The Vorpal Report
By Robert Guffey
What’s wrong? she seemed to ask, tracing his bare back with her fingertip.
He shrugged his shoulders in response.
She sighed with ennui, then slid her palms down his back and began kissing him along his spine.
He stared at the blanket that hung from the top of the bunk bed above them.
Her roommate was gone. Most everyone in the dorm was gone … for Thanksgiving weekend, he assumed. Thanksgiving, he’d always suspected secretly, was like most holidays: a con to keep you in your home, stuffing your face with dead meat all day while government agents in “Radiation Suit Leisure Wear” tiptoe in your backyard, injecting your flower garden with a new chemical virus created by Mengele’s ghost up in that condo lab in D.C. with the plush red curtains.
Pherrod Hempley now expressed this long-repressed suspicion to Ellen as he watched the blanket hanging there from the top bunk. The ratty old blanket seemed to be clinging on to dear life, doing nothing spectacular really—like himself.
Ellen laughed. She leaned towards his ear, her long, recently fuchsia-dyed (cinnamon-scented) hair falling onto his head. She ground her teeth lightly on the tiny white hairs on his neck, and then on his flesh. How’re you doing? she asked.
Pherrod wasn’t sure what to say, so he didn’t say anything.
Roll over, she said softly, giggling, and pinched his butt.
His gaze dropped from the blanket hanging from the mattress above him, to the wad (Ellen’s blanket rolled up into a ball at the foot of the bed) next to his mouth. Please don’t wipe it off on my blanket, she said. One guy—some guy—did that. Real, uh … here, use this. Real disgusting.
When he wouldn’t roll over, she began attempting various ways to excite him. He lay there for a few seconds, watching the blanket slide off the mattress above him, then grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. He began massaging her pink nipple, and he looked her in the eyes and said, Nothing’s wrong. He kissed her on the lips.
Mn. She shook her head. No kissing.
So he buried his head in the crook of her neck and shoulder and went at her with four fingers.
His face was pressed into her new hair for the twelfth time that day, and for the life of him … he really couldn’t smell the cinnamon. Maybe it was just him.
But when she asked him about it later, he nodded, and said, Yeah, baby, smells nice ….
She grinned with satisfaction.
He tried not to think of these things, but as he watched the lump of blanket squatting next to his—and Ellen’s—head, he thought he could just as easily imagine himself taking her skull and ramming it into the nightclub-flyer-covered plaster of the wall four or five or six, perhaps more, several more, times … as he could taking her head in his hands and covering it with kisses, as he did now after stealing one of her roommate’s condoms that had been hidden underneath the mattress above them. The roommate was going to be surprised when she came home; her supply was dwindling rapidly. But Ellen said not to worry, she’d pay the stupid cunt back later.
Pherrod found himself wondering how she would pay her back.
I’m not paranoid, it’s just that I think everyone’s out to get me, an acquaintance who thought of himself as a friend had said to him a long time ago, why?, no one knows. But he found it funny now, as he came inside of her, and she held on, and she siiiighed underneath him, and, hhhhhhh.
He tried not to think of these things … of what she was doing (and who she was doing it with) when he wasn’t around.
But he often did.
Thanksgiving dinners. Holidays. Celebratory toasts.
What these things are, exactly, are cons to keep people in their homes stuffing their faces with dead meat all day while …
A government agent flew in through the window and—straddling his broom—landed like a rocket ship in the bathroom. It was dark. But he didn’t need a light. Infrared goggles had long been standard issue. All he needed to do was plant the vector, then take off …
This he did, in the false bottom of the medicine cabinet (which had been installed long ago for just this reason) …
Quietly, he reclosed the cabinet.
Quietly, he straddled his broom once more.
And quietly, he kicked off from the second story bathroom window sill, and with a quiet, carbine backfire, was gone into the quiet, suburban night.
Jabberwocky Outbreak Declared a Pandemic by CDC
Washington, D.C.—Over the past few weeks dozens of cities on the East Coast of the United States have become affected by an illness the Center for Disease Control is calling “Jabberwocky Disease,” a disorder that affects only the language centers of the brain. With the advent of the illness, common words are often transformed into meaningless utterances, though the victims themselves appear not to be aware of this. The victims are not affected otherwise, and the disease is not believed to be fatal.
“The breakdown this could cause in our day-to-day lives is incalculable,” says Dr. Ronald Eckert of the CDC. “Up till now, in the vast majority of instances, the deleterious effects have been gradual and intermittent; however, in rare but severe cases, the language breakdown has been abrupt and resistant to treatment. In the past few days, these severe cases have begun to multiply exponentially. Unfortunately, the disorder appears to affect not only oral communication, but written communication as well.” Dr. Eckert claims that the outbreak, within only a few days, has reached pandemic proportions.
According to Dr. Amini Fayshad, former U.S. Surgeon General, the possibilities of this disease are far more dire than one might imagine. “What adds to the general uncertainty of the situation is the fact that no reputable linguist is aware of what might occur to the way people perceive reality if the means by which human beings communicate undergoes a sudden and irreversible paradigm shift,” commented Dr. Fayshad on Sunday. “What if reality itself is shaped by the language we use to describe it?”
Pherrod tried to be as quiet as he could when he returned home early the next morning. Ellen had dropped him off after she’d planted a silent kiss on his face and throat. She had gotten out of the car with him. They had hugged, and she had whispered to him, Shhh, saw you, my box of toys, and she’d smiled, and said, Of course, of course I’ll see you on Christmas, because he had asked her about that an hour before. She’d said she buy him a present, shhh, saw you.
See you later. I love you. I’ll see you later, she’d said.
Bye, he’d said.
