Sentinel High is full of cliques, gangs, jocks, elitists, druggists and those they prey upon . . . mostly misfits like me. Not much has changed, even with the advent of all this PC business, antidiscrimination rules of various sorts—it’s all been driven underground. People can’t be stopped from thinking what they want, only from publically expressing it. Now, if they could only stamp out the hallway brawl. My name is Johnny Volero, Class of ’15, and I’ve been bumped, thumped, and then told to look out, before being called out after seeing some jock come on to my girlfriend and when I intervened, thrown down and stomped. I won’t say I’m genteel or anything, just prefer that problems not be resolved through violence, which becomes difficult when certain problems seem to arise for precisely a violent purpose. I may have once imagined such a scene, but here’s how it went down—
I was between classes walking along the crowded hallway for real when I saw Celeine being backed up against the wall lockers by some large blond haired jock putting her in a full body press. He’s wearing a lettered red and white campus jacket. His arms like the horns of a bull keeping her pinned to the vented, gray steel lockers. This hurries me around and past the gossipy, grab-ass klatches of innocence, some shouts of “Yo, Volero!”, and here I am not having fully thought through the endgame which may include my lying on the cold and polished concrete floor in any of several anatomically impossible positions. Trying my best not to obsess about any of these outcomes, my eyes meet Celeine’s as I tap the fiend on a large red leather shoulder. He turns his head my way with an expression that suggests utter contempt for anything smaller than himself, to which my deadpan reply—
“May I cut in? . . .”
—is met with a giggle from Celeine before his single-handed response sends me to the floor, coming to rest in rude proximity to one of those aforementioned positions and under his boot, waffle sole imprinting my face. Celeine screams followed by a few final words from her tormenter: “I’ll see you again.”
“Leave her alone! What if someone did this to your girlfriend?”
“Threaten me?—I’ll see you on Dead Lot 5.” And with that and his using my face as a starting block, he strides off.
I lay there watching him, Vince Hurld, move through the parting crowd as Celeine sits down next to me stroking my hair, telling me not to worry about it, that guys like that were always issuing idle threats. Several people asked how I was, with one easing my mind, saying that Dead Lot 5 was a “fucking blood-soaked battleground . . .” The crowd dispersed, I walked Celeine to her class, and we made plans to meet after school. That rendezvous was a ways off so I went looking for my friend Stan and found him sitting on a bench, alone in the West Quad—
“So, why’d you do it that way?” Stan acting incredulous about my latest descent into self-imposed madness and mayhem.
“I thought I could talk my way out of it?”
“Okay, but why bring his girl into it?”
“I didn’t, really. Just asked him how he would feel if someone did this to his girlfriend.”
“Volero, you idiot! He took that to mean that you were threatening his girl with the same type of attack that he visited upon Celeine.”
“Yeah, I get that now . . . but at the time it seemed reasonable to inquire as to why he’d do something that he wouldn’t want done to himself, like seeing some asshole manhandle his girl . . . which, by the way, I had absolutely no intention of becoming or of doing. And I did get him to stop.”
“Yeah, and also to transfer all his dark sexual energy into violence toward you.”
But the Vince problem was vying for mind dominance with another: I’m being stalked by some illusory creature that I’m afraid may be more real than illusion, though it’s very tricky to pin down the precise moment I became aware of its existence. I remember some dark movement along the periphery and then swiveling my head in an attempt to confirm that I actually saw something and it wasn’t some ocular problem. You know, like sometimes having a sense that some entity’s malevolently staring at you from behind until you turn and fail to see any non-ambient, nefarious workings in play. One may involve a trick of the light, the other a trick of the mind and both a turn toward confirmation; but somehow the startling effect of these brief sightings made them seem more intense, no matter my attempts to make their appearance seem ordinary from frequent occurrence. When in fact, it was their startling and ordinary arrivals that made the sightings seem more real than illusory. This creature—or whatever it was—appeared to be many times bigger than a housecat and may have had wings that once or twice glinted in the sun or lamplight before heads, body, wings and tail seemingly vanished into another dimension . . . or maybe just a nearby shadow, closet, shed or large cupboard.
