View Full Version : Mot's Picture from "Entering Spindrift" a Novel by Fiver
Mot looked like a cartoon mouse.
He was small, even for first grade with a wintry, Irish complexion, big ears and tufts of spiky hair sprouting out of a cowlick on the back of his head. His cloths were too big for him except for the small blue cardigan sweater with brass buttons which he wore every day. He looked like a character sketch Walt Disney had thought better of and thrown out.
Ezekiel sat next to him in Mrs. Arendarski’s first grade class at Woodrow Wilson Elementary school.
His name wasn’t really Mot, it was Tom, but he always wrote his name from right to left so it came out Mot. Dickie Stewart had been the first to hold it against him but now everyone called him Mot and he had come to accept it.
Most of the class was quiet and solitary, but there seemed to be something particularly isolated about Mot. His eyes were always very wide and he listened to things with his mouth open. He wore a constant, almost worried expression that seemed to ask “Am I in your way? Ezekiel didn’t know it at the time but he saw something of himself in Mot’s small, pallid face and he could not help noticing him.
One day the class was given an assignment. They were to draw a picture of their own houses with some kind of weather occurring around it. Mrs. Arendarski told them “It can be anything you want.”
Mrs. Arendarski was the sort of teacher you don’t see much any more. An immigrant from Great Britain, she was the classic English grade school disciplinarian. Strict and aloof, she was distant from every child except those few of whom she approved. When Mot looked at her, he seemed troubled, as though she worried him in the same way the sight of a big dog roaming loose on the playground might. To Ezekiel, it looked almost as if Mot were trying to see inside her. Intuitively, he seemed to understand what those wide eyes were looking for.
The Manila paper was passed out and those of the class who did not have their own crayons were given the industrial eight-color set. Ezekiel had the sixty-four color box with the sharpener on the back and always took great pains to pick the proper color.
Crayolas in hand, Ezekiel began to draw his house. He drew windows, bushes, his cat, Junior on the front porch. The picture was a challenge of memory and dexterity. He drew each brick, painstakingly, each blade of grass, each leaf on the trees in the front yard, and then, tiny droplets of rain in neat rows falling at an angle. He looked up to see Mot wearing the end off an industrial black crayon, working feverishly, tongue jutting out from the corner of his mouth. Ezekiel looked back at his own picture. Suddenly it did not look as good as it had a moment ago. He scanned the whole thing carefully. The detail was there, all meticulously rendered, but it had no feeling. It did not look like his house.
Ezekiel was considering asking for another piece of paper when Mrs. Arendarski stopped writing at her desk, stood up and said "All right class. You may hand in your pictures now." She went down each row collecting drawings. When she came to Ezekiel, he had the sudden impulse to tell her that he didn’t think his drawing was very good and that she shouldn’t pay much attention to it, but before he could say anything she had moved on. When all of the pictures were collected, Mrs. Arendarski flopped them down on the big wooden table in front of the chalkboard. The gesture seemed very careless to Ezekiel, as if she had done it hundreds of times and did not particularly enjoy it. It made him feel a twinge of shame, as though the whole class was responsible somehow. She sat at the edge of the table and began going through the pile, holding each one up for the class to see while making commentary. Most of the drawings were like Ezekiel’s, valiant efforts to capture detail but with little concept of feeling or personality. When she came to his, she looked at it for a long while before holding it up. Ezekiel had a moment of genuine fright before she finally said; “Now I really like what Ezekiel has done here, class. Do you see how he has remembered that rain always falls at an angle? Very good Ezekiel.” She smiled at him, a grand, approving smile that made him look away, an uncontrollable grin stretching across his face making him feel self conscious and ugly.
She went through a few more until she came to Mot’s picture. She looked at it with a sour expression and then, shaking her head in obvious disapproval, held it up for the class to see. Ezekiel’s mouth dropped open.
It was remarkable.
