Here Thar Be Monsters!

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21.3.16

All Alone In The Moonlight

Labor Day is the unofficial New Year's Day in America.  No one actually refers to it as that, and no one really thinks of it like that, but in effect, it is a truly transformative moment when one life ends and another begins.

Dad is drafted into the Attic Patrol to bring down the winter clothes.  Mom starts cleaning the house from stem to stern.  The air itself takes on a magical quality with the sunlight sparkling and just enough break in the heat of summer to cause young creatures to suddenly bolt in all directions at once.  And for a boy of 13, it is the moment he realizes that all his plans and resolutions for the summer months are left unfulfilled with only three days left to make good on his dreams.

And this particular Labor Day weekend, the boy also realizes that it is the end of childhood and that the specter that has been haunting him all summer is named Responsibility.  In three days, he would enter high school and life would never be the same again.

We lived on a farm that year about three miles outside of a bustling metropolis called Moulton, Texas, with an overflowing population of 679.  I always wondered if the ninth person was a widow, because otherwise, someone was going to lose at the Dating Game.

That Saturday morning brought the realization that time was running out.  Not only would the freedom of summer soon come to a crashing halt, but the brutal winter of the Texas hill country was just around the corner.

Determined to enjoy those fading moments of liberty, I made a pack with two bologna sandwiches, an apple and a half-frozen Coca-Cola, grabbed my trusty Browning .22 rifle with boxes of short rounds, and collected my ever-present companions Charlie Brown and Lucy - a pair of Dachshund book-ends - and set off in search of adventure.

First stop was the field behind the house.  It was 20 acres of endless imagination, and there were six of them spread out at my fingertips.  A boy with 125 acres at his disposal was not just a king, but a god.  It was the literal clay from which worlds could be fashioned, populated with creatures of every description, and all of which lived and died by my command.

This field had a small hill at one end and had dirt berms snaking across it, ostensibly to control erosion, but I knew the truth: they were the hiding places of legions of imaginary enemies begging to be vanquished.  It had also just been plowed, liberating great clods of earth that were the building blocks of dreams.

My faithful hounds and I realized the threats hidden behind those berms and we quickly dropped to our bellies behind the hill and carefully wormed our way to the high ground.  Once we obtained the peak, we could spy the legions of mysterious creatures arrayed against us.  Spread all across this alien world, they were milling about on the berms, attending to alien business that was as impenetrable to us as a book of Mandarin faiery tales.

Taking careful aim, I squeezed off a couple of dozen rounds, watching as their alien bodies exploded into great, satisfying puffs of offal.  My faithful hounds waited until the order, then sped across the rough terrain to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.  Their yelps and barks told me that victory was at hand, and I triumphantly leaped to my feet and charged the alien strongholds.

A satisfying victory under our belts, we pressed on to the next adventure.

This one came in the form of a hole.  Not just any hole, but an armadillo hole.  Lucky for me, my trusty hounds were bred for just this sort of adventure, and on cue, they dived beneath the ground with only their joyous voices being heard as if coming from the very stones themselves.

I sought our the back door and waited.  It didn't take long.  Soon enough, the head of a living armored vehicle appeared just in front of me with the sounds of exuberant Dachshunds at its hind-quarters.  When the entire creature had been exposed, I sprang at it like a sunburned leopard, grabbing its tail before it could beat a hasty retreat.

I don't know if you've ever had the chance to examine one of these creatures up close.  From the neck down, they are God's own battle tanks, covered with dense plates of articulated armor, and sporting claws that would frighten any right-minded individual.  From the neck up, though, they were almost comical - small,oval ears twitching to and fro, little brown marbles installed like afterthoughts under a Neanderthal brow ridge, and a long, slender snout with two large nostrils that could be individually steered like chameleon eyes.

After what seemed hours of examination, we released the mysterious creature, who bounded into the tall grass and vanished before our eyes, and forgotten almost as fast.  There were other worlds to conquer!

Next stop was the graveyard for the disintegrating hulks of four Ford Model A cars.  These were ancient relics of some vanished civilization, left to rejoin the earth from which they had emerged.  So old they were, that their wheels had collapsed and their hulks rested belly-down on the ground.  The remaining glass in their windows were fogged like the eyes of old men and any paint that had once glossed their fenders had long since abandoned their posts.  They were now the domain of the biggest, meanest-looking yellow-and-black spiders you would ever want to avoid.

My trusty hounds had stirred a grasshopper into flight, and he flew directly into the web of one of these fearsome aliens.  We hunkered down and watched with battling emotions of fear and fascination as the struggling critter was set upon by the alien.  A lightning-fast bite quickly paralyzed the hapless hopper, and then the alien set about wrapping him with dense threads - turning, turning, turning - until there was hardly anything to identify the victim.  A chill landed at the base of my spine and crept like molasses in January up to the base of my skull and settled in for a session of shivers and involuntary shakes.  We beat a hasty retreat from the sight of this horrific and ignoble end.

It was now time for lunch, and that could only mean one thing - The Twins!

Down by the creek were a pair of the most enormous oak trees I have ever seen.  Easily 50 feet tall with canopies that spanned globes, they stood about 100 feet apart like sentinels at the gates of Heaven.  At the base of one was a sizable limestone boulder, looking as if the roots had squirted it out of the earth at that exact spot, and through some trick of weather and geology, was shaped almost perfectly like an arm chair.  This was my throne, from which I could survey the entirety of my realm.  To one side was the creek, which to me was not just a creek, but actually a mighty raging river cutting through my kingdom thousands of feet below.  To the other side were the vast fields and hills of my domain.  I dined upon great hunks of roasted beast and swilled the wine of victory.  I cast my crumbs to my faithful hounds and issued forth new laws upon the land.

When I had supped and rested, I tossed the Coca-Cola can across the great canyon and imagined it to be the citadels of infidels.  I squatted down behind my throne, took careful aim, and laid waste to the usurpers who dared to impose on my domain.

In those times, there were eternities in a moment.  Life was anything I imagined and freedom was a constant companion.  Magic filled every molecule of the atmosphere and I could conjure empires of dirt and castles of oak.  Scale was an arbitrary definition that I could expand or contract at will, and I could play any role in my worlds that I chose and my faithful hounds would drop instantly into role at my command.  I was man, king and god.  I held the power of life and death in my hand.  But it was all like grasping at water - at once tangible and ephemeral - as real as my throne and as fleeting as morning mist.