Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Month, Day

From the Fun Times in Dead Zones file:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cloud Dragon

It was the last week of summer vacation, the Sunday before Labor Day. Robbie Manson and his father were out back playing catch on the green stretch of field that they shared with four other houses on their side of the street. Their once-idyllic suburb had been overdeveloped to shit, Frank Manson was fond of saying, but here was one piece of land to which the city had for decades denied real estate developers to stake claim.

On this day, the weather was particularly gorgeous, the last remaining gasps of summer mixing with a subdued breeze that hinted fall. Stark-white clouds drifted along slowly in the azure sky like fat tufts of cotton.

"Dad," Robbie asked his father, "what are we having for supper?"

"Not sure, Sport," Frank replied, repositioning the brim of his cap to block out the early afternoon sun. Then, "You ate two hot dogs not twenty minutes ago. Still hungry?"

Robbie didn't answer, only shook his head and threw the worn Rawlings ball back to his dad.

Something had been troubling the kid, Frank knew, had been troubling him all day. He supposed it was the coming school year. Robbie, a smart kid who made friends easily, was going to have to repeat the third grade. He had been diagnosed with leukemia the year prior, and although he was one of the most intelligent kids in his grade, he simply hadn't attended enough classes to be allowed to pass.

Frank tossed his glove and the ball to the ground. He sat down on the grass. "Sidle up, Sport," he said as he fished inside his windbreaker for a pack of Juicy Fruit. Robbie tucked his glove under his arm and jogged over with his hands in his pockets. They each had a stick of gum.

After a minute of slow, silent chewing, Frank spoke. "Your mother's going to kill me for this, but there's something I think you're old enough to know. You certainly have more mileage than either of us, so that's why I'm telling you."

Robbie looked startled. He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "If it's about sex, I know all that stuff already."

His father let out an amused laugh. "No, no, it's not that, and I'm sure you do. This isn't about the birds and the bees, although it does concern a creature that flies. Your mother doesn't think I should tell you. She thinks it might scare you, but there are things you've experienced that are far scarier and more frightening than she or I can imagine. Still, it's up to you. Stop me if you don't want to hear it."

Robbie was silent, his wide eyes displaying genuine curiosity. His father went on.

"I probably shouldn't be saying this here, given the weather, but I think we're safe. I'll keep my head up just to make sure, though, and maybe you should do the same. See, there's this creature; I guess you could call it a dragon, although it doesn't have scales or breathe fire. It actually looks more like the skeleton of what you might imagine a dragon to look like, with long white hair covering its body and curling out like tendrils of smoke. A really gruesome-looking beast, understand. It's the size of a city block, and when it's hungry, watch out."

Robbie laughed. His father could fool him sometimes, had once convinced him that Christmas had been moved back to April 25 because winter weather discouraged shopping, but this was just ridiculous. "A white dragon?" he said incredulously. "Dad, I'm not that stupid."

"I know it sounds crazy," his father continued, "but hear me out. I don't believe in Bigfoot, the Montauk Monster, or the Mothman, either, but that's because such creatures, if they existed, would have been shot and bagged by now. They live, hypothetically, on terra firma, and there's not much uncovered earth on which to roam, is there? This thing though, this dragon -- if that's what you want to call it -- it lives in the sky. It has hidden in the clouds unseen for centuries. Even in the modern age, it remains undetected by airplanes or satellites. It knows it's the last of its kind, too, so it usually strikes at opportune times, like when there's a hurricane or other natural disasters. Sometimes, though, when the weather is calm and it's starving, it'll fly from cloud to cloud until it spots a victim to spirit away without drawing attention.

Your mother thinks I worry unnecessarily. And, indeed, the chance of being eaten by the cloud dragon is probably a lot lower than any of the other innumerable dangers a kid can encounter. But there are ways I can protect you and there are ways I can't. Your leukemia is one such evil I couldn't have prepared you for or saved you from. I can, however, do that now by making you aware of the cloud dragon. There's only one of him -- or maybe it's a she -- and the world is large, but if you find yourself outside on a day like today, it would be prudent to keep an eye out. Can you do that for me?"

"Dad," Robbie asked, "how come you're such an expert on this cloud dragon? How do you know about it?"

"I'll tell you when you're older," Frank Manson said. "Now let's head inside. I've managed to give myself the creeps just telling you this."

They got up and collected their gloves and ball. Frank Manson whistled as he strode home. Robbie, his legs too short to mimic his father's gait, scuttled to catch up. When he was even with his father, he threw his arms around his waist.

"I love you, Dad," he said.

Then he looked up into the sky and stuck out his tongue.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

"You Brought Two Too Many."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: If you're going to film an opening scene to a Western, do it like that. 

