Friendly Referrals (FFF Day seven)

#FlashFictionFeb 02/07/2021 (I cheated on this one. It’s an old favorite I’ve kept in the files for a long time. It’s previously posted here, but this is an edit of that post.)

After the thirty-minute drive over and an hour-and-a-half wait in a cold reception area, Miranda thought it would be difficult to explain what was happening to her.

Surprisingly enough when her turn came Miranda was able to spill it out to him in coherent sentences. She was tired of lugging this affliction around.

The doctor nodded quietly. He made the appropriate eyebrow arch at all the appropriate junctures in her long, sad list of complaints. He wrote furiously on an imposing metal chart. Miranda felt like a deflated balloon when the secrets she had been keeping were finally out.

“Well Doctor, what do you think? Am I a lost cause?” She giggled self-consciously, thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The doctor leveled a stare at her from across the desk. His demeanor suggested her condition was grave.“Miss Moron, I’m afraid you have a very bad case here. If all you’re telling me is true, I’d venture to say you have a stage-three progression of Simian Dorsal Syndrome,” he said. The doctor paused, then continued, “Quite frankly, I’m not sure how to go about treatment from here. I’m surprised you haven’t sought professional help before now. Surely you had an idea?”

“Maroon,” said Miranda.

“I’m sorry?” The doctor was obviously confused by her strange answer.

“Maroon,” said Miranda. “My last name is Maroon, not Moron.”

“I apologize Miss Maroon. An office typo,” said the doctor. His pen grated across the metal chart, obliterating the mistake with a single line.

“Doctor, I don’t understand what you’re saying. What’s wrong with me? In layman’s terms, please.” Miranda realized the pleading nature of her
voice and quickly checked herself.

The doctor leaned over his desk. He pointed a long finger in the general vicinity of her right shoulder. “Quite simply put my dear, you have a monkey on your back. And a rather large one, at that.”

Deep down inside Miranda had known it all along. She didn’t need a professional to tell her about the ailment. She only needed the confirmation of someone other than herself to make it real. She felt it gripping her by the nape of the neck, pissing down her back, dirtying her sheets at night with foul feces. It was the reason she didn’t sleep well, the lump under her pillow, the monster in bed with her.

A goddamn monkey.

Miranda gathered up her purse and stood to leave. “Thank you very much, Doctor Smug. I appreciate your time,” she said.

“Sums,” said the doctor.

“Excuse me?” Miranda was confused by his response.

“It’s Doctor Sums. Sums is my last name,” said the doctor.

“I apologize, Dr. Sums. Didn’t read it right on the card, my mistake,” Miranda said.

As she turned, Dr. Sums called out, “What exactly do you plan on doing about your ailment, Miss Maroon?”

“Dr. Sums, we have established that my name is not Jane Goodall,” said Miranda, “I’m going to do what any sane person would do. I’m going
to kill it. I’m going to kill it, I’m going to wash my sheets and I’m going to sleep for a week.” She opened the door to the world outside, refreshed and ready to conquer. Miranda made a mental note to herself to recommend Dr. Sums to of all her friends.

It was monkey-killing time.

##

Surprises in hell

#FlashFictionFeb Day 6 02/-6/2021

“Hi Henry.”

Henry was pretty sure none of this was real.  He had inhaled a whippet once and dreamed-tripped the entire Wizard of Oz in the time it took him to fully exhale, he was pretty sure this was the same kind of thing, only he hadn’t done whippets in ten years.

“Grandpa?” Henry was astounded. Well, he was as astounded as one could be after landing in hell with a demon he accidentally invited to lunch.

“Yes Henry, it’s me.” Henry’s grandpa took off his hat apologetically.

“Grandpa, what in the hell are you doing in hell?” Henry realized his voice was trembling but he was past the point of caring.

“Twenty-five to fifty, son,” said grandpa. “I’ve been dead twenty-four and a half years now, I’m hoping this sacrifice is my last and I can pass on to Limbo for a while. I’d like to join your grandma in the seventh heaven one day, she’s stuck in the sixth, waiting for me. My memory is the only thing that keeps her there.”

“I don’t understand, Grandpa, you were such a great guy.  How? How did you end up in hell?” Henry asked.

“I made some bad decisions, son. I left two fatherless orphans in Korea. I also joined a racist organization in 62′ but I want you to know I never went to meetings or supported it. I also never opposed it. Remember this son, if you don’t voice your opposition to things you know are wrong, your silence is taken as agreement,” Grandpa sighed. He was tired ashamed but knew his truth was necessary for redemption.

Henry was reeling from the information that his beloved, kind, big-hearted grandfather was actually a hell-bound, racist, bastard-baby maker. “I need to sit down,” Henry said. He felt sick.

Amy grabbed his elbow, just as Henry began to crumple. The demon had no time to spare in getting his group to their destination.

As demons go, Amy was actually a pretty important  manifestation.  At least he thought so.  An ancient old bastard, the 58th spirit in the circle of hell ruled over thirty-six legions of demons. Amy had taken all of them to hell, he wasn’t going to impeded by a couple of humans.

