Those in Our Gang
Vaseline swallowed a light bulb in the middle of our fourth grade year. He said he swallowed it so that the rest of us would be able to find him in the dark. But the light from the moon was enough, we told him, pointing at the pregnant ball of illumination hanging in the night time sky. Vaseline shrugged, consumed the 60 watt bulb and we watched it travel slowly down his throat. He wore a lampshade on his head for the rest of the year. Needless to say, we stopped hanging around with Vaseline.
But what of Worm, you ask? Worm is with us now that Vaseline is out of the picture. Worm brings us items from the woods: twigs, leaves, dog shit (wolf shit? cat shit?), he provides us with humor from a tattered book of knock, knock jokes, and large, empty cardboard boxes from his father's cardboard box making factory suitable for storage. But Worm is not without his own set of problems: he snores while he is awake, laughs at inappropriate times while watching film strips on Mayan ruins and fills the pockets of his pants with super refined sugar. We have thought about dumping Worm as well, but that would be insensitive considering that he sleeps in a hall closet while his siblings have their own bedrooms, with their own closets.
Slagärr the Merciless stopped growing at age six, and is thought to be agreeable to most things. He is pleasant to a fault, and will consume a bottle of glue not on a dare, but simply for the joy of feeling the thick substance slide down the back of his throat and collect in his stomach. We suggested changing his name to Slagärr the Kind or Slagärr the Light-Hearted, or Slagärr the Merciful, but he will not hear of it. Frog Bait complains that this is false advertising and we tell Frog Bait to shut up and then we hold Frog Bait down and take turns giving him a purple nurple, twisting and twisting until he is reduced to quiet sobbing. Slagärr the Merciless lives in a great palace in the sky, an opulent structure made entirely of glass, so that one approaches it--riding the escalator up toward its ornate front gates--one must shield their eyes from the glare it reflects from the sun. This momentary blinding distracts would-be intruders or assailants, giving a window of opportunity for the palace guard to launch barrels of molten lava from massive catapults positioned on the roof of the palace. Slagärr the Merciless has every type of distraction that is of any relevance to the youth of today: table hockey, video table hockey and simulated video table hockey, the rules of which are switched with that of croquet. It was Slagärr the Merciless who stopped us from dumping Worm, his reasoning so heart felt and genuine that we all changed our minds at that very moment. And when Slagärr the Merciless is not around, Worm does an outstanding impersonation of Slagärr, which he calls Slagärr the Wuss, that has all of us in the gang doubled over with laughter until our sides hurt and we have to sit down for awhile.
Sly's father was a typesetter by trade so naturally Sly and his family live next to a mental hospital. Sly prints all of our homework assignments for us with an old typesetting machine which is stored in his basement, and even, on occasion, when we are all feeling tired, or simply don't want to do our homework, Sly completes the assignments for us. Frog Bait loves the way the fresh ink smells, faintly rising from the paper upon which it has been printed, inhaling the pungent scent in great snorts. Sly's fingers are permanently stained from the printing ink; although we rarely see them bare--he usually wares gloves, even in the summer--as if the stain were something shameful--or incriminating--like blood. We are all very fond of Sly, and at night we pray and rub dangling rabbit feet and do whatever else it takes to let the Gods of Fate know that we would all feel terrible if Sly were to be hit by a car, or gobbled up by a man-eating tiger. Such things are awful to consider, especially when it might mean that we would have to complete homework assignments ourselves.
Sticks and Stones is our charter female member. She is soft and radiant and a mystery like all girls, although she says that it is we who are the mystery. She can land a punch like a heavy weight champion, and tread as lightly as an acrobat walking across a wire. She lives with her mother who is also a mystery, but in a more cunning, adult way. Her father left on a business trip seven years ago and never returned, which is A-OK with Sticks and Stones because she has created another father out of a mannequin she found in the dumpster behind a department store, and, according to her, the mannequin is just as good. Sticks and Stones has blazing red hair that often usurps the sun in its brilliance; the heat from her head so intense that in the dead of winter, when the sun is a no-show, we often stand in a circle around Sticks and Stones, our mittened hands reaching out toward the warmth that her hair provides. We spin around her, rotating on our own axes--satellites in orbit. She would never tell the rest of us, but sometimes, at night, Sticks and Stones crawls out of bed, makes her way down to the basement, where the mannequin resides, hoists herself up into the wooden arms of her make-shift father and falls asleep. I know this because I read her diary when she wasn't looking. She also has a crush on Frog Bait, but I would never tell him so; it would inflate is ego and none of us need that.
