Life is often calculated by the strangest of measurements. There are pessimists in this world and there are optimists. There are the hunted, the hunters, the victims, the victimizers, the fools, the frayed, the genius, the ignorant, the oblivious, the obvious, and the incomprehensible. There are those that must deal with having been dealt impossible hands, those who know only the soft sides of luxury, and those that dwell in the mere feet that often separates them. If you stop to consider it, there is nothing in this world more important than your life. And by that I am inferring that your life is something altogether separate from yourself. Just because you are you does not make you your life. Life is too often misused to be considered the property of someone that never bothered to actually live it. For no matter what happens during it, or how it is lived, you will eventually have to give it back. If you spend some time pondering such strange logic you may find yourself not going to work tomorrow morning. You may decide instead to sell the kids, kill your - a] wife b] husband, and head off into the adventure you always said that your life would be. But don't worry. You won't.
There are angry people in the world and there are those who know only the bliss of a simplistic sort of ignorance. There are those who sell and those who buy. At the same instant that a child in some small village in Africa is getting their arms chopped off amidst the turmoil of yet another peoples revolution, another of the same age and relative appearance might be nagging their mother to buy them the latest video game half way around the would. Distraught that they will not get their way in the matter, they may even go as far as stating their resounding desire to 'wish themselves dead'. There is quiet in the world and there is the noise provided by those who are too fractured to let it grow. There is force and there is frailty. There is worth and there is worthlessness. And all things being equal, always measured by the most impractical yardstick available.
This is a story about a little boy who was none of the above.
Milton Hadley was a genius. When he was seven years old he could multiply six digit numbers in a matter of seconds. His father, who was a retired United States Air Force Captain, sent Milton to a military academy when he was ten. He had hoped that Milton would one day work for the government cracking Soviet codes and such. Thankfully, the following year, both Mr. and Mrs. Hadley were killed by a freak tornado that swept through their suburb on the outskirts of St. Louis. Had Mr. Hadley lived, Milton would have most likely remained at the military academy. Which would have been tragic, since the dorm that Milton had lived in was completely destroyed by an unexploded artillery shell that one of his classmates had hidden in a footlocker. Everyone on the top floor was killed by the blast. Everyone on the second floor was crushed to death by the third floor, as were those on the first crushed by the second. Milton, it seemed, was the benefactor of impeccable timing.
Following the death of his parents, Milton was sent to Bellingham, Washington to live with his Uncle Rex. Unlike Milton's father, Rex was somewhat socially baffling. He lived in a renovated barn with his third wife, Cora, and a cast of assorted animals that were, for the most part, matted with dirt and permanently smelt of dried marsh water. His acreage was considerable though, and was home to numerous wrecked cars, buses, and tire fires. It was also home to four very well constructed ramps, three world class jumping bikes, two street bikes, and one of the worlds ugliest RVs. Since the age of twenty-four, Rex had been a daredevil. Hence the name: Reckless Rex.
It would be, for anyone besides, impossible to know what it would feel like to go from one extreme to the other. Milton arrived at the bus station still wearing his uniform, expecting his uncle to be the mirror image of his father. As he walked off of the bus he looked to his right and saw Rex and Cora standing there with his name written on a piece of yellow construction paper in purple marker. It was raining lightly, and the paper had started to break apart in places. Rex, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, stood there leaning on the seat of his bike covered in mud from head to toe. Milton was so mortified that he fainted.
Four months after Milton moved into the barn with Rex and Cora, Rex was severely injured during a performance at a monster truck show in the Tacoma Dome. Three days after the accident he would die of complications in Seattle. This left Milton in the care of Cora, a borderline alcoholic, who knew very little beyond how to operate a kiln, roll grass, and make instant coffee. Knowing full well that she wouldn't be able to properly take care of Milton, she was left with little choice but to send him to live with Rex's first wife, Anna Hadley St Claire, who was the nearest thing to a blood relative - as she and Rex had two daughters together. So Cora gave him some half assed explanations and put him on another bus.
Now, you might be feeling somewhat sorry for Milton at this point, but you should belay any such feelings for the time being. For you see, some days after his departure, Cora fell asleep while watching television one night and her cigarette, ill balanced in the ashtray, fell to the floor and started a fire. The flames consumed the barn killing Cora, the animals, and the majority of the worlds Reckless Rex collectibles. Had Milton been there he too would have perished, his lodgings having been located in the loft. So you see, it was horseshoes for the second time.
