Oh no! Here we go again! I thought, as me and Candy, my little sister, ran home from school at break-neck speed, scared out of our wits, on top of a road of Hershey's chocolate bricks. White Nike shoelaces, with their familiar swoosh logo, growing alongside the road bobbed and waved as we raced past them. Normally, I'd stop to smell their plastic-cum-cotton aroma, but I had to make an exception in this case. We were trying to make it to the farmhouse before the Twizzler gobbled us.
Originally published on papmag.net in a slightly different form.
It was the season's second Twizzler, which was a long red licorice stick extending from the dark cotton ball sky with a bird-like beak that opened and closed at one end. The first storm of the year hadn't been as close a call as this one. That had happened last week, during the Month of the Jelly Belly. While I was sweating with a scythe in my hands, mowing down shoelaces as part of my evening chores, I glanced up and saw a small Twizzler drop out of the sky on the horizon without warning. I was able to get to the storm cellar just before the storm veered off in a path perpendicular to the farmhouse. This Twizzler, however, was a bit more aggressive, if not clever. It came out of the clouds just moments after me and Candy stepped off the Tonka school bus, and made a direct beeline for the two of us. I'd say it was a class three on the Taste Explosion Scale (TM) -- pretty dangerous stuff.
"Nummy nummy nummy," this Twizzler taunted behind us, as it nibbled at the shoelaces along the road. "Nummy num num num."
I glanced back at the funnel, and during a flash of blue glow sticks that briefly poked their way out of the clouds, I saw a small Easter Bunny getting sucked up into the storm. I barely heard the screams of the poor rabbit as it entered the void of the advancing Twizzler -- I could thank the radio static-like thunder for that. The licorice burped, and a bulge appeared in its midsection. Within seconds, though, the Twizzler had flattened itself back into its thick swirly shape. It made a slight hop over a field of laces behind me with a renewed burst of strength.
Though the storm was a half-mile or so back, I noticed its beak was curved in our general direction, sniffing out something else to gobble on. It was headed straight for us, only meandering slightly to take a bite out of a telephone pole that'd been whittled from an oversized Mars bar. A few lines of dental floss wire snapped, only to crackle and pop on the chocolate covered ground behind us. I turned around, heart beating fast, and started to put every leg muscle into making it for our Lego homestead on the horizon.
"It's gaining on us," shrieked Candy, glancing over her shoulder.
"Just keep running and don't look back," I said, grabbing her hand. "It can't eat us if it doesn't catch us."
I was able to drag Candy along at a reasonably fast pace -- looking after the farm kept me in pretty good shape for a 12-year-old. Operating the Skittles vending machines inside the barn, for one, is a chore in and of itself. You've got to put the tokens in the slot and put these really large baskets underneath, and they can be hard to lift once they've filled up with the bite-sized candy. Sometimes I wished I had a little help -- Candy was still too young to lend a hand, other than making the occasional Junior Mint sandwich for me while I worked -- but life on the farm was generally good if you didn't mind the Twizzlers. There was nobody out here to bug us, and I didn't mind working my evenings away.
As the cherry-scented wind at our backs picked up, I hoped it wouldn't start to rain, which was one of the Twizzlers' bag of tricks. Coke rain would turn the chocolate ground beneath us into slippery mud, making it nearly impossible to move without sliding all over the place. Of course, as soon as I'd thought of it, drops of Coke started pounding our backs.
Damn! I cursed to myself as the rain fizzled on our skin and cheaply-assembled Tommy Hilfiger clothing. Think Brandon, think! What would your parents do? The real ones.
I'm not quite sure why I thought that. My real parents are small details that can't quite come into focus, like fuzzy images on the edges of a faded Polaroid. My folks had been replaced with Fisher-Price plastic people when all the world's big businesses and governments decided to merge eight years ago, right after Candy was born.
The way things worked in the country of Mattel was that people got their tokens and Monopoly money in their bank accounts wiped out when they turned 18, and would simply disappear off the face of the earth. Some kids I knew at school didn't think the old people t just vanished on their own; they made up tales about fat men in uniforms going around snatching up the adults at night. I never paid too much attention. Most of these kids would get sent down to the robot principal's office at some point for trying to be creative, and wouldn't be heard from again. If they did come back, they were usually only allowed to eat Prozac tablets. No Reese's Pieces for them! Besides, even if there was a secret police, I had another six years to worry.
