Friday, January 19, 2007

Battle

At times I try my hand with works of fiction. This is an idea that was spurred from my memories of "the moster in the closet" as a child. Being a dad now, I imagined how I might respond if one of my lil ones needed rescuing from such wild imaginations!


The creaking of the closet door was sobering as James peaked in. He was prepared for battle this time with a renewed confidence of age and experience. This foe was a familiar one to him but they had not met since the early 80’s when he was just a mere child. Back then, James would cower under the covers or even run, screaming down the hall to his parent’s room for protection and solace. Those were comforting days but childhood was over for him and it was time to meet Skayleon without anyone’s help.

He turned and whispered into the room, “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be back soon and everything will be alright”

James shut the door and faced the darkness alone. At first there was nothing but deafening silence slightly interrupted by the beating of his own heart. But then the darkness took shape and the hissing noise was audible. Tired of waiting for theatrics, James boldly shouted, “Come out…you COWARD.”

“Ssssooo, we meet again Jamesssss. And I ssssuppossse you think thisss time will be different.” Skayleon had many forms but his favorite was a long serpent-like body, gleaming with dark, metallic scales, razor sharp teeth, flickering tongue, and a dragon type of head…nostrils constantly puffing a foul, green cloud of sickness. His eyes were a glowing yellow. As piercing and scary as they were, it was also the only source of light available, growing every brighter as his rage would intensify.

“That’s right my old friend…things will be different. I’ve had many years of training since we last met.”

“Sssso daddy isssn’t here to ressscue you thisss time?”

Laughing at the irony of that question, James exclaimed, “In certain terms, you are correct. My dad won’t interfere…that I promise.”

“Enough of thisss folissshnesssss. Let’s finissssh it!”

As usual, Skayleon pulled a fast one, lurching with mouth wide open before completing his sentence, slightly catching James off-guard. Just as his fangs were about to snap shut around James’s head, a bright force-field surrounded his body.

CLANG!

Skayleon lit up the room with his rage, having chomped down unexpectedly on the most solid of shields he’d ever encountered. With bones still reverberating in pain from his mistake, he coiled back into the corner of the room putting some distance between he and his newly energized foe.

“Nice trick, Jimmy Boy. Where’d you learn that one?”

“It’s one of many, Slime Ball!”

Skayleon lurched again but this time with talons poised for piercing. He hit the force-field with magnificent force, each claw actually breaking through the glass-like barrier. James stood, bracing his right leg behind him, with arms extended outward, trying ever so hard to keep the energy field in tact. The talons were so powerful that his barrier began to crack under the pressure. Knowing that it would be just a matter of seconds, James switched from a defensive strategy to the offense. Intentionally allowing the field to turn off, James jumped fifty feet into the air with a blazing sword whipping around furiously in circles. He landed with a thud and stared down his enemy. For the first time, he saw fear in Skayleon’s eyes. Taking inventory of his wounds, the old serpent was in shock, clawing at the huge gash in his side.

“Imposssssible. You are just a human!” he snorted in pain.

“I learned from the best…you know.”

“But…but…your father is long gone now, a faded memory. It took me ssssoo long to return from the Abysssss. It wasssn’t until he passsssed, that my powersss became sssstrong again. I’ve only jusssst returned and WILL NOT GO BACK.”

Sensing another burst of energy from Skayleon, James prepared for the full-on attack. He flipped backwards as a scaly tail cracked the ground beneath his former standing point. Soon the two were wrapped up in a whirlwind of motion, nothing visible to the naked eye but a flashes and blurs. Grunts, clanging, snorts, and growls soon filled the air as the two gave it their all. Every talon swipe, blocked. Every fireball, extinguished. Every chomp of his teeth, dodged. In a last-ditch effort to crush his enemy Skayleon broke free soaring high over head. James could just make out the faint outline of his body and wondered what was to come of this move. Then…with a flurry unlike anything previously seen from the old demonic monster, Skayleon shot downward with the momentum of a bullet. His target acquired, he met with success as his body slammed down on top of James’s head, forcing both of them through the floor. They fell an immeasurable distance, landing with a thud. Jamess body lay limp under the large heap of Skayleon’s form.

The Old Serpent was gleeful as he let out an evil-sounding cackle. “Ssssso sssssorry, my friend. All thingssss musssst come to an end.”

Suddenly his yellow eyes narrowed and his mouth fell agape with surprise. He looked down, only to see James, crouched in kneeling positon, gleaming saber half buried into his belly. Green ooze trickled from his wound emitting a most foul odor. Hanging onto life ever-so-fleetingly, Skayleon whispered into James’s ear, “But how? How have you become sssso ssstrong?”

“You were right. My dad is long since gone. But you failed to realize one thing.”

“What’ssss that?” he said even more hushed and strained than before.

“I. AM. A. DADDY. NOW!”