Celeine and I meet in a small glade unknown to nearly all except we two . . . only to be joined by the creature, which actually begins showing-off more of itself, and taking no small delight influencing my connection with Celeine, who gets pissed that I’m not showing interest enough in her! But what could I do? Here was this three headed winged beast, its tail a hissing snake, competing with Celeine for my attention. And it had just begun communicating with me using a sort of telepathy, but only through its ocelot brain, claiming the goat brain to be of a more primitive nature . . . and when I nodded toward the snake head at the end of its tail, the ocelot head rolled its eyes. It referred to itself as a Chimera and was clever enough to always remain one step ahead, repositioning with wing, silent hoof and paw just outside Celeine’s field of vision, all the while taunting me in a most vicious manner—
You really don’t know a lot, do you? . . . C’mon, you need only think your response.
Alright, then I think that you’re being awfully presumptuous.
What do you imagine happened back there?
Back at the event of your day.
I got clocked by the school quarterback.
I stopped him from molesting my girlfriend.
See, that’s where you’re wrong.
The quarterback, Vince Hurld, had just recruited your girlfriend for the position of his new tight-end . . . Get it? . . . Tight-end?
The goat head is finding this innuendo hilarious. He’s got a jivey growth of white chin hair that collects into a curvy point making him look like a renegade poet with horns . . .
A collaborative effort between you two, no doubt.
No doubt. Which leaves you in the unenviable position of losing your girl to the guy who will soon kick your ass at a location quaintly named Dead Lot 5 . . .
At some indefinite time.
Actually, at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
I had the feeling that that this exchange with the Chimera would have continued were it not for Celeine attempting her own confirmation that I had come under the control of some malevolent entity hell-bent on causing her grief. She was pirouetting, executing rapid 360s . . . and the Chimera? . . . well, it was gently flapping its great sliver wings in the air space directly above Celeine’s head. My God, the beast was mocking her! The ocelot head yawned, the goat head seemed to chuckle as the snake-tail twisted and hissed.
Celeine falls into my arms. I kiss her and she kisses me back. The spell is broken since when I look up, the Chimera is gone. Though I know I haven’t seen the last of it. I begin thinking of Celeine and our first date, my arm around her shoulder, where beneath a low-neck angora sweater her perfect breast is filling my hand like warm tea into a cup . . . and then I think of that damn Chimera, and it’s no longer my hand but . . . Vince’s, and yet another spell is broken. I’m not ready to confront her with the conjecture straight from the ocelot brain of a Chimera and don’t know that I ever will, for obvious reasons. I desperately need to talk to Stan, and so Stan’s place is where I find myself after dropping off Celeine at the conservatory.
Stan has other guests, and I don’t feel like exposing my soul to Phillipe and Margolet, but they’ll have none of it. They’ve revealed the rumors to Stan, received pushback on the inconsistencies and having managed to imaginatively fill in whatever gaps, now want to test the veracity of their version with my experience.
“So we hear that you found them in flagrante delicto.”
“No, that sounds more like improvised news to me or something from a game of Medieval Latin telephone.”
“Then how about the throw down? You gonna make it up to Dead Lot 5 at 3 tomorrow?” which leaves me wondering what else the Chimera got right.
“What do you think Stan—should I attend?”
“Only with a small army or alone and heavily armed.”
“Okay—so I guess I can count on you, Phillipe and Margolet, here . . . right?”
“I have a crossbow & bolts I can give you,” says Phillipe, all solemn and earnest . . . which isn’t the help I had in mind.
“How about you Stan—what’s your weapon of choice?”
“I suppose I could seduce him . . . but only for you, Johnny,” said with a fetching smile.
“Well, I’d advise you three to stay away. After all, a Molotov cocktail won’t pass for a football and stopping someone with the bolt from a crossbow has been known to escalate a conflict.”
“How about making love not war?” Margolet, again with that smile.
