Territory (Emma Bull)

I'm looking out the window, always looking out the window, but no matter how often I look, there are no snow-capped mountains standing in the Square. Don't know where this desire to run away to the mountains comes from -- I know that in the mountains I'll just look out the window hoping to see the ocean. At any rate, here in Maryland the only things out my back window are flatness and squirrels and children whacking each other with sticks.

I turn away from the window. I know those kids are just figments of my imagination, and it's awfully frustrating when I can't remember the names of people I am totally making up.

So I turn to the front window and am not surprised to find no mountains on that side either. There's another row of houses. There's a row of parked cars. And there's Leadbelly (my imaginary Great Uncle on my sister's side) walking up the path.

Apparently, it is my destiny to interact with some imaginary character today. I close my eyes and briefly wonder whether I have any other choices. I'd prefer Annabel Lee, but she has been away for so long and doesn't really show up unless she's worried about an author. I realize I have no control and turn to the back door. I'd rather deal with childhood melancholy than aging grumpiness.

I take a deep breath and mosey out to the Square. I realize that I was wrong. Prasad and the other kid aren't actually hitting each other with sticks. Instead, they are standing at opposite corners of the Square and shouting at each other.

"Aguamenti!" shouts Prasad. He is wearing a huge white ten gallon hat. Unfortunately, he only has a five gallon head, so the hat keeps slipping down over his eyes, which pushes his glasses to the end of his nose.

"GitAlongLittleDoggiamos!" shouts the kid whose name I can never remember. His hat is black, but it's a little better matched to the size of his head. He is also wearing a long black riding coat. They are both wearing bright rubber boots.

"Hog Tie!" they shout at the same time. This is accompanied by energetic wiggling of their sticks at each other and followed by the two of them collapsing to the ground and giggling.

"You're going to get dirty," I declare. This turns their giggling into outright laughter.

"We're becoming one with the ground," gasps Prasad.

"And how will your parents feel about that?" I ask, severely. This puts an end to their jollity, and they climb to their feet. Prasad adjusts his hat. "Isn't it about time you tell me what the heck you're doing so we can talk about whatever book it is that is making you do whatever you're doing?"

The kids stand up and explain that they're trying out their new Halloween costumes.

"Really?" I ask. "So early?"

"Mom likes to be prepared," Prasad says. "In case there's an earthquake or something."

"So you're cowboys?"

"Yeah, I'm Wyatt Earp and he's Doc Holliday," Prasad explains.

"Actually, I'm Jesse Fox."

The name rings a bell but only very faintly. I nod anyway. "And what are the sticks, rifles?"

"Oh, no," the ersatz Wyatt says. "Mom won't let us play with guns. These are magic wands."

"Ookay," I say. I know where they are now, but I have to say it anyway: "Aren't you mixing genres? There's no magic in westerns."

"There is in Territory," says Earp.

"OK, I'll grant you that, but there aren't any magic wands."

"It's just a prop," says Wyatt, with extreme patience. "We need a shorthand to connect us to the specific book."

"You could probably sprinkle dirt all over yourselves..." I suggest.

"You told us not to get dirty," Jesse points out.

"Did you read this book?" Wyatt asks.

"Yeah, but I'm mad at the author," I say, and it's completely true.

"You're always mad at the author," Wyatt points out.

"Sure, but this time it makes sense. She killed a character I really liked. Why build up a relationship with a character if the author might kill them at any time?"

"I think it's a sign of a good job if she got you so connected to a character that you're upset like this," says Wyatt.

"I suppose," I say. "And I admit that the story was well done and engrossing. I think she did a good job keeping herself from overwhelming the story with the magic."

"There is the problem of sequels," Wyatt points out.

"How's that?"

"Well, it's not clear that there will be more books, but this one didn't make it all the way to the shootout at the OK Corral."

"I don't know if I agree with the idea of destiny, either," says The Kid With No Name. "There's a little too much of that 'give in and do what you were born to do' mentality. That we have to be broken and just accept our destinies."

"I dunno," I say. "You could read that as him finally admitting reality and accepting his responsibility. There are just some things we have to deal with in life. It's best not to run."

"Your Great Uncle," Prasad says.

"My Great Uncle?" I ask. "Well, I guess you could say that he's something I have to deal with..."

"No, I mean he's coming," Prasad says. I turn around and see Great Uncle Leadbelly walking around the end of the super block. I panic.

"Gotta go!" I say and hot foot it down toward the Center. I'm fast enough that I only faintly hear the kids shouting something random about facing up to responsibility. Where do they get these ideas?

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