Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Job

Purple horns stuck out of Maurice’s helmet from every angle. His face was carved and wooden and his arms were made out of grape gelatin. He crossed through the trees and sat down at his lopsided tree desk, arms jiggling. You want the job of what? he asked me.

I’ll do the watering thing. I’ll water the shrubs. I’ll be the watering guy. I drink a lot of water myself and I know how not to spill it, I said.

Maurice raised his droopy arms. A snake-like tongue shot out of the mouth-hole in his wooden mask face. You will do nothing of the sort, he said. What you’ll do is you’ll go down in the tunnel and rid the miners of fleas and other insects down there.


Yes, tunnel. See that rise over there? He flopped his arm in the direction of a small hill. On the other side is a tunnel entrance. That’s where you go and sign in at the window. There’s a chain gang of miners down there.

I’m actually very unqualified in dealing with insects, I said. Here’s my resume. I unfolded and handed over a torn piece of paper towel with the words WATER BEARER written in marker above a list of water-related activities. Maurice held the soft paper in tremulous Jello fingers. You see, Mr… Gravelstroke… You see, that’s not how it works, he told me. How it works is you go down in the tunnel… Down there, where I showed you… And you sign in. They show you how to catch bugs. You then catch bugs for a number of years. DON’T FORGET to sign out at the end of every day. You’ll need to fill out all the forms at five PM every day. List the number of bugs of each type and also how many allowances you’re going to take regarding to your taxes, etc., etc., etc. That form-filling is very important. Otherwise, no monetary compensation, you hear me? Simple.

I stared at his flat wooden eyes. The snake tongue darted in and out. Sir, I said. I know how to fill out a form but I know zero about bugs. I can’t even remember the last time I caught a bug.

Listen, here’s the deal, he told me. Four types of bugs. Red, white, black, and spotted. The chain gang in the tunnel is infested and if those bugs start spreading to the sunlight world we are in big trouble. If you do your job right, you’ll be a national hero. Now get down to that office before it’s too late.

I got up from the slanted desk and moved towards the rise. After a few steps I looked back. Go on, he said. Everyone’s waiting. Just then I took off running, boots crushing the dry leaves, twigs snapping. But Maurice swung one of his rubbery arms and pulled me back with a gooey lasso.

Soon I was standing at the base of some mud steps looking through a barred window at a girl with black glasses and three buns in her hair. Have you done this before? she asked. No, I told you! You’re going to have to show me everything, I said.

Show you?

If no one shows me how to do it how am I going to know I’m doing it right? I asked. She stepped out of the booth and unlocked a large metal door with the ring of keys on her belt. She led me onto a very dirty down escalator that was barely moving. The escalator hummed and chugged along, deeper and deeper into the tunnel and I stared at the back of her little head with the ridiculous buns. What are you staring at? she asked. You know, if I wear my hair long the yellow spotted ones latch on. Plus, it’s regulations.

At the bottom of the escalator she led me to a dirty hamper full of plastic bags, stained with old blood. Take three of these, she said, handing them to me. You separate the bugs into each bag by color. At the end of the day you empty the bugs into the corresponding vat. She gestured to four giant vats with ladders bolted to them. I heard a whistle and watched as a miniature train came around a corner, with miners sitting on the cars. The miners were all chained together and had crazy beards. They wore construction helmets with small headlamps and were shirtless and very skinny and hairy. After a few more whistles and squeaks the train came to a stop a few yards away. The miners sat there and waited, occasionally scratching themselves.

I’m sorry, I said and with a violent yank I ripped the key ring right off her belt loop, knocking her off-balance and sending her sailing across the stone floor. Then I ran to the miners and unlocked them from their chains. They took off like mad up the down escalator. I hopped on the train and switched it to manual, hitting the accelerator lever, causing the train to lurch and then shoot down the tunnel. I braked at the next group of headlamps and unlocked the next chain gang, and they all took off running as well. After freeing the forth chain gang I saw something out of my peripheral vision. It was a hammer arcing through the air then making contact with my left ear. I went flying off the mini train and landed in a pile of sharp rocks. The girl with the three buns stood over me, holding her hammer high. You don’t know what you’ve done, she growled. And her hammer came down on my head.

When I came to, I was lying in a bed of leaves in the forest. It was almost night and I could hear the familiar cicada orchestra around me. I got to my feet and walked off toward the sunrise, feeling itchier and itchier with every step.




Geoffrey S. Bhene requested that, upon his death, he be buried with his entire comic book collection. I made sure that’s what we did. I personally built a forty by forty foot cube out of pine boards and Pete and I packed it floor to ceiling with Bhene’s comic collection. We left only enough space for a human corpse to rest in the middle. Now and then while loading the box, Pete and I would take breaks to page through the comics, reading sequences involving rare or inhuman individuals reaching their breaking point or achieving almost godlike power. The old newsprint had the distinctive smell of history. After hours of sweating and stacking comics Pete and I would sit on the stacks with our lunch boxes and discuss the impossible deeds undertaken by the bigger-than-life protagonists.

The day we finished stacking, we placed Mr. Bhene’s lifeless body on his bed of back issues and covered him, as he’d requested, with an entire series of Psycho Fables comics, published by a no-name publisher in the Sixties. These comics were the first that had given Geoff nightmares as a toddler and had remained close to his heart. Once we packed everything just right we nailed the top on and bulldozed the dirt over him and didn’t think about it for years.

