Daniel’s Door

Daniel’s Door

The door was locked. Of course it was locked. Why wouldn’t it be locked? You need three keys to open it. The doorknob is a glass skull. And the door is engraved with strange symbols. When you come across the only door on the third story of your new home that is, of course, down the street from a cemetery, it’s going to be locked.

“Dad!” I yell down the stairwell. I don’t know if he can hear me; this house is really big. It’s bigger than any house we’ve lived in before. It looks like a small castle from the outside so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by a mysterious door.

“Dad! Did you know there’s a locked door up here on the third floor?” I look but don’t lean over the banister. It’s a little rickety. Dad’s going to fix that up real good. He’ll make it look great, then we’ll move again. “Dad!”

I see his head, just his head, tilt up from the bottom floor. (First the cemetery, then the door, now a disembodied head. This is only going to get worse, isn’t it?) Dad’s face is flushed red; he must be carrying something heavy into the house.

“Daniel! We’re a little busy down here. What is it?” he barks. He gets snippy when he’s busy and he forgets to eat something.

“There’s a door up here on the third floor. It’s got weird stuff written all over it and a glass skull for a doorknob. It’s locked. Do you have the keys?”

“What do you mean ‘keys’? I didn’t even know there was a door up there,” he says.

It’s a little strange that he doesn’t know about the door. He’s an architect with an eye for detail. That’s what mom says, anyway. He’s got, what did she call it? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? With dad being so particular about things, mom likes to amuse herself by messing with him, like when she leaves the cap off the toothpaste. It’s mostly amateur stuff, although I’d hate to see what she’s capable of when she puts her mind to it.

“I’ll take a look at it later,” dad’s voice floats away with his head.

I try to look under the door but the quarter inch or so doesn’t give me much to work with. It does seems bright in there, though, more than sunlight can account for. Looking out the nearest window I can see nothing but grey sky. So, it’s definitely not sunlight. Is it a portal to another dimension? Something catches my ear.

I press me ear against the door so hard I’m going to bruise my cheek. It’s worth it, I decide. It’s worth it because there’s definitely someone in there. Find the three rabbits, they’re saying over and over. I peel my ear off the door slowly. Should I bother mom and dad with this? I thumb my lips. No, they’re busy. I can handle this.

Normally, I’d be bored with our new house by now and I’d be out exploring the neighborhood for the rest of the day. Okay, two or three days, over which time mom and dad think I’ve run away. But I’ve been twelve years old for five months; you’d think they’d trust me to know what I’m doing by now. I don’t know how many times I’ve told them that explorers aren’t runaways. They’re simply curious people. The local police don’t seem to understand this either. I’ve never wanted to be a policeman. They just obey orders.

I trundle down the winding staircase. My feet slap the first floor and I whip my head around. Dad’s out at the moving truck and mom’s in the kitchen looking around. She’s either lost something or planning a joke on dad. Not my problem.

“Mom!” My voice startles her and she clutches her shirt. She turns towards me. Before she can ask I put it to her. “Have you seen any rabbits around here?”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Why on earth are you looking for a rabbit, honey?”

I put my hands out to stop her there. I dip my head. I don’t want to get snippy like dad. “Just, please, have you seen any rabbits?”

Mom looks out the back door into the vast, lush, but overgrown garden. “No, I haven’t seen any, but I’m sure there are some around, in a vegetable patch I imagine. This is a big piece of land.” Still staring out the door, she continues. “This one’s going to take a lot of work.” I don’t think she’s talking to me anymore, but then she returns her attention to me.

“Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer,” she directs me. Is she kidding?

I burst out the back door, a butterfly trying to race a bullet. Time is of the essence. At least I think it is. Wait, what if I’m dealing with a ghost? What does time mean to the dead? Question for another day. Finding myself surrounded by shrubs, flower beds, and broken pots, my eyes scour the ground for a rabbit. Nothing here in the backyard. I’ll have to go further afield.

I walk along the edge of the property where there’s a craggy, makeshift rock wall. At the furthest corner of the property I come upon a collection of statues. A fish, a dog, an owl; it’s like a petrified zoo. Whoever lived here before was weird. Whoever’s in that room doesn’t have time for this, so I turn away. I turn away and catch a glimpse of a small stone rabbit. Could this be what the person in the room is talking about?

