a short story of a boy terrorizing a town with lies.
He'd just turned ten when people first began to notice. Simple missed approximations of the truth became quickly overshadowed by stories a generous person might call fibs, but the rest of us would call plain old lies. He would lie about where he was, what he'd been doing and whom he was with. He would lie that the sun was up when it was down. It became so ridiculous that most of us just stopped asking him questions. We thought that was what he wanted. We were wrong about that too.
We were a small town, more than a stone's throw from the big city where they had thousands of people, so we just weren't equipped. His poor parents tried to put some reasoning behind his lying, but when his father died and the lies continued, it should have been apparent that none of us would ever figure it out. He was simply possessed and we simply weren't smart enough and being God-fearing people, we simply figured he'd need to be exorcised but we didn't have time right then or the expertise. That excuse suited our needs. No delving below the surface for us; simple worked.
When all the candy went missing for the fourth grade graduating class, we put our bets on the class thief, not that we were betting people. The principal had hauled thief-boy off to the office and pulled down his pants for the spanking of his life when Mrs. Honeynut interrupted him. She informed him that there was a small little boy outside confessing to taking the candy. The principal went ahead and spanked the little thief boy; if for no other reason than he felt the kid had likely gotten away with something else and was likely owed a spanking. Besides, he was all worked-up anyway, and the kid's pants were already down.
Little liar boy was seated outside the principal's office when thief-boy sprung forth like a caged up jack-in-the-box. Little liar-boy looked like such a little angel sitting there that Mrs. Honeynut tried her best to get him to admit he was lying. She had a hard time believing he was telling the truth, but an even harder time imagining him lying.
She told us that she listened at the door while he confessed to what he had done. He wove together the most incredible story about stealing the candy and selling it to the poor colored kids across town and then using the loose change to buy a puppy for his crippled little sister. She swore she heard the principal weeping in his office. If only Liar-boy had a little crippled sister, rather than a little harlot sister, we might have fallen for it. If we had colored kids anywhere on this side of the mountain it might have helped too. As we saw it, the likelihood of him having laid eyes on a colored kid was so remote as to be laughable.
We spent so much time laughing at her and that story that we forgot why we had gathered. As we came up for air and saw that pathetic little liar, we remembered. We were the town counsel and we had convened to figure out what to do with a fatherless little ten-year old. Our town could not afford to have some little lying candy thief running around, nor could we afford to have some kid wanting to be one. So we decided to send the witless runt off to the reform camp a little further out from civilization than we were.
Little liar boy was bundled up and sent off the day after fourth-grade graduation. We wanted all the kids to know what happened to little candy thief liars, so we had it announced at graduation as he crossed the stage.He was to spend the entire summer working out in the woods, communing with nature, chopping down some trees and realizing the error of his ways. We were to have a summer with no lies, or so we thought.
The next day we were all aghast when the Tribune Ledger ran an obituary on the sudden and tragic death of Mrs. Louser. She had been mulched by a self-propelled lawn mower. How the oldest lady in our town managed to climb onto and fall off a lawn mower was mystifying, if not horrifying. Old lady Pickering practically swallowed her teeth when Mrs. Louser strolled into her shop for her weekly scalp massage and permanent wave the next Monday morning. They had to cart the Dippity Do princess off to the hospital for chest pain. She died the next day and her obituary was printed in the newspaper on Wednesday.
We were so in shock that no one thought about the mistaken obituary on Mrs. Louser until that Friday when we changed the newspaper on the floor of the giant birdcage in town square. The editor said it was a phoned in obituary that he assumed came from one of her relatives. We reminded him that even in his obituary he noted that Mrs. Louser didn't have any living family. What was he thinking? We immediately thought liar-boy was loose, but there weren't any accessible phones where he was. Did we have another liar in our midst?
The following Saturday we rounded up all the women in town except Mrs. Louser, we thought that would be tacky, placed them behind a curtain, and had them read a script out loud, similar to the one the editor had received. Even after we spent the entire day, went through all the women and made them speak in their normal, not theatrical voices, no voice was recognizable as the one who had called the editor. Our trail had suddenly gone cold, so we lost interest. Besides, we were tired.
On Tuesday, the mail didn't arrive. We figured Mr. Martin was dead. He hadn't missed a mail delivery day in thirty-five years. Some brave soul among us made the pilgrimage out to his house to document his death and gasped when she found him naked in the backyard. She thought he was dead, but he turned over and squealed when she pinched his behind. Then she squealed. When asked why he hadn't shown up for work, he said the postmaster had called and said that since he was such a dedicated employee, the U.S. government was giving him the day off with pay. We thought maybe it was true until he said it was a man who had called. Our postmaster had been a woman for the last six years, and though she had a low voice, she still sounded girly enough. We were ready to chalk it up to a strange coincidence until the ten city workers, the policemen, and the firemen; all complained they hadn't gotten paid. When they approached their pay clerks at work, they were told their checks were in the mail, as ordered by the Mayor. The shortest of investigations, a call to the mayor, revealed how that wasn't true; another two lies had been told. This was becoming an epidemic.
When the entire fire department and the police department later didn't show because someone had given them all the week off, we held an emergency session to decide what to do. Everyone agreed the liar-boy needed to be questioned. The summer was almost over anyway and it wasn't as though we'd diminished the number of lies by getting rid of him.
