“Yuck, yuck, yuck,” said Trigger Tuck.
“Yuck, yuck, yuck”. That was how he laughed, like a kid from a comic book. He didn’t laugh, in fact, so much as say the words as a shorthand for telling you he was amused – invariably at your expense.
Trigger Tuck was a walking joke shop; except all his ‘jokes’ were that bit more genuinely disgusting than anything you’d find in any shop that wanted to stay on the right side of the authorities.
At school, you’d find a small pool of vomit on your desk. And Trigger would be there, ‘yuck’ing away in the corner when he saw your face crumple in revulsion. But where in any other classroom this would be a plastic simulacrum of regurgitate, easily peeled off and flung away once the joke was realised – not with Trigger. If Trigger was involved, it would be real sick, or real shit, or a whoopee cushion might really be the inflated bloody innards of your little sister’s favourite pet…
“Yuck, yuck, yuck!”
For any ‘normal’ kid, the joke would be that the offending artefact wasn’t real, that you’d gotten upset over nothing. The joke would come accompanied by your relief. For Trigger Tuck, the ‘joke’ was that it was real – that your disgust and horror really was justified, and you were left with it.
And in this town, he got away with everything. His parents had died when he was young, and he lived with his grandmother, who refused to hear anything about her offspring’s offspring other than that he was an angel. Worse, she was retired from Bear Creek Confessional, her own private therapy service at which practically every adult in the district had spilled their deepest, darkest secrets at some time in the last thirty years.
“Oh,” she would say if anyone challenged him, “he’s just mean-spirited” – in the same way knowing parents might say ‘boys will be boys’, or ‘they’re going through a phase’ about children who were challenging in other ways. “He’s just mean-spirited”, she would insist as if that excused anything, and then peer meaningly at them, and add, “and anyway, my dear. I think we both know I know something about you, don’t I?”
Unlike the sheriff, the school principal, every mayoral candidate and everybody else’s parents; Shrunk Tuck no longer had a reputation to protect and so Trigger’s own remained intact – formally, if not in anybody else’s heart.
Mysteriously, Trigger seemed to know everybody’s parents’ secrets too. He and his grandmother were very close. So when he ran up to me in the courtyard between periods one day, twisted my arm so my hand was palm up, and instead of slapping something horrible onto it or carving some ugly sigil with a penknife, just said “guess it skips a generation”, I wanted – and didn’t want – to know what he was talking about. The intimation boiled in me all through the day. He kept muttering two syllables when we passed in the corridor or in class and I couldn’t make them out. “Whhh-bhhh”. “Whhh-Bhhh”. If I confronted him – “What?!” – he’d say nothing but his usual ‘Yuck’s. Then he started putting other kids up to it. None of them were bullies but he could bully most kids into doing just about anything, so mumbling some meaningless phrase at me was nothing.
I should have known something was up the moment Petals Snap sat down with me at lunch. Everyone knew I had the hugest crush on her.
“Aren’t you going to ask me to Prom, John Dollars? Everyone knows you have the hugest crush on me.”
It was so obviously a set-up, but I was too proud to lose the moment. I couldn’t not ask her, could I? She was right. So I steeled myself, imagined every bird fluttering in my stomach was on its own little golden chain, and harnessed them to my cause.
“Okay. I’m going to ask you. Petals – Miss Snap – I think you’re the prettiest girl in America and – I love your paintings and, uh – I’d like to get to know you better, if you’d like that too. Will you go to our Prom with me?”
“Well, Mr Dollars, you finally asked. And I’m delighted to finally be able to say, ‘whhh-bhhh’”
I dropped my fork and walked straight out of the cafeteria. I couldn’t get angry at her – who knows what he’d threatened to do if she hadn’t done it – but I couldn’t look at her any more, either.
Even my best friend, Martin Pine – I started to tell him about it and he just interrupted me with,
“Thanks a lot, Martin.”
“Trigger Tuck told me to say that.”
“I know he did, Martin. Did he tell you to tell me what it meant?”
He looked awkward, wouldn’t look me in the eye.
“Oh. At least there’s that. Tell me, what does ‘wuhh-buhh’ mean? I’m dying to know.”
Something moved in Marty’s throat like he couldn’t bring himself to get it out. But clearly Trigger had something on him too, because he managed it: “He said to tell you it means…”
“…what? Spit it out, for god’s sake”
“He says it means ‘yuck, yuck, yuck’,” Martin finally confessed.
“Fuck you, too”
After several days of this nonsense, I could seethe no more without something breaking, either within or around me.
It was an autumn night, I was heading out of the school gates, seemingly alone – and I heard it. Almost a whisper. Sing-song.
I sprang at the source of the noise like a lineman determined to take out a quarterback. Somewhere in the air between me and it, it crossed my mind that I might be about to throw my whole bodyweight at speed into some poor kid who’d just been put up to teasing me by Trigger, or even by someone put up to putting them up by Trigger, and if I hurt this kid, wasn’t that going to make me the asshole? But it was too late, and anyway, once I had him on the ground and wrestled his hood up and his mask down, it was Trigger Tuck himself under there.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he moaned, winded. I started pounding his lungs through his puffer jacket, winding him more.