"Hey!" yelled Candy. "You're dawdlin'. Keep up!"
I turned around and saw the Twizzler was gaining on us! I could barely see its red outline in the Coke rain, which dripped off my brow and down into my mouth. I stuck out my tongue to try to get a much-needed energy burst. The fluid tasted watery, so it must have been Diet Coke. This Twizzler was really thinking.
But there was hope! Through the black sheets of rain pouring all over us, I could see the Lego farmhouse and barn made up of Pixie Stix logs practically right in front of us. Our laneway was coming up: I could see the front yard with a pen holding ceramic pigs and chickens. These were just lawn ornaments to impress the kids at the neighbouring farmhouses down the road. I just hoped the imitation animals would be OK. They'd be expensive to replace.
The storm cellar door flapped open in the wind before us, egging us on for the homestretch. I saw the plastic, round, perpetually smiling face of my father poking out behind the door. I had no idea how he managed to get into the storm cellar, since he was technically an inanimate object. He and my mom, though, always seemed to magically show up at the right moment, as if some hand from the sky was always reaching down to place them wherever and whenever we needed them. They'd also disappear when our backs were turned, but somehow popped up if we were goofing off or something.
I knew we were so close to making it, yet I could feel the storm creeping up behind us. The Coke rain was driving into my skin, while the "nummy nummy nummy's" of the Twizzler was gradually become louder. I guess Candy got scared, because she stopped paying attention to where she was going and slipped, then fell, onto the chocolate dirt. I skidded to a stop, turned around and plunged back toward the storm that was screaming towards us. I reached down and grabbed her, pulling her out of the dirt as fast as I could. She was heavy, despite her size. She was crying, and I saw she'd scraped her knee in the fall. It was oozing small blobs of red strawberry Jell-o.
"Wuh, wuh, we're not gonna make it!" she sobbed.
"Don't think about the Twizzler or the pain in your leg," I yelled through the wind and gurgling noises the storm was now making behind us. "Close your eyes and think of something pleasant! An ad you saw in school today! Quick! Stay focused on it!"
"'Kay," she said as I leaned over and picked her up with a grunt. I cradled her in my arms, and then ran for the storm cellar in the slippery mud while juggling her weight. For a few seconds, I thought we weren't going to make it, but I stumbled up the small hill beside the farmhouse, and walked into the open storm door where my plastic dad was smiling dopily. Thankfully, he had Lego claw arms attached to him that were conveniently outreached. I practically tossed Candy into them before turning to grab the door. I tried to swing it shut, though this was easier said than done. The Twizzler was practically in our front yard, and was hypnotic to look at. I had to wrench my eyes away, so I wouldn't get distracted by the multi-coloured swirls of twisting stick descending from the heavens, and the flapping of the hard yellow beak dragging along the ground.
I dont know how I managed to slide over the locking bar and bolt it into place. But I was soon plunged into the relative darkness of the basement, solely lit by the giant green Etch-A-Sketch light bulb hanging overhead. Outside, the Twizzler began to disappointedly sigh "Awwwww awwww awwww." A few seconds later, that noise subsided and was replaced by the sound of loud grumbling. In the background, there was the sound of a low hum with the occasional crackle of static.
Panting, I grabbed a large block Edible Band-Aid from a supply kit at the back. When I turned around, I finally noticed that my mom was crouching in the shadows in the southwest corner, behind the door, smiling happily to herself. I didn't think she was there before I closed the door. Like I said, my parents had an odd habit of appearing whenever your back was turned.
"Daddy, the Twizzler almost gobbled us," sobbed Candy. "Did you see that?"
I turned around with the Band-Aid in my hand to see Candy practically squeezing the life out of the plastic figure. Our father just stood still, smiling, not returning Candy's hugs with his movable tube-like arms.
"Buh, but Brandon saved me," she said, wiping away lime-green snot from her nose. "He made me think about some ads I saw in school today."
"Careful ... don't squeeze ... Dad," I cautioned, pausing between words to catch my breath, as I approached her with the Band-Aid. "He's brittle ... and you might ... break ... break his arm or something."
