The wind kissed his golden locks as they whipped up from the prairie over his Union-proud Kepi-cap. The general began to suck in stinging sips from the now loosened tobacco that he'd packed under his lip earlier that morning. He watched the 7th descend west out of the Black Hills. Reaching a hand down to his side armed Remington Colt Revolver, he felt the need to hold and lift it just enough so it no longer relied on the support of his belt. Feeling the weight, the way it caused his arm to tense and tighten up through his shoulder stretching his neck to his jaw, reminded him of the graves he's been responsible for filling. His other hand stroked the silk neckerchief that hung loose under his army-proper-shorn chin, which strong jutting not just emanated man-ness, but God's grace upon his manifest destiny. He signaled towards his second in command, 2nd Lieutenant John J. Crittenden.
"If Colonel Reno's intel is on the level lieutenant, Sitting Bull should be just over that ridge there, nestled right upon the bank of the Cheyenne. So as I see it, a quick right flank of our division would leave them with no option for retreat. What d'ya think Crit?"
"That sounds 'bout right t' me general. Problem is Casey's running late. He just text me that their stopped at the Gas n' Goodies. ETA is fifteen, twenty. He's asking if you need anything."
The general was visibly perturbed. "God Dammit! I said noon, didn't I? What time is it? Ten past already? It'll be One by the time they get set up. Two by the time we engage. The battle was already over by then! Crazy Horse should have my scalp hoisted to the heavens in less than half an hour!" With that, Don Knutson removed his blonde wig, unveiling the bald cap he'd so craftily fastened for what he envisioned as his grand finale'. He went over his last lines in his head, This may be but my last stand on earth, but as my soul makes its way to God and my mortal horizon, my maker will meet me standing tall on my own two feet. He watched his carefully crafted death-knell disappear into the distance of his mind's eye, thanks to the truancy of his "associates." The general, his spirits dampened looked to his subordinate for reassurance.
Crittenden, was more accurately 2nd Lieutenant John Jordan Crittenden the Third, a handsome soldier, with a long flowing mustache that rested gingerly beyond his chin, and a long quaff of grease-sheened hair, which he combed neatly back over his right ear. Unfortunately, this long dead officer was being portrayed by Dustin "Dooby" Harris, a portly fellow, with Coke-bottle glasses, and a pony-tail. Doobie, was one of Don's oldest friends, and though he wasn't particularly thrilled or even interested in battle reenactments he felt an obligation to his buddy (The truth of the matter is that in their last session of Dungeons and Dragons, Don [a level twenty-seven Dungeon Master] could have fairly and squarely obliterated his twelfth level Mage, Fidelis, whom he had been nurturing for the past nine years, unless he would agree to participate. Fidelis lived, and Crittenden would not).
"Well, I mean, I guess we'll just start up a bit later than expected.”
Don interrupted him rudely by throwing his synthetic wig toward his face, the wind sadly catching it and forcing it to sail short landing upon the grass before his feet. "No! It's over. Mission un-accomplished. What a waste of research and costumery. They are all dead to me. They are Custers, all of them.” Don wiped the vitriol and froth from his lips. "Text them to pick me up a Mountain Dew Midnight, some Pemmican, and a Milky Way Dark. We'll meet at my place for Magic the Gathering, in one hour.
"Sweet." Dooby was elated at the change of plans. As he began typing his message Don Knutson walked away toward the car, stripping his uniform off as he went, leaving the articles of clothing to rest where they fell.
Don Knutson was born an only child in the small dust-dirt town of Watertown, South Dakota, in the early Nineteen-Eighties. His mother and father were childhood sweet-hearts, former high school basketball great, and prom-queen beauty. They had love of their town, and in return the town recognized them. They would congregate after church, discussing the town's affairs, father making connections and possible new clientele for his Lutheran based insurance company; and mother busking in women for their next appointment at her hair salon (the only hair salon in town - Watertown, Hair and Salon). They had confidence in the family foundation they had built, and its ability to support their son in the community. However, they were not prepared for their Don.