“What does it mean?!” I yelled in his face. “What does it fucking mean?!”
“Weeeh-beeah” he replied.
“Stop saying it! What does it mean?”
“No!” – he was gasping for breath – “stop, stop – that’s – were-bear – that’s what it means”
“What?! Make sense, you asshole”
“Were-bear! Were-bear! Your father is a were-bear! Claws. Teeth. Fur. He turns into a fucking BEAR.”
“What?!” I punched his ribs one more time for good measure. Because – all this, for a ludicrous joke, right? But somewhere inside, the flame of my anger had died. Just below my consciousness, things were clicking together, and I knew. He was telling me the truth – which was a bigger thing than every horrible little trick he’d ever played on me, if not on half of the rest of the town.
“In a few weeks,” the bully gasped out. “You’ll see. The last New Moon of the year. Your fucking dad is the original fucking nightmare before Christmas. Yuck, yuck, yuck.”
I dropped him on the ground and walked away.
“I’ll prove it to you!” He shouted after me.
“Don’t bother,” I called back.
It all made sense now.
The time I’d had to let my dad in naked at sunrise.
The roadkill that turned up on the kitchen table, no matter how many time we begged him to stop it, and how many times he’d apologise, seemingly sincere, and yet it would happen again, without explanation.
The time I’d found him with his face buried in it, bloody…
His ‘winter rash’ which seemed to be about a thousand times more severe than any description of a winter rash I could find anywhere on the internet, and yet which he point blank refused to seek medical help for.
I couldn’t bring myself to confront my dad about it, yet, but I was a lot more understanding about all the weirdness that year. I ran him baths, tried not to ask questions, turned blind eyes left and right. The night of the new moon, I lay in bed, wondering. When I heard the front door click closed and the strangest shuffling noise in the yard, I couldn’t bear to look – no pun intended.
Nothing happened that year. The ‘whhh-bhhh’ muttering stopped and I figured Trigger had found new targets, that my ‘getting it’ made it not entertaining any more.
The next year, though…
The next year, dad went missing. The day after the last new moon of the year – and it was getting close to Christmas – there was a space in the house where he was supposed to be. Of course, we searched for him. Of course we did. But of course, deep down, I knew that something had happened that related to his… ursanthropy. Apparently that’s what it’s called. I know that now.
We searched the cold streets, the first night – calling forlornly, coming back with solemn faces to a house full of sarcastic decorations. The awfulness was made a hundred worse by my not knowing if my mother knew about the bear thing. How do you bring that up, exactly? “Hey, Mom, you know Dad’s an actual cryptid, right? You know he has plantigrade paws and a massive skull around this time of year? Mom?”
After no more than two hours of broken sleep, the sun was coming up and we ventured out again, this time into the woods. And about five minutes in, we found it: an enormous dead bear. Its front right leg was caught in a classic bear trap – one of those steel things with the teeth like a great white shark. The end of that leg – the front paw – was completely missing. The trap had been set right on the edge of the wood, in a straight line from our house, and my dad’s clothes and wedding ring were found not far away.
The official unofficial line became that my father had been eaten by this huge monstrous bear. No human remains were found, and nobody ever explained the apparent coincidence of this bear being trapped on the same night it ‘ate’ him. I did nothing to challenge the accepted version of events, fully conscious that to do so honestly would lead people to assume I was a good way unhinged from reality anyway. And of course, I started to wonder that about myself.
My poor mother. I told her all about how sure I was that Trigger Tuck had killed him, but as you can imagine, this made little sense to her. I vividly remember her telling me, “but your father wasn’t in the trap, sweetheart – that was the bear…”, and realising how pointless and unhelpful this conversation was. She forbade me from saying another accusatory word about Trigger, and told me she wanted me to make nice with him at the funeral. I could see how much why fervent assertions of guilt were upsetting her, so I agreed. I couldn’t believe he’d actually come to the funeral.
He came to the funeral. At the end of the line of sympathetic well-wishers, there he was, dressed up respectfully and waiting his turn. My stomach rolled sickly as he approached. There was no doubt in my mind he was responsible. I could have decked him – but out of the corner of my eye, my mother was looking on, earnestly. I swallowed my feelings and told myself I’d do it for her.
He reached out a hand towards me. I looked directly at my mother as I took it, not at him. Ostensibly, I was shaking his hand, but internally I was guarding her feelings. It was ‘make nice’, or make a scene – and I wasn’t going to make a scene at my old man’s last goodbye. Trigger’s hand was cold, clammy. Dead.
I looked away from my mother and down at what I was holding, revolted.
Trigger was holding my father’s hand, by the wrist, from inside his sleeve.
I could feel the hairs on the palm.
“Yuck, yuck, yuck,” whispered Trigger Tuck. “yuck, yuck, yuck”