The Golden Yo-Yo

One golden Yo-Yo in a plastic case with the name of the company I had won it from embossed upon its face. It was one of those game places where you paid in cash, won tickets then traded the tickets for prizes. The golden Yo-Yo was my prize. I would have been happy to slice away the middle-man and simply buy the Yo-Yo but that would have been very unsportsmanlike. The goal was to win it. So I did. I played a veritable slew of cheap, staged games, the exact games you find in the midway of every circus, county fair and traveling carnival. I tossed balls into holes, dropped coins into slots and kicked soccer balls around rotating goal keepers. In truth, I played far more games than was actually necessary to get my golden Yo-Yo. What can I say?

In the end I carried my bucket of tickets to the prize store and dumped them into the bin to be weighed. I still have doubts about the weighing. What if I had actually had more tickets than the scale measured? I hadn’t counted them all before I dumped them so I guess if I was short changed I had no one to blame but myself. Still, I tend to obsess over things like that. Regardless, I had won more than enough to get the Yo-Yo so I shouldn’t complain. In a fit of bravado I offered to spend the rest of my tickets on the seven year old son of a stranger.

The boy was tow-headed and had a slightly lazy eye that tilted inward just enough to make me stare at him in my peripheral vision for a while trying to figure out what was off about him. I had passed by him several times on my quest for the golden Yo-Yo. The small prize claw machine had captivated him. The father had been dutifully positioned along the open side giving encouragement and advice as the claw jerked around in multiple attempts to grab a particular prize. I judged the small, round duck head clutched in the boys’ hand as being the achieved goal. It was about the size of a tennis ball with yellow fabric stretched over it. Slotted purple sunglasses had been painted on to give it a cool appearance along with a sewn orange bill and a small tuft of feathers at the top of the head. He called it Steve.

Trying to not sound like I was making an offer of pity I explained that I would not be back to spend the extra tickets and didn’t want them to go to waste. At first the father looked suspicious and my stomach clenched at the possibility of rejection. I was a thirty-five year old, grown man playing games without a child of my own in sight. Until that second I hadn’t considered that I might appear to be a predator. Ignoring the warning of my knotting intestines I grinned and pointed at the central bar where a large sign boldly displayed a five dollar nacho offer with a two dollar draft. The father, somewhere in his mid to late twenties judging from his black Five Finger Death Punch t-shirt and faded Levis, stared in the sign for a couple of seconds before eyeballing my department store slacks and white collar shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He shrugged and agreed to let his son spend my tickets. A weight dropped into my stomach as I felt myself judged and I had to force down my sudden irritation with the man. I was giving his kid free stuff! He should be thankful! Instead, I felt as if I was the one being granted the charity.

The man steered his son into the candy aisle and helped him pick out enough sweets to cover my ticket surplus. Once everything was spent and the boy had his bag of treats hanging from his hand and Steve nestled between his ear and shoulder, I said my goodbyes and walked away. My Yo-Yo was stuffed into my jacket pocket.

During the fifteen minute drive home I questioned my own thinking about offering the man the tickets. What had begun as a simple offer of generosity had turned into an emotional disaster. I didn’t feel good about the tickets anymore. The father had stolen my happiness without even lifting a finger.

At home I was greeted by a silent apartment. Living alone had its advantages, especially when I was feeling ashamed of myself and couldn’t figure out why. Still sulking I hung my jacket on the peg and pulled out the Yo-Yo. I’m a grown man about to play with a Yo-Yo, I thought. I couldn’t even smile at the idea. An hour ago I had been captivated by the thought. Yo-Yos had been a pretty big deal when I was in grade school. We all had them and had spent our recesses showing each other the tricks we had learned. I had been the hands-down master of walking my Yo-Yo along the playground. The idea of being able to reclaim that feeling had been what had pushed me to play the games in the first place. Hindsight pointed out that the two dollar draft with the nachos may have had a little something to do with it also.

