The Ability of Gary Cudgel Revision 5:
- Added hints of Evamae’s fishing line trick (ten minutes)
- Trimmed down to 2484 words (2 hours)
The Truth about Spirit Lifter
From the desk of Lance Corporal Philip Silver, USMC, Retired
You have no reason to trust me, but finally the relevant parties have passed, and I am ready to reveal the true identity of Spirit Lifter. My greatest crime in this story was to think it was all about me, so I will introduce myself only as an Afghanistan war veteran with a medical discharge and tremors. At the time, I worked with the government, and I lived in a section-8 housing complex terrorized by a gang from another neighborhood.
The Cudgel family lived in a one story house with brick siding, white shutters and a shallow-pitched roof. An old, rusted pickup truck sat in the overgrown yard, claimed by nature. I pressed the door bell and nothing happened, so I knocked. The door swung in, and a huge black-and-white pit bull lunged at me.
Inches from my chest, the dog made an impossible maneuver. It stopped in mid-air with a yelp and did a half-flip, landing on its back. It regained its feet and hopped on its front legs, whining and struggling against nothing. “Barkley, bad dog!” chided an old woman from the top landing. She made her way down the stairs.
“Come in, come in, Lance Corporal!” The woman beckoned as she descended the steps. Her hair was white tinged with flamboyant purple. The wrinkles on her face were all from smiling.
“You know me?” I asked, surprised.
“Of course we know you, Lance Corporal Silver,” she chided, “We do read the emails they send us. My name is Evamae Cudgel. Come in! Come in! You’re letting the heat in.”
I reddened. I followed Evamae into the living room, where a television was playing “Spiderman.” I heard a rattling noise of glassware. It was a tink tink tink coming from another room. “Gary,” Evamae uttered a sharp rebuke to the man sitting in an easy chair so motionless I had not even noticed him at first, “stop fidgeting.” Gary Cudgel, balding and obese in an enormous handmade sweater, turned his broad face from the TV and gave his mother an absent look. In another few moments, the sound stopped.
“Gary,” Evamae ordered, jabbing a finger in my direction, “greet Lance Corporal Silver.”
“Hullo, Lance Corp’ral Silver,” Gary said in a slow, guileless voice, turning to look at me. Then he gave his head three slow nods and turned back to his set position in the easy chair.
“Give him some time, Lance Corporal Silver. He’s a very talented boy. Please take a seat behind the coffee table.”
I had nothing to say, so I just nodded and sat in a cheap plastic folding chair behind a squat table with a plastic white tablecloth. I pried open my heavy government-issued laptop. “Mrs. Cudgel, you are widowed?”
“Yes, Lance Corporal Silver,” said Evamae, “do call me Evamae.”
“Certainly. Please call me Philip, then.”
Evamae smiled, “Philip, I reckon you’re gonna ask me if this one still can’t take care of himself?”
Gary seemed lost in his show.
“He’s very special,” Evamae assured me, “but he stresses easy. He’s wonderful as long as I protect him from too much excitement. Why don’t I put some tea on?”
I nodded and Evamae stood to go to the kitchen. “Ma,” said Gary, “can I go out for a smoke?”
“Go on, dear. Only one cigarette. Our friend Philip here is going to have some questions for you soon. Take the dog with you.”
“Yeah, Ma,” Gary agreed. With concerted effort, he rose from his seat deep in the easy chair. As Gary lumbered past, Barkley’s smile vanished. His collar slid to just behind his head and pulled, and he moved his weight back onto his haunches so all of his legs were pointing toward the man. He had moved his weight so far back it looked as if he should fall backward, but his collar kept him stable. I watched him whine and hobble behind Gary until they were both outside.
“Use your hands, Gary, if yer going out front where folks’ll see you.” Evamae shouted, “Come ask me questions in the kitchen, Philip. I suppose you’re wondering if I have a job? Taking care of this one is full time.” She nodded towards the porch.
