By Robert Pettus
“TWEEEELOPS! TWEEEEELOPS!” came a guttural, exclamatory burp from Eugene’s bedroom. I crept over to the door, knowing what lay inside though also aware of his annoyance at being disturbed.
I grabbed the skeleton key from my pocket and inserted it into the keyhole, the antique metal fixture jiggling around in the cracked painted door, chipping flaky bits of white to the carpet below.
I pushed open the door; inside was dark.
“TWEEEELOPS!” again came the vibrational, rumbling bass call.
“Eugene,” I said. The calls continued. “Eugene!” I shrieked, anxious sweat painting my face.
Jerking upright with bizarre quickness, Eugene stared into my tired eyes.
“KWAPSEY KWOZUM?” he asked with elation, his jaw twisting around in bizarre, counterclockwise fashion. He then in his sleep began speaking broken, mispronounced Russian. Then, standing from the bed, he took off his sweat-stained white tee shirt and walked to the window. He opened the window and threw the shirt baseball-style out into the cold night. Large flakes of snow fell peacefully to the winter-hardened dirt of the earth.
Eugene, then getting back into bed, exclaimed with percussive finality from under the covers: “TWAPSOO!”
He closed his eyes, soon snoring loudly. I left the room and tried to get some sleep of my own.
When I descended the stairs the following morning, Eugene was standing over the stove. He was using a cast-iron press to push bacon, which sizzled in a pan of the same material, into crispy perfection. Lifting another pan, a dark red one of nonstick variety that had been around well past its time, he flipped perfectly a trio of eggs, and then set the pan back atop the flame of the gas-range stove.
“Morning,” I said.
“Hey! Morning. How are you doing there, Ed? It’s a nice day outside; colder than shit, but still sunny!”
My skin prickled. I looked to the window, which Eugene had wide open.
“Shouldn’t you close that?” I said, “It’s like 25 degrees outside.”
“Aw, hell—we’ll be fine. I like the fresh air, especially winter air. It’s so crisp—it’s cleansing! Plus, it reminds me of Russia.”
“You done with the bacon and eggs?” I responded dismissively, “I’m starving.”
“Hell yeah, here you go!” Eugene lifted the nonstick pan, sliding a couple over-medium eggs onto a plate, then, using a pair of large, grilling tongs, grabbed a few slices of bacon. “Toast is in the toaster,” he concluded, smiling.
I grabbed a piece of toast, spreading blackberry jam across its brittle surface before sitting at the table.
I finished my breakfast in only a couple of minutes.
“What are you doing today?” I yelled from the dining room. Eugene was still in the kitchen.
“Not much, my brother,” he responded. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’ll probably be holed up in my room for most of the day.”
I sighed. Bright, morning winter sunlight shone through the window right into my eyes. Shielding them with my hand, I reflected on Eugene’s condition. He didn’t realize what was going on, that much was clear. Someone had to let him know—but in a way that he wouldn’t consider offensive. Pushing him further away would only make things worse.
I spent the afternoon throwing darts aimlessly while watching the birds out the living room window. Birds need extra food in the winter—I had been refilling their feeder several times a week. Numerous chickadees flew in that bobbing, floaty way from the feeder to their hiding places, where they shoved seeds into storage crevices. Tufted titmice looked on from atop my old charcoal grill. A blue jay, flying in like a demon, did its best impersonation of a hawk, briefly scaring the other birds away. Most of the birds, that is. The mourning doves, which hopped around, picking up scraps from the grass, were unphased. Doves aren’t afraid of much of anything.
I threw a dart, hitting at trips 20. I was aiming for 18. What could be done about Eugene? I wasn’t sure… His condition had only worsened month by month. In the summer, he was mostly normal, with only a few bad nights. Those bad nights became a weekly occurrence by the fall, and now—in February—they were an everyday happening.
“I have to talk to him,” I thought, “It’s the only way forward.”
I made lunch—a bologna sandwich on white, with mayo, a tomato slice, and black pepper—before ascending the stairs to Eugene’s room.
I knocked three times, not too firmly—I didn’t want to scare Eugene—but enough that he would hear.
“What?” came the angry response from within.
“Can I come in?”
Nothing. No sound; no movement.
The door then opened as if by magic. Eugene looked terrible. His eyes were heavy; he was wearing a dirty white tee-shirt and plaid pajama pants. His hair was disheveled. His breath smelled like flaming shit.
“You been napping?”
I pushed into Eugene’s room. Eugene walked out, to the bathroom.
“TWEEELOPS!” I heard from the bathroom, “MILAYSOOO!”
Eugene walked back into the room. I was sitting on his bed. He sat on a stool next to his writing desk.
“You okay, man?” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been sleepwalking.”
“Have I? I used to do that when I was a kid.”
“Well, you’re doing it now, too.”
“Don’t worry about it—just let me continue whatever I’m doing. I won’t hurt myself.”
“You don’t know that. Plus, it’s been like every day, man. You’ve been babbling a bunch of weird shit—sometimes a made-up language, sometimes bizarre Russian phrases. That’s not only when you’re sleep walking, either—you did it just now, in the bathroom.”
