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Brandon Cornett

Walter Beedee, Metaphor Man

"You're evil, Beedee," shouted Mrs. Poole, crouching in her upstairs bedroom window, rollers in her hair. "You hear me?" She peeked from the curtain, just enough to see into Walter's yard. "You're evil!"

And then she was gone again.

Walter Beedee ignored the remarks. He stood in the welcome shade of an elm tree in his backyard, hands on hips, and sized up the group that swarmed about him. He counted six adults, nine children, and a geriatric, three-legged dog that hobbled around his legs and panted wetly in the mid-July swelter.

"Me next, Walter," shouted Mrs. Pugh, who lived in the mauve duplex across the way. "Me, me, me!"

"Pipe down, Betty," said her husband, a bald fireplug of a man. "Let him catch his breath, for cripe's sake."

The children linked hands with Walter as their center, chanted, "Ring around the rosies, pocket full of posies..."

"Do the one with the chicken, Walt," said Sam Wolstead, the young lawyer from next door.

"Ashes, ashes," sang the children. "We all fall down!" And they dropped, giggling, around Walter's feet.

"Me next," said Mrs. Pugh. "Pleeeease!"

"Simmer down now, Betty," said her husband. "You'll have a heatstroke."

"The chicken, Walt," said Sam Wolstead. "The thing with the chicken!"

"Ring around the rosies. Pocket full of posies..."

"Yay, Walter."

"Yes, yes. Hooray for Walter."

Walter wiped the sweat from his brow, ran shaky fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair. "Alright, alright," he said. "For crying out loud, I'll do a couple. Just hold your horses!"

But when he realized what he'd said--the words he'd let slip--he hung his head and cursed himself, because in the blink of an eye there they stood, fifteen horses, full-grown and in the flesh. One for each man, woman and child present, save for Walter himself.

And when each of those men, women and children glanced down to find reins in their hands, they understood that they were, in fact, holding their horses, because Walter Beedee had spoken it thus.

"Wow!" shouted one of the children.

"Neato!" cried another.

"A palomino!"

"That's not a palomino."

"I got a brown one!"

"Mine's bigger than yours!"

"Is not!"

One of the shouts spooked the stallion held by little Timmy Simpson, and the mighty animal turned and thundered across the yard, dragging the redheaded boy behind it.

Mr. Wolstead shouted after him: "Let go, Tim! Give up the rope, son!"

So Timmy let go, barely five feet before crashing into a stone wall marking the edge of the Beedee property--a wall the horse had cleared in a single, elegant jump.

Walter sighed relief, wiped his brow with his sleeve again. Think before you speak, he reminded himself. Always, always, always!

Walter was nine when he first discovered the magic within his words. At least, that's when his family first made the connection. He had walked home from school one day with Lizzy O'Brien from down the street. Walter's mother, weeding her rose patch in the front yard, stopped to chat with Lizzy a bit, to ask about her mother's new patio furniture and such.

And afterward, when Lizzy had said goodbye and started down the street for home, Mrs. Beedee leaned down and said to her son, "You know, Walt, I think she likes you."

"Gross, mom! She's a girl!"

"I think she likes you," his mother repeated, "And I think she'll want to marry you someday."

Walter scrunched up his face. "I'll never marry a frog," he said. "And that's what she is...a frog."

And with a muted flash, quick as a wink, Lizzy was a frog.

And a frog she stayed until later that evening, when a frantic Mrs. Beedee helped her son figure out how to change the poor girl back. As he'd transformed her in the first place, Walter had only to say the words:

"Lizzy is a girl."

But from that day forward, the connection was clear. Anything Walter spoke had become literal. If he saw a baby in a stroller and said it was cute as a bug in a rug, then that baby, much to the mother's horror, would become in an instant a bug wrapped in a rug.

Raining cats and dogs.

Dog days of summer.

Slicker than cat shit on a pump handle.

Similes, metaphors, figures of speech...they were dangerous things in Walter's mouth.

 

 

The horses ran amuck through the neighborhood. Mr. Pugh, who suffered a bad back and untimely sciatica, had to let go of the reins when his Clydesdale yanked her powerful neck upward. Now the big mare was trotting down the asphalt, glancing round casually at the manicured lawns and sun-dappled homes.

The palomino craned his head over a split rail fence, found a rose bush there--Mrs. Poole's rose bush--and began nibbling the flowers.

There were horses running, horses whinnying, and even a black stallion that had decided to lift his tail and leave a calling card smack in the middle of Walter's birdbath.

"Beedee!" screamed Mrs. Poole, peeking once more from her upstairs window. "Get that beast out of my bushes, you heretic! I'll call the cops! You hear me?"

Walter knew she was bluffing. She'd called the police many times in the past, and every time they would show up, find nothing (for Walter was no fool), and walk off whispering jokes about the loony old spinster with curlers in her hair.

All the same, this was a neighborhood, not a farm.

So Walter said the words: "There are no horses to hold."

And as quick as they had appeared, the horses were gone.

"That was something else, Walter," said Mr. Wolstead.

"Did you see that beautiful stallion?" asked Mrs. Pugh.

"What's next, Walt, eh?"

"Folks, please." Said Walter. "Give me some room to breathe, huh? It's hotter than hell out here."

And in the heartbeat it took for them to realize what had been said, to gasp at the irreversible nature of it, the flames were upon them.


Brandon Cornett lives and works in Maryland, where he is a mild-mannered Naval officer by day and fiction writer by night.  He wrote "Walter Beedee, Metaphor Man" as a tribute to Ray Bradbury, whom the author emulates.  Brandon has also just finished his first novel and is actively seeking placement for it. 

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