By Ben Simon
Many years later, as he peered into the family rifle’s filthy barrel, Magister Kirkus Cronmaker reminisced on his once disregarded heritage. At one time, Camp Cronmaker was nothing but a swamp filled with one of the least intelligent species of lizards. Now privileged adolescents flocked there from Albuquerque to Albania, from Bulgaria to Bakersfield. It was simply one of the best received lavish summer resorts in Santa Buenaventura County. As one camper, an eleven-year old Jersey brunette on a slight scholarship put it, “I was listening to the Beatles with my parents this year and the song said, ‘the best things in life are free.’ So, then, why did my daddy have to pay for Camp Cron?”
Magister Kirkus had moved there with his nouveau riche parents at the tender age of four. His father, Izador Cronmaker, had been clever enough to create the famed jelly product Fluckers® after somehow graduating from Spaulding Community College in West Santa Buenaventura County. The recipe had actually passed down from his Polish-bred grandfather, Esau Grunshmuk, who never got any credit for the idea. Esau was never verbally irate about it, though Izador’s children, Magister Kirkus and Saul, never received anything more satisfactory than a spiral notebook from their great-grandfather during the annual Grunshmuk Chanukah Party.
But perhaps old Zayde Grunshmuk would be proud if he had known that it was that notebook, purchased by Esau at one of his half-brother Henry Heinz’s dry goods stores in a village just east of Santa Buenaventura County, that Magister Kirkus (at that time named Kirk DeSpirk Cronmaker) used to become the amateur novelist he was. Not like any of his books sold well, as over sixteen of the seventeen he wrote never found a publisher. The seventeenth book, Kid’s Market was a collection of short stories. Though it never was printed in its entirety, an abridged version of “My Libido,” the second-longest story in the book, did find its way into the November 2021 issue of Beaver Munch, an underground adult magazine—posthumously.
Izador Cronmaker was eternally ashamed of his son. After his younger son Saul became the father in a teenage pregnancy, Izador was definitely devastated, but still, Magister Kirkus was always his favorite. He hated his elder son’s pen name but loved his brilliant mind. He did not understand why a genius like Magister Kirkus became such a mediocre writer. It didn’t help that Magister Kirkus was so spendthrifty, either. One time, Magister Kirkus bought out Barnes & Noble’s entire fiction section, though he admittedly never read anything besides his own work. In one of his last interviews, which coincidentally also appeared in Beaver Munch magazine, Izador would state that Magister Kirkus’ irresponsibility regarding the family fortune was a bankruptcy just waiting to happen. A conspiracy theorist, he blamed the socialist media and one sector of the Illuminati. What the Illuminati was, not a single Cronmaker knew, but Izador never resisted an opportunity to play the blame game.
* * *
When he wasn’t blaming secret societies, Izador bossed around the illegal immigrants he had hired for his resort. Truly as much of a lover of fiction as Magister Kirkus, Izador publically referred to his luxurious resort as his “Personal Mars,” and privately referred to his employees as his “Personal Martians.” Though he grew up during the Space Age, the terms stemmed from an experience in seventh grade. His Accelerated English teacher, Mrs. C. Hester Spectrum, once asked him exactly why he always went to “Mars” during lectures. By “Mars,” Mrs. Spectrum meant “a happy place laden with private thoughts.” Ironically, Camp Cronmaker was anything but private. It was here that the beginnings of the third generation were processed on Saul’s California king-sized bed. It was here that the boy then called “Kirk” would experiment with American Spirit cigarettes, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and asexuality. It was here that a pretty girl named Kira Nadir was invited by Kirk, and never came. And it was here that Kirk recorded his one musical demo, an acoustic cover of “The Air Near My Fingers” by the White Stripes.
Though Izador’s sons spent most of their time either in the resort or at the Catholic high school across the street, Izador himself spent eighty hours a week away from his Personal Mars, in the Fluckers Corporation on Thame Street. Even his wife Sara rarely saw him, as she claimed he didn’t come to dinner for five years. The only family member who spent time with Izador was his King Charles Spaniel, Dukie—as Izzy often brought the dog to work with him, much to the chagrin of the employees, who were primarily cat people.