The first inkling that something was a miss with their hope for a normal life occurred very early on, when Don was very young. As a matter of fact it was right when he began to speak his first words. Instead of the standard "Da Da," the couple was confused when Don uttered a "Ka Ka," and a "Ku Ku." The confusion was short lived however, when they noticed Don speaking his "Ka and Ku's," to the television playing re-runs of the original 1966 Star Trek series, staring "Ka"ptain "Ku"rk. As the father watched his son reach out for the fictional character on the television set he felt hurt and betrayed. Some star man had stolen his rightful "Da Da's" right from underneath him. He wasn't going to let his son be led astray again.
It's Halloween six years later. Mom and Dad are being called into Calvin Coolidge elementary school for an incident which occurred involving their son. The call they received was very confusing indeed.
"We just don't understand why you think this kind of outfit would be acceptable in the classroom, or anywhere for that matter." The woman sounded frantic. She was panting. There was an audible shriek or squawking in the background.
"I'm sure, I just don't know what you mean Miss Door. My husband and I thought the idea was rather clever."
"Clever? Well maybe you two and I have a different concept of clever. Yours being just downright tasteless and mine being, being, being," she didn't think she would come up with it. The words weren't coming. "The opposite." Oh thank goodness. She got it. "Please come as soon as you are able. Donny will be in the maintenance hall until you arrive. We don't want him to harm the other children."
"Harm the other children!" Her confusion was at a boiling point.
"Yes. Harm. Or should I say cleverly harm." Miss Door hung up the phone hard on the receiver. Her hope was that the harsh plastic on plastic contact would hammer home her intensity to the malcontent mother and father. Their costume idea wasn't really clever, by the way. I suppose one could say it was cute perhaps.
About a week before Halloween that year, young Don was horrified to walk into his bedroom to find a green sports jersey, with the name Bird etched on its back lying across his bed. Next to it sat a bright orange rubber ball. The smell of the new rubber made him nauseous. But not as nauseous as what he heard next. His father had quietly walked in behind him in the hopes of catching his son's excitement early and uncontained.
"Happy Halloween Sport!" His father beamed.
"What is it?" Don was getting nervous that his father had attached him to some sort of sport-like extracurricular event or activity that may very well take away his after school sitcoms, such as Perfect Strangers or Who's the Boss. Or even worse, his weekend creature-features. God forbid. This weekend they were showing Frankenstein meets Jesse James' Daughter, followed by The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
"What is it, he says. That's your new Halloween Costume pal. I went right over to Scheel's Sporting Goods and picked it up myself. Little Larry Bird. He's the best ball player ever you know. Three point king."
Sadly Don didn't know. He did know one thing however. If his father wanted a bird he would oblige. He thanked his father, and made his way outside, down St. Anne's hill to the Turkey plant that lay situated just on the edge of the Missouri River that trickled through town. He walked into the plant, and right up to a sad looking woman behind a reception desk. She was reading an issue of TV Guide with John Larroquette on the cover, and drinking a Tab.
"I'd like to speak to the person in charge of feathers please." Don had all the confidence of a man twice his age, and half his eccentric.
"Feathers?" She asked back as she gingerly "sipped her river" (for those of you unaware, that's when you slurp the remaining soda left sitting between the opening and the rim of the can, "Sluuurp").
"Yes my good lady. I'm looking to get a good deal on some feathers. By the specific nature of your operation here, I'm assuming that they'll be of the turkey variety, which will be just fine. Also a quart or two of poultry blood and I'll be sitting pretty. Also I couldn't help but notice that you were drinking my favorite soda-pop, made my favorite by the actor Mathew Broderick's character David Lightman's love of it in the film War Games. I also see that you have some fine literature there. Not only is Night Court one of the great television situational comedies of our generation, but if you wouldn't mind turning to look to see what the first act of last Saturday's Creature-Feature was it may just give you a better understanding of what I'm trying to accomplish here."
There was a pause as the receptionist absorbed all of the information this strange little man had just laid on her. She kept her eyes on him as she reached for her digest. She kept one eye on him as she looked through last Saturday in the listings. Then she found it. 12:30, Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds": A terrifying story of a young socialite and her urban lover trapped in a small Northern town as it is overtaken by vicious, ravenous birds. Three out of a five star rating system. She smiled as she put down the guide.
"I'll see what I can do." Just gimme a moment." She got up from her desk and disappeared behind two large handle-less doors. A healthy stink of turkey-slaughter wafted back to Don as the doors closed behind her. She emerged a few moments later with a black garbage bag of feathers, and two plastic containers filled with a soupy crimson. They warmed Don's hands as he held them.
