Monday, October 31, 2011

Nightmare at the Middle School

Dear Journal:
Today is November 1st. Yesterday was the craziest and scariest night of my life. Oh, yeah. I’m in the hospital with a broken rib. But anyway, last night I went trick-or-treating with Noah, Chase, Frank, and Ethan. Ethan and I were Ninjas. Noah was a Spartan. Frank was a devil, and Chase was an Aztec Warrior.
          After we went trick-or-treating, we came back to my house and had a monster movie marathon. At about 11:30 pm, Jack K. called and told me that there were real monsters inside South Middle School. He was freaking out so, still in our costumes, the gang and I ran to South. When we got there Jack and about 20 other people were outside saying what Jack had said—that there were two monsters, a Hydra and a Lizard Beast, inside.
          Andrew J. said that he saw two kids, one dressed as a Lizard Beast and the other as a Hydra, go in South and once they were inside, they turned into what they dressed up as. Since the gang and I had stayed in our costumes we decided that we should fight the monsters in South.
          We walked toward the school and when we were through the second set of double doors there was a flash. Once it faded my senses were sharper. My fake sword had turned real. I was faster, stronger, and more agile. I looked around and saw that the same thing had happened to the rest of the guys. Since there were two monsters, we decided to split into two groups—Chase, Frank, and me in the first group and Noah and Ethan in the second.
           Noah and Ethan covered the third floor since it is the smallest and Chase, Frank, and I took the first and second since there were three of us. Then Chase, Frank, and I decided to split up. Chase searched the band room, Frank looked in the auditorium, and I went to check the gym. I was about to open the gym door when I heard a spine-chilling roar behind me.
          I turned around and saw the Lizard Beast. He was eight feet tall and had ten eyes. I could tell by his muscles that he was supernaturally strong. He also had green scales that glistened in the moonlight. The worst part was the way he laughed like a lunatic.

           I tried to yell for help but I couldn’t. Instead of trying to fathom why my voice wouldn’t work, I charged at the monster with my sword drawn. I was much faster than that scaly monstrosity but it was way stronger. I managed to slash its arm but he almost killed me right after because I was dazed by his blue blood. Since he was injured I pressed my attack harder and managed to give him two more slashes on his arms and I stabbed him in the leg once. I was covered in his midnight blue blood but I kept fighting. Finally after ten straight minutes of dueling, I drove my sword through his heart and he collapsed, dead.
          With the Lizard Beast Dead and the Hydra still missing, I went to look for the other guys. There was another roar. This one was much louder than that of the Lizard Beast. It came from the cafeteria so I sprinted there only to find the Hydra.

          The Hydra was ten feet tall with six-inch razor sharp claws and teeth. The scariest part was that it had three heads. Noah, Ethan, Chase, and Frank were all fighting it, but right when I got there, the monster slashed Ethan’s leg and Frank had to drag him out of the way. Since only Chase and Noah were fighting it, I stepped in and managed to stab it in the side, but then it punched me in the ribs and I flew across the cafeteria.
          I crashed into the wall and red stars flashed in front of my eyes. I knew by the pain that my rib was broken. The Hydra closed in to finish the job. It was right above me about to slash when two spears prodded from its chest and it dropped dead right beside me.
          And that is how Chase and Noah saved my life and I broke a bone for the first time. It is also why Halloween 2011 will always be the most horrifying night of my life.             