I grabbed a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer and cut my way into the plastic casing. The golden Yo-Yo was a wide-one, a style that had been referred to as a butterfly Yo-Yo when I was young. That style had been my favorite. I had owned a red one that lit up when I played with it. This gold one wouldn’t light up but just being able to walk-the-dog again was a very large motivator. For a moment I forgot about the man and his son. I slipped the looped string over my middle finger and assumed the position. The Yo-Yo dropped smoothly from my hand down to the floor and spun. The memory of how it was done came back in a flash and I gave a gentle upward tug. The Yo-Yo remained at full extension and didn’t return. Piqued but not discouraged I grabbed it with my other hand and spun it to tighten the string then wrapped it up and tried again. A gentle tug and still the Yo-Yo did not return. I tried several more times without success, eventually wrapping the string so tightly that the Yo-Yo wobbled badly when I dropped it toward the floor. The whole scene at the game store came flooding back and my shoulders slumped in defeat. If I had just abandoned the extra tickets instead of trying to be that guy maybe my Yo-Yo would have worked? Even if it hadn’t, at least I wouldn’t feel as if I had just wasted two hours of my life and made a public joke of myself. Sighing deeply I removed the string from my finger and dropped the golden Yo-Yo in the trashcan.

Horror Scene – Take One

I am a huge fan of horror movies and spoofs. The following is the first of two scenes. It is my humble attempt at a bit of a spoof involving five young men and the contemporary fixation of a cellphone. I will be repeating this scene with five young ladies in the same situation with the same props. I thought it would be fun to play the old game of boys against the girls. The girls will be arriving in the next week or two. I hope you like it.

Five teenage boys tear through the trees in mindless panic, smashing limbs and brush with every step, their terror manifesting in a wide trail of destruction. They race to a red pick-up truck parked just off a dirt road and pile into it, shoving, gasping and sweating. The driver, black hair falling loose from his low ponytail jams his key into the ignition and turns. Nothing happens. The engine doesn’t turn over. There is no sign of electrical life. Harsh, ragged breaths fill the cab.

“Crap, the battery is dead.” Wisit’s slender calloused fingers grip the wheel tightly, his face pale with shock.

“What? What do you mean dead?” Sean leaned forward from the back seat of the crew cab, his normally bright red hair now dark with sweat and sticking wetly to his skull. A strong aroma of weed clung heavily to his Panic at the Disco t-shirt. “Wist, this isn’t a bit humorous. Start the damn truck!”

“I can’t.” Wisit shook his head slowly, denial plain on his face. “The battery is dead.”

“How can it be dead? We’ve only been here for two days?” Sean griped the back of the front seat and pushed his pale face forward. “There is a crazy guy in a mask out there trying to kill us! It can’t be dead!”

“It’s been acting up. I probably should have changed out the battery but I thought it would be okay for the weekend.” Wisit stared at the dash, eyes vacant, thin shoulders sagging. Sitting shot-gun beside him Christopher looked like he’d been poleaxed, dark eyes wide, moonlight accentuating the sharpness of his high cheekbones. His left hand fingered a fresh gash on the front of his orange and white lettermans’ jacket. Wisit looked at him bleakly. The rear passenger door opened and Austin flounced out, white Nikes flashing against the dark ground.

“Great,” he sneered. “My parents can go to their graves secure in the knowledge that they didn’t have to spend a dime of their precious money to fix me.” Pacing the length of the truck he reached the tailgate and spun on his heel to stalk back the other way. “Some psycho with an ax is going to do it for them!” Each step made his sweat-soaked snowy blond hair flop against his forehead like a dead trout. The other back door opened and DeShawn exited cautiously, leaving Sean alone in the back, still hanging over the back of the front seat. Hopping around the front of the truck he caught Austin in mid spin.

“What are you talking about? Fix you how?” Wide nostrils already flared from fear widened further as he grabbed his friend by the arm and jerked him to a halt. “Austin, answer me!” Austin laughed harshly in DeShawn’s face.

“Wash the gay away! Didn’t you know?” He sniffed sarcastically. “Some religious group and their door-knocking, pamphlet-handing flunkies found the perfect pair of suckers when they knocked on my parents door.”

“That’s such bullshit.” DeShawn looked pained. “I didn’t think people believed that stuff anymore.” He looked down at his own sneakers, twins to Austins.

“Well they do!” Austin smirked. “But it’s okay. Slasher is going to take care of the problem.” He pointed with his chin in the direction they had all ran from. “He should be here any minute.” As the last word faded away the other truck doors opened.  Christopher, Sean and Wisit got out and grouped together at the front of the truck. Five pairs of eyes scanned the woods. Christopher pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and pressed the button. Wisit forced a chuckle.

