Roy and the Miniature Volcanoes

An exercise in Creative Nonfiction. I wrote a whole humor book on this stuff: Musings on Minutiae

We should have answered the door after the second knock, but because our neighborhood is full of salesmen and Jehovah’s Witnesses, we waited until the pounding came a third time and was emphasized by a muffled vocalization of, “Sherriff’s Department!”

When most people think of Orlando, Florida, they assume that our days are full of sunshine and Mickey Mouse ears. This particular Sunday had neither. In fact, it was pouring down rain outside. For most of the afternoon my wife, Amanda, and I had heard a man wandering the neighborhood hollering out the name “Roy.” We assumed this fellow was out in search of a lost dog, but once the police came to our door, everything changed.

Amanda and I opened the door to see two drenched officers staring back at us. Illumined by our porch light they proceeded to question us regarding the disappearance of an 8-year-old neighborhood boy named Roy. After understanding that we hadn’t seen Roy, the Officers asked if they might look in the back yard. This was not a problem, until they asked if they might come through the house to get there.

My wife is a “Southern Girl” so the idea of inviting someone into the home without a clean house and food to offer goes against everything she believes in. This Sunday was also “Laundry Day,” so our home was in disarray with piles upon piles of clothing scattered everywhere, which at a glance looked like miniature, multicolored volcanoes.

As the officers made their way inside, I noticed that Amanda’s face had gone pale. Without warning, she darted in front of them picking up piles of clothing and throwing them out of the Officer’s way.

“Don’t mind the mess!” she hollered nervously, “I’m sorry!”

Most likely having seen it all in their line of work, the Officers walked through the room toward the back door. Then she said something that made one of the Officers flinch.

“I swear it’s never like this!” Amanda continued, “Please don’t look over here — Don’t pay attention to the mess!”

Once the Officers were in the backyard and the sliding glass door closed behind them, I turned my attention to my wife. In her dirt-induced panic she didn’t realize how completely and utterly suspicious she was acting. I reminded her that when the police are looking for something, the last thing you want to tell them is “Don’t look over here.”

She agreed to calm down and let me do the talking. The Officers returned to let us know they’d received a call that Roy had been found. Amanda stood quietly while I escorted our guests to the door. They apologized for the interruption and took their leave.

Once the door was closed behind them, Amanda stood amongst the dirty clothes volcanoes staring at the tile floor. The police had left muddy footprints the length of the kitchen and I knew right then and there, we’d be cleaning for the rest of the night.

Wires

[An exercise in dialogue-only writing.]

