The Yellow Man
by Philip Ivory
Table of Contents|
parts1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
By the end of that week, Allan had begun to see Reece in the basement as well. Mrs. Andover passed away that summer, as did a few others, mostly old folks, and soon they showed up.
By the end of the summer, he had decided he really liked the basement and had taken to spending a lot of time there. The people started showing up several at a time, and Allan would have to take the folding chair to allow three or four to crowd on the couch together.
His mother would stick her head down the stairs and ask him if it wouldn’t be better if he went outside to get some sunshine and air. The people around him in the cellar would recede into shadows while Allan spoke to her. He would say he would go out as soon as he finished the model he was working on. Disappointed, she would withdraw from the top of the stairs, and the faces around Allan would reappear from the darkness.
But then school started. Instead of being in Miss Henner’s fourth grade class, he was in fifth grade and he was in a “home room” with the fattest woman he had ever seen, Mrs. Verdugo. He had to remember his own class schedule and find different rooms where the classes were.
Once he had to ask an older boy where a classroom was and the older boy was nice, and touched Allan’s arm and pointed to the stairs down the corridor, and said, “Don’t worry, it will get better.” Other kids were not nice and, if you asked them something, they would stop in front of you, lean into your face and meow like a cat. He didn’t understand it but he saw them doing it to other new kids like him. It must have been a joke left over from the previous year. Allan thought it wasn’t funny. He would ask Sherri about it when he saw her.
But he didn’t see her. The sixth grade kids were on the floor above. He hoped he would see her at lunch time but he didn’t, at least not the first day.
At the end of the first day, he had to take a bus home from school for the first time. First he went to the wrong entrance. He had to run back to the east entrance and was afraid he would miss the bus. He ran to the curb, his feet kicking into something hard. It was a pile of books, and they had scattered into the road.
Allan saw an older kid looking at him, his face astonished and enraged. The kid wore a jean jacket and must have been in 7th or 8th grade. Allan might have been as big as Jeff Morton, but not as big as this kid. His eyes bugged out like a crazy lizard’s, and his teeth showed as if in a smile, but it wasn’t a nice smile, it was an “I’m going to hurt you and enjoy it” smile.
“Pick up the books, you faggot, or I’m going to kill you.”
Allan stared for a moment, then bent to pick up the books. He began to put them back on the curb hastily in a pile.
You should say something, Sherri had said.
“Sorry, I didn’t see them. I didn’t mean to...”
“Not like that, you asshole.” The kid pushed Allan aside so that Allan almost fell over. The kid gathered up his books, then turned and looked at Allan.
“I have to go. My aunt’s waiting. I’m going to kill you tomorrow after school.”
The kid ran across the road and got into a gray Datsun, driven by a severe-looking woman with her hair in a bun who glared at Allan as if she knew he was an enemy.
In homeroom the next morning, Allan found out the kid’s name. A girl with a pinched face and big ears leaned forward from where she sat behind Allan.
“Everyone says Mark Kleinsmart is going to kill you after school. I wouldn’t be you for a million dollars!”
There was an assembly that morning. All four grades, 5 through 8, were each assigned to its own bleacher, facing toward the middle where Principal Blaine spoke. He was short and wore a suit with a vest and had red hair and a red face.
Allan was scanning the 6th-grade bleacher. But there were too many faces to find Sherri. Principal Blaine told grades 6 to 8 to give the fifth graders a “Ridge View Middle School welcome.” All the kids in those grades drummed their feet on the wooden bleachers, making a sound like thunder shaking the entire school.
It was in the hallway later that morning that he saw her as he was walking toward Art class. She was in a pack with three other girls. She looked six inches taller than he’d remembered. Her hair was shorter, and she was wearing a neat red and black plaid sweater that made her look grownup.
He could feel his heart beating. He opened his eyes wide and turned his face toward her.
She seemed not to see him at all until she came almost face to face with him. She turned to him directly for only a second, long enough to say, “No!” loudly and sharply right at him. Her friends looked shocked and amused at once and covered their mouths. Then they were gone.
