Underground With Nickelan Wand, Book One: Kid City

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Chapter 22




Nit Wit was dancing. He held a transistor radio against the side of his head and sang along to the tinny sound coming from its small speaker. Pirate radio was playing Half-Man, Half-Kid,the newest hit from Windshield Wipers Go. Nickelan couldnt understand the lyrics. Nit Wit shouted over them. Yeah!he crooned, making sweeping air guitar motions with his free arm.

You seem more like a Darkness Begins fan to me.Nickelan was in good humor.

The Darkness Begins?Nit Wit dropped the radio from his ear. They suck!

I think they rock.Nickelan enjoyed teasing his new friend. He couldnt care less about The Darkness Begins or Windshield Wipers Go. The music, however, put a kick in his step and added a triumphant soundtrack that Nickelan thought fitting, considering he was now determined to storm Kid City and reunite with his parents. He wasnt only going to see his parents again; Nickelan was going to save them from execution. Mr. and Mrs. Wand were weird, but who wasnt? Weirdness is only strange when its unfamiliar. Nickelans weird parents were, being his parents, also his intimates. They were so close that his weird parents in time became commonplace, their weirdness normal.

Nickelan always felt his birth was like a random prize won by a ticket his parents purchased in a mysterious sweepstakes. He was nothing more than the punch line to a cruel joke by an uncaring universe. All that changed now. Nickelans life was a prize, it had value and meaning. His parents were not space aliens or fantastic fabrications, even if he might feel that way when their actions were beyond his understanding. It embarrassed Nickelan to even think this, but he loved his parents. He owed them everything and planned to pay them back now, by saving their lives as they had given Nickelan his life.

Life was only a practical joke if lived as a cosmic jest, quip, wisecrack, rib-tickler, knee-slapper, groaner. Life could be majestic. Nickelans life was beginning to feel like it had a grand destiny. Destiny wasnt a word Nickelan was used to saying. Nickelan was also not used to saying words like Thunder World and Kid City. Nickelan was also not used to facing unconquerable odds and conquering them.

Nickelan wasnt sure he was the Redeemer, wasnt sure there was a Redeemer, but the idea appealed to him. In a sense everyone had an opportunity to become their own Redeemer, if they chose to. Nickelan chose something. Face-deep in toilet water, after days of moral, spiritual and physical abuse, he was ready to stand up for himself. Hed no longer hide behind Selwyn Harris or Gelsomina Gillespie. Nickelan Wand was facing the music, alone and unafraid.

Turn it up,Nickelan told Nit Wit.

Why?Nit Wit asked. The songs over. Its just deejay patter.

Turn it up,Nickelan said again. The deejay was a woman with a voice that dripped slow and syrupy like honey, yet her tone wasnt sweet. What she said may have gone over Nit Wits head, but it hit Nickelan like a blow.

Hey, buccaneers and beat-loving seafarers,the deejay purred. That was Windshield Wipers Go with their newest slab of hot wax. Its number one with a torpedo. Simon, Ira and Ada from Windshield Wipers Go will be in the studio this afternoon to answer questions and take your requests. Speaking of requests, Ive got one going out to the Big R. Hope you can hear me, baby boy, because this one is dedicated to you from an old friend. Calls himself B.G. and says he misses you. Missed you on the boat and in the woods, but plans to meet up real soon. Says when he does itll be a party to end all parties. So, put on your dancing shoes, heres The Darkness Begins with Jaws of Justice.’”

Nit Wit held the on/off switch on the radio between his forefinger and thumb. Looking over to Nickelan he said, I know you like these guys, but would you mind if I turn it down? It gives me a headache.

Nickelan didnt answer. He wasnt listening to the dirge coming from the radio, the guttural vocals, the rolling drums and slashing electric guitar. The voice of the deejay was still echoing through his head: the Big R. The Redeemer. Me, thought Nickelan. But who was B.G.? Baber Groan! The thought made Nickelan blanch. The jaws of Baber Groans justice were closing in on him. The Chief Maka and his henchmen were going to assault Kid City.

Turn it off,Nickelan said. He didnt have to hear any more. He understood. The small ray of sunshine that cut through the clouds Nickelan had traveled under since landing underground dimmed. He tried to hold on to his newfound confidence, but his hands were slippery with nervous sweat. He had to speak, to talk to someone. He needed to share the horrible news of the coming attack by the Maka hordes.

Nit,Nickelan said.

Call me Nit Wit for short,Nit Wit said.

Nickelan ignored the mixed-up expression. Nit Wit, Makas are coming! Theyre coming for me, and theyll lay waste to all of Kid City to bring me back to Thunder World. Weve got to tell somebody, anybody.

Dont panic,Nit Wit said. No one has ever breached the walls of Kid City. I dont care if a thousand Indians try, theyll never get past the Gatekeeper.

Indians?Nickelan asked.

Indians, moccasins, whatever you call them,Nit Wit said.

Not moccasins, Nit Wit, Makas.Nickelan took the radio from Nit Wit, blasting the creepy burial hymn of the Darkness Begins, and switched it off.

Oh, Makas,Nit Wit said, nodding his head broadly as if Nickelan was crazy. Sure, sure. Well be in Kid City soon and you can lie down and get some rest. You need it.

Though difficult to contain all the wild thoughts that were circulating through Nickelans head, it was too frustrating trying to share them with Nit Wit. Walking was good. It provided a physical outlet for the pent-up energy charging through him. Nickelan picked up the pace and in short time they were walking on a crudely paved road made out of thousands of crushed candy bars. The sidewalks glimmered with hard candies, but were too sticky to walk on. Beyond the sidewalk were buildings of rotted gingerbread, shadowed by rattling roller coaster tracks.

Im hungry,Nit Wit announced and bent down to pull a chewy bar from the pavement. His jaws were forcing the old candy around in his mouth when Nickelan looked up and said, How can we get a ride on the roller coaster?

Theres a station a bit down the road,Nit Wit said, lodging the ball of candy to the side of his cheek to speak. But whyd you want to do that? The roller coaster will only take you to the center of the city.

Thats where I want to go, nitwit!Nickelan shouted. He wasnt referring to his friend by name. Nit Wit didnt take offense. He just kept stuffing his face with trampled candy pounded into the pavement. He lifted a particularly gooey bar up to Nickelan and opened his eyes wide. He couldnt speak. His mouth was bound by caramel. No, thank you.Nickelan shook his head. Wheres the station?Silently, Nit Wit jerked his head towards a spot down the road.

There was a kid loitering at the entrance of the roller coaster station. She leaned against the turnstile and looked bored. Nickelan stopped at the turnstile and rested his hand on one of the three metal prongs. I dont have any money,Nickelan told the girl. But I need to get on the next roller coaster.

Whos stopping you?she asked and let a mucus-heavy rope of saliva drool slowly out from between her lips. It fell to her knees before she sucked it back up into her mouth.

I dont need a ticket?Nickelan asked.

A ticket?the girl said in a voice far more animated than her inert body seemed capable of producing. What do I look like, a traffic cop?

No,Nickelan said. Then I can just pass through this turnstile and wait on the platform for the next roller coaster?

Sure,the girl said, her voice calming down. If you can get by me.

Nickelan considered the threat. He took a timid step forward, his waist pushing against one prong of the turnstile. The girl wasnt looking at him. She was building up another mouthful of spit to play with. He took another step and the prong jumped ahead while another sprang up behind him. Nickelan was now trapped in the turnstile, an easy target, but the girl did nothing. He took one more step and the turnstile made its final spin. Nickelan was on the other side, with only a steep staircase to climb to the roller coaster platform. He looked perplexed at the girl.

I guess you got by me,she said.

