Embracing the world with positive creativity since Sept 2007.
A gust of wind slapped Danny Blue’s back and pushed him along the wide concrete pathway that stretched from the south end of Spanish Moss Park to the north end. He braced himself to place the copy of The Black Skylark Songbook he’d gotten from Cheryl in his backpack. As he did so, he felt Valerie’s copy of the book, the recorded DVD he wished he had never seen, and the puple velvet ring box containing a piece of candy made with death and shaped like a tiny yellow frog.
His fingers felt the velvet of the ring box as he recalled Valerie’s words. “If you’re watching this video, that means you belong where you are. If not Danny, you would have trans-evolved like me. I hope things are clear for you now D-baby. No matter how weird it gets, I want you to trust your life. If you can’t do that, and you’re not able to follow my path of evolution, the sweet in the ring box gives you an alternative. Except it’s an alternative with painful consequences. Your trans-evolution wouldn’t be like mine and we--”
Another hard wind rattled, he closed the backpack, and placed it beneath his left arm. An even harder gust shoved him off the sidewalk and he tripped over a large oak’s massive roots spread out like thirty-foot tentacles above the ground. His wrist banged against the hard wood of the root as his face went into the mud. He grunted, pulled himself up, and spat an earthworm out of his mouth. Holding his face toward the sky, he let the rain wash it clean. That was when he recognized exactly where he was in Spanish Moss Park and understood why he had tripped over the roots of the oak so far away from its trunk.
He moved slowly backward as the rain streaked through the dark, washing him from his uncovered cleanly-shaven head to his thickly-soled work shoes, splashing along the sidewalk behind him and joining with the wind in the leaves of the trees to make a muted kind of jazz that altered the way he saw and felt and understood the world. It was the same feeling he got when certain songs by Ruzahn seeped inside his cells and rewired his DNA for special heightened effects, or when he sat up late nights listening to Valerie talk poetry about the budding universes and space warps that made other realities possible.
Even through the rain and cloud-filled dark of the approaching storm, and through the shadow of the valley of dread spreading wide inside him, he could see clearly enough the gargantuan tree that spanned a good seventy-five feet around and stood the height of a three-story house. The size of the oak would have been less astounding had he been looking at the entire tree. As it was, what stood before him was what had been left after all of the tree’s upper branches had been sawed off and only the huge stubs of four or five main branches remained. Danny had never been able to imagine precisely how large the tree must have been before it was mutilated in a manner which demonstrated so superbly how inferior certain souls felt before the inexplicability of natural wonder, but he suspected now that its branches must have reached out over a full fifth of the park. He imagined that had they still been there they might both shelter and somehow restore the thing he had lost along with Valerie.
The way it looked now, the entire storm-filled night sky could have been the leaves and branches of the barren tree. If the branches had been there, he thought, it would look a lot like the silhouette on the cover of the books in his bag. Instead, he mostly recalled what one of Valerie’s professors from the Froggtown College of Creative Arts had told them about the tree during an evening tour of the park and downtown area. It was where, she said, a black man had been hung and burned. “The assailants severed his penis and placed it in his mouth, which at the time was not a practice restricted to residents of Froggtown or the Deep South.” After the professor said this, Valerie had walked on the roots up to the trunk of the tree, pressed her face against the broad hard belly of it, and said, “That’s true. They did kill a man here. They killed several men and women here. But the tree was always against it.”
A sharp lance of lightning jabbed one of the sawed-off branches of the oak and a broken limb suddenly dangled beneath it. As Danny Blue waited for it to hit the ground, a strange moan came from the dangling limb. The smell of scorched flesh overpowered the night aroma of rain and flora and ocean. He blinked away the water in his eyes as he focused on the form dangling beneath the giant oak.
That’s not a branch. That’s a man.
