Art for The Case of the Air-Dancer.
Adrian Van Young,  October 30

The Case of the Air-Dancer

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STRANGE ENCOUNTERS

Season Three, Episode Nine

“The Case of the Air-Dancer”

 

[Intro Theme: Theremin, spare piano]

 

There is limitless strangeness at large in our world . . . [shadowy shape sliding under the water] [clown laughing in darkened room] . . . Few of us will ever glimpse it [yellow cat’s eye flashes open] Strange Encounters shines a light . . . [cat eye’s pupil widens, brightens, revealing the show’s title card in green letters] . . . into all of the world’s corners better left dark . . .

 

MARISSA

Devin’s Childhood Best Friend 

I guess I should just start with Devin. This all happened our sophomore year. He’d had a rough summer, his dad gone a lot, just him and his mom all alone in the house. Devin started to do what he wanted to do. He started to wear what he wanted to wear. Nail polish, a little mascara, but subtle. And sometimes, I guess, he wore blouses to school or these garments that might’ve been blouses or shirts. Me and him, we would go and shop for them together. Claire’s, Forever 21. First day of school he wore this new one, yellow with slices of red watermelon. It was pretty damn cute! He was proud of that shirt. He wore it, probably, twice a week. For the assholes at school that was two days too much.

 

LEILA

Devin’s Mom

Devin was quiet the summer before but twice as quiet in the fall. Always it was him and Marissa out rambling but sometimes they sat long enough to eat something. That girl was always here for dinner. She was one of those, what’s the phrase, latch-and-key kids? Her and Devin loved each other. Been friends since the seventh or eighth grade, I think. He had no other friends that I knew of from school. I sort of blame myself, I guess? Not for what happened, I couldn’t control that, but Chase was gone a lot that fall. Pharma runs—mostly the Midwest and places. Him and Devin had zero and then some in common, but we all made it work and I guess that was love.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

Chief Investigating Officer

This show’s about the murders, right? Logan Orvis went missing on Halloween night. Next morning his mom called us down at the station. It was good that she did that, we all agreed then, because early like that it can still make a difference, but after that it’s pretty grim. That day passed and then another. I think we were all busy chasing down leads. We thought he’d run off with his girlfriend or something. Knocked her up, maybe. Lit out for the next place. That happens sometimes to the kids in this town. When we didn’t find him, the search parties started, but I guess by that point he was already gone.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK

Owner of Ridonkulous Rick’s Autos

The Devin kid, yeah, I mean what can you say? Nice kid, polite. A little queer. But folks gone do what they gone do. And sure, he came here sometimes, yeah. Mostly when the lot was closed. I own the place but hey, so what? You can’t control who comes and goes, and the kid never struck me as much of a threat. He’d just stand in the dark, staring at the air-dancer. In the back of the dealership I had my office, but back where I sat you could see clear across to the window that looked on the lot and the street. I was drinking a lot then. Real late hours at work. Sorry, Sarah Beth, Luanne! I’m sober now—my twelve-year chip. But the Devin kid, yeah, he would come here at night, staring up at the air-dancer, covered in makeup. [Commentary off-camera] Sure, okay. An air-dancer, you know, it’s one of those figures, about twenty feet with the goofy-ass smile that some folks use for advertising, runs on an electric fan? You set it up close to the front of your place to lure in business from highway. Also heard them called tube men or tall boys and such, but air-dancer always made most sense to me. Ours was purple. Real nice fella! Little spiky head of hair. Even named him Twisty—ha! And believe you me, brother, them shits are expensive. The Devin kid, he seemed to love it. I guess they had, like, some connection. I remember that one time he came in a dress! Another in cutoffs, this little blue tube-top. He liked to play dress up and have the thing watch. The first night I saw him, like, what’s this kid doing? But after that I didn’t care. Here in my office, him standing out there, it almost got to be this comfort.

 

JACQUI ORVIS

Logan Orvis’s Mother

My sweet boy Logan was the first. It’s been twelve years. I miss him lots.  

 

LEILA

Devin’s Mom

Devin came home beat that year. Every evening sulky, quiet. Marissa was still coming over for dinner but she was weird and quiet, too. Almost like they had this secret, though it was more than that with Devin. Bruises up and down his arms. A black eye once. Him walking funny. I’d ask him, “Baby, what is that?” But he would just chew his food.

