Selected by guest editor Daniel José Older
The Get-Get Man travels at night, sharp as a scalpel, dark as soot. He cuts through the yards and streets, slicing and taking what doesn’t make way. They say you can only see him from the side. If you see him head on it’s probably too, late because which way would you run anyway? He is as wide as the sky, deeper than the grave, and he always gets what he came for.
The Get-Get Man makes a sound like a badly played violin, the rattle of chain link fences, the hiss of cats as they curl up and away in tight. He was just a story though until someone spotted the Get-Get Man over in Greenwood and once in Tchula, but that old woman had cataracts so it could have been a shadow or the line of smoke from her cigarette.
The Get-Get Man steals things from the world, borrows them really, because they usually show up in another place, cut out and put somewhere else. Like that bird bath Mrs. Weaver had made especially in the shape of Jesus. That bird bath turned up all the way across town in some lady’s bedroom. That lady said it was like someone unwrapped the thing out of thin air. She wouldn’t get out of bed until the police came. Or that’s what Mrs. Mooznick said, but Mom says she’s always making stuff up and it wasn’t on the News so it couldn’t be real. When Mom heard us talking about the Get-Get Man, her face went still and sharp, sort of like when she has to drive into the sun on the way home from DayPlay, so we stopped talking about it in front of her.
I didn’t really mean to believe in him until he split Miss Minnie’s big white Cadillac right down the middle like one of the pictures in the science books at school where you can see the insides of cows and chickens only it wasn’t pink stomachs and red hearts inside, it was gray seat stuffing, Tic-Tacs, wires, plastic, and melted metal. That’s when I knew he was coming for me and they were right: You really can call him with a stupid rhyme, a piece of white thread, and just one drop of blood. I shouldn’t have done it, but they dared me to and I was only seven and didn’t know any better. That was their job because they were older, but they stood around laughing too loud while I did it. That was a year ago and we’d all forgotten about it.
My sister took one look at the half-in-two Cadillac and shook her head.
“You’re fucked, Amber Lynn,” was all she said and walked straight back to our house fast like he was right behind us. She took everything that was hers out of my room and told me to stay away from her. For good. Like I was already gotten.
She must have told everyone else on the block because suddenly no one would play with me anymore. Not even Ella Rae who used to beg me to pick her for my team. Not even snot-nosed Oliver who couldn’t bribe people to play with him, even for the good candy.
For two weeks everyone walked a big circle around me or moved to the other side of the street and I got used to playing alone in my room. They called me the Get-Get Girl when they thought I wasn’t looking and anything that was lost was suddenly my fault. “Go ask Amber, I bet she went and Got it.”
I didn’t cry in front of them except for that first time though. I didn’t even tell on Leslie when Mom asked me what was going on and if we’d had a fight. Maybe that’s why Leslie finally started talking to me again and even let me choose the channels. She still wouldn’t let me borrow her clothes though.
Everything was almost back to normal when Jeremy saw him over near the park and the Robeson’s cat turned up with only half a tail.
“I saw him! The Get-Get Man. He was hissing like a snake,” Jeremy said with the lisp that got him beat up every other day at school.
“What did he look like?” And there were more questions that Jeremy couldn’t seem to answer or maybe didn’t want to. He looked scared. When Silas pushed him for not answering fast enough he started crying.
That’s when they all started looking at me like I was the one who made him cry. Even Leslie. But instead of that snotty older sister look of meanness she always got, she just looked scared. So scared she yelled at everyone to shutup and they all did, but the quiet was way worse than all the yelling. Because now they were trying not to look at me and I wanted to hit them or at least run away, but Leslie grabbed my arm and yanked me hard all the way home.
The Get-Get Man is like a long piece of paper but he’s also deep like a book. Deep enough to print and hold all the things he’s seen and collected all the way back to before and maybe even farther. Not like pictures in a book, but like movies all rolled up and waiting to be played. Or songs maybe. Or maybe even memories. But whose memories? And what do you play them on? Maybe the Get-Get Man isn’t a person at all but like a video camera.
I didn’t tell anyone about the end of the cat’s tail I found in my room. Orange tabby and sliced clean. I buried it in the back yard under the bushes with an old birthday card granny had sent me with the bloody horror movie Jesus on the front so maybe he’d go to heaven or his tail would and he could find it later.
