was trying to remember my locker combination, when I heard a knocking
at the door. That was a real relief, because I couldn't remember
where my first class was either. Why do first day of school
nightmares still haunt me, even during afternoon naps? I don't think I was relieved to discover that it was Vladivostock
Bahclava. The last time I'd seen him was leaving him to eternally
play the Bitar, after almost he'd tricked me into the same fate...
It was a bit too much like having Dracula turn up wanting to
borrow a cup of sugar... "So, are you here to borrow a cup of sugar?" I asked... "The planets were aligned in a way to give me a day off," he said... "I won't replace you. It's fun, playing the Bitar into eternity, but it's just not my gig..."
"I would not presume upon you for that... I found out that we
have something in common. After I came over here from the old
country, I went to a little school in Bergmont, Flatsylvania." "Hey, so did I."
"That is why we have it in common. We went to the same school.
You were unaware I existed. I ignored you as much as
possible. It was a good arrangement..." "Just before you knocked on the door, I was dreaming about the old school..." "I know. It was a premonition of unbounded evil..." "No, it was just a regular first day of school nightmare. I have them from time to time."
"Yes, and you couldn't find your locker, correct? I know the
locker number--13. There's something I must get there, and you
must take me." "13 wasn't my locker number..."
"But it was mine, and I was the last person to ever use that locker.
There's something there I left behind. I was a fool.
But no more! You will take me to Flatsylvania!" "Uh, not that I don't like revisiting my youth, but why me?"
"I don't drive... Also, you are aware of my nocturnal
idiosyncracies, and can make allowance for them, opening a motel door
before I rip the walls out, for instance." "I could see that might be useful." "And I will entertain you with the Bitar on the way."
Actually that was the bit that convinced me to go along with the guy.
From his curse of playing the Bitar all day, I knew he was a
virtuoso musician. Besides I hadn't been back to Bergmont since I
moved away in junior high school.
course Flatsylvania isn't really the name of the state Bergmont was in.
I've changed the name to protect myself from the Flatsylvania
Anti-Defamation League, a bunch of serious minded rednecks that would
be a real threat to us Flatsylvania detractors except their
numbers keep shrinking by their immigration to other states that have
trees, hills, lakes, and other amenities. Still, it only takes
one ax-handle-wielding redneck to ruin your day...
But I wasn't worrying about that as we crossed the intervening states
to arrive in Bergmont. Vlad wanted to stop at a motel next to a
chicken farm, and given his nighttime were-fox identity, I could see
that would be trouble. When we finally found one that seemed
pretty harmless for him to wander from, I then had to worry about
whether the neighbors would object to his endless Bitar playing.
Fortunately, soon after supper the moon rose, and I opened the door for
him and enjoyed a restful night's sleep while he roamed the woods
nearby as a fox. In the morning he came in carrying a pheasant,
which was a shame, as I didn't know how we could cook it in the little
microwave provided in the room.
By the next
evening we arrived in Bergmont. Bergmont, whose name means
Mountain Mountain, seems a particularly bad name for this town,
which was as flat as a billiard table. It was founded by Bad Bill
Bergmont, who knew the value of evoking an image when trying to sell
lots to Easterners. It was the county seat of Paradise
County (also named by Bill Bergmont), and was in every way average, but
had its unique bits. For example we checked into the Big Pheasant
Motel, with a giant fiberglass pheasant on the roof, which
pleased Vlad. As he straggled back to the room in the early
morning, he announced that the moon would be new the next night, which
meant he would have a night off from the were-fox curse.
Being a small town, we decided to walk into the school from the motel,
which was on the edge of town. The school was centrally located,
near the Main Street and the courthouse. The town had more
sputtered than thrived since we'd lived there, so a lot of the
landmarks had not changed. The school, combined K-12 in several
buildings, looked much the same as when I'd gone there. The
elementary school had a big metal tube for a fire escape, which
preceded by a generation all the tube waterslides common today, but
similarly drew some of us kids to secretly climb and slide on after
school. Of course, having a potential to be fun, it was against
the rules to use. Even during fire drills we never got to use it,
and none of us even knew where the access from the second floor was.
I expect if there were a real fire, children would refuse to use
it, knowing it was against the rules...
suppose I have nightmares about school from the primordial sense of
inadequacy that school in general, and elementary school in
particular, caused. If it weren't the teachers who always walked a
schizophrenic line between being your friend and your drill sergeant,
it was the kids themselves. There were the future leaders,
who in a form of Murphy's law, flunked themselves back to a position of
power by being older and bigger than the others in the class, which was
far superior to being smart and small. One of these was Big Jim,
who utilized his size mostly to monopolize the lead position at the
At the time I was in elementary
school, advertising had not yet taken over the brains of all the kids,
although Troll Dolls and GI Joes and Barbies were making inroads.
Anyway bringing dolls to school was either uncool or only done
secretly. Aside from the big rubber kick ball, the only gaming
allowed was marbles, which was more like a casino than a sport.
And Big Jim was the casino owner. I don't even remember the
rules of marbles, but I knew he had the shooter and the thumb to knock
out most of the marbles from the pot, or depression in the dirt, which he then got
to keep. Yes, I'm getting off
track, but Big Jim's ghost was there figuratively as we walked up to
the school, along with those of teachers past. I suppose it's no
wonder in later life I amassed a goodly marble collection. Big Jim
probably went on to fast cars, and faster women. I'm still
working through elementary trauma...
way, the school kept up with the times. As we entered, a large
sign said that visitors must report to the office. I don't think
elementary schools have alumni offices, or we could just have explained
how we were old alums wanting to get back to our roots. As little
kids milled about our feet like kittens, we realized a strategic
retreat was in order, unless we wanted to face people whose life specialized in
enforcing rules on unwilling participants. We retreated to the
TasteeFreez drive in, and had a cup of coffee.
"Look, we're here now, Vlad, it's time you came clean and said what's
purportedly in this purported locker 13, and why you must get it." "It is a personal matter." "What could it be? A gym bag with some size 5 Keds? A well matured overdue library book?" "I think it could be a cure for my curse..." "The were-fox one, or the Bitar one?" "I'm not sure, but either one might result in getting a little rest..."
"Yes, but the Bitar has real promise. You should play at some
bars or coffee houses or something. It would be a shame to lose
that." "I felt that way also, the first 4 or 5
years. Personally I'd like to be able to take it or leave it, so
to speak..." "Yes, I guess you have a point.
Anything gets old after a while. So why do you think the
cure is there in the locker?" "Do you remember the Shaggy Dog movie about the magic ring that turned Tommy Kirk into a dog?" "Who could forget such great art?"
"I think I left a ring like that in my locker. I got it from my
cereal box. It was supposed to be a magic decoder ring, but the
dial on the top wouldn't twist..." "Yeah, I had one like that--they were pretty poor quality manufacture..."
"That's what I thought at first too, till I looked at the finely
worked mystic symbols inscribed into the genuine brass of the
ring. Then the first time I wore it, I never knew what
happened, but I woke up with fleas..." "So you think if you got this ring, you could become a sheep dog instead of a fox?"
"I think it is like a light switch. First I was switched OFF.
Then I was switched ON, into a werefox. If I could get that
ring, I could get switched again, into the other position, which is
OFF." "Well, I guess it's worth a try..."
We decided to break into the school that night. Having glanced at
the door as I'd left it in the morning, I determined a credit
card would be sufficient to gain us entrance. Vlad was confident
he remembered his locker combination, so with only major trepidation we
entered the dim halls of Bergmont Elementary at 2 a.m. In my
nightmare the halls of the school were labyrinthine. With the
aid of advanced years I perceived there was just a U shaped hall
leading from the front entryway. However Vlad had no memory of
where locker 13 was, so we spent some time looking at lockers.
They looked a lot smaller than when we were there... "Say, Vlad, why are you so sure that locker 13 was never used again?" I whispered. "Because of what happened when Big Jim locked me inside," he said. "You knew Big Jim?"
"He got my whole bag of marbles. But not fairly, like at the marble
pot, he just grabbed my marble bag and locked me in my locker..." "That must happen a lot. That's why all the lockers have these vents in them..."
"I didn't know what to do. It was after school. I'd gone
back to get the ring from my locker. Big Jim grabbed my marble
bag and shoved me in the locker. After a while I got desperate,
and checked wherever I could reach for anything that could help.
There was only my book bag, with the ring inside. I put it
on, and that's all I remembered. But they found me scratched up
and unconscious on the floor in the morning, and locker 13 looked all
bulged out, like it exploded... When they tried shutting the
door, it locked and even a locksmith couldn't get it open..." "So, like, we should be looking for a bulgy locker? Like that one?" "There it is!" "What makes you think the ring is inside?"
"Well, I wasn't wearing it in the morning, so it must have fallen off
as my mystic sheep dog form squeezed out of the locker..." "And we're supposed to be able to open it, when a locksmith couldn't? "I remember the combination..."
Sure enough, he did remember the combination, and the door, though
sticky, started to open, just as the police officer arrived. "Hands on the back of your heads, NOW!" the big guy said. Who were we to argue? "Hey! That's locker 13!" he said.
"Hey, it's Big Jim!" Vlad said. Although time had changed us all, it
was indeed Big Jim, and he was still big--bigger than either of us by
half, although a lot of that was in the middle. "Do I know you cretins?" He asked. "As well as you know locker 13. I'm the guy you pushed in there..."
"You can't prove it. Besides the statute of limitations means all
my juvie offenses are over and done... Whereas here we've got a
brand spanking new B and E, vandalism, and attempted robbery.
This will look good on my stats..." "What vandalism?" said Vlad. "That locker door..." "That happened years ago..."
"Tell it to the judge. So just what was so valuable to bring you
mugs here to toss a stupid elementary school? A bag of marbles?" "You got all the marbles when you pushed me in."
"And you've lost all your marbles if you think anyone will believe that
around here..." Big Jim pointed out. I believed him.
"We're not stealing anything. I just wanted to see if I left
anything in here when the 'accident' happened." Big Jim
obligingly pointed his flashlight/club into the recesses of the
locker..." "Lookee here," he said. " A
decoder ring. I always wanted one of those..." He slipped
it on his finger. "OK, perps, off to the station we go..." His
last words were a bit slurred, as his form was changing into the
classic English Sheepdog. While he was still pondering his new
identity, Vlad and I headed for the door. We were careful to shut
it so it latched, hoping that would deter Big Jim long enough for us to
make a getaway. We retreated to the Big Pheasant Motel. "Well, " I said, as Vlad picked up his Bitar, " I guess we failed. I think it was a long shot anyway."
"Not failed," said Vlad. There was some justice there, with Big
Jim. And perhaps he'll make a better sheep dog than a human,
anyway. I certainly have enjoyed being a were fox at times...
And perhaps we can still stop at the motel by the chicken farm on the
way back home..."
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