Lousy Traumatic Childhood!
By Judith Riley O'Brien
Dan, as of late, had had enough of his partner's scientific bullshit. So, late
one night, he cornered the wily, elusive Herbert West, sat him down, and
demanded, "Herbert West, why the hell are you fucked up?"
Herbert only arched his eyebrow.
"Dammit, tell me!"
"Oh fine," Herbert sighed, frowning. "It started when I was seven..."
(Okay, I figure Herbert West to be about 37, so when he was seven, it was...
1970? Hell, we'll go with it)
1970, Arkham, Massachusetts
"Greg, I think there's something wrong with Herbert."
"Why the hell do you say that?"
Jillian West frowned, and shoved her hands on her amble hips. "Greg, he's got
dead bugs in jars all in his room!"
Gregory West just sat on the couch, and ignored his wife. "It's just a phase,
Jill. He'll get over it."
"I would prefer if you talked about me while I wasn't present."
Both adults turned around to see little Herbert West standing in the doorway,
scowling and holding onto his blue plush dog which he carried everywhere with
him. Jillian swallowed nervously. She couldn't help but be slightly frightened
by her son... he was... in all frankness... WEIRD.
"Hi sweetie!" she crooned anyway, rushing forward and sweeping him up into a
hug. He made a face, and pulled away.
"Ah... please don't hug me," he told her, holding onto his plush dog. "It
sickens me." He started for the door, shuffling along in his oversized pajamas.
"I'm going out. I'll be back later."
The front door slammed, and Jillian whirled around, eyes a lit with fury.
"You're telling me that that-" she pointed at the closed door, "-is just a
Greg only shrugged.
Once outside, little Herbert West heaved a sigh of relief, tripped down the
front porch, and splatted down onto the sidewalk. He felt a twinge of pain, and
he uttered a soft little whimper as he rolled over, and inspected his knee,
which was bleeding beneath his pajama bottoms. Sniffling slightly, he rubbed
it, then got to his feet. He picked up his blue dog, dusting it off. Pushing
his glasses back up in place, he trounced outside the front gate, and sat his
little self down upon the curb.
The sun was shining, and walking around in his dark blue pajamas was hot. He
absently itched at his right leg, and watched the street beneath his little
feet. Ants, tiny red ones, marched silently past in a line, and Herbert toed at
one, watching it skitter frantically before falling back in place.
Across the street, a small Abert's squirrel rooted around in the grass, shaking
its tail. Herbert smiled, and played distractedly with his dog. He liked
squirrels. They were funny little animals, seemed like they had good senses of
humors. The squirrel straightened up, then began to lope across the street.
Herbert put down the stuffed dog, and smiled at the squirrel, patting his leg.
"Come here, boy!" he chirped, thoughts of his parents in the back of his mind.
The squirrel cocked its head, and stopped in the center of the street, arms up
as if it were waiting for a single word of encouragement, just a little more to
push it along across all the way.
Herbert was only happy to comply. "Come on!" He giggled when the squirrel
hunkered down and shook its tail at him, blinking. Squirrels were silly. The
squirrel loped the rest of the way over the street, then stopped dead at his
feet. It smelled his ankle, then jumped upon him, scurried up to his chest, and
uttered a single little squeak. Herbert laughed, and hugged the squirrel,
hoping that it was tame and it wouldn't bite him. But the squirrel never bit
him, and he assumed it was tame, for it seemed perfectly at home in his arms.
And he was fine with that: he had never been successful with those bugs, so
maybe he'd get it right this time with a squirrel.
Happier than he'd been in a long time, little Herbert West picked his stuffed
dog up by its worn blue ears, and trounced back inside, his wounded knee
Getting the squirrel past his parents had been easy. His father was too busy
staring at that idiot box called the TV, and his mother was off somewhere,
probably at one of her silly meetings. She called them, "women's meetings", but
it never occurred to him to ask what they were about. He shrugged to himself,
and tripped upstairs, letting the squirrel perch on his head. His knee was
sore, but that could be dealt with later.
Finally reaching the top, he scuffled his way into his room, and slammed the
door. The squirrel seemed to know what a room was, and jumped from his head
onto his bed, burrowing under the coverlet. Herbert grinned lopsidedly at the
squirrel, then strode over to his bookcase, and began to search for the book on
animals. A quick scan revealed the book in which he was looking for was on the
bottom of a large pile. Herbert narrowed his eyes. "It would end up like this,
now wouldn't it?" he grumbled before yanking the thing out. Several books
clattered to the floor, but he would pick those up later.
