I’m all damp again.

I saw her as soon as we got through the front door. Long blond hair flowed gently down her back. Her curves were highlighted by the little black dress she was wearing. The red, open-toed heels she wore added three inches to her already tall frame. Her blue eyes and bright smile flirted with a couple male patrons who were in the process of paying their bill. She looked beautiful and happy.

Then she turned and saw me.

She immediately charged at me, much faster than I would have expected someone wearing those shoes could. As she got to me, I tried to put on a brave face by acting normal. “Hey Laura, how are things?” I said.

Then she punched me in the face.

The next thing I knew I was looking up at the wood paneling and industrial piping that covered the restaurant’s ceiling. I rubbed my jaw as I got back to my feet. “You call that a punch?” I asked, trying not to sound like an 18-wheeler just hit me in the face. I noticed that Laura wasn’t in the immediate vicinity anymore. “Laura?”

“You’ve been out for 20 minutes,” a voice from behind me said. It was Rod, who was now sitting at a table. “People have literally stepped over you to get seated.”

“What?” I asked, still rubbing my jaw. “I’ve been unconscious for 20 minutes and you didn’t do anything?”

Rod smiled his warm, comforting smile. “Of course I did. I had a salad,” he said as he motioned to the empty plate in front of him. I was not particularly pleased with my new friend, especially since I was starving and he didn’t bother to save me any of his food. But at least he saved me the trouble of calling Laura back over. “He’s up now, Laura.”

Laura returned, looking a little less furious than she did right before she knocked me the fuck out, but still pissed enough that I thought she might slug me again. I could hear the venom in each word she spit out at me. “What are you doing here, Chris?”

I was certainly afraid of getting my bell rung, or worse, but I had to know. “I want to know why you tried to kill me.”

“Please,” Laura snarled. “You’re a big boy. You can handle a little punch to the face.”

“No, not that,” I shot back. “I want to know why you tried to drown me in the park. I know things didn’t turn out well, but surely trying to kill me was a little, well, overkill.”

Laura looked at me like I was speaking another language. “What the hell are you talking about? I didn’t try to kill you. What, you think I’m some lost little girl who can’t live without you? And that if I can’t have you, no one else can either? Is that what you think of me!?”

I had to consider my answer to this carefully. It could be a trap of some kind. I had to tread lightly. “Um. Yes?”

And then I was on my back, looking at the ceiling again.

Rod leaned over into my line of sight. “You got knocked out. Again.

“How long?” I asked, still lying on the crusty restaurant floor.

“Not long,” he replied, his warm eyes trying to comfort me. “You took it much better this time.”

I rubbed my head as I sat up. When I made it to my feet I noticed that Laura was now sitting at a nearby table. I slumped myself into a chair to join her. My new friend did the same. Laura began speaking to Rod at once. “So, new guy who is for some reason wearing a tuxedo and is by default a better man than Chris, I’m guessing he told you that we used to date. Did he tell you how he ended it?”

“No,” Rod replied.

Here it comes, I thought. The thing I dreaded most about coming here. “Laura-”

“So,” she said to Rod, “Chris sends me an email saying he wants to get together one night. Not just any night mind you, it was my birthday. Says he’s got a big surprise for me. Now, I think, being the naive person that I am, that maybe he’s going to bring me dinner from my favourite restaurant, or maybe he got a little present for me, or some flowers. But more importantly, what I really want, and what I genuinely believe at that point in time is that, after almost a year of dating, he is finally going to tell me that he loves me. That’s all I really wanted. I loved him, but I didn’t have the courage to say it out loud. I thought that if he said it first, it would be easier for me to say. So there I was, in my apartment, anxiously waiting for him to come over, and what happens when he does? He smiles, takes my hand, brings me over to the couch, sits me down, locks eyes with me and says, ‘I don’t know how to do this, so I’m just going to come out and say it. Laura, I-”

“-want to bone your sister,” I finished for her, sheepishly.

There was an awkward pause for a moment before Rod looked at me. “That’s a joke, right?”

