A story by
A giggle. Another.
She was small even for a four-year-old, swallowed up by the orange and yellow, tie-dyed t-shirt she'd found in the attic and insisted on wearing. The purple peace symbol on the front was chipped and faded from many laundry days and the march of time, since it had been purchased way back during the hippie era, before this little cutie was even born, or her mother, for that matter.
Yes, this was her granny's t-shirt, from back when Gran-Gran was maybe seventeen, when summer days were spent joyriding and swigging from a bottle of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill wine, her long, blonde hair flowing behind her while Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young melodically advocated teaching your children well, and her high school sweetheart with a ponytail hanging halfway down his back sang along as he drove. The shirt was no doubt a brilliant, neon orange back then. Maybe the peace sign even glowed under the black lights at those parties she used to sneak out her bedroom window to attend, after which she'd come home reeking of marijuana smoke. No doubt, Gran-Gran would say, "Ah, those were the good ol' days," if she hadn't passed away a couple months ago, stroking out behind the wheel of her Prius in an Arby's parking lot, and coasting into one of the low walls. Not hard enough to do more than dent the fender and activate the airbag, but it didn't matter to ol' Gran. She was gone before the store manager even made it outside to see what the hell was going on.
Everybody said her tiny granddaughter was her to a "T" in so many ways, and wouldn't her parents have a time of it trying to keep her from running wild once she hit her teens? Had they paid closer attention, they'd have realized she was way ahead of Granny. She might be only four, but in her own little way, she was hell on wheels.
Hiking up the t-shirt, which was too long even for a gown on the little girl, the floppy straw hat she also wore slid down past her big blue eyes and over her nose.
"Oh, nosh posh!" she muttered. She was surprisingly articulate when she chose to be — generally when she wanted something, like a cookie or a new toy — but when she was alone and prattling on to herself, or when she conversed with one of her stuffed animals, she had a language all her own.
She pushed the hat up so she could see.
A few feet away, the man in the swirling hole-in-the-air (which was three feet off the ground, maybe four feet in diameter, and sucking powerfully inward like the most spectacular vacuum cleaner in the entire Universe) was clinging to the edges by his fingertips. Wind and leaves and mulch and an occasional Popsicle stick or unfortunate grasshopper got pulled in and disappeared behind him. He was only visible from the chest up, clad in a grey suit, his tie askew, his eyes wide with terror. He didn't make a sound. He couldn't, you could tell. Whether that was because the force drawing him in was also pulling the air from his lungs, or if it was the effort required just to hang on, or the overwhelming fear, the knowledge that doom was most probably less than a minute away, was impossible to determine.
"Poof! Poofy poof poof!" the little girl exclaimed, as she tapped his fingers one by one and each lost its grip on the edge of ... well, the edge of this world, it seemed.
And that quickly, his wide eyes grew even wider, as did his mouth, in what would surely have been a scream of, “Nooooooo!” if he'd been capable of it. But he wasn't, and the look on his face turned from fear to acceptance and a sort of heartache, as if the knowledge of all those things he would now miss out on, his entire future, sharing the lives of those he loved, was too painful even for tears.
And that quickly he was gone, swept away, gulped down like a dragonfly snatched by a frog's tongue.
“All gone!” the little girl announced, to no one. Or everyone. Or the squirrel on the branch above her, who'd eyed the whole situation warily and had no intention of coming down.
What was gone — besides poor Mr. What's-his-name — was that strange, silent, gaping maw in the air. It had closed up, as if satiated.
This was not surprising to the little girl. She'd been feeding it all morning. The gadget from whence it emanated was a glassy blob that resembled nothing more than a foot-long, semitransparent jellybean containing a few thick, curly, red wires that, whenever they revolved and glowed, created the powerful portal to elsewhere (or to absolute nothingness). It sat unobtrusively in her toy baby stroller, with a pink blanket tucked in around it. She'd been happily, giddily, pushing it along, wandering up and down pleasant streets with perfectly mowed lawns and lovely trees and an occasional newly-delivered newspaper, a curious fluffy dog, a skateboard, a mailbox, an entire swing set that folded in on itself without a sound, becoming nothing but a collection of metal poles ... all went whoosh! And left this world for another. Or just left.
Somehow, no one noticed her. A tiny little thing meandering the streets alone. A side-effect of the strange, blobby gizmo, or a sign that the days of Leave It To Beaver are long gone and no one gives a damn about anyone else anymore? Or just too many people out and about with their eyes glued to a smartphone? It didn't occur to her to wonder, any more than she'd wondered where those strange lights had come from last night, in the sky over the field out back of her house, or what they meant, or whether they were meant for her. She just knew that there was a flash down to the ground, the lights zoomed away, and she just had to see what they'd left behind.
Within minutes, she'd quietly slipped out the back screen door and headed out toward the farthest end of the meadow. Soon she was surrounded by grass taller than she was, and utter darkness, and she should have been afraid. But fear was for babies. Or so she'd been told, by older siblings who did their best to terrify her on a regular basis. Eventually, she felt it, a soft hum or buzz, tickly on her skin, a calm, almost comforting feeling, and there on a pile of crushed and slightly steaming grass sat the glassy ovoid, alternately glowing and flashing, as if trying to speak to her. Scrunching her face with concentration, she circled the object slowly, reached out to slide her tiny hand along its smooth surface, and smiled.
