A Burt Original
Danny sat on the shore outside his grandfather’s house and stared across the lake. The sun was setting. Or maybe rising. Whichever it was, it was bright and orange above the treeline and cast an amber glow over the water. Danny had given up smoking when he was 20, but he found himself now with a cigarette in his hand. He always smoked in his dreams.
Burt reclined on the shore beside Danny.
“Your fur’s going to get dirty,” said Danny. Burt’s fur was thick and orange like a shag carpet.
“Eh,” said Burt. “It’s not like I’ve got anyone to impress.”
Danny liked to describe Burt as looking like a reject muppet. When Danny was eight, Burt had been an imposing figure, impossibly tall at six feet, six inches. Danny had lived in terror of Burt’s long, red claws. But now Danny stood at a spindly six feet two inches himself.
“What am I doing at grandpa’s?” Danny threw his cigarette out into the lake. Fish swarmed to investigate as it sank.
“Remembering things, I’d assume. I don’t know, I just work here,” said Burt.
“I used to find you so frightening.”
“Yeah, those were the days.” Burt lay back and stretched himself out in the sand. “Remember the first time I came out of your closet? I think you peed yourself.”
Danny thought back. He could picture Burt appearing at the window and crawling out from the space under his bed. He remembered sleeping with a bat under his pillow. He could remember wetting the bed in some kind of early, almost-wet dream when he imagined Cindy Christopher chasing him at recess. But he couldn’t picture Burt in his closet.
“Yeah, Burt, you were something,” said Danny. He watched the sun. It had positioned itself perfectly as if sitting on the horizon and didn’t seem to have any intentions to move up or down in the sky.
Burt waved his arms and legs, making angels in the sand. Burt said, “I was nervous that first night. I don’t know if I’ve told you this, but I’d never been in a nightmare before yours.”
Danny tried to listen, but he was still thinking about Cindy. Her body had treated puberty like it was a race. He hadn’t recognized her on the first day of fifth grade. She was like a woman disguising herself in kids’ clothes. He spent months hiding his first erections and assuming she had become cold before he’d said a word to her. She was eager to have a friend again.
A few months later, she’d broken his heart when she told him, with great enthusiasm, about her first kiss with one of her older brother’s friends, Frank. She asked him earnestly if that meant Frank was her boyfriend. Frank gave Danny his first cigarette.
“I always expected you to run away. I had practiced knocking down doors and stomping on staircases to scare you, but you just pulled the covers over your head and whimpered. And what could I do then? Nothing! I could eat you, but that doesn’t work. That’s just boring. So I circled around your bed and made growling noises.” Burt sat up and shook the sand from his fur like a dog. “I was ridiculously embarrassed.”
“Really?” asked Danny.
“Oh, yeah. It wasn’t until I started with the whispering that anything made sense.”
“I remember the whispering.” Danny stood and stretched him arms wide. He considered his grandfather’s house. The paint was peeling and looked abandoned. He wondered what this dream could be about. “It was always kinda cheesy.”
“What?!” Burt’s big eyes bulged.
“I assumed I’d gotten that from a movie. Maybe, that one with the ghosts living in the TV.”
“No, that was a Burt original. I’ve used that hundreds of times since then. You’re telling me it didn’t scare you?”
Danny shrugged. He checked his pockets to see if he had anymore dream cigarettes.
“I always thought you had just learned to stand up to me. I thought I was doing you a favor.”
Danny didn’t look at Burt. He felt suddenly restless. There was a breeze now and it tossed leaves from the trees. “Let’s check out my grandfather’s house.” He was about to add,”I want to get this dream on with,” but Danny really didn’t want to hurt Burt’s feelings any more.
“Yeah, okay,” said Burt and got to his feet.
Danny put his hand on Burt’s furry face. “You were my best friend.” Burt smiled. Danny smiled back and wished he meant it.