A preview tale from my upcoming novel 'Recluses': Sometimes, it's all about what's in the dough.
The best friend I ever had was a turtle. Hold it…let me restate…the only friend I ever had was a turtle. I must’ve been five or six and it was my first and only pet. At least, the only one I ever really cared about. Its name was “Rocky” from the Stallone flicks. Even as a no-nothing, snot-nosed, scab-picking, butt-picking runt, I had recognized quality cinema when I saw it. I just loved that damn movie. To continue, Rocky the turtle croaked about two years later. I think I even cried. Stupid ass kid-crying over some hard-shell lizard with the personality of a tree stump. Thinking on it all this time later, I believe my fondness for Rocky stemmed from the similarities we shared. After all, that little goober favored privacy almost as much as his owner.
Anyhow, fifty-six years later and the curtain has finally come down and I can’t honestly claim another friend in all that time. Sad, ain’t it? Tragic, one might say. What do I say? Good riddance. Good riddance to the whole messy shooting match. No great loss, they’ll say of my passing, what few can even correctly recall the name. Well, guess what then? The feeling’s ain’t nothing but mutual.Probably safe to say tears won’t be shed from either camp.
Back on the subject of friendship, I can’t honestly claim that I even searched very hard through the years. Avoiding human contact was perhaps my only god-given talent, as pathetic as that might sound to the extroverted masses. Best example-I took jobs that catered to seeing as little of the human race as possible. Spent twenty-one years as a night-watchman until video cameras and motion-sensor security equipment made the job obsolete. Before that, I’d run a movie projector at the cinema for several winters. Didn’t care much for most of the flicks-the exception being classics like the aforementioned Rocky, but at least it kept me a safe distance from the constantly congregating hordes. The last nine and a quarter years I’d worked the graveyard shift at an auto-parts warehouse, spending the hour and beyond stocking shelves by my lonesome. It wasn’t night-watchman good, but all told it wasn’t too shabby a gig.
The bottom line is this: I didn’t ask for much out of life. The hell with the whole wealth and riches thing. As long as I had a warm place to sleep and edible food to fill my gut, I was good to freaking go. The hell with that wholly manufactured concept of finding true love and sharing one’s life with a soul-mate, spiritual or otherwise. From what I saw, all that initial happy-crappy romantic slop eventually led to divorce lawyers and a massive loss of material possessions, not to mention one’s sanity. Love thyself, I say, and avoid unnecessary complications. Plus, think of all the Tylenol and Tums purchases one might avoid.
I had plenty of dislikes concerning society and the human race. Ample...infinite. No denials there. In terms of pros and cons, the cons were novel length…the pros a half-sheet pamphlet. Never bothered to wonder why. Some things are just fact. Some despise due to race, sex, religion. Some hate out of jealousy…envy. Me? Well, I never really hated anyone in particular. Hate is too strong a word I think. Overused…overdramatized…over-analyzed. Over the years, I came to think of it as more a…displeasure to be subjected to the company of others. Nothing malevolent about it, really. Just wanted ‘em all to keep their distance. Kids in particular. Damn, but they drove me up one wall and down another. Nose-picking, booger-munching little ankle-chewers. And it wasn’t as if I developed some sort of phobia as an adult. Thinking back, I never liked kids even when I was one. Damn, but they grated my last nerve even then. The constant screaming, whining, crying and fidgeting, not to mention being as dumb as a box of used hammers. No lie-whenever I was faced with close contact with one of these sub-human cretins, I fled like a man jumping from a burning building, be it in a grocery store, park, or just walking down the street.
Synopsis: never cared much for teens or adults....visibly cringed at the very sight of those below the age of twelve. Point of order to whomever might be reading these thoughts: my ill feelings towards brats in general has nothing…I repeat…not a damn thing to do with the incident that left me in this…state of suspended animation. Sure, I took another life, and yeah, the life in question was a juvenile. But understand this…the arrogant punk had it coming, and besides….it seems I paid one hell of a price for my actions. Can’t sacrifice more than your own life, for cripes sake!Punk trespassed on my property after numerous warnings. Did he listen? Hey, I know it was the kid who vandalized my car that time. Saw ‘im smirk when I faced down his so-called parents-saw ‘im openly mock me, even give me the finger! A twelve year old brat shooting an adult the bird…can’t ya beat that for balls?
Well, every man has his breaking point, even those who lie like the devil and say they love all children.
