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Funny Coming of Age

The morning is a little too cold to be comfortable, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m not thinking about the fact that I’m hungry and haven’t had my McDonald’s coffee yet. Not even thinking about how I’m wearing ankle socks in huge hiking boots. Instead I’m thinking about Uncle Darius. 

Darry the weirdo. Darry the black sheep. Darry, the guy who lives way out in the woods, much too far from any McDonald’s, probably without a workable toilet. I don't know. I've never met him.

“Hey, kid, I haven’t seen you in a while.” My uncle’s voice rasps over the voicemail, “Too long. Never, actually.” He pauses to let out a roaring laugh. “I’m almost gone, that’s for sure. But before I go, I want to leave you with one gift; your inheritance. I’ve decided to give it all to you.” Darius lets out a raspy wheeze. “There’s just one problem: I can’t leave my house, for reasons I choose to keep to myself.” Another pause. “To claim what’s yours, hike out to my cabin. It’s fifteen miles up Ottawa Falls Trail -- north of Aspen. You can’t miss it.”

A few seconds of heavy breathing noises. “Don’t dawdle.”

The message is on my phone when I wake up this morning and it is the first voicemail I’ve gotten in over six months. I do, after all, pride myself on never turning my phone off and people know that I’ll call them back if for some reason I don’t pick up. Uncle Darius seems to be a pretty wacky character. Of course he’d leave a voicemail. This could have been because I don’t have his number saved, though, because I've never met him, or knew he existed before this

“Hey, ma, what would you think if I took a day off school? Went up to the mountains and visited Uncle Darius? And also, funny question, who is this guy?” 

Naturally she is suspicious. After a few rounds of back-and-forth, I relent and show her the voicemail. Upon hearing her older-brother-who-she-never-told-her-only-son-about’s cracked, sickly invitation to his cabin and along with that the promise of fat wads of cash, my dear mother practically throws my duffel bag at me. 

“I’ll call the school myself!” She doesn't answer my third question, but is beyond happy as I leave this morning, waving and blowing such kisses in my direction that for a minute, I can almost believe her when she said she’d been prom queen in high school. She shows me a picture of him, just in case, and tells me only to beware, because he was an actor. She says he’s eccentric, to say the least; one of those oddball actors who made a million or so in a movie and disappeared from public life to live out their days like a hermit, and who has, for some reason, decided to give his inheritance to me. 

I’m headed to McDonald’s first. If you know one thing about me after this story, know that I run, albeit not very well, strictly on the fumes of fast, processed, last-a-month-in-your-garage, type food. Since I live in a small town and there aren’t a whole lot of options, I’ve learned to adapt to my resources, the main one being Mickey Dee’s. As soon as I pull into the first drive-through window, I notice that my favorite drive-through guy, Slancey, has been replaced. In his usual window is a young but white-haired girl, and she, unlike Slancey, looks like she wants to dispassionately murder me. She also has a very square face, like Darry has in the picture Mom showed me before I left. And I have never seen anyone -- I mean anyone and I’ve been to some pretty heavy rock concerts -- wearing that much eyeliner.  

“Did you have the gross amount of French fries, two heavily carcinogenic burritos, and a chainsaw for your teeth?” 

“Um, I had a large French fry, two breakfast burritos, and a sweet tea?” 

The girl closes her eyes, sighs like I’ve announced our wedding day is tomorrow, and sticks out her hand. Her nails, a bit to my surprise, are not black. They are yellow and compliment her skin tones with a warmth I’ve seen only on the rare summer day I come out of my house for.

“I like your nails,” I say, and hand her my card. 

“I don’t need your approval, sir.” Her voice is more raspy than I would have though.

“And I don’t need you to call me sir? I doubt I’m that much older than you.” 

“If you keep this up I’m going to dump your so-called Dr. Pepper -- ironically named for a murder of teeth weapon -- all over you and your car.” 

“Uh... ” 

“Are you afraid?” the girl asks, narrowing her eyes intensely. 

I feel like a prisoner being interrogated and think my answer out before I say it. I remember my mom always telling me, “Nothing to be afraid of, except fear of being afraid.”

So I tell her that. 

She leans back in the McDonald’s window, smiling reluctantly. She looks a little impressed.