He pivoted, staring at her in disbelief as they hurried away into the crowd. There was no mistake. She had seen him and spoken right to him and said what she wanted to say. He had been wrong all those months; Sherri would never be his friend again.
He thought about the dead people who visited him, and how they seemed to have no pain or worries, and he wondered, for the first time, if it would be better if he joined them. What would it be like to be dead?
At 3:15, he took his coat and books from his locker and walked along the corridor that led to where he would catch his bus. A figure lurking in a doorway of an empty classroom grabbed him, pulled him into the room, slamming the door shut.
Mark Kleinsmart was there with two friends, one of whom had been the guy who had grabbed Allan. The three backed Allan up toward the chalkboard.
“We gonna mess you up good,” said Mark, his lizard eyes bugging.
Something shifted in that moment. Allan thought it might be better to hurt someone else than be hurt or killed, even by himself. He stopped backing, felt a cry of rage escaping from him, then surged forward. He pushed Mark with all his strength. Mark fell against a desk, which fell sideways. Mark landed half on the floor, half on the desk.
The other two looked at Allan in disbelief. Mark was on his feet in a second, more riled than ever, his breath pumping, and he seemed ready to charge.
“Come on,” Allan said. “I don’t care. I don’t care if I die. I don’t care if I die or you die or anyone dies.”
Allan was shocked, but a little thrilled, that these words had come from his own mouth, surprised at the sense of power they gave him.
Mark, still roiling himself as if to charge, suddenly stopped. The other two waited.
Mark said: “He’s crazy.”
“Come on, Mark, you can take him.”
“Look at his eyes.”
Allan started to move toward them.
“Hell with you!” said Mark, backing away. “Leave the freak!”
Mark’s friends muttered in agreement. They slammed through the door, grunting and cursing to show their bravado. But really, they were running away.
The hurt was like pieces of glass floating under his skin. Every time he moved or had a thought, it hurt. The sound of her saying: “No!” was like a hurricane in his head.
It helped to sit in the dark in the basement. He wasn’t in the mood for any visitors, and none came. A sliver of yellow light appeared at the top of the stairs. He heard thumping steps.
From her halfway point on the stairs, Melanie peered at him. “You shouldn’t care,” she said.
Don’t talk about her, he thought.
“If she doesn’t want to be your friend... then she’s not a good friend.”
He cleared his throat. “What do you know about it?”
“Tina Hopkins told me. Her big brother saw you in the hall.”
He wanted to shout at her. But he heard a quiver in her voice and noticed her eyes glistening in the near darkness.
“Just leave me alone, Melanie.”
“I’m trying to...”
“Leave me alone!”
A pause. Her eyes reaching out to his in the darkness.
She delivered the word as if dropping a brick. She took cartoon-like, galumphing strides as she headed back up the stairs, then whirled back toward him.
“You could play with me, you know. Did you ever think of that?”
She didn’t wait for a reply.
His father’s game involving reading names from the obituaries and pretending they were “neighbors” ended on the day that Sherri’s obituary appeared. The four of them sat stunned at the breakfast table. Allan was tight-lipped, his face stony. Melanie was weeping.
Allan’s mom looked the worst of the four of them. Heavy rings under bloodshot eyes. She didn’t answer for what seemed like a full minute.
Allan had felt dull shock when she told him about the call from Sherri’s mom. He couldn’t believe it at first.
“Fran said she wanted to go swimming. They... they said they weren’t going to open the pond for swimming, but Sherri... she went anyway. She must have...” She turned and looked at Allan.
“Poor kid,” said Allan’s dad. “I know you had a falling out with her, son, but she was a friend, wasn’t she?”
Allan nodded. His voice sounded hollow, like a lie. “She was a good friend.”
“So we’ll all think good thoughts for her,” said his dad. “Should we go to the—”
“No,” cut in Allan’s mom, with bitter finality. Breakfast passed without another word.
