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Christian L. Campbell lives in Seattle, WA. His story "The Reign of Rainbow Stars" appeared in Amazing Stories.

 

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All materials copyright 1996-2001 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).

Bees' Knees

by Christian L. Campbell

 

I never made Gerry Dailey a monster, and the guys that said I did are liars. If anything, he did it all himself. It wasn't me or Freda or any of the others there that summer day when we first talked about the bees.
Gerry had always been a scrawny little guy. He was ten, four years younger than me and Freda, but his disease made him look about six or seven, or maybe eight on his good days. Hey, I don't even know for sure what made him sick. It was something like cerebral palsy combined with super asthma complicated by scoli-something or other, I'm not sure about all of it. He never told us, and we didn't ask, but the adults never tired of talking about him like he was the only show in town. What information we got came from overhearing their conversations.
Sometimes Gerry walked around with braces on his crooked legs. Sometimes he rode in his little electric wheelchair. That day when he showed up at the park he was in the chair.
One end of the park was a steep hill. A dirt road ran around the top of the hill, which looked like a green wall rearing up at that end, and we were playing our jumping game there. You get up on the road and run toward the grass. When your foot first hits the edge, you leap. Depending on your speed and how hard you jump, you can be really high in the air by the time gravity yanks you back down. That can be scary when you get a good jump, but God it's fun!
We were doing that for about a half hour or so, launching each other by shouting, "Go, Ike!" and "Go, Freda!" scaring years off our young lives, and rolling down the hill laughing our heads off. Then we performed a perfect, synchronized jump, getting some great distance, and rolled right into Gerry's wheelchair at the bottom of the hill.
"Hey, gimp," said Freda, getting up and dusting herself off. As always when she spoke to him like that, I secretly wished she'd knock it off.
As I was getting up Gerry said, "What're you guys doing?" He always tried hard to sound like he was our buddy or something, but other than the fact that his house was right between Freda's and mine, he had nothing in common with us. We didn't spend time with him, and he couldn't honestly say he was friends with either of us.
"What the hell you think we're going?" I snapped. Then I felt bad for raising my voice at the crippled kid, 'cause I knew he was just lonely. I probably would have said something decent to him then, but a bunch of kids walked up with baseball gear, and I kept quiet.
The kid holding their aluminum bat said, "Let's push this crip down the hill." His friends all laughed.
I didn't know these kids, so his remark ticked me right off. You can see my problem, though. If I defended Gerry they'd turn on me, and there's nothing a kid my age feared more than getting picked on by other kids. That's when a bee buzzed by my face, and I swatted at it and came up with the stupidest thing I'd ever said.
"He don't got time for rolling down hills," I spouted. "He's gotta collect a bunch of bees' knees."
All those kids glared fiercely at me like they were hardened criminals. "What you talkin' 'bout, man?" the kid with the bat said.
Feeling myself sink deeper into the little pit I'd started, not liking Freda's weird, angry look, I pressed on. "Yeah, it's for his condition. Doctor said bees' knees spread in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich can help him walk."
Gerry looked surprised, then glad, then like he was in on something with me. He wasn't very good at all at hiding his emotions.
"Yeah," he said, his squeaky little voice cracking through several levels. "My doctor said I need twenty bees' knees a day this summer, then in the fall I'll be strong enough for a new medicine."
The kid with the bat said, "Shut up, you freak!" He turned to his evil companions. "Come on, let's play ball." The mean little group went off toward the baseball diamond.
Freda said, "Let's get out of here, Ike." We were off running toward home a second later, leaving Gerry alone with the bees.

