Robert R. McCammon's "Best Friends"

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Three

With no hesitation. Tim Clausen went to the chair at the far end of the table. Gil Moon and Bobby Crisp walked on either side, though the boy did indeed wear a tightly-cinched straitjacket. He sat down, the fluorescents blooming in the round lenses of his glasses, and smiled at his visitors. It was a friendly smile, with not a hint of menace. "Hi," he said.

"Hello, Tim," Dr. Cawthorn replied. "I'd like you to meet Dr. Jack Shannon and Miss Kay Douglas. They're here to talk to you."

"Of course they are. Nice to meet you."

Kay was still stunned by the pictures. She couldn't bear to look at the third one, and she found it hard to look into the boy's face, as well. She had read the case file, knew his description and that he'd just turned seventeen, but the combination of the photographs and Timothy Clausen's smiling, beatific face was almost more than she could take. She pushed the pictures away and sat with her hands tightly clenched in her lap, damning Foster for not preparing her more thoroughly. This is the second test, she realized. He wants to find out if I'm made of ice or crap. Damn him!

"I like your hair," Tim Clausen said to her. "The color's pretty."

"Thank you," she managed, and shifted in her chair. The boy's eyes were black and steady, two bits of coal in a pale face marked here and there with the eruptions of acne. His hair was light brown and had been cropped almost to the scalp. Beneath his eyes were the violet hollows of either fatigue or madness.

Jack had been examining the boy as well. Tim Clausen was a small boy for his age, and his head was oddly shaped, the cranium bulging slightly; he seemed to hold his neck rigid, as if he feared he couldn't balance the weight of his head. The boy looked at each of them in turn—long, cool appraisals. He did not blink.

"You can leave him with us," Cawthorn said to the two attendants, and they moved out of the conference room and closed the door. "Tim, how're you feeling today?"

His smile broadened. "Almost free."

"I mean physically. Any aches or pains, any complaints?"

"No sir. I'm feeling just fine."

"Good." He took a minute to look through the notes he'd written. "Do you know why you're here?"

"Sure." A pause.

"Would you like to tell us?"

"No," he replied. "I'm tired of answering questions. Dr. Cawthorn. I'd like to ask some. Can I?"

"What kind of questions?"

Tim's attention drifted to Kay. "I want to know things about these people. The lady first. Who are you?"

She glanced at Cawthorn, and he nodded that she should comply. Jack had gathered the photographs back and was studying them, but listening intently. "As Dr. Cawthorn said, my name is Kay Douglas. I'm representing you with the public defender's off—"

"No, no!" Tim interrupted, with an expression of impatience. "Who are you? Like: are you married? Divorced? Have any kids? What religion are you? What's your favorite color?"

"Uh . . . well ... no, I'm not married." Divorced, yes, but she wasn't about to tell him that. "No children. I'm—" This is ridiculous! she thought. Why should she be telling private things to this boy? He was waiting for her to continue, his eyes impassive. "I'm Catholic," she went on. "I guess my favorite color's green."

"Any boyfriends? You live alone?"

"I'm afraid I don't see what this has to do with—"

"It's not fun to answer questions, is it?" Tim asked. "Not fun at all. Well, if you want me to answer your questions you'll have to answer mine first. You live alone, I think. Probably dating a couple of guys. Maybe sleeping with them, too." Kay couldn't control her blush, and Tim laughed. "I'm right, huh? Knew I was! Are you a good Catholic or a bad Catholic?"

"Tim?" Cawthorn's voice was gentle but firm. "I think you're overstepping a little bit now. We all want to get this over as soon as possible, don't we?"

"Now you." Tim ignored Cawthorn, his eyes aimed at Jack. "What's your story?"

Jack put aside a photograph that showed gory fingerpaintings on the kitchen wall of the Clausen house. "I've been married for fourteen years, my wife and I have two sons, I'm a Methodist and my favorite color is dark blue. I have no extramarital lovers, I'm a basketball fan and I like Chinese food. Anything else?"

Tim hesitated. "Yes. Do you believe in God?'

"I believe . . . there's a supreme being, yes. How about you?"

"Oh, I believe in a supreme being. Sure thing. Do you like the taste of blood?"

Jack made sure he kept his face emotionless. "Not especially."

"My supreme being does," Tim said. "He likes it a lot." He rocked back and forth a few times, and the straitjacket fabric rustled. His heavy head wobbled on his stalky neck. "Okay. Just wanted to find out who my interrogators were. Shoot."

"May I?" Jack inquired, and Cawthorn motioned for him to go ahead. "Tim, what I'm trying to determine, with the help of Miss Douglas and the public defender's office, is your mental state on the night of October 12th, between the hours of ten and eleven. Do you know what incident I'm referring to?"

