My friend Tyler told me he hated Darren, the ten-year-old boy in our neighborhood with a cape. Hated that he brandished a sword made from the cardboard pole of paper towels. Hated that his sheath was a deep fanny pack with some kind of unlicensed likeness of Gandalf. Hated that he cruised the block on trash day, rummaging through the metal cans. “He can’t help it”, my mother told me. “He’s special in the head.”
One afternoon, Darren dragged Mrs. Weston’s discarded wingback chair that someone had spray painted in fat orange graffiti saying FREE BEDBUGS over to his lawn. His father screamed from inside that “It wasn’t coming another foot on my goddamn property!” Darren took it back to the curb, then studied the inside of a box in his parents recycle bin. He picked the box up and carried it up to his treehouse.
Tyler and I were twelve, over make believe, and studied germ theory in science.
Darren had his own treehouse world to which few ever gained admittance. We learned from watching him that his invented realm was known as Felora, and he ruled as king. He created an astonishing land made of plastic blocks; castles surrounded by moats, forests, and crudely constructed ships with square mastheads.
He spent all his time in his treehouse to do this, running up the wooden slats, screaming unintelligible commands to be let in by invisible realm keepers. To travel back, he’d salute within the treehouse, twirl around, and Tyler and I would watch his cape produce a dizzying whirling dervish of a rainbow. Then he’d be back on earth soil, collecting treasures to return with him to Felora and logging notes in a Lisa Frank binder with a baby tiger on the front.
What he didn’t return to Felora, he offered to anyone who happened to be around, pizza shop menus, broken blocks, used greeting cards with Happy Birthday scratched out, replaced with cryptic info on Felora. GIRLS REQUIRE CLEARANCE, REM=SOLO FLYER, NO PEANUTS. Galactic stickers covered over animals wearing party hats. Nothing anyone needed or wanted to know.
His father, drunk one evening, stumbled up the tree, thrashing away Darren’s creation. “Be a man now,” he told Darren, who watched him helplessly from their yard. Then his father piled the pieces into their fire pit, and I smelled the charred remains all night.
One July, I took out empty soda cans to the curb, and Darren handed me a red block with three of the nubs melted away. I remembered my mother saying be nice to him. I snatched the block from his gummy palm, taking it inside, and listened to the thing blowing apart in our garbage disposal.
Once, when Tyler and I were bored, I asked him if he wanted to check out Darren’s treehouse. “As a joke,” I said. I didn’t say I had a bent out of shape Slinky that needed a home.
“Sure,” he said. “You go first. I’ll be there right after I nail your mom.”
Tyler joked around like that ever since he said he got to second base with a new girl down the street, Heather. I asked my older brother what second base meant. He told me to come see him when I had pubes.
One Saturday, Tyler and I watched as Heather rode her red Schwinn bike down the street. She had a wooden block fixed to the curb, and as she tried to jump it, the bike angled towards the sewer grate, and she tumbled on the pavement. She saw us, and hoisted herself up, facing Darren’s driveway. I saw her shoulders heave and knew she was crying.
Darren had just returned from Felora. We could tell because he was taking notes in his binder, logging his adventures. He turned to see Heather. He reached in his Gandalf pack, taking a long time digging inside, the bag sagging level with his groin. Tyler pointed and whispered, “That little weirdo is wanking it.” I just gaped.
But he wasn’t. After an unfortunate pause, Darren finally pulled from his pack an unused Band-Aid. He handed Heather the Band-Aid and she kissed him on the cheek. He saluted her, said something in his made-up Felora language, and disappeared up his treehouse.
Tyler left my porch, walking home, kicking a melted block down the street.
I went to my parent’s garage and found the twisted Slinky dangling from a rusted hook. I stuck it on the empty curb, spotting Darren poke his head out from inside his treehouse. I gave him a limp wave. He gave me a limp wave back.
Cheyenne Brown grew up in Cape Breton before becoming an American citizen in 2015. She has short stories published in Dark Fire Fiction and Bewildering Stories. She is currently working on her MFA from the University of New Hampshire.