I thought I’d give you a little taste of something from my collection, Pretzel Logic: Tales of Love and Horror. Below is one of my stories, Prader-Willie. The story was inspired by a couple of events in my life. First… something that might not have happened. I believe it did, but the other person involved doesn’t remember. It has to do with a box turtle and his untimely death. The second… while married to wife #2 who worked with mentally challenged adults I was introduced to a young woman with prader-willie syndrome. In layman terms, they will attempt to consume anything. Most don’t make it to their adult years. The two just went together. For those who read enjoy.
Superior intelligence does no disjoin us from what we are – a lesser species.
- Herman Goring, Berlin, 1941
Students of Jean Petre DeMonte suggest a divergence between homo sapiens and other life forms, but in his writings not once is superiority granted to mankind. “Of all creatures, humans are truly the most savage,” he states in his Precept of Being, “for man is the god of cruelty. His lack of understanding nature’s need for balance will lead to his destruction.”
- Beverly Cooper, Dissertation to the Department of Education, University of Tennessee – Understanding Origins of Thought, 1998
On the morning of Nikki’s birth, Molly Cauflin did not stop believing in God. She stopped believing in a loving god.
“She’s a fuckin’ retard,” Christian said, twisting the cap off his Coke. “Why the hell did you promise your aunt you’d watch her?”
“Brownie points,” Mike Pratt answered while looking out the back window into the yard. “All she does is wobble around and drool. I don’t have to clean her up or anything. Anyway, she’s really kind of entertaining.”
“Gross,” Christian said, “you fuckin’ pervert.”
“Naw, don’t go there,” Mike said. “I mean she’s got this thing. It’s one of those syndromes or something. It’s the reason she wears the helmet.”
“What are you talking about?” Richie looked through the screen as Nikki walked toward the back of the yard to the wooden fence governing freedom.
“It’s called Prayin’ Willie or something. My aunt can tell you,” Mike said. “She’ll eat anything she can put in her mouth. She’s got to wear the head gear even when she sleeps, because she’ll eat her sheets.”
“She’d eat my shorts?” Christian smiled.
“Hell, no one could be that bad off,” Richie, the younger of the Wyandotte brothers said. “You should see his racing stripes. Mom calls him Dale Earnhardt.”
“Yeah, well everyone calls you Noah ‘cause you flood your bed,” Christian said. “So what time’s your aunt getting home?”
“We’ve got a couple hours. She does her grocery shopping on Tuesdays and said something about getting her hair done. I can’t go anywhere until she gets back.”
Topic of interest – Nikki Cauflin, whose birth proved the cruelty of her creator. Mentally challenged and diagnosed with Prader-Willi, a condition allowing her no chance at a purposeful life. Symptoms of the syndrome, dwarfism and extremely deficient mental capacity, were made complete with the inability to control consumption. Most cases concluded with early death unless monitored excessively.
They were quiet as Christian chewed bits of ice and studied the cover of a Texas Highway magazine. Richie watched Nikki move along the fence, pressing her protected head against the boards. Mike shared the view from the window above the sink. It was hard to believe that his cousin was older than him by two years. Her growth had halted at nine years, and at fifteen she was the size of an average third grader. This was his first summer away from home and though excited about visiting his aunt, he knew the invitation had been made so his parents could spend the same period working out details of a divorce. They never used the word, but he watched the change between them. They did their best to keep problems from him, but the closeness dissipated over the past few months, and he witnessed the same scenario between parents of friends.
Tom and Laurie Pratt rarely showed affection, and though they never argued in front of Mike the air was different. He believed before August they would make the hour’s drive from Conroe, sit with him, and explain his new living arrangements – based at Mom’s two weekends a month and every other holiday with Dad. They kept their secret, because he allowed it. He knew it would be hard for them to break the news, so when his mother suggested the trip he agreed and hoped their time alone might conjure a miracle. Two days later they drove him the distance, ate lunch with Aunt Molly and departed quickly. The following afternoon he met the Wyandotte brothers and the three became inseparable.
Molly Cauflin returned to the workforce after her boyfriend, fondly known as “the Asshole” rejoined his wife and kids prior to Nikki’s birth. Due to complications an amniocentesis was performed and when he became aware that the child might be born deficient, he suggested she terminate it. She hoped he’d accept the fate given to their daughter, but knew he desired perfection. A child with less than acceptable qualities suggested flaws in his own nature and this he could never face.
Molly acquired a nice monthly check and supplemented her substitute teacher income freelancing for travel magazines, which amazed Mike since she rarely went anywhere. Most of the locations she wrote about she had never visited and when questioned by those who knew she’d respond, “That’s the beauty of the net. I can go anywhere I want.” She rarely dated, or at least didn’t talk about men when her nephew was around and Mike often heard his mother say she wished her sister would meet someone. He was glad that she hadn’t, though he’d never admit it. As long as he could remember, his aunt seemed to enjoy spending time with him and he thought that might change if she found a man. This summer he’d have no competition for her attention.
