Tree House

So far there was nothing about the Lizard in any of the worn, yellowed papers. And that’s what Esma kept typing: “We have found nothing on the Lizard as of yet but we appreciate your inquiry. Thank you. Sincerely, Mr. Frank Foster and Ms. Esma Montoume.” Esma clacked away on the manual typewriter and Frank sorted through the old documents on the wooden floor. In his eight-year-old’s haste to get through the papers, Frank tore some but that didn’t slow him down.

Esma was nine and a half but sat at the desk typing away like an office professional. Their headquarters, located in a sturdy tree house built long ago by their grandfather for their father, both now dead, was the site of endless work and not much talking, broken only by an occasional respite to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Frank dropped the last of the first pile and sprung up. He took some cigarettes over with him to the window, tapped out a cigarette from the pack and lit up. Below them there were at least a hundred birds frolicking in the seven or eight birdbaths. “Open the window, Frank, please.” She looked up at him over the typewriter, eyes behind thick, cat-eye glasses. He stared back at her. Then slowly raised the window and blew his smoke outside. The bird sounds now came through the window, rising and falling like the music of a demented orchestra. “Stupid birds,” Frank said. He dropped his cigarette straight down into one of the birdbaths but the birds were so involved in their own squabbling that they hardly noticed.

Slamming the window, he crossed back to the papers. Esma stared at him, then continued her typing. Frank had just settled down with the next stack of documents when they both heard what sounded like an explosion below. Then footsteps of someone rushing up the plank ladder outside. The door was flung open. It was the Lizard, in full Lizard regalia. His green, slobbering lizard head turned this way and that and his scaly, squat human body was dressed in a ramshackle suit of armor consisting of a metal chest plate, some chain-mail shorts, and a gauntlet on one of his hands with viscous spikes protruding. Frank and Esma turned white. They stared at him, frozen. His head swiveled around, forked tongue darting in and out. Then his eyes settled on the pile of papers on the floor. “Oh, Lizard, we didn’t mean anything by it–.” Esma started to say, jumping up from her chair. The Lizard dove for the papers and, squirming around on the floor, crammed fistfuls into his mouth, chomping away, sharp teeth tearing the documents apart. Frank and Esma looked at each other, both fighting the urge to cry.

Then the Lizard got up, paper still hanging from his mouth, and blew fire at the desk, instantly melting the typewriter and incinerating all the mornings’ letters. The charred desk collapsed in a pile of burnt sticks, clouds of chemical smoke filling the small room. Frank grabbed Esma and pulled her with him to the window, which he struggled to push up, forgetting to open the release until Esma helped him. Then the window was open and they coughed in the fresh air from outside. Behind them, deep in the cloud of smoke, the Lizard roared.

The birdbaths below were all black and the birds were gone except for burnt feathers everywhere. The children scrambled out the window and up onto the roof as they’d done in many of their games but it felt like the first time now and the shingles slipped out from under them. Both went sliding to the edge where they tried to get a hold of the plywood but slipped off, first Frank, then Esma, until they both lay in a pile on the singed grass below.

The Lizard poked his head out the window and his cold eyes found them, saliva dripping from his razor sharp teeth. Behind him the fire had quickly taken hold of the tree house and it creaked this way and that as the flames devoured the wood planks.

The children came to and struggled to their feet, banged up and hurt from the fall, clutching onto each other for support. They ran at first toward the house but when they saw smoke rising from the upstairs windows they headed for the road, running as fast as they could, supporting each other when they stumbled. They cut across a meadow of wildflowers to go hide in one of the caves to buy some time until they could figure out what to do.

Copyright © 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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