We called him the Thunder King
In a town too small for homeless but too large for community
He fit both roles like a pair of generous socks still warm from the tumble
Disheveled, unshaven, beaming an underpopulated row of crimson gums
He lived at night in our thunderstorms, silhouette appearing with each blinding flash like he could only be summoned by our electric Earth.
Us kids would rush to the windows for a first row showing of his ritual. A good enough storm, and he'd be sure to hit every street eventually. With a voice like the ancient blade of a battle-hardened Samurai, he'd slice through the torrent with a song that always signaled us of his arrival.
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you
But in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream of me
And there he'd appear, naked in the rain, beard and matted body hair soaked and dripping, spinning, twirling, dancing like Hell was at his feet and movement was his only salvation and sustenance. The dirt of a dry season trickled down the scalloped definition of his ribs, life's dirty hand of cards washed clean down his legs and ran off into stormdrains as he celebrated himself in what was more baptism than shower. The armour of grime caked on to protect him from the bladed indifference that threatened to cut him daily had been cast off, and the reality of the human beneath was able to begin again with a smile that believed somebody still cared.
Our parents would begin shutting blinds, and pulling us from windows as if the flash of skin was more harmful to our eyes than the flash of lightning.
"He's just a crazy old man"
"He's sick, and you shouldn't be watching him"
"It's not good for you to see these things"
We kept questions quarantined to our own quarters, queried in quizzical quiet, the riot of physical buried in the borders of our hearts - What was so damaging about a man who life abandoned claiming life from the raindrops? Dancing not with the Devil, but in spite of him and dreaming aloud with danger shrieking down from the clouds. It was almost as though our parents didn't want us to believe that there was someone stronger than them.
He was like a thread unraveled and allowed free roam by the fates, as he tied our stories together through neighbourhoods that kept to themselves. While parents called him crazy over coffee and cookies, we developed bonds in backyards comparing stories meshed with hyperbole until he was an unclad superhero, capable of splashing so precisely that water would seek its way back home and leave dry patches wherever his feet trod.
In this way he had become legend. They called him mad. We called him the Thunder King, and we stood in a sense of communal unity against those who spoke in ill favour of his particular brand of magic.
But as calendars flipped and changed, teeth escaped and replenished, and shoes shrunk around our feet like the velcro had fragmented into laces that wrapped our childhood in tiny nooses, we gradually stopped watching his dance. The sword of his voice grew dull and was weighed down by an iron price he could no longer keep paying. Eventually, all we heard was the distant thunder, heralding in the slow, but inevitable arrival of our adult lives, and the change in our thoroughly programmed minds that measured him on a scale from God to Madman.
In the late years of our adolescence, the summer we were deemed learned enough to act as societal contributors, we had allocated our value to stamped ink on a roll of paper, as though our blood-bound lessons defined us no more than the clothes we wore. We laughed and dreamed our parents' dreams for us in a late-night revelry that brought us to an old stone bridge, finely marinated in stolen brandy - the first of life's bitter flavours to which we would soon grow addicted.
He reeked of rot, of stale piss and vomit, and the back of society's hand. His eyes open wide, frame shrunken back in terror, he shook in such a way that would make dancing impossible.
How could this be the same man, from all those years ago, who owned the thunder?
Pity melted into disgust melted into anger at this lie our childhood minds had promised us. Sneers and insults became spit launched in his direction as he cowered, trembling against the cold stone of his open home, lacking the strength or self-respect to defend himself or even escape from our onslaught. Somewhere in the torrent of our cruel, drunken storm, the bottle soared from an overzealous hand and shattered on the wall just above him, raining shards of glass and streaks of brandy into the matted, wild tangles protecting his head as he cried out in terror, caught in harmony by one of our voices shouting "wake the fuck up, old man!"
We left as we arrived; in waves of cruel laughter.
Not a week had passed, when we were struck with one of those storms defined by 36,500 days, uprooting trees and splitting suburban life like the forks of lightning were silverware selected when God decided to eat us all. Roofs were catching ablaze, lighting city streets in a Roman apocalypse. The arrhythmic drumbeat of windows rattling set our hearts into palpitating terror as the roads began to overflow, water cresting the lips of curbs in the violent ebb and flow of Poseidon's temper, as suddenly, slicing through the air, clean, crisp, and like new, came a sound our beaten hearts had long forgotten.
Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you
CRASH - bolt splits tree like a celestial axe and we dash to the window to see him, spinning, twirling, dancing
CRASH - Sweet dreams that leave all worries
CRASH - Water seems to evaporate in each of his footsteps, drops bouncing from his flailing arms back into the sky above
CRASH - in your dreams whatever they be
Dream a little dream...crash...
None of us shielded our eyes, we watched heaven send a crooked beam to his body and claim his journey complete. Anything that might have been left of him was washed, like his skin always was, down stormdrains until he simply stopped existing.
And why he chose this time to reappear was beyond understanding, after we saw the reality of his world and pissed on it to spite our own loss of imagination. It was like he saw what we were becoming...like he needed to save some part of us before we just became our parents. Whatever the reason, we were granted one final reminder from The Thunder King, before he left us to design our own fate, to dream a little dream of whatever we wanted, so long as that dream belonged to us.