Thursday, July 27, 2006


In Which There is More Trouble in the Back Yard...

And so the rest of the summer passed uneventfully.

Okay, the next three weeks, anyway.

Wounds healed, routines were restored, what excitement there was to be had was had in ways that perfectly befit summer: I took Thomas to his first major league ballgame; we spent a stupid amount of money at amusement parks, we made plans for end-of-summer trips and back-to-school shopping.

Then, just when I thought things were well and truly settled down, the Brownie came bursting into the house one day and in short order I was reminded just whose life I was living.

The early moments of the event are sketchy. I remembered that Thomas and Her Lovely Self were the next block over, watering plants for a vacationing neighbor. I remembered that Blaze went with them. And I remembered that it was morning, a weekday morning, and I was taking a half-day from work. Which is to say I was nowhere near conscious when my daughter tromped in through the back door, carrying all her foxes and a picnic blanket with her. In the summer, she likes to have picnics with her animals, see, usually out under the leafy aspen on our side yard, especially in the cool of the early morning or evening. It's a quiet, secret-garden kinda place with good shade. Perfect spot for a little girl to hang out and have an imaginary bitch session with her foxes, right?

Evidently not this morning.

"Back so soon?" I asked, looking up from whatever the hell I was doing, probably trying to navigate a spoonful of sugar into a cup full of coffee. "Too hot already? Bees bugging you?" I asked. It had been getting heat-wave-warm earlier and earlier this month, and my daughter had been known to cancel picnics on account of heat, or bees (the foxes don't like either, you see).

The Brownie looked over at me. "Nope," she answered matter-of-factly, dumping her foxes into a handy beanbag. "We just came in. The man told us to."

Whatever the hell I was doing, it must have been pretty engaging, because it was several seconds before I summoned the presence of mind to ask the obvious question. When I finally did say, "Oh? What man, honey?" it was already rhetorical. This was a mid-week morning, a common time for landscapers and tree trimmers and such folk to be puttering about the yards of my neighbors. Sometimes they have to run a large, sharp, piece of machinery or spray some deadly toxin on neighboring dandelions, and when they do, they courteously warn whoever might be nearby. Surely someone like this had just told the Brownie to stand clear.

"The old man under my tree," she answered, arranging her foxes just so in the beanbag. "He said if I came back out there, I would get hurt."

Well, it wouldn't have mattered then if I had been engrossed in open heart surgery. When you've had the kind of month I've had, and you hear your 5-year-old girl tell you that an unidentified man standing under one of your trees has just warned her not to come back out or else she'll get hurt, you drop what you're doing and you pick up something else.

In my case, it was my trusty cricket bat, which I used to keep under my bed (don't ask, I just did, okay?) but now keep in the front closet, within easy reach of the door.

On my way back through the front hall, I paused at the dining room window, which gave me a partial view of the mighty aspen where the Brownie had just spoken to the stranger. It's a dark little grove that tree makes. The branches have been hanging especially low this year and that's deliberate: partly because they enhance the shade, and partly because I've been a little too busy the past, oh, two years, to actually go over to the side of my own house and trim them.

Now I wish I had. I couldn't see anyone.

I poked my head back around the kitchen door. Over in the family room, the Brownie had re-established her all-fox picnic--this time in front of the sofa--and seemed to take no note of my alarmed state.

"Honey, there's no man out there," I said. "Was he working in the neighbor's yard?"

She looked up. "No. I was having a picnic under the tree and he was just right there all sudden."

"Did he touch you? Did he--?"

"No," she said, slightly elongating the vowel sound, her first warning that she was clearly beginning to lose interest in the conversation. "He was just leaning on the tree. He was nice."

"What did he look like?"

Now the Brownie stopped fussing with her foxes and thought a moment. "He was big. He was like a giant," she said at last. "He had old hair (by this she meant white hair) and glasses. Oh, and he was dressed up like a farmer."

"You mean he was wearing green?" I asked, thinking for some reason of old Mr. Greenjeans from the Capt. Kangaroo TV show. But I also remembered one local lawn maintenance company dressed their employees in uniforms that more or less matched the vivid, unnatural shade of green their special chemical mix so often produced in my neighbors' lawns. "So he was in green clothes like the lawn guys?" I asked again.

"Noooooo," she exhaled. "He had a white shirt and farmer pants that come up the front." And she made a gesture that suggested suspenders of some kind. I frowned. Sure didn't sound like the Chem Lawn guy.

Then I understood.

And a wave of fear drenched me like a sudden waterfall.

