Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop

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Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron atomic ring comes at last. I've waited long enough for it. Weeks and weeks ago, I'd sent off my fifteen cents and an Ovaltine label to Captain Midnight, Chicago 77, Illinois. I had to badger my mom until she bought me a jar of Ovaltine, although I hate the chocolaty stuff with its foul, sweet taste and chalky texture. All I needed was the label. Day after day I'd sit on the front steps waiting for the postman to deliver the morning mail. Then I'd wait even longer for the afternoon delivery. If I had my way they'd deliver the mail three times a day instead of twice.

The best aviator in the world is Captain Midnight. He can beat the pants off Sky King and Hop Harrigan. Flip Corkin of Terry and the Pirates is a jerk compared to Captain Midnight. And Don Winslow of the Navy? What a laugh. Don Winslow doesn't even count. None of the kids likes Don Winslow, not even his name. Don Tooslow. Too slow. Get it?

If I really knew Captain Midnight, he'd be good to me. Not like my dad.

Captain Midnight's the top gun in the Secret Squadron, SS-1. He wears a black uniform with helmet and goggles and a special insignia showing a winged clock with its hands at midnight. His pals are Chuck Ramsey, SS-2; Joyce Ryan, SS-3; and the mechanic, Ichabod Mudd, SS-4. No one calls him Ichabod, though, just Ikky. Every day, Captain Midnight, Chuck, Joyce, and Ikky face death and torture at the hands of the worst guy in all the world, a wicked genius called Ivan Shark. No one knows why Ivan Shark's as bad as he is. My mom says it's the way he was brought up, like those Italians down the block. Ivan Shark's got an evil daughter named Fury. I hate Fury. There's a girl in my class named Wanda Jean Petry who's exactly like Fury, and I hate Wanda Jean Petry too. Ivan Shark's chief lieutenant is called Fang because he's always grinning and showing his teeth, kind of like my dog Smokey, only Smokey wasn't mean like Fang, although Smokey chased cars and got killed by another dog.

To fully appreciate Captain Midnight, like I do, you've got to have the Secret Squadron's Code-O-Graph. Ivan Shark will maim, mutilate, or murder in order to get one. But he doesn't know what all us radio members of the Secret Squadron know. All you have to do to get a Code-O-Graph is to send off to Chicago 77, Illinois, for it, something the stupid Ivan Shark never even thinks about doing, and he's a so-called genius. Maybe Ivan Shark can't get Ovaltine where he is. At the end of each episode, the announcer, Pierre Andre, conducts a Secret Squadron code session. He reads certain numbers you can translate into an exciting secret message from Captain Midnight himself. Last Friday's message was, "Brush your teeth and clean your fingernails."


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Captain Midnight sends us other good stuff too. A ring worn by the Queen of Sheeba, which glows eerily in the dark, even though it's not as good as Dad's flashlight. An original Ovaltine Shake-Up mug, which still never makes me want to drink the stuff, because I have to barf it's so bad. A silver pin with the special Secret Squadron insignia, which I wore only once because Billy Bob Gentry ripped it off my shirt and ran away with it. But for me, the best box top prize of all is the one I just got in the mail, the Captain Midnight Secret Squadron atomic ring. I know it's the best. Members of the Secret Squadron are able to look inside the ring and actually see swirling, gyrating, spinning atoms. Pierre Andre told us so. It's real science, and proof the Atomic Age isn't just something they made up in DC comics.

We bombed the heck out of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now everyone in school's talking about atomic energy, of neutrons and protons and electrons, and how great television's going to be when it comes out. My dad always votes Republican, but he likes President Truman because Truman bombed the Japs. Dad says it was worth wiping out a few hundred-thousand no-good civilians to end the war. They were just Japs and they deserved what they got on account of they started it, but we wouldn't have ever dropped the bomb on the Nazis because they were Europeans, and our country was founded by the Europeans, and Europeans believe in Christ. Dad says maybe he'll vote Democrat next time if Truman runs--although maybe not--because Truman may be a Communist in disguise, like FDR, some Red who plans to overthrow our country by force and violence. Dad says there are Jews in the next block and he knows damned well they're commies and that someone ought to do something about it. But I know the people he's talking about, and their son, Aaron, is just my age and he doesn't look like a commie to me, whatever commies look like. In fact, he's my best and only friend, and Aaron loves Captain Midnight too. Only Aaron was stupid. He didn't send off for Captain Midnight's atomic ring in time, and now Aaron's mad at me on account of I did, so we aren't speaking.

