Phantom is the story, told by a narrator behind the wheel of a car, about a Phantom made out of loneliness by a Mad Lady. His unusual adventures begin when he becomes part of someone’s art collection against his will.
Each folder entry seems to be composed of two parts: the narrator’s own journal entry and the story of the Phantom. The pages were lost and scattered over time and are just now beginning to be discovered. Volume 1 has been assembled in the same order in which the pages have been found to this point.
Murky leaps over the pile of bones and dashes out the back of the restaurant. He looks left and right for Donny and his mother. Then up and down. He sees a bird squawking in a tree and shoots it. He catches a whiff of meatballs and murder in the air and runs to the corner where he spots the perps sprinting down a side street.
Donny huffs and puffs getting winded. His mother kneels down so he can hop on her 80 year old back. He yells at her to move faster and she does. Her legs as strong as ten horses with human legs. They cross main street sliding across car hoods in traffic and flipping Murky off behind them.
Murky’s detective eyes are distracted by the roaming soul pods backing up main street. He points to the soul crossing sign and demands to know, “Why aren’t you freaks using the crosswalk? My taxes or…uh something paid for that.”
Murky shoves a soul pod against a car and puts his pistol to its head. “You wanna die? Huh, punk? Because I can give you the number for a hotline if you need to talk to someone. You shouldn’t feel that way. You hear me, punk?”
Murky throws cuffs on the soul and tosses him on the curb when Sanchez finally arrives at the scene.
“I got tired of watching the oven back there. Figured you could use a partner. Your partner.”
Murky grabs a soul pod by the throat and looks at Sanchez. “You got scared. Didn’t ya?”
“No. I got bored.”
“Bored with a talking oven? Something you’re not telling me, Sanchez?”
“Thought you could use my help here. That’s all. Sorry if your brain is rotted and can’t comprehend that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just forget about it. I’m here. How can—“
“You’re here because you’re scared. Scared of talking appliances when I’m not around to protect you. Admit it.”
“That’s just not true. I can’t admit—“
“You can. It’s okay to ask for help. To admit weakness when you feel like you can’t breathe.”
The soul pod struggles in Murky’s grip and turns blue.
“I don’t feel weakness, Murk. I’m strong everywhere. Ask your wife.”
“Excuse me? Ask my wife? Do you see her? How can I ask questions to someone who’s not here?”
“I’m gonna arrest some soul pods. You should do the same. You’re killing—killed that one. Captain will be mad.”
Murky drops the limp soul pod and kicks it under a car.
“Captain won’t know.”
Murky chases soul pods with bullets into the handcuffs of Sanchez. They carry them off back toward the cemetery where they belong. The drivers cheer and honk as they free up traffic for the first time in centuries.
Murky and Sanchez enter the cemetery with the defeated soul pods. The stars roll out of bed and throw on their slippers five hours ahead of time to set the mood. The mood of death and decay not always suitable for the sun who makes a mockery of such institutions of unconditional joy and solitude.
“Hey, Murky where do you want —“
Sanchez disappears into an open grave.
“Help! Murk, I’m over here. Am I dead? I don’t want to be dead.”
“You’re not dead. But we can fix that.”
“Then why am I in a coffin?”
“Riddles. Don’t like ‘em.”
Murky shines his flashlight around Sanchez looking for clues. There’s no bones in the coffin with Sanchez. The soul pods slowly inch away from Murky.
“Wait here, Sanchez.”
Murky shines his light around the cemetery grounds and finds more open graves. He examines them with the mind of a bloody detective. A really bloody detective. Each one with an empty coffin.
The curious soul pods hover over the grave and begin kicking dirt on Sanchez.
“Murky! Hurry up! A little help over here.”
“Don’t worry. I figured it out. Donny and his mother. That old woman with legs as strong as ten horses with human legs. They’re grave robbers it would seem. I’m cracking this case open. With a crowbar. You can’t stop me, Sanchez. No one can stop me.”
Murky runs off into the night tripping over tombstones and fumbling with his flashlight. “No one can stop me, Sanchez!”
The soul pods laugh as they continue kicking dirt on Sanchez, burying him alive.
“Murky! Where the hell are you? You’re a terrible partner! Tell your wife I love her.”
