The Boy in the Blue Dragon Skates: A Short Story
The boy with the blue dragon roller-skates would soon become the talk of Jackson Street. The year was 1973, and roller-skates tended to be one solid color. Red, blue, green… and sometimes even yellow. But the pair in the box opened by an 11-year-old Johnny Wilkes of 167 Jackson Street on Christmas morning of that year were special. They were blue, like one quarter of the models opened across the country on that Christmas morning would be–if the law of averages was to be taken seriously. Blue, however, was not all they were. They had a print of a dragon, and the different shades of blue contrasting each other while lined with black thread, made for an image of something fierce; a creature from the depths of fairy tale books about princesses and the heroes who would defend them, save them, and ultimately win their eternal favor (and that of the entire kingdom) by slaying the fire-breathing beast with wings and a long, spiked tail.
Johnny Wilkes was not concerned with the debatable differences between a dragon and a wyvern. All he concerned himself with was that they were his, and that they made him fly. “I am St. George the dragon slayer!” Johnny Wilkes shouted for the world to hear as he went speeding down Jackson Street from the home his mother rented and gliding down the slight hill toward where it crossed Samson Avenue just after number 70. Johnny would take the right turn wide and feel a young boy’s purest definition of glee. Exhilarating forces overwhelmed his body as he leaned into the turn and came out less than three yards away from the sidewalk on the left side of Samson Avenue. The summer breeze was in his face and the sweat on his brow would cool down a refreshing few degrees, but still not enough to loosen its grip of the dark brown curls that stuck to Johnny’s forehead in thick tufts after an afternoon at play. This was not a sunny summer day. Dark clouds loomed over Westville, threatening to turn the young boy’s day to shit before the fun even begun.
His white shirt had red linings around the short sleeves and around his neckline. His red shorts were all the rage, something he would fit in with and which would not draw too much attention. His long white socks had three stripes just below his knees; blue, red, and then blue again. For those brief moments Johnny was soaring on the back of his dragon, and there was no better feeling in the world.
There really is no better feeling in the world, thought the man sitting in the green Ford Cortina facing down Samson Avenue. On the other side of Jackson Street, Johnny Wilkes was speeding down the diminishing slope in the direction of Mountain Rest Primary. School was closed for the holidays, but the neighborhood kids had been using the sports fields as a holiday play park for years. They would gather and play catch, hide-and-go-seek, blow up crackers, and do the things children do to make the hours go by so fast at their age.
The innocence of youth is lost on the young. It deserves to stay lost and never found, the man half thought, half whispered under his breath as he drew back his lips in a sneer which made him look in pain. As he watched the boy fly, he remembered his own childhood and thought back to his first pair of roller-skates. They were a gift from the mother who had raised him alone. She had worked three jobs and saved up cents for months to afford them, and on the day he ripped the gift wrapping and opened the box to reveal the gift inside, he could swear the joy on her face was greater than that on his own. That is the beauty of mothers. He popped his knuckles on both hands and turned the Ford’s key in the ignition. As the brand new 2 two liter engine purred and rolled down Samson Avenue–past the school–he thought to himself: There really is no better feeling in the world.
“Look guys, Johnny piss-pants got himself some fairy skates!” David Striker was the closest you could come to calling a twelve-year-old an asshole without feeling too guilty about it. The product of an unbroken home and the bulging blister of contradiction to every book arguing nurture over nature. David stood at an average height with other boys his age, but there was a malice to him, which made him appear larger somehow. The group of followers who always seemed to trail behind him let out an obligatory chuckle, and Simon Hall even went so far as to do his henchman-best by repeating, in a giggling tone; “Hehe… piss-pants… fairy skates.” Johnny’s figure slumped. He suddenly felt ashamed of his new favorite thing, and this woke up a guilt in him which only grew as he thought of his mother’s face.
He made his way over to his own group of friends, blue dragon skates in hand. “Go on, let yer boyfriends make it all better… damn buncha faggots!” David spat in the direction Johnny was walking and sneered and looked around at his little gang of pre-pubescent thugs for approval. They snickered, and David’s sneer grew into a smile. “Let’s get outa here, the sight of him makes me sick.”
“We were gonna play some baseball, Dave. Can’t we stay a while?” Mike Townsend’s tone was that of a child begging a parent for five more minutes in the swimming pool. He stood with the bat in hand, and around him the other henchmen murmured and nodded, hands in pockets and eyes firmly focused on the grass immediately in front of their toes. David grabbed at the bat, and Mike tripped over air while staggering back. It was David’s malice, his bigger-than-he-is-ness, and he knew how to use it.