It was ten o'clock the next morning before I hauled my butt out of the house to see what Freda was up to. I liked spending time with her. We'd always been neighbors and best friends, since as far back as I can remember. Sometimes I wondered whether Freda was my girlfriend, or just my buddy. I guess it didn't matter all that much, so long as we could bum around like we always had.
Walking past Gerry's house, I spotted him sitting in his front yard. His folks were always off working somewhere. It was so they could pay for his medical care, my dad once told me. There was supposed to be some sort of home nurse taking care of him, but I hardly ever saw her.
Gerry called out with a big smile all over his little face. I stopped and nodded, careful to keep my face neutral. "What you doing?" I asked. He sat in the middle of a big clover patch, his legs out in front of him, embraced by metal. In his hands he held a quart home-canning jar.
He raised the jar up above his head, about my hip level. "Collecting bees."
I could see a couple dark spots moving around. "What you doing that for?"
"Bees' knees!" he shouted, and about fell over with laughter.
I started to cuss at him, then remembered that line about the bees' knees I'd come up with the day before. My head got hot, and my heart started pounding like I'd been running away from a rabid dog that wanted to eat me. I was afraid and sorry, and hated both feelings enough to lash out against them.
My counterattack was to turn and walk on toward Freda's house, calling as I went, "Knock it off, you geek. You're gonna hurt yourself."
As I turned into Freda's yard my eyes went over there to look at him sulking, the jar down on the ground between his crooked legs.
Freda and me, we played tunes, danced, drank pop out on the back porch, pet her dog, walked to the park (but I wanted to leave there fast because it reminded me about the bees), went to the library to see what videos and magazines they had, visited the city pool for a while, and at last had banana splits at the ice cream shop. Basically, we did all that because I didn't want to be anywhere I could see crazy little Gerry.
I stopped eating my ice cream for a while so I could look at Freda. She was concentrating on getting the last bit of crushed pineapple from the end of the plastic bowl without disturbing the fudge-covered scoop of vanilla. Her tongue actually came out the corner of her mouth for a second. I thought that was great.
Having retrieved the pineapple, she raised it to her mouth, saw me staring, and froze.
"What?" she said.
"Nothing." I ate. In a minute I said, "Are you my girlfriend?"
"What?" she said again, this time in a completely different way. "You getting heat stroke, Ike?"
"Nah!" Then I was embarrassed, so I ate a whole bunch real fast and got a major headache.
I was careful not to bring the subject up while we walked home. It wasn't that tough to pull off. I was so wrapped up with my own thoughts, thinking myself very mature for feeling something for my girl Freda, then thinking myself a little kid for getting ashamed about it. I ended up just plain confused.
When we came around the corner there was an ambulance in front of Gerry's house, its lights flashing. Right away we ran up to see what was going on. We got up to the back of the van just in time to see them putting Gerry inside, all strapped to one of those stretchers with legs and wheels. He lay still, either unconscious or dead. I figured there must be some life in him, or those two guys wouldn't have been working him over like they were.
The ambulance took off with a wail. That's when we noticed there was a cop car there, too, but parked in my driveway with its lights off. We went over and saw a lady officer talking to my mom, who still had her work clothes on.
"I saw him laying there with all those bees flying around, and I thought he was dead," my mom told the cop. The cop nodded and patted Mom's back, looking like a friend. Mom continued. "I yelled for the Dailey's home care nurse to help me, but she just stood there screaming, so I got the hose and sprayed him until they went away, and here we are." Mom's never been mistaken for a big talker. She spoke when necessary, like when she had to tell somebody what the special was at the diner, but otherwise you just got the bare bones out of her.
I guess the cop figured that out, because she flipped her notebook shut and turned around to get into her car. Seeing us, she came over instead.
"Hi," she said.
"Hello," I answered, scared because she was the Law.
"And what might your names be?"
We told her, and she recited them from her pad, as well as our addresses.
"Your friend Gerry's been seriously hurt. From the looks of it, he knocked a nest of bees down in his back yard, and got attacked for it. It's hard to run away on crutches, and he only got as far as the front yard. He's been stung dozens of times, I'm afraid. Do either of you know why he might want to do something like that? Some sort of dare, perhaps?"
Freda and I, we stared at each other for a moment, then pretended like we didn't know diddly. The cop had that face that parents wear when they know you're lying, but can't prove it. She didn't challenge us, though. She got in the car and drove off after talking on the radio for a few seconds.
Mom came over. I could see a few welts on her arms and hands, and one on her face; she'd not come out of the battle without being stung a few times herself. She told Freda to go home, and me to get in the car. We both obeyed, not willing to take on such an impressive warrior as Mrs. Kinzie, bee slayer.
We drove to the hospital. All along the way there I hoped and prayed we were going to my dad's office to tell him what had happened, or to the clinic so Mom could get her wounds looked at, but I knew better. Each turn we took leading away from some other possible destination, cut me right through to my heart. As we finally parked, I was practically shaking with fear and loathing.
Inside, there was nothing to do but wait in a stuffy little room with gobs of chairs and a bunch of magazines about homes, gardens, the way families should live, and the rain forests of Brazil. I kept sticking my face in the magazines to smell the paper and ink instead of hospital smells. My stomach began to feel hollow, I got sleepy, and I had to go to the bathroom. In short, I was miserable.
