Used Up: A Halloween Tale.”
After thirty years of employment with National Reaping Machines, Charles, “Bud” Fabbro was sent home one fine fall day. Though still a powerful man, having spent three decades lifting heavy, steel flywheels from one line to the next, Bud found himself out of a job.
“You don’t fit the company we are now, Bud. You are a strong back, still, but we need a young, vibrant mind in your position. Machines are stronger than any man, and really, all you are is strong. See, you are useless to us, now,” the plant manager said early one morning. They had hired a younger man who ran the machines that replaced Bud. They paid the new guy less, too. So Bud left the plant and wandered home, the only day of work he’d ever missed.
And, within a month, National Reaping Machines closed, sold by its corporate heads, the work outsourced to Cambodia. Bud lost his pension, and that went down hard, at home. His wife had become accustomed to dependable Bud. He was quiet in his ways, right up until the end. And, right up until the end, animals were fond of him, too.
Bud still looked as solid as he could be, even with his wife’s derision, but he had begun to break down. He still looked sort of square: five eight by four feet and hard as a coffin nail, cops later said, and shivered when they did. See, Bud’s long, slow career turned him into to a man who was around two hundred and forty pounds of unimagined strength. No one thought of it, though, just looking at him. His wife and those who ridiculed him at job applications saw only his seeming strength. No one ever really thought about the damage words could do to such a placid, strong man. They just figured he could take it, and he did, as long as he was able.
Every man has a set number of times he can endure the lash of cruel tongues that cut him deep. Then, he breaks, like Bud did. Some men’s number is so high, it can never be reached, while some have such a low number that they break early, often. The thing about Bud Fabbro was that his threshold number was extremely high, so high that it ought never to have been broken. It was just the right—or wrong—number of cutting remarks that did it. After Bud broke, it was too late to remember the words of St. James, who could have told her that “The tongue is also a fire.” The brother of Jesus says that our tongues can set “our whole lives on fire.”
“You’ve lost everything, Charles Fabbro, your money and your sense. I just don’t know how you think we can get by on social security alone, and you are so useless that you’ll never get another job. Who wants to hire a fifty-five year old laborer?” Shirley Fabbro complained as she stood at the sink, inspecting the pans that Bud had just scrubbed. Bud stood at the back door, and his hand shook as it lay on the knob. It was the night before Halloween. He had swallowed days and days of such talk from Shirley. He was on his way to take the garbage cans to the curb.
“I think I might walk some,” Bud mumbled as he grabbed his old hat and coat. As he stood with his hand on the door knob, Shirley yelled,
“And don’t go thinking to take up with another woman, like the tramp you flirt with down the street. She won’t want a broken down old man like you, no ways.” Bud, who had made some mistakes with women when he was a younger man, had managed to avoid any such temptations since he married and had no plans to pursue anyone. Sure, he was friendly to his neighbors in the same way he was friendly to all, but he only wanted to walk. There was no woman in his thoughts, and a shudder went through him. The door knob snapped off under the pressure of his hand, and Bud dropped it on the floor, where it rolled in a half circle under the table.
Heavy tears fell unwanted from his eyes, and there was a loud cracking sound in his head, as he stood there, unable to protest his innocence. Shirley just screeched at him about breaking the door. He grew dizzy and his sight was dim through the tears that streamed unbidden down his face. Bud only ever wanted to be a good man, to do a good job. His bosses were forward thinking, and his wife might have been feeling lost and lashing out in her fears, but that didn’t matter to Bud. The was when he broke.
At first, he was so dizzy that he could barely tell where he was. Nothing in his head had ever cracked before. It had been a sound, a deep, muffled pop, and he had to catch himself on the doorway, lest he fall. But, as strong as he was, he stayed on his feet, and the dizziness passed into a yawning numbness, and this quiet, powerful man, good neighbor, who had only ever thought that being good was enough to make him good in the eyes of God and man, walked out that door for the last time. Lifting with one hand the heavy cans, Bud dropped them at the end of his driveway, taking no notice of Shirley’s scolding, as she threw the doorknob at him and hit him in the back. That pain was nothing compared to the numbness that filled his thoughts. Cold air chilled his face where the tears lay drying, and that was a better feeling. And he walked away—from everything and moved off into the dark beyond his driveway.