The sound of the girl clearing her throat and nasal cavity of phlegm and gurgling it in the back of her mouth intimidated Nickelan as he slowly walked up to the platform. He dared not look back. No gob was spat, though, and Nickelan reached the platform unscathed. He took one last look at the girl. She was still leaning lazily against the turnstile, practicing her spitting techniques.

Nickelans tunic began to flutter. He felt a warm breeze at his back. As he turned to look down the roller coaster track, the whole platform began to rumble and shake. Nickelan had to grab hold of one of the support beams to keep his balance. Screams came from down the line, happy screams. Then with a screech of metal the roller coaster arrived. The screams filled the station, as did a rain of sparks as the brakes were applied to the car. It stopped with a violent jerk.

A bar that had been resting on passengerslaps lifted and with it some kids got off the roller coaster and Nickelan ran to get a seat. He barely got in before the bar fell down again, locked in place and the roller coaster began to creep up a formidable incline.

During the slow ascent, Nickelan remembered that he hated roller coasters. He had only gone on one before this, years ago, when he was just a boy and ignorant of the nature of thrill rides. Nickelan was at a seaside amusement park with his parents. It was decrepit, long past its glory days, but when Nickelan saw the sprawling wooden roller coaster he was drawn to it like a magnet. Mr. Wand refused to ride with his son. It wasnt in his nature to submit to an attraction designed to disturb his delicately tailored attire. Why, his tie would fly out of his vest! Coat lapels sent flapping in the wind like a dogs tongue! His shirt might loosen from the leather restraint of his belt! No, his father concluded. He suggested Nickelan ask his mother.

Mrs. Wand, seeing how desperately her son wanted to ride the roller coaster, against her better judgment bought a ticket. Mr. Wand held Mrs. Wands handbag and soon mother and son were in the small car of the roller coaster, climbing the first large hill of the twisting track. There was a metallic ticking sound as the pulley carried them to the peak. Wind off the ocean filled their lungs with salty sea air.

The entire coastline spread out before them like a delicacy. It filled both mother and son with a false sense of security. This isnt so bad,Mrs. Wand said to Nickelan. The last word was pulled like taffy from her mouth as the car plummeted down the first drop. Mrs. Wand screamed louder than anyone else in the car, and unlike everyone else in the car her scream was not from joy but terror.

Everyone was screaming, that is, except for Nickelan. He was silent, staring at his mother. Her arms were up in the air, but not to pull her body up from the seat and experience even greater thrills. She was trying to get out, grabbing unsuccessfully at the air as if it might provide a hidden avenue for her to escape.

When the car stopped the end of the ride Mrs. Wand was white as chalk. Are you all right?Nickelan asked. She turned to him with her mouth tightly clenched closed. She wanted to speak, but nothing came out. Nickelan could see words punching at her cheeks, looking for an exit. Those werent words. Mrs. Wand opened her mouth and vomited into Nickelans lap.

Now Nickelan had a panoramic view of Kid City as the roller coaster car inched its way higher. He tried to take in the sights to distract himself from the uneasiness in his stomach anticipating the coming fall and recalling his mothers retching response to their first roller coaster drop.

Everything became a blur. Nickelans head snapped back and his arms instinctively wrapped around the safety bar like a noose. The car erupted in happy screams. Nickelan could feel the entire car shaking right down to its wheels, which he expected to shoot off the track and send him and his deluded fellow passengers to a terrible end.

Nickelan had never ridden another roller coaster after that nauseating experience with his mother. She may have gotten sick, but at least she emptied herself of the physical manifestation from her fear. Nickelans brain suffered a trauma it could not vomit away. That wound never healed, but Nickelans desire to get to the center of Kid City and save his parents overrode his fear of roller coasters and now he was rattling down the track and headed for a dangerous curve.

