picket fence

The twins shed their pale pink and powder blue pajamas like a pair of second skins, stepping from the sewn-in feet and into their undies with fire drill efficiency (Ann—left foot first, Ian—right foot first), their pert physiques attired with sporadic mirror-image coordination—allowing for toddler clumsiness; buttons were still a challenge; zippers were less problematic; putting on undershirts front-wards or backwards was by luck of the draw.

"I beat!" was Ian’s proud assertion… undermined by his sister’s downward glance, her upraised brows triumphant in mocking apposition; he had forgotten his socks.

"Last one down is a butt-face booger," alliterated Ann, sprinting out the bedroom door, Ian doing hopscotch in hot pursuit. Ann reached the stairs ahead of him and started down on her fanny, one runner-guided step at a time, knowing her brother (‘that dirty rotten cheater’) would opt for the banister (despite their parents’ repeated prohibition) and cut her lead… overtake her; which he almost did, their photo-finish at the kitchen a virtual dead heat… the ‘empty’ kitchen, to be precise, meaning ‘Sunday morning’… meaning ‘Mom and Dad were NOT to be disturbed’… meaning ‘this race through the premises had made noise-enough already, and fixing breakfast for themselves had better proceed without another peep.’

It did not. Ian dropped the butter dish, en route from fridge to toaster, its thick glass managing to bounce ("thank goodness") not to break… while Ann chimed in, making a Katzenjammerish clatter collecting the cutlery. Milk got slopped, crumbs well distributed, jelly lavished on countertop, table, and non-proficient mitts; but these caused a quieter commotion—none serving to rouse the grown-ups from their weekend’s hibernation.

 

Meantime, out in the frostbitten backyard, Geezer rummaged through a trash bin for his morning meal (of petrified bagel smeared with cream cheese gone rancid) prized from a grocery bag’s brown sodden corner where it had ruptured on impact with the receptacle’s slimy bottom. Methane gas afforded some welcome warmth, but what had seemed advantageous climbing into, climbing out of posed a high-walled dilemma—compounded by the distracting frame of mind that had put Geezer into such a stupid predicament in the first place. Seizures had tormented him since sun-up. Like mini electrical storms short-circuiting his faculties, these episodes sparked a series of idiotic notions, not the least of which was his conviction that he stood forty-eight inches tall (instead of only five), hence his toppling from the trash bin’s lidless rim to the garbage below—an ‘easy’ reach transformed into one precipitous plunge. Plus, try as he might to scale the heavy-duty plastic interior, he could not gain a purchase; all he achieved was to gum-up the nails on his frustrated front and back paws.

And what if someone were to replace his torture chamber’s lid, seal him in with this offal and the foul farts it leached, cart him off to wherever these hairless, tail-less barbarians stashed their extravagant rubbish; what then?

Geezer’s was a mission with a built-in time frame. The antibodies waging war inside his compromised circulatory and nervous systems were approaching their limit, barely able to hold their own against Proto’s insidious Plasm. Any delay could jeopardize centuries of preparation—not to mention the hideous consequences for Geezer himself:

who already had glimpsed reality from an alien point of view, understood, in mental twinges, what it meant to be a self-styled "steward," a sanctified, sanctimonious "guardian" of Earth’s multitudinous flora and fauna, a peak-of-the-food-chain predator with delusions of magnanimity—what it meant, in effect, to be Human, subjugating every other organism to perpetuate people and people alone.

Which was precisely the outcome Geezer and his comrades had plotted to overturn… for as long as memory served… generation after generation, of developing a parallel technology, for the one and only purpose of curbing its run-riot twin… when the moment arose… as signaled by certain indicators… overpopulation prime among them… "over" a determination reached by observing the rate at which non-human species were going belly-up… extinction come so fast that even some resource-ravenous top dogs finally noticed—not that their double-muzzled characters allowed for much to be done.

Once removed from the natural balance, knocked off kilter by appetites insatiable, Man, when trying to set things right, more often made matters worse. How induce a malady to cure itself?

This was the very conundrum Geezer’s ancestors sought to solve… or so went the Legend… "Mung," its heroine’s name… a forebear from the Wuyi Mountains of eastern China, who, according to one version (there were several), was separated from her tribe by a mighty eruption that sent her soaring, with a plume of acrid smoke and volcanic ash, to a far-off province, where she met a recluse (an "Upright," as people were then called), presumably disenchanted with his fellow human beings. It was from him Mung acquired Mankind’s loose thread—on which one tug had led to the Great Unraveling close at hand…

…if Geezer could haul his sorry ass out of said sticky situation. Blood brother to a numskull, he could scarcely rally the wits to hatch a viable plan; damn that dunderhead midget!

"Ooo, look; snow!"

"That’s not snow, silly."

"What is it, then?"

"Ice."

