Something to make you wonder if actions from the past will ever come back to haunt you...
REUNION - by Jonathan K. Lee
I was hurrying along a foggy street in a bad section of Chinatown when a particularly dirty and unkempt bum hobbled out of the shadows and asked me for some spare change. Since I had come to this part of town only because I was the junior-junior partner at a law firm, I was irritated at anything that would slow my leaving, especially now that I had accomplished my task and had gotten old man Lo to sign the papers. As I angrily thrust my hand in my suit pocket and scrabbled around for some change, I looked more closely at the shadowy figure that was detaining me. And stopped dead in my tracks.
"Ryan?" I asked incredulously. "Ryan Long? Is that...is that really you?"
The man looked at me with dull eyes. Finally a spark of recognition came on. "Thomas? Tom. You look good, man. Hey, I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you. Ah, just forget it. Sorry."
I couldn't let him go. It was just too much of a shock. I mean, this was Ryan Long! Only ten years ago we had graduated from college together. This was the guy I had wanted to be like all through college. He was Mr. Everything. All-Conference quarterback. Student body president. Mr. Joe Cool. He had half the women on campus, and then had finally "settled for" Mary Klein, the Homecoming Queen, the kind of woman that studious geeks like me could only dream about. Last I heard, Ryan and Mary were engaged. And now, here he was...a bum?
I grabbed the sleeve of his filthy black overcoat. "Ryan. Don't leave. Can I help you? Ryan, what happened to you?"
Ryan stopped. He groaned and put a hand to his left leg as if in pain. He then sighed and turned slowly. He half laughed, half coughed bitterly. I could see that he was missing two front teeth. He also looked like he hadn't shaved, or washed for that matter, for at least a week. It suddenly occurred to me that he also smelled very bad.
My thoughts must have been on my face, because Ryan gritted his teeth and said, "Yeah, I'm sure I look totally screwed up. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have given two cents to a person like me." Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You want to know what happened to me? Okay. If you buy me some drinks, I'll tell ya."
He started down an alley. As I hesitated, he smiled grimly. "Come on. This place I know doesn't water their drinks. And they won't let anyone kill you for your shoes." I followed.
We went through what seemed like several alleys. The odd smells and the dense fog seemed overwhelming. It was like we were going through the bowels of a different world, a nether world of strange sounds and shadows. When I was absolutely sure we were lost, we entered a seedy, smelly, little dive that apparently had a name which translated to "The Green Frog." A tiny Chinese woman behind the bar nodded recognition at Ryan as we entered. Next to her stood a huge black man, perhaps six foot eight, who had one eye that was all white. He had his arms crossed, as if imitating Mr. Clean, or the jolly Green Giant, except that there was nothing remotely jolly about him.
I followed Ryan to a dimly-lit corner booth. The moment I sat down, the Chinese lady was at our table. She placed a bottle of cheap Tequila, along with a glass, in front of Ryan, and looked at me expectantly. I handed her a hundred dollar bill and asked for a Bud Light. When she brought my beer, she handed me four ones.
I looked at her as she walked away, about to make a fuss, and wondering if I should, when Ryan said, "Tom, I hope that was alright. She took my bar tab out. Don't be mad?"
I sighed and put my wallet back in my jacket. "Okay. That's alright."
Then I got angry.
"Dammit, Ryan! What the hell happened to you? You had it all, man. How could you piss it all away? How could you turn into... what was it, man? Drugs?"
Ryan closed his eyes and massaged his left leg. He shook his head. "No. I use them when I can get them, but it's not really drugs." He poured himself a huge shot and downed it with a shaky hand. He smiled wryly. "I drink too much though. I'm probably an alcoholic by now. But Lord, I have some good reasons."
I was now in a bad mood. "Crap. Everybody has stuff go wrong in their life! That's no reason..."
"Oh, fuck you!" Ryan interrupted. "You don't have the slightest clue." He started to get up, then sat back down slowly. After a moment, he said softly, "I'm sorry. Hey, I apologize for sticking you with my tab. I won't lie. I'll never be able to pay you back."
I waved it away. "Forget it. I guess I can afford it."
We sat in silence for a moment. Suddenly, Ryan said, "Tom, do you remember our trip to Mexico our senior year?"
I laughed grimly. "Yeah. The 'spring break' from Hell."
Ryan nodded. "There were four of us. You, me, Bill Molina, and...oh, yes, Toby." He wiped at his eyes. "Tom, you and me are all that's left."
"I heard Bill died in a hunting accident," I said slowly. "I didn't know about Toby though. What happened?"
Ryan slugged another drink and shuddered. "Yeah. Well, I guess 'hunting accident' is what parents call it when they don't want to admit their kid stuck a shotgun in his mouth. And Toby? He jumped off the bridge, into the bay, several months ago. By the time they found his body, guess it was a couple weeks, there was just...hardly anything left. He sleeps with the fishes that ate him."
I suddenly wished I had a stiff drink in front of me. I drank half the bottle of Bud Light instead. "Whoa. This is all news to me. I didn't know about any of this stuff."