*** ** *** **
For table of contents or to start from the beginning of Unthinkable Cramps click here, right here and nowhere else.
Diane and Sheila are perched on the roof, the sun reflecting off their tinfoil hats. Sheila watches nervously as Diane navigates a drone over the neighbor’s house.
Diane: Why are these things so hard to fly?
Sheila: Keep it steady.
Diane: I’m trying.
Sheila: Make it go in the backyard.
Diane flies the drone over the fence and watches the video feed in her hands.
Sheila: Get near that window. Let’s see what’s going on in there. I bet there’s body parts everywhere.
Diane: These controls are all backwards. Up is down. Forward is back.
The drone hovers next to an open window than accelerates inside.
Sheila: You’re going inside?!
Diane: I didn’t mean to. This thing listens worse than George.
The drone crashes into a China cabinet and the feed cuts out.
Diane stands on the neighbor’s front porch. Weeds grow through the dilapidated boards. Sheila waits below in the overgrown grass.
Diane: What are you doing down there? Get over here.
Sheila: This place gives me the scaries. I wanna go back.
Diane: If they find that drone we’re gonna be their next human experiment.
Sheila: Which is why I want to go back.
Diane: Shut up and get over here.
Sheila grumbles and marches up the steps. Diane knocks and Sheila follows up by ringing the doorbell.
Diane: Why would you do that? I already knocked. You don’t need to ring and knock.
Sheila: I wanted to help.
Diane: They’re going to think we’re impatient psychos.
Sheila: We’re wearing tinfoil hats.
Diane: Should we take them off?
Sheila: I didn’t brush my hair.
Diane: Mind control.
Sheila: That too.
The door flies open. A tall man in a dark suit stares back at them.
Diane: Hi! I’m Marge and this is Lisa. We’re your neighbors across the street. We wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood.
Man: Yes. And I want to welcome you as well. I dig the hats.
Sheila: I think my cat may have ran off into your backyard.
Man: These groundhogs keep digging holes under the fence. We got all the cats in our yard. Sometimes they don’t go away if you know what I mean.
Sheila and Diane look at each other.
Man: Let’s go see if—what’s your cat’s name?
Sheila: Clooney. George Clooney. He’s a very handsome kitty.
Man: Right. Let’s find George Clooney.
Diane: Oh! I have to pee. Should I use your bathroom?
Man: Yes and you should use the toilet that’s in there. It’s through that room and down the hall on the right.
Sheila and the man disappear into the backyard. Diane frantically begins searching for the crashed drone. She runs from room to dusty room. Stacks of boxes overflowing with clothes and accessories. Hair drapes over the edge of a box. She reaches out to touch it. The sound of footsteps startle her and she ducks down behind the boxes. The steps grow louder and she peaks her head around the corner. The tall man in the suit is passing through. But Diane doesn’t see Sheila with him. She waits, but there’s only one step of footsteps.
She turns and slouches back against the boxes. The drone blinks in the corner. She rushes over and reaches over to grab it.
Man 2: Hey!
Diane shoves the drone under her shirt and turns around, trying to act normal. The man is tall and wearing a dark suit. A spitting image of the man who answered the door.
Diane: Hey! I was just — ya know. Did you find George Clooney? Is Sheila still looking for him?
Man 2: Oh…Yes, Sheila…she’s out there with a whole search team looking for George Clooney’s career.
Man 2: You must be our newest member. I wasn’t expecting you to jump right in. Or be pregnant.
Diane looks at the bulge of the drone under her shirt. She holds her stomach.
Diane: I’m gonna be sick. I gotta go.
Diane runs out of the room, turns the corner into the hallway and bumps into Sheila.
Diane: Sheila! Thank god you’re still alive.
Man 1: Sheila? I thought your name was Lisa?
Man 2: You didn’t tell me you met the new members already.
Diane pretends to dry heave and runs out the front door. Sheila follows close behind. They don’t stop until they get across the street.
Diane: There’s two of them.
Diane and Sheila stand at the edge of the yard, looking back at the house. Diane pulls out a cigar and lights it. The two men approach the door and watch them from the other side.
Sheila: Did you get it?
Diane takes a puff from the cigar and pats her stomach.
Diane: Right here.
