Halfway through a magnum of Wild Vines you realize you’ve never seen the CHUD. Sun’s about to go down, maybe thirty people crammed on the deck. First nice day of spring. Everyone in sandals and short sleeves, bumping KC & the Sunshine Band from a fuzzed out speaker while your hand throttles the neck of this obscene strawberry zinfandel. You and Kate bought a bottle each. Her boyfriend’s involved now, his friends. They’re talking about dicks.
“I kinda wanna apologize for it,” one of em says. He’s got a backwards hat. “When I take it out.”
Another hacks a dart. “Shit’s wonky. Bent. Like a Seuss tree.”
Derrick and Kate rent the top of the house. The CHUD rules the basement. He’s never appeared. Not in all the times you’ve been hammered here, which is a lot. Twice a week, at least. Not when everyone caught the same nasty cold after cork-soaked shots from an ancient bottle of naval rum. Not when they tricked you into doing hot knives. Not when you drank a CamelBak full of rye. Not when Mikey passed out pants down, the Duck Hunt tattoo on his ass. Not on Hallowe’en, when Derrick and his friends dressed like Lady Gagas. Meat Dress Gaga kicked a hole in the bathroom door and Bad Romance Gaga puked in it – not the bathroom, but the hole itself – but not once did the CHUD surface.
Kate is deeper into the Wild Vines than you are. Stares with swimming blue eyes at your elbow.
“I don’t think he’s down there,” you say.
“Oh he’s down there.” She frowns at the big vein in the crook of your arm. “Can I see it?”
She studies lab work at the college. You’re in grad school. You’re bank tellers and very bad at math. Every day you lose hundreds of dollars. You mangle bankbooks. You refund service charges and never meet your sales targets. On Wednesdays you drink yourselves blind and talk shit about the regulars. This week Kate learned how to draw blood so she’s been weird about veins.
You hit the magnum like a Big Gulp and stretch your arm to her. “He’s never called the cops on us.”
“CHUDs don’t narc.” She rubs your vein, gives it a light smack.
Derrick leans over. “You know what else has a good vein.”
She thumps his shoulder. “Gross.”
“We should draw him out,” you whisper. “We have to summon him.”
“That’s the thing,” says Cigarette Guy, jabbing his dart fingers your way. “Once you’ve summoned it, it comes.”
“Jack-in-the-box,” says Backwards Hat.
“Chest burster,” counters Cigarette Guy.
“Gnarly,” whistles Backwards Hat. “Fuckin’ teeth and shit.”
“If you’ve seen Alien,” says Derrick, “you’ve seen a dick.”
Drinking yourself blind on a Wednesday makes you even worse at math. One time you lost a whole stack of hundreds. Five grand, poof. Your manager laughed about it til she didn’t. She gave you the job as a favour to your parents. Thought you were a nice kid; responsible, top of your class. Really you are a cork-soaking asshole. Term papers started midnight before they’re due. Drunk driving. Sucking face with idiots. Sleeping off hangovers in the little room behind the ATMs.
“Does the CHUD have a job?” you ask Kate.
She shrugs, her nail lightly tracing the ropey veins in your hands.
“Maybe he likes to party,” you say. “Maybe he wishes we’d invite him.”
“Maybe,” she says, smacking your wrist. “Ooohhh,” she whispers as the veins rise. “Juicy.”
There’s a door on the side of the house, next to a basement window. Your magnum is empty and the sun’s gone. No lights appear in the basement. Everyone is stomping—I’M YOUR BOOGIE MAN—bumping—THAT’S WHAT I AM—grinding. KC’s basslines are exquisite, insufferable. The deck bucks under their humping weight. You are blind drunk and considering drastic measures.
“Have you read The Lorax?” Cigarette Guy asks.
“The Lorax.” He makes rounded gestures, dart hanging from his lip. “You know. With the trees.”
You squint at him.
“Sometimes the bush gets aggressive,” Cigarette Guy says.
“What was that line?” you say, straining to remember. “Unless someone like you cares—”
“But when you get a dick pick, right, how aggressive would you say, on a scale of one to Seuss—”
The CHUD is probably a whole person. Living, breathing CHUD with feelings and a job. You made him a bogeyman, and not KC’s kind. You are a cork-soaking asshole for a lot of reasons but you never once considered that you might be a mean cork-soaking asshole. But today is special. Today you can mend your ways. You had a wad of twenties jammed in the crack between your timed safe and the counter. You reached for them — and just as your manager was about to write off the difference, to write you off with it – you pulled that lost five grand. Today, no one and nothing slips through the cracks.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,” you slur at Cigarette Guy, “nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
He exhales, looking pained.
You wrench your arm from Kate’s grip and stand, breathing funny. There’s a shed ten feet from the deck railing. Knocking doors, asking politely; that time’s passed. Only a grand gesture will do.
“I need you to hold onto my pants,” you say.
He stands unsteadily. You pick up a cracked plastic deck chair and raise it over your head. It’s cold now and you shake with wine sweats. You climb his chair, lean past the dancers, lodge one foot on the wobbly railing. Cigarette Guy grabs your waist. You bring the deck chair down so hard on the shed roof that it shatters, so hard you pitch forward with the effort. Cigarette Guy yanks you back. For a breathless second the dancers stop bucking. Then they roar.
Your head whips toward the basement window. After a moment, a light comes on. The CHUD’s shadow appears, two fingers parting the plastic blinds. Your breath makes little clouds in the cold and you want to call out but you don’t because you don’t know what to call him. He’s only ever been the CHUD to you.
Instead you give a little wave. The blind snaps shut, and the light with it.
“Have you seen Alien?” asks Cigarette Guy.
Kirsti MacKenzie has published in Funicular, Prairie Fire, and The Puritan. She studied creative writing at Humber College and Memorial University but learned the most from bathroom graffiti in dive bars. She lives in Ottawa and can be found perpetually on her bullshit @KeersteeMack.
image: MM Kaufman