"Overalls? You mean he was wearing overalls?" I asked weakly.

The Brownie nodded and went back to her indoor picnic.

An old guy wearing glasses and bib overalls.

There was only one man I'd seen dressed like that in the past few weeks: the man who owned a farm some 500 miles away. The man who kept an unregistered puppy farm on his premises. The man who I knew as the father of my nemesis, WW.

Fully awake now, I bolted into the kitchen and set the timer on the microwave for 5 minutes, then handed the Brownie the phone. "If I'm not back when that buzzer goes off, you know what to do," I said. She grabbed the phone like it was a great prize and nodded eagerly. I used to worry about making my kids overly anxious by going over the family emergency plans--you know, the usual What We Do In Case of Fire/Bad Guys/Daddy Knocks Himself Out--but the Brownie lives for these moments. She's a girl of action. Plus I think some part of her secretly wants to call 911 and tell the dispatcher that her father has brained himself on some low-hanging pipe.

"Now lock the doors behind me," I said. Then I was gone.

My neighbors are well used to watching me make a spectacle of myself, but even they were surprised to see me in my state that morning. Granted, I was still wearing my pajamas--a pair of boxer shorts and my t-shirt bearing the legend "Nice bongos"--and my hair was sticking straight up like someone who had just escaped a halfway house for hair product abusers. And of course I had the cricket bat, high over my head as I vaulted the front porch railing and pelted barefoot around the corner of the house to where the aspen sat.

I'd like to think that any man standing laconically under one of my trees, telling vaguely threatening things to my daughter, would have been a little startled to see me. I'd like to think I'd have gotten off one really good swing (and let me tell you, if you had to compose a list of things to have laid upside your head, a cricket bat would go way down at the bottom. It's flat, it gives maximum thwack, and it hurts like a mad bastard).

Except no one was there.


For a brief moment, I felt this odd, hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck chill, like I had just stepped into a forbidden forest. But it was just a little spot of shade on the side yard and in a moment it was pretty obvious no man was crouched there in the shade, trying to hide. I peered over my neighbor's fence, craning around, looking for a landscaper, a lawn mower, a meter reader. Nobody.

I was completely alone in my back yard.

And I haven't even gotten to the strangest part yet…


Dude! Just what in the hell is going on with your life? Given the recent events, it may be time to supplant the cricket bat (no doubt a fine weapon in close quarters) with some defensive perimeter weapons. It sounds as though BB is military. I might be thinking he should bring back some Improvised Explosive Devices and you should ring your property with them. Hope everything turns out ok.
You really do like the cliff hangers, don't you?

I'm not complaining, at all, just sayin'.

Keep up the great writing! I suppose after everything that has gone on, a man deserves some time off to spend with his family, but we miss you when you take days off.

Thanks for being out there -- you're a pleasure to read.
Nope. I've seen it too many times to let it keep passing by. I'm officially asking about the cricket bat kept under the bed. What gives? Who'll join me in the quest for that answer? Also throwing in a guess for the "rest of the story". Given the recent post by the four legged family member, knowing the daughter heeded the warning of the old man who wasn't there, my guess is that a nest of some nasty bees fell out of the tree, they all came out hopping mad and stung you enough to make you very sick.
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Wow! Awesome. I learnt something today... Americans have at some point played cricket. Wow. (I honestly didn't think that you lot would know what it was, let alone how to play it!) I repeat. Wow.

Anyway, gee, Magazine Man, I hope that all this is just the product of an over-active imagination and not something more serious.

I wouldn't like this to escalate for you all again.

Yeah! You're Back! That was the first thought that went through my head when I saw this post. After I read it (and wow, what a surprise...another cliffhanger to drive us all crazy :-) ) I am thinking your daughter has some kind of strong this where we get to hear about her dream??
I say it all the time- 'Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it'. I wished for a post. I longed for it even. And now it is here, and I am DYING!!! MM- you are a true wordsmith. Can't wait to continue to live the story.
Hmmm...if we were guessing what comes next I'd say you find out WW's father died and the Brownie has inherited her father's ghost-feeling abilities...Please don't leave us in suspense too long!!
The advantage of reading you for a couple of months is that I was able to set myself up for a cliff hanger buy the end of the second paragraph. I thought about waiting to read the whole thing together, but God knows I don’t have that kind of self control.
Cold spot?
Ghost? I'm rooting for ghost, rather than the father of the Holy Hell Puppy Farm bastard.

