His name was Doofus. And I thought we were friends.
The first time we met was at a party in my first year of college. I’d seen him a couple times in classes. He was really good at astronomy, sat in the front, talked to the prof. At this party, though, he was in the middle of everybody, pouring drinks like a pro, telling a story.
“I’m just sayin’,” he was sayin’, “even you guys can do the math, right? Aliens, or whatever you want to call them, would see dinosaurs, if they looked through the equivalent of a telescope. Assuming they saw with light, the way humans do. And to anybody else? They’d look fucking terrifying.”
And everybody laughed.
I asked him to pour me a drink, and he did.
My friend Ketta introduced him as Doofus. Some inside joke that just stuck, she said.
“So, dinosaurs, right,” he started, “you come arms for teeth to assert your dominance and there’s humans. Soft squishy things that are, arguably, more terrifying than dinos. ‘Cause they’ll lie, and the possibility of them eating you is never not zero.”
I laughed. There was so much to unpack there. Instead, stupidly, I started with, “You mean armed to the teeth?”
He matched my laugh, almost exactly, watching me unblinkingly. “Sure,” he agreed, like it was a joke he wasn’t quite getting.
Okay, so he was a little weird, sure, but he was easy to get along with. He caught me the next day in class, and we hung out, got lunch, talked some more.
We ended up seeing each other more and more because we had a lot of the same classes together. I commuted to school, but we always met up in the co-op when we had free time. Sometimes it was coordinated, sometimes we just ran into each other.
There was a spot between two of the science buildings on campus that we found out was perfect for smoking. He never invited me to his room to smoke even though he lived on campus. I’d assumed he had roommates or something. And I never invited him to my home, ‘cause my folks didn’t know I smoked.
After our first semester together, we ended up chillin’ all the time. Lighting up between classes, studying together at the library, just vibing in general. We went to the same parties and had all the same friends. He told me once I was “the raddest dude” he’d met since he “started all this.” I have no idea what I did to get such a compliment, but I took it.
Over time, he started to change. He wasn’t around. He was flighty as hell, and whenever I did see him, he was shaking all the time. Shivering, sweating, always wearing sweaters even when it was hot outside. I thought he was on something. Like, meth or some shit, maybe.
It got bad enough that once, between the science buildings, he held me at gunpoint. “I’m so fucking sorry, man,” he said as he pointed a gun at me. “Give me your wallet.”
I mean, I did. I didn’t want to die there. So I gave him my wallet.
“Shit. I’m so fucking sorry to do this to you,” he said again. He pocketed it and backed out of the little alleyway before taking off running.
It was weeks before I saw him again. Like hell I was gonna talk to him. Fucking addict robbing me for drug money? But then he came up to me first and handed me the exact amount that had been in my wallet. The loose penny and dime and everything.
“You—,” I stammered, “—fucking— Fuck, Doof. What the fuck, man?”
“I’m sorry, man. It’s the least I can do.”
I did what any completely rational person would do to somebody who had pointed a gun at them, and I punched him in the face.
He went down easy. But his cheek was way too soft, and when I looked down at him, his whole face had shifted, squished like it was a mask or something. He laid there bleeding, staring at the floor, a gap where the skin had separated, drawing a line from his chin all the way up his face by his ear.
I fucked up.
I’d seen my fair share of fights, but I’d never seen anybody as pissed off as he was just then. I wanted to help him up, really, but—I hesitated. Something was off. I’d gotten too heated, which was understandable, but it wasn’t just anger in his face. He got up and took off running, covering his face before I could even apologize.
Left the money, though.
I pocketed it and went through what just happened. It didn’t make any sense. Nothing made any sense.
I couldn’t explain it, but I wanted to find him. I had to know what happened. Why such a friendly guy had turned into… like, Gumby on bath salts. He at least had to explain himself for robbing me. And, I guess, I wanted to know if he was okay. Like, he needed help, and I didn’t know who he was gonna go to for it.
I realized, then, that I didn’t have his number. I asked around, tried to find him. Nobody had his number, as it turned out. Nobody could tell me where his room was, even though he always said he lived on campus. None of his friends, none of my friends knew anything about this guy. Not even his real name. He was always just there.
I knew this guy for almost a year and a half, but I knew nothing about him.
I went to that alley between the science buildings. I hadn’t been since Doofus cornered me with a gun, but it really was my favorite place to smoke and relax. If I was gonna find Doofus anywhere, it would probably be here.
“I heard you were looking for me?”
It was Doofus’ voice. I knew it right away. A voice that sounded not-quite-right. Pitchy, like he never quite grew out of puberty. When I looked over at him, there was a long, fresh scar along the side of his face where it had separated when I’d punched him. It looked dried and cracked, like clay that had been left in the sun.
“Here I am.” He gestured to the walls around us. “Here we are again.”
He said that, and I regretted it. I regretted the curiosity and effort I’d ever put into him. This was the guy who’d pulled a gun on me. The thing whose face came off. And I thought I cared what happened to him? I thought it was a good idea to confront him?
“We don’t have long,” he said. “I woulda left already, if I wasn’t so fond of you.”
“Fond of me? Who the fuck says that?” More important things, man. Focus. “You pulled a gun on me! Stole my wallet!”
“I needed your ID,” he explained calmly. “Not everybody’s happy to accept just a nickname as an identity. I gave you the money. Isn’t that what’s important?”
I’d never noticed how wide his eyes were until that night.
“What are you?” I asked.
He hesitated. “You don’t have a word for it,” he said, delicately, like that was the easiest way to explain it. I waited for him to elaborate. Instead, he tossed my old ID at me. “I meant it when I said you were the raddest dude I’ve met since I started this.”
“What is ‘this’?”
“I wanted to try it. Just living, you know, without all the others. It’s been hard trying to blend in. You guys are really so accepting, though, especially here,” he said.
“What—what others are you talking about?”
“The others like me. They’ll come, you know, looking for me. But they’ll like you, too. They like people,” he said. Then warned, “Just don’t touch them. I really like you, but I came close to wanting to steal your face instead of trying to fix this one.”
I had a feeling he wasn’t exaggerating.
“Took a damn long time to fix this. And it still isn’t perfect. I’ll have to come up with a funny story if I wanna keep this up, huh?” He sighed. “But it’s fine. I forgive you.”
I nodded, swallowing hard.
“You won’t see me again. Thanks for hanging out, though, man. It was fun while it lasted.” He turned around and walked away, leaving me in a cold sweat in the small alleyway between the two science buildings on campus.