This is the earliest thing I can remember, my first visit to Disney World. The smell of burnt hair and incense... the frozen heads in the coolers...
“Mommy! Mommy! He’s in my ice cream!”
And people wonder why I became a sorcerer. Still, I had strayed from the tour group. There are reasons those stanchions are put up around restricted areas, kiddies! I could go on for hours and hours about the history and multifaceted uses of the stanchion... but that’s a story for another millennium. Getting back to my earliest memory, I thought I’d never get over the shock of seeing Walt Disney’s frozen head in an ice cream machine behind the “It’s a Small World” ride. For many years, I had a hard time opening up to others. I made few friends in primary school; in high school, I never spoke to anyone, just kept drawing little scribbles of frozen heads in jars on my notebooks. My best friends were sock puppets. Then came... the summer of love.
“Where’s our air support?!” I yelled at Sgt. Crommels as he snaked down next to me, readying his crossbow. General Lee had been convinced that equipping some of the troops with crossbows would throw the Confederates off... and who was I to question a military mogul like him?
Besides a loyal Unionist, and member of the Praetorian Guard.
“Telegraph operator says a freak snowstorm tore up all the biplanes, sir!”
I grabbed the sharpshooter by the scruff of his neck. “Sergeant! Do you have any idea what’s headed up that hill?” I pointed out over the blood-red sky to the advancing Confederate contingent.
“That’s a fully-armed, full-bellied Confederate war machine, under the direct command of Genghis Khan.”
“By Lyndon Johnsen’s glasses!” he cried, unable to hold his astonishment. I’d been told not to reveal the identity of the Confederate’s best General to anyone under the rank of lieutenant, but I needed my troops to know who they were up against. I’ll just have to deal with the inevitable court-martial later, I thought, remembering the last time I went up against the brass.
“So you get that telegraph operator on the clicker, and tell command that we need all the biplanes they’ve got. And then some.”
“But sir, the logistics-”
“‘But sir’ nothing! If those Confederates take this hill, they cut off our only trade route with Mexico! If not for Mexican trade, where will we get our exotic spices? The Orient? There is no such thing as a Northwest Passage!” I shouted. He was crestfallen; his dreams of discovering such a route had been the only thing that had kept him in prime condition all these years. I knew the truth would hurt, but better he hear it from me than from some grizzled Alaskan prospector. Sticky fingers, those grizzled types.
“Sir!” a buck private yelled over the Confederate cannon fire. “Sir, we’re getting a telegraph from outpost 47!”
I shoved Crommels aside like an old shoe. Outpost 47? Where was that?
“They say... ‘Large approaching force identified. Stop. Mexican Armada. Stop. Attempting to join battle. Stop.’”
His last sentence (and I do mean last. Shrapnel tore him to shreds) was cut short, as the grays fired their artillery simultaneously. As I ran, the walls closed in all around me. The hill was lost, the war was lost, and in a few generations all Americans would be left-handed and talking with drawls. I had failed.
Ripping the pin from one of the grenades attached to my active-duty sweater vest with my thick buck teeth, I whipped myself back, screamed “Take that, you commies!” and threw it as hard as I could into the rapidly collapsing trenches. I twisted sideways, rolling down the side of the encampment, faster and faster to outrace the blast. Behind me, I heard the anguished cries of hundreds of Confederates as the ground beneath them opened up, swallowing them into the cold, unforgiving earth.
I... don’t remember losing consciousness, but the next thing I can remember, I was surrounded by the remaining Confederate shock troops... and their commanding officer.
“You done buried ma contingent!” he hollered, raising a gnarled finger at me. It was covered in hair, and what I can only assume was some kind of sauce. My eyes drifted to the other soldiers... no way I could take out two dozen Confederates. Twenty three is my limit.
He smacked the blue cap off my head and reached into his pocket, rooting around for a minute. Then he waved his hand in my face, and a gray Confederate brand hat-helmet fell out of his sleeve. “Now you gonna be ma contingent.”
I had been prepared for all kinds of capture scenarios, but none like this. As I was rehashing my camouflage training, he unzipped his uniform and let it fall to the uneven, blood-soaked ground, revealing a paint-covered smock hanging over a pair of parachute pants.
Getting uncomfortably close to a Confederate.
“Now we gonna go through the paces.”
It replaced the memories of Walt Disney’s frozen head in the fear center of my mind.
Fortunately, my brain chemistry is different than normal humans, thanks to the many magical experiments I performed on my journey to sorcery. After the Mexican special forces sprung me in a daring daylight jailbreak, I was able to reintegrate into a steady civilian life, working shifts at a local bakery.
