“You ever heard of the Billy House?” The old man leaned in, a conspiratorial look in his eye. I caught a whiff of cheap weed and sour beer. He had a nasal voice like a police siren that hurt my skull. “Some dick with the City wants to tear it down. It’s a historical sight, eh? This guy—this asshole with his head up his ass—doesn’t care.”
O, bus shelter, you on this frosty winter’s eve play host to a dozen such men who will spill their political opinions on their fellow hapless travelers. Ice water on such a night (-20 is a toasty memory) would be more welcome. Hmm, should I italicize those types of thoughts?
I hunched into my jacket, wriggled my fingers, and prayed to all the gods and demons for the bus to arrive.
“You know,” he went on. “The Billy House is haunted. Haunted like a ghost lives there and everything. Some priest was asked to perform an exorcism and failed. Did you read that? It was in the papers. Forget which one.”
I might not have been feeling so grumpilicious (trademark that), except that it was the end to a lousy evening. The prof who was supposed to teach my evening class, The Philosophy of Modern Physics, had decided to cancel class without notifying any of us. No doubt he was at home on the couch in his boxers watching the hockey game. He was that kind of a jerk. Half the class put two and two together, cold weather plus hockey game plus jerk professor equals don’t bother going to class. I wasn’t that smart.
“You ever been really scared?” The guy was smoking now. The cigarette was cheap and smelled harsh in the cold. “I was never scared growing up. Not once.”
I reserved judgment. I didn’t know this guy. Maybe he had a story. All I could see was working class white dude who probably had made some poor life choices, as they say. But what did I know. Maybe he was going home to a real nice house and family. Maybe he was living the upper middle class dream. He probably had a garage full of power tools, and a big screen in his living room. Or he rented a bachelor’s and scraped ends, took government assistance, and drank and smoked because there was shit else to do in a world that, let’s face it, lost its appeal once you reached the age of six and figured out there was a whole dump truck of bullshit where that Santa guy came from.
Anyway, he said, lighting a second cigarette. “You ever spent a night in the mountains? Know how quiet it gets out there? You can hear for miles the smallest thing. Like a scream. Like a little boy with his testicles caught in a mousetrap.”
“Sir,” I said, “I’m not really interested, thanks.” Testicles in a mousetrap? He’d probably gotten it from some kind of show. I didn’t watch TV. I wasn’t better than TV or anything, I just never found it could hold my attention.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “Shit got real out there. This little guy came running into our camp sight with his pants soaked in blood. We heard him coming because he screamed all the way. Like a world war One bomb descending on us.”
“Was he okay?”
“Don’t know. We loaded him into the backseat of the truck and drove until we got to that hospital there at Rocky. But we’re in the parking lot, right? My girlfriend looks back there to check on him, and he’s gone. Not a sign.”
“Oh yeah?” I said.
“Just the mousetrap,” he said. “And a bloodstain.”
“I think we’ve missed this bus.”
“No kidding,” he said. “I don’t think there is a bus coming at all.”
“That figures,” I said. “Minus thirty and everything. Why should we expect the busses to show up.”
I stamped my feet and beat my hands against my thighs. I was going to go get a hot chocolate and ask to use a phone. Mine had died back on campus. I wasn’t normally out this late on my own.
“You come for a walk?” he asked. “I was going to go down and look at the Billy House. One last time before they smash ‘er up.”
“No thanks,” I said, “That’s all right.” Sure dude, I’m going to follow you into a condemned house you claim is haunted so you can molest the shit out of me. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Goddamn it some people were stupid. I guess I was for being there.
“It isn’t far. Just a couple of blocks. It isn’t late or anything. On a Tuesday.”
“I’m good,” I said. “It’s been a pleasure. I’ll see you around.”
“Yeah,” he said. He extended a thin hand. “Name is Billy,” he said.
“Like the house,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “That’s very smart of you to pick up on that. That’s very astute.”
“Thank you,” I said. And then, dear reader, I got the hell out of that bus shelter. The hot chocolate I bought from a cute Pilipino guy watching the hockey game made all my bad thoughts go away. Eventually I made it home, tumbled into bed and drifted off into a muzzy dream that had nothing to do with this story. I intentionally did not set the alarm, even though I had a class first thing.