*** ** *** **
For table of contents or to start from the beginning of Unthinkable Cramps click here, right here and nowhere else.
Yoyo’s face blurs like a static tv station as she rides the poisonous horse into the sunset. Its hooves kicking up loose gravel as they close in on the locomotive. Sasha reaches out her old man arm and pulls herself into a train car. The horse spits venom at her boots and melts her laces.
Sasha: What the hell’s wrong with that thing?
Yoyo: She thinks you’re leaving her. Tell her we’ll come back for her.
Sasha: No. I’m not — Listen, horse we’ll —
Yoyo: Belinda. That’s her name.
Sasha: When did you have time to name a horse?
Yoyo: It took two seconds. I named her after the daughter I always wanted.
Sasha: But you have a daughter.
Yoyo: Yeah. But not the one I always wanted.
Sasha: Come on. Give me your hand. Belinda, take care. We’ll be back for ya. Go do whatever venomous horses do at nighttime.
Sasha pulls Yoyo aboard the moving train.
Yoyo: That reminds me. If you see anything that looks gift worthy let me know. I have to get the daughter a Christmas gift.
Sasha: Unless she drinks whatever that is I don’t think you’re gonna find anything for her out here.
Sasha points to a ten gallon drum leaking a glowing orange fluid.
Yoyo: It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Something from Santa.
They move from one car to the next. The trail of orange fluid continues across the floor. There’s no signs of life. Yoyo imagines the train filled with holiday music and bright lights dancing to all the classics. The smell of hot chocolate and apple cider inviting her to curl up on a train seat and read a fun detective novel while young children laugh and carol around her. She imagines disappearing into another world within her fantasy far, far away from the high intensity stress of self-preservation. It’s a peaceful moment in her mind that never happened in reality. She’s determined to hold it, follow it to its natural conclusion of serenity. But even in her fantasy some things are too good to be true and an overly excited kid sticks a candy cane in her hair.
Yoyo: Kids suck! Ya know? They really do.
Sasha: How old is yours?
Yoyo: I don’t know. Sixteen? Seventeen? It’s all just one big nightmare from birth on.
Sasha: She still believes in Santa?
Yoyo: Yeah. I mean…do you still believe in God?
They exit the car and slide open the next door. Any fantasy of joyful music and holiday cheer is dead on arrival at the sight of humans feasting on their own deceased. The click of the door shutting calls them like a dinner bell. They turn their attention to Sasha and Yoyo with mouths dripping in stale flesh and blood with eyes void of human awareness. Their skin flakes away in shades of gray like old leather. The seats drip orange liquid onto the floor causing Sasha and Yoyo to struggle to stay upright as they reach for their weapons.
Sasha draws both revolvers from her chest and begins picking off the thirsters one by one with bullets to the skull. Yoyo ducks behind a seat with her rifle aimed at the pack as she sends brains flying out the train window. Sasha aims and pulls the trigger. Nothing.
Sasha: I’m out.
Yoyo: There’s too many. We gotta find another way.
Yoyo tries to go back through the door they came through, but it won’t open. The thirsters move in closer, moaning with an insatiable desire for flesh.
Sasha: Hurry up!
Yoyo: It won’t open!
Yoyo tries to shoot at the thirster closing in on them but realizes she’s out of ammo. The thirster throws itself on Sasha and drags her to the ground. She tries to kick it off, but there’s no room to move. She’s stuck on the floor in the tight fit between two seats. Why did a living nightmare have to happen in coach, she wonders.
Yoyo: Get off my woman, you pig!
Yoyo smashes the butt of her rifle into the the back of the thirster’s head until it crumbles like a ginger bread house.
Sasha: Your woman, huh?
Yoyo: Just sounded good. I wouldn’t read too much —
Sasha: Watch out!
Sasha shoves a thirster away from Yoyo, but it latches on as she pushes it. She grabs the arm holding on to her and kicks its body into the seat. The body goes but the arm stays. Sasha holds up the arm, spraying blood in the air like a trophy.
Sasha: Check this out!
She swings the arm, smashing thirster skulls until they resemble nothing more than lumps of raw, beaten meat with brains oozing out the ears. She tosses the arm on the ground out of exhaustion. But a moment too soon as more thirsters descend from the roof of the car and climb along the exterior, attempting to force their way through the windows. Sasha and Yoyo put their backs to each other and prepare for one last stand.