I checked off the box on my form. The conversation continued in this way. Evamae rattled off a memorized list of questions and offered her colorful answer to each. She handed me a mug of sweet tea, grabbed her cane and left the room to get some official documents. I lifted the tea to my lips, but it was much too hot. My hand trembled as I tried to put it down again, and I grit my teeth as the tea sloshed out onto my wrist.
Stinging with defeat, I took the tea in my steadier left hand and brought it up to blow on it. When I saw out of the corner of my eye a massive figure standing in the doorway, I startled. The mug left me entirely, but it’s path downward was not a sensible one. Instead of tipping and spilling its contents, it fell straight down and settled on my leg. I stared at it for a moment before snatching it out of its preternatural balancing act and placing it back on the table. Barkley stood at my side, licking my hand. I looked back at Gary, who stank of tobacco and had a smile on his broad face for the first time.
Then we heard the shriek. “Gary!” Evamae’s shout was not of chastisement but of terror. Barkley’s claws scrabbled on the kitchen tile and he dashed to his master. I leapt from my seat to rush to the stairs, but Gary just stood where he was, his look transformed into one of intense concentration.
By the time I made it to the stairs, Evamae was at the bottom face down, her bony arms and legs splayed to all sides. Her purple-white hair covered anything I could see of her face. Her cane lay a few steps down from the landing. This was my doing. I sent her up those stairs. Why didn’t I think to help her, or even go up and get the information myself? I just sat like an idiot in the kitchen in a pathetic fight with a mug of hot tea. Good lord, I was no help to anyone at all.
“Evamae?” I ventured.
Evamae spoke at full volume. “Could you help me up, Philip? I’m sure I’m a very amusing sight right now, but it really is rude to stare.”
“Oh,” I took a knee and grabbed her hand, helping her get her legs under her and stand up again. Barkley hopped onto all fours again and yapped, dancing all around. “Are you hurt?”
“Do I look hurt?” Evamae stood straight and put one arm up behind her head, modeling for me. It boggled my mind – there was not a scratch on her. I realized I had not heard any thumping, either, like she had soared gracefully from the top of the steps to the ground floor.
She pressed past me to the kitchen. I hurried after and found her with her arms around her gigantic son, two heads taller than she. “You smell terrible, boy,” she muttered, “I want you to go take a bath as soon as you get a moment.”
“Yes, Ma.” Gary Cudgel mumbled, “Right away.”
When Gary was out of earshot, I asked Evamae, “If I may ask, what’s happening here?”
“Why, you’re welcome to ask, but I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I stammered and tried to describe what I had seen. Evamae put her hand on mine. She wore a bracelet made of fishing wire. A dulled hook held the ugly ornamentation together. She locked eyes with mine. “I told you he’s a talented boy. Can we leave it at that, dear?”
“You don’t need to be making do on meager social security.”
Evamae maintained her smile, “Did we have more questions to get through?”
I sighed and moved on, but when Gary came back into the room, I spoke directly to him. His face lit up, and the smile evaporated from Evamae’s.
Evamae and Gary pulled into my apartment complex. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw one of the miscreant gang members leaning against a brick wall, his hands in the pockets of his baggy jeans. Evamae stared daggers at me through the window of her hatchback. The man filling the entire passenger seat looked like a boy on Christmas. “Gary,” I said, “that’s a bad guy. Can you find his gun?”
Gary nodded and concentrated. I watched the gangster jump. He turned and looked all around him. I saw the gun in the back of his pants as he put his hand to it, and I grinned. “Put it on the roof.”
I watched the gun rise from the back of his pants. He looked up and grasped for it, but it was already out of his reach. He cursed as he watched it make a hard angle towards the flat roof and fall down.
The man put his hands to his head and uttered another string of invectives, darting his gaze around not knowing who to address. He fought with someone on his cell phone, then stalked off and drove away.
Soon, an older, taller man with a gold chain arrived and went to the spot. This one saw me, “Hey, you, what’re you lookin’ at?” I shook my head and raised my hands. I slipped into the hatchback to watch through the window.
With a signal from me, he, too, was grasping for his gun as it rose to the roof. With more foul language, he also fled.
