A Town Full Of Holes
When Judge Myron saw the black BMW swerve into his yard, it was all he could do to shuffle behind the old oak tree, and pray the glass didn’t cut him up too bad. Myron tucked his chin, held his hands over his business, and closed his eyes.
The bang of the beamer side-swiping the tree sounded like a train derailing. The impact stripped the bark and sprayed glass into Myron’s scraggly salt-and-pepper beard. The car rebounded, slid, and rolled down his steep driveway. As it rolled it flattened the neighbor girl’s lemonade stand, left at the end of the sidewalk overnight.
“You missed the house!” Myron shouted.
The driver of the BMW opened his door and leaned out. He was young; pale and fresh-faced and red-cheeked, with a pink popped-collar polo and a sideways cap with the tags still on. He examined his crumpled rear door with beer-dulled shock. His gaze flickered from the door, to the smashed lemonade stand, to the tire tracks and the tree, and finally to Myron. Shards of glass and plastic glittered red in the lawn around him, lit by the BMW tail lights.
“Sh-shit!” The driver straightened up the seat, wobbling. “My bad!”
He hit the gas and the wheels spun, spraying Myron with sod.
Myron watched the tail lights disappear down the highway. He checked himself for holes, walked inside, and called the police. Then Myron stripped off his clothes, crawled into bed, and began planning his revenge.
On his drive into work, Judge Myron kept a mental count of how many holes had been put in his town by reckless frat boys.
First, there was the lemonade stand. Little June Stevens saw the wreckage when she wheeled her red wagon out to the stand at 7am. The wagon held a pitcher of ice and sweating cans of frozen concentrate, and a stack of solo cups. She held Myron personally accountable for the loss of her business.
“Why didn’t you stop him?” June whistled when she spoke, on account of her missing front teeth.
“Well, Ms June, the good Lord took my knees. Otherwise I’d have thrown myself in front of your stand.”
June nodded sagely, looking at the shattered planks. Muddy tire tracks bisected her misspelled ‘Lemon-onade’ sign.
Myron picked up the sign and tucked it under his arm before heading toward his truck. “I hope you don’t mind if I borrow this, Ms June?”
“Maybe you could take some lemonade for the road?” She asked.
Myron frowned, uncapped his thermos, and dumped out his coffee. He handed her the thermos and a 10-dollar bill.
Myron passed nine other properties with holes on his way to the courthouse. A tarp had been taped over the shattered glass of the Dairy Queen, where a Hummer full of university kids had taken the corner too hard and found themselves in the dining area; their windshield wipers flicking sticky foam over the booths, from the cracked soda fountain pouring over their windshield.
The old post-office had been bricked up, twice, after cars had swerved across the lot and lodged themselves in the broad sidewall.
Vern, the local taxidermist, lost his insurance when a mustang totalled itself running through the front of his shop, although the moose did most of the totalling.
Hell, even the auto-body store got wrecked when a Jetta smashed through their front window, causing a mass tire-roll when their display rack caved.
Myron knew the cause of the holes. It was a simple matter of location. Brent County served liquor, and Jolie County didn’t. Brent County had a tiny town full of holes named Brenson, and Jolie had a college full of thirsty students. That meant Jolie students had to travel through Brenson, and their curvy stretch of highway, to get a drink.
Myron meditated on this as he parked in front of the courthouse. Which, incidentally, had a hole the size of an Escalade covered in painter’s plastic by the door.
Myron gulped lemonade from his thermos, and he frowned at the hole.
At 11-o-clock Myron sat in his black judge’s robe. He watched as a young man with bleary, blood-shot eyes and a pink polo shirt shuffled up to the bench. The lad was Chet Baker, and he had been caught driving recklessly at the county line; swerving into oncoming traffic in his black 4-door BMW. The responding officer had found an open case of Natural Light in the passenger seat, a crushed rear door, and a shoebox full of women’s underwear in the trunk. Used.
Chet tilted his head back and to the side. “So how much?”