I looked away and sighed, giving away that it was certainly not meant as a jest. If it wasn’t obvious, Laura hammered the point home. “It’s my goddamn birthday and he tells me he has a surprise for me, and then this asshole blurts out that he wants to hook up with my sister? I mean can you believe that shit?”

In typical me fashion, I tried to break up the tension with a little joke. “I don’t know why you’re so upset. I mean, you technically were surprised, right?”

I raised my hands up in anticipation of another right cross, but it turned out my defensive posture was unnecessary. Laura just sat there with her perfect hair, her perfect face and her perfect smile. And she cried.

My heart broke a little. “Laura, I am so sorry. That night, I was trying to use humour to diffuse what I expected to be a difficult conversation. I… I should have chosen my words better.”

“I don’t care about the words, you idiot,” she managed to get out through her tears. “I care about the fact that at a time when I loved you with all my heart, all my soul, you were thinking about how great it would be to be with my sister. My sister for Christ’s sake! It still bothers me. Even after all this time.”

I really didn’t know what to say to that, but my impulse to say something led me to spurting out something asinine. “If it makes you feel any better, I never did try to pursue anything with your sister.”

“Oh wonderful,” she said, the hate returning to her speech. “What a great person you are. All is forgiven. Please leave.”

Her right hand sat on the table. I reached out to take it. “Laura-”

She pulled away and yelled in my face, “I said! Fuck! Off!”

I glanced around and noticed that everyone in the restaurant was now looking at us. Even Rod started judging me. “You know, I don’t use this type of language much, but I think it may be appropriate in this case. You’re a real dick, Chris, you know that?”

I did know that. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. C’mon, let’s go. I’ve done enough damage here for one day. Good bye, Laura.”

“Eat shit and die,” she spat.

I turned back towards Laura as we exited the building. It was obvious that she was still upset, but she was doing her best to pull herself together and get back to work. Watching her in that moment broke my heart just a little bit more.

“That was bad,” Rod offered as we made our way back to his car, which was now slick from the rain.

“Yes, it really was,” I replied. “I should have let myself drown.”

“Why do you say that?” Rod asked.

“Are you serious?” I said in disbelief. “Did you see what just happened in there? Did you hear what I did? And were you paying attention to the other people we confronted today? Jin is a good guy and I treat him like garbage. Lawrence was my best friend and I chewed him out because he was passionate about something, never mind the fact that I slept with his mother. Let’s face it. I am the world’s biggest asshole and I shit all over everyone I meet. I don’t deserve to live.”

Rod gave me a faint, pitiful grin that bordered on a grimace. “Get in the car, Chris. I’ll take you home.”

We drove in silence while we made our way towards my apartment. I was too busy watching the rain streak across the passenger window and feeling sorry for myself to notice ahead of time when we were coming up to my street. “Oh, hey man,” I said to Rod. “We just passed my place.”

“I know,” he replied.

“You know?”

“I want to show you something,” he said, his face lacking expression.

I got more and more nervous with each street we passed. My stomach tied itself into a giant knot when I realized he was taking me back to the spot by the lake where he picked me up earlier that day. “What are we doing here?” I asked.

“Get out of the car,” instructed Rod, his voice completely devoid of emotion. We both exited the vehicle and my companion started walking down towards the lake. I followed, but not because I wanted to. No, what I really wanted to do was run like hell the other way. I followed because I felt an overwhelming urge to do so. Like I was a dog on a leash and my owner was dragging me behind him.

When I arrived at the shore, the rain had stopped and Rod was facing the water. I finally got my nerve up to say something as I approached him. “What is this?”

“Ah. There it is,” he replied, not bothering to turn and face me. “It took an entire day of me driving you around place to place, but I finally got it.”

I was confused. “Got what?”

“Your attention,” he said as he turned towards me, his calm blue eyes now lost in the darkness. “You have been so focused on yourself you have barely even noticed me. You haven’t noticed what I am.”