"Now if anybody asks you didn't get these from me."
"Oh certainly not. You have done a great service for all of Halloween-kind."
"You know, I have a son about your age. Dooby. Do ya know him?"
"Ah lemme see. No I don't believe I know any Doobies."
"Oh right. Well his name’s Dustin. We just call him Dooby cuz he kinda looks like Velma from Scooby Doo." She knew she was being frank, but she didn't mind because this young man made her feel comfortable. He felt comfortable too.
"No I can't say I know any Dustins either, but I shall be on the look-out."
"Well you should. He's into the same stuff you are. I'll tell him to look out for birds tomorrow in school K?
With that Don headed out the door, but before leaving he turned back. "Live long and prosper."
It was four years later and Don and Dooby were waiting for their parents in separate "holding rooms," at the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer. The pastor, Pastor Tom, had been back and forth from room to room trying to get one to incriminate the other. To "turn" one, as he'd seen and heard on Perry Mason. They were hard nuts to crack, but he had the Lord on his side, and a swagger. I ride a Harley Davidson after all. He thought to himself as he walked from room to room. I'm not your dad's preacher man. No way. I wear blue-jeans to Friday service, and I watch Saturday Night Live in my den. He was getting himself in the right frame of mind to do the Lords work, with a touch of child psychology. I can relate, was his last thought before he reentered the room to speak with Don.
Pastor Tom walked over to the desk next to where Don was sitting. Don was sitting with his back to the door and his face to the wall. The Pastor slammed a large paper bound book down on the desk. The slap-sound of the book connecting with the table rung in Don's ears, and caused him great alarm. He knows as well as anyone that once a binding “goes” on a paperback, there's no turning back (to mint condition at least).
"Turn around young man." Pastor Tom was trying to find a balance between authoritative and "cool." Don turned slowly in his chair and hopped it forward inch by inch, as though he were bound to it, until he reached the desk. The pastor edged the book toward him as though it had confidential stamped on its front and contained the answers to the Kennedy assassination.
"Now, all I'm asking is... What is it? Whose is it? Where'd ya get it? And what's it doin in my church?" Pastor Tom felt he nailed his opening. He wondered momentarily if he'd gone into the wrong line of work. Don cleared his throat, ran his hands gingerly over the book's glossy cover, and answered his inquisitor.
"That is the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manuel, Basic Set, Second Volume Third Edition. It is a manual used for a table game of fantasy created by Gary Gygax, in 1974, while he was a freshman at the University of Michigan. It is both mine and Dooby's in that we both paid equal portions to acquire it, also in a sense that both of our characters rely heavily on our proper use of the manual during game-play. We purchased in the sci-fi slash fantasy section at the B. Dalton book retailer at our local mall, and it is in your church because we intend to continue our quest after our session of Sunday School.
Pastor Tom remained silent, and pulled the manual back over to himself. He hastily flipped through its pages. His gasps weren't audible, but they were visible enough. He stopped on a particular page, and folded the book over on itself. This caused Don to grit his teeth (again it was a the binding malpractice at play), but he held his tongue. Pastor Tom slid the book back over to Don.
"Mind telling me what this is all about." The Pastor was beginning to perspire at his hairline.
Don inspected the selected page. It was an image of a particularly peculiar sort. It was a grey cat-like creature, with razor sharp fangs and claws, which appeared drawn and ready to strike and devour. Jutting from its back were two wing-like tentacles, which ended in a series of thorn-covered leaves. It was one of his favorite and most feared adversaries.
"Ah yes the Displacer Beast. A most dangerous foe. But while most think this danger arises from its maw and swipe, it actually comes from its illusionary powers. You see the Displacer Beast can actually project its image up to five feet ahead of himself, so while you believe he is right up upon you, you are just being distracted long enough to where you might be attacked by an Owlbear, page ninety-seven, a Lich, page seventy-eight, or God forbid a Gelatinous Cube, page one-o-six." You have quite the eye for your unholy beasts Pastor Tom.
Tom looked up from the Displacer Beast in the book and onto the one he saw before him. "Are you aware of Christ's forty days Don?" He didn't wait for a reply. "No of course not, why would you be. You're too busy fighting cubes and lickers and heck knows what to listen to any of my sermons aren't ya Don? He didn't wait for a reply. "Well if you did Don you would know that Jesus Christ spent forty days and forty nights in the desert without food and without water, all the while being tempted by Satan himself, and..." Don interrupted.