For nine hours a day, I’d (secretly) use magic to turn old tires into edible bagels, the ethical implications of which never really hit me until I think about it now, years later. But I suppose that if I could do it all again, I would. I wouldn’t even think twice about it. Forget I mentioned it. Guilty conscious, I guess.
But was working a menial job at minimum wage enough to satisfy my demonic ambitions? Do you even need to ask? By the end of the first week, I was already trying to branch out, explore the career options open to someone with my talents.
And boy, did opportunity come knocking!
Dark shapes formed all around me as the static electricity balls crackled, transmitting beams of bright white light to each other instantaneously. It was quite a sight, the bolts of light against the night. This was how I’d chosen to decorate my office.
I reached into one of the large burlap sacks, feeling the contents. “Tell the Sandman his gifts are... well received.”
She smiled, showing two rows of sharp incisors. This shipment was the big one, I could feel it. Normally, Sandman didn’t come through for me... but this was one of the rare times when his international contacts came in handy. This was the good stuff. I just didn’t know how he’d get it all across the border.
“How much can he procure?”
“How much?! Time is sand!”
She frowned. “How much? A beach-load, that’s how much!”
I ran my fingers through the fine silt. “That’s real feldspar, isn’t it?”
“And... have you found any... Arkose, perhaps?”
“We’re... working on it. I know how much you’ve wanted Arkose...”
“Four asterisks I’ve wanted Arkose!” I grabbed my solid-quartz window pane, looking out over the beautiful vista my apartment presented. “I’ve been trying to get Arkose this fine since the 70s. You get me at least... ten kilos of Arkose, and I’ll make sure the two of you live like royalty.”
She looked slightly queasy. “British royalty or French royalty?”
“And if we can get you... ten times that much?”
She was practically floating off the ground, and I could tell she had the goods to back up her boast. Silty Arkose... I could finally retire from this life of crime and devote myself to philanthropy! Or misanthropy. Whichever turned out to be more fun.
“Here,” I handed her a list of customs outposts. “Any one of those should wave you through.”
She gave me a hearty salute and raced to the gold-inlaid door. “You should expect shipment in two weeks!”
“I’ll be waiting.”
The day I finally went to trial, I got on the stand and started singing my testimony, against the wishes of my court-forcibly-appointed attorney. My running crew tossed me my “lucky” cello, and I rocked out loud. By the end of the day, the whole bar association was there, dancing along with me. There was a camera crew there, on behalf of NBC. They thought they were recording the trial of the century: the nation’s most prolific sand smuggler, on trial after years of tax dodging. But what they actually filmed was... the biggest musical hit of the summer.
The lighting, the choreographing, even the bailiffs’ matching ties; everything fell perfectly into place. Following a brief yet powerful crescendo, the judge acquitted me and I was offered the lead role in Gangs of New York. But I turned it down due to creative differences I’d had in the past with the script writers, and began searching the papers for a vocation befitting my Promethean repertoire.
Days turned into hours, and again into minutes, as I honed in on my next career. I kept getting turned down because of my run-in with the border patrol... and the fact that my head is constantly on fire, the result of attending PTA meetings with Dick Cheney.
Things were looking grim when my old boarding-school roommate Nigel Stottlebottom showed up at my stoop, looking for recruits for his latest anti-water campaign. I politely declined, but he was rather insistent. I eventually lost my patience, and told him his hatred of water was a squid’s tarp (a harsh insult back in the old neighborhood). He hit me in the face with one of his propagandistic fliers and walked away. “Go to Roboshrub!” he yelled as I watched him disappear behind overflowing dumpsters. Decomposing ham dripped over the chrome sides, and rats danced in the viral rain.
You know you’ve hit bottom when a psychotic old man can attack you with impunity.
I lost the flier, but that word he used... Roboshrub... it stuck with me. For twelve long years of working at the Pillsbury munitions plant, it fluttered around neatly in my brain-pan, tripping up my temporal lobe. My sanity wrent asunder, I fired up the Internet and searched far and wide, high and low, hither and thither, until at last I could search no more.
“Well it would be kind of stupid to burn myself, wouldn’t it?” I sneered, having nothing but contempt for the short man. His clothes were dated, to say the least, and his fingernails were laden with grime. All up his left arm-
“I’m the CEO of Roboshrub Incorporated! You want to work for me, Karl?!”
I blinked quickly, opening my mouth uncertainly. “How did you know my na-”
“Not important! I need an answer!”
“But... you... there wasn’t any back-and-forth! You didn’t ask me my name, start a conversation, and make jokes along the way! The way you did it broke plot continuity.”
“We do that a lot over at Roboshrub Inc.” He held out an arm with four watches on it. “This one’s my thinkin’ arm!”
“Um... yeah. Couldn’t you just be a little more into-”
“Story ends now!”