I pick the statuette up and turn it over and over searching for a key. Nothing, so naturally I smash it on the ground. It crumbles into small grey chunks and dust. After seeing that there’s no key inside of the statuette, I wonder if mom and dad will be upset that I’m breaking stuff. I don’t usually do things like this so it’ll give dad something new to yell at me about. A thought like that would usually make me sad, until I see something poking out of the ground nearby. Clearly not a rock or a stick I tug it out of the ground and shake the dirt off of it. It’s a skeleton key, as in, it’s made to look like it was made out of bones. It’s metal, of course, and caked with soot. Someone tried to destroy this key. Obviously they failed and tossed it away. Careless. This has to be what I’m looking for.

I have to find two more keys to open the door. It seems I’m not looking for actual rabbits so my eyes dart around the landscape, searching for another stone rabbit. A good mystery isn’t going to just give itself up so easily, though, so maybe I should be looking for something else that looks like a rabbit. I’ll have to hurry; the sky has gotten darker. It’s either getting late or it’s going to rain, hard.

The yard around the house is bigger than I thought. I’ve circled the perimeter three times now and I can’t come up with anything else. There is this one knotty tree with its roots all gnarled at the ground. Maybe I am looking for an actual rabbit. I look for a rabbit hole and it looks like there may be one. It’s not too big but then I don’t know how big the rabbits get out here. I stick my hand into the abyss which winds up being nothing more than a deep gouge in the earth. I have to admit I’m a little frustrated. I lean against the tree and toss my head back.

Ow! There’s a huge knot in the bark and it bites me. I spin around and give it a glare as if it should know better. Only – I tilt my head to the right – it looks kind of like a rabbit at this angle. There must be a key around here somewhere! I circle the tree, looking up, then down, then up. What’s that on that branch? A rabbit’s foot? And there’s a key chained to it. I’ll have to climb and go out on a limb for it, maybe even jump for it. Mom always calls me her little monkey. It shouldn’t be that hard.

About eight feet into the canopy I try to balance on the branch. It’s not strong enough and I hear an audible snap. I leap for the keychain, grabbing it with one hand while latching onto the branch with the other. I swing, a chime in the wind, and the branch breaks completely. I sail, first like a paper, then like a rock. Landing on my back knocks the wind out of me. I’m okay but I could have done without that happening. Why do action heroes in the movies always look like they don’t mind being nearly blown up? At least I have the key. I open my hand. It’s a regular key, a little rusty. One more to go.

I stand up and brush the debris off me. I don’t know where to look next or what I might be looking for. My face scrunches up to one side. I know, mom, I know; Your face will freeze like that if you keep making that face. Watermelon seeds sprouting in my stomach, getting cramps if I swam after eating, Santa…I don’t know if I can believe her anymore. No more than I believe what just skittered across my feet.

A white rabbit, or was it a bolt of lightning? It was moving fast and dodged into the shrubs a few yards away. I put one foot in front of the other and I’m there not nearly as quickly. Here little rabbit, I try to coo. I need your help. After rustling through some brush, it bolts again, back towards the house then makes a sharp turn to the right. It’s in and out of the groundcover. I’m never going to catch that thing! It’s like it’s late for a very important…hmm.

Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer, I remember mom saying. Let’s see; a white rabbit, a collection of fairy tales, and now I’m the bolt of lightning. I’m in the house so quickly the thought of maybe being able to catch the rabbit after all gets left behind. I zig, I zag, and I’m in the study. I run a hand along the books lining the shelves. The sweet smell of mom’s dinner wafts in the room and it threatens to distract me. It’s foolish to undertake an adventure on an empty stomach – that’s what mom always says – but I don’t know if time is running out. Besides, mom’s concoctions might smell good but they can be inconsistent. My eyes and hands continue their search.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Found it! Can it really be this easy? (Not that I haven’t spent most of my day on this.) I pull the book so hard it slips out of my hands and thumps against the floor. A long gold key with its bow fashioned into a heart tumbles across the floor. I don’t question the key-maker’s motives. I’ve found the three keys!

I whip across the house back towards the staircase. I almost knock dad over, forcing him to drop the box he was carrying. Clishhh! Must’ve been the breakables. Mom tries to grab me by the arm with half her heart and fails. I’m the white rabbit now, too fast for her. I barely hear her say dinner’s ready. It’s like a something I heard once in the past.

