The Green Rope
After Dad moved back his focus was fire. In his mind, our old farmhouse was one short away from a four-alarm blaze that would crisp us alive in our sleep.
His solution was a ladder; an aluminum pole a bit longer than the frame of a window, and a bright green rope. The pole served as an anchor and baby-fist square knots provided rungs for the climb down.
“This is your exit route,” he told us. “When you hear the alarm go off, I want you to open the window, put the pole on the sill, and clamber down this rope.”
The rope seemed awfully thin. Leaning as much as I dared out of the open window, I noticed it didn’t even reach the ground. Anyone using it would need to drop at least a body-length while hanging from the final knot. I pictured myself dangling there beneath the window, flailing with my foot to find the next tiny rung, the smoke and flames swirling around me.
My brother looked at the contraption and grew excited. “Let’s try it.”
“Count me out,” I said.
“Oh, don’t be a sissy,” he said.
I backed away from the window. “I’m not going down that thing,” I said. “Not ever.”
“Then you’re going to burn to death up here,” Dad said, his eyes kindled. “Do you want that?”
I shook my head.
“When the time comes,” he said. “You will climb down that ladder.”
“I can’t wait,” my brother said eagerly.
He never got a chance. A year later, Dad was gone again and I went to play beneath that same window. I found a big lunar moth caterpillar there, crawling up a vine, a plump yellow-green sausage mowing through the leaves. It squirmed against my unburnt fingers and when I set it on the back of my hand I felt its gentle peristalsis, watched its antlers twitch, probing the still summer air. I could feel its weight on my hand, its gravid mindless purpose. It tasted me, trying to decide if it should gobble up my fingers.
I flipped it from my hand and lifted a foot. One hard stomp of my sneaker and I’d make its guts spurt out like neon toothpaste, wipe away the touch of it crawling across my hand. I breathed in and out in sick fearful waves, frozen in place while summer winds blew hot around me.
Morgan Crooks grew up in a hamlet in Upstate New York and now teaches ancient history in Massachusetts. Links to his stories are available on the Ancient Logic website (http://www.ancientlogic.blogspot.com). He lives with his wife, Lauren, near Boston.