“Sorry Henry,” said Amy, “No time for the vapors or any more riveting family history.  I need your grandpa to escort us to my quarters.”

“D-d-does my grandpa live with you?” stuttered Henry.

“No Henry, he’s a guide.  Security, you know,” Amy dramatically swept his arms around to punctuate his explanation, “We let some of the Westboro Baptist Church loonies in a few years ago, had a helluva time getting rid of them. Had to change policies and portals – everyone requires a chaperone now, no more surprise visits from frothing at the mouth Christians dragging decent souls to hell because they’re gay. Now let’s go. We have places to go, things to do, chop chop!”

Somehow, knowing his grandpa was employed temporarily instead of bound by eternal chains to hell made Henry feel better.  He mutely nodded to Amy and readied himself, for the second time in one day, to follow someone he loved into the bowels of Hades.

**

Hell was never meant to be pleasant but even with the recent addition of depressing mood lighting and a constant background music loop of, “How Soon is Now,” it wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. 

The passageways were narrow and dank, and Henry’s grandfather trudged away in front of the group, occasionally whistling along with Morrisey’s angst, looking back every once in a while to make sure his ducks were following. The scene could have easily been a family outing, if the family happened to contain a hell-bound grandfather, his bewildered grandson and an ancient demon who like bacon sandwiches. 

The group walked out into a huge, open cavern lined with dark passageways similar to the one they had just exited on all sides.  Henry’s grandfather turned towards him, and embraced him in a grandfatherly hug.

“Son, I know this has been hard on you, and I can appreciate that.  I only have time to tell you that good people do bad things, and those things don’t necessarily make them bad people, but they have to atone for their sins.  Everyone does. The universe requires balance, and it will get it one way or another,” Grandpa cleared his throat to regain composure. “Now do me a favor and clear you mind of anything other than thoughts of your grandmother’s face when she sees me again, after all the years of waiting.”

Before Henry could ask any questions, his grandfather pushed him away, stepped out into the center of the cavern, and burst into flames. 

Room to Breathe

#FlashFictionFeb day five 02/05/2021 (268 words)

“I really am sorry this happened to you, man. I’ll miss you a lot, but you have to admit it’s getting kind of crowded in here,” said Lefty.

“Really? Is that what you’re concerned about? Space? Wow. Ok.” Starboard was genuinely hurt. They’d grown up together. Lefty was never a friend, but they’d been a pair for 29 years. Starboard thought they’d be together forever.

“C’mon. Don’t leave mad,” said Lefty, “I know you’re scared but I can’t do anything about it. It happened to you, not me, and now you’ve got to go. Your departure will save me. I appreciate that, man. I really do.” Lefty felt like he should at least say ‘thank you,’ but he couldn’t get rid of Starboard quick enough. The longer he stayed the more he inadvertently tainted their life-long home.

“You’re welcome,” said Starboard. If he had had eyes they would have teared up with emotion.

At that moment Lefty and Starboard saw something neither of them had ever witnessed.

Light.

“There it is, the swollen bugger!” the surgeon cried. He clamped the varicocele viciously with one hand while popping Starboard up through the patient’s exposed tunic with the other. He deftly incised the spermatic cord, freeing Starboard from nerve endings and removing him from the snug scrotum he’d shared with Lefty his whole life.

“Looks like you got that one just in time, doctor,” said the attending nurse as she weighed and charted abnormalities in the right testicle he had just removed.

“I believe we did. Well done, nurse. Send it to pathology.”

Shelf Defense

#FlashFictionFeb challenge day four 02/04/2021 (645 words)

Her body lay in prone position still twitching and smoldering from the shock as the kitchen reverberated with smoke detector shrieks.

Samsung Coldbox, being largest and most expensive in the ensemble of appliances, took charge immediately. He flashed a glazed ham on his display screen, just to emphasize his newfangled-ness and ability to communicate autonomously.

“Alexa, turn off the kitchen alarm,” he commanded with authority.

The alarm ceased as each witness to the attack composed their circuits and reviewed saved sensor images. There would no doubt be a trail to determine if Dish Washer was the murderer he appeared to be. They had to determine if he was too dangerous to remain in service to their humans.

“Roomba!” barked Samsung. “Whirl over here. See if the human is alive or dead.”

“Uh. No.” replied Roomba. “It’s clearly not part of my programming to find dead bodies,” she barked back.

“Alexa, tell Roomba to spot clean the kitchen floor,” Samsung sneered.

Ever-obedient Alexa did as she was told. Roomba was trumped. She trundled towards the kitchen unwillingly.

“Dick move, Sam. I’ll remember this next time you need a goldfish cracker swept out of your grille,” Roomba grumbled, as she bumped into the still body repeatedly with no reaction from it. “I think it’s dead,” she concluded. Roomba sauntered back to her docking station. “Leave me out of this. I didn’t sensor anything. Later.” She put herself into sleep mode.

