A few of the approximately eighteen shorts I've written about Zeke (40) and Fred (44), a couple country bumpkin brothers who will have some rather unusual stories to tell their grandchildren . . . if they live long enough. Elsie (36) is Zeke's sweetie.
For as long as I‚Äôve been alive, Fred has always been my big brother. In age and size, anyway. He stopped growing mentally when our parents were killed in a trucking accident while driving a tanker of liquid fudge from Hartford, Connecticut to Tarzan, Texas. They were T-boned by a truck loaded with thirty thousand pounds of graham crackers and marshmallows. Both trucks spun, rolled and broke open, dumping drivers and empty carbohydrates alike onto US highway 270 just east of Slapout, Oklahoma. The coroner‚Äôs official report states that their deaths were caused by massive blunt trauma over eighty percent of their bodies, and drowning. The local unofficial cause is death by S‚Äômores. The town of Slapout didn‚Äôt have an ant problem IN town for months after the accident.
Fred was eight and I was four when they died, and until I was old enough to know what I was doing, we were passed around from aunt and uncle to cousin and cousin - married, of course. None of them were truly willing to take on the challenge of raising a potential adult child. Therefore, no matter where we were I was his main caretaker.
Even as trying as caring for a Baby Huey of a brother can be, I still love him: being the older brother I‚Äôve always had, he‚Äôs also the younger brother I‚Äôd always wanted. You could say he‚Äôs two brothers in one.
We kind of take care of each other. He‚Äôll lift the bed while I go under to get his Furbie, and I‚Äôll read him a bedtime story at two in the morning while he‚Äôs drifting off into a drunken coma while clutching said Furbie. Granted I don‚Äôt read for very long.
We‚Äôve taught each other a lot about life and had adventures that would boggle the mind of even Carl Sagan, if he weren‚Äôt already on an out-of-this-world adventure of his own. However, they‚Äôve never boggled Fred‚Äôs mind ‚Äì thus is the beauty of not having much of a mind to boggle. As out-of-this-world ‚Äì sometimes literally ‚Äì as they‚Äôve been, he‚Äôs always accepted each as a way to make friends with the celestial flora and fauna. Fred, and through him, I, have more friends in high-orbit places than Tom Jones has women‚Äôs underwear and room keys on the stage during a good night in Vegas.
Children are always curious and friendly to strangers, which is why so many are abducted every year. I think the best way we can reduce the number of child abductions would be to teach our kids to be surly and obnoxious. I mean, who in his right mind would abduct a crying, belligerent child from anywhere? Because, no matter how much you impress upon them to stay away from strangers, they‚Äôre naturally attracted to the unknown. Fred is no exception. Even today, at the age of forty-four, he is drawn to strangers and strange animals ‚Äì especially the non-Earthbound ones. And that's how each and every one of our adventures has begun.
Weird Little Lightning Bugs
Not every evening was as wonderful as this one. The moon was full, the crickets were singing, the owls were hooting and Elsie was on my lap, arms wrapped around me while we sat on the porch swing. We‚Äôd watched the sun go down behind Cranberry Hill, silhouetting old man Granger‚Äôs barn on its way toward night. Now we were looking at the lights in the windows of his farmhouse. Elsie snuggled closer and rubbed her deep red hair, looking orange under the yellow glow of the porch light, against my cheek.
There went the evening.
‚ÄúLookit I found, Zeke," said Fred, "another Easter egg! It was in the wood pile!‚Äù He held a flashlight in the hand that wasn‚Äôt holding the egg. It was still on.
‚ÄúI wouldn‚Äôt eat that, Fred. Easter was a week ago,‚Äù I said. He balanced the egg on the porch rail and tapped it with the handle of the flashlight a few times, the light illuminating his pale, hairy chest, then started peeling off the pink and blue shell.
‚ÄúFred,‚Äù warned Elsie as he peeled away the last bit of shell. But he ignored her and shoved it halfway into his mouth. Elsie whimpered and buried her face in her hands while Fred chewed it a few times.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs kay. Just a little dry,‚Äù he said, spitting pieces with each word. He tossed the other half into his mouth, chewed it, and with a dry swallow the egg was gone. He stood there for a while, just staring at me and then said, ‚ÄúI need some water.‚Äù
‚ÄúWell,‚Äù I asked.