Friday, October 28, 2011


I know some think he’s awful. That he’ll probably go to hell. After all, he says there is no such place. Insists there’s no way, no how a loving God would condemn all naysayers to languish in the lake of fire ever more. Proves his point with plucked phrases like "He desires none to perish” and “He’s making all things new.” Etcetera.
            Let me tell you something. God can do anything. Use anyone. For his purposes. For his kingdom. When I listened to no-hell-boy teach the parable of the unmerciful servant, I was pierced. Crushed. For my transgressions. For the lack of forgiveness (and honor) I have shown my own mother.
            After I said I do to the ultimate bridegroom, I went through the world doling out forgiveness to everyone. Like trick-or-treat candy. Freely. With a winsome smile. “Here. Take some more.” To everyone but the woman who groaned me into existence. Gnashed her teeth through my unruly and mean-spirited adolescence. So much almost-black, close to redemption-is-impossible in that house.
            But the God of new mercies daily broke through anyway. Found the crack under the garage door only the pill bugs knew. Ascended to live with us. One at a time. Four down, two to go, except one already went. Away.
            She was last. My mother. My sister in the faith. I extended my left hand to welcome her to God’s family. Grimaced when the fingernails on my right hand bit into my palm. Made a wound there. Which I ignored. I refused to drop the everything-bad-in-my-life-is-because-of-you rock. To the ground.
            For years when the Spirit prompted, “You should—“ I interrupted. “I’m sorry, God. You can’t go into that one room in my heart basement. Seems I misplaced the key.”
            Then no-hell-boy taught what he taught. And I wept. Through blind no more eyes. Fell to the floor. Slow blinked at the ceiling with drenched eyes. I held up my pointer finger.        
           “Give me just a second, Lord. To take off this mask. To wipe away this white paint.”
            I stood. Wobbled. “I need to go downstairs. And outside. So I can hurl this stone. Far, far, away.”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wonder Woman Was My Best Friend

