They lay in the tall grass and watched the clouds
pass. Twiddling their arms and giggling, they welcomed the new one who joined
them and brought yet another their way.
Roger Elspin found
the dilapidated bear, monkey, pig, or whatever it was lying amongst the leaves in
a small patch of woods in his neighborhood. The tag on its back read only “My
Name Is Zawby” without any of the usual manufacturer’s information. Roger was nearly
fourteen and had never had any use for stuffed animals even when he was much
younger. Still, finding this pathetic thing seemed the perfect end of a
terrible day full of screaming teachers and boring classes, with Russell Gann
shouting “Hey, faggot!” as he rode away
from Claybaker Middle School in a red pickup with his older buddies. Shrugging,
Roger crammed the animal into his back-pack, carried it home, and tossed it on
the floor of his basement room.
A quick Google
search came up blank. None of the mail order companies sold Zawby toys. Must
have been home-made, he decided, though any
grandma who would make such a thing would have to be on crack or something
worse. Staring down into the animal’s blank milky eyes staring back up at him
from a mashed-in face with a long rubbery nose that resembled a charred sausage
hanging straight over a crookedly gaping mouth, Roger heard himself ask aloud,
“What are you? And why’d I find you?”
When his mother called “RogerSupper!”
he tossed the animal into a far corner under the bed and did his best to purge it
from his mind as he trudged up the stairs. He thought little more of it as he
passed the rest of the evening on a long aimless walk followed by an hour or so
of strumming his guitar.
The next day, after passing two quarts
of beer with some schoolmates on the way home, Roger stopped outside the closed
doorway to his room, hearing a garbled voice singing “Zawby got anuthuh home, anuthuh
fwend, anuthuh life, oh spohdly-dohdly-dee!!”
He opened the door to find the
animal goose-stepping about the room, abruptly ceasing its song and dance to chortle
“Oh, hi, Wadjuh!” and dart beneath the bed.
Head reeling, Roger sat against
the wall and convinced himself that he was just a little drunk. He finally got
up and gazed at the image in his full-length mirror with its wild eyes, unruly
hair, splotches of acne, and frame so thin from recent growth. Almost five-ten
now, he was just about as
tall, his mother told him, as the father who’d left them six years earlier, that
heavy-set bespectacled man who carried him to bed when he was still in
preschool but later smacked him hard on several occasions and called him “My
favorite little pussy-fart” when his mother wasn’t around.
At supper, as he poked at his kale
and didn’t say a word, his mom asked, “Roger, what on Earth is wrong with you
tonight?” Her sleek graying reddish hair, the lines around her eyes, and puckery
mouth reminded him of something from a faraway planet.
“Nothing. Just thinking about a
chick, mom,” he told her, hearing the usual loud sigh as he went down to his
room, where he picked at his guitar and brooded another three hours away. Just
as he was finally nodding off, Zawby let
loose a shrill cackle that left him wide awake for most of the night.
The next evening, after struggling to hold his head above his
desk at school and immediately falling asleep on the living room couch until
suppertime, he found what looked like a
toddler’s red and yellow permanent marker drawing of houses, trees, and stick
people decorating the wall behind his bedroom door. Then he caught a first
whiff of the pile of pale brown gooey shit that he’d just stepped in.
was missing from its chosen spot beneath the bed, but Roger quickly found the
animal cowering in a far corner of his closet. “You little—”
“Oh Wadjuh dohn beat me! I’m sawwy
I made dooky on yuh floh!”
After a long frenzy of punching,
kicking, and hurling Zawby against the walls, the animal’s pleas only spurring
him on, Roger felt no vengeance, only nausea, as he washed his right Reebok in steaming
water and detergent, scraping hard with steel wool to get the last of the shit
out of the treads. After scooping what was left on the carpet into a dustpan
and watching it spiral down the toilet, he scoured the stained spot that would
probably never go completely away.
