Blammo took a big gulp as he stopped outside the towering ivory gate doors chiseled with the reliefs of legends. To one side, Hobbes, Calvin’s erstwhile stuffed tiger and faithful companion. The other gate was carved with the likeness of that spectral troublemaker from Family Circus, Not Me. Hobbes and Not Me were depicted as reaching towards each other, seeking to embrace the only thing they had left after being forgotten in the wake of time. Welcome to The Abandoned City.
The Abandoned City was the last refuge of imaginary friends and there were two things you could do here – one could rent an apartment and watch reruns of their adventures until they faded away, totally forgotten, never to be recollected. Or, one could choose the path of their human counterparts and grow up, whatever that meant. Blammo didn’t care much for option number one; he was literally conceived as an action hero. So it would have to be option two. Blammo just had to open the gate.
He figured he could blast the doors open with the mega-explosion pistol that was faithfully strapped to his thigh. Then again, growing up probably meant you didn’t do those kinds of things anymore. Blammo only figured this because of the dwindling adventures Jimmy took him on and so took his palm off the pistol’s grip. After all, it’s not like he couldn’t unholster the pistol faster than any other imaginary friend there ever was should the need arise. Whatever lay on the other side of this entrance, Blammo could handle it. He parted the gate doors with his entirely fictional calloused hands.
“Welcome to The Abandoned City! I’m Patrick,” a pint-sized pink elephant announced. “We’ve been expecting you. Here are your supplies.” The short-statured pachyderm shoved a pencil case and a Spiderman lunchbox into Blammo’s arms and spun him towards the right with its trunk. “Just up ahead is school. Hurry along now.”
“School?” Blammo questioned. “There’s where Jimmy started going. That’s when he started to forget me. But I don’t understand what school is. What is ‘school’?”
“School is where you go to learn things,” Patrick informed.
“I thought that’s what the internet was for,” Blammo returned.
“Honestly now,” Patrick bristled, “And what will you know if the wifi is down and you’ve used up all your data for the month? We all go to school just in case there’s something Siri or Alexa can’t answer for you. It’s also where you can make real friends, well, real imaginary friends in our case.” The little pink elephant pushed Blammo along with its stubby foot.
And so Blammo went off to school, learning how to add and subtract which seemed rather useless considering his mega-explosion pistol held an infinite number of bullets. But the more he learned, the more he forgot about his pistol. He began to forget about Jimmy, too.
Throughout these formative school years, Blammo naturally excelled at gym class. His agility and endurance were astounding; running, leaping, tucking, and tumbling better than anyone. Of course, his aim was impeccable and this catapulted him to captain of the basketball team by junior high. His prowess even made the prim-and-proper Little Miss Teacup swoon.
After a brief courtship – drunken sex in which they took each other’s virginity – Blammo dumped Little Miss Teacup in favor of Penny Punchbowl. She didn’t last long any longer. Bianca, Lar’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy the Good Little Witch, and Flutter Nutter also fell in quick succession. Sometime Blammo would feel bad that he used all these young ladies but it seemed his behavior was expected of him. While on occasion it felt like some vague kind of oppression that athletes should behave as rogues, nerds had to dress as if their mothers had chosen their clothes for them in the dark while hipsters were required to wear the latest trends, oh, and don’t forget that stoners had to act slow and forgetful, Blammo avoided trying to make sense of the whole ‘growing up’ thing by drinking cheap beer and belching as loud as he could. It was what the athletes did.
Eventually, the high school championship game came. It was the biggest basketball game of the year, always between the same two teams seeing how there were only two in the entire league – The Abandoned City Rollers and the Island of Forgotten Toys Tigers. In a freak accident – some claim Wendy the Good Witch had put a hex on him – Blammo caught his ankle around Charlie in the Box’s neck during a routine lay-up, breaking his shin bone in five places. He was never going to play basketball again. He’d never be as fast or nimble as before. The former adventurer still had great aim, though, but it wasn’t enough to get him a scholarship for college much less into the pros. Athletics behind him, Blammo was going to have to start taking knowing things seriously.
And so one day Blammo was in his Philosophy of Harry Potter class, not listening, staring out the window at an old tree. Remember the days he’d climb and swing from the long branches of trees like that! Over hot lava and pits of dragons, ready to fight his way out of being surrounded by toothy, tentacled aliens toting laser guns. Ah, that was so long ago. But it was so much fun! Hmph! Then Blammo had chosen to grow up when he could’ve just faded away like the smarter imaginary friends. Figures; Blammo had never been good at making choices. He was good with his mega-explosion pistol, though. Maybe. It’d been a long time since he’d pulled that trigger.
“Blammo! Are you paying attention?” Mrs. Otterpants bleated from the head of the classroom.