“Well?” I say.

“Just go to the next window, Quavion. Oh, and take the Chilton Bridge. The Bullard one is out.” 

“Thank you,” I say, correctly taking it as a “Well done, pass ye onward.”

I get to the next window, and while I bring the bag of food and my drink in through the window, I think to myself, “Dude, if you’re already quoting Mom, that’s literally a sign. This is going to be one heckuva road trip.” 

Against my better judgement, I take the Chilton Bridge away from Aspen and lo and behold, she was right. I arrive at the Ottawa Falls trailhead, park my car, forget to lock it, and start walking. I’m shivering almost immediately but then I think of all that money. Suddenly I’m not so cold. 

I’ve walked for about five minutes and I reach a fork in the dusty trail. I stand, a little confused, and not just because my stomach is roiling after McDonald’s breakfast. I don’t know which way to turn. Uncle Darius never said which way. There’s a little half-broken CCC park bench, and someone sits, crouched, on one end, like a dark-clad gargoyle. 

“Uh, hi?” I say loudly. “Can you tell me which way to go?”

The gargoyle sits up. He -- I think it’s a he -- looks dead at me with piercing black eyes, square face crinkling up into creepy laughter. “Which way, young man? Which way?”

“O -- kay,” I say. “My uncle lives out here. Darius Queeft? Heard of him? Can you tell me where he is?”

“Of course, of course,” the gargoyle says obsequiously. “But… um… why are you out here?”

“Out here? I’m getting an inheritance!”

“Ah, it’s money, money. It’s money, of course it’s money.” 

“Why do you repeat everything?”

“My apologies. So you are another greedy young millennial, out to grab your betters’ dollars.”

“I’ll have you know I’m Gen Z. And I’m just doing it for… for, uh…” 

“See? See? Do you see?”

“Whoa, hold up, no! I’m not doing it for money!”

“Then what for? What for then?”

I drag my foot in the thick dust. “I love my uncle.”

“Boy, you are a terrible actor. You've never met him. But he'll appreciate the sentiment, I'm sure. So sure, sure, sure. The Queeft house is left. Go left, young sir. Left.”

“Left, okay. Thanks.”

I turn left and go deeper into the forest. It’s getting thicker, the thinner ash trees and scraggly mesquites turning into heavy oak and rowan trees, twined with thorny vines and shiny dangerous-looking undergrowth. I stay on the well-beaten dust-and-gravel path. I’m deathly allergic to nature. Mostly poison ivy, but that’s the whole of nature in my book. The thought crosses my mind as I wave away gnats that dear Uncle Darry might be intentionally yanking me out of my comfort zone.

I start hearing the rush of water. I keep walking and suddenly it’s right on me, or rather right in front of me. I think it’s a huge river, deep and rushing with white water, foaming, flinging up, but it’s just a little creek that’s ice cold and rather wild. There’s a bridge across it (two fallen trunks lashed together) and another path that goes along the correct side of the river -- the side I wouldn't have to cross a bridge to get to. I see a bent-over shape, tying their shoes beside a skinny mesquite tree.

The person straightens. He has a lot of very colorful tattoos on his square face, so many they look unreal.

"Hi?" I say. "Can you tell me how to get to Darius Queeft's house?"

"Sure. First, I have a question from a survey I'm conducting."

"Out here?"

"...Yes..." he says, like he hadn't thought that before. "Okay. If you got a lot of money suddenly, what would you do?"

Usually I would've said Buy a car and a house and a private McDonald's but walking all day and meeting weird girls and gargoyles has changed me for sure. Instead, I say, "Donate it, probably." Then my stomach rumbles and I say, "And buy a big McDonald's gift card."

He grins. "Queeft likes the Donald too. He'll like that. Cross the bridge and you're there."

I look from the bridge to him, and then he's gone. I decide to cross, since there's nothing else to do. I’m shaking in my boots but hey, these boots were made for walking, and that’s just what I’ll do. The bridge swings in a pendulum left-right-left march as I step onto it. I swallow hard, channel my inner mochi, and start walking. 

“Quavion, Quavion, don't be such a baby on… a day like today when the weather is so nice, you should just be glad that your toes are not pure ice,” I sing under my breath, as a distraction from the tumultuous waters beneath me. 