As he walked toward the school buildings - bat in hand - he felt like the biggest man in the world. Buncha faggots, he thought.
The green Ford Cortina drove up Samson Avenue, past the entrance of Mountain Rest Primary to the right. A small dent to the left of the bonnet would go unnoticed, so would the blood spot on the grill. The driver smiled at that and looked in his rear-view mirror. The broken and twisted body of David Striker lay face down to one side of Samson Street, and Mike Townsend’s baseball bat lay beside him. Mr. green Ford Cortina adjusted the mirror to get a look at himself and winked. “I got him for you Johnny, I got him.” He half whispered, half proclaimed. “And there really is no better feeling in the world.”
“Your friend David was killed there just last weekend,” Emilia Wilkes’ voice was frantic and pleading. “Please don’t go play today, Johnny. Stay inside and spend some time with your mother.”
“He was not my friend mommy. He was a bully, and I hated him.” Johnny proclaimed to a mother who, like all mothers of young boys, assumed they were all friends at that age.
“I’ll take you to a movie, Johnny. I know I rarely get days off, but let’s do something together for once. We can watch that new Apes movie. You like that one, don’t you? We can get popcorn and anything else you want” She realized somewhat begrudgingly that she was bargaining with an eleven-year-old now, and the promise of treats made the few remaining notes of cash in her purse scream at her. It was too late. Johnny was heading out the door, blue dragon skates swinging over his right shoulder. Any shame at their existence or appearance erased by the demise and burial of a certain little asshole. Rest his wicked soul, He thought as he walked out the door.
As Johnny arrived at the sports fields, he could see that just about half the neighborhood mothers had won their bargaining sessions. The number of kids playing today wasn’t even enough to form two full teams. They would compromise and play something other than baseball.
“How ya holding on, Mikey?” Johnny had never had a problem with the Townsend boy personally. It was just that he was always hanging around with David (read: asshole) Striker.
“I’m doin’ alright Johnny, we all are.” Mike replied, looking around him. The other boys were still facing down at their toes. It would seem that the ghost of David Striker was still there, calling them all bitches and telling them their winkies were small.
“What the hell are you kids doing here after what happened last week!” As one, the group of boys looked toward the school buildings and saw Mr. Pickford striding toward them like a man possessed. Five or six of the lads ran at the sight of him, like a herd of deer spooked by the sound of a hunter accidentally stepping on a dry twig. They headed toward the school buildings, making sure to take a wide turn around the approaching hunter. As Mr. Pickford got closer, he saw Johnny, and his temperament changed in an instant.
As he walked closer to where the boys stood, his massive physical presence became noticeable. The second thing that become noticeable was the corners of his mouth heading toward his ears. “Johnny, I didn’t see you there, lad.” He was now standing so close that Johnny could smell the wax in his hair. “You boys really should be more careful. We got us a kid killer on the loose. Wouldn’t want anything to happen to any of you.” As he said this, he placed his hand on Johnny’s back. “Isn’t that right, Johnny?” He looked down at the boy, grinning like a wolf.
“Yeah, well, my mom said I can come if I want.” Mike was a portrait of defiance. He stood, legs wide and firmly set in the grass, arms crossed and chest pressed outward.
“That’s all good and well, but as a teacher here I have the final say.” Mr. Pickford was looking none too pleased at having a twelve-year-old talk back to him and his mood was going south again steadily. His hand moved lower down on Johnny’s back and was now moving in circular motions just above his shorts. Johnny took a step forward and as he did, Mr. Pickford grabbed hold of his arm, yanking him around. “You’re coming with me, Johnny. Your mother will be hearing about this.”
“About what?” Johnny asked The fury from a minute ago had returned to the man’s face.
“Let’s go!” Johnny tried to shake loose, but the man was having none of it and started toward the school, Johnny in tow.
“Ah! You little fucker!” Mike had taken his bat to the man’s right knee with considerable force. There was a loud crack, and in an instant Johnny was free.
“Let’s go Johnny!” Mike shouted, and the boys were off. They ran toward the woods bordering the football field and as they looked back they saw Mr. Pickford chasing after them. He had an obvious limp, and was no match for the speed of the two boys. Some of the other lads – Jimmy Sands, Jake Meyers and Kyle Smith – were still standing where they had been, faces frozen in shock at the sudden display of violence. The rest were now sprinting past the school buildings heading for the exit. As they headed out the main gate none of them took much notice of the green Ford Cortina parked in front of the school entrance, still idling, but sans occupant.
