The end of our tenancy at the hexed house on 44th St. would come to a forced but welcome end after that, relatively quickly.
The chicken pen that housed Ajax and his tiny brood was broken into. We would discover the little bantam rooster wandering around in the backyard, sort of like he was in shock and two of the hens eviscerated and their abdomens hollowed out and their gut feathers scattered about. The remaining hen would be perched in a corner of the nesting box on a wooden bar we’d installed like she was either petrified with in fear or zombified by depression and didn’t realize that she was free to escape or didn’t want to.
My father would immediately jump to the conclusion that it was the next door neighbor who’d opened the door to the chicken coop or worse- Hank Kidd... or... Henry.
“A doll didn’t do this.” I remember telling him, the 9 year old voice of reason and some 20 odd years before the introduction of “Chucky”, the infamous red headed doll possessed by a dead psychopath in the series of horror movies that began with CHILD’S PLAY in 1988.
He didn’t know what I was talking about. It would seem that he’d lost all memory of being in the attic with me only a couple of nights prior and talking to a doll that was dressed up like a cowboy.
“Son, there are just things you don’t understand about Henry.” He would say.
There were lots of things I didn’t understand like exactly why it became my responsibility to recapture Ajax.
“I have to go back and talk to them about that bus driving job.” he would tell me. It was a job with the county driving a school bus. The pay wasn’t that great but the benefits were good and school bus drivers, at least didn’t have to work out in the hot sun and rain and snow.
“So you’re gonna have to catch that rooster and put him back in pen.”
“Yeah but he can fly.” I remember saying.
“Not very far.” My father said. And that was true. Although chickens can fly it is generally not very well or for any significant distance.
“But what if he pecks me?”
“He’s little...” my father would say.
“So am I.” I would answer.
“I’ll buy you a milkshake at Texas Burger.”
So basically, what I figured out was, the old box propped up by a stick on a string... trick.
The black dog with the magnificent teeth was hanging around near the garbage cans where I would collect the box that I to use for my Bantam rooster trap. There was a dead cat near the dog. It was a big yellow tom. I knew it was a tom because I could see the humongous balls on the thing. He had blood and several chicken feathers around his mouth and on his paws and chest. His eyes were open and there was a drop or two of what I figured was his own blood in one nostril. He looked very tranquil but I reckoned that his death was not that at all. The black Chupacabra, Tasmanian tiger dog had probably grabbed the cat and shaken it violently a few times, snapping its neck or spine or both. It was the cat who had killed my daddy’s prize Banty chickens, of that I was certain. And it was the dog that had exacted my father’s revenge. So my regard toward the dog was that, for some reason, he was there to help and not to harm.
It was an Easy Bake Oven box that I found and used for my trap- probably a birthday present or the like for one of the neighborhood girls. There was the smiling face of a young brown haired girl on the box, if I remember correctly and a picture of the oven. The little girl was most likely elementary school age and wearing a head band or scarf or something and I think the oven was yellow. It was big enough to trap a bantam rooster; that was all that mattered.
Ajax watched me with some curiosity it seemed and suspicion as I constructed the trap.
I found a stick and tied a really long piece of twine to it and rolled the string out far enough that the Bantam rooster would feel safe strolling up and walking under the box. I then snatched up a couple of handfuls of the maze chicken feed that we fed the chickens and I sprinkled a little Hansel and Gretel bread crumb type trail to the box and up under it. And then I sat back, string in hand and watched and waited for that dumb, prize Banty Rooster to take the bait... which he finally did.
It was a hot day that day. I was running around all tanned and shirtless. When Ajax followed the trail of seed to the box and then under it, scratching and pecking all the way, I yanked on that string like I was pulling the bandage off a three day old scab and wham... chicken in the oven... box.
I immediately ran to the cardboard trap and tossed my bare-chested self, down on the ground so that I could reach my hands under and fetch the chicken out and- very quickly realized that I had placed my clever Easy Bake trap directly atop a bed of ants- black and red fire ants to be precise. Within seconds, I was stung half a dozen times.
Of course, in the fury of the instance I snatched Ajax by the tail feathers and half of them ripped out when he jerked away. I quickly grabbed hold of him again with both hands, despite the pain of the fiery welts that were already rising up on my chest, and I rushed to the hen house and threw the little bare assed Bantam rooster inside and closed the door behind him.
My upper torso was peppered with blisters.
Gritting my teeth and fighting back tears, I ran across the yard and into the back door of the house to the kitchen and threw open the door to the cabinet under the sink where my mother kept the Clorox. That is what you put on a fire ant sting- bleach. At least that’s what we put on them. It has something to do with the proteins in the ant venom. Ammonia is supposed to work also but I’ve never tried it.