Gary looked back at me, and I gave him a thumbs-up. He grinned from ear to ear, “I’m a spiderman, Ma.”
“That’s right, dear” Evamae patted him on the shoulder, “I think it’s time to be going now. Say goodbye to Mr. Silver. You won’t be seeing him again.”
The criminals seemed thoroughly spooked and did not return. I smiled when folks mentioned how nice it was to have the neighborhood safe again. A rumor floated around the complex of a crime-fighting ghost. When the topic came up, glances went in my direction.
I didn’t understand it until I saw the story on my local news, “Spirit-Lifter: Mysterious poltergeist cleans up neighborhood.” In a video of the event, there I was to the side, grinning and pumping my fist like a giddy sidekick. My cell phone started ringing.
I tried to ignore it, but my phone just kept ringing. One message was from The Late Night Show with Cynthia West. Their offer was outrageous.
Evamae dropped all pretense of southern charm. “Why are you here again? I’m so close to getting Gary calmed down from all that nonsense with the guns.”
I mentioned the show’s offer and her eyes widened. “Can we get it ahead?”
I was taken aback, “I don’t think they’ll like that. Why would you need it ahead?”
Evamae grit her teeth and scratched her head with her left hand and that ugly fishook bracelet. “See if we can get it ahead. I’m not going to let anything happen to Gary.”
I didn’t like being shut out of whatever plan Evamae was cooking up, but I knew better than to argue. Somehow I managed to get us a quarter ahead, to Evamae’s great pleasure. Used prudently, even just a quarter of that money could support three people for the rest of their lives.
In New York City, it was 5:45. The show filmed at 6:00. An aide rushed into the prep room. She had a translucent pink clipboard that matched her phosphorescent hair. “Where’s Spirit Lifter?” she demanded. I had no idea. I could not control my shaking. At 5:55, Evamae arrived, “Thank God!” I exclaimed, but then I looked at her. She was wearing all black, including an old baseball hat. Underneath, she had bleached the purple out of her hair, leaving it a ghostly white. I leaned close to hiss in her ear, “Where is Gary?”
Our bubblegum aide burst in, “Finally, you’re here. You’re Spirit Lifter, right? Please tell me you’re Spirit Lifter.”
“Yes,” Evamae smiled broadly, “That’s me. The Spirit Lifter herself.”
Cynthia was as stunning in person as on the screen. With short-cropped hair and thick-rimmed glasses over her elegantly aging face, she embodied beauty and wisdom. When she clasped my hand and looked in my eyes, I knew she was the only person on that stage who was genuine. On the guest couch, I shoved my hands into my lap to force them not to shake. Evamae smiled and joked with the audience, drawing laughter and cheers and deftly turning aside all questions of her identity.
When Cynthia finally asked “Spirit Lifter” to show what she could do, Evamae beamed and reached for her fish hook bracelet. She undid it rolling the fishing line out to its full length. She tossed the hook over the scaffolding, and with deft movements of her fingers, she maneuvered it to catch the hat and lift it high up into the air. She even jiggled the hook and let the hat fall back onto her head. She grinned and put her hand behind her head, posing for the silent audience. Cynthia’s face smiled, but it had gone rigid. Everyone waited for Evamae to say “Just kidding!” and wheel out her real superpowers.
In a terse email, the show informed me that I would not be receiving the rest of the money promised. Evamae had not said so much as her first name, so all the angry fan-mail and personal harassment went straight to me. She was clear – she didn’t care whether the furor died down, as long as I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut about her and Gary. She said he had been thrilled to see his mother on TV and didn’t understand or particularly care that he was not going to be a celebrity. They would live the rest of their days in obscure comfort, with more than enough funds to take care of him after she passed. She thanked me for everything I’d done for her family and encouraged me never to speak of or go anywhere near them again.
The rest is history. Writing from my little cottage in the woods, I am relieved to finally tell the truth. I am still inclined to agree with Spirit Lifters fans. I, too, regret that Spirit Lifter passed away without sharing his talents with the world, but ultimately, that decision was not ours to make. I hope that his mother’s decision to keep his life small had been the best to make it happy.