13 The Old School
I was trying to remember my locker combination, when I heard a knocking at the door.  That was a real relief, because I couldn't remember where my first class was either.  Why do first day of school nightmares still haunt me, even during afternoon naps?  
I don't think I was relieved to discover that it was
 Vladivostock Bahclava.  The last time I'd seen him was leaving him to eternally play the Bitar, after almost he'd tricked me into the same fate...  It was a bit too much like having Dracula turn up wanting to borrow a cup of sugar...
    "So, are you here to borrow a cup of sugar?" I asked...
    "The planets were aligned in a way to give me a day off," he said...
    "I won't replace you.  It's fun, playing the Bitar into eternity, but it's just not my gig..."
    "I would not presume upon you for that...  I found out that we have something in common.  After I came over here from the old country, I went to a little school in  Bergmont, Flatsylvania."
    "Hey, so did I."
    "That is why we have it in common.  We went to the same school.  You were unaware I existed.  I ignored you as much as possible.  It was a  good arrangement..."
    "Just before you knocked on the door,  I was  dreaming about the old school..."
    "I know.  It was a premonition of unbounded evil..."
    "No, it was just a regular first day of school nightmare.  I have them from time to time."

    "Yes, and you couldn't find your locker, correct?  I know the locker number--13.  There's something I must get there, and you must take me."
    "13 wasn't my locker number..."
    "But it was mine, and I was the last person to ever use that locker.  There's something there I left behind.  I was a fool.  But no more!  You will take me to Flatsylvania!"
    "Uh, not that I don't like revisiting my youth, but why me?"
    "I don't drive...  Also, you are aware of my nocturnal idiosyncracies, and can make allowance for them, opening a motel door before I rip the walls out, for instance."
    "I could see that might be useful."
    "And I will entertain you with the Bitar on the way."
    Actually that was the bit that convinced me to go along with the guy.  From his curse of playing the Bitar all day, I knew he was a virtuoso musician.  Besides I hadn't been back to Bergmont since I moved away in junior high school.  

    Of course Flatsylvania isn't really the name of the state Bergmont was in.  I've changed the name to protect myself from the Flatsylvania Anti-Defamation League, a bunch of serious minded rednecks that would be a real threat to us  Flatsylvania detractors except their numbers keep shrinking by their immigration to other states that have trees, hills, lakes, and other amenities.  Still, it only takes one ax-handle-wielding redneck to ruin your day...
    But I wasn't worrying about that as we crossed the intervening states to arrive in Bergmont.  Vlad wanted to stop at a motel next to a chicken farm, and given his nighttime were-fox identity, I could see that would be trouble.  When we finally found one that seemed pretty harmless for him to wander from, I then had to worry about whether the neighbors would object to his endless Bitar playing.   Fortunately, soon after supper the moon rose, and I opened the door for him and enjoyed a restful night's sleep while he roamed the woods nearby as a fox.  In the morning he came in carrying a pheasant, which was a shame, as I didn't know how we could cook it in the little microwave provided in the room.

    By the next evening we arrived in Bergmont.  Bergmont, whose name means Mountain Mountain,  seems a particularly bad name for this town, which was as flat as a billiard table. It was founded by Bad Bill Bergmont, who knew the value of evoking an image when trying to sell lots to Easterners.  It was the county seat of  Paradise County (also named by Bill Bergmont), and was in every way average, but had its unique bits.  For example we checked into the Big Pheasant Motel, with a giant fiberglass pheasant on the roof,  which pleased Vlad.  As he straggled back to the room in the early morning, he announced that the moon would be new the next night, which meant he would have a night off from the were-fox curse.

    Being a small town, we decided to walk into the school from the motel, which was on the edge of town.  The school was centrally located, near the Main Street and the courthouse.  The town had more sputtered than thrived since we'd lived there, so a lot of the landmarks had not changed.  The school, combined K-12 in several buildings, looked much the same as when I'd gone there.  The elementary school had a big metal tube for a fire escape, which preceded by a generation all the tube waterslides common today, but similarly drew some of us kids to secretly climb and slide on after school.  Of course, having a potential to be fun, it was against the rules to use.  Even during fire drills we never got to use it, and none of us even knew where the access from the second floor was.  I expect if there were a real fire, children would refuse to use it, knowing it was against the rules...