“Not likely bro, mine roamed itself to death on the first day.”

“Yeah,” Sean agreed. “There must not be a cell tower within a hundred miles of this place.” He watched Christopher carefully as the jocks’ face darkened with emotion that he didn’t even try to control.

“FUCK!” Christopher kicked explosively at the front tire of the truck and whirled on Wisit. “You knew you needed a new battery!”

“You knew it too Chris. I pick you up every day.” Wisit met his eyes. Ignoring the remark Christopher continued his tirade.

“You volunteered to drive knowing your battery might not last? What kind of an idiot are you?”

“Um, I think the answer is in the question.” DeShawn looked pointedly at Christopher and shrugged.

“Screw you Dee!” Wisit stepped to within an inch of DeShawn’s face and swept out a hand to encompass all of them. “There are five of us with a ton of camping gear. I am the only one with a vehicle large enough to hold all of us and our stuff.” Jabbing his thumb at the truck with its crew cab and extended box he pressed his lips into a tight, thin line. “Next time you can haul everyone’s ass in your Jetta!”

“My Jetta gets thirty-eight miles to the frickin’ gallon asshole! What do you get? Eight?” DeShawn bulged his eyes at Wisit. “Oh! Wait! That’s right, it gets zero because IT DOESN’T RUN!”

“Oh Jesus, Mary and Dwayna! It doesn’t matter!” Austin threw his hands in the air and shook them waspishly over the snarling boys’ heads. “There isn’t going to be a next time if we can’t get out of here right now.”

The truck rocked on its springs as Christopher scaled quickly to the roof of the cab and held his cell phone up to the sky. His muscular frame created an eerie silhouette in the night. DeShawn craned his head back to watch.

“Can you get a signal?”

“Almost… THERE! I have one!” Christopher smiled down at the group excitedly. “I have two bars!”

“Fabulous,”Austin drawled, now assessing his fingernails. “Call somebody and get us out of here.” Wisit fixed Austin with a crabby stare.

“Did you get all the shit out from under those?”

Austin cocked an eyebrow and held out a hand. “No Wist, wanna sniff?” Wisit reared back, smacking at him like he was a giant bug. Austin laughed with delight, “Jesus dude, that was gayer than me!”

“Fuck off. And it’s Wisit not wist. Two syllables you dick!”

DeShawn chuckled from the sideline.

“Yeah, I know… glor-i-ous.” Austin rolled his eyes. “That one is three syllables. Do you want to hear them again?” Christopher interrupted the argument with a moan from the top of the cab. All four look up in fresh alarm.

“What’s going on Chris?” DeShawn darted his eyes around, searching the immediate area again. “Did you lose the signal?” Christopher closed his eyes, distress oozing from his entire body.

“Then what? What’s going on?” Sean glowered up at him. Christopher looked down at his friends bleakly.

“The RLOS XVII update. It’s coming in.”

“What?” DeShawn leaped onto the truck tire and scrabbled over the side of the bed to see Christopher’s phone. “You’re kidding, right? That update isn’t supposed to roll out here in America until Tuesday!” Wisit reached inside his jacket to pull out his own phone.

“Damn! I’m completely dead.”

“Me too.” Sean is staring at his phone also, the expression on his face a mix of despair and anger. Austin snapped his fingers multiple times to get their attention.

“Hellooooo? Anyone remember the guy with the ax?” He pointed back into the forest. “You know, the one coming to kill us?” Tipping his head back he barked at Christopher, “STOP THE DAMN UPDATE!” Christopher, eyes filled with indecision shook his head slowly side to side.

“I’ve been waiting for this for months.”

Austin stared intently past the front bumper. “Gentlemen,” he said flatly, “Our window of opportunity is officially closed.” The others followed his gaze. Coming toward them with the gate of a camel through hot desert sand was the hulking figure of the man in the mask.  The shape of a very large ax hanging loosely in one hand was clearly visible in the moonlight.