Of course, this all occurred while Milton was flying down some black highway deep within the wastelands of America. Dizzy from the orbit of his life, Milton had no clue what he would be forced to deal with upon his arrival in Massachusetts. He was about to play a key roll in one of the most bizarre happenings in world history. All he wanted was a coke and a bag of Lays.
Anna Hadley St Claire met Rex Hadley at Boston College. The daughter of one of the most powerful industrialists in the northeast, Anna had spent the majority of her life, up until college that is, in places like exclusive beach and country clubs. This meant that she had been stifled by the demands of her parents to date only young men that they considered worth her while. When the unthinkable occurred, that being the rejection of her Harvard application, her father decided it would be best to sober her up by making her endure dorm life. Thus, she was expelled from her palatial surroundings and forced to room with a girl named Camille Stewart, the daughter of a Motel 6 maintenance man. Camille, who would go on to become a world renowned and award winning biologist, knew Rex Hadley from a local restaurant where the two of them had worked prior to the year starting. Rex did not attend Boston College. Rex was pretty much an idiot. Just the sort that rich girls use to piss off their fathers.
The first time Anna met Rex she saw him naked. She had returned to her room following a literature class to discover him standing in front of her full length mirror, flexing. She immediately began to laugh. After the initial shock of being discovered wore off, so did he. Camille had been allowing Rex to sleep in her bed during the day because he had been evicted from his apartment and was working as a bar tender in a nearby tavern to pay off a gambling debt. The two of them hit it off none the less and the next thing you knew Anna was naked and Rex was flexing elsewhere. Two months later Anna dropped out of school and the two of them eloped in Orlando during spring break. They were drunk, of course.
Following their elopement the Hadley's moved to Bakersfield California, where Rex got a job working at a garage and began his love affair with jumping motorcycles. Anna, on the other hand, despised the place and everyone in it. She also slowly began to realize that her actions were motivated by some need within her to anger her father. So, late one October night, she left Rex, stole his car, and headed back to Massachusetts. When he awoke the next morning Rex was not surprised when he read the note that she had left. He was somewhat angered that she took his car, but beyond that he didn't much care. What Anna failed to tell him in that note was that she was pregnant. With twins no less. But Rex would never learn of it.
Her father, having come out the other end of a successful midlife crisis, welcomed Anna back with open arms. Overjoyed that she had left Rex, their lifelong feud ended mere minutes after her arrival. And, even though he was secretly disappointed that she was having Rex's child (or children as it would turn out), he realized that regaining his daughter far outweighed the whispers that would fill the locker room air at the golf club. So Anna moved back into her parent's house and gave birth to the twins in June. She named them Emma and Erica. Strangely enough, or as luck would have it, decades later Anna would be struck with massive bouts of guilt for denying her daughters any sort of relationship with their real father. She had remarried, of course, but not until the girls were old enough to realize that their stepfather wasn't their biological father. So, eleven days after Cora had buried Rex, she received a letter in the mail from Anna explaining what she had done. And that's where Cora got the idea. She knew that she would most likely deter Milton from becoming anything useful, so she decided to write Anna back and work the guilt thing in reverse. She told Anna that Rex had recently been killed and that his nephew was now in need of family to look after him. Four days, two postmen, and three phone calls later it was settled. And Milton was packed off to yet another accident waiting to happen.
This is all just filler, mind you. Backgrounds are an unfortunate component of stories, quite often drab and delaying that which you suffer through the details to get to. Tough shit though.
Milton arrived at the St. Claire residence in the middle of an argument. The twins, Erica and Emma, were out in front of the house screaming obscenities at each other while they hoisted .38's from time to time in a threatening fashion. Anna was nowhere to been seen. Anna's second husband, Jack St Claire, had given up on the three of them four years earlier, having met someone altogether younger and far more sexually capitulating. This left the housemaid, Uma, to deal with the girls. An x-soviet power lifter, Uma was not the kind of woman to permit such nonsense for very long. Years of steroid misuse had left her nerves in a very precarious state. Stressful situations caused her head to start twitching uncontrollably, leaving her no option but to wedge her skull between a door and a doorframe until it subsided. So you could say that Uma feared the twitching more than death itself. So, when she realized that the girls were outside with the pistols again, she immediately took up the house shotgun and proceeded to fire a shot into the air out one of the windows. This caused several things to occur.