The roller coaster car took the curve at great speed, yet managed to hug the track and miraculously not derail. Nickelan was thrown into the side of the kid seated beside him. The kid shoved Nickelan back. Nickelans head was still attached to his neck, but it felt as if his skeleton had been left behind at the station. His head wobbled back and forth, further disorienting him as he tried to take in the passing scenery that smeared like wet paint before his tearful eyes.

Nickelans eyes were tearful because he was crying, but he wasnt sad. His internal organs were in revolt. They sought a way out of the soft prison of Nickelans skin in a vain and futile attempt to escape the intensely unpleasant situation. Eye ducts were one exit. Fluids, which made up seventy-five percent of Nickelans body, flooded his tear ducts and other bodily holes more embarrassing. His nostrils were like twin faucets gushing clear mucus. Spit poured from his open mouth. The pores of his skin opened up like sick mouths and puked hot sweat until Nickelan glistened like a glazed holiday ham.

The intensity of the ride flattened into a straight stretch of track. For a moment Nickelan thought he had recovered his skeleton. He could almost feel something hard and secure deep within the jelly of his body and he reached for it to support himself. But it wasnt there and with the next turn Nickelans body went spastic and attempted to move in two different directions at once. Then he flew up and out of his seat, tethered only by the safety bar that bit into his soft thighs. The car was rollicking down another steep hill. Nickelans arms were like streamers twirling decoratively behind him.

When the car began to climb again, Nickelan was forced down into his seat and took opportunity of the relative calm to wrap his arms even tighter around the safety bar, which, at that moment, was all that was good and right in the world.

The laws of physics controlled the seemingly haphazard and life-threatening ride. Nickelan learned in school that inertial, gravitational and centripetal forces drive the roller coaster and keep the cars on the track. It was science, but only a mad scientist would create a roller coaster as a mode of inquiry to explore such theories. The Theory of Gravity, for instance, was only a theory, an idea arrived at through speculation or conjecture. Maybe there was something faulty in the theory that remained undiscovered until Nickelan made the mistake of boarding the roller coaster. Maybe gravity, to continue with that example, would fail him now. A dropped ball might fall up rather than down. Or more literally, maybe Nickelans roller coaster car would not stick to the next abrupt turn and fly off the track and into the science books as the first example of a new and improved theory of gravity. It was only a theory.

Just as Nickelans mind was about to descend into madness and join the derangement of his body, just as his bodily fluids were about to surge from the seven holes in his body, just then the roller coaster stopped. The safety bar popped up. He was at another station in the heart of Kid City. There were many kids on the platform waiting to board the roller coaster. Nickelan stood up, shocked that his legs could carry him.

Move it!ordered an impatient kid, wanting Nickelans almost vacant seat. Nickelan moved it. He got out from the car a bit unsteady but happy to be on solid ground again. He had just arrived in Kid City and the place was already making him sick.

Nickelan held the rail as he slowly descended the stairs to the street. As he emerged from the shelter of the station, Kid Citys Main Street assaulted his vision with its vivid sights. Colorful balloons were everywhere, filling the air with a rainbow of bright lights. The candy-paved streets were muddy with melted chocolate and stained the hundreds of feet that marched through the muck, many barefoot. There were storefronts with their goods spilling out from open windows and doors. Candies and toys overflowed onto the streets and mixed up in the sweet gunk. Kids drove miniature, foot-propelled cars that further clogged the pedestrian traffic.

Kids were dressed in all manner of costumes. Nickelan saw a cowboy. Hop Long!Nickelan cried out, running to him. But when he pulled the ten-gallon hat off the cowboys head, an unfamiliar face stared crossly at him. There were baseball players all too big to confuse for Spike Vrusho, and firemen and princesses, kitty cats and doggies, monsters of every variety, but not one of them a member of the Red Team.

Nickelan had finally made it to Kid City. Kids surrounded him. There were no giant crocodiles or dinosaurs, Makas or pirates, just kids playing with toys and eating candy. Nickelan was miserable. They were all strangers. All but one: Gelsomina Gillespie.




















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