There was an uncomfortable few minutes when Gerry's mom showed up. Mom talked to her over by the desk, they hugged and cried a while, then a nurse took Mrs. Dailey away around a corner.
After that, Mom would go up to the counter every so often and speak with the nurse there. The nurse would call somebody up on a phone, shake her head and look sad, or go right on into the sorry expression without calling. Mom would tromp back and plop herself down next to me to wait ten minutes before going through the whole rigmarole again. The only time she broke from the pattern was to make a call on the pay phone down the hall. I guess she was letting my dad know where we were.
At last, a couple hours after we arrived, a guy in a long doctor's coat came out and spoke to the counter nurse, who in turn pointed at us. Mom went to meet him halfway. They spoke quietly for a while, then she started to get loud.
I slouched down in my chair so I could hide behind a magazine. What was she doing, trying her very best to embarrass me to death? So what if they wouldn't let her see poor little Gerry Dailey? It wasn't like she was his mother. When his folks weren't visiting us, she didn't go out of her way to be his buddy or anything. She acted toward the gimp basically like all the kids he came into contact with, like she didn't want to have to talk to him or even look at him. Like his condition was catching or something. So now she wanted to fight the hospital to see him? Didn't she think it was enough that his mom was in with him?
The shouting stopped. Good. Or maybe not, because the next thing I knew the magazine was ripped away from my face, and there she stood glaring down at me.
"You can go see Gerry now."
"What?" I sincerely had no idea this was coming. I was floored by these words, coming from somebody who-despite her faults-had always given me the impression she loved me. What had I ever done or said to make her think I had any interest in visiting Gerry?
Her face made up of many serious expressions, she said, "I had to fight to get permission for you to see Gerry. Now you get up and go visit him before I get upset." Her voice, only slightly louder than a whisper, shouted at me.
In the face of such power, one does not fight. One gets up and goes with the doctor who's waiting. One follows along silently until he's standing beside a hospital bed upon which lies a mummy.
On the other side of the mummy, Mrs. Dailey blinked tearfully at me until the doctor called her out of the room. I heard some quiet words about 'friends needing time together.'
There were eyes blinking out at me from between the bandages. The lips that showed through another gap slowly curved into a very slight smile.
"Hi," said a small voice. Gerry's voice, played at low volume.
"Hey," I answered.
"I did it."
It didn't seem like anything else was coming, so I asked, "Did what?"
"The bees' knees. I put twenty on a sandwich and ate it."
"Man..." No, I didn't go on with how flaky I thought the kid was. I finished with, "How'd it taste?"
"Not." Not what, he didn't say. "Crunchy. Gave me some pretty colors."
I was confused for a moment. "You saw things?"
"Yeah. I saw a bunch of open roads between stickery bushes, and I could walk around like you and Freda."
I said nothing, just let him continue babbling.
"If I walked in the roads, and stayed away from the dark things that were there, I could walk real fast. I didn't try, but I bet I could've run." His smile got bigger. "Thanks for the bees' knees, Ike."
"Uh, okay, don't mention it." With him ranting and raving like this, I bet he'd spilled the whole story about what went on at the park the day before. That's why the cop wanted to talk to us, and why my mom was being so weird.
Gerry said, "It wasn't long enough, though. I only walked around a little before my legs started to hurt a lot, everything got dark, and then I was back in my yard. I wanted to go back, so I figured I could get a whole lot of bees' knees and stay for a while."
"That nest," I said.
"Yeah, that nest. I figured I could put it in a gunnysack, then drown the bees in the bathtub. So I hit it with a broom, and they all came after me. I tried to run away, but they got me."
Well, I didn't have a thing to say about that. I felt bad for Gerry, I really did. But I wasn't his friend, so I couldn't let on about my true feelings. Had it been Freda in the bed, I'm sure I would've been all over her, bawling my head off. All I could do here was stand and look at those moist eyes.
He said, "You better go. I think I hear somebody coming."
"Okay." I didn't hear anybody, but I wasn't going to argue the point. I was glad to hightail it out of that creepy room before Mrs. Dailey came back.
Except at the door I had to stop. Gerry's breathing was real loud. Listening to that sound, I knew he was on the way out. If I wanted to say I was sorry, I'd best get it done now. But I didn't know if I was really sorry for anything I'd done. Sure, I had brought up the bees' knees, but that was to save him from those mean kids, not to have him spaz out and try to eat a nest full of bees. So what was keeping me from going back to my mom and getting out of there? What made me turn back around?
I could hardly see any of Gerry. A dark form, a wavering thing of smoke and shadows, floated above the bed, covering most of him. One of his bandaged arms stuck out of the darkness. The arm jerked about and the fingers clenched into a tight fist.
I gasped, and the thing turned toward the sound. Though it had no head or eyes, I could tell by its general posture-all on one side of the bed and reared up in my direction-that it was studying me intently.
I screamed.
Nurses and doctors came running from all directions. They pushed past me without the slightest concern for my safety. I heard, "Seizure! Seizure!" There were five people yelling at the same time. I hoped they could understand each other, because I hadn't the slightest idea what they were saying. They worked frantically in the well-lit hospital room. If there were any big, smoky shadows in there, nobody noticed.
An old, ugly nurse grabbed me by my upper arm and herded me toward the waiting room.
"What was that thing?" I asked her as we walked.
"What thing?" the nurse said.
"I don't know, that's why I asked you. It was big and black and moved around on its own, and it was attacking Gerry."
The nurse didn't bother to answer. Come to think of it, I probably would have given the silent treatment, too, if I heard such things.

