My friend Simon provided the Volkswagen, a Rabbit with the pitifully thin graying paint of an elder. And I provided the wizard, my uncle Higgins, a knobby, wiry guy in his thirties who more often than not smelled of either alcohol or cigarettes.
Today he smelled like both, and he was late. The four of us who were not wizards – five if you counted the Rabbit — been waiting in the drizzle for thirty-eight minutes beside the course when he showed up in a cloud of smoke more noxious than even the Volkswaten was capable of making.
“At least he came dressed for running,” Simon told me.
Higgins wore long-toed brown boots, a multi-colored cape made of one thousand patches flying in close formation, and a ski cap. The low heels of the boots sank into the soft ground. He held a hand out to me and said with dignity, “Brian. Good morning.”
I shook his hand. Simon said, “It’s afternoon now.”
“Explains a lot,” Higgins replied.
I crushed my face with my hand and sighed. “Let’s get this going. Todd, are you done setting up those cones?”
Todd, a small round figure in the distance, looked up from one of the pilfered traffic cones. Their orange shapes were the only solid forms in this misty not-rain. “Aight!”
Higgins frowned deeply.
“That means ‘yes’,” I told him.
Higgins twigged his own nose. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was sure it was a good time to get underway. I made a windmill motion with my arms to urge Todd back towards the starting line, and when the course was clear, I looked to Simon. “Your man ready?”
Simon made a face and gestured to T.J. in the Rabbit. “He’s been ready for an hour.”
“Forty-six minutes,” I corrected. I got Higgins onto his starting mark as T.J. ominously revved up the Rabbit – there was an ill sounding rattle to its engine note and I asked Higgins if I could take his cape from him.
Higgins made a noise like a trapped panda bear which I took as a no. Simon counted down to the start. Todd sang out “And they’re off!” a perfect fifth below Simon.
Immediately Higgins was left in a cloud of exhaust fumes. The Rabbit was no race car, but Higgins’ running technique left a bit to be desired: he daintily jogged, knees high, avoiding the more obvious wet patches in the field.
“Wow, this is going to be hot,” Simon said. “I can’t stand it. “My heart. Can’t stand it.”
As the Rabbit slogged around the first turn, Higgins continued jogging, his knees higher with each step. They looked peculiar – his legs – like the joints were suddenly out of proportion, and then I realized that with each step, his legs were growing longer. He was a giant stick insect, each stride covering yards, his boots sucking into the mud. Simon and Todd and I both started shouting, urging stamina to our chosen side.
Further along the track, T. J. and the Rabbit slowed, wheels spinning in the mud. Higgins was closing their monstrous lead on him. Just as it seemed like the race might be plausible, however, the Rabbit regained traction and flew forward. T. J.’s eyes were in the rear view mirror, watching Higgins and his legs recede behind him.
Higgins still jogged unconcernedly, his face serene, his legs pumping with somewhat less than Olympic enthusiasm. His expression stood out in distinct contrast to T. J., whose face was turning red. One of T. J.’s hands still held the wheel, but the other was flapping about. As the Rabbit swerved to and fro, I saw a handful of giant insects slam up against the glass and then back the other way – magically huge mosquitos or flies or something. A crack appeared at the top of the door; T. J. was struggling to manually roll down the window. The Rabbit groaned off the marked track and into another slip of mud.
Gaining slightly as the Rabbit struggled to back out of the mud, Higgins continued jogging, skinny arms pumping at his sides, cape flapping behind him. There was only a quarter of the track left to go. Simon and Todd and I were screaming.
The Rabbit roared back onto the track and I groaned. There just wasn’t enough track left for Higgins to catch up. T. J., face pocked with red bites, grinned like a madman, his eyes on the finish line.
And then Higgins flapped his arms, once, and his multicolored cape stretched into multicolored patchwork wings. The magnificence of the sight was in no way diminished by the frayed Hannah Montana shirt that he was wearing beneath the cape nor the giant belt buckle with Elvis’ face on it that held up his jeans.
He soared over T.J., the last of a strange species, and landed heavily on the other side of the finish line.
Higgins scraped a cow pat off his boot while we ran to where he was, and then he looked up at me and Simon, face somber.
“Not even a smile?” I asked. I couldn’t stop grinning.
Higgins tugged his shirt down over his belt buckle. “It’s is a wizard’s manner to be dignified and subtle in all things, Brian. It is why we will never be dominated by mere Volkwagens.”
He somberly held out his hand to Todd, who sighed and gave him a hundred bucks, and then he disappeared, leaving only a cloud of noxious fumes and a single pointy boot behind.
Author’s Note: This is a concept I’ve had in my head for five years.
image a very very very old one of mine, copyright 2003.