“So what will she eat?” Christian asked, walking to the door and stopping next to Richie.
“You name it,” Mike answered.
“Nails?” Christian said.
“Anything,” Mike said.
“Bugs?” Richie asked.
“Anything,” Mike said, showing slight irritation.
“My shit?” Christian grinned.
“This I’ve got to see,” Richie said, opening the screen door as he headed into the backyard.
“Wait.” Mike moved behind Richie, followed by Christian. “Where are you going?”
They stopped before reaching Nikki, who was seated on the grass next to the fence. Richie and Christian looked at each other and then at Mike. “You said she was entertaining,” he said. “I wanna see.”
“Hell no, my aunt might come home,” Mike said.
“Mmmmm… mmmmmm… mmmmmmmmmm.” A low monotone hum came from beneath the helmet.
“Jeez, what the hell is she doing?” Richie asked.
“She hums,” Mike answered. “It doesn’t mean anything, but it gets louder if she’s frightened.”
“So we won’t scare her, but you said we have a couple hours. I just want to see her eat something,” Richie said.
“Yeah, you were the one who mentioned it in the first place,” Christian said.
“Okay, but not here,” Mike said, scanning the surrounding yards. “We gotta take her inside.”
Christian and Richie looked around as well, waiting for Mike’s next move.
Reaching for Nikki’s hand, he continued. “We can’t give her anything that’s going to make her sick.”
“Okay, we don’t feed her nails,” Christian said.
“Come on, Nikki, we’re going inside the house,” Mike said, guiding her off the grass. “That’s it, let’s go.”
Nikki responded to Mike’s touch and began moving slowly through the center of the yard toward the back porch. He knew to be gentle with her and though she couldn’t communicate with words, he knew she was nervous by the volume of her humming.
Every two or three steps Mike stopped and readjust his grip. As he did he felt the fear that encompassed a being whose purpose seemed less understandable than the most worthless creature. Even the grubs found beneath the rocks bordering Aunt Molly’s water garden were connected to the ecosystem. They had more of a reason for life than this thing. If she was a dog she’d be injected and given back to God with a sense that humanity had been served. Instead, Nikki would be allowed to continue to be Aunt Molly’s albatross.
As they reached the porch, Mike led Nikki up the steps and into the house, followed by Christian. Looking back, he saw Richie shut the door and turn the lock.
“No, unlock it,” Mike said. “If my aunt comes home she’ll wonder why I locked it.” He waited and watched to make sure the door remained open before continuing. “Now let’s go to my room.”
“What if she comes back early?” Richie asked. “We won’t hear.”
“That’s okay,” Mike said. “We can tell her we were looking at comics and I wanted to keep an eye on Nikki. If we hear her coming up the stairs we can get her helmet on before she opens the door. Now let’s get it off.”
Richie remained with his back against the door listening as he watched Christian lower to the floor next to Mike, who fumbled with the straps of Nikki’s head gear. The girl’s back was against the wall, lodged between the bed and a small dresser. The helmet was secured with three straps, two beneath her chin and one running along the back of her neck that connected to a snap her mother placed on all clothing she wore.
“Uh mmmm,” Nikki uttered.
“What she say?” Christian asked. “Why’d her voice change?”
“She didn’t say anything,” Mike said. “She’s just a little nervous, that’s all. Come on, Nikki, you like it when we play.” Unsnapping the straps, he carefully pulled the helmet up away from her head, exposing her to the other two for the first time.
“Eeew, talk about a skag,” Christian said. “Doesn’t she ever wash her hair? She’s all sweaty.”
“You’d look like that too if you had to wear a helmet all the time,” Richie said, moving closer. “She’s kind of cute for a retard.”
“Cute,” Mike said, “what the hell are you talking about? Oh and watch it with the retard stuff. My aunt will blow a gasket if she hears you talking like that. Nikki’s mentally challenged.”
“Sorry,” Richie said, “but she is cute. Too bad she’s like this.”
“Oh my god, Richie’s got a hard on for a retard… sorry, for a mentally challenged freak,” Christian said.
“Fuck you,” Richie said. “She can’t help it if she’s…”
“Cork it,” Mike said. “Let’s just do this, okay?”
Mike reached beneath the dresser and pulled out two cloth strips, each about six feet long. Dropping one next to him on the floor he wrapped the other end around Nikki’s right arm, pressing together two straps of Velcro. He repeated the process with her left arm and secured the free ends of the strips to the nearest leg of the bed and the bottom of the dresser.