We got the news later, at home. While I nibbled at macaroni and peas, my parents went to answer the doorbell. I heard talking, then they came to tell me Gerry had died from the toxins he'd taken on from his two hundred some-odd bee stings. I lost what little appetite I'd had.
Right then I could have told them it wasn't the bee stings, but an ugly black monster that killed Gerry, but I decided to keep my big mouth shut until I knew for sure I hadn't imagined the thing.
Neither Freda nor I went to the funeral, though we were both invited. We stayed home that day. I mean, each of us stayed in our own rooms, brooding about events in our own way. I spent a lot of time wondering how things would have turned out if I'd smiled at Gerry every once in a while, returned some of the friendliness he was always trying to foist off on me.
That night, Gerry came to my room. No, I don't mean I dreamed about him. I mean I was woken up by the door squeaking open as he came in to stand beside me. Of course I freaked and jumped screaming out the other side of the bed. Gerry smiled and waved, opening his mouth to talk, then suddenly squawked in fear. A shadow rushed at him from behind me. It passed over and through me, instantly chilling me to the bone, then reared up before Gerry. I could see him dimly through the smoky shape; he fell down and curled up in a ball, his arms coming up to cover his head. I heard a brief shriek of fear.
I was standing there whimpering, alone in the dark, when my dad snapped on the bedroom light to see what the ruckus was about.