I stayed up all night listening for the hissing, occasionally looking out my window into the backyard hoping I wouldn’t see his dark outline against the garage. When it got to be too much and I was starting to understand what they meant when they said someone died of fright in books, I walked down the hall to Leslie’s room, but the door was locked. Even though I used the secret knock and whispered her name, the door didn’t open.
I ran back to my room and turned all the lights on, but then I got worried that the lights would give me away so I turned them all back off and ran back to the bed. Then there was nothing to do but sit there in the dark feeling my body get harder and harder with stillness until I was like a thing made out of wood or stone.
Sometimes I thought I heard hissing, but it always turned out to be the wind in the trees, or the curtains moving, and once it was my own breathing made loud by all the three in the morning quiet. I didn’t even know what three in the morning was like until then.
Nothing happened that night or the next night even though it felt like it had to. It didn’t even matter anymore that no one looked at me or talked to me, because everything had gone sort of fuzzy from all the sleep I wasn’t sleeping. Mom finally decided I was sick and sent me up to bed even though I wanted to lie on the couch and watch cartoons. I got my way finally and watched the colorful blobs move across the screen and wondered who was making these stupid shows. They weren’t even cats or mice or squid anymore, just big pieces of color moving around. When I asked Mom about it she just looked at me funny and felt my head like I had a fever.
When Leslie got home from school she didn’t even fight about which shows to watch or who got to be on the computer and she’d gotten so polite and weird I knew it had to be bad. Everyone was probably talking about it. About me, the Get-Get Girl, and how I’d been gotten. And now she was the Get-Get Girl’s sister, which was almost as bad.
When she brought me a bowl of tomato soup for dinner, I tried to be nice, but it wouldn’t come out right.
“Whatever,” was all I said to her and she didn’t even tell on me for not saying “thank you.”
The next day I decided I’d had enough of all the avoiding and walked over to everyone playing in Oliver’s huge front yard. They all just looked up at me and stopped what they were doing.
“Can I play?” I asked and sat down, wondering what they were dong with all the weird-shaped colored pieces of paper.
Oliver and Jamie just looked at me and nodded, but Silas started picking up the paper, his hands and arms all jerky like he was a puppet.
“No way you’re touching my cards, you freak!” he said. I looked over at Leslie who usually defended me when she wasn’t picking on me, but she kept her eyes down on whatever she was drawing on the sidewalk.
“Scaredy-cat!” I screamed. “You’re just afraid the Get-Get Man will get you instead of me!” I yelled and kicked the rest of the paper around before running away.
“You’re so ugly the Get-Get man doesn’t even want you!” he yelled after me, and I felt sick with anger.
That night Leslie came to my room and tried to play cards with me. They didn’t look like real cards to me and I told her if she didn’t want me touching her cards she could just go to hell.
She was real quiet for a minute and I finally looked at her, but she looked strange like she’d been flattened out against the screen so I looked away.
“You’re crazy,” she said and left me alone finally.
The next morning there was part of a Gameboy and a stack of money on the floor where the cat tail had been. The money looked dirty and worn out, but it was all twenty dollar bills even though part of them was missing, like someone had used the big paper slicer at school on it. The one we weren’t ever allowed to touch even if the teacher was standing right there.
The morning after that, part of a finger. It was bigger than Mom’s, with pale skin and sort of stubby with dirt under the nail. I should have been scared or at least grossed out, but I didn’t feel much of anything anymore and anyway, it looked like that plastic finger with fake blood you can buy at Halloween, only less real. I buried it in the backyard next to the cat tail, but I didn’t put a card on top. I put one of the twenty dollar pieces in my pocket and went to the store. He looked at me funny, but took the money pieces. All the candy made me sick. I piled what was I hadn’t eaten all around my room, dividing them by color and size, spreading them out into thin layers and puddles, then countries and continents, on my rug. I didn’t have to worry about Leslie coming in and stealing it so I left it all there in the open where I could look at what was mine whenever I wanted. It reminded me that I was real like a map of all the things that could be mine even though I’d lost everything and just didn’t know it yet.
I wish I’d known sooner that only things could be gotten. I would have kept wanting non-things, like for Mom to notice me. But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. She’d given up on me or maybe she just stopped noticing the way everyone else did when the world went flat and I was gotten. I had to remind her and Leslie that I was still there. I left clothing, books, plates of food they would never eat around the house, but they still looked at me strangely for a moment each time we met in the hallway or the bathroom. There was always that slight hesitation, the confusion they tried to mask but that never really left their eyes.