The thirsters begin to claw their way through half open windows, but suddenly stop. They flop onto the seats with only torsos intact. Others get sucked away into the night like a large vacuum swallowed them. There’s a large silhouette of a winged creature flying next to the train. It sticks its head through a window, exposing its sharp fangs. It neighs and shoots streams of venom, melting away the brains of the final thirsters crawling with morbid hunger across the blood-soaked seats.
Yoyo: Belinda! When did you get wings?
Belinda shrugs and motions to the full moon.
Yoyo: I didn’t want to say anything, but I think the dynamite might have been in the other car.
Sasha: Ya know, I never believed in God. But now…I still don’t.
*** ** *** **
For table of contents or to start from the beginning of Unthinkable Cramps click here, right here and nowhere else.
I chug the sands of time from the hourglass and cough up a crystal ball. One of the few tricks I’ve learned here at summer camp. It’s the only thing that calms me during my panic attacks. Another instance of the signals from my heart and brain crashing into each other from across the room. The wireless, bodyless organs once again malfunctioning causing severe nostalgia.
The fondness of the past always leaves me feeling homesick. Something I was assured would vanish over time after I became familiar with my new surroundings. But the rotating faces of my bunkmates make every day feel unfamiliar and cold. I know if I do nothing I’ll spiral further into darkness. And as much fun as that can be, I didn’t just hack up a chunk of glass for nothing.
I take the corner of my shirt and wipe away the layer of saliva from the crystal ball. The present smiles back at me with Dorito-stained braces. My favorite snack leaves a trail of orange dust on the torn sleeve of my flannel shirt that’s one wash away from disintegrating. It once belonged to someone’s grandfather. Sometimes I imagine an old man searching for his flannel and dying from a heart attack when he can’t find it. I assume that’s how most old people die.
The spotlight by the lake is more outgoing than I’ll ever be, stretching and bending all the way through the branches just to sneak in through my window. That combined with the campfire smoke that’s always lingering in the air keep me up all night. It reminds me that I’m away from home. In a strange place. Lost. Physically and mentally. I slam the crystal ball against the splintered floor, sending shards of glass bouncing and landing next to a burnt marshmallow.
The noise causes my bunkmates, Melinda and Suzie, to fall out of bed. They open their eyes to thousands of silver sparkles floating, illuminating the bunk.
Suzie: Why are you noisy?! Are you like stupid? Huh, Ratbait?
My roommates are awful, but that’s not a nickname they came up with for me. They’re not that clever or original. It’s my real name. I’m certain of it so don’t ask me if I am. My mother wanted to name me Rachel, but her hand slipped when she was writing. Turns out she would apply the same level of commitment to the rest of her parenting.
Melinda: You need to grow up.
Suzie: Or just go home.
Melinda: You’re so messy. I ain’t cleaning all that.
Me: It’s fine. Don’t be so dramatic. Look. All cleaned up.
I sweep the broken glass under a dresser with my foot, joining other piles of broken glass.
Suzie: The counselors are gonna be so mad when they see all this glitter.
Melinda: I’m telling them it was you.
Suzie: What? Why me?
Melinda: Not you. Her. She’s so annoying and…weird.
Me: No I’m not.
I snort the silver sparkles out of the air. The unexpected little horrors inside me subside little by little with every sparkle that goes up my nose.
Melinda: You’re sniffing arts and crafts supplies.
Suzie: Bro, are you gonna like die now or something?
Me: I’m fine. Thanks.
Melinda: Damn, Ratbait. You just keep disappointing.
Suzie: Watch out. She could get all crazy and try to — look at her she looks like an addict or something when she does that.
Melinda: ‘Cause she probably is.
Me: If I was an addict I wouldn’t be able to have a good time or enjoy life without it.
Melinda: Can you, loser?
I think about all the times I’ve depended on the future to make me feel normal. And being normal allows me the luxury to flow with the natural rhythms of life, certain that I’ll continue to exist. And existing is what everyone tells me I have to do. All the rage according to the pros. I realize now, for the first time, that I haven’t showered in a week.