With each word, James thrust his sword ever deeper into Skayleon’s gut until the giant slumped over his shoulder and sighed one final breath. James pushed the beast to the side allowing the now hollow shell hit the ground. He watched as the demonic form evaporated into a green mist and disappeared. Climbing back up through the depths and into the closet again, James turned the handle and stepped back into the room. Somewhat out of breath and weary he approached the bed and pulled the sheet down, exposing a little boy outfitted in Super Man PJ’s.


“Is he gone daddy?” Catching his breath, he whispered, “Yes sweet-heart…he is. Sweet dreams Michael. Sweet dreams.”

Monday, January 15, 2007

Target Cashier



"What happened to my life?" she questions internally.

She fumbles with her chair creating a loud noise and unwanted attention from otherwise inattentive, fellow coffee drinkers. Finally seated and waiting for her mocha, her head meets the comfortable resting place of her two hands, allowing a detailed look at the table's lacquer finish. It would be safe to assume that she is just hiding from embarrassment but the honest truth is that Mary spends much of life in this position. Head ducked down...depressed. And while she did take a brief moment to study the table-top finish with its glossy sheen, her gaze shot through the table distorting the details into a blur.

The images that entered her mind were no longer tangible pieces of the 'here and now' but rather on her frustrations and circumstance. So as to downplay her obvious discomfort, she slides her body into a more laid back position and pretends to read a flyer left by a previous customer. Silent suffering was her mantra. Never intent on the spot light, her sadness would just intensify if she knew she was on display for judgmental gazers.

She no longer asked herself the Big Picture questions, like "what would my life have become only if...?" Instead, she occupies her brain with the trivial such as, "how long does it take to make a mocha grande?" Ever wearing emotions like clothing, that thought was betrayed by an angry glance at the girls behind the counter.

She wasn't always unhappy and lost. She's not even completely certain why she lacks joy now. Sure her marriage of twenty years is over, forcing employment here at Target for $7.00 per hour. Those are indeed reasons to be mournful but this was deeper and less definable. Getting hot under the collar Mary starts to squirm and fight the urge to remove her coat, wanting at least for a few minutes before work, to blend with the general public and cloak her uniform underneath.

It doesn't help that the girl behind the counter finally delivers the much-needed-caffeinated-beverage with cheery glee saying, "Here is your mocha Mary...employee discount included!"

Rolling her eyes but careful to be thankful, Mary takes her first warm sip while scanning the room. She carefully takes inventory of who might have noticed the comments revealing her true identity. If anyone had been staring, they gave her the generous gift of averting her gaze. All of them busy with crossword puzzles, cell phones, shopping lists, and meaningless conversation. It was little moments like this that gave her some hope. It seems silly, since ten minutes from now she would be working the register, possibly even checking out some of the fellow patrons of the built-in Starbucks. But even ten minutes of being a "regular consumer" seemed to brighten her day.

"Tomorrow, I am going to go just a bit out of my way to the Starbucks on Morris," she thought. "Who cares about a 10% discount anyway?" This innocent thought became an intense day-dream of what tomorrow might hold for her. Her trance made ten minutes and 10 oz. of coffee fly by in the blink of an eye. Had it not been for a clumsy co-worker crashing carts into the holding bay, she might have sat for hours wrapped in the safe cocoon of her dream world.

Sliding the empty cup across the table, Mary stood upright, collecting her lunch cooler and gloves. Once again she created that wretched squeal as she pushed the chair back into place. This time, it didn't matter. It was time to reveal her proud Target uniform and nametag. Her ex-husband Marty didn't matter anymore. Her pregnant 18 year-old daughter and 22 year-old, pot smoking son became a distant concern as she carefully folded her coat into the crook of her arm.

"Mary Oswald" was etched into a rectangular badge, mounted above her left bosom. The training sticker would finally come off after today and she was glad for it. There was something even less noble about being in retail at the age of 46 with a sticker revealing her rookie status.

As she passes me, I intentionally catch her gaze causing her to flinch a bit. I am tempted to do as so many others had and give her the reprieve of looking away. But I can't. I let the uncomfortable nature of the moment hold as I widen my grin as far as my face will allow. I have a mission. This woman must know that there are other caring souls in the world.

Success. She smiles back almost with a chuckle. Her furrowed brow and intense focus drop ever-so-briefly, proving that her walls hadn't built up so high that they were impenetrable.

"Have a great day," I say as she passes by.

Even more cheerful than before, she exclaims..."You do the same."

I was careful in my exchange not to reveal my intrusion on her life. Who really knows if she is divorced or if she questions her life and the results of her decisions? These are just the thoughts that passed through my mind as I naturally but inadvertently "people watch". There were
clues that led me to the backstory, so I might have been spot on with my observations as I seem to have a talent for doing. But I might be very far off. Who cares?

I took a moment from my coffee, newspaper, email, and virtual world...to engage a real, breathing person, in a tangible exchange. One that will likely have both us of feeling better for it.


At least...for a little while.