The squirrel stood up, uttered a single "chee!" and went back under.
He opened the book, and skipped to the index, filing down the 's' page. He
finally found his topic: "squirrels: diets...pgs 34-35". Skipping to the
directed pages, he read over them, then winced. "Fruits and vegetables?" He
shook his head, and looked at the squirrel, which by now was just a lump in the
bedclothes. "I thought you guys only ate nuts!"
The squirrel sneezed in response.
Herbert shrugged, and headed for the door, going out but minding to close it-he
didn't want to lose his new pet. Still pondering if the squirrel would really
eat the stuff he would get for it, he tripped his way down the stairs, slipping
here and there and eventually landing on his feet. He dusted himself off, and
thought to himself, "I gotta get some new pants, some that aren't so long."
"Hey, Herbie!" a falsetto voice called.
Oh no not her! his brain screamed just before Melissa swept her little cousin
up in a tight perfumed hug. Herbert coughed and struggled, whined and yelled
until Melissa finally let go. "GAH!" he spat, and shook himself. Then he
scowled up in her twelve-year-old face, and told her stiffly, "Don't touch me!"
Melissa only giggled in her dense way. "Aww, Herbie, don't be so mean!"
"I'm not being mean, I'm being conventional!" he yelled, stomping his foot.
"For such a little guy, you sure do know some big words!" Melissa continued,
completely oblivious. Herbert felt his anger grow.
"That's because I read books." He narrowed his eyes. "Why don't you try it
some time? It just might help your grades."
Melissa only laughed, and Herbert sighed, thoroughly exasperated. He then
called, very loudly at that, "Dad! Why didn't you tell me that the Mistake was
"Herbert, don't call Missy the Mistake!"
Herbert was confused. "But... I hear Uncle John call her the Mistake all the
"Don't make me get the belt, dammit!" Herbert winced, and he remembered that
one time when he'd upset his mom and his dad had gotten that godforsaken belt.
"Neanderthal," he growled, and crossed his arms. "Throwback from the
"Herbie, can we go up to your room?"
"NO!" he yelled.
Melissa the Mistake pouted. "Why not?"
"Because when you leave, the entire room will reek of cheap perfume and loose
boys, that's why!"
Melissa said nothing for a long long time. Then, as though nothing had ever
happened, she declared, "I'm gonna use the phone!" Herbert West, seven year old
genius, shivered, and stumbled into the kitchen, original quest resumed.
As usual, his mother hadn't cleaned from breakfast, and he wrinkled his nose at
the smell of burned bacon. But he shook his head, and opened the refrigerator,
and started rummaging through the hydrator. He pulled back, thought for a
minute, then took the whole hydrator out of the refridgerator, and dragged it
out of the kitchen.
As it was, the hydrator was heavy with fruits and vegetables, but dragging it
up the stairs was even more of a challenge. As it was, Herbert wasn't that
strong, so he basically had to push the damn thing all the way up the stairs,
and try not exhaust all the air in his little body. A couple of times he fell,
but he recovered, even though his knee throbbed more than ever. Straining,
huffing and feeling his muscles complain he shoved the hydrator, at long last,
up to the top of the stairs, and paused, panting. "Squirrels are not easy
animals," he told himself.
Leaving the hydrator at the top of the stairs, he shuffled into his parent's
bedroom, and crossed over to the large greyish cabinet that sat near the gun
cabinet. Standing on his toes-he was quite short for age seven-he opened it,
and grabbed onto the nearest knife he could reach. It just happened to be a
Bowie knife, and his arm dropped suddenly. The stupid thing was heavier than he
expected, and he had to hold it with two hands. Second task completed, he
scuffed back out.
The hardest part of this, he decided, would be getting the food in the door
without the squirrel getting out. But, once he opened the door, he noticed that
the squirrel was asleep, so he didn't worry, just pushed the heavy thing through
the door, Bowie knife clasped in his mouth. The squirrel looked up, yawned,
then curled around itself. All tasks completed, he shut the door, and locked
it, sighing in relief. The squirrel only curled.
Herbert shrugged as before, and knelt, taking the first vegetable out. It was
some sort of squash-he remembered it being slightly sweet, so he took the knife,
and cut a little bit off of the top, taking what was left of the stem off before
getting up, and placing the morsel next to the squirrel. The squirrel's little
nose twitched, and it perked up. Once noticing the food, it seized it, then
began to eat frantically, as though it hadn't eaten in weeks.