“Are they all loaded up, Officer Vance?” asked the Captain.
“Yes, Captain Stevens,” Vance began. “We’re about to transport the criminals downtown.”
“Good. I’m glad that’s all settled,” sighed the Captain.
“But…” started Vance, “We’ve got another problem.”
“Oh, cripes. What now?” lamented Stevens.
Officer Vance continued, “Seems our perps left a little surprise for us in the event that they were captured.”
“Did they set the money on fire?” offered the Captain.
“Worse,” Vance hesitated. “There’s a bomb in the moneybag.”
“There’s a—You’re kidding me!” fumed the Captain. “Call Montgomery. He’ll diffuse it!”
“Montgomery’s on vacation, Captain,” imparted Vance.
“So? Call him and get him down here,” Stevens ordered.
Vance murmured, “Might be difficult, Sir.”
“And why is that?” Stevens interrogated.
“He’s in Fiji.”
“Of course he is,” retorted Stevens. “We finally have an explosive situation in this town and our one-man bomb squad is off sipping drinks on a beach in Fiji.”
“I’ll bet the drinks have little umbrellas in them, Captain,” smiled the Officer.
“Focus, Vance!” hollered Stevens. “Who else do we have who could diffuse this situation?”
“That’s clever, Captain,” mused the Officer. “I see what you did there.”
“I wasn’t making a joke,” snorted Stevens. “Call someone over from the Omaha precinct.”
“Won’t do any good,” started the Officer. “That’s a least an hour away. According to the timer on the bomb we only have ten minutes left.”
“Then the situation’s worse than I imagined,” whispered the Captain. “There’s only one thing left to do…”
“Orders, Sir?”
“Get me the President,” commanded Stevens.
“Why would the President come all the way out to Nebraska for this?” questioned the Officer.
“He won’t, Vance,” chuckled Stevens. “But how often do I get to say something dramatic like that?”
Now we’re joking, Sir?” Vance protested.
Stevens added, “That was just some light humor to take the sting off of the bad news I’m about to give you.”
“Bad news, Sir?”
“Yes,” stated Stevens. “You see, Vance, you’re going to have to disarm the bomb.”
“But Captain,” stuttered the Officer, “That’s not my area of expertise!”
“You took the Intro to Explosives Ordinance Disposal course at the Academy?” queried the Captain.
“I did.”
“Then congratulations, Officer,” grinned Stevens. “You’re certified to handle this task. In fact, you’re probably more qualified than Montgomery, that slacker.”
“Oh Captain, you’re on fire today with the jokes,” laughed the Officer. “You really had me going there for a second.”
“Still not joking,” admitted Stevens. “Get in there, Vance.”
Vance stammered, “I-I don’t know about this, Sir…”
“Trust me, you’ll be fine,” assured the Captain. “Here’s a walkie-talkie and some wire cutters. I’ll guide you through the whole process.”
“I’m entering the bank now, Captain,” explained Vance, “There’re bullet holes all over the place…I’m heading into the vault…I see the moneybag…I’ve opened it, and I’m looking at the bomb…Looks like we have five minutes remaining…Sir? …Are you still there? …Sir?”
“Give me a second!” demanded Stevens.
“What are you doing, Captain?” questioned Vance. “We’re running out of time!”
“I’m running a Google search for ‘how to diffuse a bomb’ on my phone,” Stevens remarked.
“That’s really comforting, Sir,” sighed the Officer.
“Yeah, except my 3G is slow as molasses,” explained Stevens. “Hold on a minute.”
“You’ve got about three of them,” grunted Vance. “I’ve opened the casing and I’m looking at three wires.”
“Sounds pretty standard,” noted the Captain. “Wikipedia says not to cut the red wire.”
“I think that we should call Montgomery,” insisted Vance. “I trust him over the Internet’s free encyclopedia…that anyone can edit.”
“I don’t think so, Officer,” replied Stevens. “Unless you’ve produced an international calling card from that moneybag, I’m not paying the oversea charges.”
“So what do I do?”
“Do you see the blue wire?”
“I don’t see a blue wire, Sir,” confessed Vance.
“How about a green wire?”
“I don’t see one of those either, Sir,” he replied.
“Fine, Vance,” scolded Stevens. “I’ll play your game. What colors do you see?”
“None, Sir,” confessed the Officer.
“None!?” repeated Stevens.
“You see, Captain… I’m—uh—I’m color blind,” revealed Vance.
“Well then…” started Stevens, “Our situation has not improved at all. How much longer on the timer?”
“Two minutes.”
“Let us take a moment and consider how Montgomery’s vacation single-handedly ruined our careers,” mumbled Stevens.
Vance started, “But, Sir, you’re the one who ordered me to—“
“Okay, enough considering, Vance,” interjected Stevens, “Pick a wire and snip it! Do your civic duty!”
“Which wire?” stressed Officer Vance.
“Just pick one!” encouraged the Captain.
“I can’t make up my mind!” Vance squealed.
“Fine!” commanded Stevens, “Cut the one on the left, Vance.”
“My left or your left?” Vance quizzed.
“Who cares anymore?” screamed Captain Stevens, “We’re dead men!”
“Okay!” cheered Vance. “Wire cut!”
“Which one did you sever?” asked the Captain.
“All of them, Sir. We got to the five second mark and I panicked,” said Vance.
“Well then, here’s some good news for you,” announced Stevens.
“I’m not dead?” questioned the Officer.
“No, Vance, my 3G finally caught up!” surmised Stevens.
“Figures,” vented Vance.
“Now for the bad news, Officer…” breathed the Captain.
“Oh no…what is it, Sir?” sighed Vance.
“The article that I’m reading now…” declared the Captain, “It suggests that under no circumstances should we cut the blue wi–”

 

The Leaper

The empty M&M’s candy wrapper flittered on the draft produced by the window air conditioning unit, ultimately coming to its final resting place upon Vincent Cambridge’s right foot. He twitched his boot, sending it sliding to the carpet below his feet. He winced at the pain in his knee as he did so. He often forgot that even though he was only thirty-five years old in mind, his physical form was closer to eighty-five. He avoided his reflection like the plague these days. It was a side effect of the time traveling that he was working hard to cope with.