The egging of my front door snapped the last straw. No, I didn’t see ‘im do it…didn’t have to, not after running him outta my yard a few days later and seeing the same ‘kiss my ass’ smirk on his grinning mug. Well, this time I was ready. Have to confess…I never thought the trap would prove fatal…really just wanted to scare the insolent little jackass. Wasn’t my fault he went running through the yard at warp speed and practically decapitated himself…the wire was translucent, true …but that was the point. Was it my fault he’d crouched down just enough to make it neck-level?Thing was set up to catch ‘im across the chest. But hey, the guilty must suffer. Bottom line: I wasn’t the one trespassing or vandalizing or…mocking an adult.
Leave it to his drunken, lard-ass excuse for a father to execute a little eye-for-an-eye retribution. Guess the fat SOB didn’t quite agree with the court’s decision. At least I can be thankful I never felt the bullet to the back of the head that took me out. Fact is, last conscious thought I do recall while standing inside my own kitchen is thinking I was almost out of Miracle Whip. Believe I was even contemplating a grocery store run when I heard glass shatter from the nearby window. Next thing I know, its foggy London-town and here I am.
So, this is death. The afterlife…or maybe it’s just a temporary aftermath, like a form of purgatory before climbing on the big bus towards a more permanent hacienda. Never was much of a believer really. Something about the concepts of both heaven and hell always sounded a little too Sci-Fi. Might as well have been watching Star Wars or ET as far as I was concerned. Guess I always figured dead was dead. Lay your empty shell in the ground to rot and all that jazz. Well, certainly won’t be the first time I guessed wrong. Only question now is…where then exactly am I?
Damn if the place doesn’t resemble a deserted eatery…and not exactly an upscale one at that. I’m certainly no expert, Mickey D’s, Pizza Hut and KFC being my eat-out chows of choice, but I’d venture to say a two-star dive at best. Couldn’t really tell at first with all the fog drifting around…like waking up in a cloud bank. Jeez, but the place is cheesy looking...walls painted every color in the crayon box…like Old Man Disney threw up on ‘em. Is it just me or do all the tables and chairs look too small? Either that, are I’m a foot taller dead than I was alive.
Well, well, well, if it isn’t the King Kong of all playpens…just like the one’s at Mickey D’s only twice as big…no, make that three times as big. Colossal, no less, freaking gigantic…like a regulation basketball court. Must take ten thousand of those damn plastic balls just to fill the kiddie pit. Damned if a grown man couldn’t drown in that vinyl swamp, much less a carpet-gnawer or two. Ha…wouldn’t mind being a witness to that, actually. Whoops, better watch thinking out loud such vile wishes or I might end up wading neck-deep in the nearest lake of fire.
Funny, but my stomach is growling for nourishment. You’d think the whole deceased thing would seriously quell the appetite. Maybe it’s just the fast-food trappings playing with my mind, but I can almost smell the burgers…no, pizza. I swear the air is thick with the aroma of a big ol’ pepperoni pizza-pie. Or maybe its bacon or Italian sausage…either way, I sure wouldn’t mind a slice or twelve about now, along with an ice-filled pitcher of fizzy Coca-Cola. Ha! Now that would be my idea of heaven, at least as the situation stands at the moment. Might as well check out the kitchen and see who exactly is wearing the apron and hope like the Dickens it ain’t ol’ Scratch himself…ha!
Wha-? What the hell was that? Sounded like a…like something shifted. Something…very…very…large. On second thought, think I’ll stay right here amongst all the non-customers for a while. After all, it isn’t like I have any appointments to keep. Got to figure a point of contact is due for a meet and greet sooner or later. Questions and answers can definitely be put on hold ‘til they show…whoever they might be.
Damn if these chairs aren’t midget sized. Can barely squeeze my cheeks into ‘em, and I never came close to qualifying as a big ‘n tall man sort. You’d almost think the whole place was built with ankle-nibb-…
Jeeee-sus, what the? Place was rockin’ and rollin’ like it’s parked on a fault line. A few more like that and I’m searching out the nearest exit….potential lake of fire be damned.
(three minutes later)
It’s…its coming from the…playpen…whatever it is…causing the commotion…sounds like it’s stationed beneath that river of plastic balls. Maybe the water pipes have busted or...the whole substructure is about to give way…
(two minutes later)
Oh…oh that just can’t…c-can’t be…I…gotta be…see-seeing…imaging…it…how can this be? They…they look like…kids…but…they…they all have f-fins…like they were part h-human and p-part fish…m-mutated and ..and swimming amongst the…the plastic balls like…like s-sharks. I…there must be hundreds of ‘em…popping up and hopping around like…like goldfish in a freaking bowl…
Sh-shiiiit…they…they see me. God h-help me…they all s-seem to be fo-focusing on me. Crawl…crawling out of the pit in w-waves…sli-slithering out of the n-netted opening….m-must be hundreds of ‘em…l-like freaking ants…directly towards m-me…got to…find a place to h-hide…t-think this out…
(ninety seconds later)
Couldn’t find…an exit…no front door…no back door. No kitchen door, for Christ’s sake!No…way out. Found a bathroom…had the words ‘young gents’ stenciled into it. Like a freaking kindergarten john, no less! The urinals and toilets are all half-sized and the sink sets two feet off the damn floor!
