Bizarre Crime Shocks Sleepy Neighborhood

Chris J. Magyar

Lies have a habit of forcing even more lies. Especially when you've got a secret to keep.

I returned to the mud, as black and slimy as it ever was. The sun, after my slippery frolic, caked me and I became a creature of cracked armor... exhausted, despicable, in desperate need of a bath. My clothes were somewhere else, strewn in the grass, probably getting soaked by mid-afternoon sprinklers. I was scandalously close to being discovered by an elderly dog-walker, tottering down the greenbelt path, which was paved tar-black and rounded to allow runoff from the sprinkler water. Psychically, I sensed my danger with a moment of chaste clarity, and rolled behind a particularly thick clump of cattails by the creek bed. I left a trail of mud, but she wouldn't notice--who's looking for a trail of mud in the grass during a stroll?

It took an eternity for her to pass. Her dog, a toy of some sort, strained against the leash to return home and lap up water, nearly choking itself with effort. She muttered, half to the dog and half to herself or whatever dead family member she used to walk with down this path, and when I was very still, I caught snippets of her mutters every time the breeze ceased and the cattails hushed: "...out of milk... I told you she would... but how... calm down you mangy... shoes..."

When her footsteps were far enough away, I rolled deeper into the cattail forest, right up to the creek bed where fresh mud greeted the dry and welcomed it back to the fold--prodigal dirt, made mud again by the feast of stagnant water. Then, as soon as I was alone enough to stand and search for my clothes, a group of young boys hopped a fence and overtook the grassy plateau up the hill with a baseball game.

My primal urges fully receded as I realized I was stuck in left-center field, one prodigious stroke away from being discovered in a home-run ball hunt. I had two choices: become an animal, a swamp monster so ferocious that even the teenagers would dash away in terror and allow me to retreat upstream, or crawl slowly and quietly through the brush on the other side of the creek from the game, praying like a ninny that my plump thirty-year-old flesh wouldn't stick out from the green hillside. This mud, is it camouflage? Those boys, are they skittish? Too many uncertain factors for my accountant-by-day brain. A bat struck a ball. I flinched. The hit barely cleared their improvised infield. Maybe I would be saved by their underdeveloped swings.

The mud began itching with sudden and fearful precision: my testicles, my earlobes, my toes, the small of my back. As hit after hit failed to reach the slope, I came to the decision that inaction was my only choice. I nested in my cattail grove, covering my body piece-by-piece with fallen, soggy stalks (which also soothed my itching). One boy came running my way, but he intercepted the rolling ball halfway down the hill. Then I buried my head, and relied on my ears for warning of their approach.

With the immediate threat of discovery temporarily at bay, I turned my fervent mind to the problem of my clothes. They weren't carefully stashed; in my initial spasms of unrestrained joy, I thought only to deposit them behind a freestanding electrical box, shielded from the path but not the backyards which abut the park. Any one of three houses could expectorate a homeowner (watering plants perhaps, or pushing children on swings) and expose my Eddie Bauer plaid shirt, my Dockers, my silk boxers stained on the inside with small drips of urine thanks to my ever-failing plumbing.

In my cocoon, I imagined the sighting. It would be a housewife, just past sexy but still cute in that young mother way, wearing jeans and a maroon tank top. She would be in the yard with green gardening gloves on, dutifully pulling at juicy young weeds near the thorns of her prized roses. As she looked up and wiped her brow with the back of her wrist, she would squint and see something unusual on the other side of her ranch fence (lined with chicken wire to keep the terrier from escaping). What is that? Someone's shirt? She would stand up slowly (her knees creaking, her breasts momentarily swelling as she bends over) and walk to the gate her husband clumsily constructed before the divorce. With a grunt, she'd force it open and walk over to the electrical box, ignoring its insistent multilingual warnings of electrocution, and pick up, say, my boxers. How did these get here?

Would she notice a trail of trampled grass down to the creek, and a telltale swatch of mud eastward to my makeshift shelter in the cattails? Would the sprinklers still be on, preventing her from examining the pile of garments? Would the cops tell her not to worry over the phone?

And that's when I found out nothing stops worrisome thoughts like a baseball landing on your temple.


There was a bright light. My first thought was to walk toward it, but it turned out to only be a flashlight glaring in my eyes, held by some vague man on the other side of my woozy vision. I realized later that the kids, once they found me, assumed I was dead. The dread and excitement of their discovery resulted in a long meandering argument--I was to be a secret--until the pressure of keeping such a secret burst and someone squealed to their parents. A whole cul-de-sac came down (it was dusk by now) to relocate me, and it took quite some time, since the baseball bat the boys planted to mark my grave fell over shortly after they left. Just as most of the parents had decided it was all a prank, one guy shined that flashlight in my face. As I said, I only found this out much later. My awakening yielded much dimmer epiphanies.

I saw, once my eyes adjusted to the light, a group of frightened suburban adults staring at me in astonishment. Unfortunately, the wife in the maroon tank top was not present. Even more unfortunately, my neighbor Jeff was.

"Jack? Are you okay? Can you tell us who did this to you?"

From the back of the group, I heard Jeff's wife pipe up: "We've got your clothes, Jack!"

