The weapon was bright-red beautiful, right from the box. Minimal assembly required, two large wheels to the rear, two smaller at the front. Certainly the sharp blades would do the trick, shave the tightly packed leaves gone wild in the absence of any restraint, the shin-high lawn emerald green from recent rains.
He practiced, memorized, preparing to emote, to hold forth when the time came.
A machine worthy of a king, a weapon befitting a warrior of stature, to be wielded against the advancing hordes who were, without a doubt, massing just beyond the borders of the kingdom in preparation for the assault.
The desire to leave, to shirk his duties, throw off the weight of his responsibilities like a royal blue velvet cloak arrived with the first prescience of impending doom, mere murmurs under the porch light beyond the closed front door, the memory tormenting the young King when sleep unencumbered should have been his just reward, the fruit of his labor peaceful rest from his studies.
But for the battle to be joined.
He was coming, intent on taking what had been rightfully gained long before Reginald the First had conquered, then abdicated the realm.
Oh yes, he was on his way. The usurper, the threat to all the young king held dear.
A ghostly hand scrawled the warning in red chalk over the wall of his sleeping quarters.
The asshole advances.
Surely the young king had been sleeping, perchance to dream.
One night later, a tome ferried through thin air in the grasp of the evanescent appendage dropped unceremoniously on his knobby knees, his cry of pain preceding a two-fingered flash of a peace sign before the ghostly hand evaporated like a soap bubble.
He scanned the pages, and phrases jumped out at him. Dreams indeed are ambition. Nobler in the mind. A pipe for Fortune's finger.
"Are you like Fortune's finger?" he whispered to the night.
A thumb opaque as white smoke appeared, inches from his nose, then a middle finger, a ring, and a pinkie. Finally, a forefinger materialized to make the hand, only to point seconds later at the book lying open on the young king's lap.
And that's when the idea sprouted in the fertile ground known as Reggie's brain.
From volume one of the ancient knowledge (A-azalea), Reginald the Second, as he would henceforth think of himself, had learned of the aardvark, a dull grey piglet of a creature, not unlike his drama teacher.
Nay and forsooth, stick to the script please.
Aardvarks would advance, he opined, mainly because beneath the verdant carpet of tightly packed wild leaves were ants, red ones and black, scurrying about unfettered, undeterred, undetected for the dandelions and lamb's quarters amid the Kentucky bluegrass shielding their existence. Tiny little critters that swarmed to bite the naïve ankle of the foot covering their dastardly holes. And ants were the aardvarks' sustenance of choice, the occasional termite mound aside.
No termites like that here, dammit. Shit, stay in character.
Who could shut their eyes, who would allow sleep to take him when the minute his mind drifted into the half-conscious state of doze, the ghostly hand dropped a home improvement catalogue on his face?
Ah, but that was a fortnight past.
Slumber had been far from his desire though he fell prey time and again, the opaque fingers of that ghostly appendage casually flipping glossy pages until reaching the optimum defense to uncover the ants, leaving them vulnerable to eradication, send them packing to new and distant yards, thus staying the aardvarks' advance.
A flick against his temple woke him to undiminished delight.
Fortune's finger to his aid.
Beautiful, fresh from his demented mind, a scheme of such unequaled brilliance he laughed softly at the tingle to the roots of his hair, then reached for the phone to make two calls, thus setting events inevitably in motion.
Yes, he was ready, surely, methinks so, Halloween the day when the plot hatched would see fruition, and all without benefit of costume or stage, for an audience of only one.
Did that make sense?
Nay, the trick now, the ploy as it were demanded he not make any sense whatsoever.
Halloween morning he waited nervously, having paid double the ground freight to have the self-propelled weapon delivered next day air.
Timing was everything.
The dark brown truck pulled into the royal drive right on schedule, the motor left to idle by the courteous operator clothed in matching brown shirt and shorts, who let the large carton to his two-wheeled conveyance--ka-thunk--then wheeled the package to the entrance of the split-level palace. The young King watched from the sunlit window of his second-story quarters, thrilled beyond dream-soaked measure when the royal consort, Cletus, also known as Clete, announced the delivery, and in the same breath, summoned his presence.
"Boy, get your ass down here. There's something come for you."
Reggie determined to free the queen mother from her servitude, though she was the one solely responsible for Clete's besotted presence in the first place, shacking up with the sorry commoner after his father had abdicated the porcelain throne in favor of a pilgrimage to points West in the company of a stunning courtesan known only as Trixie the barmaid. The queen mother had then conferred a title upon her only son, proclaiming to any and all who had ears, that he, Reggie, was now man of the house.