The first was to cause the girls to dramatically throw themselves to the ground, where they immediately began rolling about with their guns pointed every which way in search of some altogether illusionary threat. The cab driver that had just dropped Milton off decided it would be best to simply depart the residence at the highest possible speed available to him, his fee no longer a concern. Oh ya, and Milton fainted. He would awake minutes later to discover the twins standing over him, their guns still clutched in their hands. And, before fainting for the second time, he heard one say to the other 'you get his feet, I'll get the device'.
It is commonly thought that identical twins tend to get along better than most siblings. There are even those that contend that they share a special telepathic bond, one being able to detect when something happens to the other. This was not the case with the St Claire twins. Their only aim was to kill each other. Since they were capable of forethought they had worked to that end and that end alone. They attended school for all of four days before being sent home for their behavior. They physically attacked four different private tutors, injuring one so badly that she spent three months in the hospital. Their crowning achievement, though, was the accidental shooting of the their gardener, Dale Sellers. Emma had fired several shots at her sister while she had been diving behind a hedgerow. As fate would have it, Dale was also behind the hedgerow trying to coax a wounded parrot from beneath it. The bullet took him in the forehead. Erica spent two years in a juvenile detention facility, while her sister received a mere three months. While there, the girls attempted to kill each other on seven separate occasions.
Thankfully the St Claire estate was enormous enough to offer a buffer between the insanity of its occupants and the outside world. The twins hadn't left the grounds in over eleven years, having since moved out of the main house, taking up residences in diametrically opposed buildings on the property. Emma had turned the pool house into a fortress, while Erica lived in the basement of the staff house (where she spent the majority of her time mixing volatile chemicals and whatnot). It was rare for the twins to work together at anything, so it came as a surprise to Uma when they wheeled Milton through the front door in a wheelchair that had been fitted with restraints. Erica had designed the chair to kill Emma. She has also built a runway from the top of the highest hill on the estate down to the duck pond. Her plan was to surprise her sister, knock her unconscious, strap her in the chair, wait until she came around, and then push her down the runway into the pond where she would drown. Quite horrible, really. But it made for the perfect transport of strange, semi-conscious little boys. Erica was please that she actually got to put one of her inventions to use. Emma just eyeballed the thing, frantically trying to figure a way to break out of it if ever she found herself strapped in. Oh my yes, there was never a dull moment at the St Claire ranch. Sort of like there was never a dull moment at Stalingrad.
By the time Milton had regained consciousness Anna had returned from the city. The twins were nowhere to be found by then, of course, rarely venturing near the large estate house when their mother was at home. Uma had carried the boy upstairs and put him in bed well before Anna's return, so she left him be. Milton laid there looking up at the shadows on the ceiling, wondering what was to become of him, his future, and what he would have to do to himself mentally to forget all of this when the time came to become a rational, adult person. He also quickly added up all the spaces between the shadows. There were 210,346 of them.
That night the twins did not sleep. Instead they paced back and forth in their various dwellings, attempting to deduce the meaning behind the arrival of the little boy. And, in their own twisted way, they both came to the same conclusion. Each was convinced that their mother was in league with the other and that the boy had been brought in to replace them. It may seem too unreal to believe, but that's just how the twins figured it. Having reached this conclusion some hours before her sister, Emma went immediately to her machine gun and fired several volleys into the corner of the staff house. Following this brief outburst, Milton drifted off into what would be the last deep and real slumber of his life. For come the next morning the war was on. And Milton was a baguette lover in a land occupied by barrette haters.
In the summer of 1951the butler at the St Claire's was a coloured man by the name of Albert Hawks. Albert hailed from Kentucky but had come north in search of work as a small boy some thirty-four years earlier. And, since the day he left home, had neither seen nor heard from any of his relations in all that time. Albert started at St Claire manor as a yard boy at the age of sixteen. By his thirty fifth birthday he had become the estates butler. In his later years, the Colonel tended to trust Albert more than his oldest friends and even his own family. Albert did the firing and hiring of staff. Albert kept in phone contact with the lawyers and doctors and politicians. Albert kept up the Colonels correspondences. When President Kennedy was assassinated, Albert attended the funeral for him. The Colonel was a funny duck.
I keep alluding to 1951. I realize that I quite often allow myself to wander. I will cut it out.
Late one Saturday morning in the summer of 1951 the phone in the Staff House kitchen started ringing. Albert Hawks was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee and perusing a copy of Life Magazine. So he got up from his chair and answered the phone. And, to his great surprise, his youngest sister was on the other end. Her name was Ninny.
