Billy came home from school on Monday and decided to take over the world. He didn’t like how grownups were always telling him what to do. Grownups were stupid. And he didn’t want goulash for dinner anymore. Goulash was icky. If he took over the world he could make pizza with peanut butter on it the only supper ever. Pizza with peanut butter on it was the best.
All the bullies at school would be the slave people. They’d cut down the trees and make bricks and stuff, then they’d make buildings with them. And Billy’s friends would all be the Presidents. They wouldn’t be able to do anything important, though, because he would be Super King President. But he wasn’t gonna tell them that until after he took over the world. That’s when his parents, and all the rest of the grownups, would find out that the only thing they get to do is make pizza with peanut butter on it, forever.
Billy came home from school on Monday, took off his backpack, and ran upstairs to his room to get the Powertron from under his bed. A space caterpillar had talked to him on Wednesday and asked for a glass of water. When Billy asked why, the space caterpillar said his cosmoship used water for fuel, and he had run out of water near Earth. He missed the lake over by the golf course and landed in Billy’s yard instead. Billy thought that was good, because golf courses were stupid. The space caterpillar was named HsimreuEck, but Billy said that was a dumb name, and that his new name was Bacon Fart. Bacon Fart offered to shrink Billy and show him around his cosmoship in trade for some fuel water. Billy thought that would be awesome, and said yes. Bacon Fart used his Molecular Compression Pulse Generator to bring Billy down to his size. Billy didn’t know what that meant, so he called the machine Shrinker. Bacon Fart brought Billy inside his ship, which had landed under Mom’s lilac bush. It was a small ship about the size of a soda can, so even after shrinking, Billy felt cramped inside it. This was annoying to Billy, because he was expecting something like the Enterprise or Galactica. Instead, he got the escape pod from A New Hope. Billy asked if he could push some buttons, but Bacon Fart said something about “there isn’t enough power” and “ship will never start again” but Billy had already stopped listening after the word “no.” This shrinking tour was a total letdown. When Bacon Fart showed Billy the Powertron, he got excited again. It was a blue glowing crystal on a strap, to be worn like a headband. It made it so Bacon Fart could control the cosmoship with his mind. Speed, steering, weapons, everything did what the pilot wanted, just by thinking about it. The ship could even change shape, fix damage, and add new parts to itself with the Powertron. Billy took a big, deep breath and said “I HAVE TO GO POTTY! UNSHRINK ME!” Bacon Fart got scared when Billy yelled like that, and ran to the Molecular Decom…Unshrinker, to return Billy to his normal size. He was so scared, in fact, that he didn’t notice Billy putting the Powertron in his pocket. Once Billy was back to regular boy size, he started running toward the house.
As Billy’s foot was descending upon Bacon Fart, the space caterpillar thought; “Oh no! He doesn’t realize I am under his foot. My mission to save the solar ostriches of Berricon Theta 7 will go unfinished, and those poor animals will become extinct. Without them, the Berricon system will be vaporized in the upcoming Hypernova. And yet, in this moment I can only hope that when Billy realizes his folly, he will someday be able to forgive himself for my death. In the short moments we knew each other, I had come to value his friendship.”
As Billy’s foot was descending upon Bacon Fart, the 8 year old was thinking a variety of thoughts at one time, as young boys often do. They roughly translated to; “WOO! I got a Powertron! Bacon Fart is stupid. His ship is stupid. I’m gonna make him die with my shoe.” Amidst those thoughts, pizza with peanut butter came up several times.
* * *
Billy pulled the cosmoship out from under the lilac bush and dropped it in a bowl of water. He put on the Powertron and thought “start working again!” It worked, and the ship started bubbling and lighting up. Billy set the bowl on the floor in front of his TV and his video game system, the Y-Bag 180. The Powertron worked by sensing the intent of the person wearing it and carrying out whatever action was needed to accomplish what the person desired. That’s how it knew what to do when Billy brain-shouted “Be totally awesome!”
