by Dennis Scott Herbert

 

I know you like stories about making friends.

I met my fake friends when I was thrown duct taped and gagged into the back of a van. They locked us all in the basement with Mr. Rogers’s Imagination Land and shadow puppet shows on the wall. If they had it their way, I would have stayed down there for years. If they had it their way, I would have never written a word.

But I’m out. I got out. And now I’m the crazy one because I tell people, “Oxygen is universal energy.” Because I say, “You never know, you never know, you never know.” Because I say, “There are other dimensions. Dinosaurs could be waiting in heaven.”

And I have reasons, because . . . this is a tough story to tell:

 

When I escaped from the small metal box the government kept me in, I walked for months through cornfield after cornfield. Then, on a clear night lit silver by the moon, I fell upon a family of four gathered around a table with a roast chicken and green beans in their modest, midsized farmhouse.

I snuck in a side door without making a sound. My bare feet nearly silent, only small creaks, atop the wooden floor. Imagine this: some shirtless, dirty boy, starved and skinny, appearing in your dining room, pulling a chair up to the table, blood on his face from an animal he ate, fingernails sharpened to claws, taking a seat and reaching a hand into the chicken carcass.

A daughter screamed. The mother screamed. The mother pointed at my bright red wristband. “He’s from {Not Allowed to Say}.”

The father said, “What in the hell.” The three of them jumped and ran out the door. “Call the police,” she said. “I am, I am,” he said.

But the other, younger daughter who had stayed in her seat said, “Everybody is waiting,” and took me by the hand and led me down a soft, carpeted hallway toward a white door marked J, in pink.

“Welcome,” she said, turning the handle of the door, “to Jurassic Park.”

 

The most beautiful memory I have:

A room with walls painted like lush jungle and a bright yellow stegosaurus in the plastic jaws of a purple T-Rex.

I picked up one of the flying ones and soared over the bedsheets and the volcanic land.

“This is the greatest day of my life,” I said to the girl, swooping with spread wings.

She said, “Meteor,” and slammed a soccer ball into the canyon with all the ferns and the brontosaurus eggs. “Now the sun is blotted out, they need oxygen, oxygen is universal energy, they’re all dead.”

Red lights flashed through her window, onto her ceiling, turning the fluffy painted clouds to fiery ashes. “I know you’re half crazy,” she said. “But I don’t care.” And we stood up together, at the base of the miniature lava-river-volcano. Before the adults came and got me, she held my hands, looked close at my fingernail claws, and I bit her hard (scream) on the soft flesh of her upper arm because it felt like the right thing to do.

 

 

Dennis Scott Herbert is a winner of the Toy Wilson Blethen Fine Arts award and recent MFA graduate from Minnesota State University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Paper Darts, Squalorly, the Minnesota Review, Smokelong Quarterly, and Hobart among others.

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