Ninny Hawks had, up until that week, been the victim of a very violent marriage. Her husband, who had served time for a variety of crimes during their twelve years together, had returned home from a three-year stint five days earlier only to take up where he had left off. This meant that he slept all day and beat his wife when he was sober enough to keep his balance. Having just spent the better part of two years alone, Ninny came to the conclusion that enough was enough. So she planted and axe between his eyes when he was asleep, packed a suitcase, and walked out of town in the middle of the night. Five days later she arrived in Boston and called the only number that she had for her brother. Albert had sent it in a letter when their mother passed. He had not been able to get away to attend the funeral, leaving him little choice but to post a letter to his siblings and aunt in his stead. Ninny had kept the letter, realizing that she might one day need some way of contacting Albert in the event that the family ever attempted to get together for a reunion or what not. As it turned out, her reunion with her older brother was not a joyous one. Albert was not pleased with the circumstances that Ninny had arrived under. It was one thing to show up unannounced on his doorstep; it was something altogether different to show up with a murder rap.
The first thing that Albert did was put Ninny in his bedroom so that no one would see her. He then went directly to the Colonel's study to have a conversation about what to do with her. Despite what most might have thought, the Colonel and Albert were the closest of friends. This would explain why Albert looked after the Colonel as he did right up until his death. It would also explain a great many other things that are not entirely pertinent to this story. None the less, Albert walked from the staff house to the main house and found the Colonel in his study, reading. The two had a brief conversation that was followed by a minute of violent screaming. Albert then left the study, walked back to the staff house, gathered up his sister and her things, put on a coat, and led her out into the woods. To this day, Ninny has no clue what was said between her brother and the Colonel. But whatever it was, it ended up with her living in a filthy cabin in the backwoods of Massachusetts.
But that's how it happened. And, since the 12th of July 1951, Ninny Hawks has not left the St Claire estate. She has resided there in that small cabin located in the wooded reaches of the south east corner of the property ever since. Even when Albert died she did not venture from the small, self-imposed, confines of her time-warped wood. Albert always told her that the Colonel strictly forbade it. She has not, in over a decade, gone further than a half mile from her house. She keeps chickens and goats, she keeps a garden, and she fishes. She has gone, for lack of a more grandiose term, completely nuts. And it was her, of course, that turned two young girls against one another when they were very little.
One evening, during a very ugly storm, Ninny lost her footing on some rocks and fell off of an overhang into a creek. She landed on her right leg, puncturing her thigh. Realizing that the wound would most likely succumb to infection, she decided to do what was for her the unthinkable. The next night she would make her way to the estate house and find something to help prevent infection. It was easy enough seeing as the doors on the estate were never locked. Once she made it to the house, she simply entered and went about looking for either some alcohol or antiseptic. Luckily, in one of the ground floor washrooms, she came across some peroxide. It was during that visit that Ninny first met the twins. For both Erica and Emma caught her red handed as she limped down the hall between the main foyer and the kitchens. They had been playing shadow games. They had found one. Ninny, realizing that the girls could quite easily tell their parents about her, decided to do the only thing that she could think of at the time. She sat the girls down in the kitchen; made them some warm milk, and told them a story. It went a little something like this...
A real long time ago there was this little girl that lived in the country. One day, when the girl was walking through the forest, she came upon a small little fella standing on a rock. The little fella didn't say nothing. So the little girl picked up a stick and gave him a little poke. Still the little fella didn't say nothing. So she poked him some more. Finally, after what seemed like hours of poking, the little fella put his hands on his hips and said 'Now little girl! Why in the world would you spend all this time poking at a little fella such as me'? The little girl just stood there and didn't say a thing. So the little fella jumped off the rock and climbed up into a nearby tree. The little girl thought that he looked real funny up in that tree, so she started laughing at the little fella. So the little fella inched his way out onto one of the big, overhanging branches until he was right over the little girl, and then jumped off the branch and landed on the little girl's head. The little girl wasn't laughing anymore. The little fella went back to his rock and stood on it as he had been before. The little girls body eventually rotted away, though some of it was eaten by some foxes that came by.And at that wondrous point in the telling, Ninny produced a very large piece of melted glass from her handbag and slammed it down on the table. And from that moment on, both Emma and Erica St Claire considered Ninny Hawks to be the greatest person they had ever met.