But then one day I got a call from Pete, who was living in a rented trailer and broke. Actually I almost didn’t pick up the phone because every call from him these days was asking for money and I made such a pittance at the cemetery I had none to give him. Remember burying old Geoff? he asked me.


Remember that Psycho Fables comic with the soldier who fights the Russian android? I certainly did. In fact, we’d discussed it over lunch the day we’d first stumbled upon it. The inks and colors were crude and the story made little or no sense but we’d both been very impressed by the impossible physique of the sexy Russian android and the sadistic paces she put the army colonel through. Well, bud, that was the first appearance of Sparterrax.

Sparterrax? I don’t even remember him in there.

Well, he was. And that comic book’s worth over a million dollars.


We were both back out in Hadleyville that night with shovels. It was a quiet night except for a few local dogs barking in the distance and we commenced digging, aided by the light of a full moon. After hours of hurling shovelfuls of dirt over our shoulders we hit the pine. That’s when Pete started up his chainsaw. We knew where the issue was and had to tear through stacks and stacks of less valuable comics to get there. The chainsaw cut through the newsprint like butter, creating smoke and clouds of paper dust. The closer we got to Geoff the worse it smelled. But we kept on cutting away, the old newsprint charring black from the heat of the chainsaw. We crawled deep into the tunnel we’d made and finally when the dust cleared we saw what we’d come for. Geoff’s skeletal fingers clutching the first Sparterrax comic. I reached forward and gingerly slid the comic out of Geoff’s fingers. PERFECT MINT CONDITION, I said, turning back to Pete. But behind Pete a cloud of smoke was rising from burning newsprint.

We both rushed with the mint origin issue back up the tunnel. Protecting the comic under my jacket I pushed through a wall of smoke and flames and barely made it out alive. Pete was not so lucky. I had no choice that night but to bulldoze the grave closed again and cover it with fresh sod. When the sun rose I had in my possession the invaluable first appearance of Sparterrax but my face had been disfigured by the fire and I’d lost an accomplice. I decided to lay low for a few months at the cemetery, watching from the shadows for intruders who may or may not have been coming for me. Months turned to years living alone in my little cemetery shack, the Psycho Fables Sparterrax edition hidden under the floorboards beneath my mattress.

When I finally emerged from hiding and sold the comic it was worth much more than I had dreamed. But instead of using the money to reconstruct my face I purchased and resurrected the Psycho Fables brand, and set up an operation with pencilers and inkers to create new issues every month. I created an even bigger fan base than the original series and would still be doing it if a detective hadn’t read the incriminating issue #96. In that issue I couldn’t resist telling the tale of that night, and finally admitting to myself via comic book panels that Pete wasn’t entirely dead when I bulldozed the dirt back over the grave. When the authorities excavated Geoffrey’s grave they found a scene almost identical to the one found on page 18. The mind will play tricks on you over the years but sooner or later the truth is bound to come out, if only through a “fictional” story like mine…



Awesome Times

Emerging from the subway tunnel after work always felt like being born –into a night world. When I hit the sidewalk there were scintillating lights with the aroma and music of dining and dance. One night I came out of the tunnel and found my friend Apaulsté. He stood at an outside table and was dressed to the nines in a shiny pink suit and hat. After he finished his champagne he threw the glass at the sidewalk with aplomb. Broken glass shimmered everywhere. I asked this diety Apaulsté, If you were me what would you do?

If I were you? Here’s what I’d do! Apaulsté exclaimed as he launched into a high volume song and dance, the former acrobat pirouetting effortlessly and swinging around every lamppost. Without missing a beat, he took fireworks from inside his jacket and shot them out of the empty bottles on his table. By now a crowd had gathered around, humming and oooohing to accompany his soaring melodies. A juggling mime appeared out of nowhere on a unicycle and joined in. I stood there, awkwardly shifting my weight. As he careened by I backed up, crunching glass under my shoes. His volume increased as did the speed of his spirals. I backed up further, this time bumping into an enthusiastic transgender woman. Isn’t he just amazing? Why aren’t you singing? Come on, boy! Sing along- it’s for YOU! she told me. I tried to, but my voice was weak and I honestly couldn’t catch most of the lyrics. What came out was a tremulous jumble of mis-heard notes and tuneless non-words. At this point I was backing down the steps to the subway just as throngs from every walk of life rushed in to follow his every spin, belting out his lyrics like they’d known them their entire lives.

The routine culminated in a grand finale where Apaulsté did a double back flip and landed singing: AND THAT’S WHAT I’D DO IF I WERE YOOOOOOOOOOUUU!! He had landed in a kneeling position, pointing a white-gloved hand right at me. All the dancing and singing stopped and the entire mob froze, awaiting my response.

I found myself forcing a smile that I knew looked fake. Th-thank you Apaulsté! I coughed. That’s just what I will… do…do… My voice faltered and I could see the stares of a million disappointed eyes. I withdrew further down into the subway station, tripping over my own feet and almost falling, waving as I lurched on toward the bright fluorescent lights, leaving the crowd as frozen silhouettes above.

Finally I sat in a subway car shuddering back downtown. The indifference of the other passengers was wonderful. I love you guys, I thought to myself, looking around at the depressed and sickly vacant stares. You guys are my favorite.