by Rob Morris
The boy was drowning. He didn't much care for the mocking laughter coming from above. Even more disconcerting, though, was the mocking laughter coming - from below.
"You are drowning, boy. Care to be the drowner instead of the drowned? *Everyone's pal* would vanish."
Young Ben Pierce wasn't sure if the second voice was real. But he was sure that giving in to it would be wrong. Very wrong.
"Look, Billy can be a jerk. But I don't want him drowned. I'd just as soon he pulled me up, though."
But that wasn't happening yet, so the voice kept on.
"Then you'll what-forget all this? Like you forgot about his pulling down your bathing suit in front of the girls? Like a dozen other *forgotten* crimes? Give him to me - make him pay!"
"Who are you?"
"I? I have many names. I am an Old One, who ran your kind's labors before the Garden and the Choice."
"You smell. You smell like a wet burlap sack. You smell-Old. Not good Old, either."
"You smell souls - souls of those who refused me. Do not join them, Ben! Give me this "Billy".
"Uh, No. If I don't want Billy drowned, then I really don't want to feed him to an itinerant voice at the bottom of a lake."
With that, Ben felt himself being pulled back up, out of the lake. Billy was speaking to him.
"You are so clumsy! You're lucky I was here, to help you out."
Full of rage, Ben pushed Billy back toward the edge of the boat.
"I wanna forget this happened, Billy! But anything like it happens again, and I don't care if no one believes me! I'll tell EVERYTHING! GOT IT!?"
Billy was stronger and larger than his cousin. But he was also so scared of his good-guy facade being exposed, he agreed. From then on, he played bully to other kids.
Young Ben had just faced the dark side of creation's will. It would happen again.
The now college-age Ben Pierce was in hog heaven. Skinny-dipping with Miss CrabApple Cove, he was nearly there.
"You sure your Dad's not here, Benny?"
"Just you and the night and the music."
"I guess---I'm ready."
"Don't over-enthuse on me, Babs."
"Stop being mean! Skinny-dipping is one thing, but..."
"Yeah, I like that part of you, too."
"You can, too, if you like."
The back-and-forth continued for 15 minutes. Benny fought off the urge to simply move forward in the water, and then hope she didn't kick him off. He wanted her in on this, otherwise, it wouldn't happen. Her eyes started to shift, and suddenly turned white. For a moment, desire gave way to concern.
"Babs? You alright?"
"She's going to refuse you."
"You've been patient with her. Gave her countless chances to turn you down. But here you are, in the lake, as you were born, and she, in order to feel better about her choice, wants you to move a few inches closer. In this manner, she can tell herself she objected. Do so. Complete the evening's festivities."
"No. I can't. I won't."
"Your ego? You need her to tell you outright?"
"Yeah. Just like you need me to give you what you want. Like her. Like Billy."
"You do remember."
"Now, I remember. Do you?"
The Old One inhabiting Babs body was quite aggressive, though. This time, it would not take no for an answer. It caused Babs to float above the water, and slowly spin in the moonlight. It was driving Ben nuts.
"I am bound here by the CrabApple trees that this town of yours is named for. But, I suspect, right now, you're eyes are on --other fruit."
Hawkeye had two firm rules about his ladies. No one else's ring on her finger. And if she didn't want him, he sure as hell didn't want her, life being complicated enough as it stood. He now added a third rule : No pre-Atlantean demons inhabiting her during sex.
"You may not smell right now, pal, but you still stink. Cut the Vargas routine and GO AWAY!"
The entity's borrowed face sneered.
"Once more, Pierce. Next time we get serious!"
Babs dropped back into the bracing water, and then spoke.
"Benny, I--can't! I gotta get dressed, now. Promise you won't peek--or tell anyone?"
"I'll just act like it never happened. Which, when you consider..."
As Hawkeye swam to shore, he tried hard to shake a moonlit vision of beauty and ugliness from his mind.
Staring at the lake, and trying to remember his dream about Babs-now Miss Maine four years running-floating raw in the moonlight, Hawkeye didn't hear his father speak.
"All I'm sayin' is, they're gonna need surgeons for Harry's War. I think you should visit my Cousin Sadie -- in Montreal."
"Dad, Pierce is way down in the Alphabet, and my birthday's late in the year. That gives the Draft Board pause, ya know."
The retort was backed by an ominous echo.
"Listen to your father."
Pierce hadn't noticed his Dad standing in the lake, or seen his eyes go white.
"Oh, Hi. How's every little tentacle?"
"I am dying, Pierce. These CrabApples are also my bane. I offer Supreme Power, now. Empire and Glory, both."
"Should I maybe hold out for ArchAngel? I mean life, sex, power...what's next?"
"Reshape the world as you see fit, with my power behind you. All things you dislike, gone. Say yes. You have--no choice in the matter."
"Good to know you're deciding these things for me." Angrily, the Old One pulled out of Daniel Webster Pierce and re-formed in the lake, assuming its hideous *true* form. Hawkeye's lunch attempted evacuation.
"Submit! Or lose your place in your beloved home. Your life shall veer from the mundane, to the fantastic. You - and all your friends. Power - or banishment!"
Gathering his strength, Hawkeye stood up, and spat at the dying aberration.
"Go to hell, you bastard!"
The thing screamed, and sudden spring lightning erased it. Pierce felt himself shift.
"So, the way I see it, MacArthur might actually have us home for Christmas. Waddya you say, pal?"
Doctor Hawkeye Pierce awoke being driven in an army jeep, riding with another Doctor in the back seat.
"Am I a creep or what? Trapper John McIntyre, from San Fran. Yourself?"
"Uh, Hawkeye Pierce. CrabApple Cove - in Maine. Where are we?"
"Er, I think we're in Korea. Headed to one of those new medical units they got."
"Korea? THE WAR?"
"I sure hope so. Otherwise, the army owes me and about a million other guys an apology! Good to meet you, Hawkeye."
"You, too, Trapper."
Out of its venomous spite, Pierce absently realized, the dying Old One had not even permitted him a chance to say goodbye to his father. Seven weeks of his life were gone.
In Korea, Pierce would save many lives. The Old One had outsmarted itself. Of course, it wasn't that smart to begin with. If it had been, it would never have messed with Hawkeye Pierce of the MASH 4077th. Some cosmic obscenities just never got the picture.
Pierce's life did veer toward the fantastic, but he eventually did go home to CrabApple Cove. He even invited his friends from Korea--one of whom blessed his father's lake. No harm in being sure, after all.