Monday, July 30, 2007

The alien and the colorful candy, a tale of Halloween

“Give me your things?” the alien said. His voice was demanding but he made no move to emphasize his demand--like holding out his skinny arm and three-fingered hand. And it had ended its demand with a question mark. What should have been his mouth moved like an oval string but human signs like lips and teeth remained hidden.

“No,” said the boy. He was dumbfounded by this sight of a creature--for surely at this age he had known aliens as, well, alien--although “alien” as his dad used the word seemed to him to be a human his dad didn’t think much of--about his height with a glowing chrome dome head, skinny, with round mouth and no nose and two big ears but then, this was Halloween. This wasn’t Jimmy McMurtry ‘cause Jimmy was taller than he by a head, and this alien was about half-a-head shorter, and it wasn’t Amy Jossie since the creature didn’t have, well, those things girls that age have--kind of. And it wasn’t his brother because his brother was just here ten minutes ago.

“I’ll take ‘em,” said the alien. His voice sounded local but a bit mechanical. Mimic wasn’t a word the boy knew much. But, his dad had said on many occasions, you can’t always tell a yankee by his accent.

“Get your own,” the boy said and hugged the unopened bag to his chest. Halloween wasn’t until night after next so this jerk was pushing the limit. His dad said to stand up to bullies and now was his chance although the boy had no sense of his danger.

“I said, I want those,” pointing towards the Skittles. The word “Skittles” hadn’t been heard by the alien so he--its sex being one of the great unknowns--couldn’t say s-k-i-t-t-l-e-s.

“And I said, ‘no.’”

“I can take them away from you. I can tractor beam (he’d heard this over the video screen recognizing it as something he could do) and just take ‘em away from you.”

“Try it and I’ll throw them away. I’ll--I’ll--I’ll pour ‘em down the drain!” He ripped open the bag and made to dump them down the gutter.

“No!” yelled the alien and made a step towards the boy.

The boy tipped the bag but stopped. Bluff time.

“Who are you,” said the boy.

“Who am I? Who are you?”

“I asked you first.”

First also was not a concept in the language of the alien. The alien was flummoxed, momentarily.
“I want those,” he repeated.

“Not gonna happen,” said the boy. He tipped a few Skittles into his hand and popped them into his mouth. The alien gawked at this defamation. To put something into this mouth--what we call mouth, at least--was tantamount to turning something into excrement. The boy munched and crunched and about swallowed the handful of Skittles whole. He did his best to not choke. “I’ll eat ‘em all,” he said with his mouth full, “and what I can’t eat I’ll throw away.” He gobbled a few more and some spilled onto the ground. By telepathy or some form of voodoo the boy had no way to understand, or appreciate, the alien pulled the few loose Skittles towards him and seemed to pocket them where there were no pockets. The boy continued to gawk, open mouthed, open eyed, colorful pebbles dissolving in his mouth. “How’d you do that?” he said. Finally. He had to inhale first even if he didn’t recognize that essential to speaking.

“It’s a secret. Now, give me those.”

“Blow it out your butt!” The boy made an inquisitive glance towards the rear end of the alien.

The alien made no move but the boy had to take a step to balance himself against some tug, some force, some pull towards the creature that he didn’t understand. The boy clutched the Skittles to his chest. His nerves were coming unraveled and he could feel his pulse and temperature rise.

In a moment the tugging ceased. The alien drooped his already featureless shoulders. The effort to beam an 80 pound object was tiring. His parent could do it with ease. Pull something the size of --he looked around--a car although “car” wasn’t the word he applied. The alien focused on a rolled-up newspaper on the stoop. The rubber band broke and the paper exploded in the breeze. A garbage can lid sailed off the can as the can tumbled over, the lid zinged just over the alien’s head. He ducked. The can rolled once or twice and rattled to a stop.

The boy watched this show of force. He was impressed at one level, scared at another, defiant in the end. Then he felt another tug. A lone Skittle, in his hand, shot over the gap to the alien and disappeared where the mouth ought to have been. The newspapers on the stoop rustled to the alien’s legs and crowded around his feet.

In a moment, in the quiet of the afternoon, against the clear blue October sky, a white beam of light illuminated a spot about ten feet from the alien. The boy’s eyes brightened. He sensed, rather than saw, the black space ship at the end of the beam, way up high, almost higher than he could see, maybe as high as the jets fly, a black ball perhaps. He wanted to look at the black ball--a billiard ball?--but didn’t want to not look at the alien at the same time. The light beam traveled around the alien for a moment--2 or 3 seconds perhaps--as if searching. The beam poised over the alien. Instantly, the alien was gone. The newspapers were gone. The street litter was gone. The leaves were gone. The beam was gone. Everything vacuumed. Inhaled. Dust fingers rose around the echo of the light shaft. The kid stood opened mouth staring at empty blue sky. The billiard ball was gone. He stared at the empty street. Empty everything in front of him just out of reach. He was still unaware of the power of the demonstration. He only knew one thing.

Sure as heck hadn’t been Jimmy McMurtry.