Frog Bait still hangs around with us, even though he should already be in the eighth grade. He is tall and narrow, with hands that never seem to be in any other form other than a fist. He is the bully of our gang, the Great Protector of our particular circle, even though he is easily humiliated, easily shamed, which we sometimes do, as a group, just to show him who's really in charge. Frog Bait has intervened in certain situations on our behalf; thwarting would-be bullies, stealing lunch money from other kids when one of us had forgotten ours, and insisting that he had been the one that caused trouble in class, when he hadn't, when it had been someone else in our gang instigating the trouble. It is just as well; the teachers always believe he is the one to blame--afterall it is he who is regarded as the bad seed, as a waste of everyone's time. Frog Bait says that he wants to be a pilot when he grows up and has already begun practicing by jumping off of roofs. Last week he broke his right leg in two places jumping off the roof at the local YMCA. We all signed the cast with various colored pens that Frog Bait had stolen from school. Frog Bait smiled proudly as we knelt before him to write on the uneven, chalky topography of the cast. For that brief moment, we were his minions and he was our hobbled king.
Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum: the twins. They used to be connected at the hip until they were separated by doctors wielding long, sharp knives, which wielded even longer, sharper names. It didn't matter though; they were still together all the time, as if tethered to one another by an invisible rope. Their grandfather was a sailor and they longed for the expanse and mystery of the sea: the swallowing of cold salt water, an indefinite encampment with its innumerable creatures--they claimed it was in their blood, whatever that meant. Then, one day, when the twins were on a boat out at sea, a storm suddenly appeared and tossed Tweedle Dee overboard. Despite the desperate effort made by his twin brother to save him, Tweedle Dee drowned; engulfed by the very thing that the twins loved the most. Sometimes, Tweedle Dum takes a boat out to where Tweedle Dee drowned, leaning over the side and sinking his head under the water, his eyes open wide despite the stinging salt water, seeing nothing but inky darkness moving all around him, his brother, a mirror image of himself, absent, as if he had never existed. Tweedle Dum still waits for his twin to emerge from the deep waters. We don't have the heart to tell him that Tweedle Dee is probably fish food by now.
Flipper was an orphan, living at the Drackwood Home for WaywardYouth. During his years at Drackwood, Flipper ate off of paper plates that were cleaned and then reused until they were reduced to pulp, and slept in bunks made from unused coffins. It would not be melodramatic or unkind to call him the saddest of our bunch. Then, just last spring, he was adopted by the Moon People and they took him to live in their resort hotel on the moon, which, as everyone knows, is even higher and grander than Slagärr the Merciless' palace in the sky. This made Slagärr the Merciless very jealous, his usual kind nature souring a bit whenever we visited Flipper at his new home. Flipper tells us that the reports of the moon being made of cheese are completely false. In fact, he says, raising his index finger in a vertical fashion so as to signal something important is about to be revealed, the moon is made of 75% asbestos, and the remaining 25% is a substance he can't reveal to us for reasons he refuses to go into. We swim in his Olympic-sized pool and eat as much junk food as we like. The Moon People are gracious and gregarious, just as you would expect Moon People to be. They are able to give Flipper the love he never received before, which is wonderful for both Flipper and us, especially since we were about to stop hanging around with him--he was always such a Captain Bring Down. Mostly, we mill about in his bedroom, which occupies an entire wing of the resort. Each of us in the gang takes a turn looking through Flipper's massive, golden plated telescope, using the telescope's infinite range not for any educative value, but to simply spy on people down on Earth. We witness indiscretion of all manner, and giggle at the things people do when they think they are completely alone. Eventually, we spot Vaseline, the lampshade still on his head--a soft glow radiating from his ears, nostrils and mouth--wandering the long, empty streets far below us. Alone. We watch Vaseline closely, as if some mystery regarding human nature might be revealed to us at any moment. We wonder for whom he keeps the light on.
About the author:
Scott Brothers has yet to write a novel, although he plans to do so just as soon as he forms the proto-psychedelic prog-rock band he's been talking about starting since high school(double-disc concept album to follow). Scott likes Hostess Fruit Pies, but not the magician fellow on the front of the package (he seems to be up to no good), and believes that Leo Tolstoy was the funniest person who ever lived.