Within seconds, the pain was gone and he stood in the darkened apartment distracted by the television in front of him. The light from the TV illuminated his face as he watched Big Bird and Elmo dancing around on the screen. He’d forgotten that people actually watched this show. Of course, back in 1989, Sesame Street wasn’t the only questionable thing happening in society.

Sidling up to the TV and rotating the plastic volume handle to the zero position, the cacophony of children playing with mysterious creatures diminished, leaving the room filled only with the sound of the air conditioning unit, which had become nothing more than a dull buzz in the background. Vincent took a few careful steps backward and lowered himself into the easy chair behind him. He took a few moments to contemplate his surroundings and mused at what filled the familiar, yet foreign room. To his right, a picture of a man and a woman attempting to connect arms around the base of a massive African baobab tree. To his right, another photograph of the same man and woman on either side of an Eskimo, with what appeared to be his igloo in the background. Hanging over the TV was a picture of the woman coddling what appeared to be a wombat, her face full of apprehension. It was obvious that this couple enjoyed traveling, and was the most obvious reason as to why they didn’t appear to be home at present.

Vincent liked to travel as well, but it was never for pleasure. Only business. This San Francisco address had always been his base of operations: 2857 Sunshadow Street. Wherever he was in time, he always tried to locate the address. It made his life easier to have a central location. Though the place always looked different, he felt geographically sound. It was much better than his actual home, which was nothing more than a cave deep under the Bay City. The place was a breeding ground for hopelessness, but in his time, they don’t dare go to the surface.

He paused, considering his next move… considering his next place. His central mission remained the same: find a way to shut down The Corporation or ensure it ceased to exist. He’d been a Time Leaper for so long, that he was having trouble recounting everything that he’d tried. Before he could further contemplate how to save his time from ever being oppressed and at the mercy of those who would test on innocents and force them into temporal servitude, Vincent heart the faint tinkling of a key ring at the apartment door.

Moving with a youthful fervor, Vincent made his way into the darkened apartment kitchen just as the door opened. In sauntered the couple from the photos. They were loud and boisterous, exchanging comments about the dinner from minutes previous. By the volume of their speech and the faint smell of aged bourbon, he could tell that they’d been drinking, and finding an old man in their home would likely only complicate the situation.

His back to the wall, Vincent slinked underneath the wall phone, listening intently. This wasn’t the first time he’d have to sneak his way out of trouble, and unless something went extremely wrong, it likely wouldn’t be his last. He considered simply traveling to a different time, but how much more could his body actually take? The rush of moving through time and space was addicting and he forced the thought down in his brain, reminding himself that notions like this one were what caused his wrinkles in the first place.

The couple had moved to the living room couch where they continued to talk about everything and nothing with much exuberance. Vincent’s eyes darted around the kitchen, taking everything in. He sniffed the air, picking up the aroma of gas from the nearby oven. His geriatric nose wrinkled. It reminded him of the jet fuel they used to power the city in his time. His eyes scanned the room, looking for any tool that could aid in his escape. On the counter he spotted several pots and pans. He’d prefer not to injure anyone if he could avoid it. He’d learned the hard way not to affect the time streams he visited. Next to the kitchenware was a rotten white potato, obviously left to die when dinner plans changed. On the kitchen table were two crochet needles intertwined with red and blue yarn. A tiny, cat-sized sweater appeared to be in progress between them. Vincent quickly made his choice and reached for the slimy potato.

If he could throw the spud over their heads and distract them, perhaps he could make a quick escape through the front door. He had trouble lifting his hands past his shoulders these days, but any option that let him continue his mission was currently being weighed out. He turned around to sneak to the kitchen door and found himself face to face with the male homeowner.

“Who the heck are you!?” Hollered the man, obviously startled.

Before Vincent could give it a second thought, he instinctively reached into the deep recesses of his brain and activated the implant left so long ago by The Corporation when he was taken against his will. In the blink of an eye, Vincent was gone, leaving the man standing in his kitchen alone. The man was slightly confused, but in the morning he would only have the alcohol to blame for his hallucination.