Well, at least two of us would like this to end on a positive pitch, and so the love theme prevails for now as Phillipe and Margolet leave with perhaps one reevaluating his weapon of choice, maybe already thinking about sticking a flower stem up Vince’s nose . . . one attached to a big red rose.
“I feel like a cliché . . . being the last to know.”
“What’s there to say?—some women just get all excited seeing a man in uniform.”
“You mean, like Margolet?”
“Yeah, her too. So, that warning of yours seemed a little dire, even given the circumstances.”
“That’s what warnings are.”
“Sure, but why do I get the feeling that you’re holding something back?”
“Because I am? . . . I’ve been having frequent sightings of a Chimera, the last one resulting in a telepathic conversation with its ocelot head.”
“So the goat is mute?”
“So what did you two talk about?”
“It was more like I was the straight man being setup for ridicule by the ocelot head. It knew all about my predicament with Celiene and her uniformed suitor, the showdown tomorrow at 3 on Dead lot 5. The goat head was laughing at an off-color joke.”
“Alright, the ocelot head said that Vince had recruited Celiene for the position of his new tight-end. And then when the goat head started laughing, the ocelot head went on saying, Get it? . . . Tight-end?” Stan chuckles a bit too much.
“You do know that these are warlike creatures?”
“Yeah, and the ocelot head could sound menacing, not toward me but my situation. And not in any moral way, more in liking a good fight and with me being picked to lose, any kind of real contest meant taking my side.”
“May work out if the Chimera shows up and Vince isn’t Bellerophon—the one who slays the Chimera.”
For the next twenty-two hours I’m in an aroused state, unable to think clearly, my mind bouncing between extreme thoughts of action. I consider issuing an alert with a bullhorn from the East Quad but figure it would only attract spectators to the event. Then what of Celeine? Which side of this will she come down on? And I have no way of finding a creature that so far has always found me. Stan has been of little help, and the other two—well, maybe I could get Margolet to seduce the goat but then there’s that pesky ocelot head. These alternately flawed, unanswerable and ridiculous notions keep me obsessively occupied before passing out and into dreamscapes of highflying depredations until I wake up in a state of anxiety of the type one might feel after a nightmare of sleeping through a final exam or maybe the SATs, if one were headed in that direction.
No problem catching a ride, with Dead Lot 5 being quite the destination today and then there’s the added attraction of giving a lift to the projected loser. I disembark a ways before our destination becomes visible, with those staying aboard being very understanding about my need for some ‘alone time’ before the event. I take a footpath expecting to meet up with the Chimera along the way, and I’m not disappointed when it happens as I’m about to go around the bend, out of the woods and onto that “fucking blood-soaked battleground.”
Glad you could make it. Our goat head has composed a poem to sort of kick off the festivities, get you in the mood of things to come. He’s in particularly good voice today—
The Ballad of Vince Hurld
There once was a jock named Vince Hurld,
Who met the most beautiful girl.
He made a pass at her tit,
And then lickety-split—
Finished his trip round the world!
That was nasty and crude even for a limerick (but not for the ribald goat head of a Chimera, apparently).
Yeah, and it would have been so much better had I not been constrained by its poetic form and allowed to linger over some of the local culture and color of the tour.
Better for whom?
Oh, c’mon . . . Don’t be that way, criticizing someone’s artistic aspirations. The goat head does look a bit forlorn, and I relent—
You never know how far you can go until you go too far.
The ocelot head looks toward the goat head and both smile as if we’ve all been united in purpose by what I’ve just said (something first said by T. S. Eliot . . . conceptually, anyway). And I was only thinking of the goat head’s poetic aspirations, though look where we three are: Dead Lot 5 . . . I’m watching the ocelot head inspect a hind hock when I notice something curved, sharp and shiny.
Spurs! . . . and now take a look at our wings.
And the snake head?
And my teeth?
Piercing points of a vise.
And his horns?
My God, I just helped the Chimera gird for battle. I’ve become an accomplice to an impending teenage slaughter . . . masquerading as another extracurricular activity at Sentinel High, where no one gets to matriculate into the big, bad world without first participating in their own carefully crafted ceremony. And now, Johnny Volero, are you really ready for it or are you going to cut and run?