Herbert shrugged, then pulled something else out-broccoli. He winced. "I
won't make you go through the horrors of broccoli, squirrel." He threw the
broccoli over his shoulder, and dug around a little more, finally coming up with
a carton of strawberries. He nipped the top off of it, then set it next to the
squirrel, not caring that the red juice leaked onto his white coverlet. It
didn't matter-he'd blame it on his idiot cousin.
The squirrel threw aside the squash, and dove for the strawberry.
Herbert grinned. This squirrel reminded him of himself. He grinned wider, and
cut the top off another strawberry.
"Honey, where's my hydrator?" Jillian's tinny voice whined. "It's not in the
"Damned if I know," Greg replied gruffly.
"Missy, do you know?"
"Umm..." Melissa bit her lip. "What's a hydrator?"
Herbert, dressed now in an oversized shirt, rolled his eyes.
"Herbie, do you know what happened to my hydrator?"
"No mother," he lied.
"Well...I guess we won't be having salad tonight," Jillian sighed. Herbert
noted, with disdain, that his mom was wearing a white shirt, and no bra. His
father noticed as well, and made a face.
"Jilly, good god, put a bra on!"
"No!" she huffed. "Bras are men's way of restricting us women! I burned all
of mine today at my meeting!"
"Mother," Herbert interjected, "women will get equal rights in about...
oh...four years. Just wait it out, please!"
Jillian began to tear up. "You men!" she wailed, and rushed out of the room.
Greg turned his angry gaze upon his little son, who was shaking his head, arms
crossed over his thin chest.
"Goddammit Herbert, you made your mother cry!" he bellowed. "I oughta get my
strap and whup you good for this!"
Herbert whirled around, and frowned. "You wouldn't dare," he spat.
Melissa said, "I'm gonna go call my boyfriend!"
"Shut up!" Greg bellowed. "Get over here boy, and I'll smack you so hard you
won't be able to sit for a goddamn week!"
"Why don't you make me!" Herbert declared his eyes wide. He then turned, and
darted nimbly up the stairs, turning sharply and flinging his little self into
his room. He locked the door, and a wild grin spread across his face. The
squirrel jerked his head up, and gave an indignant yell at being disturbed from
its afternoon nap. Herbert only grinned at it, and said, "What a rush."
"Jillian, there's something wrong with Herbert."
"I've been trying to tell you that for a year!"
"Shut up! I mean, there's somethin' really wrong. He's withdrawn, he doesn't
have any friends at school, and dammit, he talks like he's twenty!"
Jillian sniffed, and dabbed at her eyes. "Why don't we get him tested?"
Greg ignored her. "And you shoulda heard him yell at the little Mistake. She
asked if they could go up and play, and he roared at her!" He sniffed, and took
another drink of beer. "He's got somethin' up there that he doesn't want the
rest of us to know about."
"Why don't we get him tested?" Jillian repeated.
"Maybe we should. Find out why the kid's so screwed up." He coughed. "Why
the hell couldn't we have just had a normal kid?"
(Two weeks later)
Herbert had named the squirrel-after lifting its tail and finding out that it
was a girl-Bernadette. She was already starting to learn her name, and because
of her tame nature, Herbert rationalized that Bernadette had been released from
a rehaber. Not that he minded-he loved having a squirrel that acted like a
His mother had called for a dinner at the table. Good lord, that was unusual.
But he shuffled down the stairs in a white shirt and black jeans, really wanting
to spend more time with his pet than with his family. But he wasn't going to
upset his mother again-she may be an idiot, he thought, but she loves me. Sort
Stepping out of the stairwell, he propelled himself into the kitchen, and sat
reluctantly down at the table. He yawned hugely-those stupid tests that his
parents had made him go to were absurdly early...six a.m? Really, that was
asking a bit much.
As usual, no one said a word during dinner. His father guzzled beer, and his
mother just sat looking at them both. As for Herbert, he poked at his chicken,
and ate a little bit of it, but left the majority of it on his plate. Finally,
tiring of spending his time down here with a verbally abusive father and
weakling mother, he said, "I'm going upstairs."
"Wait just a minute," his mother blurted, her excitement overwhelming her. She
bounced in her seat, and so did her chest. Herbert flinched. "Wait just a
minute, dear!" She swallowed. "Herbie, we got your test results back."
"You have an IQ of 140. You're a genius!" He squealed.
"Herbert West, a genius," his father muttered. "Where do you think that came
"I'm so happy for you, sweetie!" his mother gushed.
Herbert smiled as well. "Thank you, mom." He pushed out of his chair anyway,
and started back up the stairs, leaving Jillian squeaking happily and Greg
scowling. Maybe tonight wouldn't be so bad.