So there we were. Me and my best friend, Katie Lynn. Waiting in line to get into Spanky’s, the fancy new dance bar on Fourth Avenue. Per usual, we were decked out. In  mini skirts and high heels. Kent had done our hair that day. Mine was so short it looked like a baby bird’s. Katie Lynn’s hair resembled Billy Idol’s in the front, except it was almost black, not white. But in the back it hung in waves almost to her bra strap. Guess that means she had a mullet, but back then it was cool.
            I wiggled out of my shoes. “These heels have to go,” I said. “Least ‘til we get to the front of the line.” I sighed. “Looks like it’s gonna be awhile.”
            All of a sudden, Katie Lynn whipped around to face the building. She grabbed my arm, taking me with her.
            “Don’t look now, but your brother, Judas, and his pothead pals are headed this way.”
            I cringed. “Aw, man!  Maybe they won’t see us.”
            Unfortunately, Katie Lynn is pretty hard to miss since she’s six foot one in heels and kind of looks like Wonder Woman. Judas paused next to us on the sidewalk. Slid between us and the wall. We brushed our fronts off. In case some of him got on us.
            “Evening, lady,” he said to Katie Lynn. He sneered at me. “And girl.”
            I glared. He curled his lip. I stuck my tongue out. He wobbled. His eyelids were flying at half mast. I knew what that meant. He fished a roll of Certs out of the front pocket of his Levi’s and unpeeled the wrapper. Bit off the top mint and held the rest out to Katie Lynn. She shook her head and opened her mouth to display her Bubble Yum.
            He raised his eyebrows a couple times. “Lucky gum.”
            I snorted and crossed my arms. “Ga-ross!” 
            Judas put one hand on the wall and leaned. A moment later he dropped his arm and straightened, probably because he figured out leaning made him a whole lot shorter than Katie Lynn.
            “So, Katie,” he said. “I see you’re wearing your Western bra.”
            Katie Lynn squinted. “My what?”
            “Your girls,” he said, pointing at her chest. “The bra’s hitchin’ ‘em up and movin’ ‘em out.”
            I smacked him with one of my pumps. “You stink, Judas,” I said. “You’ve got so much beer on you, I can’t even smell your Old Spice.”
            Judas rubbed his arm and scowled.
            I flicked his chin. “Haven’t you figured out yet that when you get high, you develop a mysterious hole in your lip?”
            Judas burped and blew in my face. Dangled his pointer finger an inch from my nose. His eyes began to cross as he tried to focus on me and his finger.
            “I’ll get you for this tomorrow, you know.”
            “Hey, Jude,” Katie Lynn said. “Why don’t you do us a favor and get lost. And while you’re at it, take your Muppet Pals with you.” She flipped her long dark hair in the direction of his friends. “Go find some girls who actually want your company.”
            I huffed. “Yeah, if there are any!”
            In a second, something changed in Judas’s eyes. The ornery glint got mean. I heard his molars clack together. He took a step toward Katie. And another. I watched her lashes hit her brows.
            “You know what I want, Katie Lynn?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I want.”
            And he did. I thought I would die. Right there, in front of all those people waiting to get in Spanky’s. He said stuff so nasty my ears curled in on themselves.
            Katie Lynn didn’t speak. Didn’t even twitch. I gulped. Nibbled a fingernail.  After a minute of silence, Judas started jacking his jaws again.
            “And if you were real nice,” he said as his eyes narrowed to slits, “You’d let my buddies watch.”              
            My mouth fell open and it was like I blinked in slow motion, because when I opened my eyes, Katie Lynn had Judas pinned to the brick wall. His arm was twisted behind him, and she was forcing his fist toward his copper curls. Judas screamed like a ninny and cussed a blue streak, all at the same time.
            Everyone around me started clapping. “Woo hoo!” they yelled. “Get him, girl! Kick his butt!”
            I couldn't make out what Judas was saying because his mouth was crammed into the bricks. I leaned closer but was careful to stay out of punching range.
            “Uncle!  Uncle!” he mumbled. He tried to turn his head but Katie increased the pressure on his arm. A whimpery grunt escaped him. “Guys!  Help me out here!”
            I searched the area. Spied his buddies across the street. They huddled together and kept their eyes on Katie Lynn, ready to bolt if she decided to turn her superpowers on them. Finally, she let go of Judas’s arm. Gave him a shove. He flung his hands out to keep from busting his knees, but his right arm didn’t seem to work quite right and he hit hard. From the ground he threw Katie Lynn one more super dirty look before he scrambled across the street.
            I put my fists on my hips and squinted  at the pack as they made their way down the sidewalk.
            “Run, ‘fraidy cats, run!”
            I stepped back in line and adjusted my skirt. High fived the girls who gathered around, giggling and congratulating. 
            “Those goobers remind me of sand crabs at Myrtle Beach,” I said. “They come out at night, but when you shine a light on ‘em, they skitter back in their holes.”         
            Katie Lynn pointed down the block. My gaze followed her finger. One of the flannel-shirted guys had fallen off the curb into the street. Judas and the others gathered him up. I took a dozen steps toward them. Cupped my hands around my mouth.
            Judas flipped me off without turning around. I smirked and headed back to Katie Lynn. There she was. In conversation with a tall, good looking guy in a dress shirt with a skinny purple tie. I smooshed my lips together to redistribute my gloss and held out my hand.
            “Well, hello," I said. "I’m Dana, and you are?”
            He took one of my hands and one of Katie's. “I'm Jonathan,” he told us. “I’m the manager here. I want to personally thank you ladies for dealing with the riffraff. May I escort you inside? Get you a cocktail?”
            I bumped Katie Lynn with my hip and let my shoes drop. Stepped back into them and ran my fingers through my hair to re-spike it.
            “Why yes, Jonathan. That would be lovely.”

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bat Attack at 110 Green Oak Drive