Me: Yeah. Of course I can enjoy life without it. Not that it’s any of your business.
Melinda: It is our business when that stuff you’re sniffing is making you fat, and we all have to do extra activities.
Me: It’s a fat camp. Deal with it. Sorry if your parents lied to you.
Suzie: Don’t be stupid. The counselors don’t want to get yelled at by your parents because you’re the only one that gained weight.
Melinda: You should be the only one that has to do more stuff. But no they’re not allowed to bully you. So instead you’re just ruining all our lives.
Me: I guess that sucks for you guys.
Melinda: What’s your problem?
I snort up the last of the sparkles, darkening the room once again.
Me: I don’t need to talk about my problems. I know how to cope with them.
The closet door creaks as I open it. Three wireless hearts float in vats of blood. I lick my lips, wondering why people seem so afraid of this minor side effect of snorting the future.
It’s sometime after sunrise, and the splinters from the rotting wood dig into my knees as I vomit into a filthy, overflowing toilet bowl. I think it’s odd how the red chunks float while the brown ones sink. I could have sworn it was the opposite last time.
I step outside into the blinding light and wipe my mouth on my sleeve. I’m careful to avoid eye contact with the counselors who gather campers for extra rounds of hiking and swimming. I spot two girls I’ve never seen before, pulling their suitcases behind them. They enter my bunk and set their suitcases down. I watch as they unpack their fresh laundry in drawers. They disappear for a moment. I rub my eyes until they crunch like sandpaper. That’s when I hear the unmistakable creak of them storing their wireless organs and wonder if I can find any antacids before nightfall.
***This was an awful thing I wrote. I debated not posting it, because I can’t really stand it. But I wanted to post something so here we are. An argument could be made why I post anything with such subpar writing abilities. And that’s fair. I guess there’s more pretension in this piece than others that bothers me. ***
Ria sleeps as though dead in her dinosaur onesie. A cat with old, gray fur prances into her yurt and scratches at the straw mat. It awakens Ria from extinction.
Ria: When did we get cats? This place is turning into a real circus.
Ria sneezes as the cat rubs against her face. She reaches for a box of tissues and when she turns back around the cat’s on top of her desk. Ria is about to yell at the cat to get down when she catches the reflection in the mirror behind it.
Ria: I don’t know if I’m seeing things because I haven’t eaten in days. But that’s like a twenty dollar hair clip.
The cat’s reflection isn’t all fur and four legs as is typical of cat reflections. Rather a mix of two women. The human kind. Sisters. Twins even. Who look identical. Except one’s wearing a fancy hair clip. They also happen to be joined at the hip.
Twin 1: I know right? I got this at the flea market for six dollars even though —
Twin 2: They wanted nine. But she thinks she got a discount because —
Twin 1: I told the guy how cute I thought he was in his cowboy hat —
Twin 2: Even though I’m the one attracted to men and I would never date someone —
Twin 1: That sells nine dollar hair clips. If she’s gonna spend nine dollars it’s gonna —
Twin 2: Be on something useful.
The second twin swings open a butterfly knife from somewhere.
Twin 2: Like this thing here that I held up to that cowboy’s throat. And that’s how we really —
Twin 1: Got a discount.
Ria: So…you two are related huh?
Twin 1: We’re almost the same person.
Twin 2: But we’re not.
Twin 1: I’m Disgusting.
Twin 2: I’m Mutant.
Ria: Come on. Don’t be so hard on yourselves.
Disgusting: Those are our names.
Ria: I guess your parents didn’t care much about your self-esteem.
Mutant: What makes you say that?
Disgusting: She’s being sarcastic.
Mutant: I am.
Disgusting: But…anyway we should go —
The Siamese twins whisper among themselves.
Mutant: What do you mean? We came all this way —
Disgusting: I can’t ask. She’s too nice. It’s embarrassing.
Mutant: Embarrassing? This — being a cat is embarrassing.
Disgusting: But she’s —
Mutant: Oh no. You think she’s —
Disgusting: She is.
Ria: Not to pry. But what am I exactly?
Mutant: She thinks —
Disgusting: No I don’t. Shut up.
Mutant: She thinks you’re pretty.
Disgusting: Do not.
Mutant: So I’ll ask. We need your help to get out of this cat body.
