Dime Novel Dreams of Childhood

by James Lloyd Davis

     He chased Billy Cusak across the asphalt playground.  Yelled, “I'm gonna kill you!”

     Two things happened.  First, the growled threat of murder came out so loud and so brutally harsh, it left him hoarse.  Secondly, and more to the point, realization of the true meaning and intent of what he'd screamed made him stop, stand still while Billy flew across the asphalt laughing like the drone-prone devil that he was, a miserable, wheedling, and simper-headed fool, but fast on his feet.  Un-catch-able.  But snot-brained, unworthy of breathing privileges.

     He hated Billy Cusak, hated him to the core of his loathsome soul.  But… to want to kill him? To want to kill so badly that he'd bruised his own voice box to say so? There are moments that define.  Lines of demarcation in the sands of time.  This was the one that separated the time of innocence from the dawn of manhood.  No, it wasn't silly, a thing to snicker aside and move on, move ever onward and away.  It was the true horror of Genesis in the garden, the post-apple moment, to awaken from the sleep of joy to the knowledge of naked wrath. 

     He bore the mark of Cain.
     Would never be the same.

     He found others of his kind, assembled under flags of one adopted nation or another through the years.  The very  first began two days after he'd expelled himself from Eden.
     “Plunk yer magic twanger, Froggy.”
     It was the borrowed anthem of the day, the secret handshake, an incantation from a silly Saturday morning kid show on television where the Froggy puppet was the bad cat, the devilish, no-good-nik, punkster demon who reveled in confusion, who laughed at convention, who doubtless dreamed of tying tattletales and hall monitors to trees and burning them alive.
     They called themselves the Froggies, that playground gang of grim believers.  Swore blood oaths, bore blood brotherhood with one another using pen knives and complicated promises of fealty to the darkest visions of revenge and rampant rage.  Dreamed of thundering across the playground, wreaking, seeking havoc, spreading terror where it festers in the weaker sisterhoods and the less worthy brotherhoods of the complacent and, yes, even the innocent on the asphalt plains of recess. 
     Renegades and rebel yells.  If only they could have known that the rapine, hyperbolic dreams of the Froggy Brigade were the firm foundation of horrors to come.  Smile. though, and grin, giggle and laugh, repeat after me, “They're only children after all.”

     Billy Cusak disappeared on a Saturday, in August of 1955.  Speculation, whispers, rumors led to suspicion of an old young man who lived alone and no one really knew.  Questioned and accused, he bore the wrath of an entire town for as long as it took to deem him guilty, try him, send him off to prison, there to die.  He dared deny it, which made them all the more certain of his guilt, that and the fact that he reeked of eccentricity, found him guiltier than sin, even though they never found the body of little Billy, nor any damning evidence beyond suspicion.  There is, after all, a soft, squishy place in communal hearts for the little ones. 
     “Suffer the little children…” the good Lord said.
     Soon after Billie disappeared, all the Froggies grew apart from one another in a sudden and dreadful silence.       Dispersed and de-commissioned, they drifted quite apart.  Spoke not to one another ever again.  And each, in his time of majority, moved away.

     “People... I believe,” his wife said as she plunged a tray of biscuits into the oven, “are good at heart.  I think evil is an aberration, brought on, perhaps, by circumstances.”
     He smiled at her with a practiced and rhythmic attention from behind a brilliant masque, said, “You might be right, hon,” even though he disagreed in the lockstep center of his hide-a-way heart.  “You just might be right... about that.”