    I suppose I have nightmares about school from the primordial sense of inadequacy that school in general, and elementary school  in particular, caused. If it weren't the teachers who always walked a schizophrenic line between being your friend and your drill sergeant, it was the kids themselves.  There were the future  leaders, who in a form of Murphy's law, flunked themselves back to a position of power by being older and bigger than the others in the class, which was far superior to being smart and small.  One of these was Big Jim, who utilized his size mostly to monopolize the lead position at the marble pot.

    At the time I was in elementary school, advertising had not yet taken over the brains of all the kids, although Troll Dolls and GI Joes and Barbies were making inroads.  Anyway bringing dolls to school was either uncool or only done secretly.  Aside from the big rubber kick ball, the only gaming allowed was marbles, which was more like a casino than a sport.  And Big Jim was the casino owner.  I don't even remember the rules of marbles, but I knew he had the shooter and the thumb to knock out most of the marbles from the pot, or depression in the dirt, which he then got to keep.  
    Yes,  I'm getting off track, but Big Jim's ghost was there figuratively as we walked up to the school, along with those of teachers past.  I suppose it's no wonder in later life I amassed a goodly marble collection.  Big Jim probably went on to fast cars, and faster women.  I'm still working through elementary trauma...

    In one way, the school kept up with the times.  As we entered, a large sign said that visitors must report to the office.   I don't think elementary schools have alumni offices, or we could just have explained how we were old alums wanting to get back to our roots.  As little kids milled about our feet like kittens, we realized a strategic retreat was in order, unless we wanted to face people whose life specialized in enforcing rules on unwilling participants.  We retreated to the TasteeFreez drive in, and had a cup of coffee.
    "Look, we're here now, Vlad, it's time you came clean and said what's purportedly in this purported locker 13, and why you must get it."
    "It is a personal matter."
    "What could it be?  A gym bag with some size 5 Keds? A well matured overdue library book?"
    "I think it could be a cure for my curse..."
    "The were-fox one, or the Bitar one?"
    "I'm not sure, but either one might result in getting a little rest..."
    "Yes, but the Bitar has real promise.  You should play at some bars or coffee houses or something.  It would be a shame to lose that."
    "I felt that way also, the first 4 or 5 years.  Personally I'd like to be able to take it or leave it, so to speak..."
    "Yes, I guess you have a point.  Anything gets old after a while.  So why do you think the cure is there in the locker?"
    "Do you remember the Shaggy Dog movie about the magic ring that turned Tommy Kirk into a dog?"
    "Who could forget such great art?"
    "I think I left a ring like that in my locker.  I got it from my cereal box.  It was supposed to be a magic decoder ring, but the dial on the top wouldn't twist..."
    "Yeah, I had one like that--they were pretty poor quality manufacture..."
    "That's what I thought at first too, till I looked at the finely worked  mystic symbols inscribed into the genuine brass of the ring.  Then the first time I wore it, I never knew what happened, but I woke up with fleas..."
    "So you think if you  got this ring, you could become a sheep dog instead of a fox?"
    "I think it is like a light switch.  First I was switched OFF.  Then I was switched ON, into a werefox.  If I could get that ring, I could get switched again, into the other position, which is OFF."
    "Well, I guess it's worth a try..."