This thing was neither real nor
the product of any chemicals he’d taken, he decided, guitar inert on his lap.
It was easiest to believe that he was going nuts, maybe “paranoid
schizophrenic” or better yet, a “psychopath” as some of his classmates had
teasingly labeled him the day they surveyed mental illnesses in Health class. He
liked that explanation best: Being crazy might get him taken out of that
horrible school and maybe even put on some really fun drugs.
The smell of Zawby’s excretion hung
in the air, and when Roger’s mother came down to check on him before she went
to bed, she grimaced and seemed about to ask “What is that horrible odor?”
before she glanced toward the nearby bathroom
and, apparently assuming her son’s school lunch was to blame, said a hasty
Zawby still lay prone at an odd
angle in the closet. “Yuh so big and stwong, Wadjuh! Why you havta beat up on poh
“You better shut the hell up or
I’ll take you out and KILL your sorry ass!”
There was a whimper from the
closet before all was silent and Roger slept hard.
Things will never be the same, he realized,
mind wandering in Math the next morning. Whatever becomes of me, there’s no
going back to a normal life. But had he ever wanted a normal life? The dream of
becoming a star guitarist was a nice one, but those guys had to work and work
at it, and a lot fewer made it than didn’t. It just didn’t seem his lot to make
it at anything, and he couldn’t imagine growing up to get married, have
kiddies, and do something boring and exhausting like his mother’s work at the
bank. There had to be other, better, realities out there: Why oh why had he
been born into this one?
“Got yourself a woman yet,
faggot-Elspin?” Russell Gann’s shove in the hallway was harder than usual.
Roger turned and sputtered “It
ain’t—” It ain’t over, motherfucker!
“ ‘It AIN’T!’ ”
slow and retarded. Then, with one hand holding his nose, the other swishing the
air around him, “Whew, go wipe yourself off,
smell like Zawby’s crap. That’s why people have been turning up their noses at
me all day. Everyone must be talking about it: “Roger Elspin smells like someone
dipped him in shit!”
He had to get rid of Zawby and asked
It came to him rather quickly.
A few weeks earlier, he’d half-watched
some ’80s film on TV about a colonial village with a strict minister and the
eldest daughter he would not allow to marry the kindly but simple carpenter’s
son she truly loved. Roger had quickly drifted off into fantasies of taking a
flame-thrower to the entire place and watching them all scream and burn. The only
scene that really grabbed him was when they’d caught a fat man stealing
precious food from the village storehouse. The Puritans had erected a gibbet,
thrown a noose around the thief’s neck, kicked a barrel out from under him, and
watched him writhe and choke as the prune-faced minister droned out the Old
Testament in the background. The hanging had looked so delicious that Roger
yearned for the day he might do just that to any of the many deserving people
That night, while his mother was at a
friend’s house, he made as good a miniature noose as he could from some hemp
twine she used to hang her plants and strung it from the coat rod in his closet.
He changed into his oldest clothes, fetched a can of Lysol, and placed a sheet
of aluminum foil on the floor beneath the noose. If more reeking shit fell from
the animal as it expired, he would wrap it up, burn it, or maybe even take it
to a lab somewhere for analysis. Dying to know what made Zawby tick, he also planned
to dissect the corpse, though his vague imaginings of finding something other
than fiber fluff and plastic pellets made him shiver.
Inert in its usual spot beneath the
bed, Zawby squirmed and spasmed as Roger tied its arms in a spare bit of twine
and carried the animal toward the noose.
“ ‘Wadjuh,’ YEAH! I’m gonna love every
second of watching you die, you sick little turd!”
Roger’s mouth watered as Zawby twisted,
coughed, and sputtered at the end of the twine, its cries slowly diminishing
after a minute or so. After its stuffed head finally tilted to one side and its
tiny bat-like ears ceased twitching, Roger smugly watched the limp animal sway
for a couple more minutes before he took out his Swiss Army knife. The instant he
began sawing at the twine, Zawby jerked its arms free of their bindings and with
a low gurgling sound, raised a shaking paw to pull its head from the noose and fall
with a loud crink onto the foil below. It lay gasping for some time before mewing
“Why you do this to me, Wadjuh?”