The technological abomination created by the fusion of television, game console, cosmoship, and an old Discman Billy found in his dresser, slowly started walking downstairs. Pretty soon it was absorbing the big TV, the cable box, Blu-Ray player, and stereo. Billy starting jumping up and down when they got to the kitchen.
“Keep getting awesomer!” Billy thought-yelled at the machine. As it went to work on the dishwasher, he had a way cool idea. By the time the microwave, toaster, and coffeemaker were swept into the beast, Billy had removed the racks and was nestled snugly inside the oven. He had figured out what to do. He would use the Powertron to build a World Dominatortron. And once he had a World Dominatortron, it would be pizza with peanut butter on it from here on out. The World Dominatortron, or SweetBot, installed the oven as a chest and body, making it larger and converting the inside into a cockpit for Billy. In order to factor in the last appliance, the refrigerator, SweetBot needed more room. Billy did this by telling SweetBot to knock down the kitchen wall. Once the dust and debris settled, Billy looked through the hole in the wall and saw what Mom always called “Daddy’s attempt to be a teenager again.” Daddy called it “The Hummer.” After several seconds of speechless, ecstatic shaking, Billy shouted out loud, “AW SHIT, DUDE!” Then, after covering his mouth and looking around to see if anyone was nearby to hear that, he scrunched down in his ovenpit and whispered intensely, “…..aaawww shit, dude”
Two weeks later, after Billy had replaced the oven with the front half of a stealth bomber, the feet made of Hummers with feet made of train cars, and using two 83-inch TVs for SweetBot’s eyes, the World Dominatortron was standing in front of the White House. Billy had made his friends Presidents of all the other continents, and used the Powertron to turn all the army vehicles and bombs and guns that people attacked them with to build smaller Dominatortrons, called CoolBots. Each CoolBot had pizza-making machines and pizza ovens built into them. All the ingredients, plus the peanut butter, were brought to the CoolBots and SweetBot by the slave bullies, everyday. Billy’s friend, President Carl, didn’t like peanut butter on his pizza. He liked pickles on it instead. But President Carl was stupid. That’s why he was President of Antarctica. Antarctica is stupid.
When Billy died at age 11 of a massive heart attack due to a diet consisting of nothing but pizza and Vanilla Coke, he thought about the day he murdered that little space caterpillar, Bacon Fart, in order to steal the technology that allowed him to take over the world. His last words; “SO worth it.”
He sees all his friends, old acquaintances, even his family, navigating life like masterful downhill skiers. Slicing between flags at blinding speeds, looking as calm as they would were they walking the grocery aisle. But then he looks to himself and sees a one-armed man trying to juggle for the first time. With axes. Blindfolded. And upside-down. Nothing comes easily except gaining weight and procrastinating. He doesn’t know why he can’t right himself on this river of existence. But at the same time, he does. Admitting to himself that he is lazy and unmotivated is not the hard part. It is sadly easy. What is difficult for him is fighting that truth. It is easier to stagnate and be mad at the universe than it is to stand up and cut your way through the jungle between yourself and your ideal. But there is always something missing.
If he had a better job he would be happy enough to make changes.
If his job had a better schedule he could be more creatively productive.
If he had a girlfriend he would be confident enough to take the steps needed to grow.
If he had more money he could work less and use that time to work out.
If he had higher self-esteem he could maintain a relationship.
If he wasn’t this, he could be that.
If he was here, he could go there.
If one, then the other.
If up, then down.
If future, then present.
If he had motivation, he could write. So he stood up, took a step, and he wrote this.
I was born here.
The door creaks and moans its protest as I enter. The floorboards cough dust upon my bare feet with every step. I lay my hands on the old furniture, still covered in the yellowing bed sheets, looking like so many corpses, and wonder why I bothered protecting sofas and chairs that I thought never again would receive guests.
I was born here.
