Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's in the hatch

I ain't one to tell people what to do. I figure, you do what you're gonna do and I'll do what I'm gonna do and, as long as we ain't gettin in each other's way, we'll all be pretty happy. I used to feel that way about most intoxicants, too. I reckoned that, as long as people was doin it in their homes, and it didn't involve them comin into my home to relieve me of my teevee or whatnot, they could go on and get down with they bad selves. Being on a world surrounded by meth addicts changed my mind about that real quick. Them people didn't seem to have a concept of limits. Runnin through the destruction they'd wrought on their own world, followin a hunched over shadow, I got to see a lot of weird stuff. Here's what I've gathered of Methworld societal rules from my adventures here so far:

#1) No one here owns shirts with sleeves. I seen a couple of stands back round the way that was sellin shirts, mostly for Lynard Skynard and somethin called Slipknot, and every one of em had sleeves attached. Despite that, all the people I seen sittin around jungle fires around here, not a single one was wearin a shirt but it had the sleeves cut out. Also, a surprisin number of people go topless.

#2) Teeth don't seem to make much of a difference in quality of life here. There's people walkin around here with any number of teeth you could think of. The most common number of teeth seems to be right between zero and one, though I did see a guy guardin a pile of teeth big as Aunt Ruth's old woman cleavage. He was holdin a garden rake.

#3) The mullet is the only acceptable hairstyle on this world, and I ain't seen one person I would peg for a hockey or soccer player. It also looks to me that the large or colored mullet is a sign of dominance in this society, like havin a big, red butt marks leadership in baboon society.

#4) Big, red butts mark leadership in this society as well. Don't ask me how I know, I just do, and I wish I didn't.

#5) Every vehicle is, apparently, required to have a big air intake blower and giant tires on it somewhere.

#6) Meth makes you think there's something crawlin on you. I only know that from all the people rollin on the ground, scratchin at themselves yellin, "Get 'em off me!"

Tell ya the truth, under all the scared, I felt sorry for those people. It was like if you was bein attacked by a giant ball of wolves that had their tails tied together and findin out, after you was too tired to fight anymore, that there was a cute little big-eyed bunny at its heart, and that bunny wasn't usin mind control to make the wolves do its evil bidding, like Frank's bunny does.

That ain't to say I was about to go out into the explosions and start givin out hugs like it was Halloween and all the meth zombies was dressed like princesses. Just cause I feel sorry for them doesn't mean I've grown myself a whole new beard made outta stupid. Mostly because, on top of the bunny, there was still a big ball of wolves. And them wolves wasn't gettin any less ferocious as I followed this lady or feller through the fire and pain on that world.

I don't know how long we was walkin, but it was pretty long, I tell ya. It's hard to figure time when the sun doesn't come up and the stars don't turn. We didn't even stop to eat or nothin, which I thought was pretty rude. Any time I've lead someone through an alien world without telling them anything, I always make sure to pack them a sandwich or, if I ain't got no bread, at least a banana and a bag of cereal. By the time we got to the steel door set in the ground where I was told, "Go down the stairs, and watch your head," my dogs was barkin and my stomach was rumblin like two giants was smoothin out boulders by rubbin em together.

I was about to turn and ask my guide if there was food down there when the metal door slammed behind me and there was a sound like a bolt slammin home. I was standin in pitch dark on some hard dark stairs, just waitin for somethin to happen when, in fron of me in the dark, I heard a gruff man's voice sayin, "You're in trouble now, Pat O'Neil."

I went wide eyed and huddled up near the door, thinkin maybe they wouldn't see me. Ahead in the darkness, a door opened and spilled light across the hall. Whoever had spoken was still mumblin and looked to be walking around in a room just off the hallway. They didn't seem to see me, which was a bonus right then. Then he spoke again, "Pat O'Neil, when I get through with you, you're gonna be wearin your feet as a hat and walkin around on your hands."

Then another voice, very similar to the first, cut in. "Oh yeah? I got this Uncle Franky that went through somethin very similar..."

"Can it," said the first voice, "and explain to me why you ate the bacon you knew I was savin."

"Gee, Pat," said the second, "I sure am sorry 'bout that, but it ain't my fault. You see, I was dead asleep there this afternoon and I started havin this weird dream. I dreamt I was home, but it wasn't my home. There was all sortsa machines there that flew around and poked people in the eye. Well, I just wasn't gonna take bein poked in the eye by nothin, so I started grabbin at em and smashin em together and swingin em around. I opened my eyes mid dream and saw I was really in the kitchen and, lo and behold, instead of smashin a bunch of eye pokin machines, I'd made myself a BLT sandwich in my sleep. You know I can't sit there and let a perfectly good BLT go to waste, so I ate it. You woulda done the same, I know you would."

"Yeah," acquiesced the first voice, "I would. Boy do you know me."

