The Silver Web Page 58 & 59

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The Silver Web Page 58 & 59

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"The Comedian" fiction by Stepan Chapman

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but that never seemed to bother Shell. One boring af­ ternoon, he collected some dead flies from the window sills. During social studies, he dropped them, one by one, down the collar of Peggy's dress, until she noticed them.
The dead flies produced a better reaction than any of his previous torments. Peggy danced in the aisle, and children laughed hysterically. Shell was moved to a different desk. For weeks, he had to content himself with pestering Peggy during recess periods. Then he discovered his odd psychic talent.
It was a groggy morning in April. Shell was gaz­ ing at a dead fly on a windowsill halfway across the room. He found that if he stared hard at the bluebottle and sat very still, he could pick the fly up and hold it against the window pane, using only his mind. He prac­ ticed this maneuver for days, until he could make the flies hover in midair. Then he floated ten of them across the room, all the way to the collar across the back of Peggy's neck. Then he stuffed the flies down Peggy's dress.
Mayhem ensued again. Shell was sent to the
principal's office. Mrs. Fernstrom couldn't prove that he'd done the deed, but she knew. Mrs. Fernstrom was no fool.
Since the school system had endured similar diffi­
culties with my other older brothers, the principal, Miss Waxman, dealt sternly with Shell. She informed him that if he was experiencing the stirrings of some psy­ chic power, he should play with it at home. He must refrain from taking it out and playing with it at school. At school, Miss Waxman demanded, zippers zipped and hands out of pockets.
Shell disliked Miss Waxman, but he followed her advice. Every day from that day forward, Shell would rush home from school and play with his psychic tal­ ent until it went limp. I watched him do it and took notes. I used to take notes on all my brothers. Each of us had some kinky telekinetic gift. These gifts were usually more trouble than they were worth, but we had a lot of fun with them. Shell could fiddle with dead animals. We conducted a series of experiments in the basement.
He couldn't budge a sugar cube or a grain of rice. He couldn't move a peach pit or a straw. But he could push, pull, bend, or levitate a dead earthworm. Not live worms, only dead ones. And given a raw chicken from the grocery, or a pound of ground beef, Shell could cause the meat to twitch. Back in grade school, he got his best effects with dead bugs. We liberated a great number of these from Dad's backlog of insect collec-

tions.
Our father not only made insect collections, he also collected collections. The older boxes gathered dust on wire racks in one comer of the basement. So Shell had lots of raw material for his puppet plays.
Shell was a natural comedian. He could make me laugh until my ribs hurt. He did this bit with a box of Japanese beetles one time ... Invented a dozen differ­ ent cartoon voices for the characters. There was the Shogun, the Empress, four sycophants, two geishas ... Shell had me rolling on the floor. And the floor of that basement was cement.
We destroyed at least five collections that week,
including a whole box of Bolivian Swallowtails. Thank­
fully, Dad never noticed.
By the time I went into the high school, Shell was a sophomore, and he could lift a dead sheep right up off the ground with his mind. Summers, we'd ride our bikes along the shoulder of the interstate, scouting for roadkills. Once we found three squashed copperheads, and Shell used them to stage a wrestling champion­ ship. The smallest snake was the referee. I told Shell that he should be on television.
At school, Shell's sense of humor made him popu­ lar. Even his teachers liked Shell. As for his talent, he kept that completely under wraps. After a certain age, Mom and Dad expected that of us.
Shell played tennis on the intramural team. Shell
rode buses to other high schools with the debating squad. Certainly Shell was the most socially accepted young man that our household had ever produced. And popular with the young ladies too. With the exception of Bekka Wrenn, who broke his heart.
Shell and Bekka had one class in common, Fifth Level Zoology. Zoology was an advanced-placement, college-level course. It was taught by Mr. Jordan, the terror of First Level Biology, who threw erasers at fresh­ men when they whispered in the back row.
Bekka Wrenn sat at the lab bench next to Shell's. Her lab partner was a geek named Pamela, and both of them hated Shell's guts. But how can I tell you about Bekka?
Bekka wanted to become either a brain surgeon, or a marine ecologist, or a choreographer. She was still deciding. Bekka could have melted any boy's heart. She was unbearably gorgeous, extremely smart, and unexplainably sad. Such a sad girl she was. Everyone around her felt it. And none of us knew why. No one ever found out why. I doubt that her own family knew what made her so sad. Some people are just born sad, and being gorgeous and smart are no help at all. As for


