A Pizza to Remember
I should have listened to Dayshawn.
"Dude, just order a pepperoni pizza. Pineapple and anchovies? That is the weirdest combination I've ever heard."
"Oh, come on, Dayshawn. It'll be a blast!"
"No, it'll be a stomach ache."
"You just don't like to try new things."
"Because the old things work out well a hundred percent of the time I try them. The new things have an unacceptable failure rate."
"But you could find something new you like."
"If I like the old thing, I don't need the new thing."
"Faint hearts like yours never crossed the Atlantic or explored the South Pole."
Dayshawn did not even look up from the Blender 3D model he was using to simulate some kind of machinery. "Wild hearts like yours died by the hundreds in those attempts. See? Unacceptable failure rate."
"But some succeeded!"
Dayshawn facepalmed. "We started out with pizza. Now we're at the South Pole. Fine, Kyrell. Order your fruit and stinky fish pizza and get me pepperoni."
I called A Pizza to Remember.
“Hey, I want two personal pizzas. One pepperoni, one pineapple and anchovy.”
The line went quiet at the other end. Then the girl asked very carefully, “I understand, sir. Are you very certain you are ready for the pineapple and anchovy?”
“You sound like my best friend. He won’t even talk about it. Yes, I’m sure. I want the pineapple and anchovy.”
“And you are ready?”
“Girl, I was born ready!”
Huh. Was there hidden hot sauce in it? Was this a test of my manhood? I couldn’t wait to find out.
When the sixty-year-old delivery boy arrived, he stood resolutely at the door and asked, “Pepperoni?”
“That’s me,” said Dayshawn and indicated the only clean corner of my desk. As the delivery boy set the pizza down, he looked squarely at me. “Pineapple and anchovies?”
“Oh, yeah!” I rubbed my hands with glee and took the offered pizza. As I was about to lift the lid, he half-yelped, then stammered, “Hey, look, kid, don’t eat it until I’m well gone, okay?”
He left before I could even tip him.
“Well, that was weird,” I said. “This has got to be one insane pizza. Sure you don’t want a taste?”
“I am very, very sure, ” Dayshawn replied, using a butterknife to separate a piece that hadn’t quite been fully cut.
Okay, then, Mr. Mundane. I flung open the box.
Deceptive. It looked just like pineapple and anchovies. I squinted at it, held it to the light, lifted a cheesy slice and sniffed it. Man, I was going to love this. In fact, I was going to scare the bejabbers out of Dayshawn. Maybe fake a choking fit? Nah, I had a better idea. This was the pizza of insanity. First bite, instant insanity. Dayshawn might not believe me, but it would still be a hoot to see his face.
I bit into the pizza, chewed, and swallowed. Weird flavor, but kind of tangy. I liked it.
I took another bite.
The slice hit the cracked linoleum apartment floor with a wet slap and a spray of tomato sauce.
Dayshawn’s head snapped up, startled. Then his alarm disintegrated into annoyance.
“Very funny, Kyrell. Stop making a mess and eat like a normal human being.” He returned to Blender, grumbling under his breath, “I swear, sometimes it’s like living with a two-year-old. The drama. At least we know you’re in the right field.”
My breath snagged in my throat and I whirled. It was there. No, it was there. Was it invisible? Or was it…?
I leaped across the room and caught up the paperweight tarantula in glass that my sister sent me last Christmas.
“Kyrell, put that down!” Dayshawn leapt up. “What are you doing?”
“They’re everywhere!” I hissed. “Shut up or they’ll hear you.”
“Who? What did they put in that pizza?” He stooped and sniffed the pizza.
I turned to him, trembling. “They’re coming to kill me. They’re just waiting for me to remember.”
“If this is one of your dramas just to get me to try the pizza, forget it. I’m not playing along.”
I didn’t have time. I was going to die. They were coming and I couldn’t stop them. And Dayshawn… Even if he couldn’t see them, I bet they could kill him too.
Pineapple and anchovies.
“Are you ready?” she had asked.
How could I have been such an idiot?
The delivery boy should have clued me in.
I raised the paperweight and waited by the window, knuckles white, eyes darting around the room, pinning first one, then the other. But every moment they got closer…
I wanted to vomit.
“Fine,” said Dayshawn, rolling his eyes. “If it will get you to chill out, I’ll take a stupid bite.”
But he bit, chewed, swallowed, all the while sardonically smiling at me.
“Happy now, Ky?”
Then horror poured into his expression and I knew he saw them. Everywhere. Coming for me—and now for him.
They were like the shadows that flicker at the corner of your vision, that freeze and become something ordinary when you look directly at them. They were all the nebulous forms that you thought you saw but couldn’t be sure. They were the ghosts of figures in the fog, the movement you felt just behind your back, the eyes that bored into you but that you couldn’t see.