Now he attempted to crawl through the minefield that was his house without disturbing anybody. There was an unconscious body on the floor. He stepped over this and headed towards the bathroom to regain his bearings. He was sure the bathroom, at least, would be bodiless. Hoped.
Ahhh, privacy, leaning up against the bathroom sink. [Clik, clik, whirr, went the vector in the mirror.] He pushed himself up onto the counter, and just sat there, his legs dangling off the side. He sat there, staring at the damp white wall … blank except for some lone stains dotting the cheap plaster horizon.
Oh, Ellen, he thought. He lowered his head into his hands.
It’s always so confusing, he said to himself.
From his pocket he pulled a small card. It was a letter written by Ellen’s current boyfriend, which he’d snatched from her room while she was asleep. He’d searched through her drawers and had found some of his old letters in there, too. And some letters from her ex-girlfriend, whom he’d met only briefly.
He’d stolen the letter because it was so confusing. Bizarre. The whole thing boggled his brain and gave him a headache. So he read through it again, just to make it worse:
I’ve always wanted not to tell you to do or to be a way for me. So it makes me feel bad to ask these things of you now. But, to broaden the overlapping part of two independent individuals who do not want to lose each other, I feel that maybe I’m justified in asking for something that will alleviate some hurt in me from you. So. #1 please be strong in yourself. you are all you have. I have no intention/desire to be the rock in the “relationship” we have. I will help you, but you must 1st try to help yourself. #2 please take care of yourself. it hurts me to see you abusing your body. (food/fry stuff/alcohol) and I particularly dread the results (fat/deadness/sotism). It hurts to ask this of you because I want you to feel free completely. But I will realize that asking you to comply is quite different from making you. So. Please, above all, do what you want; this life’s too short for otherwise. But if you wish to make me happy, please take my advice. Sorry.
PS if you want to request things of me, please don’t hesitate.
It worked. His headache had grown a great deal worse. Ohhhh. He beat his head to make the pain even more fucked up. It was like the letter had been written by some goddamn robot!
Oh, yes, his headache was coming along quite nicely now. His massaged his head.
He wasn’t going to take aspirin, no! Who knew what they put in that shit?
[Clik, clik, whirr.]
He awoke with a start, sweating like mad. Smoky steam swirled through the air. The sound of rushing water. What? What is it? A fire? He fell off the bathroom counter and hit his head against the floor tile.
Hello? Who’s that?
A voice … His brother, in the shower.
It’s me! Pherrod yelled.
Oh! Ha! His brother continued with his shower.
Why didn’t you wake me up?
Huh? What was that? I can’t hear you! You know—the water!
I said—oh, forget it!
I said—ohhhh, ocelot stains.
Pherrod left the bathroom and closed the door behind him, a few tendrils of steam creeping out with him into the hall.
He could hear the TV in the living room. He peeked his head around the corner. There was his mom on the couch, drinking a Pepsi, smoking a cigarette, watching movies. The ancient VCR beneath the TV claimed it was 6:43 a.m. (His mom could always be found drinking a Pepsi, smoking a cigarette, and watching some form of television or another in the wee hours of the morning; she claimed she couldn’t sleep.) The woman on the TV was saying something like this: “… The Few, the Proud: Cinnamon, Vanilla, Chocolate, Strawberry, Butterscotch, Grape Ice. A whole new spectrum of haircare possibilities. I know, you’ve probably dyed your hair green many times. But what about lime? You see, girls, the possibilities are only as big as your archetype ramrod concentric circles …” He slid his hand down his cheek, half-asleep again, and was about to head towards the bedroom when he heard his mom say, Pherrod. Now where were we last night? He peeked his head back around the corner. His mom was smiling like that cat, that damn Wonderland cat.
I was in the bathroom, he said and trudged off down the hallway.
He slid into his bed and lay there, staring out the window. The sky was gray. It would be a gray day, like most of the days had been lately. And that was good. He lay there for a long time and thought he had a dream about snickerings in darkened alleyways, about invisible hair that smelled nothing like cinnamon at all. Sometimes he thought he made up his dreams while he was still awake, but this notion made little sense.
He thought, as he lay there, that they should make a hair dye that smelled like all the gray days put together into one unforgettable scent.
Maybe he went to sleep after that.
Maybe he dreamed.
And maybe he didn’t.
A periscope peeked over the window sill. Pherrod shot up from his bed and sprinted towards the window. But he was too late. It was gone.
He craned his neck out the window that way and this, but …
Damn it. He slammed his fist on the sill.
Radios Fall from Sky
Madison, Wis.—A mysterious deluge of antique radios spattered the roof of a Madison resident last Thursday. At least twelve 1930s-era Philco 90 cathedral-shaped radios crashed into Mrs. Mamie Bishop’s fifth-floor apartment from an unknown source. Dr. Leonard Ferman, a meteorology professor at the University of Wisconsin, suggested that the radios may have fallen from a passing airplane, or perhaps from a supply truck driving on the busy boulevard a hundred feet away. Mrs. Bishop, on the other hand, remains skeptical. She points out that the objects must have fallen from a considerable height in order for them to crash through a foot and a half of stucco and plaster. No injuries have been reported as a result of this as-yet-unexplained deluge.
School is a weird thing.
You go through all those years, trudging through the days of your life, to just end up following the same old rules later on.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting out of this place, Pherrod said, if it’s the last thing I ever do. Wow, he thought, that sounded dramatic. It’s a flat-out lie, really, though.
But that’s okay.
So what’re you gonna do with your life, man? was a question often put to him by the strange individual driving the car Pherrod now occupied. The car inched along well below the speed limit.
I don’t know, Pherrod always answered, maybe something to do with softcore porn maintenance.
Or some other incomprehensible punchline like that.
