Chapter 1: Vertigo
I can’t tell you how much I hate orphans. I’m convinced that they were all sent from hell and disguised as lovable hobos in order to ruin lives, specifically mine. Oliver Twist, Annie, Danny DeVito – all those witty, lovable orphans – are odious lies. Orphans are really a bloodthirsty bunch; the smaller, the more deadly. They lie in wait behind garbage cans or near orphanages – or as I like to call them, Dens of Deception – and persuade the kind and the gullible to “help” them. But then, the orphans attack with their nefarious fists, and at that point, you’d have to be nothing short of a ninja or a child services worker (or a ninja child services worker) to escape their abominable terror.
Unfortunately for me, with no background in child services and only a moderate level of ninjary, I was one of those kind, gullible people who fell into the orphans’ trap. And, to add insult to literal injury, it happened while I was trying to support my quirky habit of, you know, going to college.
Perhaps it would be better to introduce myself first, so you’ll know to whom to send your pro-orphan hate mail. My name is Matt. I’m about 5’3”, with long, dark brown hair that I always have pulled back into a puffy ponytail. I hate being short, but there’s really not much I can do about it but try to walk tall and take advantage of my increased stealth whenever I can.
Anyway, I’m a senior at a close-knit college. Considering I’m a commuter with a job outside of the confines of the campus, I’ve pretty much taken to living in my unreliable Ford Taurus. For awhile, I worked in retail at a small entertainment store in the local mall called Entertainment For Everyone. But, last summer, a customer jumped me in the DVD section – I swear he grabbed me with his tentacles and reeled me in from afar – and forced me to look up every song Wayne Newton has ever sung. Then he told me I was no help and left the store without buying anything, so I decided it might be time for a career change: one related to my English and Media Studies majors.
So, now I work as a copyeditor and reporter for a small local newspaper, the Wappingers Falls Tribune. The pay is better than my old job, but the atmosphere and sense of camaraderie is virtually non-existent. Instead of all the employees rising to a common goal of hating the customers, I just write about boring local concerts without actually being there to see the event. Sometimes I wonder if getting an extra 29 cents an hour automatically means that I have to be bored all day at work.
But, I’ll wager that after beginning this with a verbal assault on what many people consider an underprivileged group of innocents, you’re wondering what happened that would make me hate orphans so much. I don’t blame you; I would too. Allow me to explain.
I was on my way to work one snowy Tuesday, ready for another invigorating 13-hour day. The thought of working practically Industrial Revolution hours during the heavy snowstorm that was just beginning chilled even the warmest bones in my body. Thankfully though, my boss always keeps the heat at a blazing 47 degrees. With such extravagant heat expenditures, the office is always like a sauna. Sensing it was going to be one of those warm days at the office, I put on my light parka and only five sweaters that morning.
I live about 30 million miles away from work, which is about 11 million miles past the college. So like a good little copyeditor, I made sure to get up at 4:30 in the morning, giving myself an extra half hour to bail out my buried car with the torture device my father devilishly refers to as a “snow shovel.”
All this took place about 20 minutes after I had gone to sleep, after doing my nightly kilo of homework. Hurrah! I had gotten nearly six more minutes of sleep than usual! Having really stuck it to the man, I was feeling quite proud of myself.
After digging my vehicle out of a snowdrift approximately the size of Rosie O’Donnell, I hit the icy roads. I hummed and I sang to whatever song was playing on the radio and before I knew it, it was 1:30 p.m. It was eight hours well spent; I was only minutes away from my destination and another long, boring day at work. But that’s when everything changed.
That’s when I became a dead man.
Crossing a long, harsh bend in the street, I saw them. On the side of the road, two children stood huddled around a fire weakly burning in a steel garbage drum. Through the rapidly falling snow, I could tell they were shivering like mad and coughing up icicles. Or perhaps it was hail; I couldn’t be sure. One of them stared at me with impossibly huge eyes, imploring me to somehow help her. I slammed on the brakes.
My parka, my five sweaters and I stepped out of the car and approached the children. “We are orphans!” exclaimed the orphan with the huge eyes. “We are cold and it is snowing!”
“My nasal drip has formed a rather festive icicle,” interjected the male orphan, adding, “I, too, am an orphan!”
“What can I do to help you poor orphaned children?” I asked. I had trouble holding back the tears. How could the world not want these two lovely children?
“You can give us one of your sweaters,” replied the orphan with the huge eyes, staring straight into my soul.