A crash of thunder destroyed my dream. It was a good one too. About a Kentucky Derby where the cast members of Gilligan’s Island were the jockeys. I scootched to the end of my bed and pressed my nose to the window. No rain? Then how—
            “Bats! Bats! To arms! To arms!” All three of my brothers sounded the alarm in unison. I heard the thunder noise again. Oh, it’s just them. On the stairs.
            I almost went back to sleep. Shut my eyes for a second. Then I sat up. Threw off the covers. 
            “Did someone say bats? Oh, my! I have to save Houdini. Else the bats'll suck his blood!”
            I felt my way over to the hamster cage on my desk and pried the lid off. Plucked my little guy out of his Habitrail and snuggled him to my chest. I dove back in bed, careful not to squish him in the process. I buried us both in my Mary Poppins sheets and tulip basket quilt. The air felt close so I carved out a tee tiny air hole near the wall.
            I stroked Houdini between the ears. But then my petting finger froze. “Oh, no!” I said. “The crack under the door!”
            I flung the bed clothes down again. Positioned Houdini on my pillow. Pointed at him. “Don’t move! I mean it!”
            I dug under my bed. “Where is it? I know it’s here somewhere!” 
            Found it! The beach towel I’d forgotten to give Mom to wash (last month). I crawled over to the door and stuffed it in the gap. The boy noise muted. Still, I could hear activity. The sound of it carried from the basement up through the ductwork. Wire hangers jangled on the coat rack bar.
             “They’re getting their winter coats on,” I whispered to Hou. “Bat fangs can’t penetrate parkas, you know.”
            I recognized the thump of snow boots on the furnace housing.
            “They have to protect their feet,” I said. “I can’t imagine a bat drinking my pinky toe blood, can you?”
            All of a sudden Dad’s voice boomed. “Men, don’t forget your gloves,” he said. “Don’t let any skin show. I guarantee those flying rats can smell exposed flesh.”
            No one spoke for a minute. I knew what they were doing though. See, this wasn’t the first bat invasion at one ten Green Oak Drive. It happened almost every year, usually during leaf-raking season. 
            I cupped Houdini in my hand. “I bet they’re putting paper grocery bags on their heads. They always do that. Hear that rippy sound? That's them tearing out eyeholes.”
            The noise shifted. To the metal shelves over by the fireplace. Clang!  Clank!
            “One for you,” Dad said. “And one for you. And here’s yours.”
            I rolled on my side and put Houdini next to my belly. “That’s Dad handing out tennis racquets. They’ll use ‘em to shoo the bats outside. Least, I hope they do. Oh, goodness. I better say a prayer for the bats.”
            I closed my eyes and put my hands together. “Dear God, I pray they only stun the little, grey guys and take them outside. Death isn’t really necessary, is it?”
            The house shook again as the boys ascended. Holly, our liver-and-white Heinz 57 pup, followed them through the kitchen, then the dining room, belting out a Beagle howl all the while. Out in the living room, the guys paused. A moment later I heard the whap of wood on wood.
            “Touche!” Mike crowed.
            “En guarde!” Geof countered.
            Someone threw open the front door with too much zeal. It cracked against the dining room archway. Dad took the Lord’s name in vain. Right before he blew Taps on his bugle.
            “Good golly,” I said. “He’s gonna wake the whole neighborhood!”
            “Women! Children! Abandon ship!”
            Don’t have to tell me twice. With Houdini clutched against my sternum, I sprinted out of my room. Dang it! I backtracked to grab the shades of blue zigzag afghan Mom made when she learned to crochet at the YWCA. When I got to the living room, I collided smackdab into her.
            “Move it, Mom,” I said. “Do you want to get rabies?”
            Mom didn’t seem to have the same urgency as the rest of us. She stopped to gather her cigarettes and silver lighter from the coffee table. Then she sipped at the dregs of Tab and melted ice in her topaz-colored juice glass. In her shiny satin housecoat with her hair wrapped around prickly rollers, she looked like a Lost in Space alien—“Danger Will Robinson!”
            Outside in the yard, Mom turned two lawn chairs to face the house. “We don’t want to miss this now, do we?” she said.
            I plopped into the chair on the left and she took the other one. I busied myself wrapping every inch of exposed flesh and hamster hair with blue afghan. Mom smacked her pack of cigarettes on the chaise lounge arm ‘til a butt peeked out. Flicked her other wrist to open her lighter. Rolled her thumb down the little wheel. A flame sprang up, a tiny bright teardrop in the night. I inhaled through my nose. I know cigarettes cause cancer but I love their fragrance in the moment right after they catch fire.  Mom sucked in until she could hold no more, then she huffed out little grey halos.  I watched her mouth go from flat line to smile.
            We were out there a good half hour while the guys raced up and down the stairs, whooping and hollering. At the bottom of the steps Dad gave orders.   
            “Men! Watch out! There’s one above your heads. Swat it! Shoo it! Someone open the door! Dagnabbit, Michael! Geoffrey! Whichever boy you are! Get out of the way!”
            Mom moved her head side to side so her smoke stream made an 's.' “Hear that? That’s his Navy voice.”
            I squinted and listened close but he sounded like plain ole Dad to me. I leaned back and shut my eyes. Maybe I can catch a nap. A minute later Mom tapped my wrist. Nodded to the wall over to her right. I held my breath as I saw movement in the shadows. Slowly, elegantly, our cat Ginger emerged from the darkness.
            Mom dropped her non-cigarette hand into the grass.  Snapped her fingers.
“Here, kitty, kitty. Come on, girl.”
            Ginger slunk over then sprang into Mom’s lap. I watched as Mom smoothed her white, black, and pumpkin fur. Then I screamed. Mom jumped up and Ginger went flying with a yowl.
            Mom turned and glared at me. “What?”
            I pointed a shaky finger at Ginger’s face. Ginger opened her mouth and deposited something, a small furry grey something, onto the sidewalk beside Mom’s chair. It didn’t move. Awww!
            I covered Houdini with my hand. “Don’t look, sweet boy.”
            Without flinching, Mom cleared her throat. “Yoo hoo! Oh, men,” she said. She waved her cigarette hand. The little orange beacon bobbed.
            The guys all gathered out on the porch. “What?” Dad said. His voice had a snarl in it.
            Mom nudged the little dead guy with her slippered toe. “Looks like Ginger did your job for you.”
            The boys came down the steps and into the dew-dropped grass. “Aw, man!" John said. "She killed it before we did.”
            Dad took the paper bag off his head and used the bell of his bugle to sweep the little grey guy into it.
            “All right then,” he said. “Our job is done here. Men, escort the women back inside.”
            Mom tucked her arm into the loop of Mike’s.  She glanced back at me and winked.
            “I feel so safe having all these big, strong men in the house, don’t you?”
            I rubbed Houdini’s soft warm flank against my cheek. “Actually, I feel safe having Ginger around,” I said.
            Back in my room, I returned Houdini to his Habitrail. Put the lid on and draped the cage with the beach towel that needed washed.  Just in case. Then I crawled back into bed and carefully tucked myself in until all that showed was my forehead and eyes. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. At the Kentucky Derby. With Ginger and the gang.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When Pigs Fly