Ria blushes and fixes her hair.
Ria: Thank you. You really think I’m pretty? I’m just a girl in the woods working with monks and physicists to create a device to open an astral bridge to higher spiritual dimensions in our weird little ashram. I don’t even have makeup out here.
Disgusting: Don’t need it. You look so fabulous.
Ria: Oh gosh. I don’t even — that’s so sweet. I love your eyelashes. Are they fake?
Disgusting: These are my real lashes. Isn’t that crazy?
Ria: No way! They’re so beautiful.
Mutant waves her arms like she’s signaling a plane overhead.
Mutant: Hey! Over here. Can you rescue us or what?
Ria: Oh yeah. Not to be rude, but how did you end up inside a cat anyway?
Disgusting: It’s such a long story. Maybe we should talk about it over a candle lit dinner.
Mutant: Our dad thought he could make millions off of us as a sideshow act —
Disgusting: I don’t need to go anywhere fancy. We can pull up some logs.
Mutant: But when that failed he saw an opportunity in the world of cat food commercials.
Disgusting: Don’t worry. It’ll just be me and you. You won’t even know she’s there.
Mutant: So he bought an old spell book at an auction and stuck us in here for auditions.
Disgusting: You learn to tune her out after a while.
Mutant: Then he abandoned us when we didn’t get any roles. Because someone couldn’t pretend to like the taste of cat food.
Disgusting: That’s me. She’s talking about me. Cat food is gross. Don’t try to take me to a cat food restaurant.
Ria: Noted. I will not take you to a cat food restaurant.
Mutant: Good thing about being a cat is we were able to sniff out this trail of orange magick that led us into the woods.
Disgusting: But it was the smell of your electricity. Your energy field that brought me —
Disgusting: To you.
Jerry The Monk barges in and Ria throws the box of tissues at the cat. She quickly apologizes as the cat darts past Jerry out of the yurt.
Jerry The Monk: When did we get cats? This place is turning into a real circus. Have you seen my purple thong? It was drying on the line last night and now —
Ria: Can you knock or what?
Jerry The Monk: I did knock. It was a monk knock. It was like soft and gentle.
Outside the yurt Scientific Sylvia waves a purple thong around.
Jerry The Monk: Hey, those are mine.
Scientific Sylvia: Oh yeah, Jerry? These are yours? What will you do for them?
*** ** *** **
PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE! WE BEG YOU! KEEP YOUR CATS OUT OF THE CAT PARK IF THEY’RE AFRAID OF HEIGHTS! it’s the nice thing to do and we’ll tell you why. BECAUSE EVERYTHING IN THE CAT PARK IS FALLING INTO THE SKY! we don’t know why fun cat jungles made of rope are suddenly being sucked into the sky along with everything else in the cat park, but we do know our emergency rescue lines our flooded with calls. what kind of calls you ask? FROM CATS FLOATING MILES IN THE SKY SCREAMING FOR HELP! those are the kind of calls. we would love nothing more than to keep our lines open for actual emergencies like cesspool clowns appearing in your bathroom. which now would be a good time to remind everyone that Chuckles Septic is offering a 0% discount on new clownproof system installations. get yours today! cesspool clowns are not only devastating to your health but also lower property value by a significant margin. don’t delay contact Chuckles tomorrow! in the afternoon sometime, not right after lunch. we’re tired then. so maybe wait a bit. it’s hard to say when we’ll feel like working. we would like to thank our emergency rescue lines for sharing their ad space with us. everything is so expensive anymore we could. SORRY CHUCKLES! we need the rest of this space to remind everyone: DO NOT ROPE FLOATING CATS or USE SLINGSHOTS TO RETRIEVE A SOUVENIER! – with much frustration toward mankind, Unthinkable Cramps Emergency Rescue Lines and Chuckles Septic