And that’d satisfy the strange gentleman for awhile.
It’s not fair to continue to refer to this individual by the identifying adjective “strange.” His name was, in fact, Billll. This fit him. Just the sounds: “Billll,” the dull, pale, clang!ing sound of heavy machinery tumbling down a broken staircase.
Billll and Pherrod went to school together. College. Community college. This is where they were going now.
Pherrod had a dilemma. You see, he could get to school every morning by taking the bus, or, with only a little twisting, finagling, begging, and only a minor amount of mewling, he could drive with the dull, pale, clang!ing of heavy machinery.
Taking the bus entailed more effort, but he saved lots of time because Billll often went on wild goose chases of the soul, kidnapping Pherrod for the ride, going to donut shops, fast food joints for the $2.99 burger-fry-coke special—which was actually only just fourteen cents less than if you bought each object individually—comic book stores, and video arcade temples. It was Hell, and he often had to perform minor sexual favors, but sometimes he got free food in return, and that was all right. Kinda. God tempted Pherrod so often, and he failed the test time after time.
The last time Pherrod took the bus, this is what happened:
It was around 9:40 a.m.,—on the bus, it was always around 9:40 a.m. because that was the only time Pherrod was ever on it—and these guys climbed on the bus. Three of them seemed to know each other, seemed to be going to work together, and the larger one hung back near the front while attempting to stick a crude drawing of a dollar bill into the metal-and-glass thingie that eats all your money—everyone’s money, that is, except this guy’s blatantly counterfeit cash.
The man cursed and physically assaulted the machine while attempting to carry on a discussion with the bus driver: So my money’s no good, is that it?/You know how long it took me to manifest this money?/What instruments I used to create this piece?/Well, I’ll tell you./I’ll tell you now./I used a Precise V7 Premium Rolling Ball for the black outline, then filled in the two-dimensional image with various colors from a Staedtler pack that contains ten different 0.3 millimeter pens with superfine metal-clad tips, ergonomic triangular barrels, and water-based assorted ink colors./Look at that green!/That’s the most realistic shade of emerald you’ve ever seen in your life, and don’t tell me otherwise, you philistine!
The man gave up on the fake dollar and sashayed down the aisle like a drunken prostitute on the prowl. To everyone on the bus: Anyone got a better drawing of a dollar on ‘em? Any Norman God Damn Rockwells on the bus this morning? Eh?
From everyone on the bus: Uh. No. Nope. Nah. Uh. No. I don’t—. Uh uh. Um … No englis. Er.
The man came to Pherrod, who was trying his best to hide behind a book. Pherrod had four quarters in his pocket. Exactly.
You got change for this genius illustration of a dollar? The man held out the crumpled, fake money.
No, Pherrod said.
The guy looooked, stared at Pherrod. You go to school?
Uh … yeah.
Live on campus?
Then how you makin’ the return trip?
Uh. My friend. My friend gives me a ride. (On that particular day Billll was, indeed, giving Pherrod a ride home.)
Uh huh, the man said, nodding. That’s good. That’s good that you’ve got a friend. Is your friend an art lover?
I dunno …
Just as I thought! the man said, perhaps to emphasize his point, and turned around and somehow—from nowhere—acquired four quarters (real ones, apparently) and deposited them in the metal-and-glass thingie that eats everyone’s money. Then he returned to the back of the bus, next to Pherrod.
You know what my paycheck looks like at the end of each week? he asked.
Looks like this! The man held up the faux dollar again. This is exactly what I receive at the end of the week for my hard labor. Does my life matter at all, eh? Does it?
I assume so.
You go to elementary school?
Ohhhhh! College, now is it? Huh! College! Yeah … Huh! Bullshit is more like it!
Um … yeah.
Eventually, the man threatened to shoot Pherrod if he ever showed his ass on that bus again.
So Pherrod took the coward’s way out: Dull, pale, clang!. (Really, though, one had to ask which route required more bravery.)
God was, it seemed, testing him.
But for what purpose?
This was the question Pherrod was currently working over with Billll on the way to school—college (!)—as they drove well, well below the speed limit …
Pherrod … my man … you just might be one of the Chosen Few. Billll reached out and played idly with Pherrod’s long brown hair.
Think of the lights, the fame!
Something’s not right.
Yes. This is true.
No. With my life. Something must’ve gone wrong. Mutated somewhere.
Exactly! Billll replied. Then: What?
Nothing. Something’s … it feels like something’s catching me about the neck. Have you ever worn a tie? I mean, a real tie? I have. Once. Graduation … from middle school. I spent the whole night worrying, sweating … because I knew. I knew that somehow, somewhere, I might get that tie stuck in something, or someone else might go out of their way to try to catch it in something, y’know, just to fuck with me. People did that. A lot. Kids. Back then. And I knew. An elevator. I was gonna get it caught in an elevator (or … or the elevator doors would catch it … for me) and I, u-unknowingly would push the arrow pointing downwards, downwards, downwards, and the elevator—that metal coffin—would begin to sink, and so would I, to my knees, as I tried to free myself f-from imminent death, strangulation, on the ceiling of the elevator. *Choke*! Coughing! Strangulation! Panting … death! Death! Yes … That’s how I feel. That sort of anticipation … Something’s gone wrong with my life, I think.
Billll was laughing very loudly, and had been for awhile now, still playing with the ends of Pherrod’s hair. (Billll’s laughter was a gushing, spewing phenomenon, and sounded like this: “Dull, pale, clang!,” except louder.)
Yeah, Pherrod thought, and continued thinking something like that the rest of the way to school.
Meanwhile, a thousand feet in the air:
Something’s gone wrong with my life, I think. This came out of a small speaker attached to the leader’s broomstick.