 

MARISSA

Logan Orvis, all those dudes, they were totally horrible bullies to Devin. They’d see him coming down the hall, not strutting his stuff but just walking along, and they’d slam him against it, like, hitting the lockers. One time they punched him in the stomach. They’d say terrible shit to him. “Cocksucker!” “Shit-stick!” That went on for a little while. Then it started to get way more dangerous—private. Them cornering Devin in parts of the school where they knew no one else would be and smacking his ass-cheeks so hard they left bruises. Bitch-slapping him—“Take it!”—and twisting his nipples. Ramming their hands up the crotch of his pants and squeezing around up there: “What you got going?” This was real prosecutable, sexual stuff. I was always a tomboy. An indoor kid, too. Liked plays and movies, reading books. That’s how me and Devin first bonded, I guess. But I knew from my time being bullied by girls in middle school and in the streets that you just had to step to them, show them your stuff. Devin didn’t even try. He would slide to the floor and hunch down in this ball, his arms clutching his knees—oh, boy. These kids were Great Whites. They smelled blood in the water. And Devin was floating there, letting them bite.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

We found the Orvis kid—November? I’m pretty sure it was November. A few days after Halloween. There were still pumpkins rotting on everyone’s porch.

 

JACQUI ORVIS 

My grandpa owned a slaughterhouse. I watched them do it all the time. Put the cows inside these stalls. Come up with the bolt gun and, pffft, it’s lights out. After they would hack it up and grind the meat for chuck and such. That’s how they found Logan. Just chuck and ripped fabric. A couple bones, maybe, but there wasn’t much.

 

MARISSA

I should probably get to the air-dancer, right? Devin loved that goddamned thing! The first time he took me to see it—September? All day on the weekends we did what we wanted and most of the time also into the night. Sometimes we’d go to this little graveyard right out on the edge of town, and we’d smoke cigarettes on the headstones, goof off. Knock on the graves, like, hello there, how’s death? Other times we would wander the streets on our own. One night we wound up at Ridonkulous Rick’s, and I thought when we got there, it just seemed so random, we were going to do something to one of the cars. Key it, maybe. Punch the tires. But Devin just stopped out in front of the lot. Air-dancer was up there, right next to the sign. Dancing crazy in the breeze. Thin arms and the tube of its body, that’s all, mounted on some kind of motor. [Commentary off-camera] Huh. A fan. I never knew that, all these years. I have this theory—want to hear it? [Commentary off-camera] It’s nothing profound, only that in this world there are two kinds of people—those that see an air-dancer and it just sort of blends with the scenery, right? But that can never happen with the other kind of person. They see one, and they can’t stop looking. Gooseflesh, like someone walked over their grave, and their mind begins shouting: Nope! Nope-ity nope! I’m that second kind, okay? But I don’t think I knew till I saw one up close. Devin, he was hypnotized. He seemed to see it like some god. Or like his copilot through life, or whatever. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it, Missy?” Okay. “It’s free,” Devin said. “It just goes with the breeze.” Now I wonder if he knew about the fan either.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK

Sometimes he’d bring that girl with him. What was her name again? Misty? Michelle? [Answer off-camera] Marissa, right. I almost went out there once, told them to get, but then I figured, what’s the problem? Admiring my business flair might teach them something. Now I wish that I’d gone out.

 

LEILA

Mid-October, this one night, Devin comes home and runs straight to this room. Not even a, “Hey, mom,” just in like a shot, and I got off the couch, and I knocked on his door. I don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “Baby, what’s wrong? Whatever it is it’s not that bad.” But it was bad, we know that now. [Closes eyes] Just really bad.