I coughed, and everyone took an instinctual step back. I half sat up, conscious not to display my bathing suit parts (as my kids were taught to call them) in the process. Looking back, I had a golden opportunity there --just blame some malevolent perpetrator, some angry teenage hoodlum, some desperate crack fiend from across the highway. I was stupid. My head throbbed. My body wouldn't stop shivering. My left ear was clogged with creek mud.

Whatever the excuse, I said, "I'm fine."

Lots of people said something there, but I only heard Jeff clearly. "Who did this?"

"Nobody. I did it myself... I was just playing around."

Sometimes honesty is a real bitch. This is a lesson I've learned countless times from prime-time sitcoms in that one inevitable episode, the one in which the family learns that sometimes little white lies can spare everyone a heap of trouble and sadness. No matter how hard I tried to retract my statement later, even though people believed me on the surface, they mistrusted me for saying that, for saying "playing around."

"I was kidding!" I'd plead, but there must have been something about the sight of me, naked and mud covered in the creek, that betrayed the lie--how could anyone kid about such humiliation? Especially after just waking up from a brutal beating? (The baseball hitting me never came up--thank you, boys--so it was assumed, with my help, that I was knocked out with a blunt object, like the butt of a gun.)

The police, trying to question me gently but itching to do it the hard way like their heroes on TV, drilled me about "playing around."

"I was kidding!"

It turned out the suspect was Mexican (easier that way), about 5'10", with a pencil-thin mustache and acne scars on his cheeks. Oh, and he had a tattoo of a teardrop by his right eye. Oh, and he was wearing a Broncos jersey, Terrell Davis I believe, and jeans, and sneakers, and his gun was... how should I know? I've never used a firearm in my life, officer. No, he didn't have any gold teeth. No, no jewelry either. Well, maybe a watch, but it all happened so fast, you know? He just sprung out from behind this electrical box and pointed the gun at me and demanded my wallet and... gosh, I didn't have it on me, since I was just going for a stroll... it was about 2:30... and the next thing I knew, he had me in a headlock. He must have known something, karate or something, and, if you want to know the truth, I'm not a very strong person. That gym membership is just a moment of New Year's weakness; I pay them off like a charity... but anyway, the guy had me in a headlock and I was trying to bite his arm but then I don't remember anything but blinding pain... must be then when he hit me. I have no idea about the clothes. Racial anger, I suppose. Or maybe he was going to take them but they didn't fit, or something. I don't know. I was quite unconscious at the time. I'm sorry. Can I call my ex-wife now? I was supposed to pick up the kids like 18 hours ago.


I knew by the time the cops dropped the third lineup pictures in front of me that they were pissed. They had run through every Hispanic suspect in the county in the first two lineups, and the idea of a crime like this unsolved after a month got under their skin. Everyone--my ex, my lawyer, my mother--egged me to just finger someone already. I couldn't even believe that I was pressing charges, but life snowballs like that. It reminded me of the divorce, actually. One day I said something stupid to her, and before I knew it a judge was telling me to give her the couch and the china cabinet in exchange for the television. I pointed. His tattoo was under his left eye, not his right, but... ah, it all happened so fast, you know?

His name was Jose Montoya, and he had three girls, a gorgeous wife, and one conviction of possession of marijuana in 1993. He had real bad credit, so the motive turned out to be robbery, and to explain his bizarre disrobing of the plaintiff, my lawyer concocted some gang ritual that loosely correlated with his childhood in El Paso. His lawyer, court-appointed, argued everything including the kitchen sink but couldn't convince the jury of his alibi: he was drinking with his buddies between shifts at the nearby restaurant where he worked as a cook. So chalk the conviction up to two things: I have a damned good lawyer (I kept the television, didn't I?) and he has damned bad drinking habits in the eyes of one suburban county jury.


Moving quickly now, I know, but shame has an accelerating effect. Let's just get to the present day, the present hour, the present circumstances. I'm back in the creek, clothed this time, a victim of my own bad drinking habits. The moon is close to full, and summer keeps the ground warm even at four in the morning.

I'm home. Not home as in the shell of wood and brick I clasped greedily after the divorce. ("Your Honor, I know it's customary for the custodian of the children to keep the house, but you must consider the fact that my client makes barely one third of what his estranged spouse is pulling in.") Home, as in the sticks of cattail that are just beginning to flower, spreading a drift of white fuzz over the creek and clogging up the sewers, sticking to the freshly-washed cars, pollinating the carefully-groomed lawns. Home, as in the black mud imported for this artificial waterway through the neighborhood. ("A river runs through it," the real estate agent joked.) Home, as in the state of utter abandon I was trying to capture that fateful afternoon. Imagine that: capturing utter abandon.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it's me, an escapee of sorts. It's what I am now. A tadpole, a minnow, a garter snake. I belong here, really. I just hope nobody finds me in the morning.

Chris J. Magyar ( never goes anywhere without his J. Chris and his J topped the masthead as owner/editor-in-chief of Go-Go Magazine in Denver, Colorado, an arts and entertainment bi-weekly distributed free to anyone who would take it. The relationship ended at the same time as the money, and Chris and his J now simultaneously spearhead the Entertainment section of the Denver Daily News and toil in the production department of a humongous multinational publishing corporation. The Colorado College saw fit to give Chris and his J a bachelor's degree in Creative Writing. This is the first useful thing to come of it. Chris dreams of living in Sydney, Australia. The J will tag along.

InterText Copyright © 1991-2002 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 12, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 2002 Chris J. Magyar.