Elder Things - Episode Three
"Herman, open up, I need to hit the head."
In the time it took Herman to hustle to his apartment door, nearly an hour had transpired since his ghostly encounter. The haunted eyes of Robert Dawson were no longer hanging in his living room.
Mickey practically burst through the door, making a beeline for the bathroom but taking time to shoot Herman a look communicating "I'm not looking forward to hearing more bullshit."
Alone again for a moment, Herman frowned as he went over the story again. The best way to convey the night's events to his most cynical friend. Ultimately, he realized there was not a particularly sane way to communicate "I think I saw a ghost last night."
With another knock at the door, Herman was at least relieved to perhaps tell the entire group at once.
Penny strode into the room, holding the handles of her walker with her gnarled fingers, adorned with brilliant golds, sapphires, and rubies. Penny was sturdier than she looked, Herman knew. And he was unsurprised to catch the look she shot Mickey’s way as he returned to the living room, zipping his pants.
Thankfully, the final two might be more receptive. Mirabell entered shortly before the new girl, whose name Herman struggled to remember.
"Something with a D. Dotty?"
Whatever her name was, she seemed a little confused but curious. Maybe even cheerful. Compared to how Herman felt, Mirabell and the new kid looked about forty years younger. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. They gravitated toward each other, just like how Mickey and Penny naturally partnered.
Two sets of pairs. Herman was the odd one out. He was used to it.
Exchanging pleasantries, Herman offered the gang a few seats around what now counted as his living room. Given the room he could afford at the nursing home, it was also his dining room and private study.
Herman told them what he saw, and his friends did what friends can sometimes do best: they empathized without understanding.
Herman, taking a deep breath, started the part of his story aimed at the skeptics, “Now listen. I understand how this all sounds — and Penny, I’m primarily talking to you right now...Real or not...”
“...You saw it.”
Heads craned in Daisy’s direction. She stood straight-backed, charitably communicating “I’ll believe you even if I can’t truly buy it.”
“Yes. I saw it,” confirmed Herman.
“Herman, you know, there’s a silver lining here.”
Mickey and his fucking jokes. Herman struggled to make eye contact, and of course, his pal was grinning from ear to ear. Practically taking a bow before the punchline.
“At least none of that happened to me.”
“Y’know, my uncle Patrick told me he saw gremlins during the war..." Now Penny felt emboldened to chime in, rolling her eyes theatrically.
“Did you call him crazy?” Mirabell asked, playing the peacekeeper as usual.
“And how did that help?”
“He blew his brains out when I was in my thirties,” added Penny, forcing an inappropriately loud chuckle to shoot from Mickey’s mouth.
It wasn't clear what her point was. Mickey cocked his head in confusion,
"So it didn't hurt is what you're saying."
Taking a ring to the bicep, Mickey grinned and winced simultaneously, his one good eye crinkling with joy. Gotta hand it to Mickey, sometimes he helped smooth over rough patches, even if it cost him a hit or two. He successfully reset the tone of the conversation, allowing Herman to step back up,
"Now listen," he grumbled, thankful to find all eyes landing on him. "You don't have to believe me. I'll be honest with you, whether or not you believe isn't my problem. But it proves everything Robert told us."
"I'm sorry, how does this prove anything?" The new girl. Herman didn't have time to spend catching her up to date. He groaned, pressing forward.
"We have to get into Robert's room as soon as--"
"Well hold on, Herman, I don't think Daisy was trying to put you down, I think she genuinely needs to understand whats going on."
Herman only just noticed Daisy looking passed over. He softened a bit as she spoke,
"I'm sorry. I know I'm a total stranger here."
"We were all strangers at first, doll," croaked Penny, adjusting some of her looser rings as she spoke.
"I'm just trying to understand. Yesterday you all talked about this man, Rob ert, believing there may be some sort of...serial killer here. It's a very serious accusation. But you also talked about him like he was some sort of monster, and now you're talking about ghosts Herman. It's just a lot to wrap my head around."
She was right.
"So you saw a ghost last night? How exactly is that proof of your friend's claim that some kind of creature is killing us old folks?"
"Please, some of us prefer the term 'old fart.'"
Herman realized it was likely none of them understood.
For a moment, Herman questioned whether or not he could just throw them out of his apartment and wash his hands of everything. He saw a ghost, big deal. What responsibility did he truly have to find Robert's journal?
He could close the door, settle into his chair, and just wait his turn to die.
...Instead, he took the risk.
"Did I ever tell you about my wife?"
His heart rate quickened, and his instincts screamed at him to shut up. But he had already uncorked the bottle.
"She wasn't like the other guys' wives. I used to hear them bitch and moan about the old ball-and-chain back home. I'm embarrassed to say I talked the same way about Peg just so...I dunno, just so they wouldn't realize how much better I had it."
Mickey was checking his watch, but he was the only one. Herman hadn't ever come across so sentimental with most people.
"She was brilliant. A biologist. The things she'd say to me sometimes went so far above my head I couldn't even see them. Between the two of us she was bar far the one who solved problems. Maybe I should have been the fun one, then. The goofy clown, like Mickey here."
"Hey now," warned Mickey, theatrically.
"But I was bad at that too. Bad father. Bad listener. Peg just held the fort down on her own. A one woman show. I regret that now. I regret taking advantage of her being so goddamn capable. And I regret..."
It started deep in his gut. A sensation of worry. Humiliation.
"She woke up in the middle of the night toward the end, screaming about seeing a man in the corner. Our daughter, she said."
Herman bit his lip, working the skin over between his jaws. Unconsciously punishing himself or trying in vain to keep his mouth shut.
"Our girl had...Some low life robbed her. Probably a million muggings in the city, but this one was mean. She died before we made it to the hospital."
In Daisy and Mirabell's eyes, Herman caught sight of the exact type of pity he didn't want.
"She said our daughter came back to see her. Said she still needed her mother...But...I didn't believe her. Peg had always been so clinical, any talk of phantoms and boogeymen just--it didn't click. Didn't connect. And we were getting older."
In the corner, Mickey's eyes were closed, but he wasn't sleeping in the middle of the story. His jaw was clenched. Clearly he knew the ending already.
"The more she told the stories, eventually I...Well I thought we were helping her. Our son disagreed. She ended up in a place like this one, and it wasn't long before she was on one of the upper floors."
The others understood entirely. The upper floors required a key card to access in the elevator. But that didn't stop some of the screams from reaching down.
Herman was getting lost in memory.
"Peg didn't forgive me. I don't know if I was right or if I sped up whatever she was going through...My son never forgave me. So that's why I have all the proof I need."
The gang snapped back into focus, and in front of them it was just Herman crooked in his chair, hangdog expression on his face. He looked tired. More tired than normal, anyway.
"I'll never tell someone I don't believe them again. Besides, I know I'm not crazy, and I know what I saw last night. It's real. 'Course maybe I am crazy and I don't know it yet. Maybe it's just the beginning..."
Outside the closed windows, birds chirped, but the cheerful sunny day felt a world away. Inside Herman's cramped nursing home apartment, no one moved.
"But like I said, believe me or not, maybe someday you'll end up seeing things the way I do. In any case..."
Herman grunted, pressing against his knees to stammer to his feet,
"I'm heading over to Robert's. Now."
Finally another voice filled the room, Mirabell, almost as if she hadn't heard Herman's story at all.
She sounded as youthful and confident as always. Herman paused, wondering how he could get around the obvious flaw in his plan. And then Mirabell held out something small and copper colored.
"So you'll need this key."
Herman finally cracked a smile.