 

MARISSA

Logan Orvis. Peter Sykes. Jonathan Maybrook. Martin Steenbergen. You don’t forget assholes like that. Especially after what they did to Devin after health class that day in the locker room showers. We didn’t have sex-ed, go figure, but we did have health class, bundled in with PE. The day that the worst of it happened to Devin, that day was the heavy stuff. We were all in the same class together. Real awful. Mister Peachtree, the teacher, Coach Peachtree we called him, would put up transparency slides of our bodies and show us the various parts with his pointer. Testes, shaft, you know the drill, and those boys would go fucking nuts! “Donkey dick,” they’d yell. “Jizz blaster!” And this one day in class, right before Halloween, after Coach had explained to us how babies happened with the vag on one side and the dick on the other, Logan Orvis yelled, “Like Devin! Devin’s got both of those, he can make babies!” Half of the class laughed but most of them didn’t. Like I said, Devin’s strategy up until then was just to keep sitting there quiet and passive but when Logan said that he seemed to wake up. He threw his pencil straight at Logan. Fucking beautiful shot! [Commentary off-camera] Sorry, sorry, sailor’s mouth, but the pencil, it hit Logan right in the face. Below his left eye, drew a little blood even. The class went nutso! Coach went, “Chill.” Then we suited for gym and they ran us around. And only later, in the showers, according to Devin—and why would he lie? Logan and Peter and Johnny and Martin surrounded Devin in his stall. The boys were naked. So was Devin. “Got any more lead in that pencil dick, faggot?” Two of them grabbed him to keep him from moving. Then one by one they, you know—well. Can I say what they did to him? [Answer off-camera] They held him there standing beneath the gym shower and forced his penis in their mouths. Like sucking him off one by one, but real rough. Scratching and biting and shouting filth at him. And this is awful, really, gah, which Devin only told me later but being, like, a teenage boy, as he was then, so who can blame him, Devin could feel himself getting aroused. That only made them louder, meaner. “You like that, huh, faggot? You like that?” they said. And Devin was just so ashamed. Punched him in the gut and left. Where the fuck was Coach Peachtree? I’m sorry, it’s just . . .

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN  

Kids are cruel sometimes, you know? But it’s hard to prove bullying actually happened. Try a decade ago with these kids running wild, and most of them don’t even own a computer. But lots of people back it up, this Devin kid’s story of what they did to him, what they had been doing to him all that year. This isn’t the bible, though. This is the law. Two wrongs never make a right. Three wrongs even less of one. So I’m saying, yeah, they were rotten mean kids, but that doesn’t mean they deserved what they got. Even less when you look at the way that they died.  

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK  

Halloween was cold that year. I had to go hard on the scotch to stay warm. Devin kid and Marissa, they showed up that night, standing out on the street looking up at old Twisty, and that night he was really going! Halloween, so the kids were in costumes, of course. At first it was tricky to see who they were. The girl, Marissa, dressed like Jason. Jumpsuit, hockey mask, fake knife. The Devin kid dressed like—Elvira? Morticia Addams? Someone like that. He was wearing this long slinky black evening gown. Long black wig, this pancake makeup. Both kids knelt in front of Twisty like he might be some goofy God or one of God’s creatures possessed by the Devil, and they were, like, going to offer him something, see if he could sort them out. The Devin kid got out this paper, a printout of something with words written on it, but I was too far off to see what it was, and then they were passing it back and forth, reading. Shouting words up at Twisty out there in the cold.

 

MARISSA

Can people manifest revenge? Like, out of their bodies? Some kind of blunt force? Devin could. At least, I think. His body had never been his—felt like his—and that’s how he did it, I think, with that pain. It sure as hell wasn’t the spell that we found while surfing revengehex.com, or whatever. “Trespass against trespass, an eye for an eye, vouchsafe my vengeful arrow fly . . . ” But when Devin read it, his parts of the script, he really seemed to feel the words. He read it in this trembling voice. We passed the printout, taking turns, looking up at that air-dancer swaying above us. It was smiling down at us. It never stopped smiling, and in between its rows of teeth this giant gap of solid black. And I remember wondering if you punctured that part of the air-dancer’s mouth would the whole thing deflate or, like, would it keep dancing? When we finished the spell, we read their names.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK

I’m not sure what I saw that night. See my little office where I had been drinking was in back of the place, behind the floor. When I was there at night alone, I always kept the door wide open, letting the office light shine on the floor in case someone tried to break in or boost cars, but even through the open door, it’s hundreds of feet to the front of the place. And then it’s another, say, five hundred feet through the lot to the air dancer, out on the street. I didn’t see something so much as two things that taken together add up to a third one. Air-dancer was up there. And then it was gone. Now I said I’d been drinking, but come the fuck on.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

When something that horrible happens to kids in a town of our size, people see what they want to. Some folks lost their minds with grief. Others couldn’t face the truth. I’m pretty sure I know what happened. And it wasn’t some goddamn promotional prop possessed by some damn supernatural force. A person murdered those three kids. And twelve years out, we still know who.