That is, until Clete entered the picture, presented at supper one midsummer's night eve smelling of English Leather and Jack Daniels and landfills. The young King sensed his evil intent to overthrow the realm, set himself up as regent until Reggie was of legal age for exile, the queen mother conferring upon Clete the unofficial designation of significant other, planning a marriage less than six months hence, after which he would bear the title step-father despite the young king's suspicions of infidelity and treason, and I daresay, all protest to the contrary.
Under Clete's bloodshot eye, Reggie relieved the weapon of its cardboard packing, the four wheels finding purchase on the patio.
"Buy that, did you?" the foul man asked.
Reggie ignored the question, swallowed the smart-ass retort that leapt unbidden to his lips. From the land of Troy, the machine's birthplace, in one day and sleepless night, the royal purse unable to afford the riding mower, the royal allowance a pittance. Another issue to address with the queen mother, once the threat to the kingdom had been defused.
"Why?" Clete asked.
"Aardvarks," Reggie replied.
"A dull grey piglet."
Clete eyed him, swallowed, and said, "Ain't never seen one round here before."
"Aardvarks advance after ants." Wait. Wasn't that a Berenstain Bears story his mother read him when he was a child? Dammit, what if--no, stay in character.
"Ants," Clete said, his tongue a lump in motion below his lower lip.
Annoyed, Reggie swept his arm through the warm Carolina air. "Millions of ants out there. Aardvarks eat them."
"Ain't no aardvarks round here, son, unless they got one escaped from the Charlotte zoo or something."
"We've seen them," he widened his eyes, a look everyone and the mirror assured him was pure madness, "packs of them in the woods."
Reggie stifled the grin that crept to his lips at Clete's gaping mouth.
"Well," Clete said finally, furtive flickers of his eyes over Reggie. "Ought to be able to make yourself a good penny round the neighborhood anyway." He settled into a chaise lounge, this being Saturday, and the sanitation department's day off. "Go on, fire her up."
"We must first consult the owner's manual to assure ourselves that things are as needs be," Reggie said, irked with the unfaithful consort's attempt to command a king.
Clete studied him, one eye narrowed. "What's this we shit? You on drugs or something?"
"To be or not to be, that is no question," he muttered, and dumped the contents of a plastic container into the uncapped filler-neck marked oil.
"Have to have me a little talk with your mama about you."
"As you like it," Reggie replied, thinking a pilgrimage to find his father might not be such a bad idea. There was that pretty lass, Wanda Wilson, two doors down, who had a fine motorized carriage at her disposal, a bright yellow Bug. Ah, but she, too, awaited the results of their conspiracy, this ambush in defense of the realm, a faithful wench if ever there was one.
And what would he find upon his return should he leave the queen mother to Clete's nefarious clutches? Already the issue of rusty carriage frames on concrete blocks in the front yard had been hotly debated, the queen mother insisting this was far too nice a neighborhood for nonsense like that, Clete asserting his demands for such, right down to his double-wide Southern roots.
A bass boat would be next, Reggie surmised at the time, maybe an old hound dog to lie on the porch and bay at the moon. Ah, but if he was successful--and credible--he'd usher Clete out of the castle to new and distant lands, the young king's boot firmly up his ass.
Reggie gripped the pull cord's plastic handle and tugged weakly.
Clete rose from his seat. "Here, let me, boy."
He stepped back from the mower. Let the commoner work, make a fool of himself. That was in keeping with the plan, was it not? Working like a charm, too, the queen mother about to discover irrefutable proof of the error of her ways in choosing to consort with this peon who spent entirely too much time seated on the porcelain throne, flipping through magazines like Field and Stream, and Bassmasters. Too much time at the bar as well, not unlike the former regent, Reggie's father. The queen mother had no taste in men, apparently, leaving her son honor-bound to defend her.
Clete bent over the machine, and Reggie's mouth dropped open when the ghostly hand appeared, middle finger stiff and rigid behind the balding pate. A staunch ally, it pinched the skin of Clete's butt crack between forefinger and thumb, causing the commoner to roar like a lion, stiffen and grab at his ass, his face redder than the machine that Troy built.
"What be the problem?" the young king inquired, striving for unimpeachable innocence, unable to keep the smile from his face.
"Don't you laugh at me, boy," Clete snapped. Glancing furtively about, he squatted near the four-wheeled weapon, spinning the black gas cap loose to peer inside. "Must've been a wasp or something."
To Reggie's unqualified delight, his opaque partner reappeared, waggling a wooden match in air the behind Clete, as though asking permission to attack.