The boys were now a good half mile into the woods, and had found shelter behind an enormous pine tree. All this running was exhausting, and they felt safe enough to take a break.
“Jeez Mikey, you saved me!” Johnny was out of breath, but extended an open hand toward his new friend. Mike got up and gave his own. The two boys shared a hardy handshake, smiling a smile of relief. They felt the immediate danger was past.
“Don’t mention it, pal.”
“Mr. Pickford is always getting too close and touching me, but this was getting weird man.” The reality of what had happened dawned on Johnny, and he sat down, crossing his legs. The mud on his shorts was his mother’s problem now. “Shit!” he exclaimed.
“Shit indeed, man. But that was nothing.” Mike said as he sat down beside him.
“I’m talking about when I walked into his classroom one afternoon to get my backpack and saw David down to his drawers, standing in front of Mr. Pickford.”
“W-were they… doing it?” Johnny’s face was pale, but he was smiling with youthful ignorance.
“No, you idiot. Dudes can’t do it to each other. My brother told me that. They have the wrong parts. Mr. Pickford was rubbing his chest.”
“He was what?!” Johnny exclaimed.
“He stopped as soon as he noticed me standing there and tried to tell me he was simply rubbing some cream on David’s chest because he had a nasty cough,” Mike showed strategic quotation marks with his fingers at this last part. “But I’ll tell you one thing man, my mom never had me take off my pants to apply anything to my chest.”
“What a freak!” Johnny couldn’t help but giggle just a bit. “I’m just glad we got away. I’ll tell ya what Mikey, it’s a pretty damn good feeling.”
A freak indeed. Mr. Pickford had been preying on selected boys attending Mountain Rest Primary for the better (or worse) part of fifteen years and in his old age he had grown comfortable; too comfortable. As he limped through the woods, Gerald E. Pickford was swinging his head wildly in all directions, frantic now. He knew he had to find those boys. Those little shits have another thing coming if they think they can get away with blindsiding me. Sweat was running down his partially bald forehead and stinging his eyes. He was breathing heavily and needed to rest, not to mention the pain in his knee. “That Townsend brat sure can swing a bat”, he said to himself, teeth grinding in an attempt to cut out the pain. “So can I, you piece of shit…” Gerald E. Pickford looked around and as he saw the man standing behind him, his face turned the color of freshly fallen snow. “J-J-J… NO!”
The crack of Mike Townsend’s bat as it had connected with Mr. Pickford’s knee earlier had been nothing to scoff at, but the shot that connected directly above his ear now was a killer. A sickening sound of cracking bone accompanied it, and a soft echo reverberated through the trees surrounding the two men. The sixth-grade English and swimming coach fell to the ground like a freshly cut log. Dead weight… dead dead weight. A single drop of blood ran down a nearby leaf and fell onto the dirt, soaking in and turning it into a dark maroon. Mr. green Ford Cortina stood over the corpse as it completed its final twitches and smiled.
“Got him Johnny, and what a damned good feeling it is.”
In 1973, the vacant plot on the upper west end of Samson Avenue was undeveloped. The Willow Crossing Shopping Centre, with its delis, sushi-bars and liquor bars, would not make an appearance for another 34 years, and the willow bridge still stood as the wreck it had been since the Great Flood of 1917. An unexplainable near-constant layer of mist surrounded it, and four willow trees with low-hanging branches of a sweeping orientation flanked it on either side. Two stood at the start, and another duo at the end; this would be true no matter which end one would approach it from and made the bridge a perfect palindrome–if bridges are allowed to be palindromes. It stood in the middle of the plot, arching over a stream with no name. To the man driving the green Ford Cortina it was a gateway, a path to self-correction. He had placed the blood-stained bat in the boot of the GFC (green Ford Cortina) and headed home. He took a right turn out of Samson Avenue and headed toward the center of the vacant plot. The going was slow over the uneven terrain, and the climb onto the bridge even slower, but this was not his first go at it. His first trip was a scouting mission which started on the other side of the bridge. The scouting mission was a mere formality; simply a day of observation.
He already knew what plagued young Johnny Wilkes and needed only to remind himself of what his new hunting ground looked like back in 1973. As he crossed over the midpoint of the bridge, the texture of the steering wheel changed under his hands. The smooth brown leather beneath his fingers became rough and used and worn. The purring two-liter engine of mere seconds before became a rattling, whining nightmare, and Mr. GFC could swear he was now running on at least one flat tyre. His curling and neatly waxed brown locks turned grey, and more than a few liver spots made their way onto the hands now firmly gripping a worn and darkened steering wheel. As he made his way through the parking lot of a shopping center named for a once haunted–at least according to the area’s older inhabitants–bridge, he had a look around just to reassure himself he really was back home.
