I was talking to a guy who looked vaguely like Dennis Miller but less aloof, his hair slicked back into an abrupt ponytail and his beard appreciably thick without being out of hand. The two of us were standing on the cracked and weed-riddled sidewalk in front of an old house with huge letters scraped into the dry, brownish grass of the yard... I never got a chance to read the whole word. It was a flat, red brick, the kind you see rows upon rows of in East Detroit. Under the chipped white paint plank of the front door was an abbreviated porch -- not even high enough to warrant a step -- of crumbling concrete flanked by two shrivelled, not-so-evergreen shrubs.
The topic of our sporadic discussion was not the house and its apparent lack of maintenance, but the occupant. It was a subject of much speculation throughout the neighborhood, as the tenant never seemed to leave the home. The most anyone had ever seen was a ghostly pale, emaciated face in the window, peeking out from a gap in the curtains.
An old patrol car, one of those behemoth Chevy Caprices from the 80's, rolled up to the curb behind us, and the Dennis Miller guy and I both turned around to look. A big dumb cop pried himself out from behind the wheel with the use of his nightstick before perfunctorily and with much authority thrusting it into his utility belt. Mirrored aviators flashing, he said, "Gotta retard, here."
Taken aback, I tilted my head and scrunched up my face in a show of having not heard him.
"Hear me, boy?" His lip curled.
I said I had not.
Dennis Miller spoke up, and the cop nodded at him, but those deadly sunglasses were still fixed on me. The beady, eternally suspicious little marbles I imagined peering from behind them could have been rolled back in his head for all I knew, but those aviators seemed to focus the light of the sun into a tiny white dot between my eyes. I squinted and looked away, telling myself I didn't give a shit.
The cop and Dennis Miller yacked away as I turned around to watch the house some more. That face in the window was staring out at us, unnerving me. I could hear the guys talking, but their words were formless, like they were making groaning sounds while mashing their fingers against their mouths, or like they were underwater, or in slow-motion. Dismayed by this new inability to decipher the spoken word, I looked incredulously back at the cop and Dennis Miller. Dreading that I'd be greeted by those damnable shades again, I was relieved to see that the officer was already walking around to the other side of the car. He opened a rear passenger door and I heard a long, droning 'Uuuuuuuhhhhh' sound. Then, the biggest, tardliest tard I'd ever seen shuffled into sight, lifting himself on trunklike legs to tower over the roof and lights of the Caprice. The cop, with a briskness that belied his weight, waddled to the driver's side door, got into his car, and floored it, leaving the huge retard swaying in his exhaust fumes.
"Wh... what the fuck?" I said.
Dennis Miller looked at me as though I had just raped his dad. A stream of what I guessed were harsh admonishments issued from his wah-wah-ing mouth... I still couldn't understand a God damn thing he was saying. Meanwhile, the tard advanced on us. I caught the motion in my peripheral and flinched, then took a step back. Dennis Miller pointed at the door of the house, and I shrugged my shoulders indifferently.
The two of us walked towards the house while the tard loped behind. Dennis Miller lifted his hairy arm and knocked, but the door creaked open on first contact with his knuckles, and we glanced wordlessly at each other. Tard was breathing down the neck of my shirt, completely unresponsive to my iciest glares. Peeking my head inside the door to escape the oppressive wheeze of the gump, I saw a hallway stretching out to either side of the open door with nothing resembling an entrance room or antechamber. The door had opened inward to the left, but I had a clear view down to the right, so this is where my eyes were drawn to. I saw a scurrying, furtive movement, perhaps a scramble of limbs, but the light was too dim. I let Dennis Miller go in ahead of me.
He stepped warily into the hallway and started down it, myself following after the tard had crushed his way past me and pressed himself against the near wall. When Dennis Miller got to the end of the hallway, he looked up, as though there were a staircase there, and his eyes widened. I heard a scrambling noise, and then...
I really can't accurately describe the sound with words. It was a scream, a moan, a cry. It was like three frantic children squealing in fright and agony all at once in three different, disharmonious tones. My only consolation now that I write this is that I didn't know that I'd hear it again, and I didn't know it would be worse the second time. Dennis Miller slumped back against the wall behind him in shock, his mouth and eyes wide. The tard groaned pathetically, his big tard head swinging from side to side. The only escape from the scream was back outside, and we all three frantically crowded out of the house, clutching our ears. Dennis Miller and I turned as he reached back inside to close the door, but a pale, lanky body slunk into the doorway and forced him to withdraw.