 

In Freda's room the next day, trying to make myself heard over the crashing sounds of some ancient rock band called Led Zeppelin, I told her about Gerry's visit. She got all white and stared at me for a while, then turned off the music.
Coming closer and speaking very quietly, she said, "You're not the only one he visited."
"You?"
"Yeah."
"What'd he do? Did he say anything?"
"Just stared at me and smiled in this really creepy way. Then a dark part of my room sucked him up. Just like with you."
"I think I'm gonna be sick." I told her about what I'd seen at the hospital.
"This isn't right," Freda asserted. "No way, just ain't right!"
"No duh, genius. So what do we do about it?"
"God, how should I know? I don't know anything about monsters and demons and stuff."
"Yeah, well, you listen to the Devil's music."
Freda looked over at her stereo, then cocked her head back at me. "Okay, two points for you. But that's art, Ike, and this is real. Why would some demon-or whatever-want to pick on Gerry?"
"Maybe it got ticked off that he went snooping around in the demon's home."
"Huh?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about that."
I quickly corrected my error, but it didn't help. Though we talked for hours about the blackness and Gerry's appearances, nothing came to mind about what could be causing these things.
We went to the library after lunch. We hauled every book about demons we could find over to a big table. There we camped out until supper time, trying in vain to find answers to our odd problem. When at last we left for home, it was with four books each, the maximum they'd let kids our age check out. With promises to each other to keep looking, we parted company in front of the Dailey house.
My folks probably thought I was deep in mourning for Gerry; they let me silently mull things over as I ate, and didn't pester me about the dishes afterward. I retired to my room to study some more about the denizens of the dark.
Hours later, a book about hateful things that liked to eat children in my hands, I dropped into an exhausted sleep.

I awoke to find Gerry standing over me, smiling down. My first instinct was to scream, but he stuck his hand out and touched me, and suddenly I couldn't breathe. I lay there quaking as he leaned down very close to me.
"Get up and play with me, Ike," he said. His voice was wet. He stank of rot.
From somewhere a deep voice said, "No." It may be I felt, rather than heard, the word uttered. Gerry lost the smile instantly and looked around furtively.
The far corner of my room, the dark area over between the closet and my dresser, shifted. The darkness solidified, became a sheet of night, and floated closer.
A wave of cold enveloped me. I shrank down under the covers, hiding from Gerry on one side of my bed, the frightening creature on the other.
"Come," said the deep voice.
"No," squeaked Gerry.
The cold intensified, and a weight pressed down on my bed. It wasn't so much like somebody stepping or sitting on the mattress, as it was like gravity increasing ten times right over me.
Gerry shrieked, "Help me, Ike! He's gonna hurt me! Ike!"
The weight disappeared. I was warm again. Peeking out from under the blanket, I saw that I was alone in the room.

 

Freda had been visited again, too. We sat on the front steps of her house, talking about what had happened. She looked very pale to me, and her temper had shortened quite a bit since yesterday.
"You know what Gerry said to me?" Freda asked, and without waiting for me to guess, answered her own question. "He said, 'Ike can help me, Freda. Tell Ike to save me.' And then that freaky black thing was all over the place again."
"Yeah, same sort of thing happened in my room."
"What did he mean by that, Ike? Tell me how you can help him."
I held my palms up. "No idea."
"Hey, Kinzie!" came a shout.
Three boys came through the gate and up the walk. Two were guys I'd had in classes at school, and the third was the mean kid with the baseball bat who'd wanted to roll Gerry down the hill at the park. Only he didn't look so mean now, just nervous and scared. All three kept casting glances over at the Dailey house.
"Is the ghost over there?" one of the boys asked.
"Why don't we ask Kinzie?" said the mean kid. "He seems to have connections with the thing."
"What are you talking about?" I said. "I don't have any... Hey, how'd you know he's a ghost?"
The kid who hadn't spoken yet said, "He's been spooking us at night. He's a monster now, and he's got a pet, too. He says, 'Help me, Ike,' over and over, and then it gets real cold, and then he takes his pet and leaves."
"Yeah," whispered the mean kid. For a moment he seemed to forget about being tough. He stared at the Dailey house with wide eyes.
"Boo!" yelled Freda.
All three boys jumped while Freda laughed.
"Look!" shouted the mean kid, all the evil coming back into his voice. "We heard about you forcing him to eat those bugs, Kinzie. Now you've made him a monster, and he's taking it out on us. You got to get him to stop, see?"
I'd had about enough of that. I said, "Maybe if you weren't so mean to him all the time he'd still be around now. Maybe it was you, not me, that made him a monster."
"Yeah, right, scab. Listen, you get him off our backs, or we're gonna be on yours, get it?" The mean kid glared at me for a long moment, then he and his buddies turned and walked away.