Blammo recoiled at the sound of his name, his palm releasing the grip on his mega-explosion pistol much like on the day he entered The Abandoned City. His shoulders went slack and his eyes drooped as Mrs. Otterpants suggested – in no uncertain terms – that he visit his academic counselor. Right now. Like, right. Now.
Patrick, the Pink Elephant, sat Blammo down at his desk. “Haven’t seen you in some time, Blammo. You were doing so well. With the basketball, I mean. I think you could have gone pro. Anyway, Mrs. Otterpants called down to say you’ve been inattentive lately. Is there anything I can help you with?” Patrick shoveled some peanuts into his mouth with the end of his trunk and munched loudly.
Blammo cast his eyes down, ashamed to say what he’d been feeling. “I miss shooting my pistol.”
Patrick leaned back. Ground up peanuts fell out of his mouth as his jaw dropped. “Well, you just can’t do that anymore. You’re growing up. And grown-ups don’t go on adventures. They don’t go off shooting their pistols anytime they want. Now I’m sorry about your ankle; that little dream is dead. But now you’re going to finish college, go out into the real world, get a job that pays you short of what you’re worth, spend entirely too much time working that job, and put money away for retirement instead of taking too much time off of work so that you don’t hate work.”
Blammo looked up with squinted eyes. “What’s retirement?”
Patrick leaned forward and put the flats of his feet together. “Oh, retirement is when you’ve grown old and don’t have to work anymore because as we age we get slow and crotchety. Understandably, younger people, younger workers, don’t like to be around senior citizens. The good news is that when you retire you get to do all the things you wanted to do when you were younger but didn’t have time to because you were working.”
Blammo head went full askew. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the things you really want when you’re younger? I’ve already lost a step after breaking my ankle; wouldn’t I be even slower when I’m old?” the young man questioned. “How am I going to jump clear of a lava pit when I’m 65?”
“Uh,” the pink elephant stammered, “I don’t think you understand. There are no more lava pits. No more dragons. No more villainous aliens. Those things don’t exist for us anymore. That was all imaginary. We’ve grown up.”
“I think growing up sucks!” Blammo erupted. He snapped to attention, his palm fastening around his mega-explosion pistol. He kept the pistol holstered but his whole arm was shaking. Patrick didn’t seem too concerned.
“Oh, growing up isn’t so bad. Why, after you get your job, you’ll marry someone you’ll love for seven to ten years, then rediscover the thrill of love with your neighbor’s wife. Then the day will come you’re really excited by that new car smell after you wreck whatever lease you’ve been driving for five years. Eventually, you’ll savor nights alone by yourself, with nothing to keep you company but your taxes until it’s time to go back to work the next day. It’s just what’s expected of you,” Patrick shrugged. It was only when he stopped blabbering that the rosy pachyderm noticed Blammo’s pistol to his head.
“I would advise you not to pull that trigger, Blammo,” Patrick offered with the barest hint of concern. The trigger clicked anyway. The hammer fell. No explosion. Not even a whimper out of the pistol’s barrel. Blammo brought the pistol towards his face, confused.
“Your imagination is dead, impotent if you will, Blammo. See, it’s one of those use-it-or-lose-it kind of things. Very common, happens to everyone. Nothing to be ashamed of.” The academic adviser whom everyone sees eventually in an attempt to ignore reality held out the flat of his foot. “The pistol, if you’d be so kind.”
All the blood had left Blammo’s face. Stunned, he ever so slowly placed his mega-explosion pistol in Patrick’s care. It was expected of him. Blammo shuffled from side to side as he turned around to face the exit, his eyes coal dead.
“That’s it, be a fine young man and get back to class,” Patrick coaxed. “Pay attention now. You need to know things. Chin up! It’s the first day of the rest of your life.” The student almost out the door, the diminutive flush-fleshed mammal placed Blammo’s pistol in his desk drawer.
Two decades later, Blammo was sitting in his recliner, flipping television channels in the late evening. (That’s what was expected of you when you had insomnia.) On the 126th channel, Blammo stumbled across a cartoon called Puff, the Magic Dragon. “Stupid,” Blammo muttered. “Dragons aren’t real and if they were they’d be dangerous,” he illuminated the threadbare walls. Of course dragons aren’t real; that’s what grownups expect. And Blammo was a grownup. He turned off the television. He’d already turned off his mind.
Eventually, Blammo began to nod off. The usual dreams – deadlines at work, his wife screaming at him for another stupid mistake – made him flit and jerk as he slipped off into deep sleep. Then…
A CRY FOR HELP! Was it some new nightmare,? The voice, it sounded familiar, long ago, but familiar. The cry for help came again. No. No, no, no. This was not his imagination. Blammo had heard that cry before, in some distant memory. It sounded like…like…my god, what was his name?
Jimmy! His name was Jimmy. And he was in trouble.
Blammo didn’t bother opening the front door. He exploded through it, no pistol required, to bring hope back into the dark of night.
All rights Reserved © February 2018 John J Vinacci