This one is for Mr. Talbot.
Mr. Talbot was the vice-principal when I was in high school. For almost the entire time I knew him, he was a rational man, a former science teacher. He seemed like a pretty moral guy, too. There was a tremendous turnout at his funeral, and nobody seemed that satisfied to see him go, so I'd guess there couldn't have been that many skeletons in his closet.
For all that, for all that he was a decent, upright man, when I was twenty-two, Mr. Talbot died of a gunshot wound to the head. He'd taken Susan Mills, a school cheerleader hostage, and tried to give her an exorcism. I guess that when he heard the police breaking down his front door he realized he was out of time, because the first cop to make it into the living room saw poor Mr. Talbot standing over Heather Mills about to put a knife in her heart, and he blew Talbot away. Goodnight Mr. Family Man.
The really horrible part, other than, you know, all of it, was the jokes. Once the story gestated a little in the town's consciousness, everybody had a pithy bon-mot to throw out, usually about whether Talbot was exorcising that demon, or exercising it, haw haw. With his penis. Haw haw haw.
Why's that so horrible to me? Two reasons. The first might sound a little strange: Talbot believed he was confronting elemental, ultimate evil, on his own. I wonder if the guy cracking wise at the bar after the fact would have been able or willing to try that, if he'd been in Talbot's shoes.
Crazy people can be like that, though. I think it might be another symptom of their delusions: the idea that they can be stopped. That crazy Internet ranting about the secret Reptilian overlords can actually get them overthrown, or that if you can just wave a big enough End is Nigh sign and scream at enough people outside the strip clubs downtown, the Apocalypse can be averted. Maybe they're nuts, and maybe the threat doesn't exist at all, but still – these guys think they've caught a glimpse of a secret, esoteric war, the old-fashioned fight of Good and Evil, and they volunteered to fight on the side of the angels, even when the angels don't appear to be in the fight at all. They volunteered to be the angels, then.
That reassures me, a little bit. The world might be a dark and terrible place, but the junkies, winos, vagrants, lunatics, crackpots, are armed with their incomprehensible pamphlets and tin foil hats, ready and willing to fight all the bogeymen, the aliens, the Illuminati, and the forces of Hell in the battle for our souls.
I saw Heather Mills, about a week after Mr. Talbot's funeral. I'd been walking by the graveyard, and impulsively decided to pay my respects, and there she was. A couple rows over, sitting with her feet dangling in a dug-up grave, tearing into a human arm with her teeth.
“Not going to eat him?” I asked her, pointing to Talbot's headstone.
She shook her head and gave a little snorting laugh. “No way. He was kind of fun. Do you think he learned all that Latin just for me?” She spat fragments of bone into the grave. “I was gonna start convulsing and swearing and all, to make him feel better. He seemed so frustrated, you know?”
I sighed. “Why did you show yourself to him, Suze? For fun?”
“It wasn't like that, Luke. A couple days before, he was walking by me in the hall, and his eyes just bugged out. He saw me. Saw the real me.” She waved a talon at me, for emphasis. “Just like you.”
The first part might have been true. Sometimes the sight does just open up in people, for no apparent reason. But Mr. Talbot wasn't like me. He got a peek at the real Heather Mills, and even though he had no real clue what she was, he could see that she had no part in his ordered, rational world. He could feel the way that she was offensive, the way her presence was an affront, the way she was a tumor of the world, radiating disease and death. Like I could see and sense her. But Mr. Talbot, being an upright, decent sort of man, opposed her. Like I was saying before, on the side of the angels, even if he couldn't tell a ghoul from a demon.
I knew the difference. I knew what she was, and more than that, I did know how to make an end of her. Instead, when she was finished with her meal, I helped her fill in the grave. And then I went home, tossed and turned for a while, and fell asleep.
Two days after that, I heard someone telling a Mr. Talbot joke. Something about him getting a hard-on every time he had pea soup, ever since he'd seen the Exorcist. Haw haw haw. That's when I realized the second reason the mockery seemed so horrible to me: If they'd laugh at the guy brave enough to fight the esoteric war, what would they think about the guy who refused to?
I didn't want to find out. Best case scenario, they'd loathe me. Worst case, they'd think I was a kindred spirit.