A roar of anguish exploded out of the writhing smoldering body and shot straight into Danny Blue’s skin. The heat and horror of it spread through his blood until it filled him like a madness. He looked up and down the broad sidewalk for a policeman or anyone who might confirm that he was looking at something real and help him do something for this wretched human gurgling agony and outrage. Why wasn’t he dead? And what was he doing between his legs? Trying to force his genitals back into their proper place?
This can’t be real because things like this don’t happen anymore and I’m going to close my eyes, I’m going to close my eyes and count to ten so when I open them the man with his dick cut off won’t be hanging from that tree, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’ll do it again and make sure.
When he opened his eyes, another man stood beneath the squirming form of the one hanging from the tree. A swirl of dizziness churned in Danny Blue’s skull as the wind whipped around him and nearly knocked him to the ground. From where Danny Blue stood, the man beneath the tree looked almost like a statue with an outline so flawlessly formed that Danny Blue thought he might be exactly that. Except that he moved and did something to convince Danny Blue he had fallen asleep somewhere and was having a ridiculous frightmare. If he screamed, he should wake up. Just as he opened his mouth to yell himself awake, the man beneath the tree slightly bent his legs then propelled himself up off the ground.
The moment he leapt, Danny Blue thought about the comic book heroes Jumbo Joe and Big Boy Billy because Jumbo Joe was fantastically large and perfect like this man and could leap like him too. Actually, as big as he was, Jumbo Joe could fly. Maybe this was him. Maybe this was Jumbo Joe come to save Froggtown from the hurricane and Big Boy Billy would soon be there as well. His mouth remained open but silent with rain dripping into it as he watched Jumbo Joe shoot straight up and curve backwards until, like a pole vaulter crossing a raised bar, he arched above the limb from which the hanging body swung. Without landing in the tree or slowing his movement in any way, as he came down on the other side of the limb, he snapped the rope holding the swinging body and drew the tortured man into his arms. His bare feet landed with a soft splash in the mud between the raised roots of the oak. Jumbo Joe’s head turned only for a moment towards Danny Blue as he carried the man from the tree in his arms. He traveled a diagonal path that led him off the grass and onto the stone sidewalk some twenty yards ahead of Danny Blue. The rumble of thunder cued Danny Blue to close his mouth as he dumbly followed.
He sloshed through broken branches and leaves, dead seagulls and pigeons, overturned wastebaskets and wet scattered trash, ignoring the fallen power lines like giant sputtering anacondas stretched across the concrete boulevard. The streetlamps, which normally would have lent the park the brightness of a circus tent, were all out so that the only illumination came from the lightning and the underwater lamps and spotlights in the fountain at the very center of the park.
The closer they drew toward the fountain, the more clearly its light allowed him to see Jumbo Joe. When he had stood next to the giant oak, his exact height had been less clear. Shirtless and shoeless, he was close to seven feet tall and at least two-hundred-seventy pounds, yet he moved, even as he carried another man, with the easy grace of a ballet dancer. The dull emerald light shining from the fountain also made clear the famous statues standing inside the large circle of water. At the center of the fountain perched on top of a ten-foot high bronze boulder were three figures, one of them a merman blowing water out of a large conch shell; the second an adolescent farm girl in coveralls on her knees pouring water out of a pitcher; and the third an elf-like Pan figure with water shooting out the reeds held against its mouth. The bronze boulder was surrounded by three swans and four frogs, all of them gurgling up streams of water that fell musically back into the illuminated pool beneath them. The entire fountain sat surrounded by a three-foot ornamented iron fence that Jumbo Joe stepped over with ease, still carrying in his arms the pathetic body taken out of the tree.