 

JACQUI ORVIS

Logan and all of them went trick-or-treating. That’s what he told me anyway. But they were, what, fifteen, sixteen? I may be old but I’m not stupid. Boys that age say they’re trick-or-treating, you can bet that they’re drinking or TP-ing houses. Logan had a werewolf mask on. All them boys were wearing masks. But masks for getting candy? Ha. Those masks were for not getting caught.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK 

No, I didn’t call the cops. Feeling, I don’t know, kind of Chuck Norris or something. Got straight in my car and went out to look for them, but when I found them not far off just walking along through the dark side by side, what was I going to accuse them of doing?

Ripping the air-dancer off of its fan-mount? Stashing it some place? Now, come on. I was also too drunk to keep driving by that point. Went on home to get some sleep. But then when I came to the lot the next morning, old Twisty was standing back up on his mount.

 

MARTIN STEENBERGEN

Victim 

Mind if I smoke? [Answer off-camera] Been a while since I talked about all of this stuff. Guess Halloween night is the best place to start. Went on a couple pumpkin raids. Put some KB in the air, you know, baby. Crushed a twelver of Ice at the old middle school, Logan, me, Johnny, and P-Syke—the boys. They’re all dead now, you know that right? Me and Logan said, “Hey now, let’s keep the buzz going!” Crushed our cans and set off walking. Across the playground, up the steps, and over the football field toward the gas station. Midway across the field we stopped, and Logan said, “You hear that, man?” I said, “Hear what?” He said, “That rustling.” I said, “Boy!” But Logan just stood there all freaked and said, “Listen.” I did hear it now, but it wasn’t a rustling. It was more like a whistling or zipping sound, kind of. Like a silk parachute being dragged through the trees. And that’s when we saw it against the moonlight, crawling out of the tree line behind the goalpost. All spindly and shit. And, like, dragging itself. Low down to the ground with these little thin arms. The rest of it, way longer, coming behind it. It didn’t go around the goal like something normal might’ve done but climbed up and over it. Slithering, jerking. Its mouth stretching open with darkness inside. We wanted to run but we just stood there, frozen. By then it was already too late for Logan.

 

JACQUI ORVIS  

I called the cops November first. Close to two in the afternoon, as I remember. On the weekends he’d usually stay at a friend’s house, and you can bet on Halloween. I knew they slept late, but this late was just crazy.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

We found him by the trail of blood. I’d say like a slug’s trail, but it was more patchy. A little here, a little there, along the right side of the street in the gutter. Like someone had dragged the kid all of that way, shedding ground-up deposits of him as they went. Even now, looking back at crime scene forensics, I’m not really sure how the murderer did it or chose to do it that way, even. It was just so—bizarre. We’d find some in the gutter. More down in the sewer, then some in the street. The victim had been, we determined, chewed up by some large piece of farming machinery, maybe? The remains bundled up in a suitcase or sack and distributed over a pretty wide space—basically, one end of town to the other. Starting near the middle school, ending out near the car dealership near the highway. We had only one witness, the Steenbergen kid, and what he told us made no sense. The air-dancer did it! I mean, it’s insulting. Drug-tested the kid after taking his statement, and he’d been smoking dope all night. But he was the first one to start with that story, and it caught on with certain people—Marissa and the Devin kid, though we know now they both had incentive to lie.

 

LEILA

Marissa slept over on Halloween night. They’d been out trick-or-treating, a little old for it, but I figured at least they were having some fun. Chase was coming home—two days? I couldn’t get to sleep that night, I hadn’t been sleeping much those days, and I don’t think I heard them come in through the front, but maybe three or four a.m. I heard them still awake, still talking. I went to Devin’s door and knocked. Told them it was time to gear down for the night. Past noon the next day when I went in to wake them, they were still in their costumes, asleep on the floor. 