Tim was silent, staring at one of the frosted-glass windows. Then: "Sure. That's when they came. They trashed the place and split."

"In your statement to Lieutenant Markus of the Birmingham police department, you indicated 'they' came to your parent's house, and that 'they'—" He found a photocopy of the statement in his satchel and read the part he sought: "Quoting, 'they did the damage. I couldn't do anything to stop them, not even if I'd wanted to. I didn't. They came and did the damage and after they were through they went home and I called the cops because I knew somebody had heard the screaming.' End quote. Is that correct, Tim?"

"Guess so." He kept staring at a fixed spot on the window, just past Jack's shoulder. His voice sounded thick.

"Would you tell me who you meant by 'they'?"

Tim shifted again, and the straitjacket rubbed on his backrest. A scatter of rain pelted the windows. Kay could feel her heart pounding, and she had her hands folded tightly on the table before her.

"My friends," Tim said quietly. "My best friends."

"I see." He didn't really, but at least this was one step forward. "Can you tell me their names?"

"Their names," Tim repeated. "You probably couldn't pronounce them."

"You pronounce them for me, then."

"My friends don't like for just anybody to know their names. Not their real names, at least. I've made up names for them: Adolf, Frog and Mother. My best friends."

There was a moment of silence. Cawthorn shuffled his notes and Jack studied the ceiling and formulated his next question. Kay beat him to it: "Who are they? I mean . . . where do they come from?"

Tim smiled again, as if he welcomed the query. "Hell," he said. "That's where they live."

"By Adolf," Jack said, measuring his words, "I presume you mean Hitler? Is that right?"

"I call him that, but that's not who he is. He's a lot older. But he took me to a place once, where there were walls and barbed wire and bodies were getting thrown into furnaces. You could smell the skin cook, like barbecue on the Fourth of July." He closed his eyes behind the round-lensed glasses. "I got a guided tour, see. There were Nazi soldiers all over the place, just like in the old pictures, and there were chimneys spouting brown smoke that smelled like hair on fire. A sweet smell. And there were people playing violins, and other people digging graves. Adolf speaks German. That's why I call him Adolf."

Jack looked at one of the photographs. It showed bloody swastikas on the wall over the disemboweled torso of a little girl. He felt as if he were sweating on the inside of his skin, the outer surface cold and clammy. Somehow—without any weapons or implements that the police could identify—the boy sitting at the far end of the table had ripped his parents and sister to pieces. Just torn them apart and thrown the pieces against the walls in an orgy of violence, then marked the walls with HAIL SATAN, swastikas, weirdly animalistic faces and obscenities in a dozen languages, all in fresh blood and inner matter. But what had he used to pull them apart? Surely human hands weren't capable of such strength, and on the corpses were deep bite marks and evidence of claws at work. Eyes had been gouged out, teeth had been knocked from gaping mouths, ears and noses had been chewed away.

It was the worst case of pure savagery he'd ever seen. But what kept knocking against the walls of his mind were those scrawled obscenities—in German, Danish, Italian, French, Greek, Spanish and six more languages including Arabic. According to the boy's school records, he'd made a low 'C' in Latin. That was it. So where had those languages come from? "Who taught you Greek, Tim?" Jack asked.

The boy's eyes opened. "I don't know Greek. Frog does."

"Frog. Okay. Tell me about Frog."

"He's . . . ugly. Like a frog. He likes to jump, too." Tim leaned forward slightly, as if confiding a secret, and though he sat more than six feet away, Kay found herself recoiling three or four inches. "Frog's very smart. Probably the smartest one. And Frog's been everywhere. All around the world. He knows every language you can think of, and probably some you don't even know." He sat back, smiling proudly. "Frog's neato."

Jack eased a Flair pen from his shirt pocket and wrote ADOLF and FROG at the top of the police statement, connecting them to the word 'they' with an arrow. He could feel the boy watching him. "How'd you meet your friends, Tim?"

"I called them. They came."

"Called them? How?"

"From the books. The spell books."

Jack nodded thoughtfully. The 'spell books' were a collection of paperback volumes on demonology the police had found on a shelf in Tim's room. They were tattered old things the boy said he'd bought at flea markets and garage sales, the newest one copyrighted in the '70s. They were by no means 'forbidden' literature, just probably the kind of books that had sat in drugstore racks and been spun round a thousand times. "So Adolf and Frog are demons, is that right?"

"That's one name for them, I guess. There are others."

"Can you tell us exactly when you first called them?"

"Sure. Maybe two years ago. More or less. I wasn't very good at it at first. They won't come unless you really want them, and you've got to follow the directions right to the letter. If you're a hair off, nothing happens. I guess I went through it a hundred times before Mother came. She was the first one."