"That's very interesting Pastor Tom, because as you know biologically that is an impossibility. However if one were to find oneself enveloped by a previously mentioned Gelatinous Cube, one could feasibly stand to live for that amount of time, with such a lack of sustenance. Also I suppose this too would be possible if one were to fall into the pry of a Mimic's chest, page twelve. Though it would not be pleasurable, it would allow one to persist without proper nourishment."
Pastor Tom was blank-faced and unpleased.
Don continued, "I see I've lost you a bit here. Are you aware of the film Return of the Jedi?
Pastor Tom perked up. Of course I am, he first thought to himself. Why wouldn't I be? I'm with it. I'm a cool man. He composed his thoughts, before he spoke. "I enjoyed the film yes."
"Great well it's like the Sarlacc Pit on Tatooine." Don could see he'd lost him again. "It's like the first part in the desert, when they're gonna throw Han Solo into that hole."
"Oh yes that rebel Han Solo gets into all sorts. Does he ride a hog by the way? You know my Harley Davidson..."
Don Continued, "So then you know that Jabba, rather than sentencing him to death, sentences him to something worse. To be digested over thousands of years in the belly of the beast that is the Sarlacc Pit. So one would have to surmise that though in a precarious predicament, Han Solo would be kept alive without food or water. Though I'm not sure if that's an allegory for tempting Christ. Besides everyone knows that Luke Skywalker is the representative of the Christ figure in those films, and..."
"OK, I've had enough." Pastor Tom wasn't sure of what he was hearing, but he was pretty sure it was getting too close to the possibility of being too blasphemous for his liking. "I'm calling your parents, and this devil mag is going in the trash. Turn back around and face the wall." Pastor Tom exited to go make his phone calls, and while doing so he made a mental note to alert his parishioners to the dangers of the star films from Hollywood during his next sermon.
When the pastor reemerged into the room Don already knew what he was going to say. "I couldn't get hold of your parents, but fortunately I was able to locate Dooby, I mean Dustin's mother at work so she'll be coming by to pick you both up in a little while."
You see Don's parents had begun letting their phone ring to their answering machine a few years back. Don wasn't quite sure if it was because of all of the calls they received from school or church, or the Police department, or the zoo, or the deli counter at the Red Owl grocery, on behalf of his behavior; or if it was because he'd overheard his parents discussing his father's low sperm count and their inability to have another child. He decided it was probably a combination of both. "I guess it's me," he often thought to himself. "I guess I'm what they got. I guess they got a depression, and they're stuck with it," was another regular thought.
Pastor Tom leaned over the desk and softly tapped it a couple of times with his fingers. "You know what Don. You're not a bad kid. A little strange, I suppose, but that's not so bad. Heck I wear jeans to service some times. You've seen me right?" He paused for a recognition he didn't receive. "Don you just need to ask yourself. Have you given your will over? Have you given your will over to a power greater than yourself?" And with that Pastor Tom left Don to wait for his ride home from church.
Dooby and Don were now driving back from their failed Little Big Horn Reenactment. Dooby was getting concerned that Don was still wearing only his skivvies.
"Aren't ya getting cold Don? Want me to pull over? I got my Commie Con cloak in the trunk.
Don didn't answer. He just stared out the window at the vast prairie before him. He felt scared. He felt a fear of being different. Or even worse, of slowly becoming the same. He needed a new angle, and for once he wasn't sure what it was going to be. He looked over and watched Dooby smoke his exaggerated MacArthur-style corn-cob pipe. He looked regal and strange. Just the way one ought to. He waited for Dooby to notice his stare, which he soon did.
"Hey what is it Don? What's up?" Dooby could recognize Don's intensity when it was present.
Don spoke. "Do you believe in a power greater than yourself Dustin?"
There was a moment between them.
"Yah I suppose I do. You?
Don ruminated in the question, but he knew his answer. He'd answered it all those years ago sitting alone in that room after Pastor Tom had left. He'd found a power greater than himself, and that power was strange and eccentric. And that power existed solely for him. Don had his God and he carried it in all that he did.
"I know I do Dooby. I know I do."