    We decided to break into the school that night.  Having glanced at the door as I'd  left it in the morning, I determined a credit card would be sufficient to gain us entrance.  Vlad was confident he remembered his locker combination, so with only major trepidation we entered the dim halls of Bergmont Elementary at 2 a.m.  In my nightmare the halls of the school were labyrinthine.  With the aid of advanced years I perceived there was just a U shaped hall leading from the front entryway.  However Vlad had no memory of where locker 13 was, so we spent some time looking at lockers.  They looked a lot smaller than when we were there...
    "Say, Vlad, why are you so sure that locker 13 was never used again?" I whispered.
    "Because of what happened when Big Jim locked me inside," he said.
    "You knew Big Jim?"
    "He got my whole bag of marbles.  But not fairly, like at the marble pot, he  just grabbed my marble bag and locked me in my locker..."
    "That must happen a lot.  That's why all the lockers have these vents in them..."
    "I didn't know what to do.  It was after school.  I'd gone back to get the ring from my locker.  Big Jim grabbed my marble bag and shoved me in the locker.  After a while I got desperate, and checked  wherever I could reach for anything that could help. There was only  my book bag, with the ring inside.  I put it on, and that's all I remembered.  But they found me scratched up and unconscious on the floor in the morning, and locker 13 looked all bulged out, like it exploded...  When they tried shutting the door, it locked and even a locksmith couldn't get it open..."
    "So, like, we should be looking for a bulgy locker?  Like that one?"
    "There it is!"
    "What makes you think the ring is inside?"
    "Well, I wasn't wearing it in the morning, so it must have fallen off as my mystic sheep dog form squeezed out of the locker..."
    "And we're supposed to be able to open it, when  a locksmith couldn't?
    "I remember the combination..."

    Sure enough, he did remember the combination, and the door, though sticky, started to open, just as the police officer arrived.
    "Hands on the back of your heads, NOW!" the big guy said.  Who were we to argue?
    "Hey! That's locker 13!" he said.
    "Hey, it's Big Jim!" Vlad said. Although time had changed us all, it was indeed Big Jim, and he was still big--bigger than either of us by half, although a  lot of that was in the middle.
    "Do I know you cretins?"  He asked.
    "As well as you know locker 13.  I'm the guy you pushed in there..."
    "You can't prove it.  Besides the statute of limitations means all my juvie offenses are over and done...  Whereas here we've got a brand spanking new  B and E, vandalism, and attempted robbery.  This will look good on my stats..."
    "What vandalism?" said Vlad.
    "That locker door..."
    "That happened years ago..."
    "Tell it to the judge.  So just what was so valuable to bring you mugs here to toss a stupid elementary school?  A bag of marbles?"
    "You got all the marbles when you pushed me in."
    "And you've lost all your marbles if you think anyone will believe that around here..." Big Jim pointed out.  I believed him.
    "We're not stealing anything.  I just wanted to see if I left anything in here when the  'accident' happened."  Big Jim obligingly pointed his flashlight/club into the recesses of the locker..."
    "Lookee here," he said.  " A decoder ring.  I always wanted one of those..."  He slipped it on his finger.  "OK, perps, off to the station we go..."
His last words were a bit slurred, as his form was changing into the classic English Sheepdog.  While he was still pondering his new identity, Vlad and I headed for the door.  We were careful to shut it so it latched, hoping that would deter Big Jim long enough for us to make a getaway.  We retreated to the Big Pheasant Motel.
    "Well, " I said, as Vlad picked up his Bitar, " I guess we failed.  I think it was a long shot anyway."
    "Not failed," said Vlad.  There was some justice there, with Big Jim.  And perhaps he'll make a better sheep dog than a human, anyway.  I certainly have enjoyed being a were fox at times...  And perhaps we can still stop at the motel by the chicken farm on the way back home..."


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Week 47
(cartoon ends)
1. A River Too Far
2.The Reunion
3.The Daily Grind
4 The New Car and Treasure
5. The Big 
6. The old
7. The Ravine Runner 8. The Fabulous
Folk Festival
9. Druid
10. Goats of
Christmas Past
11. The Secret Six 12. The Great
White Hunters
13. The Old School
Lost in the City

What's in
a name?
The Curse of
Bently Manor
Shortbottom Possessed
The Lost
of Iraq
Phil Steen
for President!
Phil Steen
for Rehab
The Adventures
of Handiman
and Fiberwoman
Pirates of the Puget Sound
Building a platform, plank by plank
The Quest
for meaning
Larry and
Phil to
The Rescue
Hurrah for
the Reds,
Whites, and
How I spent
my summer
I am
trapped in
the Present
Help I am trapped
in the future
Nose of Death