Ryan nodded sadly. "That trip to Mexico. Yucatan. Cuernavaca. But it was your stupid idea to get off the beaten path. All we wanted to do is drink Coronas and get laid. But we followed your damm advice and went up into the hills."
"Hey, I didn't screw that gal," I said defensively.
"True. You were so sick you could barely walk. I was the one that had sex with the daughter of the local chieftain. I was drunk. How was I too know he wanted me for a son-in-law? We just wanted fun. They were serious. We all drank that jungle juice, or whatever that crap was, and then we dishonored their women. And instead of marrying them, we left as fast as that old Jeep could go. All except for you, who slept through the whole thing."
"Yes, I know," I said sullenly, looking at the bubbles in my beer.
Ryan laughed, then winced in pain. "Oh, man. You don't know shit, Tom!" He leaned back and closed his eyes. "There was this old white-haired witch. The local form of voodoo, or mojo, or heap big medicine. Whatever. She was a witch! She cursed us as we left. She said the cholo pesadilla would come for us. We laughed, stepped on the gas, got back to town, and split the country."
The Chinese lady brought me another beer. This time, I handed her four one dollar bills. She smiled, put one down and went back to the bar. I sipped on the beer. "What does that mean? Cho...what?"
Ryan swallowed hard. "I don't speak much Spanish. Had to look it up in the dictionary. It means...half breed nightmare. But I still had no idea what that was. Until...until The Sucker showed up." I was about to ask what it was, when he went on hurriedly. "I know you won't believe this. Hell, before I saw it, I wouldn't have believed such thing were possible. But about seven years ago, I woke up one morning in a cold sweat. And I noticed there was some blood in my bed. And my left leg had a small bite mark on it. I didn't really think much of it. Probably just a scratch, or a bug bite, or something. But then it happened again a few mornings later.
"Well, I went to a doctor, and he said it looked like a rat had bitten me. He gave me a tetanus shot. But it kept happening. About that time, things went to hell with Mary. She finally admitted that every time she slept with me, she had nightmares. We were going to get married that Spring when she graduated nursing school. Instead, she left. And it kept happening. The doctor said, I was suffering from anemia, as if I was losing blood. No shit! It was all over my bed. What that...'thing' didn't drink, was in my sheets every morning. And then the nightmares began for me. I couldn't sleep without waking up in terror. I moved several times to new apartments, but it always found me. I spent a lot of nights trying not to sleep. One night I actually saw it. I pretended to be asleep. And when I felt it bite, I looked. It is a nightmare! So, it was hardly any wonder that my work suffered and eventually the company fired me.
"So I ran. True freedom is having nothing left to lose. And I had nothing. Brazil, Morocco, Zaire, Pakistan, Borneo. Some real nice third world hellholes. I kept getting crummier and crummier jobs. Just anything to make a buck, because I was always illegal. In Borneo, I cleaned and gutted fish. The nightmares never went away, but it sometimes took the Sucker a few weeks to find me. Then I'd wake up one morning with blood running down my leg. I'd bandage it up and move on. I guess you can't outrun curses."
There was a long moment of silence. "What does this thing look like?" I asked finally.
Ryan gulped down another huge drink. "Well, you'll recognize it when it comes. It is kind of like a large wet rat. But not all rat. Maybe something reptilian mixed in. And the mouth is kind of screwed up. Big teeth, but also something that looks like a sucker arrangement. It bites off some flesh, then attaches itself and sucks the blood."
I looked at him with horror and disbelief. "What do you mean? I'll recognize it when it comes for me? What do you mean, Ryan?"
Ryan leaned back tiredly. His face was shrunken and pale, and his watery eyes seemed too large for his head. "God, I am tired. Tom, the witch cursed us all. You too. I was first. But I won't last much longer. Gangrene. A blessing really. Bill and Toby just couldn't take it. You're probably last because you did least. But you were there."
I slammed my beer down. "That's unfair! I didn't do anything." I stood up and pulled on my overcoat. "Oh, hell. Bull! Like I believe any of this crap! I'm leaving."
Ryan said, "Well, maybe you'll believe this." Groaning, he lifted his left leg up on the table. He pulled up a dirty, blood-stained pant leg.
The stench of rotting flesh was overwhelming. His whole lower leg looked grayish green, and was covered with wounds and scabs. Where his calf muscle should have been, there was virtually no meat left. What was left was black with dried blood, except where it was still red and trickling from large bitemarks. I thought I was going to be sick.
I threw down some money for Ryan, mumbled something about being late, and almost ran out of the bar. As I was driving home, I slowly settled down, and eventually even convinced myself that Ryan had probably just suffered some sort accident. That story about curses and a horror that sucked his blood at night! Ha! There just couldn't be anything to stuff like that. Besides, I hadn't done anything. To punish me, would be totally unfair.
I thought it was even more unfair, several days later, when I woke up with a bite wound on my leg and blood on the sheets.
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See you Monday.