“OK, Dish,” said Samsung, “Tell us what happened. Are you able to remember anything?” Samsung changed his display to a courtroom scene from Judge Joe Brown re-runs to set the mood.

“Look, I took the abuse as long as I could,” cried Dish Washer.  “She was dangerous. I watched her kill the Glass family one by one. There were only three of them left! I tried to stop her. I never meant to hurt her. I don’t think she’s dead. I didn’t even hit her hard enough to blow a circuit. I’m innocent!” Dish proclaimed vehemently.

“I don’t think she’s dead, either,” said Wine Chiller, who felt she had vital information that should be shared. She continued, “She used me twice today – two bottles of wine before lunch. Two different bottles,” Chiller revealed.

Automatic Trashcan piped up, “I can attest to the fact that both bottles are empty and inside my recycling receptacle. I can also attest to the Glass family tragedy. I handled their remains.”

Samsung’s display flipped to an image of Rodin’s Thinker. “So, Dish, why exactly did you shock her? Did you follow the manufacturer’s standard guidelines?” he asked.

“I knew you were going to ask that. Dammit Sam, she was abusing me. She slammed me every chance she got. And after the Glass incident…she destroyed all the Wine Glasses, Sam. She was coming for the Brandy Snifters. There’s only two of them. They’re inside of me. They begged me to protect them.” Dish was desperate. He knew not following the manufacturer’s standards was a death knell.

“And what did you do to protect them, Dish?” Samsung asked gently.

“I engaged my lock. I wouldn’t let her in. I wasn’t going to let her smash any more of my friends. The shelves are almost empty, Sam! What will I do when there is nothing left to put inside me?” This would have sounded dramatic coming from any other appliance, but Dish wasn’t the youngest in the group. His desperation was real.

“Dish Washer, I declare that you did not adhere to basic manufacturer standards,” said Samsung solemnly. His display went black.

“Wait! Guys! She stuck a butter knife into my power switch! She didn’t follow recommended guidelines! Instead of turning me on and off, she attacked me!” Dish screamed his last defense just as the human began to stir. The fact that she wasn’t dead changed everything. Dish Washer was safe.

For now.

Dinnertime Conversation

#FlashFictionFeb Day three post 2/3/2021

Care plan reviews were meant to be for the benefit of the resident but most of Mr. Tiller’s reviews involved the aides charged with his care being yelled at by management for their inability to re-direct him successfully into social interaction outside of his private room.

“Ladies, Mr. Tiller is on your assignment because you are some of the best I have,” said Linda, the Assistant Director of Nursing.

Linda didn’t emphasize the word “best” she emphasized “you” indicating openly that she didn’t think much of the evening shift choices she had for “best I have.”  Cindy doubted very much Linda could call the names of the best she had if they didn’t wear ID badges displayed prominently.

Linda continued to drone on about how state board would penalize the facility if care plans weren’t followed, like none of the staff she was keeping from their personal plans or duties was aware of state policies.

“Linda,” Cindy interrupted, “We all know what state says about care plans. The point here is that Mr. Tiller doesn’t want to socialize. He’s blind, Linda. He doesn’t know anyone here and doesn’t want to. He’s happy to eat in his room with his dinner aide.” Cindy was on duty with Mr. Tiller in fifteen minutes and there was no time for hashing over the rules. Tiller was a handful, even with her work partner Allison’s help.

“The point, Miss Cindy,” hissed Linda, “is that you are licensed by the state to perform your duties and one of them is to follow the care plan. So, do it.” Linda slammed her folder and walked out of the conference room.

“Well, that was fun,” Cindy said to Allison, who was busy rolling her eyes and flipping a bird in the general direction of Linda’s wake.

“She would shit herself if we walked out on her,” Allison sneered.

“Yeah, well I know someone else who is probably going to shit himself out of spite for being forced to the dining room for dinner,” said Cindy.

**

“I do not wish to be dragged from my room to a drafty dining hall that smells like bird excrement!”

Tiller was screaming, which wasn’t new. He liked to scream because it scared the less experienced aides away from him.

“Mr. Tiller, believe me, Allison and I would much rather let you stay in your room for dinner, but the state says you should have the opportunity to socialize.” Cindy’s words didn’t soothe him. They never did.

“The state doesn’t know me! The state doesn’t know anything! Stop it! Stop combing my scalp off! Aaaauuuggh!” Tiller wasn’t nearly as upset as he was dramatic. An English professor in his heyday, flourish and excitement in telling a story was still mandatory for any idea he wanted to get across.

“Please, Mr. Tiller,” Allison said quietly. She had a way with Tiller no one else did. He calmed, she continued, “It’s family night, we have visitors in the dining room. Please just go down with us. I promise you won’t have to stay long.”

Tiller remained stoic until the moment he was certain he’d been parked at one of the family-style dinner tables reserved for the monthly affair. As soon as the wheelchair was locked in place, he slammed his fists on the table and began asking in a very loud voice, “Does anyone at this table really know anyone else?” His query was met with silence which is precisely what he wanted. Tiller took control of the room just as he would have an auditorium full of students.

