Backyard in the hammock on a spring Sunday morning. My book falls onto my chest and I let myself doze. This is why I moved to Georgia. This is what I wanted, all those fraught years in the city dodging cretins and creeps.
Birdsong wakes me in the early afternoon. I stand and stretch, walk past my daisies and chrysanthemums to the front yard, and I wave to the neighborhood kids and grandparents hunting Easter eggs.
The children freeze and their mouths drop. Faces shatter into pierced screams. They hide behind their grandparents’ legs, and their grandparents grit their teeth and seethe at me. “Away, beast,” barks the sturdiest, with a cross on his neck and a gun on his hip.
I turn, but nothing is behind me. “Hey, guys, I’m not exactly sure what’s going–“
“Back!” the man shouts, withdrawing his pistol and aiming it at my face.
In my car’s side mirror I catch myself — caked in pollen like a corn dog, breaded in the thick yellow stuff. Head to toe, a three-inch coating. I’m a cornbread man with two raisin eyes.
“Demon, down!” he yells, and he fires a bullet over my shoulder. The crack booms through the cul-de-sac and the glass of my bedroom window explodes.
“Whoa, now,” I plead. “It’s me, Matt, your new neighbor from New York? I met all of you at the block party a few months ago. Forgive all this pollen, I–“
A grandmother lays a rifle across the hood of a sedan and shoots me in the thigh. Red blood soaks through my yellow crust. The neighbors cheer.
“Stand down, brute, or we will end you with holy authority.” She chambers a fresh bullet.
“Look, just give me a minute to get a towel and–”
I attempt a step, but my leg has gone to hell. The pain makes me roar, and the grandmother sinks a hot round into my shoulder.
“Jesus Christ, stop it,” I say. “I’m Matt. I work from home. Remember?”
Blood all over my chest now. Seeps through sticky like doughnut jelly. The kids jump up and down, clap their hands . They taunt me. Why do they want me dead?
Grandma aims at my forehead. She will kill me. Here in my own driveway, I will be executed for the sin of sleeping in Spring. I can not let this happen. My only power is to take what they value most. A child.
I duck under the rifleshot that pierces my garage door and push past the pain to charge at the children. I moan and I howl, thrashing my arms in agony, and the children and grandparents shriek and scatter, but one plump boy is too slow, and I clutch him in my fat yellow fingers. I hold him, wriggling, to my chest. My shield, my bargaining chip.
“Put him down!” the grandmothers cry. The men aim their guns at me, fifteen strong.
“I’m a regular man,” I say. “I’m like you.” But I know it’s no longer true. They stand in my driveway now, and I’m in the street, my thick-coated back to the woods.
“The boy for your life,” the riflewoman says. “Give him up, and we let you be.”
“Will you let me back into my house?”
They are confused. “This house belongs to the nice young man we met at the block party. He works from home. You are a powderous yellow imp from hell.”
She closes one eye. Squints through her scope.
There is no convincing the convinced. “On behalf of Satan,” I say — unsure why — “we have a deal.”
I set down the boy and he races to his nanna. I turn and sprint into the woods, to sleep under the oaks and pines, clotted in their untiring pollen, to haunt the neighborhood eternal as this battered cretin, this cakey creep I was always destined to become.