 

The park had the most bees anywhere, so that's where I ran. It didn't take me as long as Gerry, since I could move around a bit, but it was still an hour until I collected enough bees. I got forty, twice as many as he had. He said the effect didn't last very long, and anyway I had two times his weight at least, so there you go.
I was dismembering the last and putting the legs onto a slice of bread smeared with jelly when Freda stormed into my house.
"Ike Kinzie, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't go running off and leaving me..." She stopped, taking in me sitting there at the kitchen table with insect parts all around. "What are you doing?" she asked.
I put the needle nose pliers I'd been using down beside the big pickle jar of flopping, dying bees, took off the pair of garden gloves that had helped protect my hands, and said, "I'm eating these bees' knees so I can go see Gerry."
I don't think her eyes could have gotten any wider. "Are you completely nuts? You want to die, too?"
I slapped the peanut butter covered piece of bread atop the other, completing my sandwich. "I'm not going to die, Freda. I won't try to get a beehive or anything like that. This here's it."
"Ike, knock it off. This won't work. Who ever heard of bees' knees letting you go see dead people?"
"Hey, for that matter, who ever heard of dead people visiting us at night, and leaving messages and stuff?"
I had her there. Too bad; I was really hoping she'd come up with a convincing argument to stop me.
I said, "Look, if I'd just been decent to Gerry when he was alive, and told them guys to stop bothering him, he'd be all right. Instead, I wimped out, making up that stupid lie that he believed in. Sure, he ate the bees' knees all on his own, but I put the idea there. So it's my fault."
"No, it's not your fault, Ike. Gerry was always weird, you know that. He tried too hard to force people to be his friends."
"Yeah? Tell me, would he have had to try at all if we didn't act so rotten around him all the time?"
Again, I had her. Darn! Now I had to go ahead and eat this nasty little sandwich I'd made.
Freda jumped forward. Bless her, I think she was trying to grab the sandwich and keep it away from me. But I was way too fast.

 

