Matt woke up screaming and pulling and grabbing at the clumps of hair and loose skin on the back on his head, looking for the wound and for where the blood had been when he was dreaming. He woke up alive and choking on vomit, and he didn’t know where he was. He couldn’t see anything. His eyes didn’t focus on his friend, who was only a few inches away from him. He thrashed awake like he was being born. He felt vague bits of pressure on every side of him, and slowly registered that he was being embraced.
“Shh,” his friend said. “I’m here. It’s okay, Matt. You’re safe now. I’m here.”
Like a reflex, Matt threw himself bodily across the room and away from its occupant. He scrambled and fell over himself until he found his feet, clutched at his head and tried to run.
He slammed himself into the door, trying to force it open as he felt his friend’s hands grip him by the shoulders and spin him around to face him. Matt’s head lolled on his neck. He stared wildly.
“No!” he yelled. “No!”
“Matt,” his friend said, “it’s me. It’s okay. It’s okay. Look at me. It’s okay. Come here, come on.”
“Stay away from me! Stay away! No!”
Matt wouldn’t stop screaming. He yelped like a wounded animal. His head was on fire. Something was coming up from under the surface. He struggled as hard as he could against the hands that held him so lovingly. His own fingers dug into his scalp, trying to pull out whatever was hiding inside. His knees buckled, and his friend let him crumple gently to the ground.
Something pulled. Matt looked up with clear eyes into the face of the tall man with the shiny shoes, and saw what he saw.
“Come on,” he said. He pleaded. “Don’t you want to play?”
Matt shook his head. His friend laid his hand across his face and stroked, and Matt recoiled from his touch. His friend pulled away like he had been electrocuted.
“Go away,” he said. It was the quietest voice he had. “Go away. Leave me alone.”
“No! Please! Stag, just leave me alone. Please. Just go away.”
All there was to hear was the little boy’s ragged breath. And then:
“What did you call me?”
Stag. Stagger Lee.
“Izzy’s grandpa told me what you did. I know. I know who you are.”
“No, Matt. No, he’s a liar. Come here. Let’s play.” There was a dead and rotten grin on his face. His lips didn’t move like they should have. He took a step forward.
Matt backed to the corner. “Stay away from me!”
“Not like this, Matt. I can explain. Come on, buddy.” He got on his knees and inched up to him. He was weeping.
“You killed Chelsea.”
“No. He’s lying. He’s lying, Matt.”
He reached to touch him again. To heal. “I thought we were friends. We’re friends forever.”
And something broke off inside of the music man. In the fluidity of him, something stopped moving. All the pieces of him were alive and together, but a unity had gone away. It was the difference between a thousand birds and a flock. He was not bounded the way he had been.
He was a shape.
He stared and didn’t understand. No. No, not like this.
No, no, no. Please, no.
“Go away,” Matt whispered. “I never want to see you again.”
Stagger Lee ran, and didn’t stop until the last bit of control in him was boiled away. Then he stopped, and turned around and faced the clouds coming from the west, and fell to his knees and screamed his voice away. And then he stood up.
Close the door and we’ll disappear
Close the book and we’ll disappear