In the eerie light of the fountain, Danny Blue could see that Jumbo Joe was not dressed in the silver and red costume he wore in the comic book but wore only beltless blue jeans, possessed the firm muscled build of someone out of a myth, and had a head covered with stalks of thick black hair that stirred an uncanny sense of familiarity. Danny Blue took a few steps closer. The damp smell of the park and the rattling leaves of the surrounding trees made him feel like he was in a jungle. Jumbo Joe either didn’t see Danny Blue or didn’t care that he was there. After stepping over the iron fence surrounding the fountain, he stepped inside the fountain itself and stood in the water next to one of the long-necked swans. He lifted above his head the body of the man taken from the giant oak and held him like some old-world priest preparing to baptize, or sacrifice, a child. Danny Blue thought he must be getting ready to do exactly that, wash away the man’s pain and grief and burnt bleeding skin in a baptism blessed by compassion. Only he didn’t do that at all. Instead of dipping the wounded body in the water, Jumbo Joe started singing. From the first note, Danny Blue thought, I know this song and I have loved this amazing voice forever:
“This is my first life./ Somehow maybe my only life.”
He didn’t understand how it happened that the sound of the rain and the wind and the leaves, the distant sirens and low sinister complaints of thunder, the chilled darkness and sensuous aroma of the ocean had been swallowed into that voice and that song, simultaneously slicing him to pieces like a butcher and sewing him back together like a surgeon. He wanted to cry and lifted one hand to signal Jumbo Joe that he was standing there. A sound like giant swift wings made him look up and he froze at the sight of a long wide curtain of light that sparkled and sizzled above the fountain. Jumbo Joe did not stop singing as the floating light moved down toward him. Nor did he lower the body held above his head. Unlike the trees and everything around Danny Blue, the waving curtain of dazzling light did not echo the song or the voice that vibrated his blood. This light was its own power and peace, a center of realities that Danny Blue knew nothing about.
As the curtain of light continued to descend, Jumbo Joe began to rise towards it.
This is so beautiful, thought Danny Blue. This is hell.
He had no sooner told himself that he must be in hell when he smelled an oddly-scented smoke, as if life itself was on fire. A rush of sensations from sexual excitement to fear of death erupted through his flesh. Before he could move or try to comprehend what was happening to him, someone walked quickly from behind him and shoved him to the side.
He fell and his left elbow banged the sidewalk. A second muscular figure rapidly past him toward the fountain. That had to be Jumbo Joe’s sidekick partner, Big Boy Billy.
“I want that!” yelled Big Boy Billy.
Jumbo Joe continued to sing and rise toward the light.
“Give it to me!” yelled Big Boy Billy, moving faster.
His tone was all wrong. He and Jumbo Joe were supposed to be friends but Big Boy Billy yelled like they were enemies. He stepped up on the iron fence surrounding the fountain and leaped towards Jumbo Jim, who still held the pitiful man above the water. At the same time that Big Boy Billy’s outstretched hands touched the raised body of the wounded man, the brilliance of the light intensified until it blinded Danny Blue. He heard someone scream “Noooo!”
Then his head plopped against the sidewalk and Danny Blue slipped away inside a darkness, unable to hear or feel or see anything at all.
The light that had hovered above the fountain faded as if it had never been there and the man that Danny Blue called Jumbo Joe calmly stepped out by himself. He walked with bare feet and torso over to Danny Blue’s unconscious body. Leaning over him, he held his face and studied it. Young. Soft. Thin light mustache on a deer-shaped face with skin the forest-brown color of a deer’s too. Skinny like he argues with food and food argues with him. Bald-headed. Part boy, part man. Kind’a like I’ve never been.
As he strolled without hurry toward as eastern exit of the park, Jumbo Joe breathed deep the wet night air and from the flavor it left in his mouth he knew that the hurricane had not struck land and was somewhere off in the Atlantic whirling its fury above and below the waves. Some fifty feet to his left, lightning slammed the earth, filling the ground with heat and the park with the smell of fried air. Thunder roared like a god lonely for true believers. Jumbo Joe adjusted Danny Blue’s body so it rested more solidly upon his shoulder then began singing softly as if the lightning and thunder had been his cue to do so:
“This is my first life./ Somehow maybe my: only life./ Should I spend it spinning fables/ ‘bout space and time?/ Got just enough room/ to be a friend of yours./ Oh I hope you got room/ to be a friend of mine.”
(excepted from Christmas When Music Almost Killed the World)