If you were a child growing up in the United States in the 1960s, and watched cartoons on Saturday mornings, then you’re familiar with, if not a fan of, King Leonardo and His Short Subjects. If, as an adult, you still watch cartoons on a Saturday morning, then you were not totally ruined by society. There’s still hope for you. My sister Sue and I collaborated on this story. Her handle is quiltysue.wordpress.com.
Leo was drunk. Again. He didn’t really need much of an excuse to get blasted, but having one, even if it were only Saint Patrick’s Day, helped to ease his guilt just a little. “Whoa! A few too many green beers” he muttered to himself, as he staggered out of Duffy’s, barely able to walk. “I guess I better get a cab home.” As he stumbled toward the curb, something, or maybe nothing at all, snagged the toe of his right foot, and before he could catch himself, he pitched headfirst into the street. The last thing he remembered was the squeal of tires on wet pavement, bright lights, then….nothing.
He woke up scratching. He itched, everywhere. He couldn’t remember a time when he had itched so badly. “Where am I?” he thought, as he picked himself up off the ground. He had no memory of the night before, except for a vague recollection of green beer and stale pretzels. But one thing he did know was that he had been wearing clothes, not dirty, flea infested fur. And he had been in the real world, not some crazy cartoon version. “I’m probably still drunk” he thought, as he tried to clear the fog from his head, which, now that he thought about it, felt like he’d just taken a Russel Wilson spiral right between the eyes.
But even though he might still be drunk, it didn’t change the fact that somehow, something had gone terribly wrong. Gathering his wits, what few he had left, he looked in both directions, randomly chose left, and began walking. The buildings all seemed crooked, out of kilter. And the street, wide enough right where he was, seemed to narrow, both sides converging to a point just ahead, an impossible display of cartoon perspective. As he walked, the structures on either side of the street vanished, only to have new ones pop up to take their place. “Curiouser and curiouser” he thought to himself. “What have I gotten myself into this time? I gotta lay off the sauce. Next thing you know, I’ll be seeing talking animals, lions and rats and skunks.”
And as though the mere thought could create the reality, he found himself staring at an impossibly large, impossibly impossible skunk. “Don’t tell me. Let me guess. You’re Odie, and you’re here to take me to the King.” It sounded ludicrous. It sounded insane. But, if by playing along, he could get to the bottom of this nightmare, and back home, then that’s what he would do. At this point, he told himself, he had nothing to lose.
“Lead on, Maestro. Take me to your King.” Without a word, the skunk spun on his heels and marched up the street. Hurrying to catch up, head pounding, legs that were barely able to support him, he paid scant attention to the bizarre landscape on either side. Streets popped up, only to vanish as he drew abreast. Odd, absurd, caricatures of people and animals stared through him, as though he were not there, did not exist in their world. And maybe he wasn’t fully in their world, or his either, but somewhere in between. For sure, the skunk saw him, and was at that very moment, turning onto a broad avenue that led up to a palatial building, with huge double doors, and guards standing on either side. Idly, he wondered if getting stuck by a cartoon spear would hurt. Dismissing the notion, he scrambled up the stairs after the skunk.
One of the guards opened the doors, the other’s spear vanishing, to be replaced by a large, preposterous version of a trumpet, which he immediately placed to his lips, and issued forth a fanfare, announcing Leo’s arrival, and what he assumed to be an audience with the King.
He made his way unsteadily down the carpeted aisleway, only to be stopped ten feet short of the steps leading up to the throne. A sharp blow to the back of his legs with what he assumed to be a spear haft, brought him to his knees. “Kneel, huh? That’s what you’re looking for? Okay, I can do that.” So far, no one in this outrageously insane…place…he had no other word for it, had yet to utter a single word. Looking up at the figure on the throne, an animated, sketchy version of reality, Leo felt a sense of familiarity.
“Do I know you? Am I supposed to recognize you?” As the silence drew out, the figure on the throne studied him. “No, Leo, you wouldn’t recognize me. It’s been too long since the last time we met. You see, I’m you. You, before you lost yourself in a bottle. I’m what you were when life still mattered, before you had numb yourself just to face each day. Look at me Leo, and you will see yourself, as you were before your life spun out of control. Look in a mirror. Do you like what’s looking back at you? Which Leo do you want to be? You’ve got one more chance to get it right.”
As he fell to the floor, his head spinning, darkness pulling him in, his last thought was “I know what I want! I’ve always known. I was just too weak to hold on to it….”
Leo opened his eyes, then immediately closed them. The sunlight streaming through the window was blinding. Cracking them open, peering through slits, he began to take in his surroundings. Walls, a bed, windows with curtains. He breathed a sigh of relief as he realized where he was. “I’m in the hospital.” That was the first thought that came to him. “And I hurt. All over.” That was the second thought. Memories came flooding back, blasting his mind with visions, both real and fantasy. He now knew what had happened to him, and why, and he vowed it would never happen again. The doctor chose that moment to enter the room, clipboard in hand.
“Ah, Leo, you’re awake! It was a close thing my friend. I can’t believe you’re alive. I wouldn’t have bet on you, no matter the odds. I thought if the taxi cab didn’t kill you, the alcohol would have. But here you are! When they found you in the street, according to the taxi driver, you were clawing at your skin, as though you were trying to scratch yourself out of your clothes.”