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THE MiSERY OF AGE

©  WRiTER oN THe MoON

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8

The Dwarves and the Monster in the Yard

They refused to look at the manual that was kicking around in the bottom of Alan's backpack. When Jack had given them The Essential Manual for Laundrymen, he had, in a certain way, confessed to the secret they had been searching for so feverishly. And with that truth the adventure disappeared,the risk of dying, the fear and the intrigue of returning to the terrible catacombs of the basement. The mystery of cleaning the dead became old stuff, stale, just like the morning Santa Claus and his reindeer were assassinated by the same gun. The magical game was over.

To put it bluntly, everything was a pile of shit.

After an hour in the laundry, they caught a bus to Parbrook. They wanted to try to get more information from Grandma Emma.

It was a relatively short trip from the laundry.

She smelled a bit like boiled cauliflower. They sat down by her side and she covered herself with her blanket, her inseparable blanket. Alan noticed the characteristic tic of the Lambs and at the same time, how very much older she seemed since the last time he saw her in February.

As soon as they walked in the door she asked them about the dwarves. Every time she inquired, Alan always told her the same thing, it was senseless but it seemed to comfort her.

"Out there, they are out there in the yard. Hiding like always, in the bushes at the entrance and living in the tree. Can you see them Grandma Emma?"

She smiled at him lovingly. The dementia distracted her and took her to worlds that Alan felt curious about. If he could visit them with her would he be able to find her again?

"Grandma Emma, we brought you some cupcakes. Would you like one?"

She nodded and took a blue one.

"The truth is, we came to tell you that the laundry has been shut down."

She looked at him sharply, and although she saw the worry in her grandson's blue eyes, she laughed, but it was a vile laugh.

"John is one of those damned dwarves. He's a bastard, a real bastard.

Somewhere in the tree.....there, right there. I know that's where he stashes all of the money he has stolen from us."

The tic increased as she named his Granddad John, who Alan never knew.

"Grandma Emma," Alan continued with rhythm, "if the laundries are so important to the world, why are they allowed to shut them down?"

"John, that damned John." All she would talk about was her dead husband while glaring at the azaleas.

"Grandpa died, a long, long time ago."

What was behind Emma's eyes that kept her from recognizing Alan? Why did he keep on talking about the laundry? Her expression changed and her eyes lit up with anger.

"It's the dwarf. That foolish dwarf!"

"Grandma!"

She threw the cupcakes to the floor. It has been a visit in vain.

When they were back home they went straight to Alans' bedroom so that Jack, Marisa or Sara wouldn't bombard them with questions. He took the manual out of his backpack and placed it on the bedside table. After that they began to play a video game with headsets. Around midnight Javier began to complain that the headset was making him dizzy.

"Shit, you'll never change. You're such a cry baby." swore Alan as he took his off.

" We've been playing with these things on for over four hours. I'd rather use the combined mode, reality-fiction so I don't get so dizzy."

"Ok, whatever you say. But it's a lot less immersive and I imagine you know that this particular game doesn't have that option. Never mind, you just like to be a pest."

When they took off their headsets they returned to the real world, where the manual sat on the bedside table. A strong wind began to blow papers and debris in little tornados and they could hear the clothes lines whistling in the backyard. Javier walked over to the window and looked out.He watched as the empty lines jerked rapidly. He noticed a man in a suit with a red tie who was standing still in the street staring at the Park Street Launderette. When he sensed Javier was watching him, the suited and mysterious man turned and walked casually off down Winter Walk Street.

The kitchen door opened and out walked Sara with a laundry basket. Javier stooped down, frightened.

"Oh shit! turn off the light Alan, turn it off!!! Your mom is out there hanging up laundry. I mean some dead people."

He turned off the light and crawled over to the window where Javier was. Squatting there they watched as Sara hung up the cloth she had in the basket. It was as big as a sheet.

Sara shook it three times. It was spotless. The wind was making it difficult to hang the cloth on the clothesline so Sara called Jack to help her. The clean smell of soap rose to their nostrils. Jack came out immediately.

"There is something magical about cleaning spirits. Don't you think so?" asked Sara.

"There sure is. Do you know how I've always seen this? I'm sure I've told you this story before."

"Tell me and I'll see if I remember." answered Sara.

"The whole process. My mother used to say that we helped make the world better. That these spirit threads are like alveolus in our lungs, invisible, gigantic, and when air comes in they get clean."

"Ah yes. Making the world hygienic! I remember that perfectly. And yes, you already did tell me that. Be careful now, it's not dry yet."

A gust of wind blew the cloth, making it raise and writhe in the air. Sara and Jack tried to grab it firmly so that it didn't take off but they couldn't.The wind snatched it out of their hands, lifted it up until it disappeared, just like magic, into the moonlight.

"Well, he really was anxious to get going! Have a wonderful trip Mr. Benson!" exclaimed Sara in the last salute to the old man.

That was when the giant throat of the monster described by Jack took life in the minds of Alan and Javier. The beast's breath slammed the window shut and and the glass shattered into a thousand pieces.

The television came on mysteriously and The Banana Boat song by Harry Belafonte came blasting out at them. Alan, realizing it was a song from the musical score of Beetlejuice, started to scream. And Javier joined him, splintering the sky with their screams.