He liked to walk, for, sometimes, just getting away had been enough for Bud, but it would not suffice anymore. He had thought himself a saved man, but he thought of faith like a policy, something he signed on for years ago and didn’t worry about, now, like life insurance. Never thinking about nurturing his faith robbed him of faith’s reward in the here and now. He had no idea that salvation is more like what a drunk seeks whenever he doesn’t want to give in to the urge to drink. Bud fell headlong off that wagon, and broke and broke and broke, until there was nothing left of him, except the idea that he had only ever wanted to be good.
Bud wore his old work boots, and they made no noise on the asphalt. His steps took him into the dark of his neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Nothing was in his mind, no hope in the walk, no desire to do anything. A man ruined by cruel tongues lacks direction. Men like Bud don’t talk about such things as abuse or hurt.
It began to drizzle as he walked along a dark, tree shrouded lane that connected with roads that he had not walked before. There was no sidewalk, and he made his easy way down the dark margin of the road and just followed his feet. An old burned out shell of a chapel stood off of that road, with barely a roof, except the one over the steps. It had been a black church sometime in the past that rednecks had set fire to. Abandoned, like Bud, it offered him shelter from the rain that slid off his hat and down his neck. Bud squatted there, under that roof, curled up in a tight, wide ball by the door that separated him from the flame scarred interior.
That’s where one of the Rabisu, the Crouchers you read about in Genesis, spent its time, waiting for unwary prey. It read him through the door, for Bud’s brokenness called to the Croucher like a staked lamb to a tiger. Bud was ripe for the Croucher, and it crooned to him in a sweet voice,
“Come in. Come in, you poor, poor thing.” To Bud, it’s words passed through his numbness to where his soul ached and burned and though the yawning abyss of his pain opened before him again, the sweetness of the voice soothed and coddled him.
One push at the door from Bud was enough to splinter the rotted wood around the lock, and he tumbled, heedless, into the grasping hands of the Croucher.
His head spun, worse this time, and he retched up nothing when the sweet sound burned his mind, like the coldest ice that sticks to and peals away your skin. He wanted to cry out at the sensation, like needles entering pushing through his skin from the inside over every square inch of his body. Nothing more came out of his throat than a low, guttural moan, and he collapsed to the charred floorboards just within the threshold. And in seconds, the pain passed into a cool sensation that ran through his solid frame. It also warmed him where he was cold and soothed, again, his aches. He sighed and closed his eyes and slept. As to his broken heart, it was not healed, but hardened. One wonders how hard hearts continue to beat, but they do. Nothing, a small voice deep inside him now, said, could hurt him any longer. And to Bud, that was good.
He lay there for a while longer, aware of little except the rain that fell outside. When he got up, it was because the glare of headlights hurt his eyes. He squinted at an old pick-up came down the road. From within the ruined doorway, he watched as it slowed and stopped in a wide space in the road, an overlook of sorts just beyond the church, that gave a view of a deep valley beyond.
‘Join them,’ the gentle voice insisted. Bud was shy about such things, but the voice repeated,”Jointhem jointhem jointhem” so many times, with such sweet urgency that Bud complied. He walked on soft steps to the truck, driven by the hunger of the inner voice for more people to comfort, like it had Bud. It told him so.
He stared at the rocking truck for a long moment, wondered at its windows steaming up. Bud heard the moans of the couple within. ‘They’re in love,’ the voice inside him said, and Bud remembered what that was like, to feel a girl’s skin, the scent of her hair, the way her body rushed to meet his, and he smiled.
‘No,’ said the voice, ‘they are caught in each other’s trap. It cannot last, this stolen bliss. Why, they aren’t even married. You should save then from the heartache that awaits them, for she will cheat on him, he on her, and faithlessness will wreck their lives, like it did yours.’
