Part 4

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That was the whole story, just as my grandpa told it to me. Not much of an ending, I thought. The hunter kills a bear, brings it home, brings it back, follows a rabbit into a cave, and falls asleep. My grandpa stared at me, awaiting my reaction to his half-baked fairy tale. "What happened next?" I asked, more to fill the silence than anything.

"What's next?" he repeated to himself. "What's next, eh? Well, Angel my boy, that's up to you, ain't it?"

Before, I could ask him what he meant by this—whether he wanted me to write my own ending to the story or what—there was a slow, booming knock at the door. It made me jump in my chair, and I had the fleeting impression that I was hearing the terrible heartbeat of that great white bear from the story. Then I felt silly for imagining such a thing. I was pretty young at the time, but not that young.

Oddly, my grandpa didn't react to the knock at all. He just stared at me with a knowing smile as if there were no reason to go on with the story, as if everything were going just according to plan.

"So... should I get that?" I asked after some hesitation. It really was strange to get a knock at the front door so late, creepy story or no.

All my grandpa did was nod and smile.

I summoned all my courage, pushed aside silly superstitions, and looked through the peephole. I couldn't make out very much with our porch light burnt out, but judging by the silhouette I saw, our visitor seemed to be a very large man dressed in a heavy white suit. This knowledge did very little to relieve my apprehension. I pushed thoughts of the bear down a little deeper into my subconscious.

"Can I help you?" I shouted through the door, trying without success to sound confident and maybe a little menacing.

"I'm a friend of Jim's," was the man's reply. I looked back at my grandpa hoping for some sort of explanation, but all I got was a look that seemed to say, Well, what are you keeping a friend of your granddaddy's waiting for? I gave in and opened the door to the intimidating figure. The man stepped right inside and immediately found a seat in my grandpa's big brown recliner. I found it a little odd that my grandpa had moved to the couch, apparently to make way for this stranger, but I wasn't about to question it.

Sitting there, slumped in that cushy leather easy chair, this man looked even more outlandish than I'd imagined from my limited view of him on the porch. Judging by his shaggy white hair, he must have been about my grandpa's age, but his face looked many years younger. If not for his unusually dark eyes, I would have guessed he was an albino. He wore a completely white suit accented somewhat unsettlingly by a bright burgundy necktie.

With a voice like rolling thunder, he said, "The name's Elliot. You must be Angel. Me and your granddaddy go way back." I couldn't say why, but I didn't quite believe that. "So, tell me a little about yourself, son. The last time I saw you, you was knee-high to a grasshopper; ain't that right, Jim?" My grandpa simply smiled and nodded, as if in a trance.

Despite a strong desire to excuse myself and head straight to bed, I suddenly began telling Elliot everything that came to mind, embarrassing or not. I even said things my grandpa didn't know. I wanted to hold back, but I just couldn't. Maybe it was the way Elliot stared so intently into my eyes the whole time. Normal people glance around a little while they talk. Unbroken eye contact is just... weird. But whether I liked it or not, Elliot dominated the room. I was bound to sit there and answer his questions just as that easy chair was bound to support his considerable weight. We'd both do our best, the chair and I.

The more I talked, the better I felt about Elliot. He wasn't my enemy; he wasn't my friend; he was just... there to listen. I'm a little embarrassed to say, but I talked for hours once he got me going. There was a time or two in there when I got pretty emotional. I actually found myself breaking into tears as I spoke—sobbing openly, in fact. But I never stopped talking, Elliot never stopped staring, and my grandpa never stopped smiling and nodding. In retrospect, it was a very strange evening.

By the time we'd finished our one-sided chat, all I could do was stumble off to bed. I can't remember the details of what was said, but it seemed to me that I was being judged and evaluated. I do remember the last thing Elliot told me before I left the room: "You're doing fine, son. You've just got to make peace with yourself."

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