A tiny blue house stood in a green field. The house was a shadow, unimportant in the huge expanse of grass, dappled with red and orange. Above the field was a sky so deeply black that you could not tell it had been rendered with a crayon. It looked more like black velvet or new blacktop. In the sky, swept in a great arc that went from one side of the paper to the other, were objects, Chunks of some unknown, space-going substance, huge green and yellow meteors or roiling balls of energy. What ever they were supposed to be, they had such a lurid presence that they seemed to be almost flying off of the paper. Their shape and color were so striking against the incredible blackness Mot had created that they seemed to bind everything else together. There was a symmetry to it that felt strong and positive. The eyes did not drift to any one particular thing; you could see the whole picture, all at once! Ezekiel was dumbfounded. He sat blinking his eyes and feeling excited without knowing why. He knew what it meant. There was no explanation, no reasons that he could put into words… he had never seen anything remotely like it, yet somehow he just knew what it was. The whole thing looked so familiar that he felt he could have done it himself, if only it had occurred to him. It was as though Mot had drawn a picture of something that everybody knows about deep down inside.
Ezekiel was actually considering asking Mot if he could have the picture when he noticed Mrs. Arendarski. Her face was a blank. She sat in silence for a full minute while the air in the room went thick. Finally she primly raised her chin as if to make herself that much bigger and dropped a look of almost hateful disgust down toward Mot. It was like the sun shining through a magnifying glass. The light fell on his pale little face and began to burn him.
“What is this supposed to be?” she said flatly.
Ezekiel looked at Mot, for that matter, so did everyone else in the room.
He sat there, mouth still opened, his brow twitching above confused eyes and said nothing.
“What are these THINGS supposed to be!” Barked Mrs. Arendarski, jabbing angrily at the objects.
Mot said nothing.
“This makes no sense! You were supposed to draw us a picture of your house in the weather!”
Mot said nothing.
“Are you going to answer my question?”
Mot could not answer because his face was falling in on itself. His head dropped down to his desk, encircled by his blue sweater clad arms. His mousy ears began to turn scarlet like burning coals. Ezekiel could almost feel the heat from them.
Mrs. Arendarski glared at him and continued relentlessly,
“Thomas!” She barked.
Slowly Mot’s head rose from his desk. He looked as though he’d been pushed down a flight of stairs.
“When I ask a question, I expect to be answered!”
Mot said nothing
All he could do was look at her pleadingly.
Ezekiel would remember that look for the rest of his life. Over the years he would, by chance, witness agony in many forms. Shame, betrayal, failure, grave illness, even gruesome, untimely death, but the look of pure ruin on Mots tiny face at that moment would remain the single most intense look of pain he would ever see.
Mrs. Arendarski huffed a disgusted sigh, “You’ve written your name wrong again too, Mot!” She slammed his picture down and went on.
Ezekiel watched Mot for a long time.
Slowly the color drained from his face leaving him even more pallid than usual. His mouth closed, lips pursing tightly to in a thin line. His shoulders and chest drew inward and his wide open eyes glazed over and dropped into a dead stare.
For the rest of the day Ezekiel felt very odd. The things that usually distracted him and lifted his spirits, like watching Star Trek at 4:30 or having chop souy for dinner, seemed strange. It felt as though all of his favorite toys didn’t belong to him anymore.
Ezekiel never showed his own picture to his parents like he usually did. He tore off the gold foil star that Mrs. Arendarski had stuck next to his name and watched it spin like a maple seed down to the ground and dropped the picture into a mud puddle on the way home from school.
The next day, Ezekiel thought about saying something to Mot, but he never did. Maybe it was because he knew somehow that it wouldn’t have made any difference... that nothing would make any difference. For the rest of the year, Ezekiel would watch Mot whenever the class was assigned a picture to draw. Mot would stare at the paper; lips pursed tightly, make a few marks and then stare off into space with vacant eyes, seeing nothing.
Ezekiel had been too young to understand why what had happened should bother him the way it had. It wasn’t until years later, when he had lived long enough to know the true severity of Michigan’s baneful weather.
The answer came unwelcome, like a frost in late spring.
Rain doesn’t always fall at an angle.
Ezekiel had seen it drop straight down from the sky…
Like a ton of bricks.
Ezekiel saw the wheel...
…through his bedroom window, always at night and always more or less in the same place. It would come in from the east, sailing over the thick roof of trees above Miller’s ravine all lit up and happy looking like a birthday cake in a dark room before every one starts singing. Most of the time that’s what it made him feel like too. Sometimes it would hover over the woods to the south for a while, spinning and wobbling like the plates on top of poles he’d seen on Ed Sulluvan or Captain Kangaroo. Sometimes it would turn on end and he could see a ring of lights, red, white, and green, turning slowly like the distant outline of a Ferris wheel. Ezekiel knew it wasn’t a dream but it was something that he accepted in the same way he would have if it were a dream.
It might not have always been there but it seemed to Ezekiel that whenever he went to look, it always was. It didn’t matter if he was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, as he often had to do, or if he’d popped wide awake in the early hours, he would always, somehow start thinking about the wheel. Not like the way he thought about clouds or why words meant what they did, it was more like remembering than thinking, but it wasn’t exactly like remembering either. It was more like the way he knew when someone was behind him or when the first snow was going to fall. He would lie in his bed and feel the wheel coming like it was a secret being whispered by god. The feeling would get stronger, as if he was slipping into a powerful, grown-up dream where things were real all of the time. So real that he didn’t have to talk or worry about whether or not he understood things because somehow he already knew everything he needed to know. When this feeling had overtaken him and he felt quiet and strong, he would kick off the covers, tiptoe to the south window and peer out. Sometimes he had to wait a little while but he knew it would always appear and, usually just when he began wondering where it was, the wheel would come sailing along.
Sometimes it would already be there when he got to the window, hovering over the trees as though it had been waiting for him. On those times Ezekiel could feel something coming from it, less than awareness, more like a presence. Often when he was feeling deeply sad because dad and mom were yelling at each other again or he’d made a big mistake at school, the wheel would be waiting when he went to look. It would stay in the same place for a long time rocking gently as if it were floating on water. It was almost like the wheel was staying still long enough to make sure that Ezekiel knew it was there. He would gaze at it, chin resting on his hands until the wideness of the world with the wheel in the middle of it, drained away his sadness and he felt like he belonged where he was again. The wheel would then abruptly start moving and he would watch it fade into the night sky until it was just another unmoving star. It made him wonder if all of the other stars were wheels too.
Ezekiel had tried to tell his older brother Damien about the wheel once. Damien had gotten so mad that he’d smashed the Leggo skyscraper he’d been building with his fist hard enough to shatter it. Mom had come upstairs, yelled at both of them and made them go to bed early. Later when the lights were out, Damien had growled down at him from the top bunk.
“There’s no such thing as the wheel.” You just had a stupid dream. Don’t ever talk about your dreams or people will think you’re stupid and crazy, understand?”
Ezekiel didn’t understand. He thought about asking some questions but decided against it. When Damie got like this it was better not to talk to him. Besides, something inside him seemed to know that the wheel was supposed to be a secret.
“Okay Damie, I won’t never tell anyone else about the wheel.”
“EVER, stupid! You won’t EVER tell anyone else about the wheel. Now shut up and go to sleep!” Ezekiel had felt the wheel that night but he didn’t go to look at it. He knew that Damien was awake and waiting to yell at him if he got up. It was all right though, he knew the wheel would understand.
Although it always went from east to west, the wheel wasn’t always the same distance from his window. Sometimes it would come in much further away so that it looked less like a wheel and more like one big, twinkling light. Other times it would be much closer, what seemed like only a few miles away, and Ezekiel could feel something of its actual size, which he felt must be very big. One summer night, because Damien was sleeping over at Tim Burdock’s house and he felt particularly brave and playful, he had waited until the wheel was just passing directly south and called out,
It stopped dead in its tracks and the lights that constantly chased themselves around its rim froze where they were. Ezekiel was so startled that he didn’t move for a long time.
Neither did the wheel.
Finally, he took a deep breath, carefully lifted the screen up so he could see clearly and, burning with a resolve far too intrepid for a little boy only six years of age, whispered,
The wheel’s lights started to spin again and very slowly it began to grow in size.
At first Ezekiel had been thrilled and gripped the windowsill with anticipation like a cast-a-way savoring the sight of a rescue ship but as the wheel began to draw nearer he began to feel strange and serious.
He could plainly see the swing sets lit up like noontime as it passed over the playground next to Miller’s ravine. It was bigger than he’d thought. It was bigger than the whole playground. When it came within a block of Phil’s corner store on Longbridge, the big black dog that lived across the street started to bark frantically but as the wheel moved slowly overhead the dog yelped loudly and fell silent. Ezekiel could feel the skin tighten around every hair on his head as he watched the streetlights dimming one by one when it drifted over Kindleburger Avenue. The wheel was closer now then it had ever been and, again Ezekiel could feel a presence, but he felt something else too, something that hadn’t been there before…something bigger.
As the wheel came over Bankson’s lake it seemed to pull a big hump of water along behind it and the raft where Ezekiel always fed the bluegills with Stella Lancaster spun like a top in it’s wake. His eyes were starting to sting from holding them open but he didn’t dare blink. It was so big! Bigger than anything he had ever seen. The wheel drifted silently over Maybury common and as it rose above the top of the tall steeple of the Church of Christ in Spirit at the end of Kent Road, the big blue neon cross on the front turned a deep blood red and blinked out. There was no noise coming from it at all, but that almost made it worse because it was so big that Ezekiel kept thinking it should make some kind of noise. It was so much bigger than he’d ever imagined and it still kept getting bigger.
When the wheel reached the small patch of woods that ran between Kent road and the hill top where Ezekiel's house was, a pale blue beam of light seemed to almost fall from the it’s dark underside. The crickets that had been ringing like bells all night abruptly stopped and the only sound he could hear was his heart pounding in his chest. The blue light seemed to casually search the hidden ground as the wheel drifted above the tree line and a cold, electric sweat washed over Ezekiel's whole body. He could feel the gravity shift as he watched it come over the woods, slowly filling up the whole sky. The lights around it’s vast rim were green, red and white but everything around was lit up with a blinding white light that was so bright it seemed to squeeze around solid objects, making them thinner. The lights were brilliant, perfect colors that seemed to be made of lots of different colors and they didn’t really blink on and off as they had seemed to do from a distance. Up close they moved like liquid and seemed to flow in and out of one another. The white light they threw off was so bright that it seemed to spray through the south window and burn away all of the shadows in the bedroom. Ezekiel began to tremble, as the wheel loomed close over the house. It was so big...so incredibly big that he couldn’t see all of it. Tears began to well in his eyes. It wasn’t the wheel anymore; not the happy wobbling thing that had sailed passed his window like a big Frisbee. This was a gigantic swirling nightmare, like a weird, dark city floating above his house, looking down at him like he was a bug on a sidewalk. He wasn’t a brave, intrepid soul anymore, he felt small and frightened and foolish, like Mickey Mouse with all of the brooms marching over him. He wanted the big, frightening wheel to fly over his house and keep going until it was just the wheel again, but he knew that it wouldn’t go away. It was rotating slowly now, and the blue beam was sweeping back and forth over the backyard, stopping over the sandbox briefly, then the blow up pool with the green stuff growing in it, then Dad's car in the driveway. What if Dad came out and saw the wheel? What would Damie do when he found out what had he had done? Ezekiel felt his throat closing and the tears went chasing down his face. "Why does this have to happen?" he thought, "Why?"
Ezekiel stopped crying. He remembered why.
He stepped back from the window and took a deep breath. He fixed the wheel in a steely gaze, extended his arm, palm up and with voice like iron, said:
The Wheel stopped.
The blue beam went out and it hung in the sky above the house, utterly motionless and silent.
Before it’s terrifying size could overwhelm him again, Ezekiel said, with the same iron voice:
The wheel seemed to jump back over the ravine so fast it was like a camera trick on Bewitched or Lost in Space. It just suddenly stopped being over the house and started being across the ravine.
Ezekiel stood at the window taking slow, deliberate breaths. A fog of perspiration rose from his cotton pajamas as the cold sweat boiled away from the rush of hot adrenaline. He felt totally alert but strangely calm, almost peaceful.
The wheel was where it usually was, directly south. It was stationary, as on those times when it seemed to be looking in on him. Ezekiel stood for a long time, listening to his breath and trying to see the wheel the same way he used to see it before he'd changed everything. He felt just like he did when he'd thrown too hard during a "dodge ball" game at school and hurt Jane Rosegrant. Everyone had been having so much fun until then but after he'd hurt Janie, it was all over with. It was like the sun had suddenly gotten dimmer.
"Did I ruin everything?" he asked aloud.
The wheel did nothing except continue to wobble slowly as it often did when it was waiting for him. Ezekiel dropped to his knees to rest his chin on his hands so he could watch it rock and try to feel better but as he did so, the wheel did something it had never done before. It flipped end over end like a coin being tossed and flashed its lights very brightly in sequence. First all green, then all red, then all white and then all at once before going back to the usual clockwise chasing lights. Ezekiel found this delightful and immediately began giggling and waving.
The wheel flew off then, like a dragonfly over a lake, disappearing without a trace.
Ezekiel did not remember when he first began seeing the wheel, or when he stopped seeing it. Later in life, he seldom, if ever thought about it just as he seldom thought about the many other strange events that he was part of or had witnessed in the little town of Spindrift.
It wasn’t because he had come to believe that none of it was real. He knew he hadn’t imagined any of it. Perhaps he even understood that if he had ever thought to tell anyone they would have found such things unbelievable but that had nothing to do with why he never did. It simply never occurred to him to tell anyone because the few, dim memories he still held were no more paranormal to him than having once believed in Santa Clause.
Perhaps it was because he had long believed that such things were over and done with. Perhaps it was that he had so accepted his truly odd childhood that he had all but forgotten it.
Perhaps it was something else altogether.
There exists a nebulous area located on the Red Arrow Memorial Highway as it runs east to west between Kalamazoo and Watervaliet identified only by a single unremarkable road sign stating simply and cryptically;
“Tea Pot Dome.”
Contrary to popular opinion, folklore or the laws of logic in general, this place was not named for the topography of the area or for the famous scandal that occurred during the Harding administration around the turn of the 20th century. The Teapot Dome was actually given its name by the first white man who settled near there and by others passing through who witnessed the same phenomenon.
Lyman Porter owned a farm at what would later become the western outskirts of the hamlet of Paw Paw. He would make regular trips to the rounded blister of scrub sticking up a mile or so down the old Indian road to gather seasoned cords of Dogwood and Siberian Elm for his hearth. He had seen many things of a curious nature there... such like the Potowatami doing strange, silent dances in the grassy meadows; the crickets and cicadas beating unfamiliar rhythms as they whirled. They would take no notice of him as he watched, making him feel garish and insubstantial as a ghost. Sometimes he would find small puddles of marsh water that seemed to glow in the deep thickets and reflect a stormy sky, even on a cloudless day and he often came across odd, flattened out tracts of weeds when hunting squirrel or rabbit there. They were like the depressions deer make when they birth in the fields, save that they were sometimes as big as an acre.
Strange as these things were, more perplexing and most unnerving of all, were the objects he often saw there. They looked like weightless, wheel turned pottery and when Lyman Porter beheld them, his mind would reel and he would become addled and childish as though he were dreaming. Sometimes they would hover and seem to float gently down below the tree line with the movement of Oak leaves on a calm autumn day. At other times, they would hover and dart, just as a Humming bird might at a jumble of honeysuckle. Yet other times, they seemed to be peering at him from on high and he could feel the goose flesh prickling on his arms and neck. They were always skyward, so he could never be sure if they were quite small and very close to him or quite large and very far away. They always looked the same, like polished silver in the daytime and luminous like foxfire in the gloom.
He had never spoken aloud of them to anyone for fear of being shunned as a fool and a lunatic. Then one day a troupe of smithies and potters, who were heading back to the Kalamazoo townstead after a week of fishing at great Lake of Michigan, stopped by to water their ponies and pay their respects. A youngster by the name of Murphy had said almost casually that he had seen what he thought was a flock of ring-necked geese flying in a V toward the southeast until he noticed they had no wings and looked more like flying pebbles. Lyman, who had already fixed the objects in his mind, with the shape of the lid for the silver teakettle he'd bought for his Ila - God rest her sweet soul - at Fort Detroit before heading west, blurted out, "That’s them flying tea pot domes. They're out there all the time."
There had immediately descended a period of profound silence and blank stares, which lasted so long that Lyman Porter began to feel he might be wise to load his Springfield. This hard quiet was broken by laughter of such a robust nature and of such a lengthy duration that Lyman had to join the din in spite of himself.
Other settlers heading west saw the domes and the name caught on. The more synonymous the peculiar title became with the area over the slow march of passing decades, the more its origin faded until, at last, only the name remains.
There exists a nebulous area located on the Red Arrow Memorial Highway as it runs east to west between Kalamazoo and Watervaliet identified only by a single unremarkable road sign stating simply and cryptically;
“Tea Pot Dome.”
No one knows why even though such things are seen there still.
June rolls over in Michigan.
It rolls luxuriant, like a cat rolls over in its sleep; warm and comfortable and good-natured. April is a month of broken promises in Michigan – in like a lion, out like a Grizzly Bear. A day can start out in the upper 60’s and degenerate to snow by sunset. May is a frenzy of growth and quickening if the weather is good and the insects are in a benevolent mood and if you happen to be outdoors at the very moment that it happens, but June…June rolls over. It rolls sultry, like a tumbleweed of emerald stems and blossoms and leaves, all at the ecstatic peek of their cycles. It rolls thick, like the slow, symmetrical curl of a great chlorophyll wave that sweeps over the whole state from wrist to thumb to outstretched northern fingertips, sinking into the black earth and germinating every seed. It rolls the Sun into the center of the great blue lens that is the tree lined Michigan sky to shrink shadows down to nothing, warms the carapace of winter turtles and transform highways into mirrors.
June blooms tropical in Michigan.
The days are dazzling tapestries of fresh, equatorial greens; heavy Celtic tangles woven loose with Lilac and Dandelion and evening Primrose. The air is warm and sweet with the fragrant jumble of rich earth, running water and thriving, deciduous life. Music floats out of windows opened for the first time since September to mingle with the complex melody of birdsong, the subtle ring of insects, the growling whine of power mowers and the distant, breathy sound of traffic on nearby highways.
The evenings are cool and mild, dappled with wild strawberries, citronella and the clumsy, metallic buzz of June bugs bumping on screen doors. A whole month of late moments made for walking to the store or listening to jazz or talking softly. The last of the sunlight slips into colored glass and mica lampshades and things are in the background of the day. If you are lucky enough to fall in love in June, it will be in the evening.
The nights are star lit jungles scented with Dogwood, Russian olive and wild Dill weed. The trees thatch over a roof of shady leaves that sculpt moonbeams into luminous stems that seem to come up from the ground rather than shine down from above. Black and yellow garters dart under thickets of Meadowsweet hunting Night crawlers and early Crickets who whisper tales to each other among the Jemmycups.
Deer’s eyes glow like Christmas lights as they make their way through fields of Borage , tidying up their runs as they go and the flora billows from the side of every back road like grounded viridian clouds, lush and animated as they are caught in the headlights of passing cars.
June reigned as Ezie Fitz walked the Red Arrow. He felt no doubt, no regret- no fatigue. He felt only the road, the direction and joy.
He was going home.
A Thunderstorm is brewing. You can smell it here in Spindrift while it’s still two states away. In the late morning when the freshness starts to fade you can tell the first big one of the season is on its way. The humidity rises slowly, almost imperceptibly at first and then everything starts slowing down, like glycerin in water, as though the world is thickening.
Long about 1pm the barometric pressure drops so low that thin plate glass windows bow outwards. "Yummy" O’Toole stops watching "Lost in Space" long enough to listen to his windows creak. He never opens them, not since Brother dropped Punkin out of the upstairs window when he was five. Yummy listens and wonders if they’re going to open anyway. He doesn’t know that he’s remembering about Punkin using something other than his memory.
The sky has turned a dull shade of slate, light brown or gray and you can’t tell the difference because there is no point of reference. It’s so subtle that Auntie Ardell can’t remember when it changed from the brilliant azure ocean into the dusty looking void. Just as if God had washed the clay of creation off his hands and clouded up that pure rinse water. She thinks of Dante and Milton as she puts her cane out in front of her. Her last name is Weatheral and she muses that it’s a good name for today. She doesn’t know that the name goes back 1500 years to an old woman who was given it because she was doing just exactly what Aunt Ardell is doing today.
Over on Long-bridge Street, Jimmy McCoy is tossing a glass pop bottle in the air so that it flips end over end, and catching it by the neck as it falls. He’s been doing this for the last 3 hours, ever since he found it right where he’d left it the day before, pressed into the soft, black earth behind Mrs. Lancaster’s rose bushes. He had been surprised to find it there because he’d forgotten all about it in the way only a kid can… Utterly, as though it had never existed. He’d plucked it out, admired the perfect bottle shaped depression it left behind in the dirt and then sat in the sweet‑smelling darkness of the bushes, turning it over and over like a relic. The memory of the grape pop it had once contained was so vivid he could taste it. He’d screwed the metal cap back on the empty bottle very tightly on the previous morning and he could see yesterday’s air inside. It looked thinner and cooler than today’s air and the difference in pressure and temperature made the outside of the bottle sweat and its weight seem funny. He’d started tossing it in the air. He felt very protective of the yesterday world he’d managed to preserve, but he couldn’t help himself. The urge to throw destiny in motion and keep chance alive seemed to move him like wind from the coming storm. He began getting good at tossing and catching more elaborately, like a gunfighter twirling pistols. He began daring himself with each toss, binding mystical evocations of fate. If he caught this toss, he’d get a new bike, if he missed, he’d break his arm. Always, he caught the bottle.
It’s 1:15 now. The rewards keep getting bigger and the dares, more grave as he wanders on into the afternoon, walking to meet the storm halfway, until finally he has to bet it all. "If I catch it" he thinks, "I’ll find a million bucks on the ground. If I drop it" He hesitates, because to say it out loud is to admit that some part of him truly believes it will happen. On some level he must believe it will happen or the game wouldn’t be any fun. "If I drop it… I’ll die within the week."
He looks inside the bottle at the cooler, brighter world of yesterday, whispers, "I love you." with a sincerity that would have frightened his mother, and throws everything up in the air and into the waiting, colorless sky. Jimmy watches it tumble end over end in slow motion, yesterday helpless inside, heading straight for him, an easy catch, a baby could do it… but at the last moment he steps out of the way. He steps out of the way, because the truth that flickers into his mind at the last fraction of a second is obvious and inescapable.... the bottle must break. It’s the only way to get inside it. Unscrewing the cap would let yesterday seep out slowly like smoke out of the end of a cannon, fading away into nothing. He needs to break the bottle and release that grape‑flavored moment. The consequences don’t matter.
When the bottle strikes the pavement on Long-bridge Street, it makes a sound like a heavy light bulb bursting. The glass on the sides seems to vaporize, leaving only the thick bottom and metal cap, still screwed onto the shattered neck, both lying in a perfectly symmetrical spray of glitter on the street. The impact blasts the lottery ticket worth a million dollars that Dr. Wiemer had dropped the night before into a sewer grating. Jimmy doesn’t notice that, only the explosion. The catharsis was good, but it’s over now and he feels a little sad and guilty about yesterday smashed into a zillion pieces. Then he brightens, "only a game", he thinks, "A wicked game." He doesn’t know that nearly microscopic shards of bacteria‑ridden glass are making their way into the flesh of his ankles and delivering into his bloodstream a very rare virus that dissolves flesh.
It’s around 2 now, and a thick, muggy quiet has descended. Sounds take on a dull underwater quality. Monty Jansen and Ronnie Houston stop hammering on the railing of the tree house where they are planning to spend most of the summer, and strain to hear the soft rumble of distant thunder, but there isn’t any. Monty rubs the spot on his arm where the bruise is rising before he starts pounding again. Ronnie had to haul off and hit him to let him know he was serious when he told him to stop telling that story about old Riley’s ghost haunting the abandoned garage next to Miller’s ravine. Monty was always telling ghost stories and most of the time it was kind of fun, but today, what with the weather feeling all weird and everything, it was giving Ronnie the creeps. After Monty started going into detail about Riley’s ghastly after-life appearance, Ronnie’d about had enough and told him to knock it off. Monty had got this gleam in his eye and started to talk about how every one thinks that Riley had run off to South America to get away from the tax man but actually his wife had gunned him down for cheating on her, cut him up with a circle saw and buried him in a suit case behind the garage and then torched the place. That’s when Ronnie had socked him. They had been working in silence ever since. They don’t know that even though Monty thinks he made the whole thing up, every word is gospel and Ronnie got so bothered because, not so deep down, he knows its true as well.
The sky is starting to get dark now and its taking on a funny greenish tint. Gramma Pratt stops digging at her prize tomato plants that she’s been trying to grow all of her life, and wonders if there just might be a tornado warning on the radio. She thinks there must be a watch on for certain. She looks down at the sparse, scrubby vines tied to stakes with bailing twine and sighs. They aren’t really "prize" plants in the sense of winning anything but they’re special to gramma Pratt. Her mother brought them over from the old country and grew them for the whole town. Mamma had a way with her special tomatoes but Gramma Pratt just can’t seem to get them up and coming. She keeps trying ‘cause it’s all she’s really got left of her mamma. It’d be the only special thing she’d have at all if it weren’t for her secret. “Won’t be long now” she thinks as she stabs the soft earth with her spade. “Just about 8 weeks or so ‘til it happens again.” Gramma Pratt has a secret. A sacred, inexplicable secret that she’s kept since she was a little girl. Every 1st of August, going as far back as she can remember she wakes to find delicate butterflies of a shape and color she’s never seen anywhere else, crowding in her window like living stained glass. It’s always just after dawn when the sun is starting to shine on her eastern window. When she walks out into the yard, wearing nothing but her cotton nightgown the beautiful butterflies swarm about her and light on her face and outstretched arms. She waves her arms and giggles and feels blessed and loved and utterly benevolent as the fragile things whirl about her. She’s been performing this ritual for sixty-six years and she’s never told a soul. Gramma Pratt looks down and sours. She’s been battling them ugly green worms with the black tiger stripes that prit‑ near wipe her out every year and she’s finally got the upper hand with the gruesome little buggers. She thinks maybe she just might stand a snowballs chance at the county fair this year and squashes another one. She wants to keep going but that sky is looking pretty bad and she wonders if she shouldn’t run to the store or get in now, before the whole sky falls on her.
She doesn’t know that her butterflies begin their brief lives in her garden because it contains the only nourishment capable of supporting their unique and delicate biology. A single, somewhat rare species of tomato plant.
The sky is close now, compressing the hot atmosphere and adding to the already high gravity. Spindrift braces itself. Sun umbrellas and awnings close up like folding canvas wings. Lawn mowers shut down one by one until the muted, two‑stroke growl that runs like a constant harmony above the full melody of summer, drops off to unnerving silence. Dogs and cats make their way to porches, back patios and under bushes to sit and wait in wise reverence. Even the insects have dug in, not a fly can be seen. The whole town waits in the thickening silence, braced against what feels like a whopper, the kind of storm that really knows how to make an entrance and will definitely leave its mark…
But it doesn’t happen…
No deafening, Doppler shifted thunder claps. No flickering plasma tapestries of lightning. No torrents of chill water dropping out of the sky all at once to slap the hot pavement. No sultry wind sailing the smell wet asphalt like paper airplanes. No storm at all, not a single drop of rain.
Something else happens instead, something that the town will hardly notice at first.
A lone figure wearing a black leather motorcycle jacket appears at the edge of town, walking with a fast, determined stride, pausing at the "Now Entering Spindrift" sign just long enough to add an extra digit to the Population number.