So I started concentrating on wanting only things that couldn’t be gotten: good dreams, love, someone smiling at me for no reason. Every once in a while I’d slip and there would be the hissing dark before a new sneaker or a pant leg would appear on my bedroom floor. Like the way our cat, Maizie, would bring dead mice and butterflies before she got hit by that car.
I don’t want a dog. I don’t want a dog.
Look what happened with the orange tabby cat. But sometimes saying you don’t want something is just as bad.
I know you’re thinking that I did the right thing, that I saved my sister, but I didn’t. I was too worried about saving myself and when I finally tried, she was already gone.
I used to sit outside Mom’s door waiting for her to come out just so she might see me, talk to me on her way to the bathroom or the kitchen. We weren’t allowed in her bedroom when the door was shut and the door was usually shut. Especially at times like these when her latest religion or guru or whatever had stopped working right. And they always did. I don’t know what she was looking for. Magic maybe, but the big impossible kind like in the movies and in the Bible and in paintings. Even I know that kind of magic isn’t real anymore and probably never was.
I don’t sit outside Mom’s room anymore and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m afraid she’ll get gotten or because I’m hoping she will. Because then I wouldn’t have to wait for her ever or pretend to believe in her kind of magic.
I don’t want Mom to get gotten. I don’t want Mom to get gotten.
I wished sometimes that he would get it over with, just get whatever it was he wanted and then I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore.
I wondered what he looked like. Was he tall and dark? Short and blonde? Did he wear a dark overcoat or overalls? Did he have fangs like a vampire or did he look like Dr. Peters, the dentist? My room was suddenly too dark and quiet and I pulled the blanket over my head hoping to hide myself or at least hide how alone I was. All I had was the gotten candies and they were too sweet to do anything.
“God! You’re such a loser! Anyone else would be getting cool stuff for us, but not perfect you!” Leslie yelled. Mom wasn’t home, so she could yell as loud as she wanted. “All I wanted was an iPhone. Not, like a yacht or a Mercedes or something. You could just get it easy, but nooooo,” she drew out that no into a kid’s mean sing-song even though she was too old for that sort of thing anymore. She was a teenager now. Sometimes she would get started talking like this and not stop.
Sometimes I wondered if I could get words to stop them. Get her mouth just for a minute. Get the minutes she was taking with all this yelling. But at least she was talking to me. Sort of.
And she was right. I probably could’ve gotten an iPhone, easy. Or at least a piece of one. But I didn’t for a lot of reasons. One of them, the biggest probably, was just meanness. The Get-Get Man wasn’t hers. He was mine. When I’d been gotten and everyone knew it, she’d locked her door to me. She took everybody’s side against me. Which meant only the Get-Get Man was on what was left of my side and there was no way I was going to share that with her. Or anything else.
She screamed in frustration, pulling her hair as she turned away. I thought she was going to leave and slam my door but she didn’t. She just stood there holding her hair, bent at the waist like her stomach hurt. I almost didn’t hear her when she spoke.
“You could at least make the Get-Get Man get that creep, Gary.”
“Why? What did he do?” I asked but didn’t really ask. I didn’t want an answer and Leslie made it obvious that she wasn’t going to give me one. And that I was too stupid to breathe.
My stomach got hot and sick, but I didn’t really know why. Just that she was maybe saying something bad had happened, but at the same time not saying anything at all really. I didn’t want to think about that. About Pastor Gary. He was creepy and too nice and always showing up when Mom wasn’t home even though I never let him in. Even though he begged and said it was OK he just wanted to tell me something even though Mom said never to let anyone in no matter what. She would’ve said it was OK to let Gary in because she thought he was perfect, but he never asked her and neither did I. And I had no idea how to get him anyway. I couldn’t make the Get-Get Man do anything. But I wasn’t going to admit that to Leslie, so I pretended not to hear. I pretended not to know anything.
Finally, she unbent and let go of her hair, but her shoulders were still hunched like she was in trouble.
“Whatever. I knew you wouldn’t help,” she said and left without even slamming the door.