“And what are you?” I asked, trying not to sound afraid.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that I was here the moment you pulled yourself out of the water? Do you think that I am just a good Samaritan who happened upon a man in need of assistance? No, Chris. I found you because I was already here.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, not able to keep my voice from wavering.

Rod moved towards me. When he was close enough I could see that his eyes had been replaced with empty black holes. “What I’m saying, Chris, is that I’m the one who tried to kill you. And it’s time to finish what I started.”

***

Holy poop, I thought to myself. There I was in front of the man who tried to drown me in the very lake that we were standing next to. It was dark and there was no one around. The air smelled damp from the rain that had just ceased. There was nothing stopping him from finishing what he started. But first, I wanted to know why.

“Why?” I screamed, half hoping that someone else would hear and come running to my aid. “Why are you doing this?”

“Why?” Rod mocked. “Well, you said it yourself. You are the world’s biggest asshole and you shit all over everyone you meet. You don’t deserve to live.”

I couldn’t argue that point, but I wasn’t going to lie down and take it. “Maybe not,” I said. “But who are you to carry out my sentence? I may be unworthy of life, but who are you to deem yourself as executioner?”

“I am the one who hears all. I am the one who sees all. I am the one who knows all. I. Am. All.”

“That makes you sound pretty high and mighty, Rod,” I told him.

Rod’s lip curled. “Why do you keep calling me that?”

“What? Rod?” I asked. “That’s your name, isn’t it?” The person who I thought was named Rod shook his head. “Oh, well, it’s something like that, right?” I guessed. “It’s, like, Rod or Claude or Maude or G…”

Then it hit me like a brick wall. My brain started putting everything together. The comfort and and help he provided me in my time of need… Hearing, seeing, knowing and being all… Rendering the ultimate judgement… Not to mention getting on my nerves at the drop of a hat.

I whispered to the person in front of me. “Are you… God?”

The man looked at me like I was a complete idiot. “My name is Craig.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling a little let down. “That was a little anticlimactic.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” said the man who was not God.

“No worries,” I told Craig. “Anyway, I believe you were going to kill me or something?”

“Kill you?” Craig sounded taken aback. “Oh no, I have no intention of killing you.”

Now I was confused. “So then what the serious fuck, Craig? Isn’t that what all this is about? Isn’t that why you brought me back here? To finish what you started?”

“Yes,” he said. “I brought you back here to finish what I started, but what I have started does not end in your death.”

This fucking guy, I thought to myself. Now I was getting pissed off. “So, tying me up, dumping me in a lake and leaving me to die wasn’t meant to kill me? Gee, I guess I read that situation wrong.”

Craig’s comforting eyes returned. “The purpose of this little exercise was to make you think about your actions and how they affect others.” An empathetic smile appeared on his face. “In that regard, I think today was a success, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yes,” I told him. That much was true. I had definitely thought about my actions and their consequences more that day than I had at any other point in my life.

“And how did today make you feel?” he asked.

“Like shit,” I replied as I looked down at my feet and the slick ground. I raised my head back up when Craig put his left hand on my right shoulder.

“Yes,” he said. “Developing a conscious tends to feel a bit awful.”

My nerves were shot. I was exhausted and I just wanted to go home. “Alright, enough of this,” I said as I smacked his hand off of me. “What’s the end game here? You wanted me to think about how shitty I am to other people, and I did. You wanted me to feel bad about how shitty I am to other people, and I do. Mission accomplished. What I still don’t understand is why you? Why did you decide to teach me this lesson today?”

Craig’s eyes changed. Where I previously saw comfort was now replaced with what appeared to be sadness. A little light bulb went off in my head. “I did something to you, didn’t I?” I asked. “I did something and I don’t even recognize you. Ugh, I am the worst! Look, whatever I did to you, I’m sorry, okay? I am so, so sorry.”  Tears were welling up inside me. It wasn’t long before I could feel a couple of them rolling down my cheeks. “Please forgive me.”

Craig smiled. “I have nothing to forgive you for, Chris,” he replied. “You have not wronged me.”