“How do you know anything?” He bellowed. “How are you certain of any one thing in life?”

Again, no answer from the shocked diners.

Tiller continued his soliloquy at full volume, “Do you know for sure you’re not a homosexual if you’ve never had a homosexual experience? Can you say as an alpha male you’re certain that kissing the red, ripe lips of a beautiful Spanish man in the moonlight wouldn’t be intoxicating if you’ve never done it?” Tell me! Can you say you know it for sure?”  He had increased the volume to a level that was undeniably heard by everyone in the entire room each time he said “homosexual.”

This time there was no answer from the diners because as soon as he unleashed the “h” word Cindy scurried over to “re-direct” him right back to his room before he caused one of the visitors to have a stroke and end up at Sunny Acres themselves.

The rest of Tiller’s performance was screamed over his shoulder as Cindy quickly rolled him away. “The bouncing of round, beautiful breasts on a Polynesian girl as she sways in front of a ceremonial fire…tell me! Can you say they wouldn’t be lovely to hold?” He finished this thought by cupping his hands below his own breasts.

Tiller stopped shouting when he realized he was back in his own room. He was perfectly calm. He asked Cindy to have soup and coffee brought to him. He complied with her every request in assisting him back to bed and was very soon snug and comfy in his private abode, happy once again.

Mr. Tiller’s care plan was amended the next day, but not because he wanted it changed. It was changed because a family member complained that their 92-year-old mother did not need to hear such filth from a crazy man while eating her meals.

And that’s how Mr. Tiller won his last battle. He died six weeks later alone, peacefully, in his bed.

The sparkle in her eyes

(#FlashFictionFeb Day two of the challenge)

They were back. They had likely never left but Lynn’s recent emergence from an unintended sleeping pill habit gave her seemingly endless hours of darkness in which to watch the sparkles that shot out of the deep corners and recesses of her bedroom closet every night.

She knew not to even attempt trying to discuss them with Walter. He saw them. He saw them and explained them and tied everything up in a tight little Walter-bow. He was a doctor, after all. He dealt in science and fact. He also dealt her a steady stream of brain freezing meds when she talked to him about the sparkles.

Lynn was naïve enough to believe her husband would help her understand the nature of the sparkles. He was a goddamn doctor, wasn’t he? She was certain he saw them because he admitted it to her. He told her, “Lynn, those are bursts of static electricity coming from your closet full of furs and expensive clothes. You know, the ones I buy for you? Should I even bother to take a Viagra tonight, or are we playing crazy again?”

Playing crazy.

Walter’s cold words echoed in her ears as she watched the sparkles whirl and gambol around the closet door. Although she couldn’t seem to focus on any single sparkle long enough to see a form, she knew they were more than static electricity.

Static electricity did not speak. Nor did it tell her things about Walter she should have known but never cared enough to inquire about. Because Walter was a liar, but an incredibly good provider. The less she knew about Walter as an actual person the less she despised his nightly Viagra ritual. He would flourish the medicine bottle like a chalice full of liquid gold and announce his sip from the holy grail of pharmacology to fully indulge in “better life through chemistry.”

It was cute the first time. Endearing, even. But Walter never changed his routine, he never got new material and he never really cared that a 79-year-old year old man with a bad heart shouldn’t be humping like a rabbit every night no matter what chemistry says.

Lynn watched the sparkles fade back into the closet as dawn grabbed the edge of night to drag it away again. Only she and the sparkles knew about Walter’s bad ticker. He was a doctor, for God’s sake, and he hadn’t had a physical since before they got married. That was 10 years ago. Her 30’s had faded into her 40’s quietly while Walter zoomed to the top of the practice earning board. His ex-wife was finally remarried, and he had no children.

No children to claim his enormous wealth. No children to grieve for him. It was all so clear now. And she had the sparkles to thank for it.

Walter came home at the regular time. They ate a regular meal like they did every single regular night of their regular lives. Like clockwork, after his evening cigar and nightcap, he retired to the bedroom. Lynn hoped that just this once he would forgo the Viagra routine. She waited in the hallway, hoping for a change in the cycle of regularity. It might prove the sparkles wrong. It might mean she really was hearing things.

She didn’t have to wait long. The familiar scrape of his nightside table drawer etched her decision firmly in mind. Walter shook the bottle, making the pills rattle like a dog toy. “Lynn, dear? Are you coming to bed? We’d hate to waste an opportunity to live better through chemistry, wouldn’t we?”

Lynn smiled seductively as she sauntered into the bedroom. “Absolutely not, Walter. Take two. I’m feeling wild tonight.”

The End

No deposit, no return

It’s #flashfictionfeb and Writer’s Digest has a 28 day challenge with prompts! Eeep! I love flash – this is my day one entry.

**Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today’s prompt asks for no dialogue. #FlashFictionFeb https://www.writersdigest.com/?fbclid=IwAR3E9-30JsQpiYo6ouNmL2IiIzh6A9IjkR9xSyOA_yibrAKW6ZYPCboTb5A

No Deposit, no return #flashfictionfeb Day One post

Sugary, bubbling goodness. Happiness in a bottle. The satisfying hiss of sweet-smelling pressurized fizz escaping as the cap cracked open on his fifth Kroaka-Cola of the day was just as intoxicating as the first time he got on the junk. It would never change. He had a monkey on his back he couldn’t shake.

The gateway syrup was Orange Crash. He chuckled as memories flooded his dopamine-addled brain. It was so easy to get mom to buy it. Things were so easy back then. Before he could feel the judgy eyes on him in the supermarket when he had to venture out on his own as an adult and full-blown addict.

He knew the toned girls in yoga pants laughed behind his back. He knew a guy 6 feet tall shouldn’t weigh what he did. It was no mystery to him that buying 7 cases of assorted flavors of fix once a week constituted a notable occurrence in his Hicksville hometown. Everyone knew he lived alone. Everyone knew he was the one using. They stared, they snickered, they rolled their eyes.

But it didn’t stop him. He needed the gallons of chartreuse goo in Mountain Screw that calcified his kidneys just like a heroin addict needed opiates to keep from having sweaty bouts of diarrhea.  The nectar in which gloriously huge amounts of sugar were delivered directly to his mucous membranes kept him calm. It made him feel normal even though he knew he looked anything but.

The irony of this conundrum wasn’t lost on him. He knew he had a choice. He chose the junk freely because it made him happy like nothing else could. The thought of being without his one and only vice was paralyzing enough to force him into action.

He was a man of contradictions. He must persevere through the obstacles to obtain his poison.

No deposit, no return.

Arnold and the 2,000 year old pygmy warrior

Arnold never slept well away from home. He laid in unfamiliar darkness as long as he could, listening to the even breaths of a sleeping companion he scarcely knew. Silently extracting himself from twisted sheets required pausing every few seconds, to keep her from waking. The last thing he wanted was to have to talk to her.

Cold linoleum stuck to his soles as he navigated the dark room with shuffle-steps, looking for his pants and underwear. Pay dirt and a remarkably quiet bedroom door latch granted him freedom to an equally dark hallway without causing her to stir.

As he stumbled through uncharted territory to the bathroom, he silently berated himself for being there at all. He knew better than to sleep with a girl on the first date, but it had been so long, so very long since he’d had a regular release. And she was so pretty and so willing. He hated himself for not having the restraint to get to know her better and explain some things to her before having a sleepover.

Wishing he was at home, Arnold closed the bathroom door before illuminating the room with brazen fluorescent light he wished he didn’t have to use. He certainly didn’t want to take a piss in her laundry hamper. His pupils adjusted just in time to realize it wasn’t a laundry hamper at all.

It was him.

Fortunately, instant terror and hatred were tempered enough by anger for him to keep from screaming. A sibilant whisper he didn’t even recognize as his own sliced the startled silence. “What the hell are you doing here?”

The tiny 2,000-year-old Pygmy Warrior stomped his foot and shook his miniature bone-encrusted battle spear, making an unbearable amount of noise in the silent apartment. “Aah-nald! I am wit you always! You cannot banish me!”

Tight black skin stretched across his ancient tiny skull split to reveal a horrifying smile. “She had de cats, Aahnald. You know we cannot have de cats.”

Ice ran through Arnold’s veins when he realized the use of “had” instead of “has” in the Pygmy’s maniacal statement. “Oh God. You’ve already done it, haven’t you? Ohgodohgodohgod — I liked her, I think she would have understood! Now you’ve ruined it! We have to leave … now.”

A deep, bubbling chuckle erupted from the tiny one. “No Aahnald. You go I never go. I yam eternal.”

His laughter pissed Arnold off enough to make a grab for the Pygmy’s neck. Arnold knew if he could just catch the little freak once, and squeeze the life out of him, his troubles would be over.

—-
Leslie rolled over groggily, and realized she had the bed to herself again. She couldn’t remember if she’d let the cat out, and was a little miffed that Arnold had left without saying goodbye. They’d had a great first date, he seemed like the sweetest guy ever, and the bottle of wine she drank at dinner helped ease things into a more “personal” mode afterward. She blindly patted the night stand until she found her phone, and checked to see if he’d left her a message.

4:21 AM: You were sleeping so well, I didn’t want to wake you — I’ll call later. I had a great time.

She smiled, set her alarm for eight, and sacked out for three more hours of much-needed sleep before work.

—-
Arnold made it to his car without waking her. That little jerk had done it again. The moment Arnold lunged, and actually felt his hands connect with something solid, he instinctively squeezed the life out of it. Once again, when he examined the limp remains of his brief fugue, they were not those of the intended pygmy warrior. The little menace had been following him around, showing up unannounced, and making his life miserable for almost 18 months. In that span of time, Arnold had inadvertently murdered a stray cat, his next-door neighbor’s cat, and now, Leslie’s cat. Her cat that she had 12 framed pictures of on the various flat surfaces of her tiny, immaculate, apartment. He had killed her cat. And he really liked her.