The Carousel

Each animal on the carousel was very distinct and had it’s own particular coloring. Even if there was more than one horse, they were different, one with it’s head up, screaming against it’s bit, the other, head down, tightly reined, eyes rolling wildly in panic. The tiger was running for its life, paws splayed, saddle tightly gripping its brown and orange back where a saddle should never be. Lions, unicorns, dragons and plain old benches that looked, well, exactly like benches. All the tortured beasts with poles driven straight through them. No wonder they looked scared to death.

Being larger than most, this particular carousel was a treasure trove of emotional despair. Kids ratcheted along the metal walk-way, outrunning their parents as they searched frantically for the ride of their choice, the one they had seen roll by while they were waiting in line, hoping to God it would not be taken by someone else when they got there. There was never a good second choice once their heart had been captured by a particular beast.

Most children riding here didn’t pay close attention to the actions of their chosen creature when it was going by. Their eyes were filled with the colors of the animal, the look of its eyes and the stretch of its legs. They became over-whelmed by the desire to ride that specific animal, to sit in its saddle and be seen by the world as the one child riding that beast on the carousel. It was a victory that was well within their grasp if they could just get to it faster than everyone else.

Once the jostling for position was finished and the children were seated upon their beasts, most with happy smiles, some with frowns as they took another option because they had been too slow, the music swelled and the carousel began to turn. This is where the real fun begins. The innocent bystander, keenly watching from beyond the gated line can see the first signs of trouble almost instantly. The coolest animals, the ones with the best and most attractive colors and expressions, the dragons and hydras and griffons, were on the outside row. These caught the eye first. They were the most sought after, their beauty out-shining the commoness of the inner animals. The children who raced for these animals were deaf to the warnings of their parents and later in life would become assistant things to assistants of big things. They would never be the big things themselves because they were not observant enough and didn’t listen. Their lives would become dangerously mundane and unfulfilled.

One full revolution of the carousel and the faces of the children astride the animals on the outside row began to change. Their bright eyes changed to hard, glittering stones of anger that, for some, bordered on rage. By the second revolution the reality of their choice had set in. Their mouths turned down, the light drained from their eyes and their dreams fell in fragments upon the metal walk-way. Their chosen beasts didn’t move. There was no elevation to the outside row. There was no rise and fall. Despite being faster than the other children they had achieved a horribly empty victory by being first.

The lone bystander, watching in delight with his phone’s camera app open and pointed at the carousel received even more amusement as his digital memories also captured the faces of parents, some as confused looking as the idiots they had spawned while others looked victorious, their little angels having chosen wisely from the inner rows. A few, one or two actually, looked defeated, their warnings having bounced off the ears of their offspring and been crushed beneath the wings of a stationary dragon. This was not the first life-choice their children had made but it was definitely one that wouldn’t be erased. Clearly the future was bleak for these parents, their hopes of immortality having just been completely re-written in the time it took for their child to choose a stationary beast in the most public manner possible.

Later in life there would be other carousels, ones made with the idea of equal opportunity in mind, the stationary objects clearly defined for the little challenged ones. Those carousels wouldn’t be a balm for the wound left by the failure of the first choice and they would be known by a different name. Merry-go-round. The title itself conjured images of pallid faces smeared with cotton candy and ketchup, little hands grubby from stinky hotdogs and half-melted drumsticks. This was the future for the children on the outside row, a cheap circus ride as opposed to an expensive theme park.

The ride slows to a halt and the parents assist their children off the animals. Some shuffle, head down toward the exit, their expressions blank and turned inward. Others leave quickly, dragging their brats by the elbow, hoping they could get out of the public eye before someone who mattered spotted them and discovered the choice their child had made, their brains already piecing together the explanation they would give to try and draw attention away from the obvious. The parents from the inside rows left with smiles plastered on their faces, their children sheparded closely through the crowd, held back just a step from walking too closely to a child from the outer row.

The innocent bystander swipes through the latest batch of photos, chuckles over a few particularly humorous ones then closes the app and slips the phone into his jacket pocket. Defeat had flavor all its own. He would be back tomorrow for another taste.