The two subordinate sticks cruised a safe distance behind him.
The agent turned back to them and yelled over the wind, He might be onto us!
They both nodded and gave their boss the OK signal.
Insect Escapes from Lab in Newburyport
Newburyport, Mass.—The second insect in as many months has escaped from a government-funded lab in a coastal suburb of Massachusetts. NecroCorp, a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman, was working on a contract from the Pentagon to splice the genes of a common housefly with the genes of an African bull elephant. The result was a thirty-foot-high insect that perched atop the Wilbraham home of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Crossley—located at the juncture of the Aylesbury pike, just beyond Dean’s Corners—for twelve hours straight before firemen were able to lure it onto an immense roll of adhesive paper constructed by NecroCorp in the event of an emergency such as this. “The smell was horrible!” said Mr. Crossley. “And its saliva ate through my new sunroof.”
Anthony Whateley, an attorney for NecroCorp, had this to say about the incident: “NecroCorp certainly regrets the difficulties arising from this oversight, and the Crossleys will be duly compensated for the inconvenience. We were more than happy to play our part in resolving the situation as quickly as possible. We think this incident merely underscores the need for a larger budget from Congress to ensure that an accident like this does not occur again.”
NecroCorp was already scheduled to address Congress this coming Saturday in regards to a similar incident that occurred last month when a twenty-foot-tall bloodworm wrapped itself around a Mobil Oil refinery, shutting down operations for several days.
According to NecroCorp insiders, both the bloodworm and the fly are alive and well and have been returned to NecroCorp for further study. The Pentagon refused to comment.
Can’t be literary all yer life.
This from a strange old man in Pherrod’s creative writing class.
You, said the old man, holding up a gnarled finger. I see you. Think yer young. Think yer frumjous. Think yer gonna be literary an’ take over the world, right?
C’mon. Admit it. We’re all friends here. The old man motioned towards all the other students in the class, who were, strangely, looking back at them now.
Uh …, Pherrod said.
You see, I came to this class a young lad, jus’ like you. His deformed finger shook uncontrollably. I been here since, oh … 1926, I believe. Yeah, I thought I was gonna write the world … heh heh heh heh ... Then he began coughing violently.
Uh. I’m just here for English credits.
Heh! Heck! Heh heh! That’s what you say now. Just you wait. Why, after the thirty-second course or so, you’ll see … You see, none of us here are really, uh, writers, he whispered conspiratorially.
No? Pherrod looked sideways at the withered manikins that stared blankly at their conversation. Some of them seemed to be smiling. Or was that just rigor mortis setting in?
Heh. No. That’s what you learn in the last course.
The last course?
Yep … You see, uh, that’s the final chapter. And then we’re put to sleep.
Maybe I should transfer outta this class, Pherrod said, starting to get up.
No no no no no, the old man said, laughing and coughing. You don’t have to worry about that. You’ve gotta lot of years left in you. Heh. Yeah. He poked Pherrod with his contorted stick of a finger.
Uh … what do you learn in this … final course?
Oh! Well … getting back to my story: the final course. That’s when we learn that we’re, uh, students. Not really writers at all. You see?
Well, of course you’re students. This’s a class, isn’t it?
Shhhh! The old man held up his finger to aged lips. His rheumy eyes darted from side to side at the mummies seated at the desks around them. Don’t tell them that. Of course I know it! I know everything!
If you know it, then why don’t you get out of here?
Oh! The old man’s mouth formed into the fifteenth letter of the alphabet. Noooo, I-I couldn’t do that!
Why! Uh. Because! He began sweating and nervously rearranging papers on his desk. Er. Uh. Yes … yes, of course …
Is there a reason?
Well, ‘course there’s a reason! There’s a reason for everything! Don’t think I just say things off the top of my head, do you? I do have some, uh, history with words, you know! I know exactly what I’m saying at all times!
Uh. The old man began sharpening pencils with a little red sharpener that’d been hidden inside his backpack. Well … i-if I left the class, who’d read my stuff? He looked up, teary-eyed, at Pherrod.
What do you mean?
My stuff! My papers! he cried, digging into his backpack, and pulling out two huge piles of manuscripts. And there’s more where this came from! He was wild-eyed. Pherrod was ready to run. It’s my greatest work! An eight-hundred-page epic about horseshoeing in the eighteenth century!
Oh my. How nice. Pherrod nodded supportively. Why don’t you try to sell it?
Oh, uh, no, I—I haven’t actually, uh—. He stared at the reams of paper waterfalling out of his backpack. I haven’t actually started—I-I mean I haven’t actually finished it. I can’t quite seem to get past chapter one, he said.
Ummm hum, Pherrod said. Well, that’s wonderful. I have to go now …
But class hasn’t even started! cried the old man, making a swipe for Pherrod’s arm with one hand while trying to pick up his papers with the other.
Pherrod jumped back out of the way. Yeah, I know. Well, I think I’m gonna transfer into a math class. Fuck English!
Come back here! You can’t leave!
The other zombies were beginning to stir. Pherrod made a dash out the door …
Frozen Lycanthrope Washes Up on Beach
Carpinteria, Calif.—James Revilo, 56, a local homeless man, was the first to discover a strange seven-foot-tall object washed up on the beach in the early morning hours of February 7. The object was a solid block of ice containing a hairy humanoid creature that biologists at UC Santa Barbara have decided to call “the werewolf.”
“It’s a tremendous find,” says Dr. Florentine, “to prove the existence of a creature that many have believed to be mythical for so long. We intend to perform a battery of tests on the creature over the course of the coming months. Once it’s thawed out, we hope to discover if it was once human. If so, we may have discovered a missing link that will explain numerous mysteries regarding the secrets of evolution.”