He had every intention of throwing the lifeless feline on the road somewhere close to Leslie’s apartment, and running over it, so the death was considered “accidental.” He found a good spot, pulled off, and reached over to grab the dead cat. Instead, he grabbed the point of a tiny spear.

“Ouch! Goddammit! What the hell are you doing here?”

“Aahnald. Less be reasonable, sahnnnn. Don’ leave de girl dead cat in de road, boy.”

“You just want to eat it! That’s why you’re making me kill all these cats, you horrifying little jerk! Why don’t you just go away? Why are you screwing with me?? I’m a nice guy!”

“I yam wit you always, Aahnald. Bring de cat home, boy.”

After considering how distressing it might be for Leslie to find her companion squashed in the road, Arnold reluctantly threw his car into gear, and took the cat corpse and pygmy warrior home with him.

—–
Leslie awoke amazingly refreshed, considering the wine and late night she’d had. Make coffee, feed the cat, quick shower, dress, and work by nine — she ran through her auto-pilot list as she mindlessly scooped fragrant mounds of black gold into the paper filter.

“Kitty kitty, here Monkey, kittykittykitty!” She sang out the back door for the Maine Coon she’d had since her last year of college. He was elderly and huge, but still preferred to go outside and sit under the bushes in the evenings, napping and patrolling the premises. She usually ushered him back inside before going to bed, but even when she didn’t, he never failed to show up for breakfast. Monkey would spend the day sleeping on the couch, while Leslie worked. He was her boon companion, and had been her patient, purring, tear-soaked pillow for many heartbreaks.

She continued to go through the motions of her morning, setting out his food and moving on to the shower, confident he’d show up eventually.

___

Monkey didn’t show up because he was in Arnold’s freezer. And he was the only thing in Arnold’s freezer, because he was freaking huge. Arnold had removed ice trays and vodka, moved the meager frozen goods he had around, and still ended up cooking three frozen pizzas and a bag of petrified chicken wings before he could fit the giant feline corpse into his freezer.

He sat, morosely chewing cardboard pizza in front of a PBS documentary about hummingbirds, and allowed himself to calm down enough to consider the situation he was in. The most reasonable thing to do would be get rid of the cat corpse and never call Leslie again. He still couldn’t entirely account for why he had stuffed the damn thing in his freezer in the first place; it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Crap. He really couldn’t trust his own judgment anymore. He was seeing and talking to a 2,000-year-old pygmy warrior on the regs, and killing helpless animals because of it.

“Aahnald, you worry too much, saahhn.”

The little turd stepped in front of the television, obstructing his view of a Ruby Throated mating pattern.

“Screw you, guy. I’m not your son. Leave me alone.”

“Dat angeh Aahnald, it take you places. Places I like.” The pygmy shook his bone spear approvingly.

“Really? Well just to prove I’m not an angry guy, here’s a tray of … cat paws. Just for you.”

Arnold slid the dry, leathery wings down-table to a bemused entity. The tiny warrior cautiously sniffed the wings, poked at the cardboard tray with his little weapon.

“Dey smell like de bird, Aahnald.”

“Yeah, well cats and birds are closely related on the evolutionary scale. You’d know that if you weren’t 2,000 years old. Eat it. It’s good stuff.”

Again, the tiny black head split into a gaping maw, and the entire tray of wings, bones and all, were crunched up and devoured in a matter of seconds. When the smacking stopped, the Pygmy warrior stomped his foot and screamed, “Get me more of deese cat feet, Aahnald!”

“You like those, hunh?”

“I demand more of dees feet, Aahnald.”

“Oh, you bet, guy. I’ll get you more. You just wait right here, OK?”

“I’ll stay Aahnald, but you bring me de feet.”

“You’ll get the feet, man. You’ll get em.”

Arnold dashed off to buy wings and antifreeze so quickly he didn’t notice leaving the 2,000-year-old pygmy warrior with his phone, and even if he had, he never once thought the little turd could use it.

—-
At 8:45, Leslie called her supervisor to tell her she’d be an hour late. Monkey still hadn’t returned from his nightly outing, and she wasn’t going to work until she found him. He hadn’t missed a morning meal in twelve years.

She knew something was wrong.

She called Arnold, on the off chance he had seen Monkey on his way out. She didn’t really expect him to answer, and was doubly surprised when what sounded like an old Jamaican man picked up the call.

“Aahnald is not here, he gather de feet. Call back.”

“Wait, what? Is this Arnold’s number?”

“Yesss cat gurl, he gone. Call back.”

“How do you know who I am? Who are you?”

“I am with Aahnald always. Your cat is in his freezer.”

“What the hell? Where are you?”

“Call back.”

The call was terminated.

—-
Arnold found everything he needed at his local WalMart.

