He was Selective Service Lottery drafted into the army in 1971. For the following four years he had proudly served his country during the Vietnam conflict. His military service terminating at war’s end with an honorable discharge, rank of staff sergeant, medal of valor and a slight limp.
Six years later found him with a master’s degree in education. After which he applied for and laid claim to a lecture hall all his own at a local college. Here he would mold young minds for the next three decades and handful of years before reluctant, reclusive retirement.
A confirmed bachelor, he’d never had children nor married and had outlived all remaining relatives. His college colleagues were just that and had mostly moved on. The few friends he’d had (mostly war buddies) were gone in one form or another. So now, in the twilight of life, Walter Harrington found himself mostly alone… until fate and a fiend reared their heads.
Bay windows, on the house’s east end, framed the mountains and anticipated sunrise. This is where Walter oft welcomed the day with a cup of coffee and shot of brandy. Today was no exception until suddenly… just as dawn broke… a hideous apparition pressed its face to the glass. Dank rotten flesh writhed about sickly-yellow pupil-less orbs and a scream turned inside out, flanked by brackish hands that squelched on the pane. Walter, who noted but didn’t take notice, continued enjoying the view.
Later he ignored the foul thing at a distance in the garden; then at the kitchen window as he prepared his midday meal. That night it made itself materialize in the bathroom mirror. Walter simply closed the medicine cabinet.
In the early hours of the next morn, Walter sensed a presence and clicked on the bedside lamp. There stood the fiend looking… defeated…curious? With a sigh Walter sat up retrieving his glasses and addressed the thing. “I speculate that you’re of a kind of ghoul that feeds of the fear and fright of others?” Walter queried to the fiend’s shrug. “Well you’ll find no easy meal here… but I must know… is this all you know to do?” Slumping in admitted resignation, the fiend turned to go. “Wait,” Walter implored thinking deeply, “have you ever played backgammon?”
Dawn found the two seated across a backgammon board in the parlor. Then onto checkers, chess and Parcheesi boards as the day drew on. Walter was of course a teacher, the fiend a surprisingly fast learner.
At nightfall Walter ushered the fiend to the door. “I must rest and surely you are famished,” he said with a smile, “we must do this again.” He added as he closed the door, but he was not in the least surprised to find the fiend waiting when he stepped out to get the morning paper. He knew then that the fiend wasn’t going to leave, poured an additional cup of coffee and brought out a deck of cards. The days passed.
The fiend took up residence in the parlor. Later adopting one of Walter’s plaid bathrobes and a bowler hat it found in the attic for its attire. Walter told the fiend it looked dashing and respectable, so the fiend never took them off. Months turned years, with days filled with games, gardening, good spirits and many one-sided conversations.
Late one fall afternoon, as they watched the sunset over the autumn tinted landscape, Walter placed his hand on the fiend’s shoulder, “I never knew I was lonely until you came along.” He said, just before his voice broke into ragged coughing fit. It would be his dying words.
The fiend lowered his only friend’s still body onto the bed. It was now a hollow vessel. Void of the companionship and compassion that the fiend had found was much more filling than fear and fright. There should be words, the fiend thought, but it had no voice, and with a tip of his bowler departed.
So the next time you see a face at the window, reflected in a mirror or peering out of the darkness, before you scream look again. Look for a bowler hat, plaid robe and perhaps a backgammon board tucked under an arm — because a fiend in need is a friend indeed. Tune in next week as Hell-o-ween continues.
I welcome almost all questions, comments via FOCUS, or E-mail me at [email protected]. Hope to hear from ya, until then try and stay focused! See ya.