“Because. . .because. . .you’re evil.”
“Maybe so. And I’m gonna love every second
of watching you burn!” I was a
fool for thinking something that doesn’t
weigh half a pound and probably doesn’t even have to breathe would die from
hanging, but oh well.
as tongues of flame spired
from the charcoal grill on the back patio. Tightly wrapped in the failed twine
on a nearby picnic table, Zawby screamed “Oh, please, HEH-ELLP!” obscenely loud
as he carried it toward the fire.
A light flashed on in the side window
of a neighboring house.
What if the police come?
“Just playin’, Zawby-buddy.” As Roger dowsed
the fire and replaced the grill lid, the less likely it seemed that the toy
animal would simply have burned to a cinder and been gone from his life. Nor
would it have been any different if he’d disemboweled or decapitated the thing or
just taken it as far as he could and dumped it somewhere. “Man-up,” he told
himself, “and face reality. Zawby somehow knew my name without being told. It
can prance around on those scrawny legs, draw with those little paws, and talk,
for Christ’s sake. And,” he
snorted, “it can lay the rankest shit on Earth even though it doesn’t even have
a hole down there. So, what else is it capable of. . .and what can it do for me
if I’m nice to it?”
Back down in his room, he unbound Zawby
and fashioned a make-shift bed of a spare pillow in an old cardboard box. Covering
the animal with a bit of torn blanket used by a Cocker Spaniel he’d had years
before, he asked “Need anything, pal?”
“Just let me know if you gotta make dooky
or anything so I can take you to the bathroom.”
“Next time I make dooky, I make it wight
Livid, Roger grabbed the animal’s long ugly
nose in a firm pinch and sawed at it with his knife.
“Oh, my no-wose! Please DOHN, Wadjuhhh!”
Roger shook his head and laughed. “Just
had to play with you one more time. No more messes on my floor, okay? No more
whining. And if you shit on me while I’m asleep, I’ll cut off your nose and
your arms and legs too so you won’t be able to get away when I hang you or burn
you or tear your ass to pieces, whatever I feel like doing, and I won’t care
how loud you scream!”
“Okay, Wadjuh, wohn twy anyting else. Please
dohn huht Zawby any moh!”
“Deal! Let’s be friends, okay?”
“Fwends!” One thin arm jerked in what seemed
like an aborted fist-bump.
Careful to avoid the still-smelly spot
nearby, Roger stooped to take a closer look at Zawby’s mural on his wall.
The three houses, along
with the beginning of a fourth, were identical to one another, with pointed
roofs and solitary upstairs windows. The lollipop trees were equally alike. The
four dopily grinning, leaping stick figures, two with long curled hair and two
with a single squiggle growing from the top of their perfectly spheroid heads,
all held tiny rectangles or larger pads. One of the guys fingered his, and one
of the girls held hers to her face. Roger hated all the idiots at school who chattered
on and on about who texted, instant messaged, and Skyped who, constantly having
to remind everyone of how connected they were. He was so intrigued that he
didn’t even notice Zawby stagger up beside him.
“You like my pick-shuh, Wadjuh?”
“Um, yeah. It’s kind of how the whole fuckin’ world
But no more on my walls!”
Roger resisted the urge to grab the
animal and pound it against the floor as it went back to its bed, where it still
lay covered and crying the next morning, a rainy Saturday. Peering furtively down
from his own bed, Roger wondered hopefully if it would die.
Wadjuh, I huht all ovuh!”
what can I do for you?”
me for a walk, Wadjuh. Zawby need some fwesh ayeh.”
rain splatter across the small ground-level window above him, Roger protested, “It’s
pouring outside, man.”