Not long after, Sherri appeared in the basement. Allan was overjoyed at first. She looked as she did when he had known her two years before, when they would play at her house with Constantine. There was no echo of the Sherri who had banished him from her life.
She would play whatever games Allan wanted. She never argued or bossed him around. She never talked about anything they hadn’t already talked about before. He asked her if she could bring Constantine some time, not sure if that was possible. She smiled, shook her head as if he’d said something silly, and went back to her game.
She didn’t complain if Reece Wyatt was sitting in her favorite chair, or if she lost at Yahtzee or Uno. And as time went by, Allan realized he missed the Sherri he knew, who would sometimes argue with him, tell him what to do, surprise him, get mad, who didn’t like losing at games. It was true that having her there was better than having nothing. But he knew something was missing.
A woman was speaking, and it seemed to be coming from an altogether different place. “Just smile, and I’ll know you want to be free.”
The sound startled Allan out of his memories. He looked up. The Yellow Man was still sitting there, looking expectantly at him. All those memories. The good times playing with Sherri. Then Constantine, and Sherri saying they wouldn’t be friends anymore. The new house by the cemetery, and then the dead people coming to visit, one by one. Somehow, it was the Yellow Man making him think of all these things.
“I hate you,” Allan said.
The Yellow Man nodded, as if this has been expected. “Did you hear the women’s voice? You looked as if you heard something.”
He had heard it, but who was it? Not his mother, or any of the visitors to the basement. It was not a voice he had heard before in his whole life. Yet it was familiar.
“It was Melanie,” said the Yellow Man.
“Right,” said Allan, with disgust. “Melanie’s only 9 years old.”
“How long have you been here, Allan? How old are you, really?”
Allan thought about that. He was in the basement now. The conversation with Melanie on the stairs had taken place in the basement, too. But he had no idea how much time had gone between the two things.
“Well... how old am I?” Allan asked, a little afraid to hear the answer.
“I’ll tell you. But you must do something first.”
Allan narrowed his eyes. Would it be something nasty?
“All you have to do is lift up that circle in the middle of the floor. Do you see it? And then go down there, under the floor, and get something. You’ll know it when you see it.”
Indeed, there was a circle in the concrete of the floor, about the size and shape of a manhole, and it seemed to be moving slightly.
That wasn’t right.
“No,” said Allan.
His heart was racing. Something about the circle made him uneasy. All his instincts told him to stay clear of it. When he tried to understand why, it just made the fear worse.
“You have to,” said the Yellow Man. “Or things will never get better.”
Allan knew things weren’t right. Being in the basement all this time. Talking to the Yellow Man. Even talking to Sherri the way she was. He didn’t understand what it all meant but he knew things had to change.
“All right,” he said.
Allan went to the circle, knelt down, lifted it. It looked heavy but wasn’t. He put it aside.
To his shock, there was water underneath, green, gritty with black specks, like dirty sea water. Amazed and a little afraid, he looked up at the Yellow Man, because there was no one else to look to.
Allan was tired of not knowing. So he lowered himself down into the hole. The water felt warm, dreamy, inviting, even though it didn’t look totally clean. He took a breath and dunked down below the floor.
Below was a cavern. Algae clung to glistening black rocks. Waves of golden light drifted inside the space, and then he saw why.
There were some spaces in the wall that were like shelves. Resting along one of those niches, side by side, were three golden boxes.
Like the picture on the wall. The boxes were golden, glimmering, cube-shaped.
And then Allan understood. Three memories. Locked away.
He swam to them. As he got closer, he saw that there were golden cords wrapped around each box, attached to a padlock. He lifted the box on the left. He swam up to the hole, struggling with the weight, then passed the box up onto the floor. Sticking his head through, he was about to climb up.
“You’ll need the keys, and the other two boxes” said the Yellow Man.
“All three?” said Allan unhappily.
Copyright © 2016 by Philip Ivory