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Sun, Moon, and Stars (Chapter 1)

For my eighth birthday, my father gave me a cat's skull. Said I might not appreciate it now but would as I got older. I had asked him for a Disney Princess Barbie, and when I reminded him that that was what I really wanted, he shrugged and said, "This'll make you think better," tapping the skull's bleached forehead twice then stroking it with the back of his index in a loving gesture.

For my ninth birthday, I did indeed receive a Disney Princess Barbie, Snow White-Barbie, just as I had asked for fourteen months prior. But by then I didn't much care for it, had moved on to less girly -- yet still childish -- desires. Nevertheless, I thanked him for it, said it was exactly what I wanted, my voice rising an octave too high in an effort to sound thrilled. He knew it, too. Children are the worst liars.

By the end of the week, Snow White-Barbie was somewhere in the house, neither I nor Dad knew where, and no APBs concerning her missing status were posted to the fridge or the cork board in the hallway, so we forgot about her. Loved ones only search for their own kind, and by then we cared about Snow White-Barbie as much as we cared about a crumpled paper cup in the brush beside a turnpike.

I still had the cat skull, though. Had kept it, hoping that one day my father's prophesy would be fulfilled.

You might think my father was a bit of a weirdo, but apart from the occasionally baffling birthday or Christmas gift (he gave me a broken clock radio as a graduation present), he was as straight-laced as they came, as they still do come. He never drank, never smoked. He kept the same job, running his own travel agency, from before my birth up until his death, and he never, ever, swore. This included never taking the lord's name in vain, even though he was an atheist.

He did have more particular quirks than most people, more than anyone I've ever known, in fact, but they were all innocuous. He said he was allergic to orange road pylons, said being in eyesight of one would elicit a violent reaction akin to someone with a peanut or bee-sting allergy, that his throat would close up and that he'd suffocate; he told me he couldn't watch The Silence of the Lambs because Anthony Hopkin's voice as Hannibal Lecter gave him a seizure when he saw it in the theater; he claimed that our next-door neighbors, the Scrantons, had a doberman as big as our garage but that it had to be put down because -- this was when I was four -- it outgrew its doghouse overnight and had a lung punctured by a splintered wood panel.

These were bizarre beliefs that, growing up, I regarded as my father's testing of my wits, his attempt to develop in me a sense of humor, perhaps to ice my young gullibility. Thing is, though, as normal as he was day to day, year to year, he never once relented to admit that he was fooling me the entire time. And I'm still not sure, to be honest.

In any case, it doesn't matter. Either way, it's kept me thinking over the years, and isn't that a gift that keeps on giving?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011


I've never been good at blowing my nose. Every person I've ever known, regardless of age, is able to press a tissue against their nostrils and give a great honk to expel mucus, but this ostensibly simple process, which I imagine should be as automatic as wiping one's ass or drinking a glass of water, has never been easy for me. And the hell of it is that, given my allergies, I should be a lot better at it than I am. Alas, I am not.

I'll take a tissue if one is handy, ball up some toilet paper if it isn't, and, invariably, I'll explode clear, viscous liquid onto my cheeks, my mouth, my chin. In the company of others, this can be quite embarrassing. In private, I don't even bother. Instead, I'll go to the bathroom, lean over the sink, press my index finger against whichever nostril isn't currently affected, and shoot what I've affectionately dubbed bucksnot into the basin. If I have a bad cold, I'll pinch the bridge of my nose and let fly the double barrels.

My sinuses are congested, in one form or another, mostly year round. In spring and summer, I get so that I can only breathe through my mouth, my pathetic-looking maw hanging agape whether at work or rest. In winter, I drip like a leaky faucet, right and left nostrils alternating their constant waterworks every couple of hours. There's a window of reprieve for a few weeks come every fall, but after that it's back to my unofficial duty as mayor of Snotsville. It's thankless work.

Because I'm so tragically inept at the uncomplicated action of blowing my nose, I instead -- again, only when in public -- carry facial tissue with me at all times. When the snot's blob-like creep toward breaching my upper lip begins anew, I wipe it away. Again and again. For years, I used to sniff it back, but do you know how goddamn annoying that sounds? It sounds like a baby farting.

So I keep wiping. Often until my nose is red and raw, dry-skinned and bloody. It is such a chore, and nothing will provide relief. All the nasal medication or antihistamines in the world won't ever cease this endless stream of watery nose-shit coming out of me. I've tried them all.

But I think I might have found a cure. It's in the dining room, propped up against the sideboard. Its purpose is for hunting deer, but you know what they say about how necessity is the mother of invention and all, and I have another use for it, a revolutionary one.

I am going to blow out my brains to spite my nose. Going to let fly the double barrels.