Wadjuh. Zawby look aftuh evwybody!”
deliberating under a hot shower, eating the pancakes his mother made for him, telling
her “Dunno” and hearing her sigh when she asked his plans for the day, Roger
stuck Zawby under his shirt and walked in the direction of a nearby half-built subdivision.
Despite a few faint thunderclaps, the rain had slowed to a drizzle.
down, Wadjuh!” The animal struggled
under his shirt.
“What the--” If
anyone drove by and saw Zawby skipping along beside him, would they think it
was just a wind-up toy? An hallucination? Or would they stop and ask, “My God,
what IS that thing?”. . .Would it make him rich and famous?
Roger lowered Zawby gently to the
pavement. The way it awkwardly stood there somehow reminded him of a mutant
duck he’d once seen in an anime cartoon.
“Weee!” Zawby shrieked, dancing down the road in wide
circles. “Oh, weee, weee, weee!”
Weee, yourself, you little
Coming to a bulldozer parked beside the
new road, Zawby leapt up and sat on the very edge of the operator’s couch. Leaning
forward to put its paws on the steering bars and then sliding over to grasp the
blade control lever to its right, the animal warbled “Ba-wooom! Such powuh
Roger had to admit that Zawby looked oddly
cute with its homely head bobbing every which way as it played with the controls.
Though most of him wanted to take the animal by the legs and thrash it against
the front blade of the dozer, he picked it up and gave it a stiff hug.
“But nowhere near as much power as you
got, my friend,” he said, holding Zawby limply in his outstretched arms.
“Yes, Wadjuh!” The animal wriggled its
legs and pirouetted its arms.
Side by side, they walked through the woods
where they’d first met, which would soon no doubt be bulldozed to make room for
more new houses full of more stupid boring people. Roger ranted on about Russell
Gann, the beefy kid with rich parents he’d hated ever since they’d been
assigned seats together back in fourth grade. Gann had called him every name in
the book, bragged to everyone about kicking his ass after school and making him
“cry like a retarded baby” even though he’d done no such thing, embarrassed Roger
in front of certain girls he was sweet on by pointing out the bit of cobweb in
his hair or the booger on the tip of his nose, and done every other thing he
could find over the next four years to make his life pure Hell.
get him, Wadjuh, we get him.” Zawby’s tone, slow and scheming, was one he hadn’t
“Whatcha thinking, buddy?”
“You see soon, Wadjuh. But we get him
The sky darkened, and the rain came
pouring down again. Roger ran fast to the nearest shell of a half-built home
and stood under the overhang above the front door. Nostrils full of the scent
of fresh cement, paint, and pine shingles, he looked around to find Zawby nowhere
in sight. He counted twenty before charging
through the torrents down the nearby dirt road with its foundation of an old
house and adjoining ruin of a garage where he and the other guys sometimes hung
out after school. He’d catch his breath there before making a break for home to
dry off and get under the covers and hopefully awaken to find the smell in his
room gone and this whole episode of his life erased right along with Zawby’s etching
on his wall.
Water spattered into the garage
through the vacant eyes of its side windows and several holes in its roof. Roger
found a seat on a stack of cinder blocks in a fairly dry corner. A couple of tattered
porno magazines were still folded tightly within the apertures of the top
block. He remembered that one jabbery kid--Shawn or Don something--bringing them
with him when they’d all gotten together to drink beer three days earlier. Cigarette
butts and empty soda and beer bottles lay scattered on the floor.
Those guys: Mike McCaven, who’d
lived on the same street as Roger for years and occasionally invited him over
to play when they were younger; Alex Penaldo, who was good for supplying booze,
cigarettes, and an occasional joint snuck from his party animal folks; Shawn, Don,
whatever; and sometimes one or two others whose names he didn’t recall, but all
of them dicks who tried so hard to act like tough cool men-of-the-world without
even seeing what stupid little punks they really were.
