When I was in first grade, I had a friend. This was highly unusual, and our friendship only lasted a year. This is because this kid wanted to be cool. He was a bit of an outsider, rough at the edges, but he wanted to fit in. I was an albatross around his neck, and it took him that long to figure out that he was never going to be cool if he kept being my friend. That's all right, I guess. By third grade, he'd moved to some other city, and I never saw him again.
Tonight I went out for my semi-nightly walk, and my route took me past my old elementary school, which is why I suddenly started thinking of this kid. One of the most interesting things he ever did was tell me a story. (Telling me a story goes a long way with me. Always has, always will.) One day during recess, while all the other kids were fucking around on the swings and the monkey bars--back when the only thing to break a three-foot-tall kid's drop from a ten-foot height was a thin lining of wood chips--him and I were hanging out by the chain link fence that prevented most kids from playing on the train tracks that ran behind the school. Here, he told me that beneath our very feet, a monster lived. It looked a lot like the popular depiction of the devil, and it liked to kidnap kids and bring them down into the sewers, where it would stick them on a spit--and I mean putting the spit up through their assholes until it comes out their mouths--and roast them before eating them.
Keep in mind, I was six years old at the time. When I was six, it was 1984. IT wasn't published for another two years, so I had no way of preparing myself for something like this.
But I still didn't buy it. I gave him points for creativity, but I didn't fall for it, no matter how sincerely he came off. He then told me that if you listen at the sewer lid, sometimes you can hear the monster laughing. Being of a scientific mind even back then, I stooped down to the sewer and listened, expecting my friend to jump on me or scream or something to scare the shit out of me. But he didn't do any of those things. He listened to the sewer just as earnestly as I did.
We heard nothing.
I wonder a few things. First, whatever happened to this kid? I think he really believed that story he told me. He was a tough bastard, but except for this one instance of imagination, he wasn't very bright. To give you an idea, he's the only person I've ever known who was bitten by a garter snake. SEVERAL TIMES. Do you know how stupid you have to be to be bitten by a garter snake even once? Still, I wonder what he's made of himself.
Secondly, and more importantly, I have to wonder if he made the story up himself or had it told to him by someone else. If it's the latter, that means it's some kind of local urban legend, even if I only heard it once. If it's an urban legend, do the kids at Jefferson Elementary still tell that particular tale? I wonder.
Not enough to actually ask a kid, of course. But still, I wonder.
[BONUS: Some of you may be wondering if tonight, on my semi-nightly walk, while I was thinking of this incident, did I hunt down that sewer lid and take a listen? Of course I did. I strained my ears, trying to hear a laugh, or a crackling fire, or even the squeak of the spit as the monster turned a kid over the flames. All I heard was the distant babble of rainwater making its way to the quarry.]