***

Vincent had jumped three years into the future. He was still in the apartment of 2857 Sunshadow Street, but the kitchen had received a fresh coat of wallpaper and the furniture was different. As he sauntered his way into the living room, he rubbed his cheek. Had he gained another wrinkle? He couldn’t bring himself to locate a mirror to find out. As before, the living room was dark, illuminated only by the television. On the couch slept a college-age female, wrapped in a blanket and snoring loudly. He remembered the show currently playing on the TV. It was a sci-fi program called Quantum Leap. He chuckled to himself, considering how it paved the way for his entire reality. The old man went back into his head, considering his next move in the never-ending battle against The Corporation. Before he was completely lost in thought, he realized that right then, he’d give anything for a bag of M&M’s.

Jack’s Prison

We waited in darkness. It’d been weeks since we’d last seen Jack, but as always, we knew that he’d come around eventually. Mayo and I have done our best to coordinate our efforts with Bread, but he was on the outside and communication was spotty at best. Last we saw he’d been relocated into a woven solitary confinement cell. I’d been in this cold prison for weeks, but Mayo told me he’d been locked up for so long that he’d lost track. Even though Mayo stayed in the bunk above me, his aroma wafted down, constantly making me nauseous. To me, he smelled of rotten eggs. The smell was just one of myriad reasons to make an escape.

Once in a while, Allyson, the human female would unlock the cell long enough to give us a burst of fresh air and to deliver another cellmate. I lived for these moments as it was nice to see daylight and provided momentary relief from Mayo’s stench. Whenever a new prisoner joined us, we’d try to bring them into our caper, but they weren’t always social. I honestly thought that Tuna could serve as the perfect diversion, but she assured us that she could last another year or so in the cell if she had to. Eventually, Allyson stopped delivering us allies and hopelessness started to set in. Then one day, everything changed.

“Ham!” came Mayo’s voice from somewhere within the murkiness. “I think he’s coming!”

I held my breath, closed my eyes, and focused. Over the hum of the cooling unit I recognized the muffled sound of size ten footsteps. They were definitely getting closer.

“This is it,” I advised to anyone who might be listening. “Just like we planned!”

In reality, it took mere seconds, though at the time, my world moved in slow motion. The door to our prison began to open and the sunlight from the window across the chasm flooded in, beating the darkness around us into submission. My rump was sore from weeks of sitting on the same plastic grating, I wondered if it had left permanent marks on my posterior. Jack’s face appeared in the doorway. He looked sadder than normal, but I wasn’t about to let our captor’s feelings distract me from my impending freedom.

Then the unthinkable happened.

After contemplating each of the captives, Jack grabbed me by the neck and pulled me from the depths. I could barely breathe as I was whisked from the dungeon and tossed aside. I landed on a hard surface and the wind was knocked right out of me. With stars in my eyes I could see Mayo right behind me. He landed nearby and I feared we both might be suffering from internal injuries. In a surprising turn of events, Tuna was the last to be pulled before the prison door closed yet again. My heart sank and I felt envy for those who remained inside. There was no telling what horrors we were about to suffer. Our well thought out plan had gone quickly awry.

It pains me to admit that there’s nothing we could do as Jack took a wicked metal device and began plunging it into poor Tuna’s head. As if the stabbing weren’t enough, this human monster cut Tuna’s skull right open and dumped her brain into a container, setting her lifeless body beside us. Mayo and I watched in horror as Jack summoned his beast. The creature’s roar made me tremble and it wasted no time in devouring Tuna’s gray matter. I don’t know what Jack had gone through, but one thing was for certain: he had become merciless.

A thump to my right snapped me back into the present and I noticed Bread had been dropped beside me, the next in a potential line of victims. There were no words exchanged. We simply looked at one another in horror. Jack had clearly figured out our plans for escape and we were all about to pay the price.

Without warning, Jack grabbed a knife and plunged it deep into Mayo, twisting the blade for good measure. In a disgusting turn of events he scooped my friend’s entrails from his body and plastered them across Bread’s face. I could never imagine something so grotesque and yet here it was, happening before my eyes.

My time had come and Jack cruelly set me on top of my friend’s creamy white insides and attempted to suffocate me with one of Bread’s brothers who’d also been slathered in what was left of Mayo’s organs. I never thought it would come to this. I regretted every decision I’d made within that prison and every late night Mayo and I had spent discussing our escape.

