A short story
by Chris Hibbard
(Authors Note: This ‘chapter’ was written in response to a creative writing class exercise that required us to write something about a personality trait. Each student wrote a personality trait on a scrap of paper, and they were then randomly drawn and assigned. I opened up my scrap of paper to see the word NEUROTIC.)
“Let’s go out and get something to eat,” I said.
Connor turned away and continued blasting mutants on the telly.
“Why go out? We can order in, and stay right here. Modern technology is beautiful,” he replied without even making eye contact.
“Jesus man, we’ve been in here for hours, since last night – can I at least open the windows and let some air in here?”
Pausing the game and staring at me with what appeared to be scorn, Connor said, “Fine. Open the one in the bathroom though, and keep these blinds closed.”
As I made my way to the bathroom down the hall, I shook my head and muttered under my breath “He’s gonna shrivel up like mushroom in here.”
I met Connor Townshend at summer camp when I was twelve. That was a long time ago. At camp that year, I had been asked by my fellow bunkmates to go find a missing Connor. He hadn’t been seen since lunch, and then he was down by the lake, on the opposite end from camp.
Being a good Scout involves courage and ability, so off I went. I had walked for maybe 15 minutes when I heard groaning off to my left. Going to investigate, I stumbled in a gopher hole, turning my ankle, and practically fell on top of this red-haired, freckle-faced, tall and scrawny boy curled on the ground in the fetal position. He was doubled up on himself and clutching his stomach and moaned even louder when I fell beside him. But, being a good Scout (I’ve still got the badges to prove it) I helped him to his feet and propped him up on my shoulder. I told him “My name is Dan. I was told to come find you. Can you make it back to camp? What’s wrong with you?”
He stepped away from me for a minute and looked me over. “You’re the one who killed the squirrel in archery yesterday. That was a wicked shot.”
“Thanks,” I said. I had been reliving that moment over and over since the fat kid had picked it up and held it over his head like a trophy. What can I say. It was a wicked shot.
“My name is Connor,” he said. “I licked a frog at lunch. I never should have licked that frog. I think I’m dying.”
I thought he was just making jokes about his stomach ache, maybe a cramp from swimming too soon after lunch, and I was actually wondering if I had heard him right. He always did (and does to this day) have kind of a nasal voice, even more pronounced since he also with mild lisp. It made his words thick, and turned squirrel into thquirrel. He noticed that I was staring, prompting me to reply.
“You licked a frog? Why would you do something like that? That’s fucking sick.”
With the drop of the F-Bomb, Connor’s face reddened. “We’re not supposed to say that word. It’s ugly and it makes whoever says it even uglier. Anyway, if you must know,” he said with dramatic emphasis, “I just wondered what it would taste like. They eat their legs in France you know.”
“That’s gross. You’re weird. Let’s just get back to camp.”
Together, I limped and he hobbled, and we made our way back to our cabin. Once there, Connor was interrogated by the camp counselor, who happened to be four years our senior and was built like a tank. While Connor was escorted to the Big House to see the nurse, word of his frog-licking antics spread like wildfire. And if it was like a fire, then I suppose that makes me the owner of the matches.
When Connor returned the next day, meeting us at lunch, he immediately gravitated toward me. I made a grand show of reluctance, grand enough for everyone to see, before I slid over a notch and let him sit down.
“Hey frog licker, what are you having for lunch?” said Benny B, reaching over and taking Connors milk and cheese and cracker pack. Benny was a diminutive little smart-ass who made up for his petite stature (or at least attempted to) by covering it up) with bad taste jokes and well-timed insulting zingers.
Connor kept his head down for a minute, unsure of himself. Then he looked Benny straight in the eye and without cracking a smile said, “You can have my milk Benny. I was going to try to give it away anyway.” Benny’s smug look shook just a little.
Connor continued, “Humans are the only creatures silly enough to drink another creature’s milk. That just doesn’t happen in nature. After we’re weaned off of breast milk when we’re babies, we don’t even need milk at all any more. We just like it. But do you know how much bacteria there is growing inside of that carton, even as you hold it?” Connor paused for effect, watching to see our reactions (something which I would come to learn that he was very good at) and then he kept speaking.
“Although the vast majority of these bacteria are rendered harmless by pasteurization and the immune system, some of them always get in. And where does milk come from? Cows – that’s right. And cows carry Mad Cow disease, and anthrax, and all sorts of other diseases. I heard that one of them can make your dink turn black and fall off. So I don’t drink milk. You can enjoy it. I’d rather have a 5-Alive anyway.”
Benny was at a loss for words, as were the rest of us at the table. Almost in unison, milk cartons slid into the centre. The fat kid looked like he was going to hurl, and he excused himself.
Later that night around the campfire, I asked Carson where he had learned all that stuff, about milk and Anthrax and bacteria.
In the firelight, the grin that slowly appeared on his face looked unnatural, as if the top teeth were shining and the bottom ones were missing or rotten. “I watch nature shows on TV a lot,” he said, “and I read weird books that my brothers bring home, “but mostly, I was just making it up. It’s a good way for a nerd like me to get a bunch of free milk once everyone leaves the table at lunch. Tricks of the trade or something like that. I like milk. Always have. Always will.”
From that point on, Connor and I were solid. Or, as solid as gelatin can be anyway. Because while I could always count on Connor for free milk, I could never really know for sure when he was bullshitting, when he was serious, or when he was just plain fucking nuts. Even now, as he sits here, seemingly scared to leave the house or even let fresh air in. I just couldn’t tell. But as I opened the bathroom window, I noticed that the lightbulbs had been removed from their sockets above the sink, and that the shower door was duct taped shut. Whatever Connor was afflicted with, I suspected it was getting worse.