My sneakers screech across the floor so I don’t slam into the door. “I’m coming,” I whisper loudly to whoever’s inside. With a shaky hand that can barely contain a childlike curiosity – but remember, I’m practically an adult now – I try the various lock and the rusted key is first to match the tumblers. The skeleton key is next, though I had to jiggle that one a bit. I break out the heart key; I’m so close! But the lock sticks and I’m turning, turning, turning. I back off and wring my hands because I don’t want the key to break. I force the lump in my throat down, put my fingers on the key, and turn gently. Clack! The seal is broken. The door creeks open an inch. What will I discover? I take frightening doorknob in my hand and push.

The room is flooded with the light of two rectangular lamps posted on a tripod, the kind dad uses when he’s working in a basement or attic. The voice? It’s coming from the window directly in front of me. I walk over to the sill where I find a plastic device the size of my hand. It has various buttons, almost like some kind of phone but not really. I think I’ve seen dad use this thing to remind himself of important stuff. But why is he whispering, Find the three rabbits? Are they…are they messing with me? I spent all day on this!

“Daniel, dinner’s ready. Come eat,” I hear my mom call from the depths. A freight train is running through my head.

I trudge down the stairs one-step-at-a-time. It’s not a death march; I’m taking my time trying to figure out what I’m going to say and what I’m going to do. It appears I am up against enemies with no conscience. I don’t know what to do about that.

At rock bottom, I put my hand on the banister and swing myself towards the kitchen. Mom and dad are sitting at the kitchen table. Some kind of slop is steaming up the place. I force my shoulders down and narrow my eyes.

“Whose. Idea. Was It?” I demand.

They look at each other, look at me, then at each other again. They simultaneously blame one another. Then dad tells her, “I told you it was a bad idea.” My mother’s head and shoulders slope.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she implores. “I just didn’t want you disappearing like you always do. Just once I wanted our first night in a new house to be the three of us having a nice family dinner.”

“Did you help her?” My clipped voice aims for dad.

“Well, yes, Daniel,” dad confesses. “But I only made the door and set things up. Your mother was the mastermind.”

“Actually, it’s quite funny,” mom smiles. “Your father wanted the door to look real. He really took his time with it.” She smiles and puts her hand on his. “It almost wasn’t ready in time.”

I walk towards the kitchen table, yank my chair out, plop myself down, and yank myself towards something that’s probably poisonous. What a waste of time. I’ve had friends who see a therapist and I never knew why. Now I get it. Now they’re going to get it. I draw a deep breath, a dragon about to breathe fire.

“The next time we move,” I begin, stabbing a piece of meat with my pitchfork, “I am so running away.”

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

IMG_4247As I lay at the foot of the warm, cozy bed, a familiar scenario has come to a head.

“Well, look at the time. I believe that’s the sign. Food in my bowl is not far behind.”

I will chew on this wire as I so often conspire, to wake daddy up – “Don’t sleep!” I interrupt.

I will paw daddy’s face ‘til his slumber’s erased. I’ll meow ‘til he gives in, sort of because I’m a prick.

“Fill ‘er up,” I demand, my bowl to its brim. “I am so hungry and this cat waits for no man.”

“Rise, rise!” Our fates are entwined. The clock has struck five, eating time I decide.

Ah, daddy stirs and looks at the wall. “It’s two in the morning, you little bastard,” he retorts.

“A two or a five. So I’m not good at reading signs. But since you’re awake, feed me. I’m hungry. Don’t let me die.” IMG_4248

“Alright,” he concedes. Alright, indeed. He’s not the dumbest of all humans, it’s the futility that he sees.

“Here you go, now leave me alone,” he gives me that line every day at this time. Oh, we’ll do this again in three hours at five.

“Thank you, daddy,” I fake loose a coo. I am cat. I am evil. When I want my foodies, he will say no but he always loses.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Food Fighters

The Food Fighters

Jamaal pressed his little cherub cheeks against the plane of glass. A tray of donuts beckoned him inside their shop with their sugary, glazed veneers. The donuts’ multi-hued sprinkles fashioned themselves into a smile, prophesizing the promise of a good time. All Jamaal had to do was get his foot in the door.

His mother tugged on his hand. Jamaal held fast though, strengthened by youth and emboldened by temptation. Like his Marine Corp father, Jamaal had no intentions of leaving a man behind. He tugged back on his mother’s hand. “Mommy, mommy, mommy! Can I get a donut? We haven’t had any for so long!”

Jamaal’s mother knotted her cheek to one side and loosened her grip. The child had a point – it had been a long time, at least a week. And her son had not given her any problems over that time; shouldn’t good behavior be rewarded? She moved her chin with a curt upward tilt. Jamaal beamed and now lead his mother by the hand into the bakery.

