Wayne debuts in style with this chiller...
Teddy in the Tree
It wasn’t fair. Stan had just finished his summer school classes for the day, and now all his friends were leaving.
“C’mon,” he said. “Let’s go on the zip line.” They had stolen rope and a block-and-tackle from a railroad yard, and hung it in the woods behind their housing development.
“We did that all morning,” said his friend Mike. “We’re going to the movies now. Come with us.”
Stan was flat broke but too proud to admit it. “Nah. I wanna go on the zip line. Is there anyone still there?”
Mike laughed. “No one in the woods except Teddy the Retard-o.”
And they left, leaving Stan alone. A squirrel chittered at him from a tree at the edge of the woods. He picked up some smooth rocks and threw them at the squirrel. The squirrel quickly vanished.
“Stupid summer school!” he muttered. If he hadn’t flunked two classes last year, he wouldn’t have to go to school this summer. Maybe he’d have a summer job, and plenty of cash to go to the movies whenever he wanted.
But Teddy was back there. Stan and his friends had been stealing Teddy’s lunch money since the second grade.
“Time to pay up, Teddy,” he said. And he entered the woods.
It took Stan so long to find Teddy that he was afraid that the retard-o had left. But there he was, sitting high up in a sycamore tree, at least fifteen feet above the ground. If Teddy wasn’t wearing his usual red shirt, Stan might not have found him at all.
The sycamore was a good climbing tree, but it was hard to get to. There was a huge bramble, taller than he was, on one side of the tree.
Stan called to Teddy, but he didn’t respond. Well, Teddy was weird. He wasn’t really retarded, but he has a disease called Asperg-something. It made Teddy really, really concentrate hard on some things. Other things he ignored, even important things. For instance, Teddy didn’t seem to care about money, and gave his up without arguing.
When Stan finally reached the crotch of the tree where Teddy was, he saw that Teddy was concentrating on some bugs. Teddy loved bugs.
Stan, puffing slightly from his climb, was about to demand Teddy’s money when he noticed that Teddy had his pipe with him.
Teddy loved bugs so much that he carried around a kit for collecting them. They wouldn’t let him bring it to school, but he carried it everywhere else. Teddy had a magnifying glass, and a bug book for identifying bugs, and little plastic jars for storing bugs in. And he had a long, narrow length of aluminium pipe, sharpened at one end.
Teddy liked to stick the pipe in an ant hole, and watch the ants crawl up the pipe. He’d look at the ants with his magnifying glass as they crawled out of the end of the pipe. The ants always seemed to be confused when they reached the end of the pipe. Sometimes Teddy used the sharp end of the pipe to dig into rotten wood, where he would usually find disgusting grubs and things.
Today Teddy had a big piece of sycamore bark in one hand. There were some kind of egg cases on the underside of the bark. He used the sharp end of his pipe to scrape one of them off the bark and into one of the plastic jars.
“What’cha got there, Teddy?” Stan asked. Not that Stan cared. Teddy didn’t answer; he didn’t even look up from his work.
Stan wasn’t afraid of Teddy the Retard-o, but he wasn’t about to demand money from him when he had his long, sharp pipe in his hand. He decided to wait until Teddy put the pipe away.
The two of them leaned on separate branches, almost close enough to touch. Stan looked around the tree. Once you looked carefully, you could see bugs everywhere. Ants crawled up and down the tree. Beetles, too.
Stan looked down. At his feet, the two big branches met, forming a small depression. The depression – almost like a bowl – was filled with rainwater. And flying around the surface of the water were bugs. Then something bit his neck. He slapped at it, and found a crushed mosquito in his palm.
“Skeeters!” Stan shouted. “They’re not supposed to bite during the day!”
Teddy finally looked up. As usual, he didn’t look Stan in the eye. Teddy didn’t look anybody in the eye.
“No,” he said. “There are lots of different types of mosquitoes. Lots and lots. This type is the tree-hole mosquito. It bites during the day.”
Teddy was always tapping something: his fingers, his hands, his feet. Now he was tapping the tip of his pipe on the tree.
Stan was getting impatient. He wanted money for the movies, and all Teddy could do was talk about bugs and wave his pipe around. “I’ll show you what I think of your tree fulla bugs,’ he said.
He unzipped his fly and started peeing into the puddle of mosquitoes.
And suddenly, Stan noticed that Teddy’s pipe was sticking out of his side. He stopped peeing. His blood was spewing out of the end of the pipe like a faucet. He felt weak, and leaned back against the thick branch.
Stan slid down the branch a little, until one foot was in the puddle of pee and mosquitoes. He was kind of wedged in, and it kept him from falling out of the tree.
Teddy looked at Stan like he was just another bug. A confused ant, maybe.
Then Teddy reached over and grabbed the pipe. He twisted it so that the stream of Stan’s blood went into the mosquito puddle. “Mosquitoes eat blood, not pee,” he said.
After a few minutes, Stan started peeing again. This time his pee was red with blood.
When the blood stopped coming out of the pipe, Teddy was pretty sure Stan was dead.
Teddy had been to a funeral once, and recalled that people talked about God when someone died.
Teddy was happy that he knew a quote about God. He pronounced some of the hard words carefully:
When somebody asked the scientist J.B.S. Hal-dane what he’d learned about God, he said that God has “an in-or-din-ate fondness for beetles.”
Getting a good grip on his pipe, Teddy gave Stan a push. The pipe slid out easily. Stan fell into the center of the bramble, completely obscured by the growth. Disturbed by the impact, a riot of insects flew, hopped, and crawled out of the bramble.
Leaning out over the bramble, Teddy whispered, “The beetles are gonna love you, Stan.”
A beetle crawled on the tree limb. He looked at it and identified it. “Carrion beetle. Go eat.” Teddy flicked it into the bramble, where Stan fell.
Teddy packed his insect kit into his backpack. Then he climbed down from the tree.
Teddy stopped by the stream, to wash the blood off. Then he went home for dinner.
Wayne A. Conaway has co-written nine books and authored many articles and essays. He has twice been president of the Brandywine Valley Writers Group (www.bvwg.org). He blogs at http://wayneaconaway.blogspot.com/