Ole Zeke

Tom Laplaige

When Zeke walked down Main Street, anyone in the town who knew anything about anything would cross to the other side. “I’ve got ten fingers. Look at me!” he’d say if you hadn’t seen him coming. Hands held up by the side of his face, he’d roll his digits starting with the pinkies, all the way down to the pointers. Roll ‘em over and over. And you’d be stuck there in the glue of his hand spell. Snap. He’d point. Wherever that finger led ended somewhere awful.

Mrs. Harmon followed the finger to the sky where she saw a plane towing a banner with the word “sale” misspelled. Slae slae slae, cackled Zeke. Her husband swears that’s when her tumor started showing. Mr.and Mrs. Harmon, and Mrs. Harmon’s tumor heaving up above her head from the nape of her neck, forcing her face to look down at her plate of dinner spaghetti before it even hits the table. Not a pretty sight.

My lil old lady neighbor says they were schoolgirls together and Mrs. Harmon grew up brushing her teeth with windex every Sunday morning to keep the boogeymen off her tongue. But before the Zeke thing, no tumor. It’s important that I lay out both sides of the story. This isn’t clear cut causation we’re talking about. Maybe all the stories in this town wind up somewhere awful on their own accord, and folklore’s just drama for the superstitious.

When Mike Swann was seventeen, he ran into Zeke on Main Street. “I’ve got ten fingers. Look at me.” he said. Snap. This time Zeke was pointing at a trashcan across the street. Wait for it. Wait for it. And barreling down from the sky nosedives a pigeon smack into the center of the can. Big, wet thud. Spray of feathers. Well, Mike had what you’d call a freak accident workin’ at the grocery store. He slipped on his own mop trail and his head landed funny on a can of peas. Pigeon peas! whisper the spinsters. Sign of the cross. Now Mike’s 5 years a grade-A drooling machine, bedridden and blinking unread messages to his Carribean nurse.

Zeke pointed right at Samantha T.’s stomach, and years later when she was trying for one, she found herself unable to bear child. Eventually she got knocked up with a message direct mail from the big guy in the sky. Take the boy, it said. You’re mine now, she said. And so the Inwich Kidnapper was born.

Off of Main Street, Zeke is as normal as a pack of Bubble-Mint Double-Bubble Chews. He lives with his mother, always has. She cooks him breakfast, lunch, and dinner and they watch Wheel every week night — her fantasizing about Pat and him jacking it to Vanna in his en suite bathroom on the regular. Enviable, really, if you’re not infected with far-flingin’ dreams of class mobility, or love.

When I met Zeke, we were both working mixing chemicals to make candles smell like roses, or sand dunes, or the static after a lightning strike in an apple orchard. We struck up a casual friendship — a consequence of small quarters and being surrounded by the most boring shitheads you can picture. Zeke gave me books to read and was the first person I ever heard say ‘quantum physics’ out loud. I had heard the Main St. stories, but being someone without a hankering to put on a top hat and smile neighborly at the bakery, had no real worry about running into his localized juju.

That’s how it came that one night I was sitting between Zeke and his mom, on a patchy couch looking at the TV through a mix of floating dust and cat dander. After Pat and Vanna waved us patriots goodnight, Zeke excused himself to go take care of business. That’s when Dolores made me an offer. She told me how she’d folded some sleepy pills into Zeke’s mashed potatoes at dinner and needed me to do something she didn’t have the heart for. There was five hundred dollars in to for me and some hand stuff if I wanted — though I could have probably got that for nothin’.

She cried sloppy drops about her boy. Told me about the madness she swaddled up and swallowed every morning. Why didn’t he just stop going to Main Street? Right? She pleaded with him. Sometimes it’d be years before he found his way back there but he always did. She needed me to do something for her. To fix them both back on the path to palace-fried peace of mind. That’s right about when we heard a dull thump from over yonder.

We found ole Zeke with his pants around his ankles, half-jacked and out of phase on the bathroom tile. There’s Dolores whimpering over my shoulder, and there’s me still trying to unwrap the present. She disappears and comes back with a butcher’s knife still zip-packed in plastic. Goin’ at the packet with her rotten teeth like a ferret eating its way out of an asshole, she clangs the knife onto the floor and looks to me for action. She points at his right hand, and says to me, ‘just the tip,’ and my smarts finally click with the setup. I was gonna take that boy’s finger from him and break the curse. Simple as simple. My foot on his wrist, I come down on Ole Zeke with the blade real hard and then blood.

Tom is a writer from New York. He likes to sleep with the window open, and tweets @sighpilot.