“Then why, God damn it?!” I screamed, more tears forcing their way out. “Why did you do this to me?”

“Honestly?” Craig continued to smile. “Because I like fucking with people. And you, sir, needed to be fucked with.”

I really didn’t know what to say. Even after everything I had gone though that day, all I could think about at that moment was the fact that Craig was still wearing a full tuxedo. “And why are you wearing a tux, again?” I asked as I tried to wipe the tears off my face.

“Because when I’m fucking with people, I like to wear a tux,” he responded.

I felt a red hot rage burning up inside of me. I was already getting angry, but for some reason Craig wearing a penguin suit while he messed with me really made me mad. “I’m inclined to drag you into that lake and drown you,” I growled, trying to sound intimidating.

“Good luck with that,” he laughed. Then he put his hand on my shoulder again. “Anyway, Chris, I hope you learned a lesson from all this.”

“Don’t take rides from strangers? Yeah, I got it.”

“No,” he said. “The lesson is that you should endeavour to be a better person so that, in time, you will become the best person you can be.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I thought. Tying me up and leaving me to drown was a weird way to go about conveying that sentiment, but it’s nice nonetheless. Then Craig spoke again. “Also, and maybe more importantly, you shouldn’t be so rude and crass all the time.”

You have got to be fucking kidding me. I stood there with my mouth agape. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This is why this fool decided to put me in a situation where my death was a realistic possibility?

“Rude and crass?” I slapped his hand off of me as hard as I could. “Rude and crass? You did all this because I’m rude and crass!”

“Yes,” he said, calmly. “And my psychiatrist thinks I may have some kind of mental disorder.”

“Well that makes sense,” I told him.

“I’m also a ghost. Goodbye,” he said as he began to fade away.

I was stunned. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard or what I was seeing. Craig was simply vanishing before my eyes.

“Wait!” I called out. “This doesn’t make sense. You touched my shoulder. You slapped my face. You interacted with all those other people. Shouldn’t you have just passed right through me? And shouldn’t I have been the only one who could see you?”

As he continued to dissipate into the moonlit night, the man who I thought was named Rod, but was actually a ghost named Craig, gave me one more warm, comforting smile before conveying his final words to me. “That’s not how ghosts work, stupid.”

And with that, the man who tried to drown me in order to teach me a lesson about being a better person was gone, vanished into the night.

“I totally knew he was a ghost,” I said out loud to no one. I stood there for a while trying to process everything that had happened. But then something else occurred to me. “Wait,” I said out loud to no one again. “Ghosts wear tuxedos and have psychiatrists? Crazy.”

After a few more moments of standing by myself next to the lake, noticing the moonlight glittering off the small ripples on its surface, I walked home.

The walk back home was pretty uneventful. The first thing I did when I got back to my apartment was head to the bathroom (because I really had to pee), but after that I found the Milky Way that had inspired me to keep living that day. It was sitting on my nightstand, right where I left it. I picked it up and held it between my thumb and forefinger.

“Thank you,” I said just before I ripped it open and consumed it in three bites. It was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten. Even though it had that white stuff on it that old chocolate bars get sometimes.

After all that, my adventure was over.

You may be wondering if I actually learned anything from my little ordeal. Well, I’d like to think so, even though everything that happened to me was caused by a nut job of a spectre. Since then, I try to think about how my actions will impact others, and I try to choose my words more carefully before I say them (although I’m still working on that part). All that to say, every day I just try to be a little better than I was the day before.

So, I know what you’re thinking. You want to know why I’m telling you all this. I mean, no part of this story really painted me in a positive light. Well, the truth is I wanted to convey something to you. One little lesson that I think everyone should know. And that lesson is this: Be considerate of other people’s feelings. Because if you don’t, a mentally unstable ghost will try to kill you by tying you up and dumping you in a lake.

And one final thought that just occurred to me: If I was right about Craig being a ghost…

What else was I right about?

The End.

SPOOKY-BAMPF!

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