“Are you Humptetty Dumpy?” she whispered, snickering at the thought, but knowing it was really something else entirely. And she ran back to the house for her plastic Dora the Explorer wagon, which had many uses, but Dora's creators and the wagon's designers had probably not counted transporting possible extraterrestrial gizmos among them.
In her bedroom overnight, the ovoid occupied the big dollhouse over by the window, sitting upright in a snug little nest formed by the pink blanket. She had long ago stopped hiding her special, secret possessions in the dollhouse, since her brothers, 8-year-old Kraig and 10-year-old Bryson — her teasers, tormentors, and all-around enemies — would throw it open and grab her stash, laughing as they stuffed it down the toilet and flushed, or stuck it in the cat's litter box, or just stomped on it. She needn't worry about that anymore. Just after bedtime, the boys had whispered and chuckled as they sneaked into her room, creeping up to her bed on all fours, planning to reach up and grab her feet while growling like werewolves. But she wasn't in bed. She was hiding behind the dollhouse. When they heard the dollhouse creak open, Kraig whispered, “Get her!” and they charged toward it. Without the slightest sound, the ovoid glowed, and both boys took a one-way trip into a swirling gap-between-two-worlds or corridor-to-oblivion or whatever it was that opened above it.
"Bye, bye, gone, gone," their little sister whispered, as they tumbled in head-first, one after the other. And off to bed she went, confident she would have a peaceful night's sleep for a change.
Morning came, and she made her way to the kitchen, ignoring her daddy ignoring her, as usual, yakking away on his cell phone to clients in some distant corner of the world. She knew the routine: Don't bother Daddy, he's EARNING. When her mother asked where her brothers were, she just shrugged and tried to get her stuffed panda to drink from a juice box. She knew that routine, too: Act four years old and no one asks you the important stuff. Once dear old mom was out of the room, she was out the front door in a flash, and the stroller stroll began.
Which eventually led her here, where a tall, neatly-dressed stranger who may have been an insurance agent, or a realtor, or possibly a Jehovah's Witness, had just gone bye-bye, and she grew almost instantly bored. Tossing her platinum-blonde hair with a nonchalance that mimicked her granny decades ago, she had one thought: Big.
That quickly, the ovoid responded, glowing warmly, pulsating like a heartbeat, and she felt it, embraced it. Yes. Big.
She had no sense of direction, or knowledge of specific locations; she simply began walking in the direction of the sun. She liked the feel of it on her face, the comforting warmth, the sense that it was inviting her to follow it.
More than an hour went by, avenues and intersections and buildings were passed, yet her little legs never tired. Deep down, she felt an anticipation she didn't understand, but could easily define.
Christmas morning. It felt like Christmas morning.
Upstairs in bed, waiting, waiting, waiting for the sun to come up (Mommy's rule!), knowing there were piles of pretty boxes everywhere downstairs that she could tear into; the paper making that sweet ripping sound, ribbons flapping, bows flying everywhere. And joy. Joy so big her heart always felt like it would burst.
And here, now? Something equally warm and wonderful was coming. Something ... awesome. Her brother Bryson's favorite word finally clicked for her now. Yes, awesome was coming.
Back home, there was chaos. Police cars, search parties, her mother's tears and dread. This possibility didn't even cross the little girl's mind, but if it had, she'd have simply shrugged her shoulders, lost in her own thoughts and wants and urges.
For the little girl, each step she took brought her closer to awesome.
And then she arrived. She knew it, because here was one of her favorite things, something exciting, something ... big. Choo-choo tracks. She loved choo-choos. She loved the chugga-chugga-chugga sound of their wheels, and she felt sad for them whenever she heard them howl at night. They sounded so lonely. But she also had respect for their power. From a ways away, they looked nice, friendly, choo-chooing their way along. But up close ...
A few weeks ago, she'd almost experienced their power the hard way. When her mommy, tired of waiting for the train that didn't seem to ever be coming, said, “Screw it!” and ignored the Ding! Ding! Ding! warning, driving around the red-and-white striped gate. As the back end of the car crossed the tracks — yes, the back, where the child seat was — the train suddenly appeared, its horn blowing loudly, its brakes screeching, as it closed in on the car unbelievably fast. The little girl silently stared up at the man driving the train, and he stared back with a worried look on his face, and she thought, Wouldn't he be a nice grandpa to have?
And then the car cleared the tracks, with plenty of room to spare. Okay, maybe not plenty, but some. And her mommy laughed, said a bad word, and waved her finger. Yep, just the one.
And now here they were again, choo-choo tracks. And the little girl remembered how she'd felt that day. Nothing could have stopped that train, she knew that. Knew it then, knew it now. There was a relentlessness about it, even if she didn't know the word for it. They were so big, and so heavy, and when they were going fast, nothing could stop them.
