When we were ten, my best friend Tiffany told me that the son of a family who lived across the street was a murderer.  His name was Lucas.  She never told me who it was he’d murdered, just that Lucas was one, a murderer.  She used to dare me and our other friend Missy to run across the street, up the hill into his yard, to touch the porch’s welcome mat.  The welcome mat was old, weathered, so much so you could barely make out the letters, the corners long gone.  I don’t really think anyone lived there then even.  Of course Tiffany told us his ghost did, forever forced to linger somewhere between the dead oak and his parents’ porch, but that was Tiffany.  “You can feel him here sometimes,” she said, “carried along the wind.”  Whenever it got cold, Tiffany would say, “you can feel him, can’t you?”  Lucas had an icy touch

It was late in the fall, probably early November I think, when Missy finally gained the courage – or had tired of our chastising – enough to touch the mat for herself.  The first frost had set in the previous night, so all day we’d pretended to breathe out smoke, sometimes using small sticks as cigarettes.   We tried to puff out rings, though it seems all we could make were whisps that trailed slowly from our mouths.  At Tiffany’s house, acorns covered the ground, enough to crunch beneath each step, the type good for sling shots.  It was the year’s twilight, the time right before winter, before the trees have fully shed their leaves, revealing small areas of bare ground – naked patches that resonate that mixed scent of cold and warmth.  All around us hung a slight dampness, the decay of the surrounding woods past year’s foliage hanging somewhere in between the shades of grey, white, and brown – brown and weathered like Lucas’ welcome mat. 

Tiffany and I had already touched it ourselves a number of times.  But this would be Missy’s first real chance.  She’d always made excuses before.  Sometimes she’d blame it on a knee or an ankle, explaining the problem in terms we didn’t understand.  Her father was the field doctor for the Texas A&M football team, so she knew plenty about the different diseases and conditions, the names of ligaments, stuff like that.  But that afternoon, something changed. 

She was always jealous of our friendship, of me and Tiffany, I think.  Looking back, it seems she might have thought this would make her our equal – touching Lucas.  It was her idea. 

“Hey guys, you think I can’t do it” Missy said.

“What are you talking about” I asked.

“Lucas, you don’t think I can touch him,” Missy said.  “You don’t think I can do it.”

Then, she turned, ran up the hill into his yard.  Tiffany and I sat there and watched.  Missy had on her white Reebok pump-ups, scuffed and a bit worn; they were her favorites.  Upon tagging the mat, she turned to run back, her left sole slipping on a patch of black ice.  She fell forward, face hitting first.  Split her chin wide open, an inch long gash.  Blood began flowing immediately onto the limestone steps.  Quiet, then Missy crying, partially at the sight of her own blood, partially at being stranded for too long on Lucas’ porch, it was as if he’d reached out and tripped her himself.  She screamed.  We just stared on in awe. 

We didn’t mention Lucas again after that, much.   Tiffany explained that now he only came with the rain.  If you looked closely during a storm, particularly in a lightning flash, you might catch sight of his silhouette lingering, dancing about the shadows: Lucas, floating along, sometimes dark, occasionally on his bicycle.  Really, I guess you could say the game wasn’t too much fun after Missy’s three stitches.  I always wondered if she held that against us - the fact that we’d made it, a number of times, and she couldn’t get it right once. 

There’s still a bit of animosity between her and me, Missy and myself.  I’m not sure, really, whether she still talks to Tiffany though.  It’s probably for the best, the silence we’ve established – Missy isn’t really Missy anymore anyway.  Missy, now known as Martie, changed her name back in high school, a way of creating for herself a new identity.  The problem was it never really fit.  Sorta like the person who insists on wearing clothes a size too small, this new identity appears forced, squeezed into, Missy jamming herself into an ill-fitting Martie. And yet, at the same time, Missy never could separate herself from the mask, Martie exacted society’s prescription; in other words, despite the mismatch, Missy still took on the roles she created too completely – nothing left of her.

Neurotic might be one way to describe Missy; in junior high she started pulling out her eyelashes, followed by her eyebrows.  Now she wears black eyeliner, so from a distance, it’s not too noticeable.  We lived together a couple years back now, when she was in medical school and I was in law school, and I noticed she’d still pick at them when we studied. It was really sad.  I never wanted to mention it though, since I’m sure she’d heard enough about it.  She’d been picking at them for almost ten years at that point.

When the eyebrow picking first started, her parents had transferred Missy to a private school.   After that, she didn’t hang out with us much.  Her parents, it seems, bought into that expensive notion that Missy-now-Martie might do better in a place where she’d receive more ‘specialized attention,’ to aid in her development, academically, socially, and stuff like that.  I think it helped promote problems, causing more than it solved, if for no other reason than it’s when the eyelash yanking began.  But parents do tend to lead isolated lives, somewhere in a separate existence from their kids; they don’t hear, see or understand what really goes on behind the adolescent veil.  I’m sure if I ever have kids, it’ll be the same..

About fifteen years ago – when we were ten – it was just me and Tiffany.  It was mid-October, so again the acorns were plentiful, and aimed at her next-door neighbor, Bob.  Bob was a large man, barrel chested, hulking.  Unlike Lucas, he was real.  Sometimes we’d watch him, Bob, from her parents second story; he usually spent his days lumbering about, cursing, and pacing like a large dog in the yard beneath us, or doing the same above on his mother’s rooftop.  He liked to wear ribbed Gecko t-shirts, always with one of two pairs of Parachute pants – oversized and baggy, with elastic ankle cuffs, patterned in either neon lightning bolts, or bright red chilli peppers.  Most of the time, you could hear the guy before you could see him.  This was probably because of a favorite past time of his.  It involved a chainsaw. He used it to accompany his songs, and to hack up the dead bushes behind his mother’s house. 