“Excuse me?” Myron asked.
“How much is this gonna cost me?”
Judge Myron leafed through his papers. The BMW was registered to his father. As was the insurance.
“Mr Baker, am I to understand this isn’t your first offense?” Myron asked.
Myron leaned forward. “Yah it is, or yah it aint?”
“It’s not my first, per se.”
“It looks like the others were also in Brenson.” Myron plucked at the files. “Four fender-benders, three parking violations, and one charge of wildlife harassment?”
Chet Baker smiled at the last one. “We were just following a deer.”
“Through Mrs Stevens’s field?”
Chet snorted a laugh. “Well, there wasn’t a sign. But I paid the fine. And the other tickets, too. So, like, how much is this one?”
Myron looked across the room at his exhausted staff. He saw Mrs Brown, the case manager, hauling a banker’s box through the hallway. He remembered when her dog got hit; not in the road, but in its doghouse, sleeping in the yard.
Myron saw bailiff Taylor pinching his nose, trying to stay awake. He had installed three new mailboxes this month. The latest, a concrete-and-steel post, had torn the cosmetic underglow strip from the bottom of an SUV. It was still blinking neon red when Taylor found it, and his mailbox post, twisted in the road.
Myron picked up his thermos, started to take a sip of lemonade, then set it back down. Myron stood and straightened his robes.
“I’ll be right back.” He told the bailiff. Taylor nodded, and Myron left a confused, hung-over Chet standing at the bench.
Myron went to his pickup and recovered the ‘Lemon-onade’ sign. When he re-entered the courtroom he went through the fluttering plastic hole. Then he leaned the sign against the bench, and Chet’s eyes went wide in recognition.
“I’ve decided to waive your fine, Mr Baker, on one condition.”
“Sure! Yah, anything your honor.” Chet Baker said.
“I need to know your car is in working order before you leave town. And I’d like you to use the parts I have provided here.”
Chet stared at Myron, confused, before he looked at the sign. “Uh, this?”
“You got it.”
“But, uh...that’s not a door.”
“I know.” Myron said. “Our local mechanic will help with that. Free of charge.”
“But, I...I don’t,” Chet sputtered, looking from the sign, to Myron, and then to the bailiff, who was as baffled as Chet. “Can’t I just get a new door?”
“You may,” Myron said. “After six months. Replace it before then, and you’ll receive your fine in the mail.”
Chet Baker was the first visitor to drive away with a piece of the town welded to his car, but he wouldn’t be the last.
Old Bill Fletch at the auto-body was happy to fit the sign onto a set of hinges, after he’d stopped laughing. He even put a frame behind it and sealed it with foam so it was crumple-safe and insulated. For half a year Chet would drive around Jolie, and the college, advertising lemonade in an 8-year-old’s scrawl.
The local papers reported on the incident, calling it a just reprisal for Brenson. The headline read; Drunk Driver Leaves With Sour Taste. And folks at the Brenson elk club toasted Myron, who accepted the praise with humility.
Then a national tabloid contacted Myron’s office to complain. The tabloid’s sports columnist was Chet Baker’s father, and he called it a foolish farce, and demanded Myron rescind the punishment. When Myron refused, the article they ran accused Judge Myron of being a tyrant of the county. It called him a moral zealot, and it drew comparisons between Myron and the southern judges who made teenagers wear signs to shame them.
Myron had a copy of the tabloid framed on his office wall.
The next Nissan that crashed into Vern’s taxidermy shop was fitted with a bear-skin hood and a pair of antlers. For a full year it could be seen slowly rolling through the county, lurking between the trees along the highway, like some shy creature come out of hibernation.
The VW Bug that plowed through the fence outside Donna’s Daycare had its bumpers fitted with an extra layer of protection; the inflatable sidewalls of Donna’s kiddie pool.
Two vans, on two separate occasions, struck the hair salon. For six months they could be seen cruising down the highway, wind blowing through their hair, which had been epoxied to the rooftops like calico carpeting.