It would be a good day to bury someone. Or some thing. The ground is soaked after days of drizzle. Will share its moisture if you but step on it.
            I head for the basement. To me, it smells like death but then, it often does. Could be the inch of water on the floor in husband’s workroom. Might be a juvenile rodent in some advanced state of decay, its head like a walked on brussel sprout, thanks to one of husband’s traps. Long ago I relinquished my insistence he use Havahart cages. The day he displayed an incarcerated rat (as opposed to the usual mouse) outside the kitchen window, I nearly dropped my wine glass.
            When he came back inside, I moved away from the sink so he could wash his hands. I spoke through clenched teeth.
            “Get the real traps. The killing kind.”
            I empty the dehumidifier. Fill the bunnies’ water bottle. That’s when I notice what’s wrong with this picture. I take in the cages of our guinea pigs—Trixie Juniper (sassy and sleek) and Sweetie (humble, like Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, and tousled).
            Something seems familiar. I picture the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the witch’s feet poke out from under her house. Only here in our basement, it's Sweetie’s butt that sticks out from under her purple pigloo. I make a hummy noise. That’s when I notice the silence. Consider she is not whistling and chuttering her usual high-pitched alarm. Ever since she learned basement light equals human equals food (at least a fair amount of the time—intermittent reinforcement and all that), she has proved our most vociferous beast.
            I slump. Exhale loudly. “Did he not see her?” I ask the basement. The boy child. When he fed her. Didn’t he question the absence of squeaks?
            I move the purple dome off her waist. Do my spot on imitation of a guinea pig vocal. My Indian name, after all, is Talks with Animals. I called myself that for months after I watched Dances with Wolves. Sweetie does not reply. Doesn’t stir in her aspen bedding. I make my eyes squinty. Will her to waddle her knocked-over-bowling-pin body to the side of the cage. To where she always begs for raisins. Every morning. She doesn’t today because she isn’t today. She cannot, will not, catch her breath of life ever again.