 

MARISSA 

When the air-dancer came down to hover before us, Devin dropped the revenge spell, and it blew away. That’s also when he reached his hand out, touched it right in that darkness that lived in its mouth.  

 

JACQUI ORVIS  

Sorry. [Commentary off-camera] I can’t. Think I need to take a break.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK  

Sherriff Vaughn came here to question me first, the very same day that they found Logan Orvis. Good thing I had an alibi. I also told about the kids, Marissa and Devin, on Halloween night. You see, I was still scared they’d pin it on me. I never imagined they actually done it.

 

SHERRIFF VAUGHN

And then, nearby, we found the list.

 

MARISSA

That’s what they called it—a list, not a spell—when they brought us down to the station for questions. It said “Get Even Spell” at the top of the sheet, below that the text, the boys’ names underneath it. We figured we might as well tell them the truth. Wasn’t even, like, something we planned in advance. We came to it separately. Questioned us that way, off in different small rooms like they do in the movies. We told them the story of Logan and Johnny and Peter and Martin all hassling Devin, and Devin even told them, too, that terrible thing that the boys had done to him after health class that day in the locker room showers. He couldn’t have told Sherriff Vaughn the whole thing, not in the detail he told me before, but whatever he told him, it had Devin crying, half to remember and half from the shame, and when Devin did that the Sheriff got awkward, turned his eyes from Devin’s eyes. Muttered something weird to Devin that Devin thought might’ve been, “Boys can be fools,” but then later on, maybe, “Boys will be boys.” Whatever it was it made Devin go harder. So Sherriff Vaughn just left the room and sent in a beat cop to finish the statement. We both told the cops that we hadn’t killed Logan because for all we knew we hadn’t. What neither of us told them though was about how the air-dancer started to change—whirling around as we read through the spell before leaning down to us, floating there, waiting. I don’t even think that we’d processed it yet or what it meant for Logan Orvis. After that, they let us go. The next day they found Peter Sykes.  

 

LEILA

Several days into all this, Chase came home. All that September he’d had a bad run. Pharma rep, that’s what Chase did, which meant he was pretty much off on his own, and sure, there were a few good years when he would be out raking in the commissions, but all that luck was over now. Probably he was feeling scared about the winter months to come—how he would support us and be there at once. But then when I told him about what had happened, that a couple of guys had been hassling Devin and one of those guys had been horribly murdered, and Devin, not the prime suspect, had been questioned about it and might see round two, he didn’t run out and get drunk to forget like a lesser man might’ve. Chase wasn’t like that. Not the world’s most hands-on dad but good in a crisis. That counts for a lot. He said that he’d do anything to help Devin. He said that we needed to think up a plan.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK  

I was down at the office now most every night. Too drunk to drive home, I just crashed at my desk. Woke up in my office chair, mouth full of cat-shit. Partly because I had come to the point that you could’ve pushed me as light as a feather for me to end up in AA the next day and partly because after what I had seen, I more than half thought I was losing my mind, and the scotch was the best way to quiet it, sort of, or make it so I wouldn’t notice. That goddamned air-dancer out front of the lot! One night it was gone and then back the next morning. I thought that I should call the cops but I didn’t know what the hell I would tell them.

 

MARTIN STEENBERGEN

Johnny heard from P-Syke last. Talking on the phone that night. They’d talk every night after school on the phone and Johnny was trying to talk P-Syke down after the bad shit that happened to Logan. P-Syke, he was sure we was cursed in some way. A curse that you catch like in some scary movie. And when he was talking with Johnny that night, he talked himself into a pretty tight corner, getting all ‘noided out about him being next, so P-Syke told Johnny he needed to blaze in the alley in back of his house to calm down. When P-Syke was out there, that’s when it came for him. Him and Johnny had ended the phone call by then. But I think about that, what that must’ve been like, with the front of it filling the mouth of that alley, crouched there on its little arms, and P-Syke knowing when he looked that that thing, waiting there, was the last thing he’d see. Talk about a buzz kill-man! We heard later on that he’d swallowed the blunt because the cops found it smushed up in his stomach.