The Benz that broke into the laundromat drove back to Jolie with two new rear windows; glass portholes from the dryers. That way anyone on the road could see when the rear passengers were done.
And God help those who struck the lonesome porno shop on the way out of town. There was more than one sedan on the highway with silicon phalluses helicoptering in the wind. Or stuck straight up, waiting at red lights, like spiked road warrior rejects in a Mad Max parody.
So it was that Judge Myron and the town of Brenson had their revenge on the reckless students who came in from Jolie, looking for a shortcut to their favorite watering hole. Eventually, word spread, and the kids who drove through took care not to swerve into the buildings. Unless, of course, they were looking to have their ride pimped by the backwater folk of Brenson.
An Isolate’s Soul
The printer screen traced silver light, outlined
Your hair, your glasses, tacky broach and hoops
Found perfection in your impatient smile
And tortured music tapping through your boots
My spirit split from me when I saw you
Too loath to remain attached to the brain
That muttered about our sunny weather
Stuttered of crowded cars in subway trains
A soul which left a coward’s husk behind
To find a better world outside the me
Who waited without meaningful remark
To copy empty pages patiently
A soul now freed to whisper in your ear
The lyrics that always bubble over
When the staccato tapping of your toe
Rattles me out from under my cover
Perhaps our souls exist in that bright next
Where your impatience can be admired
Without the reluctance of the craven
Who asked politely when you’d been hired
3 minutes...and go...
Why did the Riddler try to get Batman to engage him with riddles? Why, of all the super-villains, did he try to use logic puzzles? It always seemed to me that villains were more compelling with they had real plans. Real villainy. Real devious messages.
The Riddler? I think he just wanted love. I mean, his whole backstory is centered around being the nerd, being scored, being irate, being rejected.
And then he turned that anger, that scorn, on Batman. But not to kill him. Sure, the Riddler had lethal traps and cruel puzzles from time to time. And he certainly would have (and did) commit murder, depending on the version. But I think all Riddler secretly wanted was engagement.
I mean, the Riddler seeks out the only other person in Gotham who would certainly understand lonliness. The one person who is out every night, without fail, trying to find connection.
Of course the Riddler would focus on Batman.
Of course the Riddler would look for love in a person who would scorn him.
The Riddler wasn't trying to get diamonds. Or money from Gotham's vault. Or, hell, I don't think the Riddler even wanted the girlfriend who turned him down.
The Riddler wanted attention.
Like a child who will take the negetive attention when he can't get the good.
So the Riddler gave Batman riddles. Because in his childish mind, an angry father-figure just might appreciate his macaroni drawings. Or the bombs he planted on the bridge. And he knew Batman would always be there. To play his game. No matter how tired Batman was from work. He would never scorn poor Riddler. He would play, he would answer the riddles, and he would pat Riddler on the head and tell him "Good one."
...And then lock his ass up.
Do you think Riddler got Covid19 in Arkham Asylum?
Love, Retro, and American Exceptionalism
Sneak with a thousand bits of metal jangling in your pockets.
Eat irradiated cereal without developing tumors.
Crush all forms of government you disagree with.
Replace them with shacks and caravans of drifters.
Drink like it’s 1999.
Party like it’s 1955.
And when the deathclaws catch up to you, nuke the ground at your feet.
Life's Introduction To Impressing Dumb People
Life's Introduction To Impressing Dumb People
Life's Introduction To Impressing Dumb People
Life's Introduction To Impressing Dumb People
Life's Introduction To Impressing Dumb People
Bombs Falling On Heaven
We live-streamed the bombs that fell; Clouds rimmed in atomic fire, cracking the sky. It was the happiest memory of my life.
God had shuffled around the warheads, aimed at where our algorithm pinpointed The Throne. “There are more rewards in heaven than on this Earth.”
I cursed my laptop. Warhead 205 was offline, except it was still sending telemetry…I smacked the PC. It was top-rated, but five stars didn’t mean shit when companies goosed their reviews.