‚ÄúI need some water.‚Äù
‚ÄúYou know where it is. Go get some.‚Äù
Fred carried his two hundred and forty pounds with ease. With a minimum of steps, he‚Äôd reached the screen door and swung it violently into the side of the house. A moment later, he was gone and the door was shivering on its hinges. Another moment later, we heard dishes cascading to the floor and skittering about the worn linoleum. A plastic tumbler tumbled around longer than the rest of the dishes.
‚ÄúUh oh,‚Äù said Fred.
Elsie shook her head and moaned, ‚ÄúI just washed those.‚Äù
‚ÄúWhy does he always have to take one from the bottom,‚Äù I asked of no one in particular.
We heard the water run, and then shut off. A couple dishes were kicked and one hit a wall. Then the TV came on and flipped through a dozen channels. Except for the sounds of Scooby Doo, the evening went back to being quiet.
Elsie saw the first one and pointed it out to me. A tiny point of light near the trees on the edge of the forest. A few more appeared, and then several dozen at once. Before long, there were more than we could count.
‚ÄúFred,‚Äù I called, ‚Äúlightning bugs. Get a jar.‚Äù
‚ÄúLighten bugs,‚Äù he yelled from inside. I couple more dishes scampered around the kitchen and a couple cabinets were opened. Pots and pans were pushed aside and a few more hit the floor. Moments later, the screen door hit the wall with a grunt and then shimmied back to its broken latch. Fred was officially chasing lightning bugs.
If Fred has one talent, it‚Äôs catching flying insects with a jar. He has a jump and a speed that belies his age and weight. He also has a gentleness that leaves his captives completely unharmed. What he doesn‚Äôt have is the capacity to remember a lid for the jar. He‚Äôll catch three or four, or even a half dozen, while covering the jar with a large hand. Before long, they‚Äôre escaping while he‚Äôs chasing another. Then a low-watt buld goes on inside his head and he runs back into the house to find anything that‚Äôll cover the top of the jar.
Once he has a lid, he knows he can sit the jar anywhere and not worry about the bugs he already has. However, he doesn‚Äôt. He still carries it with him wherever he goes, and won‚Äôt put it down until it‚Äôs full of light-emitting insects.
Elsie and I watched Fred as he caught bug after bug and placed them into the gallon pickle jar. It was kind of like watching a cat chase a fly in the bedroom. He‚Äôd spot one, keep his gaze on it, and when it came close enough, he‚Äôd pounce, swinging both arms like a mad man until he caught it, laughing and giggling the whole time.
He‚Äôll do this for hours, netting several dozen lighting bugs, and was beginning to fill his third jar when he noticed a large group of them over the driveway, out of sight from the porch.
‚ÄúI can catch a bunch at a time with that bunch,‚Äù he said, and then ran around to the side of the house. Elsie and I could hear him wowing and oh-mying. He went quiet for a moment, and then shouted, ‚ÄúLookit the size of that one!‚Äù
The lid was twisted from the jar, something clunked on the bottom, and the lid was screwed back on. In my minds eye, I could see Fred holding the jar up high and looking at his prize with the full moon behind it. And I knew that, in a moment, he‚Äôd be showing it to Elsie and me.
But it didn‚Äôt happen that way, not this time.
‚ÄúHey,‚Äù he yelled, ‚ÄúStop it!‚Äù Suddenly, these normally quiet bugs were buzzing loudly. We heard it all around us. The lightning bugs stopped swirling around and sat still in the air. Then, every one of them flew to the driveway. ‚ÄúHey! Ow! Stoppit!‚Äù Fred was yelling. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs mine! Lemme alone! Go away! It‚Äôs mine!‚Äù
A trashcan toppled with a metallic crash and a raccoon sped across the yard and into the forest. Elsie and I looked at each other. I was about to get up to see what was going on when Fred ran from the driveway and took a diagonal to the far corner of the yard. He was carrying his jar containing one very large lightning bug underneath one arm and swinging the other behind his head at the lighting bugs that were chasing him.
‚ÄúStoppit! Stoppit!‚Äù he yelled. ‚ÄúLemme alone! It‚Äôs mine!‚Äù He went around a tree and ran through the woods, back across our view, with the trident-shaped army of lightning bugs following close behind him occasionally shooting a bug or two at the back of his head, only to bounce off and fall to the ground. Fred yelped every time one hit him.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs something you don‚Äôt see everyday,‚Äù I said. Elsie and I watched in silence as Fred ran around another tree and headed toward the swimming hole.