Because Izador R. Cronmaker was such a powerful man, he established several powerful enemies. There was Brigham Lamarck, the Vice President of Jell-O Pudding; Mike Czech, inventor of the failed Heinz EZ Squirt Purple Ketchup; and of course, Francisco Sepulveda, the Colombian American CEO of Sepulveda Preserves, a gross strawberry product.
In a Brookstone store, Saul met Tania Sepulveda, Francisco’s flirtatious daughter. Magnetized by Tania’s vermilion polka-dotted dress and chestnut locks of hair, Saul was told by his father to avoid all activity with that girl because of his long rivalry with Francisco Sepulveda. Of course, Saul did the opposite.
Izador was furious when he found out that his son had impregnated his arch-nemesis’ daughter, and forced the naming of the baby to be “Random Cronmaker” as a punishment. While Dana and Saul begged Izador to change this embarrassing name, the most he did was allow for the addition of the middle name “Kenneth.” So, Izador’s illegitimate grandson was forever called “Random Kenny Cronmaker.”
Magister Kirkus never did meet his poverty-stricken nephew. At the time he had just finished his second novel, Khan of the Deaf (the sequel to an untitled novella), and was brainstorming for Ha Ha You’re Red: Communism At Its Funniest, though he was barely a senior at Santa Buenaventura County Preparatory Catholic Academy.
Though his parents (especially Sara, a Dartmouth graduate) expected him to go to a prestigious school such as Stanford or even Penn, Magister Kirkus checked into his father’s alma mater: Spaulding Community College, also known as “Harvard Next to the Barber.” Magister Kirkus claimed he had trouble paying attention to lectures in that one-room junior college because he could always hear the sounds of electric razors and the unfunny crude jokes of a certain Portuguese hairdresser.
* * *
Sara Cronmaker (née Despirk) outlived the rest of the “Martian Cronmakers,” which was a cynical term coined by the family’s lone Ray Bradbury devotee, Magister Kirkus. On only one occasion did she hold a full-time job, and that was when she and Izador divorced in early 2034. Neither Sara nor Izador was to blame for the separation, but instead the lovable young dog, Dukie, who tragically died when the couple reluctantly hosted the annual Grunshmuk Chanukah Party. Sara’s practicing Catholic parents, who were visiting from New England in order to learn about the suddenly trendy Jewish lifestyle, were horrified by the death and threatened to take Sara out of their will if she didn’t divorce Izador, who clearly preferred diseased dogs to their beloved daughter.
Though she initially applied to replace that crude Portuguese hairdresser next door to Spaulding Community College, Sara’s one and only full-time job was held in front of thirty minors from low-income families in the nearby town of South Santa Buenaventura County. Yes, Sara Cronmaker taught at Elmer Junior High for three years. By the third year, a major tragedy struck the family.
Izador D. Cronmaker, multi-millionaire, owner of three mansions and five yachts, worked in his grape jam corporation six days a week. It was late one miserable Friday night; Izador was alone, finishing a list of nine employees to deport from Fluckers. After adding Dathan Chaubski, Kristina Jaskinovic, and Fergus O’Donnell to the list, he heard a strange knocking noise behind his red leather chair. By the time Izzy had flicked the “swivel” lever on his luxury chair, a navy blue figure with two clumsy arms, eleven hands on each arm, and one slanted eye above three flaring nostrils appeared out of thin air.
While Izador was the source of no less than four dozen potent quotes that could be found in at least twelve or thirteen novels, the slurred speech that reacted to the creature’s presence was without a doubt stupid. He simply shouted, “Wh-What are you, some kind of monster?”
The animal laughed. “You know, Cronmaker, you’ve been spending way too much time on Mars.” It had a loud Brooklyn accent, not unlike that of Zayde Grunshmuk.