Little is known about this anomalous creature, except that it was frozen wearing a dark green jumpsuit, leading to the suspicion that it had once been a human being. “Or perhaps merely a creature attempting to emulate a human being,” says Dr. Florentine. “It’s hard to tell until we cut open the carcass and explore the possibilities. I, for one, can hardly begin to wait.”
Some Santa Barbara and Carpinteria residents have voiced concerns about having such a potentially dangerous beast stored so close to their homes. Ms. Ann Drigenberg, a local representative of the Carpinteria Homeowners Association, has stated, “We intend on putting this useless research on the skids ASAP. What if this thing comes to life and attacks our children? Who knows what it could do, or what deadly viruses might have been frozen with it?”
When asked about these concerns, Dr. Florentine replied, “This specimen is unlikely to be restored to life. After all, when was the last time you saw, say, a mammoth fossil come to life? Such colorful events only occur in the movies, alas.”
As for the potential threat of viruses, Dr. Florentine added, “We have no way of knowing at the moment when or how the werewolf was frozen, but the presence of the jumpsuit certainly indicates that whatever tragedy befell the specimen occurred in the modern era. I can assure you there are no dangerous Paleolithic viruses lurking within this block of ice.”
Rev. Horton Cather of the Carpinteria Baptist Church held a press conference this past weekend in which he voiced his opinion that the specimen had been created by Satan. “Ain’t no where, ain’t no how, can you find a single reference to a werewolf in the Holy Bible, no sir, not even in the Book of Revelations itself! I think this suggests something of vast significance. This suggests the beast was molded by the scaly hands of the Prince of Darkness himself! How can you deny this?” Rev. Cather then collected sizeable donations from his parishioners for the purpose of purchasing a cache of silver bullets to protect the city from the beast in case it should rise from its frozen grave.
Other churchmen had differing opinions. Rev. Roderick Pollack of the Santa Barbara Methodist Church held a press conference the same weekend, in which he stated that the specimen was created by God in order to test the faith of Christians everywhere. “Do not believe the hype!” said Rev. Roderick Pollack on Sunday. “This creature, like each and every single dinosaur fossil that preceded it, was planted on this Earth in God’s wisdom to separate the faithful from the doubting, the monastic from the merely secular. Those of you who choose to accept the existence of this demon tempt the wrath of God Almighty! Worship at the hollow altar of these atheistic scientists and their werewolf demigod only if you wish to turn your back on the path of the righteous!”
When asked about the concerns of these influential Church leaders, Dr. Florentine said, “The Church said the same thing about Galileo. A few hundred years later, guess what? Those oh-so-faithful Church leaders are dead and buried and the Earth still revolves around the sun.” Dr. Florentine’s team of scientists plans to complete the thawing of the specimen this Friday.
The sky was grey. It would be a grey day, like most of the days had been lately.
Pherrod sat at his living room table. Empty milk cartons tipped over onto their sides littered the syrup-stained table. From the kitchen, a strange and wondrous, murky gurgling emanated.
Pherrod’s elbows were planted on the table, his face in his hands. He stared longingly … at something …
The window. A sheath of rain covered the outside. The gurgling from the kitchen was getting louder. But Pherrod was used to it. By now.
It was 1:54. At least, that was what his wristwatch said. He stared at it working and working, the hands going round and round …
Something there, out of the corner of his eye: the window. A sheath of rain covered the outside … and …
A figure ducked around the corner. Pherrod got up from the table. Furry, twizzly things from his sweater stuck to the syrup on the table. He approached the window. Had he seen that? Little guy? In a hat and coat? Looked like the guy in the Neighborhood Watch signs?
When he was a kid, just turning eight, Pherrod’s mom had consigned him to the hell of walking home from school … alone. She would walk him there. But he had to come back by himself.
Every day, that walk was a twelve-block-long nightmare. Don’t talk to strangers, his parents had told him.
Er, uh, why? Uh … well, because you might get kidnapped.
What d’ya mean?
You might get snatched by a man. A man who likes to steal little boys away from their homes, so that they never see their mommies again. You see?
Wh—? And you’re sending me out there?
It’ll be all right—
I don’t want to go! You can’t make me!
Then he’d seen a movie in school about the dangers of accepting candy from strangers. A small boy—like himself—is seen approaching a mysterious vehicle, out of which sticks a gloved hand clutching a candy cane. The boy reaches out for the cane … the hand is quicker than the eye … the cane disappears, the gloved hand grabs the child’s arm, and the kid is gone … *poof!* … into the void … into the land where the naughty boys go, the ones who disobey direct orders … After that, Pherrod made sure to look out for mysterious vehicles driven by strange, gloved men … When a man happened to be walking towards him on the street corner, he would tense and be ready to yell … The man would pass on without having tried anything. But then again, the man hadn’t been wearing any gloves … Later, he realized that kidnappers could look like anyone, not just insane bikers and men with gloves. Why, women could be kidnappers too! Old women could be kidnappers! Now he knew no one could be trusted. That was the first imperative: Trust no one … Then he saw the two important movies that changed his life (it must’ve been early on a Saturday morning on the Tom Hatten Show): The Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. This proved it. Even his parents could be kidnappers, or aliens! How would he know? They might be monsters intent on taking over the world. He would stop them.
He planted needles (a battalion of them) from his “mom’s” sewing kit underneath the thin covering on his “dad’s” favorite spot on the couch. When Dad sat down, KLTTTCH! That would be the end of the menace! One down, one to go!
