With the kids around I was thinking that old Stag wouldn’t let it sit where he left it, but it was a quiet day, all told. I called up the Marshals and told them that I might need them on the ready for awhile, and they said sure and just about every night after that until it ended I was pretty sure Kyle showed up. It’s a bit hard to tell where he goes and when, especially from my room, but the house settling seemed a little louder than regular, so maybe that was him making his rounds. I don’t know.
Either way, with him around it made it easier for me to think about getting the younger brother out, because he was down there sure enough and I didn’t know for how long. Figured the boy had already lost a sister and maybe his folks, so letting the kid brother die too didn’t sit very well. In retrospect I probably should have switched with Kyle – let him snoop while I guarded the kids – but I didn’t and that’s that. I went back to the house the very next day to see what I could see, which was a stupid thing to do, but I did it. I think on the whole it turned out better than it would have otherwise, but maybe not.
So I went back over and poked around as well as I could. I wore something in my ears to block the music, because I’m not stupid, and I kept a few things with me just in case there was some trouble. Now I know that isn’t really how Stag works, but I was just preparing for whatever.
I should mention that I’ve dealt with him before. Last time it didn’t really end well for anybody. I lost some people and he ended up locked in for a while. For a long while, actually. But I still had dreams about him, all that time. I guess I should have paid better attention, but after the first few years your guard tends to drop.
First thing is that the house was shifting some. I had to guess it was to the sound of the music, but I couldn’t hear it because of the plugs, so I didn’t know one way or another. But some rooms would be larger or smaller depending on how you looked at them, and I’m pretty sure the hallways didn’t always lead to the same places, either. I didn’t move around too much once I sussed that out, which had its own benefits.
I got a pretty good look at the girl’s room the day before when Gret and I went over, so I stayed out of it for the most part. No use in leaving wheel marks in the blood anyhow. Somebody was gonna hang for this whether or not they did it, and I’d rather not be looked at too closely by the cops, if that’s alright. So I mostly looked at that basement door until I figured it out.
It wasn’t a door anymore, basically. Just a wall looking like one. I took a little chisel and jammed it into the space between the door and the floor, only there wasn’t a space. It was all one piece. Same thing with the rest of it – the hinges were stuck together, and I’m pretty sure the way they were they’d never have opened in the first place. The doorknob was just done up to look like one. It didn’t have a mechanism inside it, I don’t think. The whole thing wasn’t a door, I’m saying.
Now, I had been in the house before for birthday parties and such and thus, and I had been in the basement, so I figured that this was likely a more recent development than that.
So forcing the door was a lost cause. I decided to just knock on it, see if somebody would let me in. I did, and I heard a voice on the other side, all muffled like it was maybe wrapped in blankets.
I think it said who is it, though, so I said that it was Jim, and could Matt come to the door.
Matt’s busy. He’s playing with me. I ask if I can come in, and the voice says no adults allowed. I tell him that I gotta have somebody feed me and I can’t even dress myself, so do I sound like an adult to you? The door opens right up, only there’s stairs and I can’t get down them.
It’s around now that I remember that I’ve still got my earplugs in, only I can hear the voice anyway, and I figure that if he wanted to play the music so I could hear it, he would and I wouldn’t be able to stop him. If he decides he doesn’t like me I’m dead a little early, so I should be nice to him.
I ask the voice if maybe there could be something he could do about the stairs.
He asks me why, so I tell him my legs don’t work too well, and stairs give me trouble. Tell him I’m real sick, so to make it fair you’ve got to give me a head start. He wants to know if it’s the kind of sick he can get from me, and I say no, it’s not that kind, and we can eat together or share hats or whatever he wants and he wouldn’t get sick. He seems real curious about me.
Anyway, the stairs disappear and the floor lifts right up to my level and now the house doesn’t have a basement anymore – just a hallway going another room over, so I wheel down and go to see who’s got Matt.
I see a real small-looking room until I realize that it stretches back into the darkness out of sight, and I can’t see the far wall at all. Concrete looking walls and ceiling and a dirt floor put together sort of haphazard, with pink and green and orange and white graffiti all over the place. There’s trash and old bits of machines and stuff all over the floor, and the strings are there just like they were before, all crossed up in the air from wall to wall. It looks a little like one of those crevasses under a highway overpass, way off to the side and out of sight. That’s the room Stag should be locked in, and I figured out how he did it – he never left at all. He just moved the room and let it eat up wherever he wanted to be. It doesn’t matter so much, being trapped, if you can be trapped anywhere anytime.
Anyway, in the middle is Matt, and Stag standing next to him. Matt’s kneeling like he’s praying, but he looks like he’s unconscious or maybe drugged or something – his head’s all drooping and he’s unsteady. Stag is holding his hand and standing and looking right at me. I can’t see much of his face except that he’s a little bit pale and he’s got big eyes and real heavy brows. He’s dressed like Rod Serling; his hair looks a little like it too, and he’s got this big gentle smile on his face.
He says hey, Jim when he sees me, and that’s when I know for sure who it is. Here’s Nina’s music man. He’s got my name and he remembers me. It wasn’t for a couple months yet that I decided on the name Stagger Lee, so I didn’t have anything to call him at all.
Matt’s got his eyes open, looking at me like I’m an insect.
Told him I’m here for the boy he’s got his hand on, so the man looks down at Matt on the ground next to him and asks if he wants to go with dad or stay and play, and I wanna say that I’m not his dad and where is his dad, but I don’t. I’m just here for the boy right now, I figure. Maybe I should have asked those things. I should have asked about how Stag got out, and I should have asked what he had wanted. I don’t know if he would have told me, but maybe I should have asked. But I was just there for Matt today, and I figured that everything else would happen when it happened. Just get the kid out of there.
Anyway, Matt says in this real sad voice that he wants to stay and play, but the man says no, go with your dad and come back later. Says you should always listen to your parents, like maybe he’s a teacher. I’m not feeling too good being around the guy for very long – he’s making me real tired, and I catch myself lulling out three or four times before Matt walks over and stands next to me. He’s still looking back at the guy, and I’m a little worried he’s gonna run. I wanna know what he did to Chelsea, but he’s not gonna say and it’s not too hard to figure out. Either he’s doing to Matt what he already did to her or he’s doing to Matt what he did to the guy who killed her.
The man says to me that he can scrub me clean and get rid of my ALS so I can walk again. He can fill me up and make me whole like I used to be, and I can feel my body giving out from whatever it is he’s doing. He says I’m a very lonely man with no one to help him, but he’s full of shit and doesn’t know a thing about me. Sitting there looking at him though, I believe him.
There’s a Dashiell Hammett line from The Maltese Falcon, or maybe it’s a John Huston line from the one with Bogart, I don’t know. I never read it; I just saw the movie. Now you are dangerous, is the line, and it seemed to fit right in with the guy I was looking at. Now you are dangerous.
Well, I’m dangerous too.
I tell him if he ever comes near me or my family again I’m gonna set him on fire. Just burn him out. Then Matt and I leave, and the door shuts behind us.
That was the second time me and Mister Stagger Lee had a conversation.