WHEN DOMINICK WAS A kid, there wasn’t much to do.

His parents had never participated much in the way of social activity, and therefore had spent most of their free time avoiding others. Probably still do, for that matter. Dominick could recall the many occasions in which his family had never gone to any of the neighborhood barbecues, had never had anyone over for any reason, and had never attended any sort of public function. This extreme avoidance meant that Dominick and his parents were known throughout town as ‘that weird family’.

His parents had never seemed to mind acquiring this moniker, but for Dominick it meant that he never really had any friends as he grew up in small town America. This was the cause of Dominick having little to do as mentioned above.

Dominick had taken to wandering around his home town of Eudora, Kansas, whenever he’d been shunted outside by his parents because they’d grown tired of watching him sit in front of the television all day. Dominick had come to realize later in life that his parents had never truly worried about the potential mental problems that prolonged exposure to the television might have on his developing brain, but instead sent him out of the house so that they might finally get a chance to spend some quality time with the boob tube.

When Dominick was nine, he’d discovered the town landfill while out on one of his daily sojourns. He’d been positively entranced as he’d picked through the mountain of trash. That day alone he’d found a lamp, a bowling ball, and a box full of action figures. Soon the landfill had become a daily trek for him, and often he would return home with small treasures. But none had been so monumental as the one he’d found two summers later.

It had been a beat up old go-cart. It didn’t run, which probably had something to do with the missing engine, and it looked like it hadn’t seen a coat of paint since folks thought the bow tie was the height of fashion.

But, all the same, Dominick pushed the heap the five miles home.

He’d known that his parents were not going to approve of his latest acquisition. They’d call it a waste of time. Sure, if it had had a working engine that would be one thing. But without it, the go-cart would just take up space.

In anticipation of this parental wall, Dominick had hidden the go-cart in the garage.

His parents had never used the garage for anything other than storage. Other than chucking the occasional box or two into the garage now and again, his mom and dad had rarely laid eyes inside.

So, Dominick had figured, as long as he kept the big door closed, he’d actually never known it to be open, he could keep the go-cart back in a corner, throw some boxes over the top of it, and work on it while his parents were at work with no risk of discovery.

And so that is what he had done.

The following week had gone swimmingly. He’d pounded out all of the dents as best he could with his dad’s hammer. Then he’d sanded off what paint had managed to still be clinging to the metal shell. There had been a hole or two here and there due to rust, but all in all he felt it had turned out okay. He’d just needed to paint it.

That next week Dominick had taken his savings downtown to Pop’s Hardware and bought three cans of spray paint: Two red and one black. Then he’d gone home to paint his go-cart red, with a pair of black racing stripes.

He’d been on his second can of red when everything around him had gone a bit wobbly. He’d been about to go back inside to let the paint dry when his hamster, Reggie, had squeezed into the garage from under the big door. Dominick had found that a bit odd. Firstly, Reggie had been wearing a sombrero, something he’d never recalled Reggie ever doing before. Secondly, Reggie had been carrying a small bag full of colorful socks that the hamster had then tried to sell to Dominick. But oddest of all, Reggie had died the previous year.

After that everything had grown hazy and had then gone black.

He’d come to later in a hospital bed, confused and more than a little terrified.

He’d come to realize, of course, that Reggie, his sombrero, and his bag of socks had never actually been there. It had all been a hallucination brought about by huffing paint fumes in a confined space.

Dominick thought back on all of that now as he stood helpless and slack-jawed in the basement of the Happy Hamburger watching a penguin waddle into a room already occupied by a sword-wielding lizard man. While the incident with Reggie had seemed real enough at the time, it didn’t hold a candle to the strangeness he had suddenly found himself in today.

If he had to be honest with himself, and at a time like this he didn’t have a lot of choice, Dominick wasn’t all that surprised to see the penguin. After all, he’d been seeing penguins all week. Just yesterday he was leaving the comic book store and for a moment spied a penguin looking at him from behind a lamppost across the street. But, just as Dominick had realized what it was he was seeing, a car passed between them and the penguin was gone. Nearly the same thing had happened at the grocery store three days ago, and the DMV the day before that. So while the lizard man was enough to make Dominick question his sanity, the penguin was almost comfortable.

To be continued . . .

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