But it didn’t quite work out that way. His “dad” got hurt only marginally and, after the initial shock, was still in possession of enough of his basic motor skills to spank Pherrod quite severely and send him to bed without supper, which was no way to treat a savior of the Earth. But Pherrod was lucky. At least he didn’t get his brain sucked out like he expected. He knew this strange pair was still trying to get him off-balance. They probably thought the “needle incident” was just a childish prank, not an attempt to sabotage their entire Earth-based operations. Well, not to fear. Pherrod, alien-invasion thwarter, still had some tricks up his sleeve …
This battle would continue all the way through his teenage years, though his parents would never quite realize it.
Ever since those impressionable years, Pherrod had had a distinct distrust of all men in black coats and gloves, of cars, of candy canes and education (education, of course, was its own form of kidnapping).
And of strange little men lurking outside his window on a rainy afternoon … Pherrod peered through the long-unwashed glass. All he could see was rain, rain, rain. He tiptoed towards the door. He unlocked the web of chains, then stepped back. He opened the door. Rain, rain, rain.
Rain sheathed his face as he stepped out onto the porch. It was a rare event, this downpour. The news said it had been raining all morning, although Pherrod hadn’t even been aware of it. He had been in bed all morning. His life had become a series of late-night movies when he wasn’t in class. And when he was in class he was too tired from watching late-night movies to stay awake during the lectures. Last night there had been a movie on about a family lost at sea. They’d been caught on a desert island or something like that. It was the old Swiss Family Robinson schtick but updated for this late-‘70s TV flick. So anyway, this family hasn’t had anything to drink for days, and it begins raining, and there’s a close-up shot, and the girl (the daughter—there’s always an annoying daughter in these things … and an even snottier son) opens her mouth and lets the rain in, in, in … a real glorious moment. Currently, Pherrod lets some droplets fall into his own mouth. It had never occurred to him to do that. For some reason, he always assumed it wouldn’t be good for you. Some silly conspiracy theory having to do with poisoned rain, perhaps …
Uhhhh, that’s really not good for you.
Pherrod jumped. He turned around. It was a froggy voice attached to a little rat of a man. The man was peeking over a row of plants the landlady had put out on Pherrod’s deck for some reason. Pherrod hated plants (most of the time). He’d meant to tell her to get them the heck out of there for about nine months now. But it had always slipped his mind.
I-it really isn’t good for you. Trust me.
Who the hell are you? Pherrod asked indignantly, as if he were offended, but he really wasn’t.
The man cringed at the sound of Pherrod’s voice. He ducked down further behind the plants.
Wh—? What’re you doing now? What a weird little man.
P-please. Don’t yell at me. The man sounded like a mixture of Droopy the dog and that Froggy kid from the world-famous Little Rascals. Th-they might hear you! His bulging eyes darted from side to side above the leaves of the sagging mass of plants.
Who’s ‘They’? Pherrod began darting his own eyes about …
The man was now submerged within the plants. All Pherrod could see was the man’s black, wide-brimmed hat, bobbing there nervously above the foliage. Th-that’s why I had to lure you out here. Otherwise, th-they might hear us. And you wouldn’t want that. Trust me.
Trust you? I don’t even know you, Pherrod whispered.
E-exactly, the man said, returning the whisper. And in this day and age, who can you trust more than someone you don’t know?
Pherrod thought about it, puzzled. I don’t know, he answered.
Come closer, the man said. I must tell you something and you must hear it.
Pherrod began approaching the jittering mass of plants when, suddenly, from out of nowhere, a small bomb (looking like a cannonball with a fuse on top) fell on top of the little man and blew him to pieces, and if not pieces, then to small, jagged-like, interlocking sections. Which did Pherrod no good. He stood there, mouth agape, staring at the complex human jigsaw in front of him.
He thought he heard deep laughter trailing off into the greyness. Pherrod dashed to the edge of the porch railing (which was amazingly unscathed) and craned his neck into the rain. Nothing. He saw no one.
Stepping over the red mess, Pherrod lumbered back into his room, in a daze, and plopped himself down into his seat at the living room table … with the milk cartons, the syrup … staring out the window, at the greyness, the rain coming down …
The kitchen phone rang, shattering the seemingly endless silence. He picked it up. Yes, of course. Who else would it be right now but Ellen, inviting him to see a movie with her and MMa*hew? She implied—in that coquettish, roundabout way of hers—that if Pherrod was very, very nice to MMa*hew, and did not freak out on her new boyfriend and “go all psycho” as Pherrod had a tendency to do when one of Ellen’s many lovers was in his general proximity, then maybe … perhaps, just maybe … something peculiar and kinky and very, very wrong would happen amongst the three of them back in Ellen’s dorm room immediately after the film. “Very, very wrong,” were the exact words she used.
No. He didn’t want to be her little puppet any longer. He didn’t even bother to say goodbye. Instead he slammed the phone into the receiver several times while screaming the word “No” over and over again.
Moments after this sustained freak-out, he heard a deep, authoritative voice emerging from the TV.
The voice was almost as loud as the gurgling from the kitchen. Pherrod turned his chair towards the machine and watched the newscaster talking:
“I’M SORRY, BUT YOU HAVE NO MORE CHOICES. It’s the beginning of the new year, and Congress has created new laws. Everything is now illegal. You can’t do anything. Stop it. Stop what you’re doing. That’s no longer allowed. Punishable by a 2,000 dollar fine and a year in jail. Failure to comply is illegal. Choosing to comply is also illegal. Stand still. Lift one foot off the floor. Close your mouth. Do nothing. Sing the National Anthem. Don’t do that. The act of doing nothing is also illegal. News reporting is illegal. I must turn myself in. Turning myself in is illegal …”
Suddenly, his mind filled with inexplicable rage, Pherrod slammed his fist into the TV screen. There was no crash, no pain. Instead, the TV exploded with a loud farting noise, ejecting psychedelic daubs of paint all over his mom’s recently-cleaned walls. Who the hell filled the goddamn television with paint?