 

MARISSA

When they found Peter Sykes scattered down in the sewer the same way they found Logan Orvis, me and Devin knew two things. First, Sheriff Vaughn wasn’t done with us yet. Second, it was time to stop this. The hex or possession, whatever it was, seemed to be picking them off one by one. We remembered the order we’d spoken their names: Logan, Peter, Johnny, Martin. Basically the order of their awfulness to Devin beginning with Logan and ending with Martin. Johnny was the next in line. So that third night we told some lie about a late-night dress rehearsal, went down to Ridonkulous Rick’s, waited for it. To reverse a revenge spell, we found out online, you had to burn the remnants of it, but Sherriff Vaughn still had the printout. So we printed the whole thing out again with the same four boys’ names written on it, and we had it with us, that night, down at Rick’s. When the air-dancer started to change on its mount, this sort of, like, circular swaying, all woozy, with its long, skinny face grinning up at the stars, Devin read an incantation: “Trespasses pardoned, eyes restored, let vengeful poison flow no more . . .” I mean, who writes these Wiccan curses?  I burned the printout while he said it. Maybe we should’ve used the first one. Or maybe Devin didn’t mean it. Because after the spell’s ashes floated away, the air-dancer lifted itself from its mount.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK 

Uh-huh, not cool! Not cool at all! When I saw that, man, I was done. I killed off the bottle of scotch I was drinking. I checked myself into a clinic that night.

 

JACQUI ORVIS

With Logan dead and Peter too and then they found that awful list—a kill list, come on, I mean that’s what it was, though for some reason nobody called it that then—why was nobody checking on Jonathan Maybrook? Because he was poor trash, like us, And because in the end it was more about Devin. Protecting him, making sure he wasn’t hurt, like he was the vulnerable one, not those boys.

 

MARISSA  

To get out to Johnny’s before the air-dancer, we took a shortcut through some yards. You see, it didn’t move that fast, the way it dragged itself along, but when we got to Johnny’s house he was out on his porch with a gun waiting for it. Johnny was a little sad. Not straight-up cruel like Pete and Logan or half-decent sometimes like Martin Steenbergen, but just, like, this doofus. A follower, putty. Drunken redneck mom and dad who were never around much and not that night, either. Waiting there on the porch to stand off with the thing was the most, like, original thought Johnny had, but when me and Devin showed up on the steps, just trying to step in and handle it for him, well Johnny didn’t want to hear it. He was crying all sloppy in only his undies. Spittle and drool coming out of this mouth. “Fucking queers, fucking freaks! Get the hell off my porch!” Okay, Johnny, much obliged. Johnny pointed the gun at us. Can you believe it? But we didn’t need to do anything else because that’s when the air-dancer came up behind us. We parted to let it crawl through the front yard, and Johnny started firing at it, but he was too nervous to do more than wing it. By then it was already climbing the porch.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

Peter Sykes and Johnny Maybrook were found in a similar manner to Logan. Mutilated, masticated, what was left of them shoved down a series of drains. That’s around when we started to get smart about it—too little, too late, lots of folks will still tell you, but we were in uncharted waters. We took a few samples of victims’ remains, sent them off to a DNA lab in the city.

 

MARISSA

In grade school, we went to the zoo on a field trip. They let us watch them feed the snakes. The python’s den was so, so dark. We were up on our tiptoes to get a look at it and then we saw this guinea pig that the trainers had with them come scrambling in. The python, bright yellow with swirly white stripes, had caught it squirming, still alive. Its mouth opened up and its jaw, like, unhinged, and the python deep-throated this guinea pig down. A little traumatic, you think? Kids were screaming. That’s the way that it got Johnny.

 

JACQUI ORVIS

You bet that I blame lots of people involved. Old Sheriff Due Process for not acting sooner, the folks at the school for not seeing the signs. Hell, even blame myself sometimes, even though I know I shouldn’t. But most of all I blame that family. That goddamn space-case, crazy woman, not raising her boy right. Rude—just rude. Her pill-slanging husband, gone half of the year. Say what you will, if he’d been there more often, a family needs a man to run it. That Devin kid weren’t growing into one right— prancing around in those dresses, mascara. They say the transgenders are like anyone, but I don’t subscribe to that, not for a second. They let them in the military. Let them go in whichever restroom they please. Let them do mostly whatever they want and what are we left with? A whole lotta nothing.  If that screwed-up family had got itself right then those three boys would be alive.

