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Thunder Pie | This is How You Save Me

The first screams from the boy must alarm both he and the dog. But neither one of them is capable of much yet.


“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
— Anne Frank

If you slice it open, the lizard belly of the night, the warm guts spill out looking like furniture and ceilings and walls. Lying there in it, bathing in that mad sauce, we zoom in and we see this kid asleep next to his dog. Floating in the miasma. On the same busted raft they’re always on. The dark entrails march this way and that/ bumping into each other with the soft charm of clumsy drunks. They pick sides. They say nothing but grab one another by the shoulders, part moral support, part “You’re supposed to be over HERE, bub!” Gentle placings. Lamb shoves lamb. The room rises up around our heroes and takes the form of the room down the hall.

It’s Piper and Angus then.

Alone in the Christmas lights.

Two lives, wildly adrift in space, disguised as just another couple of fellows sleeping hard in a house on a country dark street.

Angus wakes first. He opens his eyes and understands the moment better than he wants to. The feeling is familiar to him although this narrator cannot feign that he has ever felt it. Is it cloud shadows rolling down a broad green hill? Is it a slow vile nutcracker squeezing the walnut of your brain?

I have no clue.

Maybe the early stages of a dog seizure are mercifully tender. Maybe they lift the dog’s chin, raise his sleepy eyes, and blow the tiniest puff of poison into his left earhole. And just like that the dance begins. The long and complicated waltz of death.

Piper, for his part, is profoundly passed-out. The world is Piper’s milk-mustache pal, and at this ripest age of 9 he keeps parts of the jungle in his fingernails and parts of the desert in between his toes. In sleep, he is slight, skinny, almost clear. His ribs are perfectly defined against his rice paper side. It is a vulnerable scene and one would not be remiss to suppose that this alone is enough for a dog such as Angus to feel the urge, come evening, to watch over the boy.

And so it goes.

Stars slip across sky. Deer stand at the cornfield’s edge. The creek moves through sleek brown trout swaying slightly in the dark. And the dog up in the room begins to shake.

There is a fear in his eyes which soon roll into desperation. Slate marbles bulge/ scant river pebbles with ghosts inside of them/ as Angus begins to convulse against the norms, moving out beyond the fences of what is fair or understood. His legs go straight and his head tries to lead him out of this second skin but it’s no use. Over and over, his attempts to duck back into this peaceful night room fail him. His mouth is open and so is Piper’s and if you manage to come into this space at just this precise moment, you bear witness to the bold contrasts on display. The thin pale child, his mouth agape as he runs through a dream/ the dog in the grip of something, listening at some distant box fan buzz/ each of them unaware of the other just yet.

Soon, though, change comes.

The dog is quivering violently. Right before he falls to the floor, his skull smashes into the boy’s side. And it’s just as likely as not that it is this very thud that awakens Piper.

Or could it be something else? Something more, maybe. A sense, even in deepest slumber, that he is needed at once. A call from the void that there is work to do. So come on and do it, son. Come ‘round and grab a hammer.

Piper exits the dreamscape around then and emerges out onto this open plain where he can hear the audible whimpers of a seizing dog but sees nothing. Within his own mind, he is wandering from one possibility to the next, leapfrogging potential rocks in the road to hurry towards some reasonable explanation for what is happening.

At 9 years old, or at 79 years old for that matter, waking up in the middle of the night to the sad cries of a dog in trouble is breathtakingly scary. There is the feeling that you have been dragged from the grave. There is this emerging sense that you are being summoned by a storm, or sold into Hell.

The first screams from the boy must alarm both he and the dog. But neither one of them is capable of much yet. Angus is immobilized and still unseen by the foggy boy and so the child’s shrill screams for his mother play out for the dog the same as if they didn’t occur at all. Piper, my stepson as it is, his heightened awareness of this certain radical humming, this loose flapping electricity in the air is both paralyzing and horrifying at once. A person has only so long to react in such daunting situations. To awaken directly from one world to another: it is a man in the room. A stranger has crawled out of these walls. The silhouette teaming flesh and vapor/ wearing a tattered canvas sack/ his feet are filthy/ in his fists he clutches weapons. Clubs or knives. Ball peen hammers. A long pirate pistol shellacked by salt wind, its woods and metals melted together to form a single curve of raw ice. There is a menace. There is a threat where there has never been one before.

The heart tries the brain and the brain tries the heart. The connection is shaky. The voices on the line are reverb-y and old. Long ago is talking now. The ancients have arrived unexpected and unannounced.

Pure fear is in the house.

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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin.


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