*quick note: Happy birthday to me with an early present from Space and Time (my birthday being today and the acceptance came on Saturday). "Rats of the Roscinante", a nod to Lovecraft's "Rats in the Walls" set in space, will appear in a future issue. Huzzah!
Now on to "Howard's Game"...
Subject: Howard’s father
I want to apologize for not being forthcoming on the telephone the other day. I was surprised by Howard’s behavior, and very disappointed. But I wasn’t totally surprised. Things have been tough at home since Howard’s father left I tried to keep things from Howard as long as I could, but he’s asking questions. Needless to say, his father isn’t on a business trip. I wanted to keep the family business private, but after being alone with Howard for the past couple of days, I’m a little worried about him. I’m worried about how he’s taking his father’s absence.
Would it be possible for him to speak with the counselor when he comes back to school tomorrow?
Subject: Re: Howard’s father
I’ll make sure to let Cheryl Manlo, our guidance counselor, know about Howard. If there is anything else we can do at school to help your son, please contact us. Cheryl’s direct line is (811) 766-6120.
Mr. Gerard Boling, Principal
Transcript of conversation between Howard Talbot and Mrs. Cheryl Manlo, Counselor, September 24th, 2009
Cheryl Manlo: Hi Howard.
Howard Talbot: Hi.
CM: Do you know why I called you in here today, Howard?
HT: Um. My dad maybe.
CM: That’s right, Howard. I thought we could talk about your—
HT: I’m not gonna.
CM: (clears throat) Your mother sent a note Howard.
CM: She’s worried.
HT: I’m not gonna talk about Dad.
CM: All right then. (pause) I also wanted to talk about what happened on the playground the other day. What happened with Mike.
CM: Can you tell me what happened?
HT: M-mike said m-mean stuff.
HT: He made fun of me. Laughed at me.
CM: What did he say?
HT: M-made fun of the way I talk. S-said I was poor and stupid and worthless and a dork.
CM: And then?
HT: I told him he’d be in t-trouble.
CM: What kind of trouble, Howard? Trouble with teachers?
HT: Trouble with shovel man.
(audible click on tape followed by a pause)
CM: Shovel man? Who is shovel man?
HT: My friend.
CM: Is he…is he a kid at school? Does he go to school here?
CM: Is he an adult, Howard?
HT: Sort of.
CM: Um-huh. Sort of. (pause) Where does shovel man live?
HT: (whispering) Someplace else.
CM: Where Howard? Why are you whispering?
HT: He doesn’t like me to t-talk. (mumbles, indistinct) He doesn’t want me to talk about him anymore.
CM: (pause) What happened next, after you warned Mike?
HT: He called me a liar.
CM: And then?
HT: I told him he would die. (mutters something indistinct) D-dust to dust. I grabbed some dirt, to show him what would happen.
CM: What happened next?
HT: Mike hit me.
CM: After you picked up the dirt.
CM: And then you bit him? (pause) Why’d you bite him, Howard?
HT: Had to taste his blood for shovel man.
HT: Shovel man needs the blood taste to find him. Shovel man doesn’t have eyes like you and me—
(tape hisses then clicks followed by silence)
Notes from Howard Talbot’s guidance file, recorded 9/24/09
I spoke with Howard today (Sept. 24, 2009). He didn’t want to talk about his father, and seemed a little agitated when I brought it up. When asked about the infraction on the playground, he mentioned someone called “shovel man”. In general, Howard seemed to be a bit cold and distant. He smiled a little, but only when talking about “shovel man”. Make sure to ask about this when calling his mom. I’m going to transcribe the session for the record.
The tape stopped before the end of my conversation with Howard. I can’t seem to remember what else was said.