To offer you the same background I offered them (since so much of the story is missing) - - -
1. When we moved from Lincoln Air Base to Beale Air Force Base, the Capehart Housing for Beale's senior NCOs was only about 75% full. I think that much of the housing had been built in anticipation of the 9th SRW (strategic reconnaissance wing). Many of these houses lay vacant for over 6 months before we moved in. On top of that, the oak trees (blue oaks) already growing there were inadvertently killed off by the contractors...who put in topsoil much too deep for the trees' roots to do their jobs.
That first year we lived there, most of the lawns were brown from neglect, and half of the deciduous trees (most all of them oaks) were dead or dying.
2. My father hated the man who moved in across the street. I still don’t know why. It might have been something as basic as territory…Sgt “Krestus” wasn’t in my dad’s unit…
3. Sgt. Krestus' wife died from cancer. And the day after she died, Sgt. Krestus shot and killed several birds roosting in his yard. It’s always been mystery to me why those birds didn’t fly away with the first shot…but then it was mystery that they started gathering in his yard in the first place.
4. The day after the APs arrested him for discharging a firearm in a residential area, my brothers and I went into his back yard…we found more than a dozen dead birds…we collected them to bury them in our yard…the other thing we found…was a sucker growing near the base of one of the dead oaks…new life from a dead tree. We talked about this guy for years…we named that summer for him: The Summer the Pipecleaner Man Killed all those Birds.
“Sgt K is dead.” It was October – a school night. And we were sitting down to a supper of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Dad stood at the head of the table, smug, pleased with himself, as though he’d done the deed himself.
“Sgt K? The Pipecleaner Man?”
“Yep. Day before yesterday.”
“Poor Sgt K.”
“What’d he die from?”
“God killed him.”
”For chrissakes, Brennan, don’t tell them that. They’ll believe you!”
“Good. Because it’s true. Eye for an eye, Krestus killed those birds, and God killed him.”
“More likely, he died of a broken heart.”
“He probably killed those trees, too.”
“Jesus, Brennan. He was only there for three months. Those trees were already dead.”
“He probably cast a spell on all of them from wherever the hell he came from. He cast a spell on those birds. He was a witch. God casts out witches.”
I slipped from the table, and looked out the front window at the Krestus’ old house across the street. The dead trees were gone now, blue oaks, cut down the week after Sgt K was arrested. And for two weeks after that, a van and 5-Ton stayed parked in the driveway while men in green coveralls and heavy boots chopped up the felled trees, put down new grass, and added siding and new paint to the house.
There were saplings there now. Sweet Gums with trunks no bigger around than a man’s thumb, two in the back yard to replace the oaks, and one in the front, marking the halfway point between the street and the porch.
Someday its leaves would block the view from this window, but today I could still see Sgt K sitting there alone, soaking wet, back against the door, his knees drawn up against his chest. He was wearing a dark blue robe, but it was open. And in cotton white boxers on cotton-white skin, he looked naked, but for the two black socks drooping in a pile below his bony ankles. He was crying.
That was August. Three months after he and Mrs. K had moved in…
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + +As children, it was not uncommon for us to park ourselves on the sidewalk just barely out the Movers’ path. We were waiting for children. New neighbors always meant new children.
It was the middle of June, 106° in the shade. School was out for the summer, and we were all in our bathing suits just in case we should run into a sprinkler.
Sgt. Krestus was the only man we’d ever seen who was taller than Dad. He was skeletal, bony. And he was bone-white. His body was covered in a fuzzy sort of skin that stretched so thin you could see the corners of his bones, hints of pearl shimmering in patches under his knuckles, his elbows, and sometimes his Adam’s apple. Mom called him ‘wiry,’ and more than once we looked above the places he stood to see if he was actually held up a wire. When he moved he hummed, and when he stood still it was always at attention, a single strand of white horsetail on a slender bow, still vibrating from its last draw.
We waited as he helped his wife out of their Lincoln. She was as thin and as pale as he, but more grey than white. She was wearing a blue muumuu with large white blossoms and blue terry bedslippers. And a green silk scarf molded so perfectly the shape of her scalp that I knew she couldn’t possibly have hair growing there.
I must have started at this thought, because Sgt K looked straight at me. His eyes were a deep teal, set so close they might have been one eye, except for his nose, razor sharp and almost blue, a beak jutting two proud inches from his white face. Somewhere in its shadow was a mouth, but there were no lips to help me find it. I wondered if he had no proper mouth at all, and if it was a beak that tore the food from his dinner plate.
He walked Mrs. K to the porch, and in an instant, lifted her right out of her slippers, floating her up the steps, over the small porch, and through the front door. Dwayne was right behind them retrieving the slippers. He followed them up the steps, and dropped them next to the door just as it slammed. In that same instant, on a sunny day with not a cloud on the horizon, a clap of thunder shook his house and the ground beneath us.
Dwayne leaped from porch, landing almost in front of us, running. And as he passed us, we all turned to follow, and didn’t stop until we’d put both yards, the street, and our own front and back doors between us and man with pipecleaner skin.