“What’s the point, if the night sky is a diadem without eternal life?”
God was really starting to bum me out. “Hey, 205’s buggy! Anyone?”
Militiamen shrugged. “Reset it?”
I had been avoiding the nuclear option, but I held the power. The laptop rebooted. Pre-packaged apps clogged it like an engine full of tar. Warhead 205 came up green.
“Clear the platform!”
“I am the alpha, the omega.” God said. “Continue this, and you will face punishments no man has known.”
Finally, I smiled. My tightest, bleached grin; reserved for people whose names I’d forgotten. “You know how we found heaven?”
“I see all.” God said stubbornly.
“Negative reviews.” I tapped ‘Fire’. No countdown. No warning. Rockets warmed the concrete.
“What will keep them righteous?” God asked
Jet-wash rippled God’s robes. “Why discard impetus to better yourselves?”
“We’d like our sky to be sky again.” Jets roared, but God could hear me. “No masters, except those we rate at five stars.”
Heaven flashed. It was the top video on Youtube...for 48 hours.
When we were children Scooby Doo taught us one very important lesson. Under the mask, the monster is always human. Not just human. But old, vulnerable, and scared. Greedy, yes. Nefarious, certainly. But human just the same.
This is how we will remember the outbreak.
Years from now we'll look back and remember that as Covid tapered off, reduced to pockets of sickness among the slow-burning states, we saw people remove their masks. We saw people--not monsters--looking back at us. And we knew we would have a future together.
We saw cheering crowds come together in Time Square, Tiananmen, and Merdeka, breathing the same air, reassured by a vaccine. We saw eyes in the crowd--weary, relieved eyes--as the masks came off. And we saw the return of humanity, and the recognition looking back at us.
We saw statesmen and politicians, who seemed like uncaring ghouls for encouraging us to leave home early to save our jobs--who advocated economic security over life. They took off their masks and we saw that they were tired, too. Scared. And old. Old in the soul. Old in the blood, in the way sickness and fear does to a person.
We saw advertisers and talking heads from the news, who rose like heads of a hydra during the quarantine, trying to sell us things we couldn't afford, stuck at home. Selling us on fear and anger. Selling us on products we didn't need. Services we didn't want. They used words like "in times like these" and "we must all come together." Then they showed us their new value snacker meal. Their deluxe channel package. Their premium membership service. But in the end they took off their masks, and we saw people. People who wanted to keep their job during the recession. People who had bosses they didn't like. People who had jingles to write. Stories to spin.
We saw hoarders and alarmists, who stuffed their homes with toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Those who acted like war profiteers while the country fought a battle to keep our elderly breathing. Those foolish few who invested in our misery; they took off their masks and we saw fear, and humanity, and simplicity. We saw greed and panic, certainly. But it was familiar. It was us.
And this was enough. This unmasking, this return to humanity, it was all we could ask for. But we got more. We got the impossible.
We saw doctors and nurses and heroes we lost. Men and women who sacrificed themselves--who fought behind plastic walls and shuttered hospitals. When the masks came off we saw, staring at us from across the street, those who had laid down their lives. We saw them, hiding in plain sight, behind a veil of surgical polymer. A sliver of plastic. A clicking, puffing respirator. And they came back to us.
We saw insurance companies and pharmacies remove their hideous, horror-shop masks. Revealing that they had been on our side the entire time. Their price-gouging, their reaping of the people; it had been for the greater good, like they promised all along. And here it was; a gift, a miracle. They offered it back to the people. They placed it at the feet of the empire. They smiled and asked for our forgiveness, and we welcomed them back to the communities they had been billing.
I saw my mother in the crowd, too. Alive. No longer a middle-aged victim of the opioid crisis. A "death of despair." She took off her mask and forgave the doctors who prescribed her cancer-level painkillers for a migraine. And those doctors; they took off their masks and forgave the sales team that brought them "sample" packets of vicodin and oxy to distribute to their patients, along with bribes of branded calendars, pens, hats, and free weekends to the casino resort of the doctor's choice.