Without even thinking about it, he stuck his palms in the paint and began leaving colorful impressions on the furniture, then decorated the hand-shaped figures with smiley faces and googly eyes.
Then this thought came to him, quite unbidden: Further ontologies will soon be discovered, adrift at sundown, on the roof of a nearby Mister Xenophobe, Greco-Roman chastity breakdown a plus, an absolute must, Philomena Hypnosuit concludes in the fluff time bloodbath, manger. Yessssss.
Pherrod stared at the figures he had made with considerable bemusement, as if someone else had created them. What would his mom say? He didn’t know. He was so confused by these developments, he wondered if he should just go back to sleep. But he didn’t.
He kept playing with all those neat colors instead.
Man Killed by Black Hole
Montauk, NY—An early-morning jogger named Wilbert Denning, 23, was killed at the intersection of Flamingo Ave. and West Lake Drive when a traveling black hole the size of a quarter penetrated his forehead, killing him instantly. “Traveling black holes are rare,” says physicist Dr. Roland Seabrook of New York University, “but not impossible.” According to many theoretical physicists, traveling black holes can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a sun. They possess all the properties of a normal black hole, except for the fact that they tend to drift through space like an asteroid, cutting through any physical matter with which they come into contact. They can cut straight through a planet, in fact.
“Traveling black holes pose a great threat to the safety of the Earth,” says Dr. Seabrook. “Right now, my colleagues and I are trying to convince the President to set aside a significant portion of the defense budget to research this little-known phenomenon.”
Seabrook adds, “The traveling black hole that killed the young man in Long Island was a relatively minor one. But imagine if a black hole the size of a battleship were to enter our atmosphere. It could cut a hole straight through our country, straight through the core of a nuclear power plant perhaps. Who knows what the consequences could be?”
Dr. Seabrook plans to address members of Congress on this matter during a closed grosamer web later next week.
Pherrod liked to listen to plant music when he was confused. Though he hated plants, he preferred them to people. When in a rare, once-in-a-blue-moon philanthropic mood, he even collected them (gave them a home). Plants didn’t shit on you (not the normal ones, at least—you never could be sure of anything).
You’ve never heard plant music like this, the record store owner promised. A rare collectible, this one. It was banned in 1959.
No one knows, the proprietor whispered. He let his voice trail off and shrugged his eyebrows suggestively. He looked over his and Pherrod’s shoulders, then nodded gravely to accentuate the point.
Wow, Pherrod said. Have you heard it?
As you can see, the old store owner replied, the album is in its original wrapping.
Pherrod looked down at his hands. Indeed, the album was still contained within the plastic. Oh … yes, I can see that now, he said, a bit embarrassed.
I can let you have it for … a moderate price, the store owner said.
Howzabout fifteen bucks?
The old man shook his head slowly. Mn, no … Millicent’s tumescent handbag, furniture?
Grand Inquisitor rollercoaster, said the proprietor. Primo size.
Peanut brittle sorbet pocket, replied Pherrod, growing frustrated with the man’s nonsensical words.
Eloquent monocle, said the old man.
After a few minutes of this exasperating back-and-forth, Pherrod pulled two crumpled twenties out of his jacket pocket, slammed them into the old man’s rough palm, then left the store with his precious prize tucked under his arm. What a veritable creamy pyronaut! he thought.
Currently, he sat in a fluffy green velvet chair, grooving to the sounds of 1958’s oddest plant music. He couldn’t quite tell the difference between this and a live Frank Sinatra concert. There was the big brass band, female backup singers, and even someone who sounded like a cross between Sammy Davis Jr. and Eddie Fisher. But there was something … ethereal about it … could just … drift off … to …
When he awoke, there were thick vines bunched up around his neck, trying to strangle him. Oh, Chri—! he shouted, but was cut short by a slight pressure to his windpipe. He began coughing and wheezing. And dying, too.
The entire room was a jungle. Someone had cranked the stereo up to ten. Oh, shit, he thought, oh, Jesus, oh, tumescent day, and other such invectives.
[Clik, clik, whirr.]
Pherrod struggled towards the stereo system, which he’d gotten cheap at Costco. Yes. And he attempted to remove the thick, spindly vines from around his neck, but no deal. Sinatra/Fisher was singing from on high.
Switch it off … got to … switch … it … off … tumescent … handbag … my … ass …
Letter to the Editor
I’m not sure if this situation has been brought to your attention or not, but at roughly 9:54 A.M. on March 11th, a massive underground explosion rocked the streets of Long Beach, shaking several buildings in the El Dorado Park Estates area. A few minutes later, at 9:59 A.M., a fifteen-foot-high pillar of fire shot up out of the sewer on E. Wardlow Road and Claremore Avenue, just outside Newcomb Elementary School, causing a manhole cover to soar through the air, barely missing several pedestrians passing by on the sidewalk. This manhole is located in the center of the right lane of Wardlow Road (heading east-west) about 100 meters west of Claremore Avenue (east of the 605 freeway).
The explosion was so devastating, the power went out in my entire neighborhood for over twenty-four hours. About three dozen students at the elementary school were paralyzed with fear as a white reptilian head, like that of an immense albino alligator, poked out of the sewer. The thing, whatever it was, then attempted to claw its way up onto the asphalt. Its body must have been too big, however, because it quietly sank back into the darkness below the street. No further explosions or conflagrations followed.
I called my city councilman to receive answers about what this anomalous animal might have been, but all I was told was, “We’re looking into it.” This is not good enough. Do I not pay taxes? Do I not put up with the horrible parking situation downtown, the shameful farce of convicted sex offenders being housed at 67 Alamitos Avenue only a few blocks from a high school where a teenage girl was recently raped, and my once proud port being sold to the damn Chinese? Must I also, on top of all these degradations, put up with mutant reptilian carnivores attempting to consume my child when he’s innocently going about his day enjoying recess with his friends? What manner of creature was this thing? Did the explosion and the fire merely roust the beast from its lair or was the explosion and fire caused by the creature somehow? Is this some kind of saurian left over from the Devonian era capable of spewing streams of fire from its mouth, or just a pet alligator that survived being flushed down a toilet and transformed by time and neglect and toxic chemicals into a pale troglodytic predator living off the pharmaceutical-infused, fluoride-laden sewage flowing beneath our beautiful “International City”? Or is it some government experiment gone awry, perhaps having burst free from its plexiglass “escape-proof” cage on the U.S. military-owned San Clemente Island located only a few hundred feet off the coast of Long Beach?
Why doesn’t somebody in charge capture this beast? Since China likes to export their inferior products into our country, why don’t we turn the tables on them and export this fire-breathing plesiosaur into their utopian, communist republic? See how they like that. Just see how they like it. Yeah.
I expect answers to this conundrum forthwith. I’ve drawn up a formal petition. Several residents of the Historic Bluff Park District of Long Beach have already agreed to sign this petition. Will you join these citizens? Anyone who has seen this thing and wants to join my efforts to capture it, or at least explain its existence, may contact me at email@example.com.
Charles McNeil of Belmont Shore
Pherrod Hempley was eating a foot-long pizza with Billll when he found out that America had declared war.
Nomzer, he thought. There goes the pleistosphere, by misomythe. If the rest of the century is going to be anything like this, then the human race is megalomocide. Tulgey, tulgey.
A foot-long pizza, then fighting.
Pherrod left Billll behind at the dismal pizza joint and went to wait for a bus, deciding to dedicate the rest of his life to inventing a new color, one only he could see.
Giant Insect Attacks Long Beach, Aided by Werewolf Accomplice
Long Beach, Calif.—On Saturday an escaped werewolf from the University of Santa Barbara broke into an experimental NecroCorp lab in Newburyport, Mass. and fled the scene on the back of a giant insect. The two fugitives then used experimental equipment at the lab to open an interdimensional portal that allowed them to reappear, within seconds, in the skies over downtown Long Beach, California. Inexplicably, a deluge of antique radios followed them through the portal, causing a great deal of minor damage to the homes and businesses below. According to Dr. Jonathan Parsons, a physicist employed at NecroLab, “What was most incredible was that this unprecedented act of teleportation somehow affected the molecular structure of these fugitives, causing them to shrink down to the size of a miniature black hole, not unlike the one that killed that Denning fellow in New York last Thursday.” This sudden plunge from the sky was halted only when the werewolf and the insect impacted against the forehead of 40-year-old jogger Charles McNeil of nearby Belmont Shore, penetrating his medulla oblongata.
NecroLab representatives soon arrived at the scene and utilized what Dr. Parsons called “a Top Secret experimental electromagnetic device” to retrieve the beings from Mr. McNeil’s head and subsequently restore them to their previous sizes. Mr. McNeil remains in critical but stable condition at Little Company of Mary. In an unfortunate turn of events, however, the beam emitted by the device refused to turn off when commanded to do so, thus causing the fugitives to grow to over 400 feet in height.
In related news, amidst the chaos caused by these rampaging giants, prehistoric albino reptiles emerged from the sewer system beneath downtown Long Beach, rose onto their hind legs, gathered outside City Hall, and demanded to be recognized by the United States government as sentient beings equal to humans. This demonstration led to an eight-hour-long conflict between two factions: 1) the giant insect and its monolithic lycanthrope companion and 2) the prehistoric, subterranean reptile hordes of Long Beach. By the end of the day, all involved in the battle had perished. Over 3,000 Long Beach residents also lost their lives as a result.
An official proposal for a reptile memorial is now being prepared by the Paleontological Society of California (PSC). According to Dr. Anton Heuvelmans, a representative of the PSC, the current plans are for the memorial to read: “The Citizens of California Salute the Reptile Hordes of Long Beach Who Bravely Sacrificed Their Lives to Defeat the Giant Insect/Werewolf Axis of Evil.”
Upon learning about the extensive loss of life that occurred in Long Beach, the Governor of California commented Saturday, “Bandersnatch cufflinks? How frumiously uffish.” Some high-ranking representatives of the Republican Party outgrabe that a slithy intervention might cause the population to cease recognizing the basic differences between callay and callooh. People could very well begin to feel mimsy from galumph to harumph. In this regard, the President of the United States said Friday, “Reality itself is now under guff-guff stains. After all, if words cease to have brillig, then the borogoves and the momeraths will fail to prevent the snicker-snack. Gimble.” The manxome foe burbles in tulgey.
Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is Until the Last Dog Dies (Night Shade/Skyhorse, 2017), a darkly satirical novel about a young stand-up comedian who must adapt as best he can to an apocalyptic virus that destroys only the humor centers of the brain. Guffey’s previous books include the journalistic memoir Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books, 2015), which Flavorwire has called, “By many miles, the weirdest and funniest book of 2015.” A graduate of the famed Clarion Writers Workshop in Seattle, he has also written a collection of novellas entitled Spies & Saucers (PS Publishing, 2014). His first book of nonfiction, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form, was published in 2012. He’s written stories and articles for numerous magazines and anthologies, including them The Believer, Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Black Dandy, Catastrophia, The Chiron Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Mailer Review, Pearl, The Pedestal, Phantom Drift, Postscripts, The Third Alternative, and TOR.com.