“Of course!” I exclaimed, removing my parka. I was planning on giving them my top layer sweater. Hopefully, it would be a really warm day at work.
“You can give us your gloves,” suggested the second orphan. I pulled them off and handed them to the quiet male orphan.
“What else?” I asked. I’d have given them almost anything they asked for, the poor creatures. They had put a vice grip on my heart with their impoverished fingers.
“You can give us…” The female orphan trailed off.
“YOUR SOUL!” The orphan with the huge eyes ripped off her glasses, revealing her true eyes, small and sinister.
Just then, some sort of abominable snowman burst from the nearby trees. I could tell by the way he was leering at us that the lumbering yeti no doubt craved childflesh. “Orphans! Get behind me! I’ll protect you!” I screamed, assuming my most potent ninja stance. I knew full well that I was a mediocre ninja at best, but desperate times call for, uh, ninjas. If Japanese cartoons hadn’t been lying to me all these years, I’d suddenly find the power I needed to defeat this urban yeti in a highly predictable, yet vastly entertaining turn of events.
The sasquatch may have been huge, but he was also terrifying. I would use that to my advantage. But before I could strike the enraged bigfoot with my work-in-progress-but-still-quite-deadly ninja jamboree, the now sinister-eyed orphan stopped me.
“Hey ponytail boy! You’re the one who needs protection!” she exclaimed. The yeti shook off its odious snow covering to reveal a third, very large, very hairy orphan. He stared down at me, from about 60 stories up, with a crooked, satanic smile.
My jaw hit the ground slightly before my body did, and the next thing I knew, I was being accosted by crazed orphans. They were like pack animals, tearing away the tasty skin of their fallen prey. As tiny fists rained down on my tender flesh, I was glad I had given the silent orphan my gloves, because they helped shield some of the small, stinging blows.
They crowded around me like bees on honey-covered puppies, Sinister Eyes leading the assault, while The Yeti leapt into the passenger side of my car, sitting on the sack of expensive toys and kittens I was planning to drop off in the Christmas charity box right next to the office. Between the terrible blows, I cringed as I heard his dangerous ass cheeks grind every last toy into some kind of plastic paté.
“Thanks a lot, sucker!” bellowed Sinister Eyes, hopping into the driver’s seat of my car. Even at nine years old, she was somehow able to reach the pedals. Silent Orphan hopped into the back seat, and in seconds, they had driven off, tires squealing and cheery Christmas music blaring from the opened windows. I lied heroically in a pool of my own fluids, but it was no use. The villainous orphans had escaped. Fortunately, about three hours later, a helpful hobo assisted me by taking my wallet. At least some people in this world can be counted on to do the right thing!
I spent the next few hours on the side of the road, slipping in and out of consciousness. During the coherent times, I took to counting the snowflakes that were accumulating on my nose. But while unconscious, I had visions of tiny, probing eyes and miniature fists raining down on me like napalm from above. At last, my eyes popped open and I finally came to. It was already dark. Looking at my bloody-yet-still-intact watch (which, miraculously, the gang of orphans had neglected to take), I saw that it was 2 a.m. Egad! I had missed work! Pulling myself out of the crumpled ball I had been in for the last 11 hours, I found that, although a little frostbitten in my unimportant extremities, like my fingers, I was basically all right.
It was too late to call work and tell them that I hadn’t skipped out to play video games or watch TV: My boss had probably left a long time ago, like five minutes or so. Thus, I began my lonely, frigid walk home. It managed to rain, snow and hail all at the same time about 35 seconds into my trek. Reaching for my hood to deflect some of what could only be described as God’s horrible rage against short people with long hair, I realized that it wasn’t there; the orphans had pilfered it and tied it to my car’s antenna as a souvenir of our epic struggle.
It was then that I cursed orphans forever as the damned souls they are!
Fortunately, only a few raccoons and other assorted woodland creatures attacked me on my trek. Then a nice man who asked me lots of questions about sweaty men in tight, skimpy underwear gave me a ride home the rest of the way, as well as a cheerful pat on the behind. By the time I finally dragged myself through my front door, it was 6:30 in the morning. Thankfully, the nice man had driven quickly, muttering something about an “escape route” and an “arrest warrant.”
After the God-awful day I had, I simply fell into my soft, inviting bed, ignoring my homework for the first time in my three and a half years of college. Somehow, after sleeping most of the day, if being unconscious counts, I was still exhausted.
Pulling those covers around my blood-caked and bruised body had never felt so good.