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Where Walter Mitty Never Dared To Tread

   Dedicated to Dylan James Nelson who always dares.

I pioneered Promethean Strength Factors.

Hunched over my workbench, I scribbled equations furiously in a small clearing  at the far end of the counter top.

Next to the metal sink  I toiled wordlessly, charting temperature and pressure phases to vouchsafe a delicate equilibrium.

Only through herculean cognitive tenacity could I suppress howls of derisive laughter. The scope of my latest experiment would doubtless test the infinitesimal intellect of student and teacher alike in Mr. Norton’s 7th grade science class.

Inexplicably, a suffocating malice  raised the hackles on my neck and arms. I turned my head to the right, facing the length of the counter top and its serpentine expanse of Pyrex apparatus.

Tentatively, I swiveled an eyeball over my shoulder, and peeked askance at the center of  chemistry lab where classmates sat in several small rows.

Snickers burst from smug, spotty faces when simultaneously the entire lecture group looked up from their desks in answer to my furtive glance. Oh, aren’t we a cheeky lot of little monkeys?

I was synthesizing a complex formula whose  reactants demanded endless molecular calculation to consummate their power and purity. You must understand, I am but a humble explorer of truth. My sacraments bless the empirical method and I receive divine guidance from logical positivism.  I refuse to believe in god, serendipity, or flights of fancy, yet I constantly renew myself while expanding the frontiers of knowledge. Of course, I confess to mucking about the Ivory Tower rather obsessively, but my gifts transcend mortality.

Muscles tightened. Blood Raced.

Urgency grew wings as I drew closer to perfecting a miraculous compound. The concoction would proclaim my genius to the Academy. Accolades in prestigious journals would extoll my discovery, and surely engrave my legacy in the Annals of Science. I left the counter, muttering modest acceptance of the  Nobel Prize. Shambling to the back of the lab I opened a tall glass cabinet containing vials of  bright powders and iridescent amalgams essential to the bubble and spark of my procedure.

Returning to my workbench, I found the counter littered with tattered phase diagrams, cold Bunsen burners and smashed flasks. My beautiful solution fumed and sizzled, eating a hole through Formica, polluting the air with unwholesome green mist. This was not the first time those little shits sabotaged my creations. And given the chance, they would strike again.

I spent the rest of the seminar fighting back tears, frantically trying to salvage ruined serum, carefully avoiding exposure to untested compounds. At last my bench triumphed over petty jealousies, crowded once again with a labyrinth of capillary tubes, distillers, and beakers that spat and gurgled joyously above the hiss and warm caress of blue flame jetting from burners. These hands, these instruments of invention, visibly shook while a combat drum roll hammered inside me. But I gave no word to my rage. Clenching  teeth, I brooked endless smirks and titters.

The buzzer exploded, signalling  the end of the period, triggering an epiphany that staggered me in dumbfounded splendor. Water splashed across the backs of my hands as I held them motionless in the metal sink, marveling at their thick tendons. My paws had grown immense!

Straight away I realized why my colleagues tormented me. I was a furry, twenty-five year old monster with chiseled shoulders and a barrel chest. You could show movies on my back. Sinews fat as a Sunday ham popped and writhed under the hide of my forearms.

I weighed more than a sumo champion, but carried no fat on my bones. Muscles in my legs rippled like pythons wrapped around indomitable oaks. In the hallway I stooped to avoid bonking my thick skull on light fixtures and exit signs. I dwarfed even the tallest faculty members, and absolutely towered over munchkin classmates like a bespectacled troll.

Young punks hopped and skittered in the wake of an unstoppable force chugging toward gym class. Nothing in the world could spoil my sweet revenge. Next period meant Physical Education, and this week Couch threatened to schedule tackle football.

We jogged onto the field sporting uniforms of faded blue and gray, crunching pebbly gravel beneath our high tops. We chose captains and picked teams while Coach checked off names listed on his clipboard. Naturally I took charge as one of the captains. I always took charge as one of the captains. My team never lost. Studying the tops of their manicured heads, I took possession of those boys who did not attend Mr. Norton’s science lab.

Desperate and proud

Meanwhile, our rivals, the scientists, banded together several yards away.  Huddled together quietly with hands in their pockets, they took turns scuffing at the grit with their shoes, or stealing glances toward the locker room and field exits. A pair of players, recent transfers from “alternative schools,” blustered noisy hoots and trills to harden backbones. Meanwhile my mates gathered about my waist, intently beaming pimpled gratitude, salivating like dogs who smell the feast.