The dizzying array of orbicular sweets threatened to overcome Jamaal’s decision-making tree. Chocolate, or chocolate and vanilla? Sprinkles or no sprinkles? Glazed or powdered? Jelly-filled maybe? The choice was no small task and being on the way to learn something at school, the child should probably hurry.

“Psst! Hey, kid,” a saccharine voice spoke from behind its hand. A donut with white glaze and multicolored sprinkles jumped on top of the display case. It pointed a thumb at itself. “Hey, kid, choose us.”

Jamaal was almost stunned into silence by a talking donut, but he was a child after all. “Wha? Who…who are you, mister?” he asked in a high pitch.

“I’m Dast, er, Danny Donut! You already know me and my family. We’re the best tasting things in this place! We look good, we smell good, we’re chewy before we melt in your mouth; take us with you and your senses will explode,” the donut waved with jazz hands.

Dasterdly Donut“Mom, can we buy a whole dozen?” Jamaal asked tugging on his mother’s shirt. The boy’s mother smiled at her son without her eyes, looked at the donut, then turned her attention to an employee and asked for a double espresso.

“She’s going to say yes, Danny,” Jamaal announced proudly. “She’ll give in. I always get what I want.”

“And I always get what I want,” the donut snickered under his breath. “That was too easy.”

Just as Jamaal was going to point out which donuts he wanted, a healthy orange sporting a fine Italian suit and Ray Ban’s rolled up onto the counter and pointed to Danny. “Stop right there!” the orange shouted. The loquacious donut cringed.

“Oh, no, it’s Agent Orange!” the confection squeaked.

“Wha? You’re a talking orange!” Jamaal proclaimed wide-eyed.

Agent Orange“Yes. Very observant, young man,” the orange replied in a cocksure tone. “I’m here to help you, son. You see, this donut doesn’t exactly have your best interests at heart. If anything, Dastardly Donut here intends to hurt you more than help you.” The fruit sounded like an old-timey newsreel, and just about as educational.

Why would the donut do such a thing? Jamaal couldn’t figure it out. “What is he talking about, Danny?”

“Don’t listen to him, kid,” the donut sneered. “He’s just mad because we’re more popular than he is.”

“I’m not going to lie to you, young man,” the orange started, “Donuts are very popular, but that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

Jamaal didn’t know what to believe at this point. “Gee, Mr. Orange…”

“Agent Orange,” the fruit corrected.

“Mr. Agent Orange, why does the donut want to hurt me?” the child wondered.

The orange rolled a bit closer to Jamaal, put one hand on the kid’s shoulder and removed his shades with the other so he could speak earnestly, eye-to-eye.

“Kid, one donut from time to time won’t hurt you much. But this donut here wants your mother to buy him and eleven of his closest friends. Problem is, too much sugar in your blood over a short period of time can be very damaging to your long term physical and mental health. Although a donut will make your brain feel really good for a little while, what that sugar rush is actually doing is addicting you to that feeling. Let me tell you something, kid, being addicted to anything isn’t good for you. Worst of all, a donut has almost no nutrients besides sugar. It’s all calories that will slow you down and make you hungrier, making you feel bad when there’s no donut in that mouth of yours. You’re sure not going to grow up big and strong like your dad if you eat donuts all the time. You do want to be like your father, right, kid?”

“You know about my dad?” Jamaal asked, incredulous.

The orange slipped his shades back on. “Agent Orange does his homework, son.”

The dastardly donut hastily shoved the orange out of the way, landing the fruit on its backside. “He’s fooling you, fool. He wants you to eat him instead.” A half dozen jelly donuts grabbed Agent Orange by the arms, restraining him.

“It’s true, I would rather you eat an orange,” the citrusy agent struggled. “Listen, kid, fruits like me are sweet but also have fiber to make you feel fuller longer. We also have lots of important vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C, and E, and calcium to make you healthier and stronger. I’m so strong see how it takes so many of them to hold me back?”

A sprinkle fell off the dastardly donut’s brow and bounced off the counter. “You are going to eat a donut,” the donut snarled. Jamaal stepped back.

“I’m afraid not, Dastardly Donut,” Agent Orange said. “It looks like the cavalry has arrived.”

A trumpet sounded from on high and everyone looked up (except Jamaal’s mother who was calmly sipping an espresso). Parachuting from…somewhere…two yellowish-green (or is it greenish-yellow) tropical fruits wearing bandoliers dropped onto the counter.

