Doughboy And Other Strange Tales
The wieners lay on the sidewalk, their once long, muscular bodies now mashed and pulped from being stepped upon by hundreds of unwary pedestrians. Having no arms or legs, they could do nothing. Lacking a mouth, their screams were mute. Yet they felt pain, an inexorable, throbbing pain, one that – excruciating beyond belief, to be sure – traveled up and down their wiener bodies like an electric jolt. If able, they would have rocked back and forth in an attempt to escape the clodding heels of their tormentors. But there was little hope for this courageous group of daring, but ultimately doomed, wieners. Having volunteered for a reconnaissance journey, they had soon found themselves packaged within a clear container, where they lay smothered against one another in a way that gave them no room for movement, let alone any way for the more lusty wieners to express themselves in the approved fashion that wieners enjoy…
A short while later, their package roughly shorn in two by a sharp knife and nimble fingers, they were then unceremoniously dumped into a pan of boiling water. They rolled about in pain, their movements confused, their equilibrium shattered, but somehow managed to survive this physical abuse that bordered on the pathological. Then, haphazardly stuck between two pieces of bread and drenched with various garnishes, they were consumed with an energetic zeal reserved for hyperactive teenagers. Their partially mutilated and mangled bodies were then tossed aside to the ground like so much refuse. Some of the wieners, those still able to comprehend their plight, planned an escape, but it was hopeless: In less than three minutes most of the wieners were eaten by a mangy Pug with a ravenous – albeit noisy – appetite, which included numerous snorts, slurps, and burps. As if to punctuate the conclusion to this gruesome feast, the Pug emitted an undignified sound from its anus and then scampered off, seemingly satisfied.
The remaining group of wieners, along with those from the original selection committee, never again planned any reconnaissance missions outside their colony, having seen that first group virtually destroyed. The survivors went through a period of mourning for their devoured comrades, and secretly dreamed of revenge against those who had savaged their race with such unmitigated hunger.
TIGHT LITTLE WADS OF FLESH
Westin sat in the lawn chair, a gin and tonic clutched in his right hand as he watched a weasel burrowing into the ground a few yards away. He could feel his flesh flowing in between the woven spaces of the plastic chair, melting like great gobs of cooling bacon grease that puckered out and then dripped onto the wooden deck to form a gluey puddle around him. As he looked down for further confirmation, he could see tight little wads of pinched flesh that made square patterns on his thighs and buttocks. He was apparently sinking through the chair. The criss-cross pattern on his thighs reminded him of the time he had attempted to draw orange crayon squares on his wife’s buttocks in an effort to play tic-tac-toe on a pliable surface. But ultimately she had repulsed his advances, leaving him frustrated and restless. He remembered later wandering around the perimeter of the fenced-in back yard like a dog looking for a proper place to urinate.
Now, as he slowly dripped onto the bleached wood of his backyard deck, he wondered if Frosty, his wife’s toy poodle, would find any globules of melted flesh on the ground underneath the deck. She was small enough to crawl around down there on her belly, of that he was certain. He imagined spiders and ants feeding on his flesh, each one taking turns – a heavenly feast for everyone.
Except for Westin.
He looked down again and realized with a complacent shrug of his shoulders that both legs were now gone. A hairy soup soaked the deck, running sluggishly between two wooden planks, while his shoes appeared to be filled to the brim with numerous curly black hairs and thick yellowish goo. He realized he would have to crawl to safety before more of him melted away.
There was a sudden, disorienting wave of nausea and he felt his world tilt and swim crazily like a spinning dervish as he rolled upon the deck, somehow in the process striking his nose against an exposed nail, which caused a flicker of pain to race through his head. He heard breaking glass and falling ice cubes as his drink scattered around him. After a moment, when the world stopped spinning, he tried to gather his wits about him. A shard of glass lying next to his face reflected the situation: He was now just a head lolling upon the deck, one cheek pressed against the roughened wood and the other cheek exposed to a cool breeze. His head appeared to be stuck midway between the deck and the closed screen door that led into the living room. A slight breeze rustled his hair.