** * **
Hot deals on hermits! Hermit here! That’s me, a hermit. Take me home, name me, put me in your garden! All your dreams can come true today with a hermit! I’m waiting. Ready to go. Weather-resistant. I can stay in the shed all year, every season. I’m your hermit! I’m the one! Take me home! Impress your friends! I know it all. Let them ask away. I will be their book of knowledge. Their window into every philosophical realm they wish to fall into. No ear is too big or small for me to talk off. My mustache is phenomenal! I’m your dream hermit! Hermit here! Get your hermit! Beautify your garden with me. Say no to ugly gardens. Only lovely, sexy gardens with your new hermit. Show your status in town with me, your hermit. What’s above upper class? You. Once you take me, your new hermit, home to your private garden where I will live the rest of my days in seclusion. Afraid I might steal all the attention of your guests? Not to worry. I will leave my smart reading glasses on top of any open piece of esoteric literature I possess and your guests will know I exist, as I hide in a deep hole I dug for myself. It’s the perfect way to impress them by pretending to be humble and not wishing to brag about me, your hermit. Now get your hermit! Hermit here! Hot deals on hermits! No interest for 30 days! – The Wandering Hermit
** * **
There are claw marks on Sandy the bus driver’s face. Anyone who has any information about the claw marks on Sandy the bus driver’s face, please we urge you, keep it to yourself. The last thing we want is another boring story about goblins or whatever attacking Sandy the bus driver. We know someone out there will be tempted. But don’t do it. Don’t knock on our door in the middle of the night and tell us you have a dark secret that you want to confess and then proceed to bore us with all the details of how you lured Sandy the bus driver to the Maybe Murder Motel and “accidentally” threw lizards at her face for an hour because you didn’t know how to say “thanks” for letting you ride the bus for free when your car exploded in the driveway during an electrical storm and you had to get across town in a hurry to tell the cute checkout girl at the deli a joke you just thought of. If we had a donut for all the times we were supposed to take action whenever someone stopped us on the street to blab about the endless horrors and atrocities they committed on Sandy the bus driver, we’d have very high cholesterol. And we don’t. We really don’t. But let’s say we did. Just for the sake of argument. Not saying we do. We don’t. But like if we do have high cholesterol it’s not from the donuts. Sometimes it just happens. And also doctors lie. That’s what we meant to say. Doctors lie. Sandy the bus driver lies too. She probably put those claw marks there herself. Or she did something to deserve them. So we thank you in advance for keeping this information to yourself. Also don’t forget to donate a portion of each paycheck to us. Think of us as a more violent Catholic Church. – Protecting and Serving, The Invisible Police
*** ** *** **
“This meatloaf is amazing, Jim. What did you put in it?”
Jim’s wedding ring sits on the table, leaving a pale white circle around his finger.
“Poison, Cleo. Poison.”
Nova Olsen jams papers into the fax machine while looking around to see who’s watching. The papers crumple and pile up. The machine complains at her with flashing lights and grinding gears. Nearby, Mac tries to peak his head up the slot in the vending machine. Nova grabs him by the arm.
Nova: Mac, get over here quick.
Mac: This thing’s not giving me my bag of tree bark I paid for.
Nova: That stuff’ll rot your teeth. Now come here.
She pulls Mac to the fax machine and shoves the papers in his hands.
Nova: So here’s the deal. This is the perfect spot.
Mac: Perfect spot for —
Nova: Shhh. Look around.
Mac stares at her, confused. Nova takes his head in her hands and moves it from side to side.
Nova: You see that? You see it. I know you see it.
Mac: See —
Nova: Everything. You can — this is like one of those what are they? Bird’s thing. View from a bird’s head or something?
Mac: Bird’s eye view?
Nova: Yes. See? You’re a genius. I knew you were the right fit for this team.
Nova: Yeah my team, Mac. I’m forming an elite group for my great escape. And you, my friend, are the lookout.
Mac: Where’s the rest of the team?
Nova: Team? Who said anything about a team?
Mac: You just said —
Nova: These people don’t trust me. Why would anyone trust me? I’m a terrible person. They know better than to let me put them at risk.
Nova snorts a line of Ajax off the back of her hand.
Mac: Then maybe I shouldn’t —
Nova: No you’re good. Trust me.
Nova spins around in a circle pointing to all the cubicles where managers are hidden.
Nova: Just keep an eye on all of the them and we’ll be golden.