Yep, this is it. Feeling better already, thought Mr. GFC. He took a slow screaming left, heading for the first bar he spotted. He got out, not bothering to lock the GFC, and headed inside. It was still two hours before noon on a Saturday and the place was relatively empty. He got a beer and claimed a booth in the back corner. This shit is crazy man, he thought to himself.
“Shirr is man,” said the dark figure sitting across from him. Its voice was a slurring drawl, which sounded like it was being spoken through over-moistened lips. “Been enjoying yourself over there, Wilksie?” The figure seemed to smile. “I’ve made two new friends while you been away; a younger boy and an older… uhm… fella. Friends of yours?”
“Part of the deal No rules, remember?” Mr. GFC looked straight at the figure. It was shimmering and seemed to have some effect on the lighting fixtures above them. “I do what I need, and you get what you want.”
“Don’t call me that.” Came the reply without a moment’s pause.
“Touchy aren’t we. All I’m saying is that you’ve been cutting cords I didn’t expect to see cut just yet, and now some future equations might need some, well, readjustments.” It let that last word linger longer than two lovers’ hands during a sad goodbye.
“I told you there were wrongs to be righted, and I’m only just getting started. Now get lost and leave me to my work.”
“So it shall be then… Wilksie. You da Bossman after all.”
Harvey Spence was a car salesman like all car salesmen, if all car salesmen were thieves and drunkards who were willing to rob a single mother of the little she had without batting an eye. He was the kind of salesman who could, like so many others–sell ice to an Eskimo. Harvey Spence would however, also sell said Eskimo the building plans of an igloo and throw in a free heater just for the hell of it–knowing very well that said Eskimo would be back within a week needing more ice. Johnny had always thought of Harvey as a thief, a highway robber. Right now, this was what was happening. The piece of shit he had sold her had broken down and all could Johnny could do was think of the salesman’s face as he hid in the dark behind a bush by the side of the road and heard his mother screaming, heard his mother being robbed, being robbed of more than just worldly possessions.
He wished he had a heater, or a blanket. Anything to fight off the cold. More than any of that, he wished he could make his legs move just so he could get to her. His legs refused, and he hated them for it. As the seconds passed, his hate for them grew, and so did his hatred for himself. Some dragon slayer you are, whispered a voice from deep inside him. He closed his eyes. Emilia Wilkes had gone silent, but Johnny could still hear movement and scuffling over where her car had died over an hour ago. She had carried Johnny over to the side of the road and placed behind some bushes, telling him to remain there, just to be safe. As Johnny listened, eyes still closed, the scuffling grew louder (and faster). A single teardrop thread its way down his face.
Suddenly, a second sound caught his ears. It was coming from deeper into the farmland behind him. Johnny realized that he was hearing footsteps; the sound of someone running.
“Nooo!!” A man appeared out of the darkness. As he ran past Johnny and toward the broken-down car and the scuffling, he glanced down and one corner of his mouth turned upward. It was not a happy smile Johnny saw, but a grimace with more pain badly hidden behind it than he hoped to see or feel in his own lifetime. The man was now past Johnny’s bushy hideout and as he neared the car, Johnny heard a metallic thud. A slicing sound and soft gargling followed the thud. Johnny thought it sounded like him on Sunday evenings when his mom made him gargle his mouthwash. Get those pearly whites sparkling for the week, Johnny, he could hear her saying in.
Johnny’s mom never spoke much after that night. She simply took to wearing jeans with thick belts instead of the dresses she had once loved. Whenever Johnny would ask what happened, she would simply smile and pretend that there were no tears welling up in her eyes, and then tell him he had saved her. Johnny never understood this. He would tell her it had been the sad man with the cool hair and the brown leather jacket, but she would just look at him lovingly. “Yes, honey… yes it was.”
Over the next eight months, the green Ford Cortina passed back and forth over the willow bridge 4 times, each time making the life of the boy named Johnny Wilkes more bearable. Local police began murmuring the word serial killer during their morning coffee, and people in town double checked their doors at night before going to bed. Along with David Striker, Gerald E. Pickford and an unidentifiable brutalized corpse next to the highway a few miles out of town, a few more had been taken between February and September.
