Friday, July 3, 2009

The Good Old Days

I just wrote a short story.

Them as know me know that I do this about as often as the Earth flip-flops magnetic poles; not a whole lot, in other words. I have ideas for short stories all the time, but they rarely progress further. Every once in awhile, though ...

And, of course, there’s the age-old question of where ideas come from. Usually they come from some sort of experience that I’ve either had, or know of someone else having had. In this case, it was mine.

I’m not going to tell you the whole story here; I’d rather you wait until it’s published. But here are a few paragraphs from it that set it up:

It was spring, I remember, around the end of April or the beginning of May -- you’d think that, considering what happened, the date would be burned into my memory. It had to have been a Saturday, because school wasn’t out yet. I was playing with a couple of friends -- Tom Harper and Malcolm James. We’d gone up into the hills a few blocks from my house to play cowboys and Indians. We were armed and ready for trouble.

When I say “armed”, I mean something different than what the word might connote today. I was carrying my trusty McRepeater Rifle, which made a very satisfactory bang when the wheel atop the stock was turned. Tom had a deadly Daisy 1101 Thunderbird, and in addition was packing twin cap pistols. And Malcolm ... well, Malcolm was carrying his Johnny Eagle Magumba Big Game Rifle, which he’d insisted on bringing even though he had a perfectly good Fanner 50 cap gun back in his bedroom. Some people just won’t get with the program.

We were hunting Indians (the concept of political correctness -- even the term -- hadn’t been invented yet). It was the middle of the afternoon and, though it was early in the year, it was already hot enough to raise shimmers of heat waves from the dirt road.

(Suddenly) a voice shouted, “Hands up!”

Now, this is the point. It was fantasy. Make-believe. And we knew that. But unless you can remember, really remember, those Bradbury days of childhood, the unspoken social norms that we all lived by then, the secret lives and inviolate rules that bound us as fully and completely as office politics and the laws of church and state circumscribed our parents’ lives -- well, then I have no real hope of making you understand why we did what we did. It wasn’t even something we thought about -- we just did it. They had the drop on us, after all. They’d caught us, fair and square.

So, all three of us dropped our toy guns and reached for the sky.
The story after this point is considerably grimmer than what actually happened. In reality, it got to be dinnertime and we all went home. But that moment of complete and utter surrender to fantasy is something that’s always stayed with me. We didn’t know the boys who captured us. They were from another school across town, which meant they might as well have been from Outer Mongolia. (Is there an Inner Mongolia? If so, how come no one ever mentions it?) But we let them march us, before the muzzle of their toy guns, up into a ravine, where they held us prisoner. (There was talk of ransom.) On of us (not me) tried to escape, and was summarily shot—this led to considerable discussion as to whether he was actually dead, and if so, what to do with him. I made a contribution at this point which, if I do say so, was nothing short of genius. Plucking a flower, I announced that it was the fabled Mariphasa lupina lumina (I’d just seen Werewolf Of London on Channel 5 the previous night), which could heal whatever wounds had been sustained. This was immediately accepted to great acclaim. (One of our captors argued that the mariphasa was solely a cure for lycanthropy, and anyway grew only in Tibet, but he was outvoted. The Philistine.)

The whole point of it, however, was the unspoken agreement by which we all accepted -- to pretend that we were POWs. (They were acting out a WWII scenario.) I’ve mentioned in previous posts various experiences that helped point me towards a career in writing, and this was definitely one of them. (I once snagged a TV writing assignment just on the strength of telling the producer this story.) The sense of living on the cusp, between reality and fantasy, is something that I fear kids today only experience in the virtual world. Although it sounds very contradictory, I think that a child’s fantasy life should be much more real than World Of Warcraft.

No comments: