For those of you who follow the blog, I’ve collected a good bit of my short stories and novellas (35) from here in a new book, now available on Kindle and in paperback. It’s on Amazon now, and you can get it here. So, if you like stories about forgotten goddesses, WWI horror, dark fantasy, and a little comedy, among others, feel free to pick it up.
There was a pause, and it came again, slower, more pronounced.
“Son. Of. A. Bitch.”
Kevin looked over at the man a couple of urinals away. He was on the shorter side, though a bit stocky. His head was bald, with stubble that covered his scalp and trailed down to his sideburns and cheeks to a Van Dyke. He was wearing an expensive black suit with a red shirt peeking over the top of the jacket. The man was looking down, holding himself with both hands, and rocking onto his heels every now and then.
“Sonovabitch.” He said again.
“You all right?” Kevin asked.
The man turned his head to look at him. Crow’s feet spread at the corners of his eyes, and laugh lines bracketed his mouth. He was deeply tanned.
“Yeah, it’s just when you get to be my age, it doesn’t always come unless you bully it.” He laughed, a friendly-sounding chuckle.
Kevin smiled, or at least tried to. Truth be told, he was having a little trouble now, too. He hated it when people talked to him in the bathroom. It was a toilet, for the love of God, not a public forum. He looked back down, not noticing his forehead creasing in concentration.
“Having a little trouble yourself? I hear if you blow on it, it’ll get things started.”
Without looking up, Kevin asked, “That ever work for you?”
The man chuckled again. “Oh hell, no. Just a suggestion.”
They lapsed into silence. Kevin was thinking about just quitting for now, going back to his cube. He had a meeting in about 30 minutes though, and he hated to think of being stuck in the conference room with an ache in his bladder. He felt something, the tickle that meant it was coming, and got unreasonably excited for a moment.
“Say, what department you with?” The man asked.
The tickle went away, and Kevin heaved a sigh of annoyance. He looked over at the man.
“Didn’t know that department existed.”
“You like it? Marketing, that is.” The man asked.
Kevin shrugged. He did enjoy the work. Sometimes he wished he could move ahead, though.
“Tell you what – ahh, that’s it.” The sound of a strong stream hitting the side of the urinal filled the room, followed by the smell of rotten eggs. Kevin couldn’t help himself.
“You sure you’re ok- what the hell is that?”
Smoke had started rising from the urinal, like a thick steam. It obscured the man’s face for a moment, then it dissipated almost as soon as it had come, and the man was zipping up. He took something out of his coat, and approached Kevin, who was trembling, though he didn’t know why. The man grinned, and for the first time Kevin noticed his teeth were white, almost impossibly so, and sharp. He tucked the business card in Kevin’s jacket pocket, and patted him on the shoulder, then turned and walked away, leaving the bathroom without washing his hands. After a moment, Kevin’s stream started, and he stood there in a bathroom smelling of rotten egg and pissing more out of fear than relief.
When he was done, he walked by the urinal the other man had been standing at. The porcelain was pitted and scorched, and he wondered if it had all been a prank. He washed his hands, and took the card from his pocket. It read
Beneath that was a number. The alarm on his phone buzzed, letting him know his meeting was in a few minutes, and he silenced it and tucked it away. He looked back at the pitted and stained urinal, and the business card, then pulled his phone out for a second time, and dialed the number. After a ring or two, a voice, rich and friendly, answered.
“Kevin. So nice of you to call.”
Context is everything. It’s the reason I was standing in a bodega, yelling at an old woman in a dead language and brandishing a jar of pickles. I suppose it would help to know the old lady was possessed by a Sumerian gluttony demon, and the language was Enochian. The pickles were because I was hungry for pickles, and I forgot to put them down, so I just rolled with it. Like I said – context.
Somewhere in the background, someone was talking on the phone, and in the city, a siren was wailing. I was more concerned with the old lady standing across from me, a French loaf in one hand, a bag of Fleet enemas in the other. She was wearing a sweater with an embroidered chicken on it. What can you say? Age lends wisdom, but dulls fashion sense. She blinked, and for a moment, I saw her irises turn red, like blood in water. I could see her tense to run, and I pulled back my arm to throw the pickles to stun her.
In the back of my head, I heard the bell over the door tinkle – an angel was getting his wings – and someone was shouting in Spanish. I started to throw the pickles as the old lady twitched to the right, but never made the throw. A hand, cool, with a grip like steel, grabbed my wrist, stopped the throw.
“That’s enough now, Angus.”
I spun to face the man who had stopped me, and caught the old lady walking to the register. She was wearing a smirk. I looked in to the face of a six-foot-four two-hundred and fifty pound cop. Shit. Murphy. He’s the only one that’d use my first name. He smiled.
“How’ve you been? Aside from harassing old ladies?”
He seemed unconcerned that a Sumerian demon was escaping. Probably didn’t even know. That’s what happens when you’re vanilla. Suit, tie, nine to five, and having a good cry in your car alone over a McDonald’s cheeseburger. I slid the pickles back onto the shelf as innocently as possible.
“Oh, you know. Fine. Just…exorcising a lot these days.”
Murphy looked around the bodega. The old lady was escaping through the front door. One of her support hose had fallen. The bell over the door tinkled again as she exited, and I cursed under my breath. The lady behind the counter, a middle-aged Spanish lady with long dark hair, was glaring at me, but at least was no longer calling me a puta over and over. Murphy looked back to me.
“You gonna leave nice?”
I nodded, and tried to look contrite.
“You gonna chase that old lady?” He asked.
I shook my head, and tried to look like I wasn’t lying. He eyeballed me for a moment, and seemed to decide I wasn’t worth the paperwork. He sighed.
“Okay. Out, then.”
I went, leaving Murphy behind, the bell over the door announcing my departure. The air outside was crisp, and smelled faintly of exhaust. The light was fading, and I spent a good minute looking both ways down the darkening street, trying to find my demon. After a minute, I looked behind me, through the glass door of the bodega. Murphy had just finished talking to the lady behind the counter, and was heading toward me. I decided to make like a pedestrian.
I was at the crosswalk when the door tinkled one last time behind me. The thought of that demonic old bag niggled at me. I didn’t look back.
I made a sandwich. Exorcism is hard work. Battle of wills, light versus dark, extreme personal danger – all that. I was starving. Bread, ham, pastrami, pepperoni – wait a damn minute. No pickles? I groaned inwardly. That was why I went to the bodega in the first place. Well, nothing to be done for it.
I put the sandwich in the fridge, grabbed my keys, and left. I was getting pickles. Luckily, I knew of a 24 hour store. More importantly, I knew they were a bit farther than the bodega, which was closed, and I knew they had pickles.
The door to my apartment closed behind me, latching with a soft click. I cursed the old lady under my breath all the way down the stairs, and daydreamed about a delicious sandwich, with pickles.
The grocery store was a great corporate behemoth, whitewashed brick walls and vast glass windows that reflected the parking lot and the tall lights with their bugs buzzing around them. The parking lot was nearly empty this time of night, most people done with their after-work shopping and dining, and now sipping coffee and beer in front of the TV where Sheldon Cooper or Gregory House entertained them.
The glass doors whooshed open on well-oiled tracks, and I could smell glass cleaner and an earthy aroma from the bin of watermelons in the entry. I walked past rows of carts and a hand sanitizer pump – pump pump – I scrubbed my hands – and walked into the store proper. Cool air and mingled food scents – cooling breads from the deli, and the tang of meat – hit me in the face and passed on.
I made a beeline for the pickled goods, and after a minute of walking, found them. I stood for a moment, dumbfounded by the sheer variety. Pickled okra, garlic, tiny ears of corn, Brussels sprouts – I suppressed a gag – and where the hell where the pickles? After a moment of panic, I looked to my left, and found them, glorious, tangy pickles. I grabbed a jar and wandered back to the meats, thinking I might add some salami to my near-perfect sandwich.
I was still in the aisle when I heard someone chewing. Not like you hear someone chewing when something’s crunchy, but that lip-smacking, wet and gooey, somebody’s-eating-something-raw-and-I’m-gonna-puke chewing. I stepped into the open, past the end cap of the aisle, where Stove-Top stuffing was hawking their new flavor. Mint sage, I think. I dunno – it’s gross.
The old lady was there, bent over the meat counter. She had a package of hamburger open, and was eating it by the handful. Thin runners of blood trickled down her chin and pattered on the floor. My stomach threatened to heave up the sandwich I hadn’t eaten yet.
“Hey.” I said. That’s me, master of witty repartee.
She looked up, and I saw her eyes flash red. A low growl rose in her throat, and for a moment, I thought she was going to speak. Instead, I chucked the pickles at her head.
They hit with a thud, and the pickles fell to the floor. The jar shattered, and the smell of vinegar and dill filled the air. I felt a pang of regret. I had really wanted those pickles. A moment later, the old woman’s eyes rolled up in her head, and she collapsed into the briny mess, still clutching a wad of meat. I looked around frantically and listened.
There were no shouts of alarm, no one running down the aisle. Aside from the sound of the meat cooler humming away, the store was quiet. I thanked whoever was watching over me, and weighed my options. One – run like hell, and hope nobody found the old lady before I was out. Two – my eyes fell on the service entrance to the stockroom, tucked between meat cases. Two – drag her in the back, block the door, and perform an exorcism. I looked around again, and grabbed the lady by her wrists, and dragged her through the doors.
The room was big and cold. I could see my breath in the air. I looked around. Against the far wall pallets of meat were stacked, with a pallet jack nearby. In the center of the wall was a deep freeze door, a dial next to it showing the temperature of the room beyond. A stainless steel counter with a sink stood against another wall, with a hook over it, and knives on a magnetic strip. The room had the distinct smell of coppery blood, old and new, floating through the air.
I pulled the old lady into the center of the room, and dropped her, then grabbed the pallet jack and shoved its prongs into a pallet. After a minute of trial and error, I got the pallet and the jack moving, and managed to drop the small mountain of meat in front of the door. That done, I turned back to the old lady.
I needed a circle, if I was going to get anything done. I looked around, and my brain lit up. There was salt on a small shelf over the cutting table. Probably for pre-seasoned steaks. I walked over, and sure enough, salt, Lawry’s, and a few other spices took up the shelf. I grabbed the salt, and opened the spout, then walked over to the old lady. Idly, I wondered what her name was. She was probably an Edna. They’re almost always Edna, or Bernice.
I poured the salt out in a line as I walked a circle around the lady, careful not to break or cross the line. When I was done, I set the salt to the side, and crouched next to Edna. I took a good look at her. She was lined – more wrinkled than a paper bag, and thin blue veins traced paths in her temples and across the backs of her hands. Her skin was like parchment, and nearly as white as snow, like her hair, which spiraled in wispy curls from the top of her head.
She stirred, and I spoke to her in Enochian.
“Who are you?” I asked.
Her eyes fluttered open, and she saw me. Her pale blue, rheumy eyes filled with tears, and she raised a hand to the swelling bruise on her forehead.
“What? Why’d you hit me? What am I doing here?” She asked.
I smirked at her. It was the demon, I knew. I’m no sucker. Well, that, and she sounded like Barry White with laryngitis.
“You’re free to go. You just need to leave the circle.”
She raised her head and looked around, but made no move to leave. A sneer snuck onto her lip, and her eyes flashed red.
“Look, cocksucker. Let an old lady go. Or, I can strip your skin, and eat you like beef jerky. I can fill your mother’s mouth with sh-”
I punched her in the head. I knew I’d feel bad later, but you know, Sumerian demon. Also, I have issues with impulse control. What can I say?
She slumped back onto the concrete floor, and I stood, shaking the ache out of my hand. I was pacing, trying to find a new tack, when someone passed by the meat department doors. I waited a minute, and he passed again. Shit. It was Murphy.
I ducked behind the meat pallet and waited. I saw his shadow pass again, and I prayed to whoever was listening that he was just having a hard time deciding on a flank steak. I waited another five minutes, the only sounds in the room my heartbeat and Edna’s breathing. When I was sure he was gone, I moved the meat pallet away from the door, and broke the salt circle. I hated to do it, but getting shot by an off-duty cop in Hamburgerville wasn’t my idea of fun.
I crept out of the double doors and left, my head down. Someone had cleaned up the pickle puddle. I hesitated for a moment, torn between wanting to get out clean, and wanting another jar of pickles. The pickles won out. I grabbed a jar, and headed for the checkouts, still looking at the floor.
That’s how I ran into Murphy’s wall-sized back.
I bounced off, nearly dropped the pickles, and cursed. Murphy turned, and just raised an eyebrow.
“Pickles okay?” He asked.
They were. I nodded and swallowed the horse-sized lump in my throat. I gestured at his basket.
He nodded. We stood in silence for a moment, then his turn at the register came up, and we were done talking. I breathed out a little. I started toward the line, to put my pickles down, when a sound – running feet – distracted me. I turned, and saw Edna, her hair completely wild, her eyes wide, dried meat blood on her chin, and spittle drooling from her open mouth. She was also making a noise, which doesn’t seem all that important, but it was really really annoying.
Murphy spun around just as Edna raised a ten-inch boning knife.
“Holy crap!” He yelled.
“Ack!” I agreed.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Edna added.
Then, time slowed down, and three things happened at once. Murphy drew his gun. Edna got close enough to take a swipe with that small sword of hers, and I chucked my pickles at her. Again.
Time snapped back to normal. The pickles sailed wide, and shattered on the floor, I felt what seemed to be a fireplace poker rip its away into my arm, and there was a noise in my ear, like someone popping the world’s biggest paper bag, if it were filled with gunpowder, in my ear. The world went white for a minute, and then made a sound not unlike Edna’s wail. I staggered back from the knife, and red blossomed on Edna’s blouse, right above the embroidered chicken on her chest. She staggered as well; her eyes open in surprise, and then dropped the knife. She swayed for a moment, and then fell to the floor. She didn’t get back up.
I turned to Murphy, my arm burning, warmth running down the inside of my elbow. He looked at me, then at the old lady on the floor.
Well, he didn’t really say ‘question mark’, but you know. What else are you going to say after that?
It took the cops a couple of hours so sort us out, and another couple of my hours at the hospital, where they turned my arm into a cross-stitch project. There was no inquiry. The official report said the suspect was delusional, and combative, and Officer Murphy acted in the best interests of everyone involved.
You might ask whether I wrestle with some sort of moral dilemma after getting an old lady – God rest her wrinkled soul – killed. I’d like to tell you there was nothing to feel bad for, that the demon had delved so deep and taken over so completely, the original woman was gone. I’d like to tell you that good and evil are simple things that walk the world in suits of black and white. I’d like to tell you I don’t have dark moments. I’d like to tell you that lies are easy to come by for me, and I don’t turn to them sometimes. But I won’t.
What I will tell you is that I finally got my pickles, and it was worth it.
Another past published story – I wrote this one in a sort of zone where I was convinced of my own ability to be funny. Lucky enough for me, the publisher bought it.
Everything was almost in place. Harold had read the book cover to cover, though some of it seemed unnecessary. Passages and passages on precautions, sigils and signs, secret names, and the proper way to flay a non-believer. There were diagrams and illustrations, and in one instance, an esoteric mathematical formula that was supposed to guarantee immortality, though to Harold, it looked suspiciously like the quadratic equation as applied to the alphabet.
He had come across the Necronomicon by accident, browsing eBay for rare books. It had been offered for little to no money, basically just next to the cost of shipping, and Harold hadn’t thought twice about jumping on the auction before someone else could.
“Only used once, smells somewhat of fish.” It was the only description the seller provided, and Harold actually liked fish, so he couldn’t see a downside. Also, there was the added bonus of it being a book written for the sole purpose of summoning dark powers to do one’s bidding, and Harold had plans.
It had taken some time to gather all the things he needed for the ritual. Blood of a mature virgin for instance. It wasn’t like he could go around poking spinsters with needles, so he ended up spending six months volunteering at the local blood bank, and screening every applicant that came in. When he finally found it, he had smuggled the chilled bag of blood out of the clinic in his underwear, while uttering a silent prayer to whoever was listening that his testicles would quickly re-descend.
Another hard to get item was the breath of a fish. He had stared at that sentence for some time, trying to puzzle it out. As far as he knew, fish didn’t even have lungs. He spent a lot of time and money on goldfish. At first, he tried holding their little fishy lips to a bottle and squeezing them. That ended awkwardly. In the end, he took several, threw them in a plastic bag together, and sealed it shut. After they had expired, the bag puffed up, and he considered it good enough.
The last item was “a chunke of meate from the moste dangerous beaste.” It was not pleasant, and had cost him about a hundred dollars, but he got it. Shame about Homeless Joe’s pinky finger, though. He actually felt pretty terrible about that, until he realized Joe had nine perfectly good other fingers, and he hadn’t even named that one yet.
It had been another three months of waiting, until Sarah had to take a trip to her sister’s, before he had been able to finally put his plan in action. He had kissed her goodbye and stood in the doorway, waving and watching her go, waiting until the silver Taurus had rounded the corner at the end of the street and receded behind the screen of homes on either side. When she was gone, he went back inside, closed the door, and fished the plastic bag from the toilet tank where he had been storing his ingredients.
In the dining room, he pushed the table and chairs to one side, and rolled up the area rug and propped that against the wall as well. He snipped the top off the bag of blood he had lifted from the blood bank, and with a basting brush from the kitchen, drew a circle in the center of the floor. Larger than a man, but smaller than an elephant, it was small enough to hold the entity he was summoning without risking his own safety, yet large enough to be comfortable. He didn’t see the need to make the thing any grumpier than it needed to be, especially not if that mood were directed at him.
A few quick strokes with the brush painted the requisite symbols and signs at the cardinal points of the circle, with the beast’s name at the top. Very carefully, he painted ‘CTHULU’, in letters large enough to enforce his intention. When he was done with that, he placed the finger on the east side, and the rattling bag of dried goldfish on the west. Finally, he stood in the south, and hesitated.
He considered for a moment that he could very well be quite insane by now, driven there by years of whispers behind his back. (He knew it was happening, and about him. Always about him.) He also considered the idea that this might work, albeit too well, and he would summon something so powerful it would simply break free, devour him, and quite possibly the entire block. He grimaced. The homeowner’s association would not like that.
Harold took a deep breath, and decided the only way to know was to try. He closed his eyes, began to whisper the Lord’s Prayer, then thought better of it. Probably best not to attract His attention. He remembered he had to prick his finger to start the ritual, and cracked his eyelids long enough to jab himself in the thumb with one of Sarah’s sewing needles.
Blood welled up immediately on the ball of his thumb, and he squeezed it out, then let it fall, just outside the southern border of the circle. It hit the hardwood with a wet ‘plop’, sending little droplets out in a pattern.
That done, he closed his eyes again, and began the chant the book had specified.
“Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! Ia! Ia! Cthulhu Fthagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! IA! IA! CTHULHU FTHAGN! PH’NGLUI MGLW’NFAH CTHULHU R’LYEH WGAH’NAGL FHTAGN!”
He said each sentence louder than the last, the unfamiliar words seeming to form themselves to his mouth with each iteration, his voice becoming stronger, ringing in the quiet house. When he was done, the last syllables echoed away into the empty rooms, and he opened an eye and peeked.
The circle was empty. Outside, a car drove by, tires crunching on loose stone in the street. Further off, a dog barked. Harold looked around the room, and deflated a little. He knew he shouldn’t be surprised, or disappointed, and that hoping did not make something so, but still…it had been quite a show, he thought, with all the chanting and the blood. He turned away from the circle to fetch the mop Sarah kept in the hall closet, and muttered under his breath.
“Ash was right. Klaatu Verata Nicto, my ass.” He said.
“It’s not there! What do you mean, under the stairs? Margaret? Marga- oh.”
Harold stopped in his tracks, and spun around. Someone was standing in his circle, and he blinked.
“Hello? Hello? Excuse me, who are you?” The man said.
“Har- Harold.” Harold struggled to speak for a moment. There was a man standing in the center of the circle, hands on his hips, looking perturbed. He walked back, the mop forgotten, and sat in the chair he had set just south of the circle, and stared at his visitor.
He had been hoping for a big bad. Someone or something that could put a hurt on the world, someone who could avenge all the wrongs of his miserable life. What he got was, well, not as impressive.
He found himself staring at a middle-aged man with thinning hair and a receding hairline. He was dressed in chinos and a white button-up shirt, with the sleeves rolled back, exposing what looked like an old tattoo of an anchor on the left forearm. His eyes were too small, almost beady, and nearly black. A scraggly mustache sat above thin lips, and Harold could tell it hadn’t been trimmed recently, as there were several patches of hair that hung down over the man’s upper lip like tentacles.
The man had begun to glare at Harold, and he realized with a start that he hadn’t said anything since his name.
“Who are you?” He asked the man.
“Robert Cthulu. Not that you should know.” He said. He started to walk across the room, and stopped short, as though running into a glass wall. He rebounded as if struck, and his glare grew even more annoyed. After a moment, he sighed.
“I see. You were trying to call up some demon, some greater power, right?”
Bob turned a circle, looking at the things Harold had placed at each of the cardinal points. When he reached the north, he stopped, and snorted through his mustache.
“God damn it.” He muttered, and shook his head. He turned back to Harold, and walked as close as he dared to the edge of the circle.
“You spelled it wrong, you tit.” He said, and Harold heard judgment in his tone.
“Uh, what?” Harold said.
Harold eyed Bob, and a thought flitted through his head. Maybe this is a trap. Maybe he thinks you look tasty, and you won’t know until his head flips up like a trashcan and turns into a giant leech.
Bob sighed. “Look, circle.” He pointed at it with a toe. “Can’t get out.” He pressed his palms to the air, and appeared to mime being stuck in a box.
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!” He wailed.
Harold eyed him. “What?”
Bob dropped his hands and stepped back from the border of the circle.
“Anchorman?” Another blank look from Harold. “No? You don’t get cable here? Okay, fine, just whatever – look, just look over here.” He walked back to the head of the circle and waited.
Harold followed him around, and looked where Bob was pointing. He read it – ‘CTHULU’.
“You’re missing an ‘H’, genius.”
“Well, I don’t – how?” Harold said.
Bob shrugged. “Happens. Now, how about you break this circle, and let me out?”
Harold walked back to the chair and sat down. He shook his head.
“How do I know you’re not going to eat me, or worse?” He said.
“Ew. No. But I will be very cross, if you don’t let me out. Not to mention my wife. I’m supposed to be finding pickles.”
Harold thought about it. “Why can’t you just get out? I mean, if you’re not a monster, can’t you just walk out?”
Bob sighed again. Harold thought he must be either very tired or easily annoyed.
“Fine, look. Cthulhu is my cousin. I have a bit of the old family blood in me, and it makes it more than inconvenient when people go about misspelling names and painting circles around me. It doesn’t mean I’m going to go on a murderous rampage, or traipsing off across the countryside, squashing cottages.”
Harold thought about it, and shook his head again. “How about a deal instead? You do something for me, in lieu of your cousin, and I’ll let you out. I’ll even pay you.”
Bob appeared to consider it, and when he didn’t answer, Harold went on.
“I have uh, enemies.”
Bob let out a snort. “What’ve you done? Irritated the other accountants?”
Harold pretended to ignore him, and continued. “They taunt me, and generally make my life miserable. You make their lives miserable, and I’ll pay you, and let you out when you’re done.”
“Taunt?” Bob said, as though tasting the word. “Who says that?” A look of mild distaste crossed his face. It passed, and he seemed to consider. “They made you miserable?” He asked.
Harold nodded. “Yes.”
“Did you paint a circle around them? Because I can see how that might annoy a person.”
“Please?” Harold pleaded. “I’ve only got one shot at this, and I need to know there is justice in the world.”
Bob turned away, seemed to mutter to himself. After a moment, he turned back, and regarded Harold.
“Fine, I can help. First, bring me a toaster.”
Harold stared at him, not sure he had heard right.
“Yep, two slots, lever on the front, makes bread crispy.”
“You want this done, right?”
Harold nodded, and got up. He walked to the kitchen, and unplugged the toaster. He considered emptying the crumb tray, then reconsidered. For all he knew, whatever curse Bob might cast could very well require a ‘crumb for every bit of misfortune’. He carried the toaster to the circle.
“Okay, now hand it over.” Bob said.
Harold stretched out his arms, then snatched them back at the last minute. He had almost broken the plane of the circle. He caught Bob smirking at him, and smiled weakly back, then tossed the toaster underhand to him. The man caught it lightly.
“Thanks.” He said.
He placed it on the ground on one side, so the slots were facing the wall. Harold watched him intently.
With a shout, Bob jumped into the air and landed on the toaster. It crumpled under his weight, and pieces spilled from the bread slots. He jumped on it again and again, until it was a crumpled mass of plastic and metal. When he was done, he stepped back, and leaned over, hands on his knees. When he had caught his breath, he stood, and grinned at Harold.
“What was that?” Harold asked.
“That was a perfectly good toaster. Now let me out of the fucking circle!”
“Monster.” Harold muttered.
“You should try bringing me a hairdryer next.” Bob said, still smirking.
Harold sat down. His cell phone rang, and he picked up.
“Hello.” He said.
“Hi honey. Just wanted to let you know, my sister’s sick, so I’m coming back. I should be there in a bit. You need anything?”
“Um, no, thank you. Was just going to finish up some chores and watch some TV.” He said.
“Okay, see you soon, then. Love you.”
“Love you too, Pook.”
He hung up, and slipped the phone back into his pocket. He looked at Bob, who was no longer smiling. The man just stood there, watching him.
“Gonna have a hard time explaining all this, Harry.” He said.
“Yeah.” Harold got up, dejection sitting in his chest like a lead weight. He walked over to the circle, and with a heavy sigh, smudged the line that separated him from Bob.
“Go on, get out of here.” He said.
Behind him, there was a sound like wet paper tearing. He looked back, and wished he hadn’t. Bob’s head had flipped back, and in the gap between his neck and chin were teeth. A lot of teeth. All of the teeth. Not-Bob stepped out of the circle.
Harold barely even felt the first bite.
HENDERSON HOUSE, EXT DAY
A pleasant little suburban home with white siding and red shingles. A green lawn and a white picket fence. A sidewalk winds by the house, shaded by elm trees. A child on a bike rides by.
HENDERSON HOUSE, INT DAY
A neat kitchen – wood counters, white tile backsplash, stainless fixtures. A cat clock, one of the ones you find in a dollar store, where the tail is the pendulum, and the eyes tick back and forth, hangs on the wall. A FLAN sits on a white ceramic plate. It QUIVERS gently.
A CAT jumps on the counter and sniffs the flan, and begins to lick it.
HENDERSON HOUSE, EXT DAY
SLURPING SOUND, followed by a muffled MEOW.
NOW IS THE CUSTARD OF OUR DISCONTENT
THE PENTAGON, EXT DAY
It’s the Pentagon. A building with 5 sides. Come on. A helicopter flies overhead and banks toward a landing pad.
A tall SOLDIER – GENERAL HAMNCHEESE, his chest full of campaign medals, steps off the helicopter, and is greeted by an AIDE with an armful of papers. They duck in the wake of the helicopter’s blades, their voices raised over the WHUP WHUP.
What’ve you got for me, son?
Sir, three hours ago, TMFC (Tactical Malevolent Food Command) detected activity in a suburb of Millsville, three hours outside of Chicago.
Hamncheese takes a paper from the aide and reads it. He stops in his tracks.
Is this right?
Yes, sir. I’m afraid so.
God damn it. When will they learn? I thought we had that episode of Martha Stewart in quarantine.
It got out sir.
Close up of Hamncheese’s face.
Send in the team.
HENDERSON HOUSE, EXT DAY
CHOPPERS can be heard approaching, getting louder. The boy on the bike slows, and looks up. Ropes unspool from offscreen, while men in special forces gear descend. One tackles the boy and pulls him away from the house. The bike lays on its site, wheel spinning, while the other spec operators kick in the door and charge in. There is the sound of CRASHES and SHOUTING. A helicopter descends to the street, and a WOMAN – CHARLIE – in a white hazmat suit exits and walks toward the house.
The flan is surrounded by men with weapons, the barrels pointing at it. They make room for Charlie. She turns to one of the operators.
Good- clear these men out of here and-
She is cut off by the CRASH of a rifle round being fired.
Who did that!?
It was Clydesdale, ma’am. Had a bad experience with an olive loaf, once.
A burbling sound from behind them makes them turn. Charlie’s eyes go wide.
She sprints for the door. Behind her, we can hear CHAOS.
Twinkie 1-9, Twinkie 1-9, requesting air strike on my coordinat-
There is a scream, and a gurgling sound. A door slams.
HENDERSON HOUSE, EXT DAY
Charlie, standing in the front lawn, panting in her suit. She tries to radio the team, but only gets static back.
The flan quivers on its plate slightly. Bodies lie in disarray around the kitchen. Charlie’s voice can be heard over the Operator’s walkie.
POKIE’S BAR, INT NIGHT
A MAN- BEAR ARMS – sits in a booth, putting away shots. He’s wearing stubble, flannel, and a trucker hat. Charlie approaches him, wearing a smart gray suit.
Who wantsa know?
Charlie Pander. TMFC.
You people never learn. First it was the cinnamon roll in Hamtramck. Then the foie gras in Trenton. What now? Some housewife bake a rogue tart?
Sonovabitch. I’m in.
You just said –
I know what I said. A flan killed my brother. I’m in.
Charlie hands him a file. He glances at it.
I’m gonna need a few things.
MONTAGE of Bear gathering tools, a la Evil Dead. Caramelizing torch, pickle fork, a pastry brush, and a whisk. Set to the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. SMASH CUT TO Bear’s face. He holds up a potato masher.
HENDERSON HOUSE, EXT DAY
Bear and Charlie stand outside the house. The kid on the bike starts into the frame, sees them, and turns around. You can hear him sniffle on the way out. Bear grabs Charlie around the waist and pulls her close.