However, a loud knocking woke me not more than five hours later. Two RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police for my non-Canadian readers) stood in the door way sans the horses. “Have you seen this man?” The fat one (there is always a fat one, right?) held up his phone to show me a picture of the guy from the bus shelter. He was wearing a muscle shirt in the picture. He had pale flabby arms and a scruffy beard.
“I saw him last night,” I said. “He didn’t have the beard, though. We were waiting for the same bus.”
“Mind if we come in,” said the thin Mounty. They moved in, crowding me back into the room. I hit the button to turn on the kettle. I had the feeling this wasn’t going to be a quick visit. “Is something wrong?” I said. “I just…I have an early class in the morning.”
“What are you studying?” asked the fat Mounty. Was he the nice one? Or was that the thin one who was the nice one? I couldn’t remember. Guess I should have watched more TV.
“I’m undecided,” I said. “Maybe math. Maybe philosophy. I like logic.”
“We want you to tell us what you can remember about your meeting with this individual,” said the Mounty. “Are you making coffee?” He nodded at the kettle.
“Hot chocolate,” I said. “I don’t drink caffeine.”
“Is that a fact.”
Yes it is, you sanctimonious bastard. Oopps, that should be in italics.
I told them everything, including the story about the disappearing little boy. And about Billy house.
“He asked you to visit the house?”
“You’re damned lucky,” said the fat Mounty taking a sip of the hot chocolate I’d made for him. “Right now there’s a situation. He’s inside the house with what we believe is a loaded firearm. He has a little boy with him. Except we’re not sure if the little boy exists or not.”
“Right,” I said. “Existence is such a deep, profound question. I can imagine how it’s difficult—“
“Now don’t take that tone,” said the thin one. She had refused any hot chocolate and chewed endless sticks of peppermint gum. “It’s what the psychiatrist said. He said that our suspect, the gentleman you had the conversation with, he’s possibly hallucinating. We’re not sure. He sent out a call to our dispatch station last night saying he was prepared to kill himself if the contractors started demolishing the old Stevenson’s House on 138.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why are you involving me?”
“We’ll get there in a second,” she said snapping her gum. “We need you to listen.”
“I’m all ears,” I assured them, sipping my hot chocolate and trying not to think about the time and how tired I felt.
“There’s a chance he’s got a kid with him. A chance that he isn’t delusional. We don’t want a suicide and we don’t want any harm to come to the kid.”
“You don’t know if there is a kid.” I was confused. These guys were confusing me. I felt very confusled (trademark).
“We…The psychiatrist believes that…”
“We got a second opinion,” interrupted the fat Mounty. “Apparently, the individual we’re discussing, from the bus stop, he can see and hear a kid. He’s been FaceTiming us. The problem is we can’t see or hear the kid. But he says he can. We have one psychiatrist who says that’s not how hallucinations work and another who says that it has got to be a hallucination.”
“This is fascinating,” I said. “But why are you here talking to me. How did you even know I’d met Billy?”
“He told us,” said the fat Mounty. “He had your address.”
That creeped me out. I knew I hadn’t given him my address.
“We want you to go in there and verify for us if there is a kid,” said the fat Mounty, putting his empty mug on the counter right next to the sink.
“No way,” I said. “You can’t be serious. I’m just a student. Why don’t one of you go in.”
“He says he’ll take that as a threat.”
“This is not how this stuff is supposed to go down,” I said. “You’re the cops. You’re supposed to storm in their, rescue the child and shoot him.”
They frowned at me. The thin Mounty snapped her gum. “That’s probably what’s going to happen,” she said.
I said, “My Mom would be super mad at me if I went in that house.” I know that was really dumb to say but it just popped out. Give me a break, I was really tired.
“Would you be willing to talk to him at least? That might help.”
“I don’t have the training for that kind of thing? Don’t you need special training. Emergency response or whatever?” The whole thing seemed surreal to me. I wondered what would happen if I went back into my room, closed the door and got into bed, fell asleep and then woke up again. Would it all just melt away like a dream?
“Here,” said the fat Mounty. He pulled out a thick phone and dialed. Before I could protest I heard the dial tone, a click, and then the voice I’d heard last night at the bus shelter and Billy’s face on the screen.