Plugs

Karl pulled one drawer clean out. Bolts, a small screwdriver, wing nuts that should have been in the wing nut drawer, a ball bearing, and some tacks left over from paneling the den hit the floor. The ball bearing rolled under Madge’s Pinto. Something flashed from the empty slot where the drawer had been.

Karl set the drawer on the floor and bent down, hands on thighs, to peer into the hole. He moved a little to one side and again saw a flash. Could it be a broken piece of mirror? He reached in. His hand touched a cold smooth plane. Aha, he thought: it’s a mirror or piece of glass. Before he even finished the thought, he began to feel quite peculiar. His skin buzzed like the time he stuck his finger in the electrical outlet, then he was falling fast and headfirst, but after a moment of panic (during which he shut his eyes) he seemed to be at rest, on his feet, and unharmed. He opened his eyes.

Something stood or crouched in front of him. Its face reminded him of a fish, although the texture of its skin said lobster, and tufts of tendrils around its mouth called to mind a sea anemone. The body gave a similarly chimeric impression; it had elements of arthropod, mammal, and reptile, although in places the shapes and textures were more reminiscent of the inorganic. Karl laughed weakly.

“This sculpture is the most far out I’ve ever seen!” he said, looking around for the artist.

The thing spoke, its voice a bubbling hiss. Karl screamed and turned to run, only to discover another of the creatures right behind him. It seized his arms and, after a while, he stopped screaming.

“You are most honored,” it burbled. “You are the human chosen to rule the earthly portion of the coming Eternal Empire. All others of your ilk will serve as your abject slaves. Rejoice!”

“Rule? Me? Empire?” Patiently it was explained again. And again. It finally sank in. He wiped drool off his chin. Then he pumped his fist in the air.

“Yes! Karl Johnson will rule the WOOOORLD!!”

“Excuse me, Karl Johnson? Karl Johnson?” The thing let go of his arms.

“That’s my name, don’t wear it out. Let’s see…Emperor Karl Johnson? No. Potentate Karl … what?”

“Sorry, we were looking for Carl Sandstroem.”

“Oh, uh, his house is the white one on the corner.”

end

A hunchback says “it seems a fellow with eight arms walks into a bar and…”

The guy with the slits interrupts him. “You don’t start a story like that. You don’t say ‘it seems,’ you just start right in talking. Like ‘A fellow with eight arms takes a head off the guy next to him at the bar.’”

“Yeah, Kelly said that,” agrees the fellow with the long neck. “He oughta know how to tell a story.”

“But that ain’t what happened,” the hunchback protests, “the other guy didn’t have any heads at all, and…”

“No head?!” A really thin guy glides over from a nearby table. His head is the widest part of him, because of the nose, and his expression says he couldn’t imagine having a smaller head, much less no head. “That meant he didn’t have no nose. How did he smell?”

Slits starts to answer, and the hunchback says “Now look, whose joke is this?” but that is as far as he gets. Just then someone comes in the door. He has a whole bunch of arms and is holding some kind of weapon in each hand. He starts shooting (which is completely illegal) and all the raconteurs dive for the floor. Octopus Boy is tearing the place up. The light fixture suspended from the ceiling partially explodes and the remains start spinning lazily, shedding sparks. Most of the surviving patrons are on the floor, some dripping fluids, and the smell of oxygen acceptors is harsh in the air. Suddenly there’s a shout from the back of the room:
“Finish the joke! The guy with no heads! What does he do?!” This elicits a brief volley from the heavily armed character in the doorway. When it ends, the hunchback quavers from underneath a table.

“He smells as bad as ever.”

Another volley, and the shooter speaks for the first time: “Who am I? Chopped liver?!

A different voice from the back of the room. “And the guy who walks into the bar? What happens to him?”

O. B. pauses to slap himself in the forehead.

The hunchback answers. “You fellows really ain’t heard this one? He rubs his head and says ‘ow!’”

Octopus Boy throws up several of his arms in disgust and just walks back out on the street.

The end

Lost in thought, Chet bumped into a paramete in full plumage. She reared back, inadvertently spurting a few centiliters of rainbow spores from her bejeweled gametoslits.

“Clumsy human! May cleanser grubs devour you alive!”

Chet offered the Bow of Contrition, but the paramete swept past and was gone.  Chet glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing.

***

Returning home, Chet hurried to his rooftop lab. He wasn’t allowed to work in the basement since the Thousand Stenches incident. He took out the parcel he’d picked up at Thaumaturge’s Market.  As he sought the proper protocol, a gust of wind ripped a page out of his lab notebook.  He hoped it wasn’t crucial.

Chet ground a slice of the memory root into a fine powder. He mixed it up into the last of the lemon hummus, scraped it onto a pita chip, and ate. Trembling, he sat on the cool tar roof and waited to “meet” his father–world’s finest thaumatuge–who’d died in a horrible lab accident involving parametes when Chet was three.

Thaumaturgic symbols Chet had inscribed around him set the time frame. Touching his father’s ashes at his mother’s house was to ensure he’d see the right memories. Chet’s fingernails tickled, his nose hairs quivered, and murmuring noises burbled in his ears. This was it. This would be worth saving a year and a half to buy that memory root. A vision–bright colors writhed, bucked–came into focus:

It was a paramete pleasure nest, on a particularly pleasure-filled night. Chet realized: He had bumped into a paramete on the way home.  The parametes paused in their feathered flurry and, poking their long necks out of the fray, turned to Chet.  This was supposed to be a memory, Chet thought as he backed into a wall of pointy sticks.  The parametes surrounded him and glared.  Simultaneously, the parametes shook and ruffled their feathers, showering a cascade of cleanser grubs that inched their way toward Chet.  Chet tried to leap over them, but they leapt with him, crawling up pant legs, down his shirt collar, through shirt sleeves.  He weakened before he was able to strip off his shirt to peel off grubs.  His last thought: Why had he bothered to hang on?

***

Chet awoke on the rooftop, groggy as from a night of indulgence.  It must have been one helluva night because he remembered nothing from the day before.

Kat Beyer

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