“You gotta tie her up?” Christian asked.
“They aren’t that tight. You don’t want her grabbing for your hair or anything,” Mike said. He stood, moved to the closet and returned with a cigar box. Sitting again he opened it and presented a collection of pens, pencils and crayons. On top was a plastic ruler broken just past the ten-inch line. “I found this last week… utensils.”
“You’re gonna feed her with that?” Richie asked, looking at the ruler. “It’s all jagged at the end.”
“She bit it off the last time,” Mike said. “Chewed it up like bubblegum. She’s a freakin’ eating machine. Now watch what she’ll do with this.” He took a broken red crayon out of the box. Placing it on the end of the ruler he moved it closer to Nikki’s mouth. The girl’s humming ceased as the tip of her tongue flicked over her bottom row of teeth. They watched it slide beneath the ruler and curl before she brought her mouth completely around the upper area and snapped her mouth shut.
“Jeez, did you hear that? She bit right through it,” Christian said. They watched as Nikki chewed briefly and swallowed.
“See, I told you she’d eat anything,” Mike smiled, sticking the remaining eight inches of the ruler back into the box.
“Big deal, Richie used to eat crayons,” Christian said. “Let’s give her something else.”
“We can’t give her anything that’ll hurt her. I’d be in a world of shit if she gets sick.”
“What about these?” Richie asked, staring at the window sill. They stood and looked at a collection of dead flies gathered on the ledge.
“No way,” Mike said. “We can’t…”
“Yeah, come on. Just a couple,” Christian said. “Give me that stick.” He reached for the box and took the piece of plastic.
“Just one,” Mike said, watching Christian scoop three flies onto the ruler. “Okay, but that’s it. Give it to me. I have to do it.”
“Come on,” Christian said, holding the ruler away from Mike, “like it takes brains to feed an idiot.” He slowly knelt in front of Nikki and moved toward her mouth. “Here Nikki, have some nice chewy flies. Be a good… Jesus fuckin’ Christ.”
As Christian’s hand moved closer to Nikki’s mouth the boys watched her eyes widen and her head shoot forward. He lost his grip of the ruler as the girl’s teeth clamped down on the opposite end.
“Oh my god, that was freakin’ cool,” Richie said, watching Christian jump back. “She pulled the damn thing out of your hand.”
Mike snatched the remaining six inches of the ruler from the floor between Nikki’s legs and tossed it into the box. “Yeah, she’s not the only one who gets hurt doing this. Let’s untie her.”
“Wait, I want a turn,” Richie said. “Let me find something.”
“No, we gotta stop,” Mike said. “Let’s get her out of here.”
“Come on, just one more thing and then we’re done,” Richie said. He looked around the room and toward the door. “Be right back.”
Richie ran out of the room and down the stairs. As they waited, Nikki’s lips puckered together. Her tongue moved across each allowing them to maintain a sticky wetness. The pitch of her humming shifted from low to high as the constant glaze of her eyes evaporated. Mike believed she was looking at him, drawing his mind toward hers. He shook his head when he heard heavy bouncing onto the back steps and the screen door opened. Hearing footsteps ascend the stairs, Mike opened the bedroom door.
“I got it,” Richie said holding his cupped hands out. “This will be so cool.” He revealed his treasure, quickly latched the thumb and index finger of his right hand onto the back leg of a small turtle.
“You got that from my aunt’s water garden,” Mike said. “Put it back.”
“She won’t miss it,” Richie said. “She’s got a shitload of them down there.”
“No, we’re not doing it,” Mike said, reaching toward Richie.
Before he could take the turtle, Christian grabbed his arm and held him back. “Hey, it’s just a turtle. You saw what she did to that ruler,” he said. “She’ll half it in one bite.”
“Give me the stick,” Richie said, lowering to the floor.
Christian grabbed the last bit of ruler from the box and handed it to Richie, who balanced the turtle on it. He knelt and moved his hand closer to Nikki’s mouth when her eyes opened.
“No,” Mike shouted as Nikki moved forward. He knocked the ruler from Richie’s grip as the girl’s teeth found his wrist. Mike screamed, trying to pull free.
Mike felt Nikki biting into his flesh, grinding deep and drawing him toward her tethered body. As the burn accelerated he twisted, attempting to break free, only to feel the jagged teeth ripping through his tendons. As a trout learns that fighting a hook will deepen the grip, he realized pulling would be answered the same. The crescendo of his scream fell to silence as the pain climaxed and then as it subsided her stare captured him. Mmmmmmmm… mmmmmmm… Mmmmmikemmmm… we are one, he heard her saying to him.