 

LEILA

Jacqui Orvis never liked me. This predates what happened to Logan and them, but it wasn’t bad as a handy excuse. She started her own little crusade against us. Calling our house at all hours of the night. Showing up on our doorstep to scream murder at us. Chase finally said if she didn’t back off he’d have her arrested and that calmed things down for, maybe, two days? Then it started again. Meanwhile Chase was acting strangely. Keeping these erratic hours. Drinking more than he used to, glued to his computer. I thought that maybe he’d been fired and was looking for something before I could notice, but then I saw his search history. Looking back, it all makes sense.

 

MARISSA

After the air-dancer ate Johnny Maybrook, we followed it back to Ridonkulous Rick’s. Just to be sure that it didn’t make detours, decide to snack on someone else. Midway it stopped at a pond in the woods to clean Johnny’s blood off its face like a cat.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

When the DNA lab work came back from the city, none of us were that surprised. Mixed in with each of the victim’s remains was some of the Devin kid, match after match. We showed what we found to the county DA and started to gear up to make the arrest.

 

MARISSA

Still don’t fully get how they came back to Devin. They weren’t, like, transparent about it exactly. DNA evidence? Okay, okay, I guess I’ll take your word for that, but what kind of DNA evidence was it? Devin’s blood? His spunk or something? My theory is when Devin touched it, that air-dancer right in the dark of its mouth, some part of him entered it, mixed with its essence. Then after that, it killed those boys.

 

MARTIN STEENBERGEN

The next night I knew it was coming for me. I wasn’t about to sit there waiting. So like I’m in some Freddy Krueger flick, I armored up. Long pants, long sleeves. Shin protectors, lacrosse mask. Mad-ass duct tape. Came strapped with a baseball bat, weed-whack machete, some ninja stars I bought online, and I took my ass straight to Ridonkulous Rick’s. But when I rolled up there, I wasn’t as brave. This freezing wind blowing trash over the street. No one else around for miles. And there it was, the air dancer, getting down nasty up there on its mount with that awful face on it that never stops smiling, and I started to think of the way it would feel to have that mouth open and take me inside. Would it have teeth to rip and tear or a long purple tunnel of sweaty-ass nylon? And almost like it heard me thinking, it started to do this crazy sway, not side to side but in a circle, almost like it was trying to launch itself off, and then I hear, “Hey, Steenbergen! What the hell are you doing out here by yourself?” Marissa and the Devin kid. They were standing behind me. They wanted to dance.

 

MARISSA

Oh. My. God. You should’ve seen him, like an extra from some Mad Max movie. When I called, “Martin!” Martin turned and that’s when the air-dancer, like, came to life, blowing up straight with its arms straight along before starting to claw its way off of its mount. The way that it did that: arms hooked in the ground, wedged down in the sidewalk seam, almost like claws. It clawed itself forward and shucked itself loose. We heard this sound, sort of like Velcro unsticking. Martin saw our eyes get wide and saw the thing coming and screamed like a girl. Dropped his yard-machete thing. The air-dancer was already stretching its mouth when Devin ran past me and Martin right at it. And then he stopped and stared it down. I kid you not, like, nose to nose with the air-dancer crouching on those little arms, and Devin in front of it, hands at his sides. It looked like they were going to wrestle. But Devin did the weirdest thing. He patted the air-dancer, once, on its face. Between its eyes, like testing, once. And then Devin started to pet and to stroke it. And like some huge, deformed-ass cat, the air-dancer leaned into Devin’s caresses. Nuzzling into his hand, sort of stretching. Soon Devin was down on his knees alongside it with his arms wrapped around its impossible neck. Crooning to it, saying, “Shhhhhhh. You don’t need to kill anymore. It’s okay.” And then we heard a sound behind us, the rattling of a chain-link fence. We all turned around to see who or what made it. “What are you doing here, Dad?” Devin said.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