There was no Clorox.
Tears were streaming down my face at that point, etching little trails in the dirt on my cheeks. I was really hurting. The only other household item I’d ever heard of applying to ant stings was meat tenderizer. I went to the refrigerator and opened the door.
My father followed Joseph through the bus barn.
“The original school busses were horse drawn carriages,” he said, “known as school hacks or kid hacks. Do you know why they are yellow?”
His last name was Simmons. He had rust colored hair- actually more orange. He was mid-thirties and average build. He’d had already been employed by the county for fifteen years and in charge of the bus barn and school crossing signs and etc. for the past six. He was one of those personality types that always have some interesting bit of relevant trivia- or irrelevant- at the tip of his tongue. There was an expression among the other employees in the barn, “per-simmon”, a reference to any given Joseph Simmons factoid or bit of information.
“Yellow grabs the attention faster than any other color,” he said, self-satisfied, “Even in the peripheral vision. That’s a scientific fact! It is even more eye-catching than red, especially in the early morning or the fading evening light. And that is very important for the safety of the kiddos we transport from home to school and back 36 weeks out of the year, one hundred and sixty five days... depending on holidays.”
It was about then that something caught my father’s eye that would initiate the single most striking peculiarity about the interview, in the moment and in retrospect, that most likely prevented him from being hired as a school bus driver. He spied a man with blue eyes and much tanned skin wearing what appeared to be cowboy clothes. His obsidian colored hair was slicked back and he had a doll like quality about him.
“What are you doing here?” my father would say to the man, in a tone that some might judge to be menacing.
“I’m changing the oil in this bus.” Robert Seton, the mechanic who’d worked on the buses for some thirty odd years would say to my father, in a tone that would indicate the discomfort he felt being spoken to in that manner by a perfect stranger.
I don’t recall the brand name of the meat tenderizer that I would use as a countermeasure antitoxin antidote for the battalion of blisters on my chest where the fire ants had stung me. And since it was a powder, I realized that I would need to stir it into something creamy and create a paste that I could then slather over the slew of stinging pustules that were still bubbling up on my skin. I really wanted to pop them with a sewing needle but knew there were just too many and they would sting again when burst.
The only thing I could find for my poultice was oleo- what we used to call margarine.
So twenty minutes or half an hour later, feeling greasy and smelling like some kind of marinated piece of meat for the barbecue pit, I went back outside and began to look around for weapons or tools with which to exact my revenge against the ants that’d stung me. I realized that the hammers and saws and stuff we’d used to construct the chicken coop would be of no real assistance; unless of course I wanted to capture each ant individually and smash it on a piece of lumber or a rock. And what was I going to do with a handsaw? Bisect them?
Then it dawned on me: there was always a water hose connected to the hose bib in Scruffy MaGoo’s front yard- a big, long, green one. And then, not considering the consequences of borrowing, or stealing as it were, the Scruffmeister’s hose, I snagged it. Within a minute, I had screwed it into the faucet in our backyard and inserted and shoved the free end down the ant hole and then let lose the flood.
A weird thing happened... nothing.
The water gushed in and I waited and waited and waited. I figured that at some point, in just a minute or two, after flooding all the subterranean ant chambers, it would come exploding back up and out the top like a geyser or a tsunami with about half a million suffering, dazed or dying ants. But that did not happen. The water just kept running and running and running.
I got down on my hands and knees finally and turned my head sideways and lowered my ear to the hole to listen and sure enough, it sounded strange... the way water sounds when you are filling a big jar from the faucet or a big bucket or a hole with a hose... water falling upon water in a hollow. I pounded on the ground upon which I sat and sure enough, it sounded hollow.
“Help me...” I heard the girl say. “It is so dark here. I am so alone. Why am I so alone?”
She was below me, in the ground that the water was filling.
“What are you doing?” came the voice from behind me.
It was the Scruffmeister himself- Scruffy MaGoo had come looking for his hose.
“You little thief!” he said. “You had no right!”
He snatched up the water hose and yanked it out of the ant hole and when he did, a very strange thing happened- the ground opened up. A small bit of it actually collapsed and I heard the chunks splash into water that had risen in a cavity below me.
The Scruffmeister accidentally smacked me with the water hose when he jerked it out of my hands. And as fate would have it, or whatever, my father arrived home at that exact moment, just in time to see our shudder-some neighbor, clobber me.
“Don’t put your hands on my son!” my father said, coming up behind the ornery MaGoo and spinning him around.
“Don’t put your hands on me!” the Scruffmeister countered, drawing his lips back to reveal several rotted teeth and discolored gums.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” I shouted. “There’s a box with a skeleton in it!”
This was my second in only a matter of a few months... a fact that would not be wasted on the media.