I love the idea of "If I'm not back when that buzzer goes off, you know what to do,". I do not have such a plan with my kids, and I know I should. This will definitely prompt conversation at our house tonight.
Yes, Katie and Shafa, my first response to this was

Ghost! GHOST!!!
Although in the past it seemed that the Brownie realized it when it was a ghost. Would she conveniently not mention that fact?
I'm voting & hope for some sort of apparition..
Ohmigod my heart was racing and my eyes widened and I started developing a nervous twitch in my face as I read this. Considering your history of late, I think it's warranted.
1. Goddamn you and your cliffhangers.

2. What blogs do YOU read? Aside from Nickerblog, b/c I already know of that one. Do they torture you with cliffhangers, inspiring your penchant for suspense? ;)
Yay! You're back!! We've missed you!

You definitely have a great story going already to pull all of us back in. I hope that truly wasn't WW's father...I have an idea of what might have happened, but I'll just keep quiet and see if I'm right...
(Insert really cheesy comment here.)
AARRGH! Another cliffhanger. Well, looking forward to seeing what happens next, anyhow.
Ok, I really feel the need to stand up for cliffhangers. (Yes, I know, almost all of you are teasing, but I bet more than one of you aren't completely kidding)... I love these cliffhangers. They really give my imagination a workout, and they give me a reason to look ahead. Lord, don't we need a little more of that in this day and age? Another thing: This is how some of our greatest writers would release their tales. Charles Dickens is a classic example, as he released The Pickwick Papers in installments over time. Stephen King released The Green Mile this same way. Yes, I agree, it can be tough to have to be patient, but I believe that this is a muscle that the human collective needs exercised.
I'm going to guess that wee weenie's dad felt really shitty about all that happened to you, sold one of his precious inbred dogs, took the cash, and the beat up family truck, drove the 500+ miles to your house (which he found out about from Faith, the ever helpful) and left an envelope full of cash under your tree... no signature of course, but you know who it's from.

But, seeing as how these stories never turn out that way, I will just have to wait for the real ending!!
Anxiously awaiting the next post...
Goodness, I don't mind the cliffhangers (as a matter of fact, I really admire the artistry involved in finding just the right spot to keep us hanging) but did it have to be on a Friday? I don't have internet at home, so now I have to wait the entire weekend for resolution. Aaaarrrggghh!
DAMN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He's back, cliff hangers an all!

BIG Sigh Do we have to wait 'til Monday?

grumble, grumble

I guess its something to look forward to on Monday.

I hope this turns out to be nothing but an odd ball hobo.
No InterWebs at home? We have to do something about that. How about semaphore? We could arrange for someone to stand on Mount Greylock and re-transmit the concluding post through signal flags.

By the way, I hope my wife doesn't read this, as she would love it if we didn't have 'net in our house, as she is a widow to the series of tubes that make up the World Wide Web.
yes! the days of the old cliffhangers have returned. You know, the ones where we know all is going to be well at the end of the telling, and we're just along for the ride.

Another reason to reload the MM page a few times this weekend. :)

My gues, it's Grandpa. You know, MM's Grandpa who recentely left us all. I think he's watching out for the Brownie. He was really tall after all. Don't know if he was a farmer or even someone Brownie'd recognize.

We shall see.
Oooh, I like Melissa's idea of it being Grandpa. I didn't think of that, but if the man was a ghost, that would make sense. And with Brownie and her dreams, it also makes sense that she would have no problem seeing ghosts. BUT...WHY was she in danger in the backyard?? My goodness, I am WAY too involved in your mysteries MM!!
I'm sure we will have to wait till monday but I'll still keep checking..just in case!
Could it just be the Brownie's creative imagination?
Brownie sees dead people!
Please tell me this doesn't end with you being dead for the past 5 years. LOL
So what was damaged when the tree was hit by lightning (and/or fell over)?
Well, Christ, MM. This time, you actually got me to yell "Oh god!" out loud. Damn. I've got the clammy feet freak out thing going on.

Thank you for making me feel more normal and less like Valhalla's weirdness magnet.
From what MM has told us, his grandpa wasnt the overall-wearing type. I think it was Jenny the Boy Fox in disguise.

You might as well tell us all what happened about Jenny. We will keep aksing till you do.
I've got a cricket bat under my bed. And some wickets. A cricket ball at high speed does serious damage too.
OK. So like, did you ever turn on late night TV and catch episode three of a five part horror series? It's two in the morning, and you have to figure out how to remind yourself to come back and see what happens...

You put a post-it on your TV.. You set your alarm clock for 1:45 am. You pre-oil a pan and put popping corn in it...

Or you add this blog to your favorites and post-it alarmingly...
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