“Fuck,” Christian said, wrapping his hand around Mike’s free arm and pulling him away from Nikki. The girl would not release. “She won’t let go. Give me that pillow.” He grabbed it off Mike’s bed before Richie could move and shoved it against the girl’s face. “Let go, damn it.” He pushed hard against her face, hoping she’d release for air. “Let go… let go.” He felt her jaw unlock and he jumped away, pulling Mike out of her reach.
“Christ, she bit it half off,” Richie said, looking at Mike’s wrist.
Mike collapsed to the floor, unable to unlock his eyes from Nikki’s. Christian took off his tee shirt and wrapped it around the mangled arm. They watched as she chewed and swallowed, taking nourishment from him.
“We got to get her out of here,” Christian said. “Untie her and get that helmet back on.”
“I’m not touching her,” Richie said.
“Asshole, we’re in a world of shit if they find us here with her and Mike bleeding,” Christian said. “We got to get her outside, call 911 and come up with a story. We can’t say she did this or everyone will figure out we were fucking with her.”
Christian looked at Mike and told him to hold on to the tee shirt as he stood and moved toward Nikki. He strapped the helmet back on to her head and untied both bindings holding her arms. “You stay with Mike,” he said to Richie as he took the girl’s hands and pulled her to her feet.
“That’s it freak. Just keep walking,” Christian said. He led her down the stairs, through the kitchen and out into the yard where he placed her on the grass just off the porch. He rushed back into the house where he found Mike standing with Richie’s help. Once outside he told them to sit on the porch and he ran back into the kitchen, grabbing the phone off the cradle. Minutes later he returned outside to go over the alibi. “We’re gonna be all right. I got it figured out. It was a dog.”
“She’s not a fuckin’ dog,” Mike said, looking briefly at his wrist and back toward Nikki. Pity… no, that’s not it, he thought, shame… maybe, but there’s more. Then he noticed it, through the plastic bars used to prevent feeding, the corners of her mouth were turned up into a smile. You wouldn’t have done this to them. You wanted me to understand, didn’t you?
“We can’t tell them the truth, ‘cause we’ll be in more shit than we are now,” Christian said. “You’ll never be able to explain this to your aunt. We say we opened the gate to bring our bikes back here while we were watching Nikki. A big fuckin’ dog came in and started running toward her. When you blocked its way it grabbed you and did this. Hell, you’ll be a fuckin’ hero.”
Mike agreed to go along with the story, though it shamed him to draw Nikki into their lie. Christian and Richie saw little difference between a canine and the girl. In time they would confess to friends, naming her as the attacker. They would say it took place in the backyard after they’d removed her helmet, an act of kindness paid back as only a beast might do. He tried to shake away the guilt as dizziness falling upon him. If I faint, at least I won’t have to be the first to lie, he thought as he kept his eyes locked on her until blackness took him.
Laurie Pratt was pleased when Mike suggested they invite Molly and Nikki to visit at Easter. “You’re such a sweetheart for suggesting it,” she told him after making the call. “You know most of your relatives would never do that. They feel uneasy around your cousin.”
“I was the same way before what happened,” Mike said. “I couldn’t do much the rest of the summer so I got to spend more time around Nikki. You know she really does have a great personality, if you look for it.”
“Well, I still think it’s nice of you, and so does your Aunt Molly,” she said. “You’ve grown up a lot since the attack and I can see what a wonderful big brother you’re going to be to your sister.”
Sister… yes, my sister, Mike thought, smiling as he watched his mother leave the kitchen. The previous summer had changed him. After leaving the hospital he spent time with the Wyandotte brothers and more with Nikki, at first because he knew if he avoided her someone might think it odd. Eventually he discovered he enjoyed being with her and when she roamed the far end of the yard he’d join her as she moved against the fence, rubbing her helmet along the slats. He’d take her hands in his and gently guide her onto the grass where they would sit together.
When summer ended Mike was a little unhappy about returning to Conroe, but glad to learn his prediction about his parents had been wrong. There was a problem, but not the kind that led to divorce. They’d needed time alone to rekindle things and that they did. The outcome arrived the following March in the form of Carol Ann and the moment she entered the world he understood more.
One evening, after Laurie Pratt put the baby to bed and before joining her husband in the living room, she watched Mike go into the nursery where he sat on the floor by Carol Ann’s crib.
“He’s so sweet,” Laurie said, snuggling against Tom as she placed her feet across his on the coffee table.
“Yeah, kind of like me,” he said. “Hope he appreciates having a little sister who’ll idolize him.”
“I’m sure he will,” Laurie said. “You know what he was doing when I walked by her room?”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“He was singing to her,” she said.
“Singing?” Tom repeated.
“Well, it was more of a hum,” Laurie said. “He was holding Carol Ann’s hand, nibbling on her fingers and humming.”