Doug remembers a painful day.
How dare he? How dare he!
To be honest I wasn’t sure if I yelled it in my head as a question or more generally as an exclamation of fury. I don’t think it really even formed a full sentence, but those words best describe the agony his sentence evoked in my fragile psyche. After reading that he saw my son in heaven (heaven!), I became a quivering mass of spider arms and ugliness. I couldn’t move.
Sensing my unease, ManQuail tried to offer a few words of encouragement, but it came out wrong. “F@cker sh#th@#d c*ck.”
He returned to the keyboard to type instead. As he did so I saw my son in my head. Throughout the turn of events that led to my transformation into Mantula, I’d thought of him, heard him in my head, but I was forced to think of other things. I had to find a cure for this affliction, I met the beautiful Diana Sturgis, and even got revenge on Kip Mooney. There were so many things.
Fire destroys all.
But now I saw only the long yellow-orange school bus as it pulled away. Off into the distance it drove, just like it did the day before and the day before that. Only this time it never came back. It never came back with my seven-year-old boy. It wasn’t just Charlie though. None of the kids came back. But I didn’t care about those others kids. I didn’t know them. Charlie didn’t really know them either. We’d only moved to Cottonwood from Flagstaff after his mom succumbed to cancer. And that was bad. That was so bad.
But this was worse.
No one knew how to deal with it. Not the school principal, not the news media, not even the shrink. How do you heal when a bus goes up in flames, when everyone inside is burned alive? How does a father, the only person Charlie had in the world, the only person he trusted to always be there to protect him, how does a father get over his failure to do that one job?
There’s no way.
No one can understand. No one can even come close. Not even those who have been there. They were sent in too, people who’d lost loved ones, even fathers who lost their children in combat, but they wouldn’t bring Charlie back. They couldn’t convince me there was something terribly wrong with how my existence washed out compared to everyone else. Losing Lisa was rough, but I had Charlie. I thought I would always have Charlie.
“F@ck#r sh#t,” ManQuail whispered. He motioned his beak at the computer screen.
I could barely bring myself to read another word. I wanted to. I really did. But just the idea, the topic, the pain, made my guts feel like they were made of boiling lava. I stared timidly at the screen, wanting to believe Glenn had seen him, but afraid he was lying to me. And also afraid, terrified, the news wouldn’t be good.
ManQuail wrote a large paragraph. “Charlie is fine, Doug. He wants you to know he’s okay. We hung out for a while before I was brought back. He was very clear in what he wanted me to tell you. He said you have suffered enough and it hurts him to see you suffer. He said to tell you he’s with his mom and they’re doing fine. They’re watching over you. It’s like I always say, love conquers all. They said you still had a lot of work to do here on Earth. And you would be happy again. They both said that. You will be happy again even if you don’t want to be right now. I tried to get them to tell me what they meant by all of that, but they wouldn’t say. They said I would be gone soon and they needed to tell me the important stuff first. And in case you didn’t believe, they told me their names, which you have never told me. Lisa and Charlie. You lived in Flagstaff together. You had a good job in communications and marketing and were working on a novel or something. Lisa loved white roses and Charlie went nuts for Pokemon. I hope you believe me, Doug! Even if I can’t speak right, I can think right. Heaven was like the best nap in the world, warm but not hot, cool but not cold, and so comfortable!”
I looked over at my quail friend, sobbing in my head, and told him I believed every word. Only I didn’t want to believe it. I wanted to be with my family.
“Sh#t. F@ck,” Glenn replied.
The words did make me feel better. But I felt worse at the same time. It’s hard to describe. This kind of pain cannot be put to words and shared with others. It’s too personal. But I knew I had to help get rid of this curse. I had to return to normal and help everyone else return to normal too. And to do that, according to Saint Kolbe, I would have to go to war.
MANTULA will return.