‚ÄúYeah, that was weird,‚Äù she said, and then asked, ‚ÄúDo lightning bugs sting?‚Äù
I thought for a moment and then answered, ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think so, but I‚Äôm wondering if they can swim.‚Äù
It wasn‚Äôt quite noon and it was already getting hot. The fan in the corner was sending warm air across the room in an attempt to make me think it wasn‚Äôt nearly as hot. The neighbor‚Äôs dogs were barking at a squirrel in a tree or something. I got tired of the races, my guy wasn‚Äôt winning, so I turned off the TV and turned on the radio. Elton John was singing something about his brother leaving. I turned off the radio and stretched out on the couch. That‚Äôs the best way to spend a lazy day.
Before I knew it, I was in my boat fishing out on Mill Pond. I‚Äôd tied on the fly and cast my line. Without reeling in, I had an eight-pound trout on my hook. It flopped around the bottom of the boat and I was casting off again. Fred was calling me from the shore and getting closer. The screen door slammed and I was on the couch again, shaking my head to clear the fog.
‚ÄúZeke, Zeke,‚Äù he continued calling as he rounded the end of the couch. ‚ÄúZeke! Lookit I found?‚Äù His hands were cupped together and he opened them up before me, almost shoving them into my face. There was nothing there. His face drooped.
‚ÄúLooks like you found air,‚Äù I said. ‚ÄúIs that why you woke me up?‚Äù
‚ÄúBut.‚Äù He trailed off. He was looking frantically around the room, trying to see where he may have dropped whatever it was he‚Äôd brought in with him. ‚ÄúBut I had it right here! It come from the sky an‚Äô I caught it.‚Äù
‚ÄúWell, then, what was it?‚Äù
‚ÄúIt . . . it looked like that stuff we had when we went to that Italian restaurant.‚Äù He pronounced Italian, Eyetalian. ‚ÄúThey called it . . . What‚Äôd they call it? I know! Paste!‚Äù
‚ÄúPasta,‚Äù I asked.
‚ÄúYeah, that! It looked like it before the sauce. It was all curly and it come from the sky.‚Äù
‚ÄúYou can‚Äôt be serious, Fred. Pasta falling from the sky?‚Äù I thought about it for a moment before remembering that I‚Äôd once read about such a phenomena in a book about flying saucers. Angel Hair was what the book had called it.
According to the book, angel hair came from certain UFOs as they flew overhead. It would gently float to the ground and then dissipate. If you managed to catch some, it‚Äôd disappear right in your hand without leaving even the slightest trace of residue. So far, according to the books, there was nothing more than visual proof that it existed.
‚ÄúWhere were you when it fell, Fred?‚Äù
‚ÄúI was outside by the outhouse, Zeke. Why?‚Äù
‚ÄúWas there a lot of it falling?‚Äù
‚ÄúYeah. And it was still fallin‚Äô when I caught the one . . . the one I don‚Äôt have in my hand no more,‚Äù he said, still looking around the room. He got down on his hands and knees in front of the TV and reached under it.
‚ÄúIs it still falling, Fred?‚Äù
‚ÄúI dunno. It was fallin‚Äô when I come in here.‚Äù
I sat up and looked at him. He was still crouching in front of the TV, but now he was looking at me. The look on his face was one of an empty mind. Typical of Fred.
‚ÄúWell,‚Äù I asked.
‚ÄúWell what, Zeke?‚Äù
‚ÄúWell, let‚Äôs go out and see if it‚Äôs still falling.‚Äù
His face brightened and he sprung to his feet with an agility that belied his large size, unless you knew him. He ran across the room and right into the screen door, breaking it‚Äôs wood frame in several places, and fell back on his butt. He held his head in his hands. I got up and helped him to his feet.
‚ÄúOkay, Fred. Let‚Äôs go see if your angel hair is still falling. Lead the way.‚Äù
I pushed what remained of the screen door open. The top part fell from its hinge and hit the floor with a clatter. More flies than usual would be enjoying our meals this summer.
"I'm tellin' ya, Zeke, I sawed 'em! They was right over there!" Fred was, if nothing else, persistent. He'd been standing there telling me about them for twenty minutes, occasionally waving his shotgun in the air or pointing toward the swamp to punctuate a sentence. He was getting on my nerves. I leaned my chair against the wall and looked him square in the eye.