In what was now a pile of heinous conspirators, we were scooped up and hovered toward Jack’s mouth, a field of sharp white teeth moving to greet us. I squealed in pain as the flesh was ripped from my body. Pain struck me from every direction and my vision began to blur. I had to stay conscious if there was any hope to survive.

After his first attack, Jack winced and I considered the possibility that I might see tomorrow after all. I managed to race through the seven stages of grief in record time. A single tear streamed down Jack’s cheek and I hoped that he was finally coming to his senses.

My bubble of hope burst as the onslaught of teeth made their final approach. It had become crystal clear that the only true escape was death.

Hugh.

Hugh flicked the light switch into the upward position and the aged fluorescent bulb in the kitchen flickered three times, struggling for life. The tube stabilized, reflecting off the ugly green sink tile and filled the room with a sickly glow. As Hugh shuffled his bare feet into the room he winced, remembering why his wife had wanted him to install a different color tile. This caused Hugh to pause and smile. He missed Emma. Or was it Anna? It was definitely Emma. Lately, Hugh was having trouble remembering things. Even the slightest moments of clarity brought small pockets of joy to his day.

Had he showered today? Had he shaved? Raising a callused hand to his face, the familiar scratch of his gray whiskers across his palm accurately answered one of his questions. Why had he come into the kitchen? The disorientation was always worst at night. His dark brown eyes scanned the countertop, pausing on a half loaf of bread, the wrapper of which hung wide open. Of one thing Hugh was certain: He was hungry. He always preferred to go to bed on a full stomach. It helped him sleep.

His arthritic fingers opened and closed around two pieces of the hardening white bread. He removed them from the plastic and placed them on the counter side by side. A quick shuffle to his right put him face to face with the icebox, and with a quick yank, the door opened toward him. Hugh paused, enjoying the rush of cool air, which relieved the heat of an otherwise stale evening.

From the depths of the refrigerator he removed a sack of pre-packaged turkey meat and on his second trip into the chill, a container of store-brand mayonnaise and a jar of bread and butter pickles. He always preferred those to the Kosher Dill. Didn’t he? He was certain he did. He reached below the counter to fetch a butter knife from the drawer but something in the sink caught his eye.

Cautiously, Hugh reached down into the disposal side of the double sink and retrieved a butter knife, the dull blade covered in what appeared to be mayonnaise. He brought the utensil close, turning it over in his hands as he inspected the condiment-covered edge. It was definitely mayonnaise, and it was fresh. He could tell because it hadn’t turned the clear color that comes with extended exposure to the air. Had he already eaten? He couldn’t remember. Still holding the knife, he peered down to investigate the front of his green and brown plaid robe.

His bushy eyebrows narrowed as he acknowledged the breadcrumbs lining the front of the garment and gathering throughout his chest hair like some sort of edible ascot. Frustrated at his sudden lapse in memory he grabbed a clump of turkey from the bag and slammed it onto one slice of bread. Two pickles swiftly followed, landing atop the meat mountain. Hugh glared at the mayonnaise, a silent argument waging between them.

If he had already eaten once tonight, then he had no desire to digest the same meal twice. He was certain that he’d purchased mustard on his last trip to the corner market. But when was that? Last week? Longer? A quick search through the refrigerator proved fruitless. Frustrated, he began rummaging through his cabinets and it wasn’t long before he saw the jar of mustard inside. To his dismay, it was several shelves up and far out of an old man’s reach. Why would he inconvenience himself so?

Mustering up whatever strength was left in his tired bones Hugh managed to drag a wooden chair from the nearby table to its resting place beneath the cupboard. After an unsteady climb, he retrieved his prize and getting down proved much easier than his ascent. He quickly went to work squeezing the mustard onto the sandwich. In his state of bliss, he didn’t bother to remove the chair from the kitchen, but rather, sat upon it, bringing the sandwich to his salivating mouth.

The first bite brought Hugh to a point somewhere between ecstasy and pure contentment. He chewed and smiled and laughed as he ate. Suddenly, the chewing froze. The clouds of the old man’s mind had parted and filled with sunlight and a rare moment of clarity tore through an otherwise foggy day. All it took was one lucid second for Hugh to remember one important thing: He was deathly allergic to mustard.