Before what I assume must have been a diagnosed case of schizophrenia, Bob had sung opera.  Tiffany’s mom told us that: he used to work as a classical performer.  She told us this after yelling for us to ‘come inside, now,’ when Bob had begun chopping at his mother’s antique roses.  We’d been watching him from underneath the porch, and quickly relocated to her parents’ bedroom window, thus providing us with an even better, bird’s-eye view of the flying petals. 

“Bless my soul, what’s wrong with me?  I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree—Shit no, shit, no, I says, I don’t have to take this, no sir, no more, no way, I want to ride today, Punk. Yeah, yeah, I’m all shook up.”

That afternoon he serenaded the neighborhood with sounds of Elvis and his chainsaw, words falling beneath a flurry of pink flowers

We caught him later that same month pacing along his mother’s roof.  He was attempting to spy on the neighbors with a red pair of child’s binoculars; they matched his chili pepper pants.  From beneath the porch we watched him pacing back and forth, holding the binoculars in one hand, squeezing a Hostess Snowball in the other. 

I’m not really sure if what happened next was our fault or part of Bob’s own distraction; we had been firing acorns at him, though.  It wasn’t that we really meant for him to fall, it was just that we’d grown tired of shooting at the cactus leaves across the street.   A live target seemed like more fun anyway, and, from beneath the wooden steps, even with his binoculars, he couldn’t have seen us. 

So we shot him, I think.  At least he seemed startled by something whizzing past.  Glancing quickly to the side, then arms flailing, he fell.  Tumbling down, into the chopped up brambles, Bob landed safely enough in his mother’s bushes.  With a series of curses, we watched on as he sat up startled, shook his head, and cursed some more. 

Then, we heard his mother; “Bob? My god, what the hell are you doing now? Get in this house, and quit that dirty, filthy mouth of yours.”

In a stumble, he was gone.

Sometimes when our parents went out to dinner, Tiffany and I would arm ourselves with weapons.  One could never be too careful, you know.  So, we took the metal rods down from the roof of her canopy bed, to be used in the karate-style chopping and stabbing of intruders; we also had her older sister’s aerosol hairspray, good for blinding the same.  Bob had broken into her house once and had been caught by her father.  He’d been rummaging though the kitchen pantry; it seemed Bob was always eating something.  After that, her family installed an alarm system. 

When Tiffany and I were in the house alone, we avoided the kitchen, instead hiding downstairs, usually in the basement, along with her father’s workout equipment, some couches, a television, and an escape route.  Sliding glass doors opened from the house, back onto her deck, which snaked its way into the woods, emptying either into the canyon on the right or the main street on the left.   It was especially useful in high school, good for sneaking the boys in and out, little noise and no notice.  

Before the boys in the basement, though, it was our island.  It remains shrouded in imagination and today’s apparent reality.  In other words, it still exists, secluded, with palm trees waving, the sea breeze misting, it’s the type of beach setting we watched on Return to the Blue Lagoon, only better; it belongs to me and Tiffany.  Others, rotating men, are allowed to visit for as long as they behave, then banishment.  It’s not hard to get kicked off the island.

The same year Tiffany and I went away to college, Bob left too.  It seems he’d finally done it; Bob killed his mother.  Sirens blared late that October afternoon then the authorities retrieved his mother’s remains, now enshrouded beneath a sheet.  Bob followed behind, handcuffed and cursing.  Tiffany’s mom told us all of this when we came home for Thanksgiving.  Not that the news really surprised anyone.  Stranger things had happened.

Back in sixth grade Tiffany and I did our annual English project on the subject of the criminally insane.  For the cover we took a series of photographs of strange men we met at movie theatres, malls, in parking lots, each being told to make an ‘interesting’ expression.  Some smiled, others scowled, grimaced, or blinked, and all were cut out and pasted in a grid.  It was our version of a police line up, anyway.   Since part of the project was to follow the past thirty years of research in the chosen area, this eliminated older applicable psychologists like Freud and Jung, leaving us instead with the criminally insane – Bundy and Berkowitz; they were the only two with their own biographies in the high school library.

Tiffany wrote a poem called, “Bundy, he’s no Bunny,” and I located a series of writings from each serial killer on their fan sites, which were compiled into our “letters to the editor” section; part of the grade was based upon ‘creative interpretation.’  So, we called it our magazine project, and both of us earned an ‘A.’  We figured part of the grade came from our teacher’s lack of knowledge and interest regarding the subject; this of course was partially why we’d chosen it.  Her name was Mrs. Lewis and she preferred projects that dealt with kinder, prettier issues like fashion trends and first ladies.  However, Mrs. Lewis was one of those who fancied her self to be an expert on all things she liked, meaning those approved of projects received lots of notes from her in the paper’s margins and at the end; inevitably, these always earned a lesser point count, a lower grade.  ‘Bundy, he’s no Bunny’ received a single check mark; Mrs. Lewis had nothing to say on that subject.

I remember Tiffany told me her cousin had been murdered by a serial killer back when we were kids.  I’d forgotten about it until she mentioned it again last week.  Tiffany explained it was the reason she didn’t want to drive late at night.  Sometimes there are those that will run you off the highway, push you off the road, to get whatever it is they want, need.  She told me I’d heard of him before, and I said, no, I didn’t think I had.  And she said, yes, I should remember.  He was a murderer.  His name, Lucas.