Saturday, November 26, 2011


Somewhere in the back of my mind I could hear my grandmother's voice shouting out, "You'll fry your balls off!"

I didn't have any balls to speak of, but she said it with such determination, I understood that if I continued with my pursuit, vital parts of my body might become seriously maimed.

This seemed to be of no consequence to me. I needed to get to the other side of that chain-linked fence. I was making good progress, despite the barbed wire curled into the top and the electric wire that ran right through it. This was not a fence designed to keep anything in. No hardened criminals prowled the perimeter searching for weaknesses in the construction. No gun-wielding, sharp-shooting guards were placed strategically in corner towers. This was a fence whose purpose was to keep everything in the world out. Mainly me, I supposed.

My aim was dead on. It took me a long time to figure out how to use the neighboring tree limbs to my advantage, but eventually, I was able to climb up high enough that gravity and a little bit of luck set me down in the middle of the old lady's back yard. I lit on the flat top of the tree stump in the middle of the yard. My toes curled over the edges, as if peeking down and taunting the broken shards of glass that covered the barren ground. I curled my self into a ball and braced for the attack of whatever snarling creature lurked in the shadows. No such thing happened, but I wasn't about to tease the poor thing. I opened one eye and scanned my surroundings.

The creature lay in the corner of the yard in a massive heap of matted black tangles. I knew it would be there. I'd seen it before, from the other side. Although I watched it steadily for what seemed like an hour, I detected no movement of fur, no rise and fall of steady breathing, no quiet grumblings of dreams it might be having. Several possibilities crossed my mind. It could be lying in wait for me to make a move, ready to pounce the moment I stepped off the tree trunk. Or it could have already eaten for the day and wasn't interested in an afternoon snack. Or it was dead from starvation.

I know it's hateful, but I was hoping for Option Three.

After the initial wave of paralyzing fear dissipated from my body, I was able to slowly uncurl myself and stand upright, hands on my hips, chest thrust forward. I'm not sure who I was trying to convince of my fearlessness, the creature or myself. I should have worn a cape. All the best superheroes had them.

But even with a cape, I couldn't fly like a superhero. I was left to my own devices to figure out how to get from this stump to the back door of the house. (Something you may not know about me: I had a lot brothers growing up, so I was a Boy Scout.) I came prepared.

I'd fashioned a sturdy wooden dowel with a metal hook embedded in the end, and I used it to reach out and grab the electrified clothesline that ran the length of the yard. There was no time to speculate whether or not you could actually use that clothesline to hang your clothes. I wasn't able to stop and snicker at the idea of a whole load of crispy undies waving in the breeze. I hooked my big stick onto the line, gave a little jump and I was whizzing off toward the screen door to the mudroom of my grandma's house. The glass shards beneath my feet seemed to come alive as I passed over them, undulating in perfect rhythm, reaching up for my bare toes and all parts connected to them. I'm sure I could identify the unique color of dried blood encrusted on the edges of those razor sharp pieces.  I slammed into the screen door, and from the corner of my eye, I saw a bulky black blur rushing toward me. Its snarling was loud enough to vibrate my entire body.

I guess it had been Option One after all.

No worries. I was in the door, and I shut it in his face just as he reached me. The handy 2"x6" nested into its brackets just as the beast was throwing itself into the door, determined to have his meal. I watched and waited for the thumps to subside. The deafening snarls eventually faded away.

"You're late," Aunt Mary accused me. I turned to see her standing in the doorway to the kitchen, looking down at me with a glint in her eye.

"And you're dead," I reminded her. She threw back her head and laughed at me. We hugged and sat down around the kitchen table with the others.

Somebody handed me a beer, and Aunt Mary dealt me in.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Mood Swings

My first get-together at the new place on a warm night with a light breeze. A few friends from work and a few friends from out of town. We were all having a good time sitting in a circle in the garage with the overhead door open so we could enjoy the beautiful weather. Some edgy, raw music played in the background in contrast with our unified laid-back mood. Each guest had his favorite drink in hand.

Bubbles floated by, and we realized that as they popped the music became louder. We made a game of this, reaching up and popping as many as we could. Amanda used the cherry on her cigarette to stab them. When she did this, the song changed, and then the mood changed.

Something was wrong.

My guests started to hustle about and crowd around the edge of the garage, looking at something out in the neighborhood. I pushed through them. Bryan grabbed my arm to hold me back. His black eyes met mine with a fear, not of the scene he saw, but for my reaction to it. I pulled away from him, now desperate to see what had caught everyone's attention.

A freezing gust of wind shot through the garage and we pulled our heavy coats around us. About two inches of snow blanketed the ground, giving the neighborhood a false sense of peace. The world was dark and silent. I stepped into the snow, and then I was alone.

My house was gone. My friends were gone. There had never been a party. There had never been music or bubbles.

There was nothing but snow and silence.

Until I heard the gurgle. A familiar sound that I couldn't quite place, but soon enough I saw the man unconscious in the snow. The crunch of my shoes in the hardened snow echoed in my ears like the beat of my heart as I approached him.

I fell to my knees, distraught at the condition of my son. Blood pooled into the ice around him. Steam rose like fog, obscuring us from the rest of the world. A bestial, guttural roar ripped through the air, and a moment went by before I realized that the sound had come from somewhere deep within me.

My son lay lifeless on a freezing blanket of ice. When I scooped him into my arms, his pieces fell away. Somebody had chopped him up and now his arms and legs were rolling away like discarded shoes and socks. I grabbed at them and tried to put him back together in my arms. He could be fixed if we acted quickly enough, if I could scoop all the blood back into him fast enough, everything would be okay. Blue steam shot from his mouth, and one last gurgle rose from his throat. All the life escaped him then, but there was no convincing me.

I woke in the warm darkness of my bedroom, scooping the blankets toward me, scooping  the blood that wasn't there, grasping at air where my son's lifeless body had been.