I don’t remember going outside but Fred and I were sitting outside at one of the three uncomfortable tables in the courtyard area between the building’s, uh, wings? It’s not a break room because it’s not a room. And it’s not a patio because it’s just outside. What is it? An employee lunch area? Technically it’s a smoking area but none ever uses it for that. Who smokes these days?
A yogurt container sat on the table between us rapidly perspiring like an obese Congressman. I guess Fred put it there for me. To make me feel better? I don’t know why. I never eat yogurt. Chobani zero sugar, milk and cookies fungus Jell-O? Sounds revolting. Seeing Monster-Fred in the bright sun was surreal. I could almost convince myself that he was wearing a Halloween mask if not for the random fluids leaking out of his . . . face holes?
He licked his lips, which was revolting because his tongue looked like a pink piece of fleshy beef jerky and his lips were like dried up earthworms.
“So, uh, do you have the urge to kill me?”
“What” I said for like the 90th time in the last five minutes.
“If you can see me for what I really am that means you’re a monster hunter right? Do you have an overwhelming desire to hack my head off and stab me through the heart with a magic sword? Anything like that?”
I searched myself for murderous impulses “Um . . . no. I want to kill Duke, but that’s normal. I felt like that before I knew he was a vampire.”
We sat in silence for a moment, clearly neither of us knew what to say. Fred dropped his eyes, picking at the edge of the table listlessly.
“So . . . uh . . . are we still friends?”
I couldn’t fathom that’s what he was concerned about “What is this place?”
He glanced back towards the building “I mean . . . it’s a business that sells and installs industrial refrigerator thermostats . . . the other stuff . . . it’s like a coincidence?” I gave him a WTF look and he cleared his throat, I swear he was halfway to pulling on his collar like an old timey sitcom actor “I mean . . . not . . . okay, it’s like immigration right? Think about Chinatown, how did that happen? Some Chinese people moved to a place and then other Chinese people moved there too when they came to this country because they felt more comfortable around people with the same culture right?”
I shook my head “I don’t think so, I think they all lived in the same place because legally they had to. I thought it was like a ghetto. Because of racist laws.”
His eyes widened “Oh shit, really? Well, bad example . . . uh . . . what I’m saying is that Duke and his family, uh, not his real family . . . but his vampire clan or whatever, they were here and I think just by chance someone else, like us you know what I mean, came to work here . . . and . . . uh, it’s like mutually beneficial right? Like it’s just easier . . . for . . . us all to . . . uh . . . you know, together . . . it’s like a bridge club for old ladies. You know what I mean?”
I thought for a moment “That was the lamest explanation ever but yes, I think I do know what you mean. I’d say it’s more like a secret gay bar any time before 2010. Duke is a vampire, Diane is a zombie, you’re . . . what are you? When you say ‘us’ what are you talking about?”
He leaned back awkwardly in his rigid metal chair-like thing “You know how in old medieval books they’ll talk about normal stuff, like we traded fifty bales of straw for a cow, and a stone bridge was built, and we had ninety church services yesterday, and then it will say something like and five shepherds were killed by a beast with the head of a lion and the body of an egret that blew acidic chunks out it’s butthole? When people read that that laugh, and they assume those old monks that wrote it were morons who blamed people dying on lion-butthole monsters because they didn’t understand germ theory. But they weren’t lying. All that stuff was real. Well, maybe not all of it, I don’t know, I’m sure some stuff was still made up, but there were animals and . . . uh, people, that were . . . you know, dangerous. Like dragons. But those stories were all about people killing them right, so all of the ones that couldn’t hide from humans went extinct. There is no ‘us’ exactly, we’re lots of different kinds of people, but we’re what’s left.”
He rippled his shoulders in an uncomfortable way “Sure, I mean I don’t like that word, but whatever makes you comfortable. We’re just different kinds of people, that can appear to look like you.” He cocked his head “ And, some of the other ones are still out there too, Loch Ness and ones like that.”
I pursed my lips “How can that be? If there were dragons and monsters that went extinct there would be bones, some kind of fossils right?”
He smiled slightly “I know you’re familiar with social media Ela. People don’t believe real things that are happening now let alone hundreds of years ago. You’re underestimating people’s capacity to choose ignorance. Archeologists find weird shit all the time, most of them just assume its different bones that got mixed together, or a mutant or something. They don’t think ‘dragon’. Or if they do they’re smart enough to keep their mouth shut about it. Or if they aren’t they become a laughing stock and instead of an archeologists they end up ranting on Youtube about aliens and crisis actors and straw men. There’s all kind of evidence, as long as we don’t all suddenly show up on TikTok dancing to the Monster Mash no one is going to believe it.”
“So what are you, the bogeyman?”
He winced slightly “Ouch.” He thought for a moment and then took in a breath and plunged ahead “So, my case is a little different. I’m . . . not uh, a natural being like most others. You know about creeypasta and reddit stuff right, so somehow if enough people believe in like a myth or whatever it can become real. Like Slenderman, that didn’t used to be a real thing, but now it is. I don’t know how it works, it’s like mass hysteria combined with psychic resonance or something. Aliens aren’t real, or I mean aliens coming to earth, there might be aliens out there for real too, but when a bunch of people see ships and get rods up the butt it’s because of that phenomena, it is real for a little bit because people believe and kinda infect one other, but then it collapses and they go away which is why no one can ever find like a crashed ship or a dead alien to autopsy. But like Slenderman is more persistent so slenderpeople became a thing.”
“So there was no bogeyman but everyone thought there was a boogyman so you came into being? Are there other bogeypeople?”
He sighed “Okay, so this is where things get weird” I raised my eyebrows at him “weird-er I mean. The government found out about . . . us, in the fifties right, and they were trying to figure out how to use us as operatives against the Russians. And when they knew about the thing where you can create a new . . . uh, species, they got some people that the CIA messed up with LSD or whatever and they made me. They created me by thinking about it, uh, like the Secret? I’m not the bogeyman, I’m a dream infiltrator.”
I looked at him closely again, and then I put my head in my hand for a moment “Fred? No. Wait a minute, are you telling me that I’m friends with Freddie KRUGER?”
He sighed again “No, not really, but also . . . yeah. I’m not a pedophile though! Those movies were a real hatchet job on me. If I could sue Robert Englund and Wes Craven I would take them for every dollar they have.”
I jerked my head up “Pedophile, what are you talking about?!”
He grabbed the table in alarm “No, I’m not a pedophile I’m saying. Didn’t you ever see those Freddie Kruger movies? That guy in those movies was a child molester and all the parents got together and threw him in an incinerator and burned him to death. That’s not me, that’s a movie they made after people started dreaming about me. I was never a guy. I guess that means the movie Freddie is a ghost, I never thought about that before. Huh.”
“The government made you to invade people’s dreams? Why?”
“Did you ever see that movie Dreamscape?”
I scowled at him a little “No, why does everyone keep asking me if I’ve seen movies or TV shows?!”
“Okay, well . . . I mean, it was the government in the 80’s . . . what do you think they wanted me to do in people’s dreams?
“Find Russian spies?”
He winced “I mean yeah, find them . . . and then . . . kill them.”