The reform school was contacted and told to return the liar-boy. I can still see Mrs. Jones face when she was told that he wasn't there. She simply dropped the phone, fell on the floor and starting hugging herself and sucking her thumbs. She got slapped repeatedly and very hard before she told us he wasn't there. He not only wasn't there, he had never arrived. They had gotten a phone call from our municipal judge canceling his reservation and setting aside his sentence. Somebody picked up the phone and told them we didn't have a regular municipal judge and besides, little liar-boy didn't have a trial and hadn't really been sentenced, we were just trying to teach him a lesson and keep our hair straight.
We huddled ourselves together in fear. None of us had a clue where liar-boy was or what he was up to. He could be spreading any number of lies about any of us. We weren't paranoid; we were doomed. Suddenly it looked dark and cold outside; though it was still summer and we were sweating through our flannel pajamas. We weren't sure what to do.
Just as it was getting dark outside, somebody thought to send out the hunting dogs. Surely, he was just hiding in the woods. He was barely ten years old. We'd find him and show him what for. He'd walk the straight and narrow from then on. We were convinced of it.
Of course, the dogs weren't there. The kennel had been called and told all the dogs had "the temper" and needed to be quarantined in another state. The kennel swore the State Humane Society had called. We reminded them that no such state society existed and the word was "distemper" not "the temper." They were all due to get replaced. We'd see to it.
We reminded ourselves once again that he was only ten. That did nothing to warm our flesh. Idiots and mongrels surrounded us; all nipping at our heels. Maybe there was too much inter-marriage in our town. All of us having one of four last names had long since become a problem. There was only so many ways to spell Joe-Bob, Jim-Bob, and Sue-Bob.
It took a couple of quiet weeks of relaxation for it to dawn on us that the gasman hadn't come in a while. The station was putting out the last fumes of petrol by the time it became obvious. As well, the first signs of fall were upon us. He meant to freeze us to death. It was terrifying.
We tried to force the Mayor to make an emergency call to the governor for assistance. He refused, so we had Mr. Bingham do it for him. He got laughed off the line. It did seem a bit much to call out the National Guard for a ten-year-old, but we were desperate. Luckily, the Governor didn't ask us to identify ourselves. We would have had to lie, but it would have been for a good cause. I guess, in retrospect, we could have lied rather than just hang up the phone.
Little Liar-boy's mother could offer no suggestions as to where little liar-boy was. She didn't appear to care. No one could believe just how unhelpful she was. She tried to deny he was hers. Didn't she know we were all in danger? There was a wild ten-year old little maniac menacing our town.
We decided to spy on her. Somebody had to be feeding the little hellion. Surely, he'd turn up before it got too cold. By the temperature drop we'd had over the last couple of days, winter was coming early. If he was out there, he'd have to seek shelter soon or they'd find a little frozen corpse come Spring thaw.
The first snowfall put a damper on our enthusiasm and not a soul had turned up at his mother's house. She hadn't made or received any suspicious phone calls either. We listened. He wasn't going to show and we knew he was still out there. Our heating oil delivery had been delayed and somebody wrote Santa a letter and told him not to bother coming; we had all been bad.
The white flag on the edge of town should have been comforting, but no one could figure out who put it there. Thing is, we would have surrendered if we'd known just who to surrender to. The children had decided to stop talking to the adults and nothing we did could convince them otherwise. The few times they did talk, they lied; we were sure of it. We couldn't prove it, though, bunch of little liars.
Just before Christmas, we decided the safest thing to do was lock up all the little kids. In that way, we'd be sure to spot the little liar-boy if he showed up. The parents weren't agreeable to that plan though. So we locked up all the parents too. That left us with a bunch of undisciplined adolescents, but it seemed less risky. What could they do? We could just watch them and if they got out of control or started lying, we could lock them up too.
Somehow, once we'd locked up all the families with kids, the lies suddenly stopped. At least, we didn't hear any. We figured little liar-boy finally got it; we would do anything to protect our town.
Initially it was peaceful with everybody locked up, but then feeding them, providing them with recreation, and supplying them with clean clothes occupied all our waking moments. We were exhausted and none of the other business of the town was being done. There weren't enough of us on the outside to take care of those on the inside and everybody else, and we couldn't get the teen-agers to do anything.
Serious debate had begun to surface that maybe we were wrong in our approach. After all, weren't we supposed to be chasing a ten-year old?
When the Governor showed up with the National Guard and freed all the kids and their parents, nobody wanted to believe us. Nobody wanted to believe we were just trying to save our town. They especially didn't want to believe a ten-year old was terrorizing us. We tried to offer proof, but we really didn't have anything tangible. We looked like fools. The teens stood next to the Governor, smacked gum, and snickered at us.
The Governor had us carted off to the state penitentiary. Well, actually, the judge with the twin 10 year-old girls was the one who sentenced us. He smiled during the entire proceeding. It was monstrous. He didn't let our lawyer even speak. We were railroaded and made to look like meddling morons.
Our bus slowly pulled out of the courtyard parking lot with us handcuffed and chained to the floorboard. We couldn't even wave when we saw him, not that any of us would. He smiled pleasantly enough as he disembarked from reform school bus. The whole town was there to greet him. We thought they were there to see us off. As it was, no one even turned to gaze in our direction as the bus sped up and careened out of the parking lot on two wheels.
Standing next to his mother, he looked like he didn't have a care in the world or a thought in his head. How could he look so innocent and be so guilty? It was amazing how one little liar could cause so many problems. And this flock of dodo birds was letting him get away with it. It was all too confusing; better to sit back and enjoy the ride. Prison might be nice.