LAWN AND GARDEN by Caleb José Tardío

The empty white box of a house across the street from mine, with its deteriorating facade and exposed joints, became occupied by a family to match: the Mitchels were a patriarch with deep-set eyes and a thick mustache the color of TV noise, a wraith-mother, a daughter in her twenties (a wraith-in-training), and Bobby. Bobby was thirteen like me. He had sleep in his eyes, a perpetual scab over the bridge of his nose, and was flat in every way. The Mitchels dressed like computer technicians of the seventies—the women only wore long khaki skirts, the men only slacks. Bobby’s sister had gray hairs already. Bobby’s room: a cell that was mostly empty since his toys were kept in his parents’ room for safekeeping. Bobby’s only privilege was that he could hang out with me, only me. His parents approved of me; my parents pitied him. Twice a week I would find him waiting for me when I got home from school, sometimes loitering in our undomesticated garden, often with soiled fingers. We spent most of our time at my house, because of the customs and regulations at Bobby’s, and because of the trenchant odor of fertilizer.

I introduced Bobby to comic books and he received them like a revelation, except for Swamp Thing, the sight of which made him cringe and cough. Comics adequately occupied the silent ebb left after we’d exhausted the questions that adolescent boys ask one another. I asked him if he went to church. He looked away from me. “My parents—,” he said, reciting, “we worship the nameless, eyeless, subterranean god whose herald is the tower-worm.” That is the only thing I remember him saying. One night, blue and red strobes cycled across Bobby’s house and I never saw him again. Some neighbors told us (as we stood on the Mitchels’ remarkably empty porch, glimpsing into the hollow home) they heard young screams; Bobby’s dad was led away through their parched and scratching lawn, almost smiling, in handcuffs.

Several days later, I came home from school and found in our yard (and ours only) certain worms like I’d never seen, standing erect out of the ground like tendrils abandoning the earth. The ground was dry, but smelled a feast of iron and nitrogen. I looked up and saw a green-black silhouette framed in the bay window. It had knotted, wooden, elephantine shoulders from which protruded an oblong pillar of stone: its sightless face was striped with phosphorous and sulfur. The worms danced when I came near.

I began running, choking, to the neighbor with the wilted face, where I dialed 911 and screamed into the mouthpiece. When the police arrived, they found my folks asleep in their clothes, and all our houseplants uprooted. There was soil in every room, but more in mine. Explanations were mouthed, but they didn’t know. Nobody knew why they let Bobby play with me, only me.

Caleb José Tardío lives in Denver, Colorado. He studied English Literature and Philosophy at the Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he received an award for his story “The Cubist” and a scholarship for his essay on Arthur Schopenhauer and Thomas Hardy. This is his first published story.

If he were invisible—he would stay in your house and move your furniture around; stack it up in corners and lay tables on their sides.

Back to Issue 3: Things Unseen

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