He opened the door to his room just to see Melissa crying. "I didn't mean to,"
she wailed. "I just wanted to play with the little rat."
"Oh no," he whispered. Shoving his cousin aside, he spotted little
Bernadette's furry body. Her eyes were closed, and she was breathing, but very
slowly. He scooped her body up, cradled it close to his chest. He felt tears
sting at his eyes, but he forced them back. He whirled upon Melissa. "What did
you do her?" he hissed.
Melissa sniffed loudly. "It jumped on me! I threw it off, and it hit its head
on the wall!" She began to wail again. "I didn't mean to!"
"Dammit!" he cursed, ripping the pillowcase off of his pillow, and wrapping his
little squirrel up in it. "What if you put her in a coma?" Again, he shoved
his way past Melissa, who was crying bitterly and swearing innocence, and
barreled across the hall, sprinting into his parents' room. Still cradling
Bernadette, he wrenched open the dresser drawers, and pulled out at least two
hundred dollars. Breathing hard, he hopped down the stairs, and blurred out the
front door without even mentioning a word to his parents. They could wait.
The journey to the vet was cold and he was barefooted. He shivered in the cold
wind, and wished that people would stop looking at him like he was nuts. Which
of course, he probably was, but he'd think about that later. He darted across
the street, didn't look either way and consequently didn't care when two cars
collided trying to miss him. Bernadette was his world right now, and he would
do anything to save her.
Thank god. There was the clinic. He picked his pace up, and shoved his
shoulder into the building's door, stumbling through and skirting himself up to
the desk. The receptionist, a big chested blonde woman leaned over the desk,
and said, "Why hello there, big guy!"
Oh lord, thought Herbert.
"Are you lost?" She smiled. "Where are your mommy and daddy?"
"Good god, woman, I am most certainly not lost! I have an animal which is in a
very serious condition, and if I could speak with the residing physician, it
would be most appreciated!" he snapped, losing his little temper. I must be
quite a sight, he sighed inwardly. An eight year old boy yelling at a
thirty-two year old woman, but he's talking like he's thirty as well.
"Well, don't get snippy!" she giggled. "Go on back to room 3. And are you
sure you're not lost?"
"Yes I'm bloody sure!" he bellowed, running off again.
The receptionist only giggled, and said to the other woman on duty, "Isn't he
"What do you mean...nothing can be done?"
"I'm sorry son, but the blow to her head did it. Squirrel brains aren't
exactly that big, you realize." The vet sighed. "She'll live, but she'll be a
vegetable for the rest of her life."
Herbert felt tears, hot and wet, stream down his cheeks. "I see," he said
softly. The vet put a hand on his shoulder. Although he was crushed and angry,
he allowed the slight contact, and sighed, trying to keep his voice steady.
"Would you put her down?" The vet nodded, and crossed the room to ready a
hypodermic needle. Herbert, in the meantime, was petting the squirrel's head,
tears running in rivers now. "I'm sorry, Bernadette. I'm so sorry." He
sniffled, wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
The vet's hand was at his shoulder again, and he let loose a little whimper.
"I'm sorry about this, son," he told Herbert.
Herbert nodded. "I am too." While his face was impassive as the vet gave the
squirrel the injection, he was crushed on the inside. He whimpered again, and
clenched his fists. Without another word, he went over and kissed the squirrel
on her head, then turned, and left the room.
Once outside at the waiting room again, he crossed over to the desk, and placed
the two one hundred-dollar bills on the desk. "Thanks," he told the blonde
receptionist. Crossing his arms over his chest, he walked out of the door and
back outside into the night.
Life is so... so cruel, he thought as he walked home. He stepped on something
pointy, but didn't care. Bernadette, whom he loved so dearly, was dead because
of his idiot family. He inhaled sharply, and tried to stop crying. Turning a
corner, he whispered softly to a cat lying in the driveway of an apartment
complex, "When I grow up, I'll cure death."
The cat said nothing.
Arkham, Massachusetts, 2000
"So, that's basically what started this whole mess, Dan," Herbert finished,
crossing his arms. He laughed softly. "You probably think that's stupid, don't
you?" When only silence replied, he looked up. "Dan?"
Dan, the angry, usually single - minded Dan was near tears. He uttered a
single sob, and caught Herbert up in a tight hug. Herbert gave an indignant
squawk, and tried to pull away. "Herbert, that's so sad! You're so totally
fucked up, but I love you anyway!" Dan sobbed on his shoulder. Herbert's eyes
grew wide, and he reluctantly patted his partner's back.
"I love you too, Dan," he forced out.
Oy. What a weird night.