"She?" Jack asked. "Adolf and Frog are male, but Mother is female?"

"Yeah. She's got jugs." Tim's eyes darted to Kay, back to Jack again. "Mother knows everything. She taught me all about sex." Another furtive glance at Kay. "Like how a girl dresses when she wants to get raped. Mother says they all want it. She took me places, and showed me things. Like one place where this fat guy brought boys home, and after he was through with them he set them free because they were all used up, and then he put them in garbage bags and buried them in his basement like pirate treasure."

"Set them free?" Jack repeated; his mouth had gotten very dry. "You mean . . ."

"Set them free from their bodies. With a butcher knife. So their souls could go to Hell." He looked at Kay, who could not restrain an inner shudder. She cursed Bob Foster right down to his shoelaces.

Hallucinations, Jack jotted down. Then: Fixation on Demonology and Hell. Why? "You said a little while ago, when Dr. Cawthorn asked you how you were feeling, you felt 'almost free'. Could you explain that to me?"

"Yeah. Almost free. Part of my soul's already in Hell. I gave it up on the night when . . . you know. It was a test. Everybody gets tested. I passed that one. I've got one more— kind of like an entrance exam, I guess."

"Then all your soul will be in Hell?"

"Right. See, people have the wrong idea about Hell. It's not what people think. It's ... a homey kind of place. Not a whole lot different from here. Except it's safer, and you get protected. I've visited there, and I've met Satan. He was wearing a letter jacket, and he said he wanted to help me learn how to play football, and he said he'd always pick me first when it came to choosing up teams. He said he'd be . . . like a big brother, and all I had to do was love him." He blinked behind his glasses. "Love is too hard here. It's easier to love in Hell, because nobody yells at you and you don't have to be perfect. Hell is a place without walls." He began to rock himself again, and the straitjacket's fabric made a shrieking sound. "It kills me, all this stuff about rock and roll being Satan's music. He likes Beethoven, listens to it over and over on a big ghetto blaster. And he's got the kindest eyes you ever saw, and the sweetest voice. Know what he says? That he feels so sorry for new life born into this world, because life is suffering and it's the babies who have to pay for their parents' sins." His rocking was getting more violent. "It's the babies who need to be freed most of all. Who need love and protection, and he'll wrap them in swaddling letter jackets and hum Beethoven to them and they won't have to cry any more."

"Tim?" Cawthorn was getting alarmed at the boy's motion. "Settle down, now. There's no need to—"

"YOU WON'T CAGE ME!" Tim shouted, and his pale face with its encrustment of acne flooded crimson. Veins were beating at both temples. Kay had almost leaped from her skin, and now she grasped the edge of the table with white fingers. "Won't cage me, no sir! Dad tried to cage me! He was scared shitless! Said he was going to bum my books and get me thinking right again! Won't cage me! Won't cage me, no sir!" He thrashed against the straitjacket, a sheen of sweat gleaming on his face. Cawthorn stood up, started for the door to call in Gil and Bobby.

"Wait!" the boy shouted: a command, full-voiced and powerful.

Cawthorn stopped with his hand on the tarnished knob. "Wait. Please. Okay?" Tim had ceased struggling. His glasses were hanging from one ear, and with a quick jerk of his head he flung them off. They skidded along the table and almost into Kay's lap. "Wait. I'm all right now. Just got a little crazy. See, I won't be caged. I can't be. Not when part of my soul's already in Hell." He smiled slickly and wet his lips with his tongue. "It's time for my entrance exam. That's why they let you bring me here ... so they could come too."

"Who, Tim?" Jack felt the hairs creeping at the back of his neck. "Who let us bring you here?"

"My best friends. Frog, Adolf, and Mother. They're here too. Right here."

"Right where?" Kay asked.

"I'll show you. Frog says he likes your hair, too. Says he'd like to feel it." The boy's head wobbled, the veins sticking out in his neck and throbbing to a savage rhythm. "I'll show you my best friends. Okay?"

Kay didn't answer. At the door, Cawthorn stood motionless. Jack sat still, the pen clamped in his hand.

A drop of blood coursed slowly from the comer of Tim's left eye. It was bright red, and streaked scarlet down his cheek, past his lip to his chin.

Tim's left eyeball had begun to bulge from its socket.

"Here they come," he whispered, in a strangled voice. "Ready or not."


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Copyright © 1987 by Robert R. McCammon. All rights reserved. This story originally appeared in the anthology Night Visions IV, first published in 1987 by Dark Harvest. Reprinted with permission of the author.
© 2017 Robert McCammon Last updated 16-AUG-2017 04:38:11.75 Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha