Plugs

1. Alfa-Romeo Spider sporty convertible to whip her hair around and make her look cool (not to mention the nifty oil slick and auto-lock rotating machine gun to wipe counter-agents off her tail):  Check.

2. Suction cups to scale the walls of Castle Darkmater:  Check.

3. Finger sleeves of the richest, most handsome villain in the world, Victor Maximilian, (sleeves copied digitally off a wine glass at soiree she’d crashed) to key open the foyer:  Check.

4. Minty fresh, super-stick, highly-elastic, chewing gum to stretch across the corridor for when the guards chase after her, trip and fall into the thin, fine web, wrapped in its snare:  Check.

5. Scout bots to scour the directions to the secret passage (behind the tapestry) leading to the dungeon where he hid the doom’s-day device:  Check.

6. Electric grenades to short-circuit his giant robo-snakes patrolling the passage to the dungeon:  Check.

7. Key-codes to shutting down the doom’s-day device which three agents had died retrieving, which will fail because he had changed the codes (Mu-a-a-a-a-a!):  Check.

8. Fail-safe codes which three more agents had died retrieving, which will launch the doom’s-day beam into empty space:  Check.

9. Stun gun (she didn’t want to kill Victor but to reform him):  Check.

10. Low-cut blouse, pumps, and skirt:  Uncheck.  (Damn.  She knew she’d forgotten something.)

You step through the door…

…and…

1
…the city blazes silver in the blinding noon.

You stand in the shade of an underpass but can feel the city, warm as glowing coals.

A monorail hushes by overhead, a little breeze in its wake.

The city sleeps by day, gathering energy, and you have nine hours until it wakes…

2
…or you slide down the gravel bank and catch yourself just above the waterline.

The ice-covered lake booms.

To your left, the mills are sharp-edged shadows in the twilight. Their vast, hushed buzz has all the little hairs on your arms standing on end. Under a charcoal evening sky, lights glint among the far dark hills and the farther mountains.

Skaters are approaching, a line of them, moving fast across the ice…

3
…or you stand beneath painted cliffs, dry heat electric on the back of your neck. You turn to face the towers.

Looks like a busy day, with much coming and going between the aeries.

Standing with the petroglyphs, you feel abstract, an outsider looking out over the flow of lives from a distance that’s more than physical.

Out the corner of your eye, however, you see a path. Winding upward, it can take you among the towers, and the towers will bring you to the aeries…

4
…or you realize you’re sinking into the earth, the heat all over you like a thousand sweaty palms.

You step onto the roots of a tree for better footing, and cheese-like smell rises from the mud.

Is that the splash of dragons, off among the reeds?

A butterfly gnaws on your leg. A flower buzzes in your ear. You wonder if this was the best destination. But then the serpents begin to sing, and you forget the rest…

5
…you stand in the monkey’s palm, looking out over a plain of earthbound constellations. A sea of signs stretches to the horizon.

The flinty wind on your face. A sound of slow-dripping water.

From this low rise, you look out beyond the monkey, trying to make out the other designs. The chalk lines hold the light, glow amid the evening-faded world. You look out beyond the plain’s cairns and rock mounds, farther than its farthest pyramids.

Early stars stare back at you.

A door opens in the rocky hill to your right, a rectangle of butter-yellow light. A silhouette beckons.

Apparently, you were expected…

I had just returned from three months Down Under. And being back I yearned for all those musical Aussie accents and watching the fruits bats high in the evening Queensland sky. Was it my friends I missed most or the sense of living in a city that had not completely steamrolled nature in order to exist?

These were my thoughts this Saturday afternoon. Autumn had just changed the leaves of my cherry tree to orange but I had the pleasure of taking my god-daughter to the annual Pet expo.

“Be a good girl and hold my hand.” I said to Marti. “They have giant mountain gorillas there, so don’t get lost,”

“Nuh-uh,” Marti said, dismissing the notion as one of my frequent teases.

“B’sides. Grillas are il-leeegal,” she said, one-upping me, as was our way.

We strolled through aisles lined with booths peddling kittens in cages, greyhounds on leashes, and every pet supply I could image. One booth, for a local sanctuary for injured and abandoned birds, was teeming with rather well behaved parrots.

In a cage quietly sat a squat bird, with a large black kingfisher’s bill, its white feathers dusted with gray and black.

“See Marti, that’s a Kookuburra.”

She liked the name, but the bird did not capture her attention.

“She’s from Australia,” said an old woman. The way she had so smoothly emerged from the bustling crowd of strollers and families it seemed she had come from nowhere.

I couldn’t get Marti’s attention away from the parrots. The crowd’s almost angry buzz was wearing on me. More than anything, I wanted to be on the bridge overlooking the Brisbane river.

“So go back,” the woman said, as if my thoughts were being broadcast. “Maybe you could find a way to bring me.”

“I should. And I’d love to,” I said, this time certain I had spoken aloud.

“Who are you talking to, Uncle Dovyd?” Marti asked.

“The nice old woman,” I said.

Marti gave me a look that said, not another silly tease.

I turned to point, but the woman was gone.

The Kookaburra laughed. The gurgling bellow, wholly alien, seemed to stop time.

“Wow, what was that?” Marti asked.

Pungent eucalyptus and tropical humidity filled the expo center and for the most ephemeral instant, all was silent before the din of the crowd returned.

It was a dark summer night during the big brown out of ‘05. The trains weren’t running and my girlfriend, Kerri, was stuck in the city. Even so, with no power to the traffic lights I was staying off the roads so I wouldn’t be going to see her tonight. Putting off the inevitable. On my way to Calahan’s to drown my sorrows, I noticed my neighbor’s lawn jockey was missing from its place among the parade of lawn deer, lawn ducks, and ceramic mushrooms that blighted an otherwise pleasant green-grassed, well-manicured-shrubbed, suburban front yard.

My relationship with Kerri was on borrowed time. Something about the old men at Calahan’s and the bartender who looked like she could have been something once, comforted me as I struggled with the question what does one do with the good times once a relationship is gone.

I drank myself into quite a stupor and sometime after midnight I figured it was time to shamble home before I risked not waking up tomorrow.

I walked home, no closer to any answers. Still lost in thought, I wondered why my keys didn’t work in my door. I looked at the lawn and realized I must have turned down the wrong block.

It was full of lawn jockeys, their lanterns shining with the glow of thousands of fireflies.

I stood there thinking, damn some kids really did a good one. And then I saw the jockeys were moving; escorting kids to and from the corner where the bus stops; trailing men in suits with brief cases to their cars. Everywhere scenes of suburban life were being played out like ghostly-recorded images and the lawn jockeys followed, illuminating them with their yellow-green, too-bright lantern light.

And for it a second it all made sense, I understood the place of these purposeless lawn ornaments in the universe. Then I reminded myself of the hour and the impossibility of it all and told myself that it couldn’t be.

“No, you had it right the first time,” said a blue and white jockey standing next to me. “This makes perfect sense. You’ve traveled far to see us my friend.”

As he spoke I had a vague recollection of passing out. Was that my body face down on the steps there behind the little cast iron man?

“So where do you want to go?” he said.

“To see Kerri, I guess,” I said without thinking. It came out naturally.

The clunk of horseshoes on asphalt filled the night. The jockey smiled and now that I heard the echoing sound I realized the rest of the commotion was strangely noiseless.

“Your question,” the jockey said. “Good times. They are a noble pursuit in and of themselves. They are never destroyed, even when you and she are no more.”

A pair of tall strong horses, the same yellow-green as the lantern light galloped down the block and stopped in front of the house.

I remembered tripping. Stumbling. Falling on the brick stairs. My head smashing on the concrete.

“So, I’m not going to make it work tomorrow after all, am I?” I asked.

The jockey’s fixed expression seemed somber as he stiffly shook his head from side to side. Then he climbed on one of the horses.

“Come on,” he said. “Kerri awaits. I shall race you there.”

-END-

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