In this issue, we bring you a story of the paranormal-ish. A chilling tale of events that make you think “what the…” or “huh?”. Come, dear reader, stand on the precipice of the mundane and stare into the abyss of the kind-of out-of-place, the sub-usual, the pre-preternatural.
Also, I swear it’s true, it happened to a friend of a friend of mine.
Part 1 – The Grape Drink Kid
This week started like any other. On Sunday, I opened a paypal account so my seven-year-old daughter Nicetina could play online poker. I was hesitant to do this at first, but she’s been telling me for over a month now that everyone in the second grade already has one and is winning big. I asked her if she knew that it’s illegal for children to gamble, and she assured me they only played for peppermints and bubble gums. After warning her that I didn’t want this affecting our family dentist bill, rounded off with a stern yet sweet ‘young lady’, I opened the account and put her allowance in. She’s a tough bargainer and has managed to negotiate her allowance up to $20,000 per annum. I asked her how much her classmates got for allowances and she threatened collective action, so I caved. Maybe I’m not hard enough on Nicetina, but personally I see childhood as a precious time for a child, and, like they always say, they don’t give you a user’s manual when you have kids. I wouldn’t be lying when I say that sometimes, I wish they did!
Then Monday rolled around, right on time, as usual! I got out of bed with just enough time for a cup of coffee before I started my usual double shift in Menswear Wearhouse before heading over to Sportsvoid for my overnight. It’s getting harder and harder to earn a living wage while underwriting Nicetina’s investments in rare earth mineral extraction and offshore condo developments. I told Nicetina she should go to school if she valued her future. She told me she had been playing all night, was on a hot streak, and couldn’t leave. “I’m up fifty large!” she exclaimed while looking away from her game for a split second. “Fifty large…?” I asked. “Fifty large…gumdrops!” she replied with her eyes back on the screen, “They’re my favourite”. I told her I understood and to be sure not to open the door to strangers. She told me she ordered a pizza about ten minutes ago. I told her to be good.
On my way down the laneway, I stopped to make sure my recycling was in order. There’s little more satisfying in this world than well sorted bins, I always say. This time, something in there caught my eye. Usually, the only glass, aluminum, or plastic we consume are Nicetina’s Redbulls and disposable cellphones. I stick mostly to packaging that can be mulched. Today, however, I saw an unusual colour in the Blue Bin…purple. I put on a pair of surgical gloves, like the ones on TV doctor shows, and picked up the purple object. It was a pop can, a pop can I’d never seen before. On one side it said “Grape!” and on the other “Raisin!”. I smelled the can’s opening, it was unlike any grape I had ever encountered. It was then that I noticed that a bright purple liquid remained in the trough just under the lip of the can. I mulled-over what I was about to do for a moment, then gingerly pressed my gloved finger against the trough where the liquid remained, gathering a few droplets, and rubbed the finger against my gums. There was a feeling of sweetness, and another sensation, one of recognizing one’s own doppelganger in a crowd only to see him disappear again in the sea of faces. I pulled my finger out of my mouth and nervously checked to see if anyone was witness to my moment of awful recognition. That’s when I saw him.
He wore a large coat over a striped sweater and jeans. He was at the end of my block, too far away for me to see his face. He was a heavy ten years old. He stood under a street light that wasn’t on. None of them were on, it was daytime. I watched as he raised something from his hand to his lips, something cylindrical and glinting. The edge of the metallic object reflected the sun into my eyes for a second and I blinked. That’s when I knew that the can I was holding was the very same can he held. Grape!
“Hey!” I yelled, “Hey, kid!” in his direction. He didn’t move. “You shouldn’t put things in other people’s bins! Throw it out when you get home, or use a public recycling bin!” I waited, he didn’t react. He took a second casual sip of the syrupy liquid. It seemed we were at a stalemate. I decided I would let him off easy this time. “I’ll leave it here this time!” I shouted, “but think about what I said for next time!” I put the can back in the bin and kept my eyes on the kid, who had yet to move. I let go of the can and heard it clang against the pavement of my driveway. I’d missed the bin. I turned my head to see the can roll down the slope of the driveway, ringing thin hollow metal as I caught it and picked it up. I brought it back to the recycling bin and, carefully this time, placed it back on top. I snapped my gloves off and looked back to the street corner to see that the kid was gone. I took a closer look. The kid was gone, but the can he was drinking from was still there!
‘Environmental stewardship’ is a heavy term, so I don’t use it lightly. I happen to think it’s one of the most noble activities someone can engage in. There are many different ways of participating, you can turn your thermostat down in the winter, cut up six-pack rings with your pocket-knife on the side of the road while serving a community service sentence, or have a bird-assisted childbirth in a treehouse. But, for those of us who need three jobs to pay their daughter’s legal fees, there are less time-consuming ways to take part in keeping our earth green. Personally, I not only consider it my duty to recycle, I genuinely enjoy the experience. If, some day, Mother Earth came to my door to personally thank me for all my years of careful sorting my recycling, I would say “it was my pleasure, Gaia, no thanks required!” On the darker side of that coin, I don’t abide litterers. Not for one minute.