"Oh. Yeah." ‘Ice,’ Ian repeated to himself, lest he make the mistake twice, determined to keep abreast of Ann’s quicker smarts.

Clad in hooded parkas, mittens dangling from sleeve-ends like pairs of extra hands, the twins had ventured outdoors to resume their monumental dig. Sky domed overhead, brilliant blue with a collar of cloud-gray fleece. Winter forecast its approach with a vanguard of burrrrr-cold air, while Wind, for the time being, held its frigid breath, granting a reprieve, of sorts, to the treetop tatters. Expectation—as of some significant happening—energized the commonplace tableau: white picket fence around a single family home with children at play.

Whereupon Geezer, inside the trash barrel, commenced an uncontrollable fit of indiscreet sneezing. Ann—within earshot—turned her hooded head like a satellite dish to collect the muffled sounds.

"Listen."

Ian obeyed, aiming his own hood at the suspect canister—unlikely source though it seemed for the nasal noise.

"HA-CHOOS" continued… accompanied by a rising plume of expectorated microbes, frozen into crystals on contact with the Autumn chill, glittering in the sun like radioactive fallout, a fairy-dust-nefarious unleashing its contagion, an amber mist of atomized means to the monkey envoy's end.

At the trash bin’s overhanging lip, sixteen fingers suddenly appeared… followed by two up-turned noses… down which four baby-blue eyes intently peered. Not a dime’s worth of difference between one expression and the other, both mugs hovered over Geezer’s like a pair of nonplused imps.

"A mouse?" was Ian’s less than positive identification.

"A monkey," Ann firmly corrected, in spite of the cowering creature’s rodent-like size.

"Looks yucky," Ian observed—eliciting only a "Mm" from his sister, in reply, while the monkey recomposed his grimace into a pitiful semblance of a smile—the best he could do under such ‘ticklish’ circumstances, his muzzle still a-twitch in anticipation of another snotty salvo… which failed to come. Instead, the relief pervading Geezer’s senses made him confident his duty had been discharged; Proto was nowhere in his thoughts. The midget’s molecules—once airborne, once inhaled by (not both) but one of the double-barrel snouts—apparently had done their appointed job.

"Smells nasty, too," remarked Ian.

Ann might have concurred, had she breathed in when first glancing down. But knowing how garbage usually reeks, she had elected to hold her breath… continued to hold it, in fact, as if she had intuited the vaporized hazard. Thus Ian, not his sister, inducted the fateful dose—Destiny now a five-year-old boy coming down with the sniffles…

…heralded by a raucous chorus of crows, black (not white, as in the dream), appearing out of nowhere, come to roost atop the surrounding picket fence, its slats become the stanzas for flats and sharps of piercing "CAWS," each bird pointing its inharmonious beak at the stricken toddler—whose knees, of a sudden, buckled; "kerplop," Ian fell on his fanny—whence the birds took flight, circled the house in a loose formation, emptied their bowels, then dispersed in all four directions.

Ann, distracted by this winged evacuation, watched the birds disperse… then gaped at her brother.

"I fall down," was Ian’s narration, stating the obvious—beyond which he could add not a single word… shocked as he suddenly was by a nameless presentiment… which triggered, in its turn, a bout of atypical bawling—bleats, like bleeps, allowing maternal radar to zero in.

"What happened, Sweetie?"

"They’s a monkey in the garbage," Ann interjected, her brother’s trauma trifling now that Mom had arrived—though Ian’s cries proved not so easily quelled, nor Mom convinced by her daughter’s far-fetched explanation.

Unless (God forbid!) a rat had spurred this squall in her "precious little man." Evelyn cast an anxious look inside the trash bin (where Geezer, laying low, was out of sight), then back again at Ian—who bore no signs of tooth marks; the rat theory waned.

"ADAM! WOULD YOU COME OUT HERE, PLEASE?"

Dad, in robe and slippers, carrying a pair of bloated trash bags, completed the patented nuclear-family picture.

"Hey there, Corporal, what’s this caterwauling all about?"

Adam chucked both bundles into the open can.

"DAD; they’s a monkey in there!"

"Sorry, Mister Monkey," he called playfully, as he nevertheless secured the mislaid lid, offering, then, to relieve his wife of their still-blubbering progeny. Ian’s shrieks redoubled; Dad recoiled. With a mock-disgruntled grimace, he socked his own bristly chin.

"Fingers and toes all accounted for?"

"Well, he doesn’t appear to be hurt." Evelyn answered. "I gather something frightened him. Come on—it’s freezing out—let’s get him inside."

"But Mom! Dad! They really is a itsy-bitsy monkey; we sawed it! Just before them black birds flied round the house."

Ann’s ardent affirmation fell on doubt-plugged ears. Geezer went ignored… the backyard abandoned… silent, save for a gust of upstart Wind—which swept the lifeless leaves into a dither of post-mortal shudders.

 

A rejuvenating blush...

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