Corporate heads who cheated their investors took off their masks. Politicians who dumped their stocks took off their masks. Bankers who gave bad loans took off their masks. Internet companies who sold our data took off their masks. And underneath, one and all, we saw that the monsters were human.
They had been people all along. All we had to do was acknowledge them, reveal them, and find the vulnerable, scared folk under the hideous guise. They had been us the whole time. All it took was an outbreak for us to want to solve the mystery.
Miss Very Well
I stomped off the field, crying, while men in pantaloons pretended nothing had happened.
I threw my fiberglass bow at my father’s feet like a tennis premadonnna having a tantrum--like a golfer who puts his favorite putter over his knee before he pitches it into the grass. I screwed up my face, made myself look as angry as I could; to hide my tears, which seemed very important at ten. And I complained, bitterly.
“They’re laughing at me, and it’s not fair. I can’t pull it back any farther.”
My father looked at the children’s bow at his feet, and at the men on the archery range who were trying to save my dignity by ignoring me.
“They’re not laughing at you. They’ve just never seen a child hit the bale from that distance, and they think it’s funny.”
I wiped my eyes. I was too old for this kind of behavior, but I’ve always had a temper. “I missed.”
“Yes.” He agreed. “But you missed very well.”
It’s taken my entire life to learn that lesson. To understand how to miss well. To learn from my mistakes, I must abandon the idea of hitting a lucky bullseye. We should all abandon the notion that every shot will be a Robin Hood shot. Or that we’ll even hit the haybale with every pull. In this life, it’s far better to miss well, and be consistent, than to hit the bullseye once and never come close again.
In archery this is called grouping. Like throwing darts, any child can hit the center mark by happenstance or luck. But your grouping--consistently putting the arrows in neat, tight clusters around your target--that takes real mastery, and real practice.
So it is with writing. Or any other creative skill. You should never expect to write one book and hit the bullseye in your genre or market. You should never expect to loose one story upon the world, and eternally reap the rewards. You must shoot thousands of arrows--hundreds of thousands--before you can have a good grouping. And if you miss alltogether, you should miss very well.
The men standing on the archery line that day--the men who had come to the renessance fair dressed like English bowmen--they didn’t hold my tantrum against me. Far from it. They cheered when I got off the grass and came back to the field. They made space for me on the firing line. And when I missed, I missed very well, and they applauded that too.
For all of you on this website. For all of you Prose writers who are here to get your practice shots in; I applaud you. I’m glad to see that you’ve abandoned the bullseye. And I hope you miss well too.
In The Elm
JoJo, Angel, and Eugene saw the toilet paper twisting in the elm tree outside the toymaker’s house. White ribbons of quilted cotton, draped through the branches. Fluttering from the crown of the tree like a veil. It was a warning sign. A message from the children of this neighborhood. Stay away from this house. Stay away from the toymaker.
But Eugene saw something that caught his eye; brightly colored toys in the windows, like candy, and a buzzing mechanical robot that was marching in the entryway. It waved at Eugene with itws clamp-like hands.
Eugene ignored the toilet paper drifting in the elm. Ignored the peeling paint, the unruly hedges, and dark shadows within. He ran through the drifting cotton tendrils on short, six-year-old legs, chasing the bright red wind-up robot.
Eugene followed the robot inside—its plastic legs clicking, its wind-up knob buzzing. He ran behind it, right into the dark entryway, and the door slammed shut behind him.
JoJo and Angel pounded on the door, screaming for their brother. They shouted for the neighbors, for the police, for any adult who would listen; help them get Eugene out.
After an hour of running around the toymaker’s house, searching for a way in, their father pulled up in the family van. He got out, and cast them a stern glare.
“What is with the noise out here? Are you trying to call in the National Guard?”