I marched directly over to the street corner and picked up the can, gloveless. I peered up and down the street in both directions. I saw no one, not even a car. It was oddly quiet for Monday morning. I sighed and walked back to my house where my car was waiting. I was already late for my shift at Menswear Warehouse.
On my way to work, I could have sworn I saw the kid at every street corner. I would quickly look and find a tree, mailbox, or garbage where I thought the kid was standing, taking another grapey sip. I arrived at work late and visibly shaken. “What’s up with you today?” asked my coworker, who insisted I call him by his screen name, FeralChild66, after my unsteady hands dropped their sixth silk handkerchief. I thought about how to explain my encounter to FeralChild66. “Do you know the kind of pop that comes in a purple can?” I asked. “Uh…” he thought for a moment, “Amp Energy Drink?” he finally replied. “No, I would have recognized that, being such a commonplace drink”. “Yeah, I trip over those in the parking lot all the time,” FeralChild66 agreed. “This one said something else on the side…” I tried to shake the name out of the recesses of my mind, but no amount of brain-shaking seemed to dislodge it. Then, I thought back to the uncanny feeling I had when the syrup touched my gums. “Raisin?” I said, unsure of my answer. “No, Grape!” I stated, more certain this time. “Just like that, with an exclamation mark at the end, like grapes are supposed to be exciting or assertive.” I realized I had said that last part out loud and nervously looked at FeralChild66, maybe he thought grapes were exciting and assertive and this would come between us. “Oh you mean Grape Drink,” he said, unfazed by my uninvited rant against the snack-sized post-fruit. “Yeah, I haven’t seen a Grape Drink can in a long time,” he mused, “but are you telling me you’ve never even HEARD of Grape Drink?” He looked at me perplexed and furrowed his tattooed brow, distorting the stylized puma. “I… suppose I haven’t” I said sheepishly. “Oh, dude!” he exclaimed, clapping me on the shoulder “Grape Drink’s been around forever! I’ve known a few guys who got hooked on it, weren’t the same after I convinced them to go cold turkey. Sometimes they still call me from the 7-11 at three in the morning asking me to talk them down from buying some. That’s dangerous shit, be careful dude!” I simultaneously doubted that statement and FeralChild66’s trustworthiness as a provider of factual information. “This might sound a little crazy..” I started. I hesitated to continue, but realized I had revealed too much to retreat now, “but have you ever seen a kid standing alone, in a long jacket and sweater, drinking Grape drink and staring at you?” FeralChild66’s pupils dilated slightly, he looked over his shoulder as he came closer to me and said, with his voice lowered, “no, never.” “Gabe!” the boss yelled from the cummerbund section. “It’s FeralChild66!” he yelled back. “Don’t care,” the boss shot back “get the outdoor broom, a storm drain in the parking lot is clogged with Amp Energy Drink cans again!” “Aww shit!” FeralChild66 quietly exclaimed in dismay, “God damn the popularity of that Amp Energy Drink!” I rolled my eyes in understanding.
At Sportsvoid that evening, I couldn’t help but look past the few customers I assisted when I thought I saw the Grape Drink Kid peering out from behind the hockey sticks or skate sharpener’s window, or standing in the parking lot, or glimpsing a purple can sticking out of the Hot Paws bin by the cash. I couldn’t push my usual artificial gregariousness past this feeling of being constantly watched. I when I had a moment, I had to sneak off to the back to collect my thoughts. Was I imagining all of this? Did I really see that kid in the first place? Or did I imagine all of it? But I picked up both of those cans with my own hand. I brought one of them from the corner back to my recycling bin. If I wasn’t crazy, there would still be two Grape Drink cans in my bin when I got home.
Suddenly, a movement caught the corner of my eye.. was the Grape Drink Kid hiding here in the back room among the boxes of running shoes and roller blades? I quickly looked in the direction of the movement to find my boss sifting through the boxes. “Oh! Didn’t see you there!” he exclaimed, sounding more shocked that he really needed to be. “I was just sorting through these old New Balances…” he trailed off. “Well, I might as well tell you,” he said, defeated. “I got word from head office, Sportsvoid is going out of business.” I didn’t know what to say, the news that would have otherwise hit me like a tennis ball, freshly poured out of the tube, to the head instead felt like a shuttlecock fluttering to a gentle landing on my scalp. “Sports equipment just isn’t as popular as it used to be, across the board. I remember the time when whole families of five would have to drop thousands outfitting their kids for football in the summer, hockey in the winter…and then the little shits grew out of their pads the next year!” He waxed, “I remember when I couldn’t keep cross-country ski grease in stock! When families had six custom Italian racing bikes in their driveways! When people actually bought…” he paused to laugh, “Snow-boards!” The glint in his eyes quickly faded. “Now, we can’t move a single ringette ring, and that Navajo turquoise jewelry place that used to be Circuit City can’t hire enough aboriginals of southwestern origin to keep them in stock!” His anger was palpable. “It’s truly a different world.” He looked at me, I guess my expression hadn’t changed, “Don’t worry though, it’ll be a few months before this place is shuttered. In the meantime, help yourself to a pair of runners, or pick that daughter of yours up a pedometer or a javelin or something.” With that he left. I looked at the pile of Puma boxes in front of me and felt drained, but there remained a nagging feeling. I needed to check my bins.
