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The Search for Boyle by Darrin Doyle | Word Riot
Short Stories

October 16, 2015      

The Search for Boyle by Darrin Doyle

Listen to a reading of “The Search for Boyle” by Darrin Doyle.

Five workdays and two weekends had passed and none of us had seen Boyle. Hadn’t seen him at the plant, hadn’t seen him at Curly’s, hadn’t seen him around town walking his cat. Hadn’t seen him and he wasn’t answering his phone. He didn’t have a phone, so this wasn’t surprising. But he did have a house, and when we knocked on the front door he didn’t answer. Mail was stuffed in the box like it hadn’t been touched for a while, except probably by the postal carrier.
      From what we’d ascertained in our dealings with him, Boyle had no family in town or nearby. Mickel thought it was a good idea to bust inside and see if he’d died. Seemed like the right plan, so we kicked in the back door, broke the door jam and really distressed the wood on the door itself. We examined the damage and promised if he was alive we would get it fixed for him.
      The place seemed empty. Empty of Boyle, anyway. We called out his name without reply. His stuff was where it always was, or where we assumed it always was. None of us had been in his house before. We didn’t know him well. Nobody did. He was a quiet sort even though he did come out to Curly’s every Friday night. But he generally sat and listened and drank his beer and kept half his attention on the TV, no matter what was playing.
      His possessions stood in orderly, expected positions: kitchen table in the kitchen, couch and TV in the living room, coffee maker on the counter. The man lived a very basic existence. The TV, for example, had a 12-inch screen, and aside from the possessions just named there wasn’t much else in the house. The bathroom had a few toiletries on the counter and toilet paper under the sink. One bedroom was totally empty, dust bunnies dancing across the wooden floor when we made a breeze by walking in. The other room, presumably his bedroom, had a single mattress, no bed frame. The top sheet and blanket were twisted around each other, and the pillowcase had drool stains. A trumpet stood on its bell in the corner. That was the weirdest thing; that trumpet in the corner. We all pictured Boyle up late at night, reclining on his mattress, eyes wet with drink, blowing bluesy licks under a bare yellow bulb. It was such a lonely picture that we shook it away fast.
      In the fridge were a few condiments and a pack of American cheese. In the freezer, a near-empty box of fish sticks.
      “Maybe he went grocery shopping,” Mickel said.
      Phil said, “Suppose it would take a week to get what he needed.”
      We laughed. Then we heard the low growling.
      In the basement was his cat. When we opened the door the beast bolted through the kitchen and disappeared around the corner. It was probably all crazed and starving.
      Boyle’s cat was no ordinary cat. It was a crossbreed, half domestic and half African Serval. It was a long tall son-of-a-bitch, lean and muscular with jumbo ears, its light brown fur patterned with cloud-shaped spots like a tree or a fish. That’s why Boyle had to walk it on a leash. The cat wasn’t mean or anything. Just kept to itself and wasn’t fond of being touched. No way could Boyle let it roam like a regular outdoor cat, and no way could he leave it inside all day. Probably if it didn’t release its feral energy it would eat him. Or at least chew him.
      This idea made us wonder if Boyle had been devoured. Was his body in the basement? Did the hybrid get hungry and overpower him?
      “Where is the animal’s food?”
      We descended the staircase. The lighting made us feel like we had cataracts. The chilly air smelled like pine boards, soil, urine, and feces. Must and dust hung thick. It was an old-fashioned Michigan basement: a single room with ancient wood shelving constructed against stone retaining walls. Cobwebs. Dirt floors. No Boyle body, mercifully. Two empty metal bowls lay upended, the crusted remnants of old meat clinging to the sides of one of them. In the corner near the furnace was a jumbo plastic tub filled with litter and clumpy excrement. An explosion of litter surrounded the tub.
      “Kitty definitely sprayed down here,” Burt said, squeezing his nose like he wanted to tear it off.
      “Hey, look at that.” Mickel was pointing to one of the shelves.
We saw what he saw: a camera. Not a super-new model, but new enough to be digital.
      “Why would he keep a camera in the basement?”