“Yeah, you did.”
Eugene’s face reddened. He blinked several times.
“Sorry,” he responded finally, “My mind has become chaotic this year. I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Do you think you should go talk to someone? A therapist or something?”
“NO!” belted Eugene, rising from his stool and towering above me imposingly.
Eugene’s body seemed to waver and ripple like multi-colored, oily water—as if shifting in and out of reality. He opened his mouth, the former stench of his breath now intensifying and filling the room like a gas stove left alight. His eyes rolled backward, showing only their veiny whites. His teeth were unsheathed, the canines appearing somehow glistening as if sharpened with a file.
“The fuck is wrong with you, dude?”
“Don’t you ever—EVER—recommend I go talk to a therapist! I will never do that.”
“Fine, man, I’m just trying to help fix your sleepwalking and babbling problem.”
“I’ll fix that on my own; it will resolve itself, eventually.”
We didn’t talk about it anymore, after that. I left the room, going back to throwing darts and bird watching.
I woke up in the middle of the night and Eugene was standing over my bed. My room was nearly pitch black—I couldn’t see anything at first. As my awakened eyes better adjusted to the darkness, I saw first Eugene’s hulking shadow followed by the manic expression spread across his face, which sat as if floating, twisting and bobbing in the air like the Cheshire Cat. He was wide-eyed and grinning; his teeth white and pearly, contrasting starkly with the darkness of the room, though they were still blade-like and pointed. Eugene had on his thick, nerdy glasses, though they were a little crooked, giving him—at least in the darkness—the appearance of literally having four eyes. He didn’t seem to notice.
“What the hell are you doing, dude?” I said.
Eugene said nothing. He instead took a heavy step toward my bed. I sat up, gripping the sides of the mattress with suddenly sweaty palms.
Eugene took another step forward. He was still smiling. He reached his arms out, grasping at the air robotically.
“Get the fuck out of here!” I yelled. I grabbed a pillow from against the headboard and swung it at Eugene, striking him in the face. His glasses flew off, cracking on the floor, but he was otherwise unphased. He then fell onto me.
He clutched at my biceps, squeezing seemingly as hard as he could.
“Ahhhhhh!” I yelled, “Fuck, dude! Get the hell off me!”
I struggled to free myself, but I couldn’t manage it. Eugene continued squeezing my arms. I was in pain; I could feel them bruising—I’m not a very muscular guy. Eugene pulled me toward his face. He was still grinning wide.
“HAHAHAHAHAHA!” he began cackling. Spit and thick mucus sprayed across my face. I blinked and shut my eyes, trying to avoid it, but it was no use. He continued laughing for some time before throwing me back against the bed. He stood up and looked me in the eye. Then, in an absurd, abrupt change of mood, he posed, crouching jokingly, and pointed at me with both pointer fingers:
“KWAPSEE KWOSUM!” he shouted with elation—his tone of voice as if saying “I got you, huh!”—before leaving the room.
Before reentering his bedroom, Eugene took off his shirt and threw it in the bathroom trash can.
I saw Eugene at breakfast the following morning.
“Hey,” he said, spinning his spoon around pathetically in his bowl of Apple Jacks. “Sorry for yelling at you the other day. I know you were just looking out for me, it’s just… I can’t go to a therapist, man. The thing is, I’m happy! I know I’m a babbling lunatic; I know I sleepwalk; but I’m happy. I feel more myself lately, like I’m free to be the person I’m meant to be. I’ve even been playing guitar again, dude, and I’m really liking the stuff I’ve been coming up with. You’ll have to check it out!”
Eugene didn’t have any memory of the previous night’s encounter, that much was clear. He seemed happy, though—I didn’t want to disrupt this momentary peace.
“Yeah, man,” I said, “I’d love to.”
I finished my breakfast and stepped out into the cold air to go for a run.
When I got back, I opened the front door and heard Eugene’s guitar. His 100-watt Orange amp was turned up seemingly as loud as it would go. The distortion was on, and Eugene was playing some sort of avant-garde sounding, abysmal solo. He was bending out-of-tune strings as if angry at them. Grating static rang throughout the house.
“Is this the new stuff he was talking about?” I thought to myself.
He continued bending the strings and pressing and wobbling the whammy bar as if an obsessed squirrel fumbling with an acorn. It sounded somehow compositionally comparable to Jimi Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner Woodstock solo, though without the base layer of the national anthem, and lacking the socio-cultural significance. It did sound like a bomb going off, though.
I walked up to Eugene’s room. The door was unlocked. I opened it; the ceiling light was off, though a dim lamp alit the room with a dull glow. Eugene sat in the corner of the room, in nothing but a pair of Nickelodeon boxer shorts and that same dirty white tee shirt, playing his guitar while staring into the corner.
I paced over to the window and ripped open the thick black curtains.
“Fuck!” yelled Eugene, jamming the whammy bar into his guitar as if to musically convey his startled disgust.