Kids were right when they talked about monsters under the bed and frightening things in the dark. Kids were right because they dared to remember.
I knew, as surely as Dayshawn now knew, that we had been seeing them all along and had forgotten them.
“What are they?” Dayshawn choked, scrambling to my side with the butterknife he had used earlier.
“A butterknife? Really?”
Dayshawn shook the knife at me, snapping out the words between his teeth. “What. Are. They?”
“They…” I scrambled for that intuition that you often have in dreams. “They’re things we’ve forgotten, forgotten because they were all the things we wanted to forget.”
“Maybe you should have taken that second bite.”
Every time we looked at one of the Things, it moved. Whisked away. The room was full of them and yet we couldn’t see them directly.
“Think about it, Dayshawn,” I said. “You want to forget something. So you just banish it from your mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s gone. Just because you forget something doesn’t mean that it forgets you. And somewhere in the darkness, it grows and finds a shape and becomes… Them.”
It was too close. I swung and the glass paperweight met only air. The Things clustered at the edges of my vision, breathed on me from the shadows, whispered just below the level of audibility.
“I don’t want to remember,” Dayshawn whispered hoarsely.
“Maybe we have to remember.”
Dayshawn glanced at me sharply, then his eyes retreated into his thoughts the way they always did when he was working on a particularly snarly engineering problem.
“All right,” he said at last. “Then we don’t forget them. And we don’t look directly at them.”
“What?” I had never heard anything so utterly…
It was brilliant!
I had to psyche myself up for this. Fighting creatures I was not allowed to directly look at. Remembering things I had wanted so hard to forget.
“Stop hyperventilating,” Dayshawn snapped. “Just see.”
He stepped into the middle of the room and his eyes unfocused, as though he saw nothing and everything in the room at once. I pressed my back against his—no one could say that I let Dayshawn fight Things all by himself—and I unfocused my vision.
There. Three o’clock. I waited until it was in range, never looking directly at it, then bashed the paperweight across its burning green eyes.
The creature fell to the floor, scattering like leaves in the wind.
Dayshawn’s arm darted forward and another creature shrieked and fell. Some foul breath blew upon my side and my left arm went slack, paralyzed.
“Don’t think about your arm,” Dayshawn said. “Think about Them, but don’t look at Them.”
How do you acknowledge the existence of something that you can only fight if you don’t look at it?
Answer: You don’t look at it at all.
When do you face your secret fears? When do you see the things you thought you had forgotten?
Answer: When you’re asleep.
With your eyes closed.
“Close your eyes, Dayshawn! Close your eyes!”
I squeezed my eyes shut. In my mind’s eye, I stood at the edge of an abyss that They swarmed up like insects. Something wild like rage and powerful like victory rose in me.
“I know you are there, you little creeps!” I shouted. “I know you’ve haunted me my whole life, never able to strike until I remembered you. Well, I remember you. But if I spent my life looking at you, I would never do better things, experience fuller things, things worth remembering. I acknowledge your existence but I will look at you no longer!”
“What in the world are you talking about?” Dayshawn shouted from somewhere beyond my closed eyes. “This is not one of your musicals!”
The Things cowered before me in my mind’s eye. Now I could look at them directly, see them clearly. I had remembered them—and refused them power over me.
Suddenly, my eyes snapped open and I gasped like I had stepped through a curtain of ice-water.
“Well,” said the delivery boy, who sat perched on the edge of the couch, chewing meditatively. “I’ve… never seen anyone use that tactic before.”
“What do you mean?” Dayshawn asked, butterknife still upraised.
“Hey!” I said. “You’re eating my pizza.”
“Waste not, want not,” said the delivery boy, wiping the grease on his pants. “It’s Kyrell and Dayshawn, right? Most people have the sense not to look directly at Them, but I’ve never seen anyone close his eyes outright and just strike Them down with his mind. I have to get that idea back to General Frake. It might have larger implications.”
“Who are you?” Dayshawn asked.
“Look.” The delivery boy captain rose from the couch. “You two have now entered a very big, very dangerous war. Those memories were just the little guys, a teeny-weeny taste of the world that you have just entered. There are things out there that are deeper and more dangerous than you can imagine and it’s our job to fight them. Welcome to the Rememberers.”
Dayshawn and I stared open-mouthed at each other.
“What did I say?” Dayshawn’s volume blasted me. “I told you—unacceptable failure rates!”
“But we didn’t fail,” I retorted, grinning. “We passed. Right?”
Captain Bell looked from Dayshawn to me and asked briskly, “Any questions?”
“Just one.” I glared at him. “Did you leave any of the pizza for me?”