      “Maybe he left it by accident.”
      “We may need Sheriff Cole.”
      “Yeah, this is Boyle’s property.”
      “We busted into his house,” I said. “That point is moot.”
      We took the camera upstairs and sat at the kitchen table. Mickel poked around in the cupboards while we tried to decide what to do.
      “Apparently Boyle’s not a complete loser,” Mickel said after a minute. He’d found a near-full fifth of Canadian whisky.
      We passed around the bottle. Outside the window night was in full bloom. Although nobody said it aloud, we felt like we were steeling ourselves against some big dark revelation. Nobody wanted to look at the pictures, but at the same time we knew we would.
      “Let’s talk this through,” Burt said.
      “His keys and wallet ain’t here,” Mickel said.
      “No sign of forced entry.”
      “Except ours.”
      “Hang on. Where’s his car?”
      “In the shop,” Phil said. “I was down there today to get mine serviced. It’s still there.”
      “So he didn’t take a trip.”
      “Unless someone else drove him.”
      “He have any friends?”
      “Just us.”
      “Maybe a secret girlfriend.”
      “You ever seen Boyle?”
      “You should talk.”
      We drank for a while, the camera poised in the center of the table like a forbidden relic out of a fairy tale: the object that should never be touched; the door that shouldn’t be opened. None of us wanted to make a move. Because if that camera held something terrible, it would feel like whoever looked first was the one to let it into the world.
      Burt startled in his chair. “Whoa. You scared me, buddy.”
      The cat was perched on the counter behind Mickel’s head, staring at us.
      “Should we go buy some cat food?”
      “Maybe kitty wants whisky.”
      Phil brought out a bowl, poured a bit of the sauce into it, and set it on the counter.
      “Hang on, maybe not.”
      Sure enough, the hybrid was licking away at the hooch.
      “I’ll be damned.”
      “Someone ought to take a picture of that.”
      We all had phones with cameras, but the mention of photography brought us back to the dilemma at hand.
      “Christ, what are we waiting for?” Mickel said. He grabbed the camera and turned it on. It beeped. We all gathered around to stare at the little display screen.
      The first photo was of Boyle himself, sitting on his mattress with the trumpet pressed against his lips, pretty much exactly how we’d imagined him. I could almost hear the sad wail of that horn calling for the angels. He had a look in his eyes like a man about to go into major surgery or jump off a cliff.
      “Who do you suppose took this picture?” Burt asked.
      “That could be a clue.”
      But the second photo was a bigger surprise than the first. It was a close-up of me in Boyle’s basement, my eyes squinted in a quizzical fashion, stooped and staring into the lens.
      “Where’d that cat go?” Mickel asked.
      The third photo was Burt taking a sip from a bottle of Canadian whisky.
      The fourth was Phil peering into a cupboard, wearing a wry smile, gripping a bowl.
      The fifth was Mickel reaching toward the camera, mouth open like he was caught mid-statement, like he was about to turn the thing on.
      “We’re all seeing this, right?” Phil asked. Nobody answered out loud; we were holding our breaths and our thoughts as tight as possible because the rest of the world felt like it was slipping away.
      The sixth picture was of the cat, its face buried in a pile of raw pink meat.
      There weren’t any more pictures.
      “Where is that cat?”
      “I don’t know. Where’s Mickel?”
      We looked around. We didn’t remember him leaving.
      “Did Phil go look for him?”
      “Not that I can recall.”
      “Burt? You still here?”
      I didn’t remember going down to the basement, but that’s where I found myself. Had I come down here to look for my friends? Why hadn’t I turned on a light?
      I stood in the cold blackness breathing the soil and the urine and something else, something rich and metallic. I called out for my friends. Wherever they were, they weren’t with me. Neither was Boyle, nor anybody else.
      It was me, the darkness, and the chewing. Just the wet hungry insistence, teeth on flesh, and the hot, wild stink of that goddamn cat.

IMG_3880About the author:

Darrin Doyle’s most recent book is the story collection, The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books). He is the author of the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan and teaches at Central Michigan University.

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