“Shut those fucking things right now,” he said monotonously. He then started aggressively palm-muting an E-minor power-chord, removing and then slamming his palm into his guitar like he thought he was in the Misfits.
“You need to snap out of it, man,” I said, “Maybe I can make you an appointment or something. I’m worried about you; you need to go see someone.”
“KWAPSOOO!” yelled Eugene angrily, standing from his stool and turning to me. His teeth looked newly sharped—the enamel had now been completely filed off in some places, exposing brown dentin.
“Get out,” muttered Eugene, “Eugene doesn’t want you here, and I don’t want you here EITHER!”
“What?” I said, “I’m trying to help you, man.”
“Help, help, help, help,” said Eugene in shifting volume, tonality, and mood, “You’ve got to help to hurt, and you’ve got to hurt to help—THAT’S LIFE!”
Eugene raised his guitar like an actual axe, taking a wobbly step toward me. I took a step back.
“Dude,” I said, “We’ve got to do something about this. You’re losing it.”
“Eugene’s losing it, is he?” said Eugene, “Losing it like everyone always knew he would! Well guess what, bucko? I think he’s doing just fine! Everyone thinks he’s doing fine! Everyone here, that is…” Eugene was jamming his pointer and middle fingers into his temple repeatedly. His face then suddenly darkened. He continued, now mumbling:
“Down, in the corner, in the darkness—it’s good; down, in the corner, in the darkness, KWAPKOOD!”
He shouted that last, made-up bit, taking another step toward me before losing balance and falling, catching himself on the mattress of his bed. He fell momentarily into the blankets, dropping his guitar and wrapping himself into a blanket burrito.
“When you’ve got to do it, you do it,” He said to himself, his voice muffled from within the blankets, “When you’ve got to do it—that’s GOOD!”
“What?” I responded from the self-perceived safety of the doorway.
“MILAYYYYSOOOO!” yelled Eugene angrily, abruptly throwing off the covers and lifting himself from the bed. He was less dizzy now, his face showing confidence and animosity. He picked his guitar back up.
“Put the guitar down,” I said.
“Pull the guitar up!” said Eugene with crazed elation, holding it by the neck and lifting it high above his head, “We must pull up those in need! It’s not good to put people down! KWAPSEE KWOSUM!”
I backed out of the room to the edge of the stairs. Eugene followed me with spider-like quickness. He began giggling psychotically. I scrambled down the stairs, crashing against the wall at the bottom and turning to look back up.
Eugene was standing at the top. His guitar still lifted by the neck high above his head, he flung it down the stairs like a tomahawk. I didn’t have time to react, it struck me right in the fucking nose; I was knocked unconscious.
When I awoke—my head throbbing—I heard Eugene mumbling again. This time, it wasn’t in his made-up gibberish, though—he was back to mumbling in broken Russian.
“Idi ko menye, SHLOOOKHA! Dai menye khleb! Menye nyzhna boina; menye nyzhna mir—menye nyzhna zhizin; menye nyzhna SVOBOOOOOOODAAAAAA!”
It was as if he was angrily mumbling the few Russian words and phrases he could remember while shouting the last word of each sentence. I pretended to be asleep.
“I know you’re awake, SHLOOKHA!” said Eugene, “I can feel you breathing. You’re breathing so loud it’s shaking the KWASEE KWOZUM floor!”
I opened my eyes and looked around. I was in the basement. It was dark other than the small, rectangular window, which let in some light near the ceiling. I tried to move, but I had been restrained. I was sitting in one of the dining room chairs, which I guess Eugene had brought down from upstairs—an antique wooden chair with a woven seat.
Eugene stepped in front of me. I had nowhere to go. I struggled again, but only succeeded in knocking the chair—and myself—to the cold concrete floor of the basement. I breathed in dust and dirt from the floor, coughing several times. At the edge of the room, climbing along the wall, I noticed a spider cricket. I envied it; it was so free—so much svoboda.
“It’s time,” said Eugene, squatting down to look me in the eye, “Time for your surgery.”
“Yes! We need to free you—you need svoboda. We need to make your mind like mine.”
Eugene reached into the pocket of his Nickelodeon boxers and removed a knife—a sharp paring knife he had taken from the block upstairs.
Without wasting any time, he took the knife to my head, at first cutting off pieces of my hair before eventually slicing the skin.
I screamed and screamed. Eugene giggled childishly, periodically babbling to himself.
Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. Previously, he taught for four years in a combination of rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He was most recently accepted for publication at Allegory Magazine, The Horror Tree, JAKE magazine, The Night Shift podcast, Libretto publications, White Cat Publications, Culture Cult, Savage Planet, Short-Story.me, White-Enso, Tall Tale TV, The Corner Bar, A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Schlock!, Black Petals, Inscape Literary Journal of Morehead State University, Yellow Mama, Apocalypse-Confidential, Mystery Tribune, Blood Moon Rising, and The Green Shoes Sanctuary. He lives in Kentucky with his wife, Mary, and his pet rabbit, Achilles.