The science team won the toss and elected to receive. I kicked the ball into the ozone and charged downfield to crush terrified offenders. Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! The ground shook with thunderous impacts from my enormous feet. Bending low I extended tree trunk arms and clothes-lined four of the screaming shrimps who dared to test me. Three lay motionless on the ground while the fourth careened backwards in the dirt, bowling over players like helpless pins. Bursting through this din of shrieks and falling bodies, their quarterback emerged on a kamikaze run, shielded behind three of the biggest scientists.

Science breeds new strength.

Desperate and proud, they puffed across the gravel as a single unit of stoic grins and squinting eyes, indulging  feisty devotion  for something so big, so important. What fools. In a mad dash they swept diagonally to my left, headed for the sideline where my entrenched teammates bobbed, waiting to deny the run. Stubby legs hurtled the scientists at surprising speed, but proved unsteady on a playground that trembled with the concussion of my lumbering strides.

I pummeled scientists in a bone-crunching explosion. Cries of adolescent agony broke the  air. Startled and suddenly amused, Coach sat up straight, raised drooping eyelids and peered intently through mirrored lenses. He watched from the comfort of his folding chair, grateful for this change of pace.

Coach didn’t give a damn for those little bastards. Like me, Coach never broke faith with the covenant that blood and bruises polish mettle and heal lame attitudes.

On impact a thick plume erupted at the sidelines. Dinky fists and ankles poked through the fading edges of the dust cloud, spiraling up to scrape the heavens  in a slow-motion swirl. Pock marked mugs twisted  in syrupy suspension as bodies launched into the buttermilk sky, soaring along empyrean trajectories.  At last the spell broke when the scientists reached apogee somewhere in the upper stratosphere.

Hold it right there, ladies!

Gravity called them home at terminal velocity. Unblinking, I scanned the deep blue, eager to witness their touch down. But what was this? Impossible! Despite his trauma, the captain of the scientists still clutched the football to his chest with hairless arms. This futile attempt at noble defiance made my heart rattle its cage.

Plunging to earth, pee-wees punched holes through cumulus vapor to shock the pitch with a salvo of seismic wallops. Unable to maintain possession through this second blast, the captain abandoned the ball.

The pigskin jerked across the battlefield and wobbled to a stop within bounds a couple yards from the sideline.  Perched in his chair, Coach adjusted the bill of his Georgia Bulldogs ball cap, and pursed his lips to repress a show of disgust.

Screeching and twittering  in triumph, my teammates corralled the loose ball like ants on candy.  Snap and crackle resounded as Lilliputian hands met each other in high fives, and dealt praise to pint-sized backsides. Seething with anger and impatience, I realized we would have to waste valuable minutes, racking up an easy score in pointless detour from our reckoning.

Gutless Losers

My mates scampered back on the gridiron to gather at the scrimmage line, forming an offensive scheme, hungry to add insult to the scientists’ injuries. The scientists  broke huddle and limped into a defensive formation. Looks of smug relief betrayed the team’s strategy.

These gutless losers must have opted to tread the path of least resistance, using a spineless zone defense to minimize physical contact. How poignant, I thought, that these miserable creatures had conspired to defile the one thing I loved, outside my achievements with Promethean Strength Factors.

A staccato burst of whistles froze players on the field.  “Hold it right there, ladies!” Coach growled in a drawl as thick as molasses, “how many times do I have to tell you idiots how to play this game?”   The corners of Coach’s mouth took a steep turn across leathery cheeks, contracting facial skin to reveal deep-fried crow’s feet. Lips parted, exposing a blinding set of pearly whites that glowed in the afternoon sun.

Now you knuckleheads know the ground can't cause a fumble.

“Now you knuckleheads know that the goddamn ground cannot cause a fumble,”  Coach said cantankerously, adding theatrical stress to the last half dozen syllables. “Give the ball back to the opposing side and quit messin’ around, ” he insisted.  Coach carefully placed his clipboard in the dirt and laid a beefy forearm on either armrest.  Like a big, white letter “U” his grin beamed with anticipation. Relief turned to panic as the scientists realized they’d get no rest from reprisal.

Thumping across the grainy hard pan, I joined my spirited minions in the middle of the D-line, opposite the center and his quaking quarterback. I felt majestic.  My lads had recovered their focus, once again frothing  to trade points for carnage. Slowly, I cast my gaze from left to right, observing both flanks of the scientists’ O-line. I stood  in silent conference with twenty-two eyeballs, all frozen wide, imploring me to flinch. Sweat washed tiny channels through their grimy foreheads and faces.

Dreams really can come true.

Inhaling deeply I detected an acrid scent tingling the nostrils with a sharpness rising above the damp juvenile musk of unwashed socks and crusty jockstraps. I grew dizzy, viscerally magnetized by the heady sway of this perfume. Muscles tightened. Blood raced. The whistle blew, and instinctively I knew that dreams really can come true.


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