God, how he wanted to nod, but instead shook his head to his own disappointment. The match disappeared in the semi-transparent fist that dissolved when Clete stood up.
"Gas can?" he said, looking to Reggie as if he expected a king to serve a peasant.
"Surely you jest."
"I what?" Clete scrutinized him in a troubled squint, then stalked toward the two-car garage...nay, make that the double-carriage house (attached) where he whipped open a side door, and with a puzzled glance back at Reggie, stepped from view.
The hand appeared near the weapon's motor, flicking a switch on the engine, dissipating to rematerialize at the owner's manual in Reggie's slack hand. The young king offered it on his open palm, and the evanescent fingers flipped the pages at hyper-speed until reaching the desired information.
Reggie chuckled when he realized what his impossible ally had done, nodding at this unexpected, yet brilliant tactic, far better a plot than that which the young king himself had devised. He masked his eager anticipation with a regal frown when Cletus reappeared with the gas can.
"So, what you studying in school?" the commoner asked while fueling the weapon.
"There's a waste."
The gas tank full, Clete pumped the primer bulb exactly six times, counting aloud as if he might lose his place. Then he gave the pull cord a mighty yank.
He jerked the rope again, the spinning flywheel emitting a soft whirring sound. The engine coughed, and died.
"Well, what the..." Clete stared at the bright red weapon of Troy, then looked to Reggie. "You try."
The hand flickered briefly near the gas cut off switch, and Reggie said, "Certainly, my liege." He depressed the safety bar to the handle, and in a smooth motion, pulled the cord.
Clete scowled, then shouted over roar of the motor, "How'd you do that?"
Reggie lifted his hand and killed the engine. "You can't be serious."
"Why you little smart ass. Can't answer a simple question, huh? I ought to slap you into next Tuesday." Clete stepped up behind the weapon.
Reggie smiled when the ghostly hand gave him a thumbs up from the engine the instant before Clete reached for the cord. No need to remind this peasant that even threatening a king would get him drawn and quartered by the queen mother herself.
A groan at the mighty yank, the soft whir of the flywheel, and again, the engine sputtered, spit, and croaked.
The silence was fraught with tension, Reggie battling his laughter when Clete's face turned red as a ripe rose.
"Magic," Reggie said in a breathy tone, widening his eyes in that wild look of pure insanity. Practice did make perfect, did it not? In front of the mirror, a gamut of expressions--fury, sorrow, and madness--tools used to convey emotion, hand gestures and body movements to express intent with or without vocalization.
Clete eyed the red machine, then Reggie, and said, "Has your cheese left its cracker?" He reached for the starting rope once again. "You need help, counseling or something."
"We need help?" Reggie sneered now. "With a cracker?"
"You insulting me, boy?"
"We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart."
A grunt and Cletus jerked the machine backward in his vain attempt to start the engine.
"Tis very strange," Reggie said, and turned aside to chuckle.
Clete glanced at him, fist clenched, then aimed his boot at the chassis, missing when the machine rolled forward two inches, seemingly of its own accord.
"Oh, God," Reggie cried and gazed upward to the bright blue sky. "Would that I be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams."
"Your mamma's going to get a real earful when she gets back," Clete said and assaulted the mower in his next pull, the machine leaping backward into Clete's knees, knocking him to the concrete.
Reggie tilted his head. "Then came each actor on his ass."
Swift he was, as a fleet deer, legs pumping in perfect rhythm to his arms, speeding across the emerald green lawn of the realm, Clete huffing and puffing behind, his angry threats fading when Reggie scaled the privacy fence, dashed across the neighbor's yard, through a gate, and right into the lovely Wanda's courtyard.
"Hey, Hamlet," she said upon leaving her seat on the sunlit patio.
He smiled, hiked his brows, heaved a breath, and said, "We got him good."
"I heard." She giggled then. "To be or not to be..."
"Free of Clete the cheat."
They laughed together, then she asked, "What about those pictures of him with that fat broad?"
"They arrived at the hairdresser's by special courier."
"Taxi, huh, Romeo?" Wanda nodded approvingly. "Probably why your mother isn't back yet."
A mower roared to life and died at a bloodcurdling scream.
"Shit," Reggie said, then snatched Wanda's hand. "Got your keys?"
"Uh-huh, he's probably bleeding now."
Reggie smiled at his ghostly ally who reappeared briefly to flash a thumb-to-forefinger A-ok after Wanda slid behind the wheel of her Bug. He debated whether not to tell her, then decided against it.
Perhaps a secret weapon like Fortune's finger should remain within the province of a King, especially in light of the upcoming war with that safety latch on Wanda's bra.