Henderson Lovely, Last of the Munchkins

Fiction by Kevin Catalano

Editor’s Note: We will return with new material on January 4, 2013.  

THE DAY OF THE OZ FESTIVAL

Pat Pratt awoke frantic with the thought that it was raining. He was at the window, drawing the curtain, before fully awake. Long shadows of trees and mailboxes cut across the neighborhood lawns. His heart lifted. This was the day he’d been waiting for since he’d become mayor and somehow, in the last few weeks, it had snuck up on him.

Pat’s knees and ankles crackled as he sneaked past Brett, who was asleep on the couch.  He accidentally looked full-on at the scar that gnarled his son’s forehead like a gouged-out third eye. Pat shivered and quickly occupied his thinking with song. I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers, consulting with the rain.

Unsure of what his houseguest, Mr. Lovely, ate for breakfast, Pat set out English muffins, grape jelly, Raisin Bran, bananas and oranges, and an Entenmann’s coffee cake. It wasn’t until now, seeing the food displayed on the counter, that he realized he’d imitated a hotel’s disappointing Continental breakfast. He’d offer to make Henderson an omelet, though something told Pat that the old man’s meal would be Wild Turkey spiked with coffee.

Pat spooned Chock full O’Nuts into the filter and heard Brett stir.

“You coming to the parade today?” he asked over his shoulder, scattering grounds on the floor.

“What do you think?”

Pat mopped the linoleum with his hand, then brushed off the grit over the sink. He went into the family room, keeping his eyes steadied on the tip of Brett’s nose, a respectable distance from the scar. “I would like you to come.”

“That’s not going to happen.” Brett pulled the blanket over his head.

“Please.  It’s important to me.”

Brett flung the blanket off and said to the ceiling. “It’s important to Dean, too, but you wouldn’t know that.”

“After all I’ve done to make this day happen, and you’re concerned about Dean?”

“That’s funny, Patrick. I could have sworn you dedicated the festival to him.”

Pat absently scratched below his pajama bottoms, conjuring an itch on his tailbone. “I need to get Henderson up.”

Pat hurried down the hall to escape a comment Brett was sure to hurl. He knocked on the bedroom door. “Good morning.” No answer. He knocked again, put his ear to the door, then entered.

Henderson was in bed, awake. He stared at Pat, milk-blue eyes sharp and clean as though he’d been waiting for him all night.

“Did you sleep okay?” Pat asked.

Henderson licked his toothless mouth like some half-frog creature. He cleared his throat.  “Let’s get this over with.”

THREE THOUSAND, SIX HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE DAYS UNTIL THE OZ FEST

Dean and Jason Fleming had been abducted at the Oz Festival ten years ago. Some demented couple swiped the kids in broad daylight, right from under everyone’s nose.  The national media painted Chittenango as a bunch of dumb hicks for allowing it to happen. Seems like someone would have noticed something, the stylish newscasters had said, shaking their heads, clucking their tongues. No one saw a thing. The boys’ father—Karl Fleming—had left them alone for a few minutes, and when he returned, they were gone. Poor eight-year-old Jason didn’t make it back. Dean did, but his mind was wrecked, and who could blame him? At ten, he’d killed his female kidnapper, and then swam his brother’s corpse through Oneida Lake. The other abductor was eventually caught, since Dean was able to direct the police to the abandoned house on the lake.   Chittenango, however, wasn’t the same.

Pat was the festival’s coordinator at the time. He was also the village historian, specializing in the life of Oz author L. Frank Baum, who was born in Chittenango. While Pat was not blamed for the abduction, it was his beloved celebration that quickly got the ax. Parents in the village had passionately argued that continuing the festival would be imprudent, and too horrific a reminder. There hadn’t been an Oz Fest since.

Pat sought to change that. He’d become mayor two years ago, winning the election 568-392, on the campaign promise that he would renew Chittenango’s tarnished image, which would bring much-needed revenue. The best way to do that, Pat had assured, was to resurrect the Oz Fest, making it twice as big as the prior ones in order to get the attention of the entire state of New York. Of course, Pat had no choice but to dedicate the festival to Jason and Dean Fleming.