"Almost as well as I know myself," the second voice shot back. They had a big laugh over that.
Me, I was still sittin there with my feet hurtin and my stomach growlin. You know how sometimes, when you're in the worst situation, your nose itches? Like you're sittin there in the dentists chair, and he's drillin a hole in your tooth the size of Montana and you know that drill's only an inch or so from your brain, and your nose starts itchin. You try to hold on, but it's tough. Well, as I discovered in a pretty inopportune moment, flatulence can be a little like that. Except there's no dentist and you're not in a chair. Instead, you're tryin to press yourself against a locked metal door at the top of a staircase hard enough that you can just push right through the metal and there's two strangers down the hall sayin crazy things like, "Did you hear that?" and "Sounds like we caught another one" and, finally, "Let's go check it out."

Right then, I thought of this space travel documentary I'd read one time. It was something about a guide for hitchhikers in space or some such thing. It don't really matter what the name was. All that really matters is that, in that book, there's this thing called the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal and, if you don't look at it, it can't see you. It couldn't hurt, I thought. I mean, if they can see me, it's not like they're gonna kill me MORE. So I turned and pressed my face against that metal door and wedged it up there as far as I could get it. I was determined to keep it there. After the lights came on, I tried pressin in farther, even though it made my fillins hurt.

I knew the jig was up when I felt the tap on my shoulder and heard them say, "Pat, is that you?"

"No," I said, definitively. That's what I tried to say, anyway, but it came out soundin more like "SMMMPHN"

"We ain't gonna hurt you, Pat," said the first voice, "just turn around."

And when I did, I was so surprised, I let one rip again. For a second there, I thought I might have laid an easter egg, but, thankfully, it turns out I didn't

"I know what you're gonna say," said the man with the long white beard standing in front of me.

"Oh yeah?" I sat, still stunned. "What's that?"

He replied, "You're gonna say, 'What on God's formerly green but now scorched black as the business end of a leopard is goin on here, and are you gonna finish that sandwich?' The answers are, come into the kitchen and yes, yes you can."

"" I couldn't get the words to come out of my head.

"Because I said the same thing."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Ted's Spring Warehouse

The robot pod I was in split open like the head of a Greek god that's just swallowed a fly. But I found myself to be quite unlike Pallas in two ways. First, there weren't no big ol' black bird perched on a statue of me tormentin some poor writer who misses his wife. Well, not that I was aware of right at the time, anyway. Second, I did not jump out of my prison and into the realm of the gods, which I am pretty sure is all white marble and wine and the occasional bare breast. After all, them togas is hard to keep on. Instead, I jumped (well, if we wanna be honest here, crawled) into a hellishly scorched world full of explosions and smoke. It was a lot like I used to imagine the school cafeteria looking, really, without all the meatloaf.

I wasn't sure when one of them giant ninjabots would spot me, so I tried to get somewhere, anywhere, as fast as I could. I started out at a flat run, but that pretty quickly turned into a trot, which then became a swift walk, which itself turned into a normal walk. All this took right about two minutes. Hey, I ain't no spring chicken anymore. Tell ya the truth, I had my chance at bein a spring chicken, but I wasn't much good at it. It was just after my gator wrasslin had come to an end. I was hitchin my way back up to Iowa to rejoin my family and I just plum ran outta money. I stopped in this little town in Tennessee to see what was what and where I could maybe scratch together a coupla dollars. Bein new in town, I started lookin where everyone looks, Craig's list. Seein as how this was before the internet, Craig was still goin door to door across Dixie askin people if they had anything to sell, any jobs available or any services they would like to render. He got arrested a lot for soliciting prostitutes, but he kept at it and just look where he is now. At the time, though, the only place to reliably find a Craig's list was the bus station. I found the one in this bus station crinkled up, covered in cheeseburger and coffee stains and stapled to the bulletin board behind a map of Kansas and an ad for a used bicycle. There was only one job listing and it was right obfuscated, I tell ya. All it said was, "Need a job? Willing to do something new? Not a prostitute? Apply in person," and then an address. I felt I had all the necessary qualifications, along with the hunger needed to do just about anything, so I headed on down to the address.

When I got there, it was a two story grey building with nothin but a garage door on it. I still don't know the proper manners when faced with only a garage door. I mean, I spose you could honk your horn if you had a car. If not, I guess you could treat it like a regular door and just knock, but that seems wrong somehow. Me, I went for the duck call. It may not have been right, but it was my decision to make and I stand by it, even if the owner came runnin out with his shotgun loaded and cocked, huntin vest slung quickly over one shoulder and shoutin "Where them ducks?"

"Ain't no ducks," I told him.

He seemed surprised at this. "No ducks?"

"Sorry, sir, there are no ducks here," I was gonna segue from that into job talk, but he cut in before I could.

"There was ducks right here! I had 'em in a cage, but I heard 'em out. Who let the ducks out?!"

I was lost. "Who let the ducks out?"

He shouted, "Who?! Who?!"

