This is my house. I live in Podunk.
This is my dog, Snoopy.
And this is the lamp that tried to eat me today.
The big kids were still taking tests and Twinkle Elementary in Merrysville was open for another week, but for me and my sisters, school let out for the summer yesterday. I had vowed to make the most of my vacation, and was making good on that promise: I had already gotten to the final world in Super Mario Bros. 7.
A pair of Hammer Brothers protected the bridge, and King Koopa was waiting at the end, no doubt. Only few quick moves, and Mario would finally rescue Princess Toadstool and free the Mushroom Kingdom. Again.
I guess I play a lot of Nintendo. My mother used to call me “Nintendo Boy” when I was little, and when my sister Minnie started talking, she called me “Ninten” because the whole word must have been too hard for her. Mom thought it was so funny, she started me calling that instead, and it stuck.
The lights flickered suddenly, and Mario disappeared into a sea of darkness. My heart shattered. What a horrible time for a power failure!
I didn’t have much time to be upset. From the corner of my eye, I saw my lamp floating around the room. My reflection made it look almost like it had a face.
“What the heck…?”
It hurdled towards me and I jumped out of my chair like Mario. It floated off the floor again and looked like it wanted to take another swing at me. Aside from that time Teddy Ruxpin was running out of batteries and sounded like a demon, I’ve never been so afraid of a minor appliance in my life.
“Stay away for me!” I yelled. “Or I’ll hit you with-” I looked around for my baseball bat, but it was missing! “-my, uh, hand!”
It flew at me again, and I swung as hard as I could. SMAAAASH!! The lamp didn’t move anymore.
I wondered if the whole summer would be like this. “At times like this, kids like me should be playing Nintendo games!” I yelled.
A shriek came from Mimmie’s room! I leapt over the dead lamp and threw open her door. The naked, hairless doll she had inherited from great-grandma was whizzing about the room like a spaceship. It was slightly creepier than normal.
I swatted it, knocking it into the wall. The doll cracked almost in half, revealing a tiny music box.
And then it played that song. Lamps and shoes and scrunchies were zooming through the air trying to kill us, and a trio of female screams echoed through the halls, but all I could concentrate on were those five notes.
“Take a melody…” “Take a melody…” “Take a melody…”
I felt something tugging on my shirt and snapped out of it. My sister handed my Wiffle ball bat to me like a squire handing a knight his sword. You know, if the sword were plastic, and made in China, and one time the knight nailed a homerun with it in front of his whole class.
This analogy has gotten out of hand.
I was about to take a potshot at a Cabbage Patch Kid when the lights stopped flashing and everything that was floating around fell to the floor.
The sweet summer air swirled around me and the sun beat down on my back. It was hard to believe I was standing in a cemetery. I choked up on my bat instinctively.
“Poltergeists,” I said quietly. That’s what Dad thinks attacked us this morning. He thought my great-grandfather George’s diary might help explain what was going on, but all the entries were gibberish. Great-grandpa kept babbling about masks and books, and a child. And what are the hills of Elfshima?
Just ahead was some kind of crypt. I had a feeling that the missing girl, Pippi, was in there. The door was already open. Could it be the work of those zombies I had heard about in town?
When I had gone to the mayor to report the crazy stuff that happened at our house that morning, he ignored me and asked me to go save Pippi.
“Citizen, I know you would like to help your town,” he said. “A child has strayed into the cemetery, and I’m up for re-election soon. You must help! Please help me!”
“Sir, I don’t really have time for that now. Today my lamp tried to kill me, and I slapped a baby, and-”
“Oh, you’ll go there and save her? Thanks, son!”
“But I- ”
“Thank you, come again.”
If I wanted any answers, it looked like I’d have to save the girl first.
As I tried to gather enough courage to step into the crypt, I my body went cold. Something was watching me. I readied my bat and spun around.
“Like whoa, peace and love!”
The sun glared off the hippie’s peace sign necklace into my eyes, and I nearly lost my balance. I thought his radio blasting ’50s rock n’ roll was loud until he started screaming at me though his bullhorn.