I’m over halfway to the other side when I start to fall. I let out a shriek that anywhere nearer civilization I'd be ashamed to admit it was me. As it is, I'm in the middle of absolute fudgerolling nowhere and so I clack my teeth together and keep tramping on.

I cross. I'm there. I straighten my backpack like I cross raging rivers every day and keep walking almost bouncily.

"After this," I say grimly, "I'm gonna make Mom tell me why she didn't fudgerolling tell me about this guy, and makw him tell me why he doesn't fudgerolling live in town!"

I start to see flashes of glass and polished wood through the thicket of Ottawa Falls Trail and start to hear wisps of odd music. Reggae music. Honestly, I'm not surprised Darius listens to reggae.

The house comes into view. It's huge. It's rolling. It's expansive. It's also made from glass and the lids of old '60s record players. I stop and stare for longer than a teenager would care to admit. Then I start shivering again from the cold wind and keep moving.

I reach the porch, walk up it, and knock as loudly as possible. My McDonald's padded knees are about to give out, so I plop down on the front stoop and wait for the world to end.

A wizened old man with a square, clean-shaven, unwrinkled face and oddly-colored cheeks opens the door. He looks like Dumbledore, the one from the first and second movies, much older than you'd think a brother of my mom would be.

"Hi," I say, standing. "I'm... Quavian? I'm here to collect the inheritance?"

He lets out a bellowing laugh and roars to the house, "Well, you can't fault the boy for being blunt!"

Then he looks at me and says, "Well, you did earn it. Those questions were hard, weren't they?"

"Not really," I say before I can catch myself. "Wait. How'd you know about the questions?"

He pulls his white hair up into a ponytail and I suddenly see the girl at McDonald's who asked me about fear. He crouches and curls his hands and I see the gargoyle who asked me about money. He pulls markers out of his purple pockets and draws on his face and I see the tattooed surveyor who asked me about money too. "Didn't your mother tell you I was an actor, boy?" he asks, chuckling.

"Yes..." I say, "But she didn't tell me... you were this... good."

"Right answer, boy."

"But, Uncle," I say. "Why me?"

"Why? Simple. I didn't want it to go to your mother; she buys too many green scarves. And you're the only other relative. If you hadn't passed the tests I gave you I'd have donated some and lit the rest on fire."

"And McDonald's?" I ask.

He laughs. "I'd have stocked up on that, too. Now. I'm hungry. I'm going to make coffee mixed with chai grounds. Would you like that, or would you rather see the money room? I have a room just for money, see."

Money sounds great. On the other hand... "Chai and coffee? Sounds gross."

He raises an eyebrow.

"I'll take that," I decide, and he laughs and puts an arm around me and leads me inside.

December 18, 2020 15:09

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17 comments

Love the entire story! Also, she's right! Such a creative and amazing title! :)

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Zilla Babbitt
18:33 Dec 19, 2020

The title’s often the hook, and this was a quirky hook for a quirky story!

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Haha! Exactly said! :)

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The Manticore
23:24 Dec 19, 2020

Thank you 🤗

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Haha! No problem! :)

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WWOWOWOW I'm at loss for words!

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The Manticore
02:13 Dec 22, 2020

😘🌻

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Zilla Babbitt
17:28 Dec 18, 2020

Best. Title. Ever. Great job!

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The Manticore
15:26 Dec 30, 2020

:)

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23:45 Dec 22, 2020

This was a really enjoyable read! I liked the surprise that all the questioners were actually his uncle, I didn’t see that coming!

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The Manticore
02:03 Dec 25, 2020

Thanks! :)

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Elliot Thomas
17:29 Jan 07, 2021

and here i was thinking that girl and i could be friends. i guess i'll have to upgrade to an eccentric, kooky recluse with a love for musical theatre. no complaints here

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The Manticore
15:28 Jan 09, 2021

Lol. Thanks for reading, monsieur Thomas.

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. .
20:03 Jan 04, 2021

QUEEN OF ALL TITLES. I loved the human interaction, and the dialogue and characters were very realistic. Great job!!

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The Manticore
15:27 Jan 09, 2021

Thanks, Luke! You're lit.

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. .
15:27 Jan 09, 2021

XD am I?? Good to know!!

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