"Sorry," she sniffled.
I paused to catch my breath, and began to stick the Band-Aid onto her knee. Dad radiated silent synthetic joy like a plastic Feng Shui Buddha while Mom stayed huddled in her dark corner. Neither said a word. My hands shook from the adrenaline rush of running, the fear of nearly being eaten alive. I managed to put the square bandage on without missing the scrape.
"Am I doing this right?" I turned around and asked my mom.
Mom was now kneeling with her hands over her ears, presumably scared at the sound of the Twizzler sighing to itself as it passed by the farm. She simply wore a plastic, pencil-thin smile. As usual.
"I didn't need to put anything else on Candy's leg first, right?" I said.
Mom said nothing.
"I thought so," I muttered, sealing the Band-Aid on the injury.
As I patched Candy up, I half noticed that the wind outside seemed to be dying down. I tried to not get too excited. I knew that Twizzlers sometimes doubled back on themselves for a second attempt. I cocked an ear to the plastic door. I could hear nothing, which seemed to be a good sign. No news is good news is the saying around these parts when it comes to Twizzler season, but I wanted to check with the radio just to be sure.
I walked to the back of the cellar, and beside the package of Band-Aids lay a My First Sony radio. I flicked the ON switch and it crackled to life.
" ... worry folks, everything will be okay," said the radio announcer, whose voice was reassuringly sugar-coated like a good pop song. "It'll be alright. The Twizzler has gone away. Just relax and be calm. Then go out and reward yourself with an I survived the Twizzler tattoo for only $1.99 at all participating ..."
I turned the radio down, and turned to face Candy and our folks. But Candy was now standing upright on her sore leg, while mom and dad were no longer anywhere to be seen.
"Did they leave again?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Candy. "Guess they didn't need to be around no more."
"I guess. Are you okay walking?"
"Sort of. It doesn't hurt so much."
"Alright. If they're gone, I guess it must be okay to go outside. I'm going to open up the door and check. Just stand back in the corner there, just in case there's still a bit of rain."
I flung open the Lego door and bright pink sunlight flooded the cellar. I squinted and let my eyes adjust to it for a moment. The candy apple sun was shining to the west, but there were still looming clouds in every other direction. Examining the tracks of the Twizzler, I could see that it had leapt over our house and left it completely unscathed. Not a brick or stone, nor a ceramic lawn ornament, had been touched.
The damage was worse to the west, however. Power lines were downed over the road, which meant we probably wouldn't have to go to school tomorrow unless the plastic power men came along and fixed the lines during the night. That seemed unlikely.
I waved to Candy that she could come outside since everything was back to normal. We stood outside for a moment, silently thankful we hadn't lost anything.
"I'm going to assume the power inside the house is going to be out," I said. "It sure looks like a tangled mess down the road."
"Sure does. You think we won't haveta go to school tomorrow?"
"Maybe," I said, not wanting to get her too excited. I didn't need her roaming around the farm goofing off while I was trying to get work done. "Why don't you go inside the house and fix up some sandwiches? Maybe add some for mom and dad in case they come back around, too."
I stood around surveying the damage again for another moment, then headed to the barn to get my scythe. Despite the presence of the Twizzler, the evening's crop work had to be done. I needed to bail enough shoelace for market, so I could get enough tokens to run the Skittles machines. The rainbow-coloured candy food was where the big money was these days, but it was hard work to make enough cash to afford to run them. I wondered if I should check on the neighbours to make sure they were alright, but working the farm seemed more important. We really needed money, so the folks down the road would have to rely on themselves.
I grabbed my black hooded windbreaker off a peg inside the barn, put it on, and grabbed my scythe. I spent about five minutes working on mowing the shoelaces, when I heard someone call my name. I turned around and Candy was sitting on the porch step, eating one of her classic Junior Mints sandwiches. There were three extra sandwiches on the plate beside her, alongside three glasses of Brown Cow milk neatly lined up in a row.
I walked toward Candy and the reassuring safety of our plastic Lego house, secretly hoping that the cherry Twizzler would be the last in awhile. God knows we could have used a little less excitement around these parts. There was serious work needing to be done.