Crazy old Eli, silver eye-patch blazing in the low red sun, and just about the last scrounger to blow in out of the shimmering desert for our Rainy Days block party, grew himself a tail of giggling kids not five minutes inside Oasis.
Two minutes later, the bolder older kids were at him. Then we all were. "Tell us a story, Old Eli, tell us."
Old Eli told great big stories. And itty-bitty ones. He called himself crazy from knowing maybe one thousand years of stories, so many more stories than was right for any one man to keep inside his brain-box. But he was the right side of crazy. He smiled lots. He'd taught everybody to read and write. He was famous.
"Tell us, tell us a good one, Old Eli."
"Tooo'night." He whirled around at us in the dusty street, squinting his one eye, grinning his four teeth. "Bowl of your chili chihuahua, first. And two sips from Jimmy's Kenworth radiator. One for tasting. The other for washing it away."
— — —
But they must've been two mighty big sips from Jimmy's still.
"I'm in the mood for poetry, kiddoes, follow," said Old Eli, strolling in twilight's blue cool after dinner.
"Poo'etry?" we kids said as one, snickering.
"Nah nah. Politics. That was poo'etry. They buried the longago in the round and round of it. Poetry, I said. Laugh, go on."
"There's poetry. And in all your grinning faces. In all tonight. Fine chili chihuahua stew, best ever." He swung an arm toward Jimmy's Garage bay, open to the evening and yellow-bright, and the drunken men, laughing, taking turns on the genny bikes. "My dusty buddies, making light. Follow."
We followed Old Eli. Passed grown-ups dancing close to longago music under lights like electric stars strung over Main Street. He settled where he always did, the eye at the center of town, he called it, Cenotaph Park. The only place in Oasis the grown-ups sprinkled water, so there'd always be grass.
"Glad to see ya, old soldier." Eli patted the statue's bronze boot. String lights and first evening stars together flared overhead.
Old Eli settled on the cooling grass, lay back sighing, and bent one arm for a pillow under his head. We saw his one shining eye shut. Saw him yawn. We went at him, quick as birds.
"Don't sleep, Eli."
"Tell us about folks flying over the sky, fast as bullets."
"Ocean, Eli, going on forever."
"ELI YOU PROMISED..."
He grunted. Cleared his throat. "They called Him Evil." Eli's eye opened, barely a slit.
We smothered our giggles behind our hands. Though most everybody knew the story.
Eli gave it his best mutter, like the night breeze itself was telling us its most terrible secret...
...This evil man.
He told the most evil lie.
Other liars worshipped him for it,
for their twisted purpose,
and together burned our world.
One good man knew He didn't burn,
knew where He went hiding,
under Black Mountain, under the ground.
The good man banged his fist on the door,
"Come Out! We'll go a round!"
But the evil man laughed,
said "Nope, see ya around."
The good man heaped up stones on the door
to keep Him underground.
Eli sighed. Shut his eye again.
"Bogeyman story, and ending's too short," said one big kid, and busted away over Main Street.
"Poetic interpretation, I like it," said one girl after him.
One of the littler ones whispered, "Is...He dead, at last? Eli?"
But Old Eli lay very still. Then he was snoring.
A big girl muttered, as best she could, "Out Black Mountain way, that's the place. You can hear Him they call Evil."
A big boy joined her. "When it thunders. You can hear Him —banging the door under Black Mountain."
We all joined in, no louder than the night breeze. "Banging. Banging. But He can't get out."
We giggled, until we couldn't stand up, and fell around on the cool grass. But the little one sniffed, still standing. She seemed about to cry.
The boy smirked, patted her head. "He'll never get out. Not so long as you and I can carry heavy stones."
"And me," said the bigger girl.
And said all the rest of us.