Rony lay his boots on the counter to let the polish dry. At the edge of his vision, he saw someone approaching the door of the Kangaroo.
"No," Rony said. "No, no, no, no, no, no!" He ran to the door in his socks, bolted it, and flipped the sign from 'Open' to 'Closed.' On the other side of the glass, a portly, lumpy man wobbled side to side and front to back, ready to collapse like a demolished building instead of toppling in any particular direction. He wore green plastic sunglasses, a cherry-red trilby, a thick yellow scarf that covered his face, a full-length trench coat which was tied shut, and fuzzy black mittens. The sunglasses pressed against the door glass like a child at an aquarium. The mittens tugged on the handle.
"Welcome to Kangaroo," Rony said, pointing at the sign. "We're closed!"
"May we come in, please?" the portly man said, in a voice too high-pitched for his frame.
Rony shook his head like a rat terrier. "I know what you are! You aren't fooling anyone with your sunglasses and your mittens and your stupid hat!"
The portly man touched the brim of his hat. "We don't know what you mean." Each time he spoke, the scarf covering his mouth wriggled unpleasantly.
"Go away, spirit!" Rony looped his cross and gold chain around the door handle.
"Spirit?" the portly man said. He waddled in a circle and made a show of peering into the distance. "There aren't any spirits out here."
"You are a terrible liar," Rony said. "How many of you are there under that coat?" He suspended the blue Hamsa amulet from the handle for good measure and pushed a rack of newspapers in front of the door.
"Um." The portly man said, touching his mitten to roughly the place where his chin ought to have been, beneath the scarf. "Just one. Yes. One."
"Good answer," Rony said. "But I'm not going to invite you in. We reserve the right to refuse service to things that want to kill me and eat my soul."
"We are a normal man person and we mean you no harm," the portly man said. "Our name is Wilson. We are looking for -"
"I know what you're looking for," Rony said. "But he's not called the King of the Kangaroo Station, now is he? Try the fucking woods!"
Wilson glumly shuffled his feet, resembling a chubby schoolboy who'd just learned class wasn't cancelled on account of snow. "We were going to ask something else."
"We don't care," Rony said. "We are going to get our shotgun." He turned away from the door and saw a stream of ants marching between his legs.
Rony turned back to the door. Wilson had vanished. The stream became a river of ants pouring into the Kangaroo. Rony raised his sock-clad foot, but hesitated. His polished boots lay on the counter. He put on one and hopped towards the ants while putting on the other.
"Y'all know I've been training for this, right?" Rony said. "Let's dance!"
A fuzzy mitten seized Rony by the elbow.
"Please don't," Wilson said in a soft voice. He stood next to Rony, considerably leaner and a few inches shorter than before.
"Ahh!" Rony said.
Wilson hunched over with his hands on his knees, as though catching his breath. The river of ants led to, and beneath, his trench coat. Wilson's back rose and fell like bellows, and the ants spooled up like a measuring tape until none were left on the floor. When he stood back up, he looked as he had outside the Kangaroo.
"We mean you no harm," Wilson said.
"What do you people want?" Rony said. "I told you I don't know anything!"
YOU ARE READING
King of the Woods, or Trivial PursuitFantasy
Florida Forest Service duty officer Ray Lumley is in love with a white fringetree. Not an I-read-Walden-in-high-school love; a sweaty, sappy, I-want-to-rub-against-you-'til-I-get-splinters love. It's awkward. So, he's relieved to learn that he's rea...