Step right up here, young man. Looks like a little off the sides and leave the top? We’ll do it. You can hang your jacket up if you’d like. Might be a bit warm under the apron. Let me help you with it, OK? It’s all right. I won’t drop it. Don’t worry. That’s something mighty heavy in the pocket, there, fella.

My name’s Walter... I didn’t get yours.

So, you’re new to our town or just passing through? Oh, you live up in Johnson City? Sorry, you said Gate City, my apologies. Can’t hear like I used to. Nice place up that way, I guess, can’t say as I’ve ever been to Gate City. That’s in Virginia, right? Too many people for my liking. We got a nice town here. No much happenin’, actually. Many of our youngins are leaving which is sad. Goin’ to the really big cities, I reckon. Charlotte. Atlanta. Chattanooga. Knoxville. My kin are originally from up north, from Carterville, Michigan. You probably never heard of the place. My granddad was a barber, too. Some folks around here say that’s where I inherited my gift of gab. So if I talk too much you’ll let me know, won’t you? My wife says I talk too much and she’s never afraid to tell me so.

Did you hear about our big marijuana raid?

Bill--you want to turn the radio down just a bit, please? Thanks.

As I was sayin’, did you hear about the cops ripping up some guy’s weed patch? Lots of town folks thought that was justice, sort of, but some thought it wasn’t much of a crime, either.
Turns out we’d had a hunter out in the forest scouting for someplace to locate his deer stands in the fall--we do a lot of deer hunting here. Do you eat venison? I love venison. They say it’s too lean for a regular diet but for once in a great while, barbecued, you can’t beat venison--and discovered this marijuana patch about quarter acre in size. Which doesn’t seem like much but I guess it adds up pretty quick. So, this hunter told the sheriff and the deputies staked it out. They had to make sure it wasn’t booby trapped. Growers do that nowadays. They call themselves growers ‘cause it makes them respectable. Like a farmer, you know? Crooks’ is what I call ‘em. I’ll bet it made somebody mad. You bet. And you can bet if some kid tripped over one of those booby traps, we’d find the grower and probably hang him.

So anyway, the sheriff’s deputies make sure there weren’t any booby traps and set up a stake out for a week and nobody showed. The folk around town was speculating that maybe somebody in the sheriff’s office of being a snitch--but you know us small town folks--we talk too much. I didn’t think that a’tall. I knew that the grower wouldn’t come down just every day to check on the progress of his crop. It’s not been raining much this last month or so, so his plants’ take a while to mature. I know this ‘cause that’s what the paper said today. He didn’t appear to irrigate although I thought that mighty bold if he did. Use water from the creek to boost his crop. That creek is on federal land and that’s federal water and that’s what I call ironic. Don’t you? So they staked it out for a week and nothing happened, so the sheriff decided to pull it all up and burn it. Of course, you don’t see no eff-bee-eye out in our woods doing law enforcement. No sirree, the feds don’t go onto federal property until the locals--that’s us--get a leg blown off by a booby trap. The feds like to put an emphasis on the word “booby.” You get my drift? They’re not the ones getting trapped?

Like I was telling Bill, over here, that was that funny smelling fire this afternoon coming from out behind the sheriff’s office. I wondered just how much money was going up in smoke? Boy, that’d make me mad if that was my stuff. Probably got a few deputies high.

A little more off the side? Sure. You just speak up and let me know how want it. Shall I get those eyebrows, too?

A fellow was in this morning, just before eleven, I remember the time because it was just before Paul Harvey came on today--like any other day I ‘spose-- and he was talkin’--Paul Harvey, that is--about how many millions of dollars is spent on eradicating marijuana in the United States each year. We spent some of our tax dollars the last couple of weeks on some tiny chunk of all those drugs running up and down the interstate. On our interstate? A mile from here, that’s how far away they’re from us. It’s disgusting. And here somebody’s been growing this stuff not three miles down the road from here over in the Cherokee National Forest! You’d like to think you could trust one of your own, but I guess not.

But, that--that little piece of it is out of operation. And this fellow I was telling you about, the one that come in this morning, said that he’d heard that Mikey Crystal had been the guy who found the patch. He--this fella--said that he overheard a couple of guys down at the post office said that the guy who found the patch--’cause I don’t Mikey hunted deer--went right straight to the cops. Not that’s he’s a pearly white kind of guy, you know. The guy--whoever this guy is that the fellow had overheard about at the postoffice-- had been busted for poaching deer. The story goes, as I got it at least, the sheriff dropped the charges ‘cause they didn’t have the carcass anymore. Somebody lost it out of a freezer and kind of ruin’t the case. Somebody probably didn’t know any better and ate the thing. Whoever it was that alerted the sheriff, if it was Mikey or somebody else, might have also thought they’d look better in the eyes of the law for doing a good deed. But you never know about justice in this day and age. Somebody’s idea of right is another man’s idea of wrong. This old hat about “Revenge is mine...” just don’t cut it in today’s world. The Law is too slow. Instant gratification, I say, that’s who we are.

But, ol’ Mikey, if it was him, didn’t hesitate or nothing, I guess. Of course, we don’t usually want to put a name to some rumor so don’t you go passing that on, OK? You look like the sort a man could trust. You know?