Wasn’t so long after that that Devin’s dad turned himself in for the murders. Seemed a little fishy, sure, as when Logan died he had been out of town, but to all of our minds the guy’s story held up. Said he strangled the boys, one by one, in one place, then moved their bodies to another. To be more specific, his buddy Ross Quint’s tomato farm just off the highway. Got a pretty six acres. Irrigation works, tractors. And, yeah, that’s right, a log-chipper. That’s how he said he ground the bodies—unbeknownst to Quint, of course. Said he did it between six and eight in the morning, when the semis are loudest out there on the road and then at night he strolled through town, depositing bits of them down in the gutters. [Commentary off-camera] A little far-fetched, but the crime-scene forensics stacked up like he told them. And besides, we were ready to have it all over. The whole damn town was going nuts! He said that he’d done what he did to those boys because of what they’d done to Devin. Booked him, tried him. Guy got life. He’s in there now, and there he’ll stay.

 

LEILA

I get so mad at Chase sometimes, but was there any other way? If it hadn’t been Chase then it would’ve been Devin. In prison, he wouldn’t have made it past lunch. And I think, in his way, Chase did it for Devin, to make up for all that he’d missed as a Dad. And I don’t mean just plays and birthdays, but missed as in just never noticed. Devin parading past Chase all these years, not so much needing his attention but just to show Chase that he was who he was, and Chase would look the other way. Not because he was ashamed. Because Chase didn’t know how to really deal with it or how to love a child like that, even though it was easy. It could’ve been easy, if only Chase had let it be. So in some way I think that Chase going to prison was him finally saying to Devin—[shields face] Gosh, I didn’t expect to get this way! [Question off-camera] No, I can keep going. [Points at eye and points at camera] It was Chase finally telling him, Now. Now I see.

 

JACQUI ORVIS

I believe he done it, sure. The son of a bitch deserved worse, but I’ll take it.

 

SHERIFF VAUGHN

Trust me, I’ve heard all the theories and then some. Devin did it. Devin’s dad. This kooky dook air-dancer theory. But, look: we live on planet earth. The dead stay dead, and pigs don’t fly. Ridonkulous Rick got the help that he needed. Martin Steenbergen still lives here, drug problems. The girl, Marissa, went to college, now I think works in TV. Devin’s dad is still in prison, and Devin’s mom stayed here in town to be near him. Devin moved off to the city years back. Still lives there, some kind of assumed name or something. Maybe it doesn’t add up on the surface, but those are the facts of the case, as of now.

 

MARISSA

Unsurprisingly, maybe, me and Devin lost touch. It’s hard to stay friends after something like that. Two years ago, I saw him once. Or, sorry, her. I keep forgetting!  It’s easy to forget sometimes because when I knew her she still was a him and now, you know—I’ll just shut up. Got sent to the city to scout some locations. No reason for me not to see her, I guess, so I found her on Facebook but now she’s—Roxane! She’d grown her hair out, streaked and layered. Smiling in this summer dress. Cute shade of lipstick, she looked really good. It said “In A Relationship” under her status. Friend-requested her first because why wouldn’t I? It was long enough now that the past shouldn’t matter, and I started to write in the messaging app, “Hey Roxane! How’s it going? Been a little while—” But then. [Question off-camera] I couldn’t keep writing. Whatever upbeat, happy shit I would’ve written was a lie. The only thing I really felt—like really down deep in myself—was this terror. And I couldn’t lie. Not to her. Not after that. Deleted my words one by one, closed the app. To his day, she hasn’t confirmed my request.

 

RIDONKULOUS RICK  

Renewed all the bonds that I’d broken, cleaned up. Now I’m back at the dealership moving that metal and the last time I checked we ain’t doing half bad. [Question off-camera] Uh-huh, still there. Same one as before, too, them shits are expensive! When I’m here late at night, which I try not to be, you bet it creeps me out a little. But then I remember it’s just an air-dancer. All it does is sell used cars. In fact, look up and you can see it. Wait for it, wait for it, wait. There it is.

Adrian Van Young is the author of two books of fiction, Shadows in Summerland, and The Man Who Noticed Everything. His fiction and non-fiction have been published in Electric Literature's Recommended Reading, Conjunctions, Slate, Guernica, The Believer, Granta, and The New Yorker, among others. He lives in New Orleans with his family. 

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