If I don’t make it, tell them I tried. I couldn’t finish Dexter though. It got terrible.
He MASHES a kiss into her lips and lets go, then makes for the door. He kicks it in, and pauses, a spoon in his fist.
This is for Cameroon, you sonovabitch!
He disappears inside. There are sounds of COMBAT, and dishes BREAKING. Random CURSES fly through the air while Charlie watches anxiously. Then, a moment of silence. Charlie takes a step forward. The house EXPLODES into FLINDERS, and the SHOCKWAVE knocks her off her feet. She sits up after a moment, and brushes her hair out of her eyes. The ruins of the house are FLAMING. There is a short beat, and then Bear comes stumbling out of the house, flan on his lips. He smiles and winks. Charlie runs to him, and he sweeps her up in his arms.
How about a vacation?
Anywhere they don’t have flan. Or an extradition treaty.
END SONG: DANCING WITH MYSELF
Cupcakes, sitting on a counter. A cat licks the frosting on one.
FADE TO BLACK
In the middle of watching an episode of Saturday Night Live hosted by Ben Stiller, a thought occurred to me.
Self, I said, you could be doing something far more self-destructive right now.
I dunno, I said, I like not being insane.
Pfft. You could be an example to others. A hero. A tragic hero.
Alanis Morissette came on, and that’s when it hit me. YouTube has 10 hour loops of songs. I can be one of those people who’s looked up to as a pioneer, a brave adventurer. A lesson. I decided then that I would seek out the least potentially damaging song, and listen to it. I picked a song that was upbeat, with a positive message. To paraphrase the words of Dr. Ray Stantz, “I tried to think of the most harmless thing. Something that could never, ever possibly destroy me. Taylor Swift.”
What follows is the log of my attempt to listen to Shake it off for ten hours straight. Times are given in [hh:mm] format, for clarity.
[00:04] Not so bad. Decent song, for a pop song. Catchy. The loop starts somewhere in here, just Taylor singing: Shake it off, uh shake it off.
[00:14] I’m already approaching insanity, like one approaches a cliff in a car with no brakes. Shake it off, Clayton. Also, frangibility is a word I can’t get out of my brain. Quote from a friend who happened to be witnessing this:
Please stop. When you end up doing what you are inevitably going to end up doing, we are the ones closest to you and the least likely to get away in time.
[00:25] Everything is Taylor Swift. Even this ham I’m eating. She’s delicious, but a little salty.
[00:40] The loop is like when you want to sneeze, but can’t. It’s making my brain itchy. Only 9 hours, 20 minutes left.
[00:60] Shake it off, uh shake it off ah ah shake it off uh shake it off
[01:15] I’m worried what will happen if I stop this. Will my brain implode from the sudden silence?
[01:45] How will Taylor know I love her if I stop listening? Wait, no. She loves me, that’s why she keeps singing into my brain. My soft brain, which is exposed like a pig’s underbelly.
[02:00] No, I get the philosophy. It’s ‘turn the other cheek’ for the new generation. I want to bite through mine to stop from screaming.
[02:15] Asked my wife why she’s not blonde. In hindsight, I should’ve been more subtle.
[02:35] Saw a commercial for a pizza topped with bacon and hamburger and pickles, and I envy the person who kills themselves with it.
[02:50] Paused the music. God help me, I miss it. Catch myself singing snatches of song. I wonder how many more hours before I turn into Tyler Durden.
[03:15] Keep trying to have thoughts. Shit, what was I typing?
[03:18] Looking up vivisection on wikipedia. No idea why.
[03:23] Trying to find rhymes for hate. Crate, fellate, rate, masturbate, date. Oh God.
[03:25] It comes back around. Yeah, sing it, girl.
[03:56] I am Jack’s misery.
[04:00] Realized I missed an ahh up there. Concerned about the fact I’m picking up nuance from a Taylor Swift song.
[04:15] Am I dead?
[04:16] This is purgatory, and pretty soon, the Devil’s going to pop into my living room, pull off his mask, and be Taylor Swift underneath. Then I will scream until I can scream no more.
[04:17] Nietzsche warned us about this. Something about if you listen to a ten hour loop of a song, the song will crawl inside you and eat your soul.
[04:18] That’s it. That’s it, I’m done. No more. No more. I get it, my hubris is greater than my grasp on reality.
I come out the other side, a changed man. I can tell you three things:
Haters gonna hate. Players gonna play. You just gotta shake it off.