"I guess I just plumb don't know, sir. I just got here, though, and I haven't seen any ducks. But I did see this here job listing on Craig's list," I held the paper out to him.

"Oh, right, the job," he scanned the skies suspiciously while he talked to me. "That Craig kept comin around and pesterin me while I was workin on my masterpiece, so I gave him five bucks to get out. Instead, he posted that ad. I swear, I've been inundated with prostitutes ever since. You ain't a prostitute, are ya?"

"No, sir," I assured him, "I'm just hitchin my way back home, lookin to make some money."

He seemed to take this well. Sure, we dickered a bit about whether or not I was ready to see his "project", but he finally relented. He allowed me to cross the threshold while shouting, "Welcome to Ted's Spring Warehouse."

As far as I could see, the name was accurate as it could be. It was indeed a warehouse filled to the brim with springs. "That must make you Ted," I guessed.

He looked at me, blinked twice rapidly and shook his head. "No, I'm not, why would you think that?"

"Well, I...uh...the name..." I stammered.

"I'm Gary," he introduced himself.

After that, he explained his business to me. It was pretty basic, just sellin springs, but it took him over an hour and a half to explain it to me. Don't y'all just hate when that happens? You just want to know the short version of a story, but the durned fool tellin it keeps wanderin off and tellin other stories and by the time you get back to the original story, he's only walked five friggin feet and you just want to punch him in the ear. I sure am glad I don't know no one like that anymore. But this guy could talk up a storm. When the hour and a half had passed, I asked him two things; what my role in this whole business was gonna be and if I could have a sandwich. I was feelin hungry enough to eat half a fried goat head with a side of fish stomach. Instead, I got tuna, which is just as well.

When that was finished, Gary told me my place in this business was to dress up as the mascot. He'd arranged for a kangaroo suit down at the costume shop. But, through a combination of to much business and near-sightedness, the costume shop had sent over a chicken outfit instead. It wasn't so bad for Gary, who appreciated a good pun, but it was murder on the Tennessee Fried Chicken that was stuck with the kangaroo suit. In fact, their business suffered so much they had to pack up and move to Kentucky. I dunno what happened to that poor, retired colonel after that, but I hope he found a small measure of success there. Before I come, Gary'd been attaching springs all over the suit. He told me that all I'd have to do was put the suit on, bounce through town until I gathered a crowd and then bounce on back, bringin the crowd with me. For this, he would pay me $10, which was quite a fortune in those days.

I agreed to his terms and changed into the suit. I tell ya what, bouncin around town ain't easy, even for a young man. I got myself right winded and had a horrible cramp in my side. For about a half hour, it felt like there was an angry gnome in my suit punchin me in the ribs. I checked twice, but I never did find that little fella. Instead, I bounced around the town as best I could. I only got caught in trees four times and only one of those times resulted in the fire department comin out to free me from the tree. By the time that happened, I'd gathered quite a crowd. I reckon everyone in town must have been there and they all must have called their aunt Sallys in the next town over, Sallyville. When I bounced on back to Ted's Spring Warehouse, Gary was bowled over by my work, also by the suit because I couldn't stop. I picked him up with the suit, careened around the warehouse for awhile and finally ended up stuck in a pile of springs. Luckily for us, the fire department was there and had us free in a matter of hours.

Gary made darn near $100 in spring sales that day and expected to make a whole lot more. In order to thank me, he gave me a special pair of shoes he'd designed himself with springs in the toe and heel. As he handed them to me he told me, "They'll put a spring in your step."

Gary's business fell apart shortly after that. It was no fault of Gary's, the spring market just bottomed out because cheap springs started comin into the US from Ceylon and he just couldn't keep up. He gained a little infamy in the end, however. That whole "spring in your step" line spread from coast to coast after people saw me hoppin home on them shoes. I still got them shoes. I woulda liked to have em to get around that there meth world, but I just had to walk the regular way.

I was thinkin about all this as I was gettin away from that pod and, hopefully, the giant robot ninjas it would attract like flies to my Aunt Bertha's "pot roast surprise". Near as soon as I started thinkin about those shoes, I heard a voice from the darkness whisper out, "Psst!"

"Psst! yerself," I responded.

"You wanna buy some meth?" the shadow whispered.

I was stunned. I couldn't possibly say yes. I also couldn't possibly say no, because what if it was a ninja trap? I could be killed, or worse, flatulated upon! So, I went with something milder. "Absolutely not!" Ok, maybe I wasn't totally accurate about it bein milder, but a man's gotta take a stand sometime.

"Great," said the voice, "follow me. We've got a great deal to discuss."

"You can just discuss it here," I insisted.

"Not possible," the voice whispered, "the roboninjas will be lookin for that pod and, as soon as they find it, they're going to kill anyone in a 100 foot radius."

I looked back to see how far I'd come. I ain't great with distances, but it looked to me to be about five feet. "Ok," I said, turning back, "let's go."