I pull the curtains back from the dirt-coated windows and turn to see the now illuminated living room and, for a fleeting moment, it looks as it did once upon a time. The cat stretches on the new carpet, the Christmas tree blinks and shines in the corner, my family gathers around the television, my nephew thumps across the floor in search of new adventure. When I bat my eyes the years reassert themselves, and the cold clenches down upon the house once again. It takes me several seconds to realize that my mouth was open and my breath was drawn, ready to speak to these old ghosts. A loneliness the world has never known settles into my chest.
I was born here.
I light the candles. I remove the sheets. I clean the windows and the floor. I make everything come to life again. I sit down in the old recliner, preparing the stories I will tell. The door creaks and moans its protest as you enter. Come in. Sit down.
I have so much to tell you.
Mom painted the living room wall again. Of course she painted the entire room, but she always starts with that wall. She keeps coming up with reasons. Nicotine stains were getting bad, a new color will make the room look bigger, a new décor for the new millennium. Each time she does it, I watch her. It gets easier after the first wall. But I can see the pain in her face as she moves the roller up and down that side of the room. She pushes harder, adds an extra coat that she doesn’t need. It is because in her mind she still sees what was there before. So do I. But I’ve learned to control it.
We see Dad, sitting on the floor. The blood on the wall, almost dry, paints a trail from his head up to the six foot high smattering of holes in the wall, made by the household shotgun he used to keep in the hall closet. Self-defense, the police decided. Dad attacked her after she discovered obvious stains on their bed. The white stains were from him. The red stains were not. She defended herself and, at the same time, got her revenge.
I like the new wall color.
The key to eternal happiness was in the backyard.
When I was very young, my favorite spot in the backyard of my house was a tall, glorious tree, with deep green leaves and a thick climbable trunk. Spring would see it call me to its higher branches and show me the world, it shaded me from the summer sun, and the autumn wind would help it shower me playfully with gold and red. When winter would come it was my turn to help it. I would gaze at it through the window, letting it know I missed our time together. When the heavy snow weighed down its branches I would venture into the cold and shake the limbs I could reach, to relieve its burden if only a little. It was the least I could do, really.
As I grew closer to being a teenager I saw more and more of the details that made the tree what it was. The things you don’t notice when you’re too young. I followed the sap up to the rifts in the bark where it issued from and marveled at the fact that trees wept. Leaves would be blemished and incomplete, and I discovered that insects were feeding on my friend. Dad told me it was the way of things, that a tree so large was glad to offer food and shelter to the bugs, the birds, and even the boys who would sit beneath it. I even began to see the knots, the holes, the little nooks within the tree trunk. It occurred to me that one could hide things in them. Whatever you wanted to keep from the world around you, and have it be yours and only yours. Put it there, in the tree, and nobody would ever find it. I thought I could use them to hold my magic green penny, or the necklace I got from the girl in my spelling class whose name I couldn’t remember. But it was clear to me even then; this tree was too important for those kinds of things. When I was older, and had things truly of value, I would hide them here. Not before.
I was 18 years old when I discovered the key to eternal happiness. It was not the tree itself. The tree held the key. Like the young man I used to be, it kept its secrets inside the knots, the holes, the little nooks. I looked inside them in the spring and saw the tiniest of glimmers. A blue spark in one, a red glint in another. So many colors in so many places. I watched them grow, and in the summer they were glowing pulses of light that looked back into me as I gazed upon them in the shade. Autumn saw them evolve into ethereal flames, as though the birds kept a spectrum of campfires within the tree. My tree. Every color imaginable burned brightly inside it. Burned only for me. Even the cold and winter snow could not douse them, and they continued to shine, with their heatless fires telling me that I would soon understand why they were here, waiting for me to divine their secrets.
To this day, I cannot explain how I came to learn the truth about the fires in the tree. It was as though the knowledge simply grew within my mind as the flames grew in the tree. Wandering out to my backyard in the summertime, shortly after my 22nd birthday, I went from one flame to another and, as though I had always known the truth, I recognized what each dancing light truly was. Closest to the ground, nestled within the mossy bark, Patience glowed a soft amber. Above it burned Motivation, the green haze looking for all the world like a ghostly emerald. Each in turn showed me a different trait; Creativity, Passion, Empathy, Ambition, Wisdom, and even Humility. All of them waiting patiently, so still and so close I could literally reach out and touch them. I knew that with the slightest gesture I could pluck these fantastic gems from the trunk and branches, as if they were fruit, and take them into myself, to become the kind of man that so many people wish every day they could become. I could be armed with all the characteristics that successful people take for granted, and use them to shape my life in any way I wished. The key to eternal happiness was the sum of these mysterious, shimmering orbs.