I managed to eat about three-quarters of the sandwich before reality faded. Everything got pitch black for a while. At first I thought I'd blown it and simply passed out, then it occurred to me that I wouldn't be thinking about it so rationally if that had happened. The blackness was eventually replaced by a dim, red light. It was nowhere near as bright as sunshine, but I could see where I was.
I stood on a narrow road or a wide path. Dark shapes that might, indeed, be sticker bushes, rose on both sides. It was quiet, and very cold. Despite the low temperature, I couldn't see my breath.
"Ike!"
"Gerry, where are you?" I called out.
"Right here," said Gerry Dailey, the dead little boy, and stepped out from around a nearby corner. He was walking much like any ten-year-old would walk, without a leg brace or wheelchair in sight.
We stood there looking at each other for a while, then Gerry said, "Are you here to save me, Ike?"
"How can I do that?"
Gerry appeared crestfallen. "You don't know? But, the Dark Thing said only you could save me."
"The Dark Thing? What's that?"
Gerry shivered. He wrapped his arms about himself and looked around. "It's mean. It hurts me, Ike."
Something heavy crashed amongst the sticker bushes.
"Run, Ike!"
I spun about with every intention of doing just that, my pulse suddenly racing, the cold reaching inside to squeeze my heart. A shadow ripped through the bushes ahead and blocked the path. I looked up into black nothingness, and trembled.
Gerry came around to stand in front of me. He faced the monster and held his hands up. "Don't hurt him," he said. "He's my friend; he came to visit."
"Silence!" the Dark Thing commanded. "It is my will to harm who I may in this my kingdom. That one may go, but you will stay and suffer by my side, child."
A part of the shadow form reached out and enveloped Gerry. He let out a strangled squawk that cut off abruptly. The shadow completely encasing him, he fell to the ground and writhed. I could dimly see his hands clench up, as if they belonged to some old person with an extreme case of arthritis. His body shook violently like he was having another seizure.
"Let him go!" I shouted. It was difficult to force the words out; the cold spot around my heart had crept up to my throat, and nothing wanted to work right. Simply drawing a breath was a chore.
"Be quiet and go!" the Dark Thing retorted. "You have no say in what I do with my subjects, those unwanted fools who leave your world. Be gone, before you become mine as well."
Another part of the shadowy body snaked out and pushed against my stomach. My guts went ice cold, and I was tossed back onto the ground about ten feet away from where I'd been.
I could hardly move, I was so cold and afraid. Somehow, I made it to my feet and pointed a finger at Gerry. "I-if you g-get the unwant-ted people, you can't have him. H-he's my friend."
"Your friend?" The way the words came out told me the creature was both angry and surprised. "You lie."
"N-no. I don't. I didn't act friendly to Gerry when he was alive, and that was wrong. But he's not completely gone, and now I want to be his friend." I was getting warmer. It was easier to talk, too. I called out, "Gerry! Gerry, can you hear me?"
Gerry's face popped out of the blackness. "I can hear you, Ike," he said.
"Listen, there's something you need to know. I know how mean I was to you all the time, and I'm sorry. I was a creep. I think I wanted to talk to you without really knowing it, but I was always afraid of what people would think of me. That business about the bees' knees, that was just my way of trying to protect you without having to stick my neck out. I know now I should've told those guys to stop bugging you instead of making up lies. I can't take it back, now, but I want you to know I'm sorry."
"Ike?"
The darkness let go of Gerry. I ran over to him and knelt down to help him. "Here I am. Can you get up? We need to get away while we've got the chance."
His brow wrinkled up with effort. He shook his head. "Can't do it," he said. "I can't feel my legs at all."
A cold wind suddenly blasted over us. I gasped and fell back on my haunches. The Dark Thing loomed overhead; it had silently advanced while I spoke to Gerry, and now was close enough to touch.
"This land is for those who are unwanted!" it boomed from above. "I have no place for either of you. Begone!" The thing turned and abruptly flew away, passing right through the nearest row of bushes and vanishing in the maze.
I reached down and tried scooping Gerry up in my arms. It was surprisingly easy, and soon I was carting him along the paths at a running pace.
Things got blurry. The red light dimmed to near total darkness. I had to stop and put Gerry down for a minute so I could get my bearings.
"Hey, Ike?"
"Yeah, Gerry. Don't worry, I'll get you out of here. Just have to figure out where we are."
"I know where we are. We're leaving, going away from here. You're going back to the living world, and I'm moving on to someplace nicer than this."
I squinted down at him. I could barely see his dark little eyes staring up at me. "You mean...?"
"I'm not sure what it's called, but I can feel it, and it's real nice. There's good people there."
"Yeah." I thought of Freda. Was she waiting for me in my kitchen, all mad at me? I smiled to think of that. "I guess there's good people where I'm going, too."
"Bye, Ike." Gerry's voice was so far away. I had to strain to hear his final words: "Keep close friends. You don't want to come back here again."
He was gone, then, and I wasn't far behind. The red light completely faded, leaving me in a sea of black. The last thing I saw before popping back into the real world was two glowing red eyes in the distance, staring menacingly at me.
And then there was Freda, smacking me with a loaf of bread and shouting at me to give her that stupid sandwich before she took a frying pan to me.
Man, it's good to have friends.

 

THE END