Don’t like being…pinned in like this, but…no option. Sure as hell couldn’t stay…in there with…those things. I…got a good look at the first wave of ‘em…naked and slimy and wriggling towards me like a…swarm of earthworms…no…no…maggots…that’s it…maggots. Worse, they…they had teeth…sharp, p-pointed…c-canines…hooked at the ends and as long as my freaking pinky. Most of ‘em were b-boys, but with a few little g-girls mixed in. All of ‘em looked five, maybe six years old…but armless…legless…squirming around on their bellies like…like sand-snakes, no less! I mean…what sick jackass could come up with this happy horseshit?It’s almost like I’m…I’m…no…I won’t…I can’t accept that. No…such…thing. No…such place. There is…no such place. This is…just some kind of…test. That’s it. I’m being tested…to decide where…where I go from here. Just have to figure out…a solution. Show ‘em I can handle whatever crazy shit they toss my way.
First off, I need to shed the yellow streak, blow this kiddie-john and then find an exit. If need be, I’ll kick, punch, and gnaw my way past the ocean of kiddie-sharks. B-but maybe…just maybe…that’s what they’re expecting me to do. Maybe…that’s what I’m required to do. Must be one of those face your biggest enemy type tests…hereafter psychobabble bullshit….an aftermath reality show…makes no difference…I’m game for whatever gets me to the next level.
Quiet out there…no more slithering noises…maybe just imagined it all or…maybe that part of the test is over. Either way…taking a deep breath and then taking a powder. I’m…outta…here!
Ha…ha…ha…he…h-he...if it w-weren’t so…traf-taf…tragic it’d…be…hi-hi-larious….they-they were…waiting for me…o-ut-outside the j-john door like…like a p-pack of wa-wof-wolves…po-pounced be-before I…could even t-take a…f-full s-step…we-well…my…may…maybe n-not pounced…mo-more like…flound-floudered…ha…ha…he…sm-smother-smothered mi-me under the-their mass…woke up in qu-ite the pac-pickle…y-y-you mi-might s-say…
It…appears…tha-that point of c-contact pee-person I was wak-waiting for wah-was here all the tam-time…hidin un-under…in the…play pit…waitin on me as the-their dine-dinner g-guest…on-only as the old s-saying g-goes…therein lies the r-rub….her-here comes t-the funny slash tra-tragic part…
…I w-was…the din-dinner!And oh…aren’t the snout…snotty-no-nosed lit-little peckerwo-woods j-just fami-famished…like th-they been wa-waitin for allll etil…eternity…he he ha! Not m-much f-for relish...religion...b-but I ha-hope and p-pray this par-ick-ular buff…fuff…buffet is…on-only a one time…de-deal… He...hell…Ju-just ca-call me the pa-piss…the pizza m-man! B-baked and slim-sliced…di-diced…and…con-consumed one slab at…a time…ahhh, the mo-mutated kiddies l-love me!Fr-from w-what I’ve seen…the me-meaty put…part of the th-thigh is the bo-boy’s fav-or-ite…while the gi-girls pre…prefer the in-intes-tinal tra-tract….I…ne-never dreamed….the-they made pizza p-p-pans...th-this dam-damn big….ha he ha…even m-my eye-lids are ex-extra crap-crispy!
Dig-giging in-into me-my cha-chest n-now…dim-damn if th-the old tick-ticker is…isn’t st-still ju-just ham-hammering a-away….even w-when dis-dislog…dislodged…
L-little s-shits…I h-hope I g-give ‘em all…h-h-heartburn….
The best friend I ever had was a turtle. Hold it…let me restate…the only friend I ever had was a turtle. I must’ve been five or six and it was my first and only pet. At least, the only one I ever really cared about. Its name was “Rocky” from the Stallone flicks. Even as a no-nothing, snot-nosed, scab-picking, butt-picking runt, I had recognized quality cinema when I saw it. I just loved that damn movie. To continue, Rocky the turtle croaked about two years later. I think I cried. Stupid ass kid. Crying over some hard-shell lizard with the personality of a tree stump. Thinking on it all this time later, I believe my fondness for Rocky stemmed from the similarities we shared. After all, that little goober favored privacy almost as much as his owner. I-I…
Jeez if this joint don’t look familiar…talk about déjà vu all over again….
And hey, is that pizza I smell?
Terry Lloyd Vinson's novel 'Recluses' is a July 2011 release from Double-Dragon Publishing!