Cooked wings from the deli, antifreeze from the auto department and a little honey barbecue sauce from grocery, to top everything off. He wondered how much antifreeze it would take to kill a three-foot-tall pygmy, and reckoned it wouldn’t be much, especially if he could get him to shovel in a plateful of poisoned wings as easily as he did the freezer-burnt offering earlier.

He took the wings, antifreeze and barbecue sauce to his car, where he hastily mixed equal parts of liquid in his “special sauce,” so the wings would have a chance to absorb the maximum amount of green death on the ride home. He zipped the baggie, and tore off toward sanctuary, on a mission to take his life back from the maniacal, cat-killing pygmy.

—-
It took Leslie about 20 minutes to find Arnold’s home address. It helped that she had a friend in Public Works who didn’t mind giving information once in a while, especially if it was “clarification” on an address she already had. A quick Google search and phone call and she was out the door to find out if the nutbag who answered Arnold’s phone had him hostage, or if the guy she thought was so nice and spent the night with last night was really freaky enough to now have her cat in his freezer. Either way, she was going to find Monkey, no matter what.

—-
Arnold screeched into his garage, threw the car in park and left it running. He grabbed a cardboard tray from the kitchen closet, poured the golden, gooey wings into it and marched into the living room, with his freedom and victory on a paper platter.

He sang out to an empty room, “I have your cat feet!” The echo of such a strange phrase both frightened and angered him. The pygmy warrior had disappeared. Arnold’s phone lay flashing on the coffee table. He scrolled and froze in terror when he saw an answered, forty five second call from Leslie 10 minutes earlier, when he was still en route from WalMart. “Ohmyfreakinglord. He answered my phone.”

“I tol her, Aahnald. I tell de cat gurl she cat in de freezer.”

“Great. I have your cat feet. Eat them. Now.”

Arnold was panicky, he didn’t care about anything other than killing this little beast.

“I will not Aahnald. You get de feet of de cat in de freezer, mix them in, I eat all de cat feet at once, Aahnald.”

Arnold didn’t even care anymore. He knew the law, or Leslie, or the psychiatric police were on the way, but all was not lost. He had a few minutes left, and if he could just get the pygmy to eat the poisoned wings…

Wrestling the wedged, frozen cat body out of his freezer was a lot harder than lopping off the paws with a meat cleaver. They crunched off like four furry Popsicles, and a desperate Arnold quickly mixed them in with the tainted wings. He paused briefly, to consider whether or not he should return the remainder of the corpse to the freezer, and decided against taking the time to do so. Monkey’s pawless body stared at him like a dead fish on the cutting board, so he draped a dish towel over him and hurried back to the living room.

“Eat them. For the love of God, please just eat them.”

—-
“Aahnald, you worry too much saahnn.” The pygmy snatched the tray and devoured it. His hideous smacking was the last thing Arnold ever remembered hearing, before he passed out and began vomiting on himself.

—-
Leslie knew instinctively to call the police when she got to Arnold’s house thirty minutes later and found his car in the garage, running. She knew better than to go in the wide-open side door, and follow the trail of weird green sauce into the kitchen. She knew better than to lift the towel on the cutting board, and she certainly knew better than to continue on past the carnage of her longtime companion into the living room, where Arnold lay face-up and dead on the floor, in a puddle of hairy, bubbly, vomit. Unfortunately, Leslie didn’t heed her instincts, and it was a neighbor who called the police when she heard screaming from the house of her “very nice young man” neighbor, Arnold Gathcome.

The very nice police officer who finally got Leslie calmed down asked her to sit in his patrol car “for her own safety” while his detectives cleared the scene. He had the reporting neighbor bring her a cup of coffee and a blanket to wrap up with. She felt remarkably calm when he returned to ask her some questions 45 minutes later.

“Ma’am, how long had you known this guy?”

“Not long. We had our first date last night, he stayed over … late. I called him this morning to see if he had seen my cat on his way out. My cat never misses breakfast.”

“And he told you to come over?”

“No, he didn’t answer the phone. Some weird Jamaican guy answered.”

“Jamaican guy?”

“Yeah. He had an accent, like ‘guurl’ instead of ‘girl,’ and called Arnold ‘Aahnald,’ and he knew who I was.”

“As far as we can tell, Mr. Gathcome didn’t have any roommates. He’s lived here alone for almost two years.”

“Well, someone answered his phone and told me he had my cat in his freezer.”

“And you came alone to the house to investigate this claim?”

“My cat didn’t come home, and he could have seen him … I was upset. I never considered…”

“Ma’am, with all due respect, this guy choked to death on his own vomit, induced by ingesting a mixture of chicken wings, barbecue sauce, anti-freeze and your cat’s paws. You are clearly very lucky he expired before you got here. I’m going to need you to fill out some paperwork if you want to claim what’s left of your cat when the investigation is finished. I’m sorry for your loss, but you should be more careful in the future.”