They found Harvey Pence inside one of the cars on the lot where he worked. The hosepipe leading from the exhaust pipe to the rear window with the pillows made it look like a simple suicide, but the knife stuck in the back of Mr. Spence’s head and protruding out from his left eye socket begged to differ. The blood dripping from its tip down onto the salesman’s belly spelled out murder, one droplet at a time.
Miles Smith, the night shift manager of the diner where Emilia Wilkes worked on weekends, had his head forced into the deep fryer by Sarah Williams. Eyewitness statements claimed she was screaming NEVER AGAIN! During the whole thing. He passed away in hospital two days later.
Michael Hastings was killed in a hit-and-run incident… from behind… while jogging… on the sidewalk. He had been Johnny’s stepdad for a full month back in 1968 but had been caught with his pants down–literally, and with another man–in the bathroom of the local golf club. Emilia moved herself and Johnny out of his modest mansion that same day and had sworn that from then on it would be just the two of them… no matter what. Police believed the death of Michael Hastings to be pre-meditated, possibly even personal. This could have been because the hitter had reversed over him again–spreading the contents of his cranium all over the concrete slabs–before leaving the scene.
Every time Mr. GFC headed back over the Willow Bridge he could feel the change in himself, but less every time and not always for the better. He had been so convinced that what he was doing was going to make it all better–somehow heal the scars.
Killing the bully and the pedophile had worked, but there was now a nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him he was really not feeling any better. Why is it not working? He thought to himself as he sat in the dark booth where this had all begun.
“Perhaps you just bin helpin’ the wrong Johnny?” The dark figure across the booth enquired. “These things do happen, you know.”
“No, I don’t. You said I could go back and fix the things that broke me. You said it would work.”
“It’s in the details Mr. Wilkes. I said you could go back to help young Johnny Wilkes, yes? That part is correct. I even went so far as to show you the way, told you about the bridge.”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“You seem to have killed half the arguably criminal inhabitants–not to mention a child–in a town you have no connection to, other than a name, and some shared memories.” This statement came so plainly that at first John Wilkes–as he had become known later in life–registered none of it. Then a slow, terrifying realization crept over his face. He took a sip of his beer.
“My dragon skates were green, weren’t they?”
“BINGO! I see you get it now, dear boy.” The figure bounced up and down with glee, clapping its hands together. “For every broken Johnny Wilkes–take yerself, for example: broke, sometimes sober, aging like a meth addict–there is also a happy Johnny, a successful Johnny, and… a Johnny who didn’t fuck up as bad.”
“I am what I am because of what those monsters did to me, what they did to my mother.” John Wilkes said.
“Monsters are all around you, John. Here you are sitting talking to one. You simply decided to let the monsters have the final say. Broken will always be broken, but choosing to throw the superglue in the bin is choosing broken over used. It’s just plain lazy.” The figure reclined, placing its hands behind its head. Seeming very pleased with itself. “Now… regarding the matter of my payment.”
“You bastard! How can you sit here and…” John Wilkes was furious. He slammed his fists down on the table, sending the lone beer bottle tumbling and spilling its contents.
“How dare I sit here and bring up terms of payment? Don’t forget dear boy, don’t forget for a moment the shell of a man I found at this very booth. You were about to stick a loaded barrel in your mouth for god’s sake. At least you had some fun… Oh please tell me you at the very least enjoyed killing all the terrible people.” The thing giggled maniacally.
“You piece of shi…”
“Make you a deal, John. And no tricks this time, on my honor.”
“Your honor as what? What are you?”
“A humble surveyor of time, that is all. Some would even call me a collector, and I have my own ways of fixing… transgressions. But less about me, and more about door number two. I’ll let you go, debt settled, no repercussions, free as a bird if you will.”
“And in return? Nothing’s free.” John Wilkes motioned one arm up, signaling for another beer.
“Just keep going. Don’t quit.”
“That’s it. I have great use for someone with your… talents, or should we call it drive? I have come to see you as an asset and will the gateway remains open. I might even, from time to time, tell you about others where things need… fixing.” The thing flashed a pair of perfect teeth and held out a hand. The two of them shook hands and the thing vanished, leaving flickering lights in its wake.
Jonathan Wilkes sat in a corner booth, drinking alone. He had a loaded .38 Special in his coat pocket, and intended on sticking it in his mouth after another beer or two. A wedding ring lay on the table, reflecting the light from the florescent bulb above it. The lights above the booth started to flicker, and Jonathan Wilkes looked up to see a dark figure sitting across from him.
“Penny for yer thoughts, Johnny?”
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