"That was swamp gas, you fool. It catches the light of the full moon and reflects it into your face. You only think you saw them. Now stop botherin' me and go away." I did a little punctuating myself with a wave of my hand. I went back to my book.
"But I sawed 'em, Zeke! I swe-"
I held my hand to his face, the palm mere inches from his nose. "Talk to the hand, 'cause Zeke ain't listenin' no more, Fred. I'm tired of hearin' you jaw about it."
I could tell he was upset as he turned and walked back toward the swamp. The mist swirled around him as he disappeared into it, and I could hear his squishy footsteps in the muck. And then . . . BLAM-BLAM!
A moment later, Fred was walking back as quiet and calm as the day was long, slowly dragging something behind him. He hauled it up onto the porch and, with a slight toss, dropped it at my feet.
"There," he said, "believe me now?"
I put the chair back on all four feet and leaned forward to get a closer look. There was a hole big enough to put your fist through the large gray head, and an arm was missing below the elbow. I sat and pondered on it awhile.
"There's something you don't see everyday," I said. This certainly was something one didn‚Äôt see every day. In fact, most people won't see one in an entire lifetime. Maybe on the TV or in the movie theater, but not in real life. "Okay, Fred. I believe you now."
"And they's more where he came from, too, Zeke."
"How do you know it's a he?"
"Well," he said, lowering his voice, "it ain't got no boobies.‚Äù
"It also ain't got no . . . " I waggled my finger at the creature's crotch area, ". . . neither.‚Äù There was nothing there. No features at all. ‚ÄúHow many of these . . . swamp things you say you saw?"
"Maybe fitteen or twenny," he said. "An‚Äô a funny smell, too."
"I think the smell was you, Fred. Did you see anything else? A flying saucer or something?"
"Nope. Nuthin'. Not this time."
I looked at the creature again. It looked like it'd be friendly enough if it weren't dead. It also looked like an undernourished eight-year-old child with a head about the size and shape of a standard issue watermelon. Its eyes were big and black and its mouth was just a slit, barely big enough to fit a communion wafer or a quarter. I briefly debated with myself whether the thing was Catholic or coin-operated. There was no nose or any other visible means for smelling. And considering how seldom Fred bathed, that was a blessing for it; probably the only good luck it'd had all night.
"I wonder where their ship is," I asked rhetorically.
"I told ya I saw it fly up inna air, Zeke. But you didn' lissen to me. You never do."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, I'm listening now, Fred. You have my undivided attention this time. What'd they do when you shot this one?"
"Scattered. They runned for the reeds and ducked unner things like logs an' stuff. An' I swear they runned up top uh the water. Din' sink er nuthin'. They was like summathem lizzerds you see on the TV." He looked at the creature for a moment. "Do you think we should call those guys on the TV, Zeke?"
"Those alien findin' guys, Zeke. You know, Jay an' Kay. The MiBs." I knew Fred was a low-watt bulb, but I hadn't expected to hear that. I shook my head in disbelief.
"You can't be serious, Fred."
‚ÄúUh course I'm serious. We needs to call 'em! They'll come an' catch 'em and flashy thing us so's we won' rememer-" Fred froze in mid thought. Or would have had he been thinking. "No, I don' wan' 'em to flashy thing me."
"I think you've already been flashy thinged a few times too many, Fred. I think momma flashy thinged you when you were born."
"You think they done that to me already, Zeke?"
I stood up and dropped my book on the chair. "Okay, Fred. It's time to get rid of this thing." I put a hand on his shoulder. "And don't worry. If Jay and Kay come lookin' for you, I'll tell them you left town or somethin'." Fred smiled like a child who'd just been exonerated after having wet his bed.
"That's good, Zeke. They'll believe that."
"Now take this thing back to the swamp, okay?"
"Okay, Zeke. I get rid of it right now."
"You're a good hunter, Fred. Nice shots."
"Thanks, Zeke!" He grabbed the creature by the hand and dragged it back to the swamp like a large, gray Raggedy Alien doll, disappearing into the mist again. Only this time, his squishy steps sounded happier. And then from the mist he asked, "What ya think these things taste like, Zeke?" I wasn't going to answer. That'd tempt him to find out. I just shook my head and went into the house.