After the postman hands me the afternoon mail I know right away it's the ring because the box is postmarked Chicago. I love the name Chicago. It sounds big, so big. I can see it in my mind, miles and miles of cornfields, and then suddenly it rears up into the sky, Chicago! All those skyscrapers, all those radio stations coming in on clear nights. The container's small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, which is shaking on account of I'm so excited. I rip the box open and, yeah, there it is. It's silver gray and you can squeeze the band to fit any size finger. I try it on each finger and it fits them all except the little one, which I never use anyway. The setting holds a rounded, plastic globe with Captain Midnight's insignia printed on the side. There's a small hole at the tip of the globe which you can look into to discover the atomic world. I can't wait to see those baffling, whirling atoms. I close one eye and peer inside with the other.

But I don't see anything.

I look again.


Then I notice there's more stuff in the box. A discount coupon for more barfy Ovaltine, and a piece of paper with some printed instructions. "The atoms in the ring can be viewed only in the dark." I run into the hall closet with its raincoats and galoshes and umbrellas, and shut the door as tight as I can, although it doesn't close all the way on account of it's a little warped, but Dad says he'll get around to fixing it one of these damned days. It's black in the closet and smells like mothballs and rubber. I hold the atomic ring to my eye. At first I don't see anything. But gradually the inside of the ring begins to glow, particles of light start to flash, specks of color bombard the world inside. It's startling, a maze of light and color, and I feel almost like I'm inside a new galaxy, flying alongside the atoms. I'm not the same kid anymore, the kid sitting next to the vacuum cleaner in a dusty closet, the kid whose SS insignia pin was stolen by Billy Bob Gentry, the kid who Wanda Jean Petry laughs at because he wears glasses, the kid who was too afraid of failing to enter the kite contest, the kid whose dad slapped him in the face because he kept saying huh, the kid whose dog's throat was ripped out by a bigger dog, the kid whose mom keeps getting thinner and thinner and who tells him she'll be going away for good before long, the kid who climbs into his radio to hide when everything goes bad. Then all those swirling atoms start to move slower and slower, slower and slower, until they stop, and the inside of the ring gradually goes dark.

No, no.

It's now as black inside the ring as the closet itself. I shake the ring and look inside again. Inside is nothing. I sit in the darkness for along time, hoping the atomic ring will spring back into life. But when I look into it again it's dead. The ring must be defective. They sent me a defective ring. Pierre Andre sent me a defective ring. No, it was Captain Midnight who sent me a defective ring. All the way from Chicago 77, Illinois.

I open the door, walk out of the closet, and go up to my room where I turn on the radio. I hear the familiar chimes--or are they gongs?--and Pierre Andre's voice booming over them, "Captaainn Middnightt... Say, boys and girls, before we get to today's thrilling episode, let me tell you about an amazing new offer available only to members of Captain Midnight's Secret Squadron..."

How did Captain Midnight ever get his name anyway? I never heard of anyone named Midnight. What's his first name? Who made him a captain? And why did he send me a defective atomic ring after making me wait for weeks? I did everything right. I cleaned my fingernails, brushed my teeth, washed my hair. Even collected newspapers like Captain Midnight told me to do, because there's a paper shortage and it's patriotic, even though my dad had a fit about all the string I had to use to bind up all the papers, and Dad told me I was a moron.

From time to time I return to the closet and squint into the ring but I never see an atom again. Eventually, the ring lands in the top drawer of my dresser along with all of the other box top prizes, and one day my mom comes in and empties out the drawer forever. It's the same day my mom goes to the hospital and never comes back.

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Bucks County Writers Workshop