When I came home from school, Mom and Pastor Gary were waiting for me. I thought at first that I was in trouble even though none of my teachers or even the clerks at the Quik-e mart even noticed me anymore. Mom had that serious look on her face, her hands folded in front as she stood there with an almost-smile as Pastor Gary told me Leslie had run away with her boyfriend. His voice was soft, but it was still the voice he used in his church that used to be a candle store in the strip mall. They were both acting like I was a camera or an audience. I didn’t know what to say. Probably I was supposed to ask where she was, but she’d run away so they wouldn’t know anyway.
“The police will probably come by later, but we’ll be at the church praying for Leslie’s soul,” he said and Mom just nodded. Maybe she was taking Xanax again. I thought they could probably be out looking for her or go over to Mark’s house to make sure they weren’t there in the basement or something instead of praying, but I didn’t say anything. I just nodded like Mom and asked if I could go upstairs to my room.
Mom blinked and looked back and forth between Pastor Gary like she wasn’t sure what to say to me. Like she was waiting for Pastor Gary to be the Mom or tell her how to be one. So I walked around them into the kitchen to see if there was anything to eat. The hissing got louder as I looked through the fridge and the cabinets, finally deciding on a bowl of cereal that was probably stale. At least the milk was good. I could barely hear them talking and finally the sounds of the front door closing hard and locking me in. I went out front and put the chain on the door in case Pastor Gary decided to come back with Mom’s keys since she was obviously his zombie and he could make her do anything. I worried for a minute that Leslie might come back and how would she get in with the chain on, but she’d just yell until I came downstairs so I left it like that.
A few months later I found Leslie on Facebook. She had a different name and the pictures were blurry, but it could have been her. She didn’t post that often, but there were pictures of different places that looked familiar. Mainly she posted about the Red River Killer, so I started researching him too. Like most killers, no one knew much about him except for the bodies of the women and girls he killed, the places where he left their bodies, the things he did to them.
I friended her, but she never friended me back so it felt like the Red River Killer was our only connection. And it was the same Red River that ran past our town. My town now. I had no idea what Leslie’s town was. Leslie followed other serial killers and posted articles about them, but the Red River Killer was her favorite. And mine.
It happened one night that wasn’t any different from any other night except that I was wanting things kind of bad and I was tired of being gotten and not getting anything for it. I heard the hissing and felt the usual fear spreading over me like a sunburn, but this time rather than wait inside that lit up box of a bedroom, I decided I would go out to meet him. I wondered what had been gotten and tried to think of all the things that I’d accidentally wanted:
cool new clothes
a giant TV
Too many things. I hadn’t wanted them for long, but I didn’t know how long was long enough yet. How hard I had to want them. I was tired of wearing Leslie’s old clothes because Mom never remembered to get me new ones or yelled at me when I asked. I was tired of having to “borrow” pens and paper and all the things everyone else just seemed to somehow have without even trying. Maybe if I wore the right things, had a cool phone, people would see me again.
I followed the glowing squares on the stairs carved from the dark by the hard light from my open door and wondered and hoped and not-hoped about all of those wanted things. Maybe I could want just one? Maybe the iPhone? The dark line of the shadows where the light wasn’t looked like holes I could drop right through, but the stairs held.
The hissing got louder as I touched my way through the dark and light in the hall, the pantry, the kitchen, too afraid to turn on the lights. Too afraid to give myself away even though I’d been gotten already and the Get-Get Man probably knew exactly where I was anyway.
The thing out there, the Get-Get Man, didn’t move closer but stayed in the dark polygon of the garage’s sharp shadow. The darkest part of the world.
I couldn’t help it standing there: I thought of money and gold and candy and cars and TVs.
I wanted. Hard.
I stood to the side of the back door looking out the glass panes into the blurry yard. The Olshewsky’s motion light was on, the one my mother complained about every morning for lighting up her room at random intervals all night as every cat and possum in the neighborhood set it off. Like the stairs, the yard was lit in hard bright and black geometries like puzzle pieces empty and filled. There was no one and nothing in the yard that I could see except the rusty swingset nobody played on anymore, but the hissing was louder here. It seemed like it was coming from everywhere, even the linoleum. I knew exactly where it stood. He stood. She stood. The hissing seemed to come from multiple mouths hissing in different frequencies blended together. A chorus, a harmony of static.
Sliding the chain out of its channel seemed to take forever, seemed to chime loud over the static. Same with the deadbolt. I had to bend to get key hung on a nail on the side of the cabinet near the floor so the thieves couldn’t reach it. Scrabbling for the key seemed to wake up the fear again, fear of whatever was outside so I started to want again. And the things I wanted, one way or another, were out there. So I wanted like I used to want, like my sister and all the other kids and even my mom probably wanted all the time in huge sucking, sobbing gobs and mouths of want. Unfillable deep holes and pits of want.
The grass was still wet and cool under my bare feet, the hissing almost drowned out the mechanical tick and whine of cicadas in the trees and shrubs. Out in the yard the differences between light and dark were even sharper, like it had been drawn with a ruler and inked in.
I tried to walk like I wasn’t scared. I tried to walk like I wanted. Everything. Anything.
I thought about all of those pieces of pictures of me on their phones. I thought about a whole me in the frame.
I want. I want. I want.
I felt bigger with each step, filling with static, like I’d already (been) gotten and was full of the things rubbing and sliding against each other, popping in and out of existence like particles. The hissing was deafening now, piling up in the yard. I couldn’t hear my own mantra, my own breathing or steps.
“I want. I want,” I said over and over, yelling until the hissing became the words and the words became hissing and I was saying them together: “Get. Get. Get.”
I expected a twisted dark man or something like a monster, a video game portal or spaceship, but the figure I could only begin to make out was small and even darker than the rest of the fuzzy black inside the hard shadow. Carved and sharp, it stepped forward when I did then stopped when I hesitated. We stood facing each other.
I drew in a breath to speak or maybe scream and the Get-Get Man did too. When I raised a hand to stop whatever it was about to do, it raised a shadow hand at me like it would grab me. I understood then that it was mirroring me, a dark, sharp reflection full of static. A shadow in the wrong place.
“I don’t,” I began, then stopped when it hissed back.
“Shit,” I said.
“Get,” it hissed.
“What do you want?”
I stepped toward it, hand still raised. The hissing became a pressure like swimming to the bottom of the diving pool only worse and the Get-Get pushed and pulled at me, wanting me like no one did anymore, like no one ever had. And I wanted back. All of the things it could
When our fingers touched, I expected cool, like the surface of a mirror, but it was a slow warm pull, like sliding into my own skin. The dark moved over my lighter skin — an eclipse — my pale, reflective surfaces pushing the shadow into a faint glow. Impossible for a shadow in the same place at the same time as light. My skin was electric, static, finally quiet as it canceled itself out.
I stepped and we stepped all the way into each other and the world opened up and flattened to the event horizon at the same moment, all the moments.
We laughed a long loud hiss, edged and empty, but already ours, already gotten. So much to fill and now we had the part that wanted and wanted and didn’t worry because it also had the part that knew how to get.
“Gotten,” we said and smiled all mouth and teeth and everywhere at once, everything we wanted. Wanted.
When the head showed up the next morning I screamed, but no one came running so probably Mom either never made it home or had gone out early. But the head. I’d been so careful. Had only wanted things. Which was probably why it was only a part, or that’s what I told myself even though I knew this was a thing I secretly wanted. And there was the new iPhone I’d gotten next to it, still new in its now-bloody box. The memory of Getting was like a terrible craving, worse than candy, but I was used to silencing that want. I thought of the things that couldn’t be gotten: sunlight, memories of playing with Leslie before I’d been Gotten and she wasn’t so hateful.
The head sat there bleeding and oozing onto the faded colors of the smiley-face sun rug in my room looking familiar in a way I didn’t want to think about. I had no idea when Mom would be home so I had to do something even if I didn’t want to go near it. So I wrapped it up in the sunny rug and buried it behind the garage in the gap between the back wall and the neighbor’s fence where no one could see me digging. I threw up on top of the dirt mound and thought about how I would have to get a new rug. I thought of all the other killers and then tried not to.
I never found out who the head belonged to, but the Red River Killer stopped killing.
I messaged Leslie thinking I’d done it for her, but she never answered.
About the author
Melissa Moorer was struck by lightning when she was eight. Her work has been published in luminous journals such as Electric Literature, The Future Fire, Heiresses of Russ 2015, The Butter/The Toast, The Offing Mag (forthcoming), LCRW, Hot Metal Bridge, FLAPPERHOUSE, Vestal Review. She was Assistant Editor at The Butter/The Toast where she wrote”’This Writer’s On Fire’”series for Roxane Gay. She still does research for Roxane Gay, which is the coolest job in the world.