Bud nodded, his smile fading, and he walked to the truck door, and opened it on the couple still huddled in each other’s arms, spent and satisfied. Bud reached in with both hands, even as they grew aware of him. The girl started to squeal and the boy said “Hey!,” but Bud’s hands cupped the back of each head and brought them together with force enough to knock them out. Another time, and their skulls cracked. Another time, for good measure, and they were dead, skulls no longer shaped right, for Bud’s strength was enough to do that many times over. And as he looked at them, the voice within said, ‘There. Don’t they look sweet? That’s people for you. They just need saving, once and for all.’
Bud nodded and closed the door, after he had nudged the truck’s old shifter out of gear. Setting his shoulder to the tailgate, he pushed and the truck rolled forward, just like the voice told him to. With a sustained push, it rolled over the grassy lip of the road side and rattled off down the hill, scraping over small trees and bouncing over the grassy mounds. Bud went back to the chapel after that and walked through the now safe and familiar door. The sensation of ease flowed over him again. Much of the floor had burned away, and he let himself down into the pitch black cellar. He found a filthy mattress back in the corner under the doorway and settled down to rest. ‘A poor old bum slept here a year or so ago,’ the voice said. ‘He won’t be back. But all those years of work, all that muscle you built?’ The voice mentioned. ‘Should it take you three blows to put people out of the misery that they earn for themselves?’
“No,” Bud said aloud, and thought about how he should be closer to them.
‘People’s heads are softest around the temple,’ the voice said. ‘Consider this before you go out again.’ Bud slept on, resting so deeply that he knew no hunger or thirst. He neither saw nor heard any commotion that people made the next day when they found the truck and its passengers. When he woke, it was dark again.
His feet took him away from the police tape on the side of the road, toward his old neighborhood, and beyond, out to the main road where the stores were. ‘It’s Halloween,’ the voice crooned. ‘Think of all the people out tonight. Many of them need to be released, you know.’ Bud nodded his head, for the voice was right, and he did not have to wait long before he saw a couple walking arm in arm through a parking lot of the supermarket towards the bus stop. They took no notice of a heavy old man. He slipped in behind them, going on the soft soles of his old work boots, for the voice said, ‘These two need you.’
“But I’ll get work again, sweetheart,” the man whined to the girl, who worked the cash register at the grocery store. “Got a line on a factory opening.”
“You always have a line on something, Jimmy, and yet you’re home all day, watching tv, while I have to take double shifts and face these mean old bitches that accuse me of cheating them out of five cents on their damned Halloween candy,” the young woman complained.
‘See?’ The voice said. ‘Hear all that bitterness, that hatred building between them? Do it fast and save them! Up there, in the dark part of the parking lot.’
Sure enough, the way to the bus stop took them through a place where the lights weren’t needed. Bud’s soft steps took him up to them so that they noticed nothing. He got real close this time and smashed their heads together so hard that there was no sound of cry or scream, only the meaty thunk of skulls meeting side to side and the muted crack of bone as they fell forward, still arm in arm. Bud kept walking, leaving them in silent bliss in the dark of the Safeway lot, where only daylight would find them. ‘Just walk. Don’t run. You belong here. These are your people. They need you,’ the voice crooned. Bud smiled, the drug-like warmth stealing through him.
Since it was Halloween, many folks were out watching the trick or treaters, looking at the carved jack o’ lanterns. And Bud passed among them, hat and coat making him look like just another stocky grand dad taking his grand kids out on Halloween, though he was alone—or so it looked. He smiled at kids in costumes and offered to pet the dogs who walked up to him. Bud liked dogs, who were sweet and loyal, usually. But the dogs took one sniff at him, and bolted away, terrified of the smell of death on his hands.