JoJo and Angel ran to their dad and clung to his pants, crying, talking over each other. He shushed them. Neighbors watched from kitchen windows, clutching their phones.
“Okay, hush. It’s okay. One at a time.”
“Eugene is gone!” Angel said.
“Eugene.” JoJo wiped his eye. “He went inside, and we can’t get him out. Nobody is answering.”
“Okay, that’s enough games today.” Their dad pushed them toward the van.
“We’re not lying!” Angel insisted.
“I don’t think you’re lying.” Dad said. “Just confused. Eugene came home a few minutes ago. You must have missed him.”
JoJo and Angel looked up at the van, and they saw Eugene sitting in the front seat. He had a frozen, plastic smile on his face, staring out the front windshield.
They got in the van in silence, staring at the back of Eugene’s head. Their dad got in the front, buckled in. He frowned.
“You kids didn’t TP that tree, did you?”
Eugene barely spoke at dinner. When he did, his answers were simple. Mechanical. Happy one-word nothings that made their dad smile. Dad was distracted, watching the news.
“Weird times.” Their dad said. That was his favorite phrase, when he didn’t want to explain what was happening on TV. “Weird, weird times.”
After they brushed their teeth they were marched off to bed. Angel had her own room, the “girl’s room”. She grabbed JoJo by the sleeve before dad could nudge her off to bed.
“What’s with Eugene?”
“What’s with who?” Dad asked. He had ears like a fox.
“With Eugene. He’s weird.” Angel said.
“Good.” Dad said. “Better to be weird than normal, am I right?” He chuckled, pushing Angel into the pink-and-white room. “One bed time story, then you go to sleep. In the morning I want this bedroom picked up. It looks like Barbie had a kegger in here.”
“Keg-rur?” Angel asked.
“A, uh, a party.” Dad said.
JoJo followed Eugene into the boy’s room. It was all Legos and model planes and army men; staging a beach landing under the bunk beds. Half-spent toilet paper rolls stood in for sandbags. Eugene kicked through them on his way to the bunk ladder, trailing quilted paper. He climbed the ladder and crawled into the top bunk without a fuss. He didn’t even wait for dad to come read them a story.
JoJo sat on the lower bunk. He picked up a plastic superhero in a colorful red cape, and pressed his nose to the emblem on the chest. A child’s meditation.
“What happened in the house?” JoJo asked.
Eugene didn’t answer.
“We tried to follow you, but the door was locked.” JoJo said. “Did you leave through the back door? Was the toy-man home?”
JoJo got frustrated. He decided to wake up his brother, if he wasn’t faking it, and get some answers. He stood on his own bed and looked at Eugene’s back. He used the action figure to prod him. First in the spine, then on Eugene’s neck when he didn’t respond. Eugene was still. Silent. Like the dead.
“Eugene!” JoJo shout-whispered.
His brother didn’t move. Didn’t flinch. In the silence, JoJo heard the gentle, motorized whine of a wind-up toy.
JoJo knelt closer, listening. Then he saw it; a tiny plastic knob in the back of Eugene’s neck. It was twisting slowly, like a little gray screw. Like the wind-up plastic toys that came in happy meals and cereal boxes.
JoJo jerked back, fell from the bunk, and bounced up from the floor like he was made of rubber. He sprinted down the hall and slid on the hardwood floor in his socks. He gripped the doorframe of Angel’s room.
“Something’s wrong with Eugene!”
Their dad was on his feet and down the hall to the boy’s room in record seconds. He kicked through the toys and the toilet paper sandbags, and ripped the blankets back from Eugene. Angel and JoJo listened to them exchange soft words.
Their dad nodded, kissed Eugene on the forehead, and left the boys’ room. He knelt by JoJo and Angel in the hall.
“Your brother is feeling under the weather. Maybe a cold, or something. Let him sleep tonight.”
“I mean it. Both of you. Let him sleep, or I’ll take away the toys.”
Their dad stood and pointed to their rooms. He waited for them to crawl into their beds, and he shut their doors halfway. JoJo heard his dad’s feet thumping down the stairs, and the TV clicked on again. More weird news.
