Smitty watched his nephew take off over the dunes, that kid was so pigheaded, so…loyal…Just then he saw someone hovering near his campsite, a tall, lean girl.
“Camp robbers”, he thought but his mood darkened, “more jerks trying to get a damned snapshot of me and pass it off as CharMan!”
Smitty had spent two years in the jungles of Vietnam; he was altered now, burnt, ruined but he could still move in close, silent as a ghost…The girl also moved with cat like stealth in a wide arch as she neared the campsite, Smitty watched see her in the fog. Something about her, the notebook she carried, the look on her face: a truth seeker- just like his nephew, Gregory. Gregory, that kid was deaf and dump, but he was the smartest, most eloquent…”Gregory,” Smitty thought, “here it is 1967, how does the world create kids like you?”
He was right behind the girl now, he stepped on a twig and suddenly she spun around. She stared at his burnt scarred face. He was used to the response: shock, repulsion, fear, but not this girl, she looked him right in the eye froze in a fighting position. So brave, then she looked past his scars and looked him in the eyes. How does the world make kids like this? His heart, his scared heart softened:
“What’s the matter kid are you lost?”
Again, she looked right into his face, straight in the eye:
“No,” she said, “I came up from the Fairgrounds,” she lowered her fists, “I’m meeting several of my friends for a party.” But Smitty knew a tall tale when he heard one:
“Oh indeed,” he liked her spunk, “One might get the impression that you where spying on me!”
“Sir, I…”The girl sighed:”I thought you might be CharMan sir.”
“Oh, him,” Smitty said lightly, but a great sense of dread rose in him, this kid had no idea what was out there in the wild. The girl looked down in shame.
“She sees people for what they are, but she has no idea…”
The memory replayed in his mind in a flash: walking through the woods around the campground. Smitty collected firewood like he did every night since he went off the grid.
“Best to be alone, you look like a monster with your burnt skin, best to be alone.”
Smitty heard footsteps; someone was following him in the dense woods.
He crept forward but it was so dark he stumbled on a tree root. He braced himself on the tree to regain his balance when he saw a terrible sight: a horrible monster right in front of him! Smitty an ex-sergeant in special ops mustered all of his courage, “What are you doing here, what do you want?”
The monster seemed to reply, but had no voice. Smitty moved closer and his heart sank, his mood as dark as the night: “A camp mirror!” I’m the terrible monster!” He grabbed the mirror to fling it deep into the woods, then froze…He was still being followed. He heard ragged breathing, shuffling foot steps…”Oh God,no!” Something incredibly strong grabbed Smitty from behind. He could smell its breath, horrible like a brunt…Smitty twisted around. He realized his was still clutching the camp mirror, his inanimate tormentor, was now his only weapon against this deadly threat.
Smitty twisted as far as he could and in an attempt to smash the mirror in the face of his attacker and the two faced each other. Smitty thought that he was going to vomit or scream but all he could do was stare: Smitty had thought of himself as ruined monster of a man after the explosion, after he saved his buddy, Gunner, but nothing, nothing was worse than the walking corpse with the burnt out skull and rotted flesh that faced him, nothing was as bad as this. Smitty was face to face with CharMan.
In an attempt to beat at its face and get away, Smitty shoved the camp mirror in CharMan’s face. The pits where eyes once were opened wide, the creature released its grip on Smitty and stared at the mirror. Smitty in his horror just stood there holding the mirror. CharMan stared and then howled in pain and grief and sorrow, a blood curdling cry at the realization that every shred of its humanity had been burnt away ages ago.
Smitty finally got a grip on himself, dropped the mirror and ran, deep into the night to get as far away as he could, but he could never out run that howl, that keening wail of utter hopelessness. In that way CharMan did take Smitty away forever. He’d never been the same since…
Smitty studied this girl, blushing at her own rudeness, holding a notebook behind her back. He didn’t want someone as innocent as her to wander around these deserted beaches alone. She thought he was CharMan, she had no idea: The memory passed in a flash, like it always did: Smitty had it rough but it wasn’t as bad, as horrible as… He smiled slightly. here it was 1967 and the world has kids like this, kids with heart and soul who see people for what they are and that gave Smitty a sense of hope.
“Oh, Him; CharMan,” he chuckled lightly, “I guess there is a resemblance.”
Stories from The CharMan Chronicles, based on characters and events from The CharMan Chronicles