“You can talk? I mean, most animals can only eat, drink, sleep, panic, and defecate. My old dog Dukie drowned in his own fec…” Izador noticed the crudeness of his truthful words, and silenced himself. He prayed to God that this animal was just a sort of parrot with a large and uncanny repertoire.
“And besides, I haven’t been to my Personal Mars in months.”
“So, maybe you haven’t been to that wasteful lot in months. Big whoop, Izzy, you’re still as much of a Martian as I am.” Izador looked for his seldom-used rifle, which had been purchased by Esau Grunshmuk’s father over a century before as a method of fighting off the Cossacks in his Polish village, but he remembered that he had lost it to Sara in the divorce. Corporal punishment was no longer outlawed in Santa Buenaventura County public schools, and Ms. Sara DeSpirk was using the rifle to prod (but not shoot) unruly Elmer Junior High students.
Izador shuddered. “There’s no life on Mars. I’ve used ‘Google Mars’ a couple times, and it’s as barren as the Pride Lands once Scar seizes power.” That simile made me sound like an ignorant child, Izador thought. I don’t even like Disney, especially not after the time I got invited to Michael Eisner’s house for dinner and the guy in the Pluto suit spilled linguica all over my pants. Those stains never did come off.
“As, I was saying, the only living things on Mars are bacteria!” The Martian was wearing a tight bead bracelet on one hand that read “MARS TREK ’92: HI, I’M SPECTRUM.” This hand was clenching a Zippo lighter. Without another adult word from the both of them, Spectrum flicked it on, and when the morning came—Fluckers and its arch-rival from across the street, Sepulveda Preserves, were demolished.
* * *
By the time Random Kenny held his Sweet Sixteen, Magister Kirkus was writing his penultimate pile of unreadable rubbish—An Antichristmas Carol. Of course, like fifteen other books written by this particular Cronmaker, Antichristmas Carol never occupied even the obscurest bookstore’s shelf. Shortly after the book’s completion, Magister Kirkus notified his editor that if he died before his book’s publication, all seventeen of Magister Kirkus’ manuscripts should be burned. A moderate fan of literary history, Magister Kirkus saw himself as a postmodernist Franz Kafka. As you might know, Kafka ordered his editor, Max Brod, to burn every single one of his manuscripts, from “A Hunger Artist” to The Castle, yet Brod published the stories against Kafka’s will. But Magister Kirkus was sadly no Kafka, and though he hoped that history would repeat itself and An Antichristmas Carol would become a household name, those seventeen manuscripts were ultimately lost to an incinerator.
Though Magister Kirkus never met Random Kenny, when he realized the advanced age of Saul’s love child, he immediately considered adopting a boy of his own. With the remainder of his valuable inheritance, Magister Kirkus took on a twelve-year old quasi-Caucasian orphan named Keef Squidink, whose entire family, second cousins and all, had died in the Sepulveda Preserves fire.
By the time Magister Kirkus had gotten to know his son, whose future did not look bright from all the D’s he received at Elmer Junior High, Keef lodged a rusty bullet into his adoptive father’s back.
Is that the family rifle? thought the wounded Magister Kirkus as he writhed in pain. Magister Kirkus was too injured to figure out how his adopted son had found it, but the truth was that after corporal punishment was once again outlawed, Principal Sherman of Elmer Junior High had confiscated the weapon from the class which formerly was taught by Ms. Sara DeSpirk, who was now a retiree and a permanent “senior camper” at Camp Cronmaker, which Izador had won in the divorce, but now belonged to his son Saul. Principal Sherman was also the president of the Santa Buenaventura County chapter of the NRA, and instantly stuffed the rifle into his office desk. One night after Keef Squidink had snuck out of Magister Kirkus’ house to crash parties hosted by Spaulding Community College’s student body, he spontaneously visited Elmer Junior High’s campus (despite his two-week suspension), broke into Principal Sherman’s office, and snatched the rifle, ignorant to its long history but eager to test it on his “lame” adopted father.
Keef laughed at his adopter’s wounded body. Magister Kirkus recollected his “awful” life, and collapsed into a lethal coma.
Ben Simon is a writer from San Luis Obispo.