Shell, Shell didn't mind her hating his guts. Shell wor­ shipped the girl. In the presence ofBekka, Shell stood constantly on the brink oflosing all self-restraint.
He began to play silly pranks. Worse yet, he used his psychic power, during class. It began with a jug of preserved frogs.
The lab work for Zoology commenced with a ba­
sic dissection-peel, open, and eviscerate. Mr. Jordan sat on a stool beside the teacher's desk and used a pair of tongs to dole out stiff frogs, which he fished from a five-gallon jar of formaldehyde and dropped onto the steel trays presented by the students. When each stu­ dent had his or her specimen, Mr. Jordan removed his rubber gloves and adjourned to the teachers' lavatory to wash his hands. The students were unsupervised for over two minutes. Since they were honors-level stu­ dents, this was an intentional test of their maturity. For two minutes, Shell went completely manic.
There were five frogs still floating in the jar-left­ overs. With Shell providing voices from his stool, and actions by remote control, these five frogs leapt from the jar and became Mr. and Mrs. Mucosa, their re­ spective divorce lawyers, and a judge.
Audience response was enthusiastic and loud. Mr. Jordan reappeared scowling. As for Bekka, staging sketches with dead frog flesh did nothing to endear Shell to her. She never laughed once. She seemed to be some­ where else, far away.
"Maybe you should try stuffing flies down her dress," I suggested. "That's always worked well for you."
Like talking to a wall. I studied him like a rare specimen and filled notebook pages with my observa­ tions. I'd never seen a person fall in love before. You can learn a lot from older brothers.
After the frog disaster, Shell put the lid on his sense of humor again. With the exception of a minor incident in the cafeteria, involving some lunch meat, he played the role of a model student. He had hopes of reversing Bekka's bad impression of him. He had a snowball's chance in hell, but he lived in hope.
Bekka paid no attention to him. She had other things
on her mind.
One Saturday night, when the spring rains had been heavy, the Pantano River flooded. Bekka rode her ten­ speed to the middle of the Speedway overpass. She turned off her bike lamp and left the bike leaned against a guardrail. The she tossed herself off the overpass, into the water. No one saw her do it. No one noticed.
That night, her parents called the police. On Sun­
day, they found the bike. On Monday afternoon, the


state troopers brought in motorboats and nets and started dragging the riverbed, south of the overpass.
By this time, half of the city knew that Bekka Wrenn was missing. Someone phoned Shell and told him about the boats.
Shell and I rode our bikes down to the embank­ ment. There was a crowd standing around, drinking pop from aluminum cans and watching the boats with binoculars. Shell stood beside me, staring at the water, knowing that he'd lost the only woman he'd ever love, and feeling himself slowly going numb inside.
The river water began to chum. The cops in the boats were shouting. Something was moving down there. Something was rising to the surface, breaking through the foam. It went on rising until it hovered, dripping, yards above the water, suspended by some invisible force from inside my brother's head. The sun­ shine was bright. Bekka's body wore a red jogging suit trimmed with reflective tape. Her hair was gathered back into a barrette. Her nail polish was a tasteful peach. This, apparently, was how the perfect dream girl had dressed herself to commit suicide. Whatever Bekka did, she always did it perfectly.
Shell lifted the body very high. For a couple of seconds, I thought that he would raise her clear into the sky and make her sail off like a helium balloon.
But he laid her down on the embankment. He crossed her arms and closed her eyes. Then he and I turned and went home.
The two-week suspension came a month before graduation day. Shell's test grades were slipping badly. He spent a lot of time alone, brooding. He lost touch with most of his friends. He began to act more like his brothers.
Then one night, Mom and Dad got a call from the
police station. Shell had pulled an elaborate stunt in the girls' locker room. The families of the cheerleading team were threatening legal action against Shell, our family, the school district, or all of the above.
The stunt involved a megaphone lifted from a ten­
nis equipment closet, two dozen plucked chickens from the supermarket, seven large salamis, and a gallon or so of dead worms from the dumpster of a garden sup­ ply store. The shrieks of the cheerleaders, so I was told, could be heard at a distance of half a mile from the locker room.
First there were the raw chickens running to and
fro on the tile floor, causing barefoot cheerleaders to leap onto benches. Then came the shrill, amplified voice that seemed to ring out from all directions at once, pre­ tending to be the voices of the headless poultry.

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