"Johnny Bumpkins, Johnny Bumpkins!" Johnny listened to his name from the safety of his secret fort underneath the back porch. It sure sounded like his mom was calling him. He heard footsteps tramp along the porchboards above him, and then descend the stairs. A couple of red satin pumps materialized just inches from his nose, and he silently shrank back into the shadows. "Johnny, Johnny Bumpkins!" came the call again. "Now Johnny, where are you?" Oh, how many times he'd heard his mom use that expression, that tone, but it was an Orange Day, and that meant there was a high risk of attack from terrorists. Orange was not as serious as Red, which meant that terrorists had already toppled the government and Americans were free to fight the enemy, or each other, with nuclear weapons. There were other colored days, too. On Yellow Day, people were supposed to be on an "elevated condition" of alert. Johnny supposed that meant he should be somewhere high off the ground, so he fixed up his treehouse for just such an occasion. He even named it Yellow Day Fort. Blue Day and Green Day were each graded a little less dire, though both still represented brutal attacks on the freedoms of the civilized world.
The red pumps sauntered down the walk away from him, and gradually there appeared two ankles, a gingham cassock, and finally a woman who certainly appeared to be his mom. She turned around to face the house and looked as if she was staring right at him in his fort. But then she glanced away and trudged down the sidewalk. "Johnny Bumpkins!" she exclaimed. By now Johnny was pretty sure that was his mom, and pretty sure she wasn't a terrorist, but Mr. Perkey at school said that it was important to be suspicious of everybody and everything. "Don't believe what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you feel, or what you taste! Don't believe it! Terrorist infiltrators are everywhere, and no one should ever be trusted. Especially on Orange Day or Red Day. No one!" Logical extension of his premise suggested that Mr. Perkey shouldn't be trusted, either. That became very clear one day when he forced Johnny into the Faculty Men's Room. But then Mr. Clobberworm, the janitor, unexpectedly came in with his weasels. They must have detected the teacher's elevated scent of rut, because they jumped onto him at once. In the ensuing confusion, Johnny was able to scamper out the door. And Mr. Perkey hasn’t been seen since.
Corporal Punishmann of the Bung Hollow Police Department visited the school once a month to make sure both teachers and students were always on alert. He never told them when he was coming, and he invariably was in disguise. Once he camouflaged himself as 400 owls attempting to outwit a giant badger in the rain. Another time he made himself completely invisible. He would then clandestinely scout the classrooms for anti-American sentiment. No infraction was too insignificant for Corporal Punishmann, and when he found one, he meted out "corrective measures" that were swift and harsh. It was simply to drive home Mr. Perkey's conviction that terrorists lurk in every state, in every town in every state, and in every school in every town in every state. Fanatical vigilance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was imperative. Otherwise, we'd soon be slaves of an enemy regime. "If you are suspicious of someone, report him!" Punishmann would enthusiastically shout. "All hail the tattletales!"
"Johnny Bumpkins!" His mom, or her treacherous doppelgänger, was way down the block now, so Johnny pushed aside the little shrub that he had carefully attached to the side of the porch to conceal his hideout's entryway, and stepped out.
"Hey, what're you doing in there?" The question came from the side of his house, and Johnny nearly jumped out of his skin in fright. "I said, what ..."
"Shh, shh!," he hissed, upon seeing that it was his friend, Bonsai Sally. "She'll hear you!"
"My mom--except that I'm not sure it’s really Mom."
"Well, it sure looks like her!" Sally said, pointing.
Johnny gasped. His mother was walking back towards them. She was in a hurry, and sparks flew up from her red pumps as they clicked purposefully on the sidewalk. The sparks mirrored the fire in her eyes. She was cross!
"Quick! In here!”"Johnny cried, and he yanked open the door to his hideaway, dived in, then waved for Bonsai Sally to follow.
"Oh no, I'm not going in there," said Sally, shaking her head. "It's probably filthy!"
"Oh, then just don't tell her where I am, okay? Just go home!" Johnny said, and pulled the door closed.
"Johnny Bumpkins!" called out Mom, as she approached the house. "Oh, hello, Sally. I just thought I saw Johnny here. Did you see him?"
"Oh, I'm ... I'm not sure, Mrs. Bumpkins," answered Sally, as she pointed directly to the space under the porch. The gesture was lost on neither Mom nor Johnny. "Especially on Orange Day or Red Day, trust no one!" Mr. Perkey had said. Well, he had trusted someone, and he had paid the price.
"Johnny Bumpkins! You come out of there at once!" said Mom fiercely. She turned to Sally, "I've been out of my mind looking for him, and only because I wanted him to wash up for supper. That's not so unreasonable, is it?"
Bonsai Sally shrugged as Johnny pushed open the door. He gave her a withering look as he sullenly climbed out.
"Now young man, I want you to go inside and wash up for supper," Mom said in a voice that was thick with Orange Day alert. "That's all!" she added, lightly. "Sally, you're welcome to join us."
"No thanks, Mrs. Bumpkins. My dad said the day could turn Red at any time, so I'd better go. Bye, Johnny," she said, figuring there wouldn’t be a response. And there wasn't.
Mom grasped Johnny's wrist firmly--a bit too firmly, as all of his fingers abruptly began to tingle from blood deprivation--and led him into the house. "Now really, Johnny, supper's about ready. Just go to the bathroom and wash up!"
To Johnny, it sounded like more of a command than a request. But then she added, "okay, honey? Please?" Well, that was more like Mom, and he began to relax--even more so when she playfully chucked his chin. The aroma of lemur pie and tank potatoes wafted from the kitchen, and suddenly he really was eager to wash up for supper. The friendly sound of the grandfather clock chiming six o'clock added to his growing feeling of contentment.
But suddenly there was another sound, a sound that both Corporal Punishmann and Mr. Perkey had taught him to heed. It was the fire station siren and it was the sound of a Red Day alert. Johnny hesitated every so briefly as he grasped the bathroom doorknob, but then his mom yanked it open, shoved him inside, and slammed the door shut.
A man with closely cropped hair and tiny glasses was already in the bathroom. Johnny didn't notice any more of the man's features because his attention was immediately drawn to the collection of syringes, pliers, whips, chains and manacles he had in his lap.
"So, you are the American infidel, Johnny Bumpkins, eh?" he said icily, igniting his lighter and reaching for the boy.
Outside, too, Red Day was beginning to heat up.
But here on this 354th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, it's nothing but heyday for the next two hours. And heyday's the best time of the day, the time when the alerts are turned off, when Homemaker Security is on holiday, when the only risk you'll face is that of musical catastrophication from the likes of Damian and Kalvos.