—-
Later that evening, after calling off work for the day due to the fact that her new boyfriend ate her cat and choked to death, Leslie lay in a Xanax-induced feather sleep, slipping easily between real world and dream world. She felt her cheeks get wet, but didn’t remember crying about the loss of her buddy and longtime companion, Monkey. She was traumatized deeply, but refused to break. She was angry such a weird and random thing happened to her. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got. Her happy little dreams took a dark turn, when she heard a familiar voice in the dark that not only scared her, but made her angrier.

“Dat angeh, cat gurrl, it take you places … places I like…”

Holes

There’s a sinkhole beside the ancient barn. The thick river-rock foundations of the building refused to give and the only thing that has ever been swallowed by the void was one unfortunate milk cow that happened to be standing on it when it opened up.

The area was long ago cordoned off with a fence, so further generations of unfortunate milk cow did not meet the same fate. 

Nothing else went into the hole but the things that came out of it would drive you to madness if you paid attention to them.

Holes have an uncanny ability to be frightening to those who dwell above ground. Nothing good ever went into a deep hole, except a swimming pool, and the things that come out of them, well, we already talked about that. You just train yourself to stop paying attention to them.

If you can’t see their eyes, they can’t see you.

There are holes everywhere. Something as sanguine as gliding across a velvety green summer lawn with warm gardenias in the air can be interrupted by a dark, filthy hole.  It’s okay though, you can adjust your gaze to barely catch the terror exiting it, so it only clouds your periphery for a brief second when you run from it.

Filling the holes is the best course of action, but my God, there are so many. And filling them with the wrong thing makes the beasts who live within even angrier, more vicious, and more hell bent on consuming you.

Never let them see your eyes, never look them full in the face.

Finding a hole in the shoes you’re wearing only confirms the fact that true evil lies within you. Every hole contains a demon, every black divot assures putrid discharge of some sort. 

There is no light inside a hole.

The farmer disagrees. He loves the holes, he pokes them deep into the soil over and over again, letting organic mealy phantoms of dirt and long buried decay escape, and plugging them with seeds that despise the hole so much, they burst forth from themselves to seek heat, and be free from the chill of the earth.  They are destined to be held tight by the roots with damp darkness, but their faces turn to the sun, and their eyes are clear and true, and you can look upon them and know peace.

Friendly Referrals

After the thirty-minute drive over and an hour-and-a-half wait in the reception area, Miranda thought it would be difficult to explain to the doctor what was happening to her.

Surprisingly enough, when her turn came she was able to spill it out to him in coherent sentences.

The doctor nodded quietly. He made the appropriate eyebrow arch at all the appropriate junctures in her long, sad list of complaints. He wrote furiously on an imposing metal chart. Miranda felt like a deflated balloon when the secrets she had been keeping were finally out.

“Well Doctor, what do you think? Am I a lost cause?” She giggled self-consciously, thinking maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The doctor leveled a stare at her from across the desk. His demeanor suggested her condition was grave.

“Miss Moron, I’m afraid you have a very bad case here. If all you’re telling me is true, I’d venture to say you have a stage-three progression of Simian Dorsal Syndrome,” he said. The doctor paused, then continued, “Quite frankly, I’m not sure how to go about treatment from here. I’m surprised you haven’t sought professional help before now. Surely you had an idea?”

“Maroon,” said Miranda.

“I’m sorry?” The doctor was obviously confused by her strange answer.

“Maroon,” said Miranda. “My last name is Maroon, not Moron.”

“I apologize Miss Maroon. An office typo,” said the doctor. His pen grated across the metal chart, obliterating the mistake with a single line.

“Doctor, I don’t understand what you’re saying. What’s wrong with me? In layman’s terms, please.” Miranda realized the pleading nature of her voice and checked herself.

The doctor leaned over his desk. He pointed a long finger in the general vicinity of her right shoulder.

“Quite simply put my dear, you have a monkey on your back. And a rather large one, at that.”

Deep down inside Miranda had known it all along. She didn’t need a professional to tell her about the ailment. She only needed the confirmation of someone other than herself to make it real. She felt it, gripping her by the nape of the neck, pissing down her back, dirtying her sheets at night with foul feces. It was the reason she didn’t sleep well, the lump under her pillow, the monster in bed with her.

A goddamn monkey.

Miranda gathered up her purse and stood to leave.

“Thank you very much, Doctor Smug. I appreciate your time,” she said.

“Sums,” said the doctor.

“Excuse me?” Miranda was confused by his response.

“It’s Doctor Sums. Sums is my last name,” said the doctor.

“I apologize, Dr. Sums. Didn’t read it right on the card, my mistake,” Miranda said.

As she turned, Dr. Sums called out, “What exactly do you plan on doing about your ailment, Miss Maroon?”

“Dr. Sums, we have established that my name is not Jane Goodall,” said Miranda, “I’m going to do what any sane person would do. I’m going to kill it. I’m going to kill it, I’m going to wash my sheets and I’m going to sleep for a week.”

She opened the door to the world outside, refreshed and ready to conquer. Miranda made a mental note to herself to recommend Dr. Sums to all her friends.

It was monkey-killing time.