He could imagine Loren’s reaction when she found him, the shocked wonderment on her face. There would be endless questions, each one circling around the same tangent like a fly circling around a chocolate fudge sundae: Where was the rest of his body? Would she put him in Frosty’s abandoned doghouse, next to the laundry room, to lie on the ground like a discarded sock? Or would she kick Frosty out of her bed and welcome Westin back in? In the morning, would she place him on the kitchen table while she cooked breakfast? When she got cross with him, would she roll him across the floor and into the fireplace, like a bowling ball? Since he no longer had arms, legs or body, who would shave him in the morning? Or brush his teeth? Who would put him in his favorite reading chair and flip the pages of his book? Wearing a tie would no longer be an option. Closet space, always at a premium, would no longer apply, he reasoned, since most of his clothes could be tossed out or given to charity. In fact, the only thing he needed was a hat. His underwear and socks could go the way of his suits, ties, dress shirts, slacks, jeans, T-shirts, gloves, and coats. His wife, constantly complaining about closet space, would be thrilled to have the closet all to herself. Certain conjugal duties would have to be curtailed, although he did have a tongue, he reminded himself. True, so true…they were having marital difficulties, but who wasn’t in this day and age? But still, this just might tip the balance toward divorce, he realized.
He heard the front door open and close, and then the familiar tread of her steps as she made her way from the foyer and through the hall and finally into the living room. There was a pause as she stopped, perhaps in order to ascertain his whereabouts. A moment later, he heard the screen door rattle as she started to slide it open…
He steeled himself for the inevitable.
THE ELEVATOR OPERATOR
Bartholomew Yam pushed the elevator button. Immediately the door swished open, as if the elevator had been waiting for him. Inside, a gnarled-looking man who looked like a hump-backed toad stared back at Yam with a blank face indicative of extreme boredom. The man, who apparently operated the elevator, turned large, moist eyes and forward-jutting jaw toward Yam.
Yam stepped inside.
“Here for the convention, sir?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
The elevator’s door closed and the two men stared at each other for an uncomfortable amount of time. The man’s name tag had ‘Sammy’ written on it in stark, white letters. Sammy’s mouth, a thin-lipped slit, seemed stretched to the breaking point. His skin looked moist, as if he had just taken a dip in the ocean. The mouth wheezed as it sucked in oxygen, and a sound that was hard to identify – but resembled a rug being pulled with difficulty across a hardwood surface by an anorexic – filled the interior of the elevator. Disconcerting, too, was the smell of water that filled the small enclosure. Yam glanced at the floor of the elevator, just to make sure he wasn’t standing in anything wet. As he looked up, Yam caught sight of Sammy’s legs, which were bowed as if he were ready to hop to the other side of the small interior of the elevator’s cabin.
“It’s a horrible affair, sir. There’s just no getting around it.” Sammy’s voice was thick, as if the words were being forcibly expelled. “There’s just no getting around it,” he said again.
Yam had no idea what Sammy was talking about.
“I’m just a simple person, really, with simple thoughts and a simple way to make a living. Not like you writers with your strange ideas. Take me, for example: I’ve been an elevator operator for going on 52 years. Yes, sir, 52 years can be a long time standing in one place. The pull of gravity, sir. It weighs you down, the heavy burden of years on the body, tugging and pulling until you wonder if you can take any more. The constant pressure, the constant struggle of going up and down, and then pushing buttons over and over again, with no let up, no interaction.” Sammy’s moist eyes, which were located higher up on his skull, then turned toward Yam.
“In my memory,” Sammy continued, “I loved the quiet one finds at night and the way the stars sparkled off the surface of the ocean…the passage of the moon in the sky. I can remember these things, sir. Being dedicated to the elevator, I can only imagine now how the clouds and the sky appear to everyone else. The things they must see, the sights that must astound. The sheer wonder of the world is lost to me, sir. Lost forever, I’m afraid. You see, sir, I wasn’t permitted to go outside. Not allowed at all, sir. Oh, no. I might get fired – or worse – if I ventured away from my elevator and the awful responsibilities entrusted in me. You see, sir, it’s my privilege to move the customers up and down. Sometimes, someone might wish to go to the first floor. At other times, someone might wish to go to the fourth floor. You must understand, sir, it may appear very simple, but it’s actually very complicated. There’s always a floor that is needed, and Sammy is always here to assist in those endeavors, whether one goes to the fourth floor or to the seventh floor or to another floor. Of course, sir, these are only examples, as you no doubt realize.”
Yam remained silent, afraid that if he spoke he might wake up and find himself trapped beneath a car. He decided to break his silence or go mad with curiosity. The man’s story was pathetic, unbelievable.
“Why not just leave?”
“It’s always the same, day in and day out,” Sammy said, ignoring Yam’s question.
“You’re unable to leave this elevator? I really find that hard to believe.” Yam felt like laughing, but didn’t want to needlessly offend the old man.
“Stranger things have happened, you know. They’ve put up a force field, one that keeps me from leaving. Day in, day out, it’s my lot to push the buttons, to keep the elevator moving and to move the customers to their desired floor.”
Sammy’s right hand moved to the elevator’s buttons, as if summoned by an unknown force. The fingers, Yam noticed, were long and knobby and had unusual pads on the ends which made them look flattened. Sammy caressed the buttons, his fingers seeming to engulf the white ivory.
