Once upon a time there was a little twerp named Tass Brax.
They always asked their mother why. And Mother always said the same thing: "It's because of the Brass Tax, dear." But Tass did not know what the Brass Tax was, and whenever they asked what it was, Mother always said the same thing: "Only the mayor knows."
One day, Tass decided to try to find the mayor.
But when they knocked on the mayor's door, they were greeted with a hearty "Go away, this is a private residence!"
Which struck Tass as very odd. They wandered into a house whose door was open and asked the people there, "Why would the mayor's door be closed to me when every other door is open?" And the people said "Perhaps the mayor does not know you, lad. Speak your name?"
So Tass wandered back to the mayor's house and knocked and said, "My name is Tass, mister mayor. Nice to meet you." But still someone on the other side of the door said "This is a private residence! Go away!"
So Tass wandered into the woods. They wandered into a bear den and asked the bear, "Bear, why do you think the mayor does not wish to open his door to me?" and the Bear said "Well, human child, they don't want to open their doors to me either. Perhaps he thinks you will eat him? You should reassure him that you will not eat him."
So Tass wandered back to the mayor's house, knocked on the door, and said, "Hello, mister mayor. My name is Tass. You have my word that I will not eat you." And someone on the other side of the door said "I have absolutely no idea why you think I would fear such a thing. Go away. This is a private residence."
So Tass wandered over to the rec center and asked the lady at the reception counter, "Why would the mayor's door be closed to me?" And the lady said, "Perhaps he wants you to make an appointment, lass. You should call him."
So Tass opened the door of the rec center, took a deep breath, and shouted, "MISTER MAYORRRRRRRRR!"
"I meant on the phone," said the lady at the reception counter.
"Don't have one of those," said Tass.
A man with a grey mustache and a grey flannel suit and grey shoes came running up. "You!" said the mayor. "You've been knocking at my house all day. What on earth is the matter with you?"
"So you were home," said Tass. "I just wanted to know what the Brass Tax is."
"Not my department," said the mayor. "Go and ask the king."
"Now hang on a gosh darn second," said the lady at the reception counter. "What king? This is America, by golly. We don't have no kings. Unless I missed something that happened overnight?"
"I am referring to The King," said the mayor, and he played some air guitar.
"Oh," said Tass. "Yes, of course. But I thought he was dead?"
"The newspaper keeps saying he lives," said the mayor. "Here, I'll show you." And he handed Tass a copy of Daily World News.
There on the front page was the headline: THE KING LIVES. There was also a line about Bat Boy being spotted and one about Bigfoot getting into catering. "Wow," said Tass, "I had no idea so many wonderful things happened in this world. But this article says that The King was seen in Spokane, and that is far over the hills and away. How shall I ever reach him?"
"You have to do three things," said the lady at the reception counter. "You have to wish upon a falling star. Then you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Then you have to hitch your wagon to a thunderbird."
"Can't I just take an airplane?" said Tass.
"That's no fun," said the lady.
So Tass wandered home and told Mother everything that had happened, and she said, "What I get for not being able to tell you the story! Alright then. We shall have to wait for a falling star."
But for many days and many nights, and many nights after that, no star fell, though Tass watched the sky as late as midnight.
One night, Tass said, "Does the falling star have to be a shooting star? Or can it be any kind?"
"You might get a warped wish if you try to cheat," said Mother.
"I have to get this over with," said Tass. They pulled an origami star out of their pocket, let it fall from their hand, and said, "I wish I could find The King. Now, do you have any bootstraps?"
But Mother did not have any bootstraps. So Tass had to go to the shoe store the next morning, and ask for a pair of bootstraps, which came with the boots, which were expensive, and Tass had no money. So they had to do a tap dance as payment.
Then they took the boots home, cut the straps off, glued them together, threw them over a horizontal bar, and tried to do a pull-up. The glue came off and Tass tumbled to the floor. "Try sewing them," said Mother. She sewed the straps together, and Tass tried again.
This time they got about halfway up, and then got tired. "Can you help me?" said Tass.
"You have to pull yourself up," said Mother. "I'm not letting you cheat this one."
It was quite the struggle until Tass remembered that they had been carrying their rock collection in their pockets. With that removed, it was a simple task.
But the next task would be the most difficult, for Tass did not know how to find a thunderbird, nor how, indeed, to hitch a wagon to it, nor to any bird, nor where to find a wagon.
"Oh my dear," said Mother. "You do not need a large wagon. All you need is your Radio Flyer, a parachute, and a thunderstorm." She opened the garage door and rolled out the little red wagon.
"You sure are a fun mom," said Tass. "Most moms wouldn't let their kids do something like this."
"Last time I tried to stop you," said Mother, "you figured out how to pick locks with a bobby pin."
"I don't remember that," said Tass.
"You were too young to remember," said Mother. "Oh look," she said as the wind picked up, "here comes a thunderstorm now."
And indeed the wind was picking up something mighty as grey clouds glowered overhead. "You know," said Tass, "I'm thinking maybe I should just hitch my wagon to an old Ford Thunderbird."