Nova is about to take off when Mac grabs at the sleeve of her bohemian cardigan. It’s nice and soft. He didn’t think it would be. He didn’t know what to expect really. He assumed the sweater would be more like her: rough and abrasive. He wondered, if only for a brief moment, whether this soft sleeve could be a reflection of who she truly is on the inside. There wasn’t a lot he knew about her, he realized. All the years working together and he hasn’t even scratched the surface of a single co-worker. He imagines peeling back the layers of Nova until he can reveal her inner cardigan. She’ll trust him with her raw emotions and deepest desires. He’ll feel validated for the first time. He envisions cuddling up inside of her warm, cozy cardigan and nestling into her chest, getting as close as humanly possible to being one with her. He feels his heart skip a beat. And another. Then another. He looks down to see Nova punching him in the chest with the back of her fist.
Nova: Hello? Did ya get that or was it too much for your tiny pea head? There’s no way they fit a whole brain in there.
Mac: Yeah. Yeah. Sweater. I got it.
Mac: I mean…
Nova: I’m gonna sneak over to that fire exit right there by that sign that says ‘exit’. And I’m gonna go out it. And no one is gonna know. Slip right out into the night and you’ll never see me again. Remember: You’re my birdman.
Mac shuffles papers in his hands while keeping one eye on Nova and the other on the cubicles she pointed out. All is clear as Nova approaches the fire exit. Just as she picks up her pace to accelerate through the door Geronimo appears in her path.
Geronimo: Hey, bestie! Long time no see. I love working here so much. I love all my co-workers. And yes that includes you. I see you getting sad. Don’t be sad, girl. I have so much love for you. I mean now that we sit across from each other and everythang. Mac’s a little weird. Sometimes I think, “is he—“
Nova: Great catching up. I think Mac’s looking for ya.
She points over to Mac. He looks suspicious standing by the fax machine not faxing anything. He tries to smile at Nova, but his face doesn’t know that routine.
Geronimo: Yes! Party!
Geronimo claps his hands with excitement and shouts in Mac’s direction.
Geronimo: Mac! Over here! Mac, baby! That’s what you call him right? Over here Mac, Baby!
Nova panics and looks around for the managers. Mac does the same. Geronimo jumps up and down clapping. A tour group enters. The second person in line happens to be a young fan of the exhibit. She wears the hoodie, the hat, the shoes, the backpack and even sips from the water bottle that were all purchased from the gift shop after her previous visits. A hardcore fan that knows every detail of the cubicle and the cubicles within the cubicles. She spots Geronimo as soon as she enters and can’t withhold her excitement.
Hardcore Fan: A new employee! A new employee! Who is that!? I need to know!
Elizabeth the Tour Guide: Now. Now. Let’s wait for everyone to catch up and I’ll fill you in on all the new happenings here in the cubicle. Cubicle happenings. Cubippenings? Cubiclappenings?
Nova puts her head down and tries to cover her face. She slides past Geronimo and tries to open the door. It doesn’t budge.
Hardcore Fan: Hey, Nova! Big fan! Who’s the new guy? Is he replacing you? Is that why you’re leaving?
The managers crawl out of their cubicles and slither to the fire exit, surrounding Nova like she’s fresh prey. One of them catches her in a large fishing net. She fights and squirms, setting herself free with a switchblade she keeps buried in her boot.
Mac is gripping the papers so tight they begin to tear. His eyes as wide as oceans as he watches Nova run to the corner of the room and bounce off adjacent walls making her way up to the ceiling. She braces herself at the top and pushes in a celling tile. The managers try and jump to grab her legs, but are too short. They catch her feet in the net as she dangles in mid-air.
Mac: Go Nova!
Mac surprises himself with this sudden outburst. Caught up in the action he made it known who’s side he’s on. But it felt good. He feels excitement. The second time he’s felt that today. And both times Nova was the reason why.
Nova kicks the fishing net off and pulls herself up into the ceiling and disappears.
Nova: You guys were holding out. There’s some crazy shit going on up here.
Mac shreds the papers with joy and tosses them in the air.
He takes his eyes off the ceiling after a long moment. The managers stare at him from across the room. They lick their lips through cycles of heavy breathing. Mac feels his heart skip. He checks to see if Nova is punching him again. Nope. This time it’s real. He steps away from the fax machine with caution and inches backwards toward his desk. He keeps his eye on them every step of the way as they huddle together and sniff in his direction.
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