JoJo closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but the sound of the wind-up knob twisting in Eugene’s neck kept him awake, late into the night. He heard the rain patter against the window. He heard the thunder in the distance, like a cymbal crash.
Angel and JoJo stood outside the toymaker’s house. JoJo was armed with a plastic shield and a pump-action water gun. Angel had her toy wand, which lit up and made enchanted noises when she swished it through the air. She knew it was fake, but she liked to hold it anyway.
Eugene, or the thing that had replaced Eugene, was back at home with a thermometer in his mouth and a wad of toilet paper for tissues. Sick with a cold, their dad claimed. Even in broad daylight their dad couldn’t see the knob in Eugene’s neck. Not even when JoJo and Angel both pointed to it.
The red toy robot gyrated in the house’s doorway, marching in slow, mechanical circles. Toilet paper hung limp in the elm, disintegrating in the yard from last night’s storm; A faded warning for them to stay away.
“Ready?” JoJo asked.
“Ready.” Angle said, wielding the wand like a mace.
JoJo gave the robot a blast of water, knocking it on its back. Its legs peddled in the air. The kids stepped over it, entering the dark house.
Angel gasped when she saw the inside. To the eyes of a seven-year-old the toymaker’s house looked like a tea party come to life. The front room was lined with plush victorian chairs, ball-and-claw sofas, and distressed vanities and dressers with looping brass handles. Everything was cracked, weathered, peeling pink and powder-blue paint.
On every surface of every coffee table, side table, and dresser, were tea sets. Steaming pots and delicate little cups of China on glazed saucers. So many beautiful, intricate tea sets cluttered together. Platters on platters, with pots and cups ready to fall off the corners of the tables.
Angel could smell the chamomile and cookies. She saw the warm steam, and she reached for one of the teacups, but JoJo grabbed her arm.
“Don’t touch anything.”
She looked at JoJo, ready to argue. She just wanted to save a little porcelain cup that was balanced on the edge of the table. But JoJo’s expression was grim.
She nodded, thinking of Eugene. She followed him deeper into the house, toward the kitchen.
The kids heard the buzzing of the toys before they saw them. They turned the corner into the kitchen, and saw a field of wind-up figures that covered a vast linoleum floor.
The kitchen was massive. Easily as large as Angel’s elementary classroom. The black-and-white checkered floor was littered with so many jittering, marching, spinning toys, that it looked like a field of animated confetti. Like sprinkles, there were so many toys. All bouncing off each other, colliding, in a chaotic dance that would have been wonderful to behold, if not for the toymaker who sat amongst them.
The toymaker was a black-and-white island in the middle of the colorful swirling plastic. The back of his head was as bald as an egg, and his skin looked like white wax. He was facing away from them, bent over a little white table. His rumpled black suit was stretched over his rounded shoulders and wide stomach. Like a pear wearing a pianist’s swallowtail tuxedo. He had a screwdriver in his thick, soft hand, twisting violently at the back of a tin soldier.
In the corner of the kitchen, beyond the toymaker, they saw Eugene. He sat with three other children, whom Angel and JoJo did not recognize. They were all silent, sitting in the glow of a television with knobs on the front. Their eyes were vacant and wide, with dark sleepless circles. Cartoon animals danced on the TV, and the children’s pupils tracked their movements.
The buzzing in the kitchen was deafening. Like a mechanical beehive. Angel turned to JoJo, made a shushing motion with her finger to her lips. JoJo rolled his eyes.
JoJo looked at the toymaker, who was cursing softly to himself, eyes down, as he worked on the tin soldier. JoJo began shuffling toward the TV, trying to nudge the buzzing wind-up figures out of his path.
Angel watched JoJo’s progress, gently kicking the little parti-color figures out of his path. She pressed her knuckles against her mouth and held her breath.