"And have you bounce along behind at highway speed?" said Mother. "The real thunderbird is safer. You must fly, I am afraid."
"Great," said Tass. "What about the parachute?"
"Got one from the war," said Mother, as she produced a pack from behind the garden pot rack. "I should probably give this thing back, but thank goodness we have it now eh? Let's get this ready."
So Tass wound up sitting in the Radio Flyer, with the parachute lashed to the front, and the entire contraption held by Mother over her head. "I'm going to miss you when I get going," said Tass. "I will try to come back home as soon as possible."
"Miss me nothing," said Mother. "I'm going to hang on here. The parachute is calibrated for my weight, and someone needs to look after you. Alright, ready to release on my command."
"Ready," said Tass.
At last the wind blew a mighty storm, and Mother said, "Now!"
Out went the leader chute, out went the main chute, and they were up and away.
Tass realized as they flew through the storm that there was a reason most people did not travel this way. The wind was terribly loud, for one thing, and the lightning was even louder. It was rather wet, and cold. Tass realized that their mother's advice about wearing a raincoat was correct after all. And it was very lurchy, as the wind seemed to pick them up here and toss them down there.
And it was also spooky, for sometimes, when the lightning flashed, Tass thought they could see the shadow of a gigantic bird ahead of them.
But at last the storm let them go, and they floated gently down towards a canyon, a canyon so large that it seemed impossible anyone could ever cross to the other side. "Gee," said Tass. "I didn't think Spokane was in a canyon."
"It's not," said Mother. "But this is where the thunderbird took us, so this is where we're supposed to be."
"At the edge of the canyon?" said Tass.
"Maybe," said Mother. "Or maybe in the canyon. But that's where we're going, because this is the kind of parachute you can't steer."
And they floated down, down, down into the canyon, down into the little village on the river island, where everyone was gathered at the outdoor concert stage. There was a man there on the stage, a man with long golden hair and glittering black armor.
The parachute wound up covering the stage, which made a terrible mess of things.
"Palefaces invading and messing things up yet again," said someone in the crowd.
"Hey," said Tass. "Blame the thunderbird."
"Blame me," said Mother. "I picked the parachute."
The man on stage finally freed himself from the parachute, and said, "Who's the twerp?"
"Hello," said Tass. "My name's Tass Brax. Are you the King?"
"I am a king," said the man. "I am, in fact the King of America."
"Now hang on a second," said someone from the crowd. "Been a long time since there was anything like kings around here."
"Oh dear," said Tass. "My warped wish."
"This is what you get for cheating," said Mother. "Now America has a king. This is all your fault, Tass."
"Sure it is," said Tass. "Mister King, I have a question. You say I am a twerp. Would you say I am a dog?"
"Kid," said the man, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog."
"And I notice you are wearing blue suede shoes."
For indeed, the man was wearing shoes of soft blue leather.
"I get where you're going with this," said the man. "Talk to me after the concert, alright?"
So Tass had to sit through an entire concert of music they had never heard before, and they were very bored.
After everyone had gone home, Tass and Mother met the man near his wagon. The man removed his blonde hair, and lo and behold, the man had short golden hair. He removed his black armor, and lo and behold, he was wearing a glittering white suit.
"I knew it," said Tass. "It's you. The King."
"Never liked being called that," said the man. "Fats Domino was always the real king, not me. But I figured, you know, if everyone calls me The King, maybe I try the look out here and there, see if folks want a real king or not."
"The lady at the reception desk doesn't," said Tass.
"Good," said the man. "I'd hate to think everyone's too easily led. Now what did you want with me anyway?"
"The mayor told me you knew what the Brass Tax was."
"The what now?" said the golden-haired man.
"I am very disappointed," said Tass.
"I mean," said the golden-haired man, "last time there was a king around here he taxed this and that and everything. So maybe there was a Brass Tax in there somewhere."
"Plausible," said Tass.
"Or maybe," said the golden-haired man, "the real meaning of your name here is something you have to build yourself. Maybe someday "Tass Brax" will mean something important all on its own. It sure sounds like you're working on that. Didn't someone say something about a thunderbird? I thought I was the only one who knew how to hitch a ride on those. If you've figured it out for yourself, then…that's something to tell people."
"Sure you don't want to keep it a secret?" said Mother.
"There hasn't been much adventure around this place since I officially died," said the golden-haired man, as the wind picked up. "Give people something to look forward to."
And he climbed into his wagon, tossed a leader chute into the air, and was soon borne away.
"Time we also get home," said Mother.
And so Tass climbed into the little red wagon, tossed the leader chute skyward, and they were up and away.
As they soared towards the cloud, Tass said, "What was the answer?"
"It was a whim," said Mother. "Sorry."
"Works for me," said Tass. "I guess we have to make our own answer. Maybe we can make our own thunderbirds."
"Someone tried that already," said Mother. "But all they got was cars."
Thunder rumbled high above.
"And there's plenty of real ones to work with," said Tass.
And so they flew into the sky, away from a land of no answers.