And they wanted me to take them.
I will never really know why I waited. Perhaps I didn’t want to give up my chance to live a carefree life for just a bit longer. Perhaps I thought that with the fires waiting for me in the tree I could save them until I truly needed them. Maybe I was scared to succeed in life, and leave the comfortable cocoon of mediocrity I had built around myself. Regardless of the true reason, I trudged my way out to the backyard the morning after a heavy winter storm. I was 30 years old, and still enjoyed knocking the weighty snow from the branches of my ever-present tree. The morning was bitter, bringing that kind of cold you can never deflect. It cuts through to your bones without caring how many layers you’ve put on. When that monstrous wind reared up from the west, howling as though the sky itself despaired its fury, I was surprised, but still I knew what was going to happen moments before reality was shown. It was the sheen of ice that gave it all away. Every branch, every fencepost, house, mailbox, and car gave a mottled reflection of the streetlights and houselights around them. The sun had not yet shone itself that day, but it was clear to see. It had been an ice storm. For the briefest of moments I looked down at my feet, at the holes my boots had punched in the shell that sat atop the snow. Although the wind sounded like it was leaning in close and shouting directly into my ear alone, it could not drown out the sound of the impending disaster. Like a gunshot, sharp and horrific, I heard the surrender of one of the largest limbs on the tallest tree in our neighborhood. That tree was next door.
Moments expanded into years as I silently watched that massive arm, broken like the weakest of twigs, descend toward the tree, my tree, like a hammer swung by a malicious God. It looked as though my friend were made of paper, toppling almost without resistance as the branch slammed down upon it, sending shards of their icy skins scattering to the ground. I barely noticed the power lines pulling from their poles as the body of my tree, the oldest friend I had, crumpled to the snowy earth. Every light on the block winked out in unison, and the true darkness of that winter morning took a vicious grip on my world. I gazed across the yard, unable to bring myself to move, to run, to release the panic and disbelief of what I had just seen. All I could do was stare, unblinking, at the key to eternal happiness, with all its various shades and hues, slowly growing dimmer in the dying tree. Within what felt like a heartbeat and a lifetime at once, the flames had gone out, and I knew that I would never be able to shed the complacency that I had become so used to in my life.
I had arranged for the stump of that tree to be left untouched when the rest had been removed. It would have felt too much like forgetting, if I had allowed it to be taken away completely. The ice melted in time, and the snow began to retreat for another year. Inch by inch the grass began to advance on the remnants of winter as it waged its battle for spring. Before too long the nights became warmer, and the first buds began to appear on the surviving trees. Darkness settled over a surprisingly mild evening when I walked to the back door and took a moment to look upon that tree stump, still unaccustomed to the look of the yard. I could not believe it when I first saw it. It was too early in the year for fireflies, yet there, across the yard, was the faintest of glows. I almost feared opening the door, knowing that if I took even a step toward the tree stump I would be allowing my hopes to rise. When I decided to go take a closer look, I realized I was already halfway across the lawn. Kneeling down next to the stump, my eyes sparkled with the reflected light of a single, white flame. It was not like the fires that burned before the last winter. They had told me, somehow, that they were waiting for me, ready when I was. But as this guttering flare sat nestled in the remains of the once magnificent tree, it told me, with utter clarity, that I was waiting for it, and that I had always been ready. I asked myself what this flame represented, and the answer sprang forth like it had been inside me my entire life.
It was the key to never again making the mistake I had made. To never settling for what I had. To never allowing anyone or anything to decide the course of my life, other than myself.
It was a dream.