The sight was appalling. While there was no visible trace of filth or dirt on him, the young man in front of us was obviously a victim of neglect. His sunken chest was bare, with filmy skin stretched over the angularity of his painfully visible ribcage. Alarmingly enough, he stood just at eye level with me, even with his sloping, almost nonexistent shoulders hunched. He held his right arm behind him, but his left could not escape our scrutiny as it was a stunted thing only about as thick as an empty toilet paper roll. Through the translucent flesh one could easily see the bright, distinct shapes of segmented chunks of bone, presumably some sort of vestigial structural remnant within the useless limb. The fingers looked like they belonged on a little Mickey Mouse glove, but the fact that they weren't made them all the more grotesque.
Dennis Miller hesitated, then walked forward and hugged him. The boy's drawn, beak-nosed face with its red-rimmed, feral eyes and gasping, yellow-toothed mouth stared about, confused, as though the man holding him were some invisible force.
"He can't see you," I said.
"Wugh awuubuhh, juhh ebuuhwuuhuhh guuh hmmuh uh guh huuuuggbb." Somehow I decrypted this as, 'It's alright, just everyone give him a good hug.'
Reluctantly, I complied. The tard swung his thick, tubelike arms over us all in an ape-like mimicry of our heartfelt gesture. Gradually, the collective embrace loosened, and the pale lad led us all inside, traversing the hallway in great, bobbing strides as if trying to make as few steps with those spindly legs of his as possible.
We followed him into an upstairs room, cluttered with furniture in relatively good condition. Quickly and eagerly, as if feeling obligated to show us something, the young man knelt near the door and reached under a low shelf, pulling a large safe out on metal casters that dug into the carpet. We watched in curiosity as his gaunt hand grasped the dial and spun it with machinelike precision three times, eliciting a faint click from the sturdy metal box. Opening the safe, he revealed to us an odd, black panel, with a bulge in the front of it like formed plastic. Tapping a button on the edge of the panel, this bubbly, transparent protrusion started filling with a rich, red liquid, vital and opaque like blood. A fleshy shape bobbed against the side as the chamber filled, then the entire device slid out of the safe, and the top opened.
Quickly as it had filled, the tank inside the safe drained, and there, in the bottom of this pyrex bowl, was a brain. Wrinkly and pink, its eyes were situated in a completely inappropriate position: dead center on each segment of the frontal lobe, staring directly up at us. It's eyelids, peeled back from those eyes and nestled amongst the wrinkles of its brainy body, blinked in confusion, and then the brain hopped out of the tank. Bouncing from side to side, the brain looked up at us all, its eyes filled with mirth, and the pale boy moaned in amusement. The tard laughed his loud tard laugh and stuffed his finger at the brain, poking it in the eye, but the brain was only momentarily distracted from its joyful recognition as a living, playful brain.
"Stop that," I chided the tard.
Another laugh, the tard poked the brain again, goaded on by my scolding.
"Fucking stop!" I shoved the tard's arm away and he sulked at me, sticking his big fat sloppy bottom lip out. Dennis Miller had stood up and was attempting to communicate with the pale lad while I had the brain's full attention. It seemed to smile cheerfully up at me (having no mouth, I guess I had to use my imagination), twitching its head to indicate a vast array of needles and tubes I had not seen before on a nearby wall. It then bounced in a manner that indicated the scrawny youth. So apparently, as I eventually put it all together, the boy was keeping the brain (somehow, I knew it was his brother) alive by bathing it regularly in his own oxygen-rich blood.
The tard's arm snaked around me and gave the brain a smack it couldn't ignore. It cringed, all the joy gone from its pleading eyes, and squirmed away.
"Will you stop -- Hey! Can you get this fucking tard to stop -- Dude, seriously," I was saying, simultaneously pushing the flailing tard and appealing to Dennis Miller for help. I was looking away, and the tard stumbled past, his big fat ham of a tard-hand outstretched and groaning a low, gutteral tard-groan of triumph. I heard a loud, sickening squish.
I looked up at the pale boy. He was staring, wide-eyed, down at where the tard was laying, now motionless. Dennis Miller flinched at the youth's ghastly expression and looked over his shoulder at me, at what had happened.
I didn't even have to look back. I knew what had happened.
The boy slowly opened his mouth, the bones of his jaw creaking, his head tilting back, eyes rolling wildly but returning to me. Raspy noises, gasps and huffs, issued from his convulsing throat.
And then that wail. This time, it was worse. It was infants on fire. It was a scream yanked from the stretched throats of a dozen banshees, it was a horrible, terrifying, soul-annihilating shriek that sounded like the grief of a genocide all stuffed into one voice in one second, except the second went on and on...
Tears streaked diagonally down my face as I looked up at him, silently pleading for impossible forgiveness, my eyes stinging. I curled up into a little ball and died.