Brother, I’d hate to be in somebody’s shoes when the guy who owned that patch come looking for me. But I wouldn’t go putting much faith in what I’ve been saying, mister, I’m just talking. You know?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Tale of Four Mowers

Friday night was Gil Milan’s going away party. Milan was in the Tennessee National Guard and had been called up, due to ship out the next day. It had been an all-guy kind of party. Lots of beer. Lots of talk about war. Talk about cars. Talk about girls. And talk about goodbyes. His buddies knew the score, as did Gil Milan, and while they wished him well, they were glad they weren’t going.

Peep Peppers, Van Cornell, Art Shoun, Pauly Black, and Timmons Dawson stayed to the last the drop. Last call. Midnight. All five had grown up in the roughly the same neighborhood. Graduated from high school and despite being separated by family and career had formed one of those rare groups that stayed in touch, knew each other’s lives, attached to each other, detached for awhile, and re-attached and renewed randomly. Timmons Dawson drove home not just because he drove to the party and not just because he was the designated driver but because Madams Peppers, Cornell, Shoun and Black conspired to see he drove and that Messrs. Peep, Van, Art, and Pauly didn’t drive. The four wives knew their husbands. And it was Dawson’s van, anyway.

The cinco amigos didn’t exactly depart the premises at midnight. Only Gil Milan left on time. Uncle Sam wanted him at 9:30 at the bus station and he darn well better be there on time. The party itself carried on for an hour or so. And then slowly dissolved. Peppers, Cornell, Shoun, Black, and Dawson, not the last ones out, crowded in the Dawson’s mini-van, sans three car seats and struck out down through Johnson City towards the south end of town. A fifteen minute trip to Shoun’s house was first.

The business district up by the mall was dead to the world at 2:00 in the morning as they entered it.

“You know,” said Dawson, “I’ve always wondered what it might be like to be the night watchman and not see anyone all night.”

“What brought that on,” asked Art Shoun. “Were you watching Back to the Future?”

“No, I just noticed the guy key his code by the lawn mowers and drive off to some other spot. How boring.”

“Somebody’s got to do it.”

“You know,” nobody remembered afterwards who spoke, “what would happen if those lawn mowers were to go missing?”

“You’re kidding,” somebody, also not remembered, answered. Timmons Dawson, who ran a profitable printing business and a rent-a-storage operation, peeled off to an empty parking lot across from the mall. The cafe was closed--permenantly--and he pulled up even with the building, turned off his lights.

“What are you doing,” said Art Shoun. They were all kind of giddy from too much beer and probably needing to relieve themselves so any delay was not welcome.
“Look,” said Timmons Dawson. And they looked.

The night watchman, a rent-a-cop, and security, all wrapped up in one young human male, drove up to the tire store that sits apart from the mall itself. In front of the tire store were four lawn mowers, undoubtedly chained together.

“I wonder how long it takes for him to make his rounds?” No one seemed to be too interested but no one seemed to object watching. Twenty minutes later the security man was back to his check-in box mounted on the light pole.

“Let’s do it,” someone said.

And they did.

The four darted across the road. They didn’t know if the riding mowers were chained to the light post or to the building or if they had gasoline or spark plugs or anything. For being drunk, the boys cranked ‘em up in a moment, and discovering the mowers were only chained to each other, formed a single file line and entered the street. Luck was with them. Not only was this end of town magically empty of people and cops, the rent-a-cop, coming back in twenty minutes failed to even notice the mowers were missing. In the forty minute gap, the men were miles from the mall, running wide open, headlights on, four abreast.

Four guys, sat upright in the warm summer air, smiling, looking around. Each mower ran at a different speed. Each one jumped differently over the tar strips. Each mower was a different height. A lone passing motorist could only stare at the spectacle.

The cops, the real ones, weren’t alerted until mall security called them. The streets were that deserted in the morning, and the police were off in another part of town. And since no one else had called dispatch, the police had not clue which direction the mower-thieves had gone. They assumed the mowers had been loaded onto a flat bed and carted off. So no chase was given.
Peppers, Cornell, Shoun, and Black, third to first, puttered up the highway past millions of dollars of cars, all lit up and shiny at too-gawd-awful in the morning. There was no end game. No exit plan. Surely, soon, one would run out of gasoline. Or, the cops would show. Or, some citizen would call in this comic spectacle on the city streets. Or take their picture. They’d be world famous--sort of--by sun up.

But oddly, a tear was developing on each face. They might have sobered a bit with the realization that but for the grace of God one of their own was on his way to war. Perhaps to come back less a person, if he came back at all. The night, the prank, were a foolish last hurrah for a friend. For a pal. To mark the moment.

Pauly Black was the first to run out of fuel. When he quickly lost speed the others were yanked up short and stopped, too. Now, in the middle of the street, out on the edge of town, they started to walk back home. Timmons Dawson had had enough sense to not go straight home and soon found them. Nobody said much on the drive back to town. The cops would find the mowers, perhaps find fingerprints, come talk to the four gents in the next morning much to the chagrin of their wives. But, at this point, they almost--almost!--didn’t care. It had been a rousing send off.
It was worth it.