I text husband the sad news. He replies. Says he will lay her to rest tomorrow. I nod. Permit myself a small smile. Under the chestnut tree with all our other beloved pets, no doubt.
            Moments after I return my cell to my hoodie pocket it does a jig against my belly. I take it out again. Hold it at arm's length to decipher the words.
            “Prepare her for burial please.”
            My eyes bulge. I swallow nothing. Me? But I thought that was on the boy list. Along with taking out the trash and relocating almost-big-as-your-hand spiders.
            Preparing her for burial would mean I’d have to touch her. Make contact with death. Don’t tell anyone but part of me thinks it’s contagious. Being dead. I lay a hand over my heart. Feel its increased cadence. Work my tongue in my mouth in search of moisture.
            I lower myself to the floor next to the line of animal cages. Dry my palms on my skinny jeans.
            “This is why I could never be a single mom,” I tell the pets. “’Cause I don't know how to load or unload a mousetrap. Can’t bash a rabid raccoon’s brains with a shovel if need be. Don't have the guts to scrape a roadkill off the street in front of the house.”
            One of the rabbits thumps a big back paw. “Oh, fine!" I say as I heave myself to standing. "I’ll do it!”
            I walk over to the pile of old but clean towels next to the washer. Select a small purple one. Pick at the dried white paint next to the embroidered-in-gold reindeer. It’s soft. She’ll like that. I sigh. Even though she’s dead. I return to her cage and crouch beside it. Feel the splintering start. In my nose. At the corners of my eyes.
            “I hope you didn’t suffer, little friend,” I whisper. “I hope you closed your piggy eyes and . . .  And nothing. Just . . .”
            I reach in and touch her gently. Tentatively. She’s so soft. I imagine she’s warm. What if she’s . . . I poke her. She’s not. I admire the rosettes on her rump one last time before I roll her in the terry shroud.
            “You always looked like you had bed head all over your body, sweet girl.”
            I scootch over so I can get both arms inside her cage. “Remember how I wanted to change your name to Pigsley after we rescued you, but I couldn’t? Because you're so sweet, no name but Sweetie would do.”
            I wrap and tuck the cloth around her. Remove her much heavier in death than life body from the white wire house.
            I snuggle her into an American Eagle shoe box. “Get it, Sweetie?” I say. “I picked this one ‘cause it reminded me of that old hymn—I’ll Fly Away.”
            A sob breaks out of me like a cough. Right after I put the lid on.
            “Why does this never get easier?” I ask the question of Trixie and the bunnies.   The rabbits are side by side, watching me. Trixie sprints up her ramp. Cocks her head. I hold Sweetie’s coffin inches from Trixie’s nose.
            “She’s in here. You never liked her though. Always gave her a hard time. Now she’s gone. Who you gonna talk to now?”
            Trixie whistles. Puts her front paws up on the bars.
            I bite my lip. Whimper. “I’m sorry, Trix. That was mean.”
            I place the burial box on the floor where she and the bunnies can see it.
            “Here you go. I’ll leave her down here a little while. So you all can pay your final respects.”
            I climb the stairs to the kitchen. Take a seat at the table. Sip the last bit of my morning coffee. It’s cold. I spit it back in the cup. Get my phone out of my hoodie pocket and slide it open. Hold it at arm's length and type.
            “Piggy prepared for take off.” Send.


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