“I’m not complaining, sir. No, Sammy never complains. Sammy loves the smooth softness of the buttons, the way the ‘1’ leads naturally to the ‘2’ and then the ‘2’ leads to the ‘3.’ There’s an order to everything that one can’t help but admire. See, sir, how all the numbers seem to have a life of their own? Whoever designed the buttons must have been a genius. There’s a certain rightness about it. Don’t you agree, sir?”
Would this ride never end? Yam thought. He was only going to the third floor, but getting there seemed to be taking forever.
“I discovered them 52 years ago. The aliens.” Sammy raised his head to the elevator’s ceiling, as if the aliens might be up there looking down.
Yam, too, raised his head.
Sammy’s voice continued to drone on. “They promised me a different life, sir. Different than my life as an elevator operator.” Sammy paused, as if gathering inner strength. “I was young, then. Yes, young. And I believed them. Who wouldn’t? They said they were from another planet. They wanted to make me one of them. In their image, they said. I would report to them, to help them with their Plan.” Sammy laughed, the sound reverberating around the elevator’s small enclosure like a trapped animal trying to escape. “How could I know what they had in mind? How was I supposed to know? Look at me now, sir,” Sam wheezed. “They’ve changed me.”
Yam looked, too dumbfounded to say anything. He noticed a spreading puddle of water under Sammy’s feet, which he now realized were webbed and naked and resembled those of a frog. Sammy’s arms – or forelimbs – were much shorter than his hind limbs. Sammy looked like he might be ready to hop away, if given half the chance.
There was a slight lurch as the elevator came to an abrupt stop.
“Well, here we are, sir. Third floor.”
“Thank you…Sammy.” How had Sammy known that he wanted the third floor?
Yam stepped through the elevator door and onto a beige carpet. He turned around as the doors started to close, just in time to see Sammy’s nodding head, the pads on his limbs once again caressing the ebony-colored row of buttons. There was an abrupt ‘whisk’ of compressed air as the door closed completely. Yam stared at the departing elevator as it continued on its journey, much like an observer watching a departing plane.
He walked along the carpet, careful to avoid the many puddles of water.
To be a boy of seven living in a swamp is to be alive to all the sounds and smells that such opportunity affords.
I remember the warbling of the gray-brown birds hiding deep in the leafy Cypress trees. I remember the mosquitoes bumping against my bedroom window as they competed with the flitting dragonflies to gain entrance into our house. I remember also the chittering cicadas that smashed into the walls with carefree abandon, leaving in their wake a dark, sticky residue like greasy rain. As I lay in bed at night, I could hear the rustling grunts of some strange animal as it crawled about in the thick, wet mud, licking away the cicadas’ remains with their long and efficient tongues. It was a time of great joy to be alive in the swamp with all its humid desires.
Strange, wild flowers droop and sway in the night, growing in abundance next to the familiar Spanish moss and butterfly orchids. Many were the nights that I listened to the joyless loneliness of the frogs as they jumped about. And many were the nights that I heard their strange aborted croaks as something unseen bit deep into their warty bodies, snatching away their lives in an instant. In the morning, stepping into wet clayey muck, I saw heaps of frog legs strewn about in careless abandon next to the old stumps and fallen logs that surrounded our house. Something lived in the hollow trunks, I realized, something that came out to feast only at night. How my heart thrilled at the thought of some creature whose appetite might rival my own.
There is something out there, I thought, something that competes with woodpeckers and warblers, with salamanders and lizards. It is something with an appetite and it’s hunger is great. Why did it not eat bobcats and otters, I wondered? They were in profuse abundance. Would that not be a tastier meal…a larger meal?
One night, I lay in bed and watched as large snails crawled in their unhurried manner along my bedroom walls, their slime trails crisscrossing in a pattern that seemed to give new meaning to free form art. It was at that moment, as darkness completely swallowed the swamp, that something scraped against my closed window, as if attempting to gain access. For that one brief moment, I saw a captive bull-frog caught between large splay lips whose width seemed to stretch from ear to ear, although the creature had no ears. Large pop eyes regarded me with unabashed curiosity. I watched in mesmerized glory as those thick lips opened and closed in one quick motion. The creature swallowed and the frog was gone. Four little legs, briefly moving, lay captive between those wide lips.
The next morning, I saw a great accumulation of dismembered legs lying in the muck next to my window. Even now, after all these years, I sometimes see again those tiny movements of something akin to life, as if the frogs’ legs are trying to reassemble themselves into something whole again. This knowledge gives renewed hope to my own hunger, which seems even now to rival the creature I saw that night so many years ago.