“Like, attention! Your mother is calling you, man!”
“Get a job, you beatnik!”
The sound of plastic-on-skull echoed through the cemetery. The hippie regained all senses. “I doubt that,” I said, creeping into the darkness.
The tomb was dead silent, save for dripping coming from God knew where. And have you ever had a cobweb in your mouth? Let me tell you, it’s not as fun as it sounds.
Deeper and deeper I went, until I could see a faint glow. A pair of candles barely illuminated a small chamber. I saw three coffins – two with their lids already on the grimy floor. The last coffin shook a bit. I could hear what sounded like moaning from inside.
I snuck over, bat in my right hand, my left grazing the top of the coffin. I pried the lid off slowly. A pair of eyes pierced the darkness, staring straight into my soul.
“Aieee! A zombie!” I swung my bat and missed.
“You saved me!” yelled a young voice. From the coffin emerged… the Wendy’s logo?
“You’re my hero!” she exclaimed. “I’m Pippie, and I’m lost. What’s your name?”
I held my hand out to shake hers. She didn’t notice it was quivering.
“K-Ken,” I said. “But my friends call me Ninten.” Pippie ignored my extended hand and hugged me around the neck.
We climbed out of the crypt and into the daylight again.
“You need to be more careful,” I said. “Children shouldn’t play with dead things. Hey, how did you manage to get stuck in that coffin all by yourself?”
“Oh,” said Pippie. “I didn’t go in there myself. Those guys grabbed me and put me in.”
I followed to where she was pointing. Dark figures were shambling towards us from all sides!
“Zombies!” I screamed. “There’s too many for us to fight! Run!”
Through the path and back to civilization we traipsed. I could see the edge of town.
“We made it, Pippie! Pippie?!”
I looked back just in time to see a zombie leap out in front of her. Pippie ran full tilt into the unwelcome undead and fell flat on her behind.
I lurched forward, bat in-hand, but something beat me to the punch. A bullhorn shattered over the zombie’s head, and she fell into the grass. It was the hippie!
“Groovy,” he said.
The hippie pulled Pippie to her feet. His glance darted to mine.
“Like, run, man!”
He didn’t have to tell us twice. I tossed him a can of orange juice as a thank you, and he disappeared through the bushes, heading towards the Canary Village I had visited earlier.
On our way through town, I told Pippie all about the poltergeists, Great-Grandfathers Diary, and the strange tune stuck in my head.
We passed by the mall and decided to grab a bite to eat. Running away from killer corpses takes a lot out of you, I noticed.
“What kind of world do we live in where French fries cost $15?! It’s not even a large.”
I could tell that Pippie was famished, so I ponied up the cash. She smiled at me in between bites.
“You’re brave, Ninten,” she said.
“Not really,” I replied.
Suddenly, her eyes lit up. She handed me the fries and dug around in her pocket. “I wanted to show you how much I appreciate you rescuing me. This shiny badge will protect you. Keep it!”
“Ok, thanks, Pippie. It’s time to go home.”
“Who has lost his tail?”
The voice came from thin air, speaking directly to my mind. It was just like that…spaceman?... that had been driving all the zoo animals to violence.
I tensed up a bit, expecting another fight from the bizarre pink rock that jutted out of the ground in front of me. But when nothing happened after a minute or two, I relaxed.
The cave was cool and dry, a nice change from the summer heat.
“Who has lost his tail?” I repeated. Popping open my last can of O.J., I sat on the ground to think. I hummed a few bars. “Take a melody. Simple as can be. Give it some words and…”
Then it dawned on me. I pulled out Great-Grandfather’s Diary and leafed through the tattered pages. There, in the middle of the book, was my answer.
“The forgotten one of the ship that sails the cosmos,” I read aloud.
The rock flooded the cave with white light. I’d have been scared, but it seemed familiar in a way – almost calming.
And when I opened my eyes, I wasn’t in Podunk anymore.
All photography by Matt.
All photography by Matt.