Chapter One: Conductor

1 Mar

I’ve always thought mowing the lawn was stupid.

You spend two hours of an otherwise perfect Saturday mowing the lawn, only to find yourself doing the same thing on the next otherwise perfect Saturday. The lawn is always back by next week because it doesn’t care about your schedule. It’s not like you can blame the lawn for wanting to grow. It’s your own fault that you waste your Saturdays mowing the damn thing, since you’re the one who’s so concerned about it.

When I was fourteen years old, my dad made me mow the lawn one day, and I asked him, “why do we mow the lawn every week when it’s just gonna grow back anyway?”

The truth of the matter, I suspected, was that my dad would be embarrassed if his house was the only one without a mowed lawn; but he was far too proud to admit something like that. His dignity demanded an intellectual and rational-sounding answer.

“Because if the grass gets too long, it attracts bugs.”

I was young enough then that I didn’t know how to think before speaking, so I blurted out the first refute that came to mind—it’s not a bad one, mind you, but I could’ve done better if I’d given it a moment.

“If the bugs all go and live in the yard, won’t that mean there’ll be less in the house?”

My dad’s response was to smack me upside the head. That was his response whenever I asked a question that was too smart for him to prove wrong, but too dumb for him to acknowledge. Luckily, I had plenty of Saturdays ahead of me to get the truth.

“You know, it takes a few weeks for the lawn to get really bad, so why do we mow it every week?”

He smacked me upside the head again. Since my question seemed perfectly logical that time, I figured I wasn’t going to win this one and resigned to my Saturday-destroying fate for the next four years until I was old enough to move out and get a place of my own.

The place I moved into was about one rung up from an apartment, meaning a tiny house on the far side of town. The cost of gas for my work commute equalized my incredibly low rent, but it was worth it not to have neighbors on all sides. A living situation in which I couldn’t blast the new Blind Guardian album (Nightfall in Middle Earth) at two in the morning was one I didn’t want to deal with.

Atop my long list of “things that I [wouldn’t] pass on to the next generation of the Excalibur family” was the outdated practice of mowing the lawn, and in the whole first year that I lived on my own, I never mowed it once.

It didn’t take long for weeds to overrun the whole thing, and it grew rapidly until stabilizing at gut height. Things I’d never seen before started appearing in it—usually trash and lost baseballs from children I suspected didn’t exist, but also more obscure items like a computer motherboard, an enormous totem pole, and, my favorite, a hollowed-out moose skull, which I turned into an acoustic instrument.

I got a little worried that people were mistaking my home for a trash house and considered finally mowing the lawn, but it was kinda fun to see what unexpected objects might turn up, so I decided against it.

Unfortunately, personal freedom only goes so far in America, and there’s always someone holding power over you. When I was a kid, my dad ruled over me with age and strength. In the adult world, they use more twisted methods, like waving a contract around, threatening to evict someone if they don’t cut their grass before another neighbor complains about it.

After one year on my own, my abuse of power was at an end and The Man had me under his thumb. It was time to mow the lawn.

Of course, once I started at the task, it became readily apparent why people normally do it so often—when things got this bad, they weren’t the inconvenience of a couple hours, but of an entire day. It would’ve taken an industrial lawnmower to tackle the chest-high weeds, and before I could even reach that step, I’d need to clean all the trash out.

Thankfully, five years earlier I’d inherited my grandfather’s trusty machete, “Nathaniel.” Supposedly, he’d cut through brush and flesh with it during the Vietnam War. The engraving on the blade read, “Made in the U.S.A. 1979,” though, so that claim was disputable. Nevertheless, my grandfather had believed in Nathaniel and taken great care of it over the past twenty years, so it easily cut a grassy swath through my yard. I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t see very well, so it looked like the only solution was to hack away until everything was down to knee-level.

Just as expected, there were some interesting objects hiding in the brush. I found a Game Boy in working condition, which posed a dangerous distraction when I’d already kicked Gary Oak’s ass before remembering why I was outside. Later, I found a Buddha statuette no larger than my thumb—I put it in the pocket of my purple Hawaiian shirt for good luck.

After about an hour, sweat was bleeding through my shirt, and I could feel the humidity picking up. At the precise moment that I realized mosquitoes were going to eat me alive, I became aware of several bites on my chest and stomach.

“God damn it, why the hell didn’t I close my shirt?” Of course, by then I figured it was too late and didn’t bother doing so.

I’d only gotten halfway through the front yard when I noticed dark clouds rolling over the horizon. The situation was reaching an apex of discomfort. My body started going into “let’s get this over with” mode and I took less interest in the trash lying around, focusing intently on chopping as much grass as I could before the rain arrived. Every few minutes, I’d hear thunder off in the distance, growing closer and closer like impending doom.

While cutting through the edge of the yard, I found the pole.

Actually, calling it a “pole” gives the wrong image. The metal shaft was only about three feet long, and it had a purple rubber handle at the bottom with what looked like a hand-guard attached to it. Only after picking it up and studying it did I recognize it as a hose attachment, and the “hand-guard” as a lever, most likely to control water pressure from the nozzle.

Besides it looking like something I would’ve called a “sword” and killed imaginary “bad guys” with when I was a kid, I had little interest in the garden tool. Just as I went to toss it aside, the sky roared in anger and a bright purple lightning-bolt came crashing down… directly on the pole.

The blast knocked me off my feet, and had it not been for the rubber handle, I suspect I would’ve been quite brain-dead. I got up slowly, still reeling from the literal shock, and met with a proverbial one.

The pole in my hand was now glowing, with sparks of purple lightning dancing about the shaft. It looked like a malfunctioning light-saber, or like one of those stun-batons that policemen carry, the way they look in cartoons.

“What the hell…?” I stared at it, thinking at first that it was just electrical residue, but after a few moments, it looked like the sparkly effect wasn’t going anywhere. I tried rubbing it on the ground to cancel the electric current, but the glow didn’t weaken at all.

“Boy.”

“…who said that?” It hadn’t been me, but looking around, I didn’t see anyone else. A strange voice seemed to be speaking directly into my mind. It had a British accent.

“What is your name, boy?”

“Like I said, who is this?” I was flabbergasted. The voice let out something like a sigh.

“I’m the lightning-rod in your right hand.”

I looked again at the sparkly purple pole. Words escaped me.

“Again, I ask—what is your name, boy?”

“Uh… my name’s Cirno Excalibur. What’s yours?” I stared at it, equal parts dumbfounded and expectant.

“I am known as Steven.”

Thus, I met Purple Steve.

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