Friday, October 11, 2013

Alas, Poor Derek

When I was in fifth grade I had a friend named Derek. Big kid, though not especially athletic, outgoing in a way that I sometimes found a little too loud, but overall he wasn't an especially bad guy.

I still don't know where the snake came from. I'm not entirely sure what the snake was. At the time, we thought it was a boa constrictor. It was definitely albino, with white scales and pink eyes, and it didn't have any fangs; it was about the length of Derek's arm. We found it under a bush after school one day, and after the usual enlightened discussion of the various possibilities ("Keep it!" "Kill it!" "Let it go!" "Put it Becca's room and wait for the screams!") Derek decided to take it home. I went with him, because I had a slight crush on his older sister Becca, and if he left it in her room I was going to charge in and save her.

By the time we got there, Derek had decided to keep it as a pet. He took it down to the basement and put it in an old, empty fish tank, and we found some dirt and rocks and sticks to kind of fill in the landscape.

He kept that snake in the basement for something like three months. At first he was feeding it bugs; later it was mice and rats. He got real possessive about it, too. He didn't like for other people to know about it, even me. I think I saw it twice in that whole time. It was bigger each time, but I didn't think anything about that. He was feeding it, after all. I asked him about it a week or so into summer vacation, and I must have caught him at just the right moment, because he admitted that it had gotten too big for the fish tank and he had let it out.

I thought that meant he had taken it outside and let it go, but... no.

It was maybe a week after that when Becca vanished. I missed the worst of it -- I think my parents kept me away -- but it must have been horrible. And then, a few days later, she just... turned back up. They found her sitting in her room, like nothing was wrong. She wouldn't tell them what had happened; she didn't say much at all. The confident, assertive Becca I remembered was still gone; this Becca was quiet, unintrusive, and placid. I didn't like her at all; she was too agreeable.

I snuck down to the basement sometime after that -- days, weeks, I don't remember. The fish tank was empty, of course, and there wasn't any sign of the snake. I still thought Derek had turned it loose outside. Who knows? Maybe he did.

But right around the beginning of sixth grade, Becca vanished again -- and this time, her mother vanished with her. Derek's dad just about lost his mind, or maybe he did lose his mind. Derek came to stay with us for a few days, and when I finally walked him back home he refused to let me come inside. It was just him and his dad, then, and four months later it wasn't even that: Derek never came back to school after Christmas break. By the time anybody thought to check on him, there was just an empty house. None of the adults talked about it much; everyone seemed to think that Derek and his dad had just moved away.

CJ, though, swore up and down that he'd seen Derek's mom come walking back up to the door. He said it was just after dark, and she was bare-assed naked. CJ was a terrible liar, though, so who knows? But if it was true, well, that was the last time anybody saw Derek or his family.


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