“Oh, no!” one of the jelly donuts shrieked. “Papaya Troopers! Run!” The jelly donuts turned the orange loose and spun on their edges.

“Not so fast,” one of the papaya’s furrowed its brow. The carica food took two small, almost round, smooth red fruits from its bandolier. It hurled one at the closest jelly donut, exploding the unhealthy snack across the counter.

“I guess he wasn’t ready for that jelly,” Agent Orange quipped of the mess. The orange fruit jabbed a thumb at Jamaal.

The armed papaya launched a cherry right at the child’s face which the boy instinctive caught in his mouth. There the bomb exploded, taking the young man’s flavor virginity.

“Wow, that tastes really good,” Jamaal noted.

“And it’s good for you,” the orange spoke. Meanwhile the donut that had almost fooled the child had rolled away but stopped itself at the threshold of the shop’s entrance.

“As ever wrapped up in yourself to notice me getting away, Agent Orange,” the dastardly donut swiped. Then he tucked his arms and legs in and rolled out the door and into a gutter.

“Shall we go after him, sir?” one of the papayas asked the agent.

“We’ll let him go for now,” the orange ordered. “I’m sure we’ll see him again. Right now, giving this boy an education about food is more important.” Agent Orange turned towards the child. “Kid, do you know what phytochemicals are? They’re special chemicals found in many fruits and vegetables and have been found to have many health benefits…”

Jamaal listened with rapt attention, if not to the information than to the talking food itself.

Jamaal’s mother, wanting nothing more than to pretend the entire situation wasn’t happening, was on the phone. “Yes, Dr. Wenner? I need a refill on my Clozapine prescription. It’s started again.”

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Problem With Pens

What’s going on with pens?

There’s never one around when you need it. Moreover, heaven only knows how you’re going to get your hands on anything other than a black or blue one when it really matters. Do pen manufacturers not make that many red pens? When you take into account all the corrections we put to paper, you’d think red pens would be the third most popular choice. But it seems there is a red ink shortage. Is the ink made from the blood of babies and this is apparently unethical? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s don’t leave a red pen lying around because someone WILL take it. WHO IS STEALING ALL THE PENS? Someone, somewhere has A LOT of pens.

I know you know what I’m talking about. Ever notice that no matter how many pens you put out – on your desk, in a pen holder, chained to a brick – all of them will disappear? If it isn’t a single person taking all the pens then there should still be an equal distribution of pens throughout the world. Sometimes when I go swimming in the ocean I half expect to find a cache not far from shore. Alas, nothing. Honey, do you know where I can find a pen? I ask. Yes, she says, With the missing sock that was eaten by the dryer. Where are all the pens? They’re there when you don’t need them, of course.

The less you need a pen the more likely you are to see one. And how many you see rises in direct proportion to how little you need one. When I’m using Microsoft Word on my laptop, I can see anywhere from 5-10 pens from where I’m sitting. As soon as I reach for a pad of paper, though, they suddenly disappear or at least make themselves scarce. For instance, if I didn’t need a pen and saw one on the kitchen counter, the moment I reached for a piece of paper the pen would instantaneously travel through a wormhole into another room. Pens allegedly reside with us in the macro-sized world but they behave like they are both there and not there in a state of quantum flux. I don’t know why Schrödinger used a cat in his famous thought experiment; he should have used a pen. If pens are not disappearing on their own, we have to go back to assuming it’s a people problem.

If it is indeed a people problem, how long has this been going on? Was this a problem when people were still using an ink well and a quill? It seems like all that equipment would be too hard to steal; not worth the effort. I understand how easy it is to swipe a modern pen, on the other hand. Only…why? What is one’s motivation for swiping another person’s pen? Obviously, whatever one we had disappeared so we must obtain a new one by whatever means necessary in case we suddenly find ourselves signing the deed to a new home. Or perhaps the pen we’ve taken has the name of a Chinese restaurant we haven’t tried yet on it, and we need to remember the restaurant’s name. (We could’ve written the name down with the pen but taking the pen itself is WAY easier.) At least I hope these are possible explanations and not that these random pen thieves are taking pens as some deep-rooted and unconscious desire to make others suffer.

I think we should either start making so many pens that’s it’s impossible for one not to be in any given room at any time or we should stop making them altogether. I know it’s difficult to resolve world hunger but this seems like something we should be able to get a handle on. This madness needs to stop.

 

All Rights Reserved (C) September 2019 John J Vinacci