JoJo’s sneakers pushed a tiny dancing bear back, which collided against a rainbow octopus, which slammed into a purple plastic dinosaur that stood as high as JoJo’s knees. The dinosaur teetered, and clattered to the floor, taking several other toys with it.
The toymaker looked up, and smiled.
“I knew you’d come. I told Eugene here, you’d come. Didn’t I Eugene?”
The toymaker’s face was slick and round and perfectly smooth, yet his voice and eyes were ancient. His eyes practically glowed green. He used a silk handkerchief to pat the sweat from his soft cheeks and narrow, bald head.
“I suggest you sit.” He said. “Take a toy. Watch cartoons. You’ll like it here. Your brother does.”
JoJo rushed to Eugene, scattering more plastic toys across the checkered linoleum. He shook his brother, who seemed comatose, sitting cross-legged on the kitchen floor.
“I said sit!” The toymaker bellowed. He held the screwdriver in one hand, and a tiny wind-up knob in the other.
The toymaker’s suggestion to pick a toy made Angel glance at the children’s hands. She saw that each of them was holding a plastic figure. Eugene had a little red robot. The other kids were holding a panda bear, and a racecar.
JoJo pointed his water gun at the toymaker, and Angel rushed past him. She slapped the robot out of Eugene’s hand, and for the first time, he looked up at her. His bottom lip trembled.
She waved her sparkling, blinking wand in front of Eugene’s eyes, like she was trying to hypnotize him.
“When I snap my fingers you’ll wake up.” She said.
“You’re a dummy.” Eugene said.
The toymaker took a step toward them. He lumbered, like a bear. His legs seemed barely capable of supporting his pear-shaped body. A toy UFO cracked under his shiny wingtip shoe.
“You’re not being very nice.”
JoJo turned the water gun away from the man, and pointed it at the TV instead. He stuck the barrel of the gun against the vent in the top of the TV, threatening to soak the components inside.
The toymaker hesitated. Smiled. “I can wait. You’ll get bored, and you’ll forget.”
His confidence rubbed Angel’s nerves like steel wool, and she used her wand to slap the toys out of the other children’s hands. They looked up at her, and she saw the spark returning to their eyes.
“Alright, enough of this.” The toymaker said. “Sit down, now, you twits.”
He came toward them again, crushing plastic as he did. Angel dragged Eugene to his feet. He followed her numbly, and She took him to stand behind JoJo, who still held the TV hostage.
JoJo smiled. He lowered the water gun, which made the toymaker pause. The toymaker’s eyebrow twitched.
“What’s dad always watching?” JoJo asked Angel.
Angel smiled too. She reached for the knob on the front of the TV and turned it. The channels clicked loudly. She read the numbers on the dial, and put it on the news.
She knew immediately she had found the right channel. On the screen, a blonde woman with perfect hair who looked like Angel’s Barbie sat behind a desk. She was talking about people dying. People getting sick. People disagreeing. People in the streets, protesting. She told the audience—the toymaker—that they’ll never guess which celebrity was giving away their money to their Twitter followers. And all they had to do was keep watching...But first, a look inside the president’s office, and the strange announcements he made today…
Angel, JoJo, and Eugene edged away from the glowing television, and the toymaker who stood frozen like a statue. They shuffled through the ocean of colorful plastic toys, out of the noisy, buzzing kitchen.
The other children followed. And the toymaker never looked up from the news.
The rain had destroyed the toilet paper in the elm tree. Angel, JoJo, and Eugene spent an hour throwing roll after roll up into the tree, replacing what the rain had taken. The elm was so shrouded in toilet paper by the time they were done it looked like a bridal veil. To warn the other children; Stay away from this house.
The kids left their toys lying on the overgrown lawn as they ran home. Their fear evaporated as they distanced themselves from the old, dilapidated toymaker’s house. As they ran down the sidewalk, laughter bubbled up, and they giggled and held up streamers of toilet paper. Like a victory run. All the way home. To dad, and the sick toy that was still lying in Eugene’s bed.