Jacob – Part Two

Hot, black coffee is a gift from the gods, Carla Mae thought, sitting at her small breakfast table sipping  bitter, poorly made brew from her panda mug. She had a mostly clear view of her garden from here, the corner windows framing both the side yard and part of the back. Jacob’s gable was in plain view beyond the garden fence, an oddity in the neighborhood. Most of the homes here were built by Polish immigrants who built with the gables facing the street. Jacob’s house, a painful testament to the ranch-style homes that were so suburbanly popular in the late 60s rested long-ways on its lot and was completely out of place. It was unimaginable that Jacob had been the original owner of the house, he simply wasn’t old enough but, Carla Mae had wondered several times if the house hadn’t been in his family for many years and just got passed down to him. She couldn’t believe that someone would look at that place and experience feelings of desire to possess it. It was hideous, no character beyond what was bestowed on it by that ridiculous television show all those years ago.

The sound of the neighboring garage door rising floated through the window and tickled Carla Mae’s ears like the sound of a mosquito, something she heard but had not fully registered yet. Jacob was moving swiftly down the driveway, fast and direct and inside the little green blazer almost before Carla Mae had focused her eyes on him. The engine sprang to life and the Jimmy jerked backwards down the driveway and into the street. She could see his face, stark and frozen in the morning light, clearly upset. The panda cup hung motionless in the air, forgotten as she watched Jacob drive away. When the blazer had vanished from sight Carla Mae rotated her eyes back to the house. Jacob had not closed his garage door.

* * * * *

Finally! Stevin had been about to call it quits and head home when Jacob’s GMC had come blasting into the hardware store parking lot. Despite his excitement at seeing the little green blazer Stevin felt apprehension rise into his stomach, damping down the happy butterflies and freezing his feet to the asphalt. Raising one anxious, sculpted eyebrow he watched Jacob jerk to a halt in the far right of the lot, nearly triple parking when he was normally so fastidious about being squared between the lines and exit the vehicle in an obvious hurry. He hadn’t even noticed that his door hadn’t completely latched. Stevin’s heart beat a little faster as he tracked Jacob’s movement toward the main door. To have an opportunity like this just dropped in his lap was too good to pass up. The entrance doors swished open and Jacob disappeared inside. Stevin kicked into motion and bee-lined for the blazer.

* * * * *

Clutching his two bags of purchases Jacob left the store a bit slower than he had entered it, his mind already planning his route through the house to each door and window. The only tricky one would be the exit door of his garage, the one that opened into the back yard. That door was older than the others and the frame was rather warped. He had intended to re-frame it eventually but it had become one of those things that was just always on the ToDo list. Maybe now was the time? He wasn’t sure. Timing for this was horribly bad. His current project wasn’t going to keep much longer. He needed to finish that one first before he could start anything new.

People were starting to pull into the parking lot. Being an early bird for all his shopping made getting in an out of the stores much easier. He didn’t have to wait in line and there was seldom anyone else in the aisles he shopped. A small truck was now parking in front of the main doors, right where he would normally have parked and a big, gray haired man with a diminutive wife were getting out. Those who shopped together stayed together, Jacob thought rudely, wondering why on earth the woman would want to accompany her husband to the hardware store?

Punching the button on the car remote Jacob heard the satisfying thunk of the lock mechanism opening. A shaggy headed young man in a blue paisley button down strolled past him. The gait caught his attention and Jacob paused for a mere second, watching the man walk toward the Ice Cream Queen. Shaking his head in silent judgment he turned back to his vehicle and slid into the driver’s seat. He didn’t have time to stand out here watching every single person in the parking lot. Jamming his key in the ignition Jacob focused on the task at hand.

Shifting the Jimmy into drive Jacob headed for the exit, surprising the man in the blue shirt as he passed. The shaggy head snapped around and gave him a rather nervous smile. Jacob didn’t bother making eye contact.

The drive home took exactly eight minutes and twelve seconds. Jacob didn’t like that. Normally the drive was only seven minutes and sixteen seconds. He had caught a red light that he normally didn’t have to stop for which had thrown off his time. Clenching his jaw tightly he reached up to flip his visor over and punch the button on the garage door remote. The movement was so ingrained that he didn’t have to think about it. The gray panels rolled upward and out of sight as the door rose and again he was faced with the sight of his livelihood. Slamming the driver’s door a little harder than necessary he stalked into the garage and pressed the other button to drop the door back down. How many times was he going to raise and lower this door today? What was this, the sixth time he had pressed the button? Jesus, he needed to settle down or the door was going to wear out in a single day.