The Chimera takes flight with wings fiercely beating the air, blinding in their reflection of the afternoon sun. I imagine the cute, mottled ocelot head, eyes goggle-protected, poet laureate at the helm acting slightly goofy with his fear of heights, those great beating wings, snake-tail acting as a stabilizer and all three trying for nothing more than to stay aloft and on course . . . until I begin receiving the communiques—
15:07:54 Ocelot head to Ground Control . . . Ocelot head to Ground Control . . .
15:08:04 Where are you?
15:08:09 Taking a small walk.
15:08:14 You’re gonna miss seeing all the aerial highlights.
15:08:19 Keep me informed.
15:08:23 Roger that.
15:16:42 I’ve got spurs that mingle mangle mingle . . . those spurs have first opened him up and the snake tail is now constricting and squeezing out this fellow’s guts like red toothpaste while the snake head is using its fangs to stunning effect . . . entrails and organs are showing up in great looping abundance . . . all this and so much blood trailing our flight.
15:24:33 Going for the quarterback. Still in that same jacket, big red S over his heart, standing at the center of Chaos on Dead Lot 5 seemingly transfixed by the spectacle. In his mind it must seem like a scrimmage gone horribly wrong: players slipping, tripping and running into one another on a skim of red mud beneath a bloody sky, some crawling, many weeping, others in the throes of some psychotic break or high religious episode of glossolalia—try getting a good snap with that count! We’re going in . . . for the final sack of the season.
15:25:17 Blitzkrieg the motherfucker!
15:30:09 We’ve done more than blitz that muglafugla . . . and with only the twitch and ripple of a wing. Now we’re going for his inamorata.
15:30:17 Wait—you’ve gone too far. Now you know how far you can go and it all stops right here, right now!
15:30:51 Too late, Johnny. We’re coming home.
I’m about a quarter mile down the trail when the Chimera spots me. They do a flyby and loop back, landing about five feet ahead effectively blocking my passage. It’s an aggressive maneuver, but what’s really weird is the headpiece adorning the goat head and obscuring its horns . . . and then I see it—the heads of Vince and Ceilene are presented with the goat head horns serving as pikes. Blood and other matter are collecting and running in rivulets down the goat head’s face. Although, the entire Chimera is looking like it just took flight through an abattoir. I’m in shock!
Presented for your pleasure . . .
More like for my horror.
Consider it a professional courtesy.
Consider it neither professional nor a courtesy.
Remember—this is our world that you freely entered.
I renounce your world!
Not good enough.
I denounce your world!
Still not good enough.
Then I’ll create my own reality.
Ahh . . . we’ll fly to 500 feet and release the cargo, which traveling at 32 feet per second2 will give you about . . . oh, you do the math.
The Chimera kept its word. I entered a calm state focused on rebirth and redemption, only once interrupted—
With two shakes of a goat head, your cargo is . . . released.
—and immediately resumed. I felt the Vince and Celeine heads impact the earth and then saw them both crack open revealing two mature, feathered hatchlings: one a deep slate-blue, the other a pure white. They take their time grooming . . . one another, stretching their wings in high chirp and surveying their surroundings before flying off into a new cerulean sky.
I’ve been schooled in experimental psychology and coding, though I’m currently trading stocks for income and writing for the fun of it. There’s always a lot of reading, most recently Satin Island by Tom McCarthy and Night Without Stars by Mav Skye (a guilty pleasure is rereading Gravity’s Rainbow). I like off-road biking (the pedaling type), taking my terrier mutt, Sasha, out on the rat patrol, discovering break-out pop bands (give Broncho or Sleepy Kitty a listen or watch ’em on YouTube), sharing a bottle or two of wine with friends, talking politics without coming to blows . . . and then there’s the writing—Writing is an immersion into another world similar to this one but with enough differences to make the experience of being there less predictable . . . and with a few elements acting as tethers and a way back should things get a little too dicey.
Check out Stephen Winter‘s books on amazon:
Gyre Straits / Time’s Deceit / Time Ravelers: London 1963