Childe Tommy to the Dust Devil Came
He was all concentration as the old, battered bicycle shot, clattering, down the driveway onto the neighborhood street. Speed and silence; he needed to put distance between him and the twins’ house on the corner. The neighborhood girls all gathered there. And that drew the Hoods. He was headed the other way, but if they saw him…
“Joshua blew his horn at the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho…And the walls came a-tumblin’ down!” The sound of the girls singing as they played jump-rope followed him, somehow mocking.
Tommy exhaled and straightened up, easing off the pedals and gliding. He switched to riding no-hands. This section here was no threat. Only once he got toward the end of the block did he have to keep an eye out and be prepared to move fast again. Behind the thick lenses his eyes scoured the path ahead. Once he hit the turnpike where there were no houses, all he’d have to watch for was a few on foot or bikes like himself.
It was almost dinnertime, and all the kids were gradually spiraling homeward, like moths to candles. Scrubby small front yards flowed past him overgrown with children’s battered toys: No one left their good ones outside. Halloween decorations were taped to windows here and there.
He passed the street sign. Without stopping, he lowered his head and looked over his glasses at it.
Nope. Nothing. Still fuzzy, unreadable, even this close.
Somewhere inside he registered the disappointment, but never spoke it to himself. It was just yesterday that the Miracle happened. And then went away again.
He had been on foot then, walking on the shoulder as he came to the sign. He stopped stock-still, afraid to breathe, afraid to blink.
He was reading the street sign above his glasses’ frame. His eyes were seeing good! He kept staring at the letters he had never seen without the intermediary of Coke Bottle Bottoms. As his eyes grew watery from not blinking, he tensed more and more. Finally, they disobeyed him and blinked.
And it was gone. Everything was fuzzy again in the world outside his glasses.
The turnpike was deserted today. His skinny frame visibly relaxed. Nobody around. He liked that. No more worrying about “Others”. No harping at him by his Mom, no snarling, sulking father, no sneering brother. He was almost there.
He didn’t really have any reason to be here. He just wanted to move, to get away. All day long enduring the endless hell of school, twisting between the Scylla and Charybdis of deadly boredom and deadly fear. And he still had Junior High, and then High School after he, if he, made it through the next two years. It made his stomach ache.
There were two ballfields; the upper one separated from the lower by an embankment a dozen feet high. Tommy accelerated toward the embankment, gripping the handlebars ferociously so he could pump his legs harder. He shot up and unto the infield, slamming on the brakes.
He looked around, holding the bike up with one leg while he caught his breath. A bright, late October day, but the warm looking sun had little heat. A fitful, tiny breeze tried to irritate the dry grasses and brown grasshoppers.
He pushed his glasses back up his nose thoughtlessly, used to the weight that dug into his nose. He hated having bad eyes. It made him look stupid and weak. When he had to take them off, or they got knocked off, he’d feel the cold finger of panic as he was suddenly blind in a very dangerous world. It would be great if he really could see good again.
Maybe God would one day say:
“Okay. We’ve messed wit da Kid enuf: Gim em eyes again.”
He didn’t really believe there would be a miracle. But he didn’t know what else could help these eyes. He had no control over them. Or anything else. Things just seemed to ‘happen’ at him. He couldn’t figure out why those other kids seemed to be so lucky.
Then he stopped all thoughts stock-still.
Maybe he had just lost his mind; but there seemed to be a ‘tornado-looking’ thing suddenly…right…there…on first base. He was only aware of what his eyes seemed to be seeing and his ears hearing.
The smoky color of the dust, it was tearing to shreds the dry leaves it snatched at as it whirled and whirled angrily. A spinning moaning, a constant low groan, seemed to come from it.
With no words, his mind raced. Not from the sky: It has a top. Tornadoes come down from the sky. This is just…here. No clouds for it to come from. What is it? A Ghost or some Evil Spirit Thing? It looked like a giant “Tasmanian Devil” cartoon, taller than a house.
He looked around. No one else seeing this?
“What do I do?” he thought, vaguely aware of the need to make a decision.
He felt no fear: That gave him a delicious thrill. He observed it; curious. Was it alive? It moved like it was.
With a start, he realized it had ‘seen’ him. The moan grew louder and it seemed to turn toward him, coiling tighter like something about to spring.
He felt a surge of voltage at that, everything instantly turned on High Alert. Decide now. Out of nowhere it leapt into his mind that this could be a special moment, a one-shot deal, a once in a lifetime thing.
“No. Get out of there. This is danger. You don’t know what this is. Maybe you could die. Go. Now. Nobody would blame you. Anyone else would run. “
Something stirred in him, something he never remembered feeling before.
“No. This is a dare. It is daring me…Me. Okay…
He shot forward, pumping legs straining, teeth bared, giving it all he had. It roared in outrage, bearing down on him. He saw the front wheel disappear into the wall of wind…And then nothing.
Astonished and delighted, he looked back at the tattered remnants of the Devil as it sputtered out.
“Ha!!” Tommy trumpeted triumphantly.
As he rode home, he felt…different. Changed.
He thought he might just try not wearing his glasses, see what happens.
And a quiet smile formed.