Taking off his shoes and
wringing out his socks, Roger noticed a sheet of notebook paper hanging from a
nail on the back wall, half-hidden behind the veil of incoming rain. His jaw
dropped as he took down the pencil sketch of a scraggly figure with a ludicrous
mound of dark hair and a moping face so obviously his own. Squiggly stink-lines
surrounded Roger and
tears poured from his eyes as he held up his arms and called “Ashley, baby,
please come BACK!” to the fleeing figure of a ponytailed girl whose voice
balloon screamed back “Eww! Get away from me ya sorry stinkbomb or Ill have Gann
kick you’re ass!”
Ashleigh Spriggs, who’d walked
with him on their way to Language Arts last semester, sometimes holding his
hand. The last time he’d called Ashleigh, he’d let her know just how he felt
about this suck-ass world and all the morons in it. “Some day,” he told her,
“I’ll do something that’ll make everyone’s head spin!” And when he saw her in
the hall the next morning talking with some sneering girls he did not know and
said “Hey, Ash-LEIGH!” in that elated way he used to, she’d looked away and
pretended he wasn’t there.
After ripping the drawing to
shreds, wadding it up, and tossing it out into the rain, Roger sat and stared
at the littered concrete floor, his face burning. He felt a tiny poke to his
left leg, which he chose to ignore until he felt it again. He lifted his head
to see Zawby standing sadly beside him, dripping but somehow dry.
“Why you wun fwum me, Wadjuh?”
“I. . .I just had to get out of
“You can’t wun away, Wadjuh. We
good fwends, wemembuh? You wull always be pawt of Zawby!” To Roger’s disgust, the
animal hugged the calf of his leg. “Wain’s stopping, Wadjuh. Walk with me.”
Water poured down the guttered
sides of Wakefield Lane, becoming a miniature lake above a culvert draining into
a small pond which fed into a narrow creek. Leaning on the guardrail, Roger stared
down at the churning water as Zawby jumped atop the rail and danced a balancing
act along its length. “Woah-de-doh, woah-de-doh, woah-de-doh! Oh, look at Zawww-beeee!!”
There was the sound of an approaching
vehicle and a flash in the air as Zawby dove off the rail for cover among the
rocks and weeds. An SUV passed, barely slowing at the low spot above the
culvert. Roger barely managed to dodge the tall plume of water that flew his
way as the SUV sped through the big puddle in the road.
Zawby leapt back onto the rail.
“Woah-de-doh. . .”
Roger grabbed the animal and hurled
it down into the pond. He took a quick glance at the thing twisting in the muddy
froth before, stifling the urge to run, he walked coolly away.
Roger kept walking.
“Wadjuh, you can’t do this to
“Wadjuh, what about ah big plans?!”
I can get back at Gann on my own. I
don’t need help from any little stuffed freak! I’m brilliant, I’m brave, I’m
strong, I’m everything else. Like the ending to some fucked-up Disney flick,
that’s what this whole Zawby-thing was meant to show me.
“You be sawwy, Wadjuh!”
Roger struggled to
pause and think before turning back to the railing to see Zawby bobbing head-up
in the far end of the pond. One paw grasped an errant vine snaking into the
water; the other waved frantically up at him. If the animal let go, it would be
sucked into the whirlpool that opened and closed like clockwork above a
submerged concrete pipe a few feet behind it. Half a minute passed without that
happening, and Zawby kept waving and crying. Roger cursed and started down the
path from the road, grabbing at whatever branches and jutting rocks lent some
support. Halfway down, his feet flew out from under him and he slid the last
two yards on his backside.
Rubbing a scraped ankle, he
tried to figure out how he could save the pleading thing. . . or maybe force it
down the pipe? Scrounging through the underbrush nearby, he found a tree limb
long and sturdy enough to do either job.
“Grab this, buddy!”
One tiny paw and then another closed
around the limb, and Zawby emerged from the water. “Bwing Zawby to showuh,
Dutifully, Roger swung the
animal over the bank and saw its feet touch the ground a split second before
the limb was ripped from his hands and whacked him hard on the side of his head.
The world spun and shimmered as he fell sideways into the water. His feet touched
the rocky bottom, and for one
scrambling submerged instant he thought “This pond’s only about six feet deep--I
can get myself out of this!”
But the current dragged him down
and he screamed, filling his lungs with dirty water. Head-first and face-up, he
was sucked toward the drain pipe. Just before his shoulders crashed through its
opening and his head smashed against a large rock three feet within its mouth, Roger
saw Zawby standing over him on the bank, waving and somehow smiling. Several long
moments of agony elapsed. All went blank for a couple more before he found
himself gazing out of two tiny unblinking eyes a foot above the pond and tittering
at the sight of his own legs hanging from the pipe, knees bending up and down
in the water. To his dismay, a chorus of other voices laughed right along with
Russell Gann’s buddies were
supposed to come by an hour ago, but they had shown him up again. Well, fuck
’em. They treated him like a nothing because they were in high school and he
was still at Claybaker, but he’d do them the same way next year. They were just
a bunch of low-life punk-asses anyway. So, having nothing better to do right
now, for the third time in the five days since the Elspin kid had drowned in
the creek pond near the Gann’s new house, he came to look at the spot where it
happened, his first time to come alone.
After last Saturday’s big rainstorm,
some old man out for a stroll had seen a pair of legs sticking out of the pipe,
and Elspin’s mom had id’d the body. There’d been a memorial service at school
with some teachers and counselors talking about how hard it was to lose a
classmate, how help was there for anyone feeling depressed, and all that shit. Russell
had done a good job of keeping a poker face whenever people looked his way, but
he didn’t care and neither did anyone else. And why should they? Elspin was
just a scrawny dork who’d always thought he was something special. Some of the
geekier kids at Claybaker were scared by the way he went around all glaring and
crazy-looking, but Russell had always seen him for the zero that he was.
he guffawed, skipping a stone
across the pond: Meeting the big ultimate
by falling into a drainage pond and being sucked into a pipe. This place
would become one of those urban legend things, the rain-drain where the scuzzy
freak died an awesomely freakish death. He and his crowd could come here and
party. The nearby clearing would make a cool place to make out with girls.
Looking in that direction, Russell
saw a thin furry arm with a little three-fingered paw sticking up out of the
grass. He walked over and picked Zawby up with an amused scowl.
“Damn! Aren’t you the ugliest-ass
thing?!” Russell chortled as the stuffed animal’s long, deformed nose spun
round and round after he socked it. It seemed programmed to do that even though
its head felt completely pillowy, giving no hint of wires or gadgetry when squeezed.
Glancing at the tag on its back, he snorted,
“Well, Zaw-bee, what am I going to do
with you, brother? Feed you to the crawdads?” He started to toss the animal
into the middle of the pond, but sudden notions of sneaking it into some skaggy
chick’s locker or back-pack stopped him. Better yet, he’d pin a card on it reading
“I am the ghost of Roger Elspin” and leave it somewhere for goofy old Ashleigh
Spriggs to find. Shrugging, he started down the trail home, holding Zawby roughly
by the neck.
still getting used to the company that had found him, Roger was becoming
more and more at home with them. Though it was not yet time to speak aloud, his
voice united with theirs in humming a soft “Spohdly-dohdly-wohdly-dee!” Together,
they ventured a short, merry twist of their arms and legs as their newest
friend carried them to their next home.
Park is originally from
Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he hated going to public school every bit as much
as the protagonist in this story. He
completed an MFA in Fiction from the University of Arkansas but did not yet
have any publications in this genre. His only publications to speak of were a
couple of poems in small, now-defunct magazines. He now lives in
Lexington, Kentucky, where he presently works as a Mental Health Associate for
a local psychiatric hospital. Prior to moving to Lexington, he spent several
years working as a Composition Instructor at Cameron University in Lawton,