I left work early and drove home as quickly as possible. I kept my focus on the road ahead of me despite the nagging feeling that the kid was watching my every properly signaled lane merger and left-hand turn. I pulled into my driveway, quickly got out of my car, and swiftly walked over to the bin. To my horror, the Grape Drink cans had somehow duplicated themselves. Instead of two, now there were four purple cans, each screaming “Grape!” back at me from the bin. I looked to the street corner where I saw the kid. There, directly under the flickering streetlight, was the shadow of a stout, jacketed figure. I watched silently as one hand rose and the head tilted back slightly. Now I knew I wasn’t crazy, this was unmistakably the Grape Drink Kid. “Dad!” Nicetina called to me from a window, “your credit card is getting declined like everywhere I try to use it!” “Just a second, precious!” I bellowed in no particular direction, my stare never breaking from underneath that streetlight. Before I realized what I was doing, I was halfway over to the streetlight, never looking away from the kid.
“Hey, kid!” I shouted, waving my arm over my head to attract the kid’s attention. “Why are you out so late? Aren’t your parents worried about you?” The kid didn’t move, he took another sip and brought the can back down in front of his chest. I stopped just short of the glow of the streetlight. The kid had a hood pulled over a black beanie, I could only make out his lower lip and chin. “Well!?” somehow I had had all I could handle of the Grape Drink Kid. I felt like I deserved an explanation. Why did he think he could drop, uninvited, into what I had come to expect my life to contain from day to day, week to week, and take up space, contributing nothing! Why should I reorganize my existence to accommodate an intruder!? “DAD!” Nicetina hollered from my house, “I don’t remember the last four digits of your Discover Card number!”
Brakes squeaked a black car that rolled to a gradual stop behind the kid, just outside of the circumference of the streetlight. I looked past him to the car but couldn’t see past the tinted windows. The car idled, the kid said nothing. “This is a bizarre monkey in the middle,” I recall remarking. The window wheezed open, and inside was a middle-aged woman who looked like she might have come from shooting a Reitmann’s commercial. Her hands, chapped from brushing snow off hoods and scraping ice off windshields, calloused from weekly drives to neighbouring towns based on half-remembered directions, muscular from holding ever-heavier cups of coffee on sidelines. I recognized her for what she was, a mother of adolescents. “Jeremy!” she called from the diver’s seat, “do you have any idea what time it is?” I looked back to the kid and he was frozen, daring not to turn around, daring not to take another sip. “Is this your son?” I asked into the car. “Who are you?” she demanded. “I live on this street,” I began, “your son here has been leaving cans in my…” “CANS?!” she demanded, “my son is in a neighbourhood he doesn’t know, probably scared out of his mind, and you’re upset about CANS?!” She abruptly unbuckled her seat belt, got out of the car, and walked over to the kid. “Jeremy, get in the car,” she insisted, “I don’t want you anywhere near this man!” She grabbed for the child’s hand only to make contact with the can and knock it out of his hand. “Oh, shit lemarde!” she said under her breath, “where do you keep buying these?” The half-empty can knocked against the ground spilling its iridescent juice which slowly trickled down the sidewalk out of the glow of the streetlight. She clutched the kid’s hand and pulled him towards, the car, opening the passenger door with her free hand and using the momentum she had built-up to thrust the kid into the passenger seat. She made sure his hand was inside the car before kicking the door shut. She stopped on her way around the front of the car just in front of the right headlight and turned to me. “I won’t report this,” she said with an intimidating calm “but if I find out you laid a hand on my son, I’ll personally hunt you down.” With that, she was in the driver’s seat and down the road, signaling left and turning at the next intersection. The contents of the can had nearly all gushed out of the can, the pool surrounding my shoe. I lifted my foot in disgust and shook the drink off. I looked down at the can and on it was stated “Grape!”, the enthusiasm had not waned. Exhausted, I left it there to rattle in the breeze.
I was at the foot of my driveway when I realized Nicetina had been yelling to me during my whole walk from the street corner. I caught the end of a plea for more money “…I just need a few more hours, I swear I can make it all back!” “Go inside!” I shouted up to her as she hung out an upstairs window, “we need to talk.” When I got inside, Nicetina was at the bottom of the stairs, arms crossed. “My antique agent says your account is overdrawn,” Nicetina said with defiance. “I’m selling the house,” I said. Her expression changed, as if I had made a choice beyond my purview. “Uh, no we’re not…” she informed me. I took my shoes off, walked over to the couch, and lay down on it. “And tomorrow, I’m going to look into declaring bankruptcy,” I said halfway through the haze of sleep. I heard Nicetina scream and rapid thuds as she ran up to her room. Her door slammed and I was asleep.