“Forty times in a raging storm,” I said to myself in disbelief. I held up the newest edition of Memes Weekly, which had been speedily delivered by the failing socialist U.S. Postal Service. The cover story was a photo of Fred Rogers with white text over it. It was an incantation.
Thunder rolled. The hiss and pound of rain against my roof crescendoed into a roar. My feet carried me into my front yard before I had time to consider whether or not I’d been the first. I’d find out soon enough.
“Fred Rogers,” I said. “Fred Rogers.”
“FRED ROGERS! FRED ROGERS! FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS FRED ROGERS!
I didn’t have time to contemplate its effectiveness. The clouds folded and rolled away ahead of something the size and color of a Eurocraft 44 Explorer. The wind howled against its flat bottom.
I hadn’t noticed that another Postal Service truck had stopped on the street in front of my modest home. I’m not sure how I heard him through the roar above me, but the awfully familiar man in the left-side seat turned slowly and met my eyes with his yellow-tinted reading specs, which painfully burned into my retinas like two welding arcs, and spoke with a voice that seemed to originate from the center of my skull: “I am the herald of Mister Rogers, delivered speedily to you this night. To you, the quickest of all, I bequeath the behemoth, the reckoner, which you and only you command.”
What now was clearly a foot clad in a blue canvas shoe howled down above the spot where the truck was parked. As its shadow loomed over the man in rare Postal Service dress garb, he said, now with his own voice, “I never thought I’d miss the smell of dandelions.” He had just begun to reach towards my bushy unmown spring lawn when the shoe landed on his truck and slammed it into the ground with such force I was lifted off my feet and thrown into the neglected bushes that surround my house.
Stars. The sky, roiling. I was vaguely aware of the scratches on my back, and I’d just started to claw my way back to my feet when another boom shook the earth. The decorative cover fell off the front porch light and shattered on the concrete below. I was thrown between the bushes and the red-pink bricks of my domicile. I tasted dirt and blood. I was face down, and I opened my left eye. An ant crawled across the gravel.
“HELLO NEIGHBOR,” said a voice from above. I heard a window break. A car alarm started going off at the apartment complex the next street over.
I lifted myself up and leaned against the wall. It stood, now, in the street. The soles of its comfy shoes were sunken, crushed into the pavement. Small flames licked up around its right foot, where the postman had been.
“Uh, hello,” I said.
“I LIKE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”
“Um, well,” I said. “That’s fortunate.”
“WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE MAD THAT YOU FEEL
WHEN YOU FEEL SO MAD YOU COULD BITE?
WHEN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD SEEMS OH SO WRONG
AND NOTHING YOU DO SEEMS VERY RIGHT?”
There wasn’t a window left intact in the neighborhood. The single car alarm in the distance had become a gaggle of angry honkers. The air sizzled, and the hairs on my arms stood straight up. A bright blue bolt hummed down from the mist and reverberated like a Tesla coil as it ripped into the asphalt behind me. My home stood between me and the explosions that rocked through the complex beyond, but I felt almost unbearable heat wrap itself around my face. The beam snapped off, and while my ears rang like they had for hours, once, after an Ozzy Osbourne concert, I didn’t hear any more horns.
“IT’S GREAT TO BE ABLE TO STOP
WHEN YOU’VE PLANNED A THING THAT’S WRONG,
AND BE ABLE TO DO SOMETHING ELSE INSTEAD
AND THINK THIS SONG.”
“What am I supposed to stop?” I asked. “This? I haven’t done anything except summon you.”
“I CAN STOP WHEN I WANT TO,” he said. A bolt tore down from the sky and ripped into a house three doors down that’s been abandoned since the financial crisis in 2007. A small cloud mushroomed up above the ball of flame as a gas main caught and belched another sphere of hot death into the air. The house next to it caved in on itself with a groan and a clatter. The weeping willow in the front yard melted and sizzled before its skin popped off like a frank carelessly dropped in a Fourth of July barbecue pit.
“I can’t breathe,” I shouted.
“I CAN STOP WHEN I WISH,” he said. The ringing in my ears doubled and increased until I realized it wasn’t coming from me. A Learjet had clipped him on its approach to the Jonesboro Municipal Airport. It seemed to drift sideways as it careened over the end of the street and slid out of view. CAROOM. Another tremor rocked me to my knees. The burs between the Bermuda grass bit into my right knee through the hole in my worn-out Dad jeans.
I crawled out of the flower bed and turned my face to the sky. He was obscured by smoke past the mid-calf, but I knew he was up there with that wise face and that perfectly parted silver hair, so comforting. Did he smile? I couldn’t see, but I knew he must have.
“I CAN STOP, STOP, STOP ANY TIME,” he said.
“Please stop,” I yelled up at him. “Please stop now!” I coughed repeatedly and spit, which landed, black, on the brick lining the sidewalk.
“AND WHAT A GOOD FEELING TO FEEL LIKE THIS,” he replied, “AND KNOW THAT THE FEELING IS REALLY MINE.”
I tensed my shoulders and neck. My teeth squeaked against each other. Seconds ticked into a minute. Was it over?
“Mister,” I started, “Mister Rogers. Fred. Fred.”
Silence, except for the low rumble of combustion all around me.
“Did you stop because I told you to?”
“KNOW THAT THERE’S SOMETHING DEEP INSIDE
THAT HELPS US BECOME WHAT WE CAN
FOR A GIRL CAN BE SOMEDAY A WOMAN
AND A BOY CAN BE SOMEDAY A MAN.”
I heard sirens in the distance. They’d be here soon, and I didn’t want to waste any more time. Fred had said all I’d needed to hear, and I only had one request.
“Fred, yesterday I read they probably aren’t going to, well, you know,” I said. “You must know. Fred, we have to do it.”
A police car hurtled down Caraway Road and passed the street. A fire engine behind it slowed and began to turn in. Within seconds, another patrol car arrived behind it and its driver slammed the breaks and steered to the side through the corner yard to avoid a collision. Its tires tossed up clods of earth as it plowed to a halt.
The air crackled, and I knew we’d see the end of Jonesboro before we got on to other things. A blue bolt raced down from above, rattled through the soil, and tore the cruiser in half with a hiss and a pop.
“Fred,” I said, “Fred, we have to get Kony.“