Wouldn't it be, well, awesome, to watch one zoom through the magical hole-in-the-sky?
Off in the distance, a choo-choo horn plaintively called. She could picture it chugging its way along, closer and closer. Or maybe it was one of the really fast ones, full of people looking out the windows, and she would wave at them as they zipped by.
She rolled the stroller onto the tracks, facing it to her right, toward the sound of the approaching train. Then she backed away a good ten feet, the perfect spot to be a witness to awesomeness.
With a hiss that was familiar to her, a hole formed and grew, in the air above the stroller. Grew larger, by far, than previously, as if it were compensating for the size of the object barreling down the tracks toward it. A diameter of six feet became eight feet, which became fifteen, and the little girl backed up, her eyes sparkling with excitement. This was going to be more than big, this was going to be superpendous!
With a sharp pop that hurt her ears, the hole/portal/thingamajig spewed forth a writhing, pale amber stream that might have been a liquid, could have been a gas, but proved to be neither, as it shot along the rail closest to the little girl and solidified as it gained in height.
Well, this was a first. She was mesmerized.
It was translucent, and as it raced toward the train it became higher than the speeding vehicle, a wall, and from this side, the sound of the train's horn and screeching brakes sounded muffled, closed-in. The wall was moving so fast it was impossible for her eyes to keep up with it, and although it was now behind some buildings several football field lengths away, it was so tall that she could still see its progress. In seconds, it was a mile away. Two. Four.
And now the train, wheels locked in place but still rushing forward at breakneck speed, rose from the tracks as if up an invisible slope, roaring through the opening above the stroller with a blast of air that washed over the little girl, right through the strange wall, carrying with it odors that were unfamiliar; organic smells, animal scents, and other indescribable things, that both stunned and elated her. She stared in awe of the people at the windows, who were going somewhere so exciting, so new, so awesome. Why were they silently screaming, crying, banging on the windows, holding their babies, their big boys and girls, each other, so tightly? But that quickly they were gone; the last train car had entered the opening, and she realized she would never know exactly where they went or what adventures they would have. Well, noshbotty posh, she thought. Crappity crap on a cracker.
At the split second that the very last bit of metal passed through, there was another hiss, and with a splush! the same peculiar material shot out from the back side of the hole and headed down the tracks in the opposite direction, already moving at a speed that put it miles away in no more than seconds.
The little girl was once again excited, and she danced around on one foot, then the other, waving her hands in the air and laughing uncontrollably.
By the time the strange material had traced the perimeter of almost the entire town — a mid-sized town with several thousand people, with schools and libraries and roller rinks and ethnic restaurants and trees and antique shops and much, much more; things that made it the kind of place city folks wished they could raise their kids — the little girl's laughter had given her the hiccups, and she stopped hopping, out of breath.
At that moment, the two walls of bizarre material rushed toward each other on the far side of town, faster and faster. Had she been there to see it, the little girl would have expected a spectacular, wonderful ka-boom! But instead, a peaceful melding together, as if this was as it should be, this had always been their purpose.
And then ... a soft, pleasant sound, like a soap bubble popping. And the wall that seemed like it could be water became just that, 40 feet high or so, miles and miles of it, dropping down and splashing everywhere, soaking everything within 50 feet or more. This did not include the little girl. Or the stroller. The liquid avoided her, streamed by each side of her, not even spraying mist. And the stroller sat by itself, also dry.
But the stroller was no longer on the tracks, for there were no tracks. Nor were there any trees. And not a single building in sight. In fact, for as far as the eye could see, there was dirt. From any satellites in space that were peeking down, it would seem as if an irregular-shaped area which had only seconds before been a town, was now a brownish, blank space, miles in diameter. Not even and flat. No, there were many holes, some very deep. Buildings had had basements, trees had deep roots, there were in-ground pools. And all were gone. Everything was gone. There were many flat areas, previously covered with asphalt or concrete. From high above, they made it clear where the streets had been. Not that those streets would serve any purpose now.
The little girl finally caught her breath, the hiccups gone, and her excitement along with them.
She looked around. And sighed. That was fun, yep, gobs of fun, but now ... look at all that boring dirt. Her globby glob thing had been right — it sure had been big. But now she needed something else, she needed something more, something ...
She looked off into the distance. On the horizon was the place Mommy took her sometimes, always in a hurry and rushing along, jabbering into a cell phone. The place with the skyscrapers that made her dizzy when she stood below them and looked up, the place where there were cars everywhere, that honked at you if you did the littlest thing wrong (and Mommy would wave at them with her favorite finger, and they would yell, and she would yell back). The place with metal carts that smelled so good, hot dogs cooking kind of good, that Mommy always hurried her past, saying, "You don't want that crap." But she did, she wanted that crap really bad.
The ovoid glowed, then pulsed, then flashed almost frantically. And the little girl smiled.
Bigger. Way bigger.
And she began pushing the stroller again, softly singing the “Muffin Man” song as she headed for the big city.
Copyright © 2012 Nik Barnabee. All Rights Reserved.