‘They can tell,’ the easy voice said, ‘that you are touched with a sacred mission.’ Bud nodded, and went on, looking for others to save. He got better at his trade, too, for many young folks, too old for trick or treat, were out seeking dark spots for trysting. Bud didn’t know that word, never reading much beyond the newspaper, but the voice knew it and told him where to find people. It was easy. Most of them never made a sound as their heads smashed together, and they fell into the darkness under trees or beyond the corners of houses.
The trail of fallen bodies, most still arm in arm, mounted up in the neighborhood across from the Safeway, for they were easy to find, if you didn’t mind walking in the dark. Bud was at home in the dark, meting out his brutal, one time ‘salvation.’
The voice called him on, but it didn’t bother telling him that a car’s lights found the bodies in the Safeway lot. Before Bud had gone very far down through the neighborhood, several patrol cars came to that scene. That was about the time that the first screams of discovery broke out in the quiet neighborhood through which Bud had passed. The police were there in a heart beat, and all of the people out trick or treating ran toward the lights. One cop, though, a man close to Bud’s age, saw him walking away from the scene. Other screams erupted as other bodies were found, and the old cop got on his radio and called for back up.
‘Just walk on. Your work here is almost done,’ the voice crooned, and Bud smiled. He had always wanted just a bit more praise for a job well done, even if he didn’t always do as well as someone else. Somebody he knew once said, “it takes ten ‘attaboys’ to make up for one “aw shit.”’ Bud basked in the praise of the voice, for his life had gotten full of “aw shits.”
When the first two cops caught up with him, Bud turned and smiled at them.
“Just stop where you are, Grand Dad,” one cop said, holding Bud in the beam of his flashlight.
‘Isn’t that sweet? He thinks of you as a kindly old fellow. You should help him and his partner. The police have such hard lives, and they often fall into abuses of power. What an awful thing to happen to young men who are full of such potential for good. Help them find peace, Bud,’ the voice said.
Bud walked toward the cop’s light, saying, “I’m here to help.” The cop’s partner had his hand on his pistol as Bud walked up to them. They stood side by side on the street, watching this heavy set old fellow stroll towards them.
“I don’t like the look of this,” the one with his hand on his weapon said.
“For God’s sake, don’t draw your piece on an old geezer, Bill,” the one with the light said. The older cop who had spotted Bud first rolled up in his car behind the scene. Just as he was getting out of his car, he saw Bud approach the duo. His panicked scream ripped the night air when Bud smashed the cops’ heads together. He had never seen anything like it, never seen a man on a mission. The two officers fell to the ground. The old cop pulled his gun, with a shaking hand and cried,
“You! Old Man! D-Down on the g-ground!” but Bud started towards him, a peaceful smile on his face.
“I just had to help them. They’re okay, now.”
‘Yes, my love. They are,’the voice within Bud sighed. “Help him, too, the poor, sweet old copper. Look how tired and scared he is. Ease his pain.’
“Stop now and kneel down!” The old cop yelled, pointing his revolver at Bud’s chest, but Bud came towards him still, wanting to tell the officer how he brought peace to people.
“See, the head is softest on the side,” Bud said. “I set my hands on the outside of their heads, and—“
The shots that rang out stopped Halloween. The neighborhood lights all went on, and the cries of sorrow and terror ruptured the night. The old cop put five rounds into Bud’s chest, and that powerful old man just kept coming towards him, smiling, saying, “I just want to help. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, to be good, to do a good job.”
The last shot from the service revolver went through Bud’s head, then, just after the Voice said, ‘Oh you did, Bud. You did.’
There are powers in this world at work for the good of people, yet they can all be undone by careless tongues. The saint says that the tongue is a little thing, but like the small rudder of a mighty ship, it controls the direction of the whole voyage. People are free to talk, whenever, however they like, but there are others listening, counting the numbers that mount up to breaking points. They are waiting, crouching in places that look like sanctuary to the broken ones. How can you tell when one word, more or less, will pass or stop short of that point beyond which some men can’t go and remain sane? Really, you can’t. So, work on your faith, and guard yourself against the day when you reach your number. And, be careful that your tongue’s fire does not start a fire that burns the world.