lost time incident 06
As I write these words you’re now reading, it’s quarter to midnight and my eyes don’t want to stay open. But sleep and I don’t get along. I’ve had worse spells in my life, but sometimes I get really resentful of how much time sleep takes up, considering all the interesting things I could be doing with that time. There’s so much to read, listen to, or discover. Even sitting around doing nothing is better when you’re conscious for it.
So for now, I’m typing and trying to stave off sleep. It’s not going to work.
But while we’re here, let’s answer some fan mail:
[a hand rips open an envelope]
[from inside, the soft whirring of an electric engine, the susurrus of a mild breeze]
Thanks, fan! All we can say to that is [the sound of a switch being turned off].
A few days back, I watched a Republican debate, mostly so that I could leave a Twitter window open and have context for the jokes being made by the comedians I follow. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain an ironic distance when it comes to Donald Trump, though. Every time he attacked a candidate, I laughed, muttered “You complete dick,” and then had the thought that this playground bully might actually think he could lead the free world the same way. That took the fun out of it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve written a few unusual Trump endorsement announcements on social media:
BREAKING: Dark Malevolent Shadow In Corner of Child’s Room Endorses Trump
BREAKING: [feeling of shaking a cold, damp hand] has endorsed Trump!
And then, probably because YouTube has been showing me trailers for THE WITCH all week:
BREAKING: Leaf-eating Bog Witch Pledges Use of Her Kidnapped/Murdered Child Victims to Trump Campaign
“I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with them,” a Trump volunteer was quoted as saying. “I don’t see how this is helpful. It’s horrifying. Are there– are there parents we need to contact, or— the police?”
I also recently shared my habit of filling in comment boxes on email unsubscribe forms. After all, I work in tech support myself. I know that some poor bastard actually has to scroll through whatever bramble of angry how-dare-you-email-me ranting and boring “nothing to add” messages are collected by these forms. So I like doing them a favor and putting something odd in there, just to catch their eye.
The economic downturn hit the tiny town of Pagoda, Wisconsin especially hard. The big factory that built electric razors moved to Sweden as part of the facial hair industry boom that was going on there.
The U-Store-It factory that at one time manufactured 70% of the country’s storage garages had burned down. The garages they built used to be shipped fully constructed (and if desired, already filled with cardboard boxes full of old clothes, tacky garbage and regrets). After the fire, the factory’s ashes were pushed into piles by the local volunteer fire department, then shoved into a garden shed. To date, no one has claimed those ashes.
Considering the dearth of employment opportunities, it just made sense when the town’s population decided, individually or in groups, to turn to crime. Within a few months, there wasn’t a single honest industry in town. In order to send a letter, you had to hand it off to the postal mafia, who would “kidnap” the letter on your behalf and contact the recipient for a stamp’s-worth of ransom money. The volunteer fire department would go door-to-door selling insurance, flicking lighters (though none of them smoked), and carrying open buckets of gasoline that sloshed around as they strolled the neighborhood.
There were still a few police officers. Officer Tom. Officer Pradesh. Officer Udom. Captain Jess. With no tax revenue being collected, they self-funded through search and seizure operations. Every Saturday, in the parking lot behind the police station, citizens would turn up to bid on their seized belongings, displayed on blankets, flea market style. Insultingly low bids were sometimes answered with a non-verbal refusal in the form of pepper spray, liberally applied.
The town had been founded by a 19th century naval officer who had been stationed in China for many years. Upon returning to the States to retire with his fortune, he found a considerable plot of arable land in Wisconsin. Dressed in a silk costume of his own design, he paid gold, and after bowing to the state clerk who drafted the receipt of funds, the naval hero immediately set about building a Chinese palace for his home.
To this day, the McCombe Castle and Catacombs (though unfinished) are open to the public. In the basement is a museum with displays about the history of the town. On the first through fourth floors are a criminal gang, dressed in kung fu outfits looted from the martial arts studio that used to be by the minimart. They call themselves the McCombe Clan and say that they are in supernatural communication with the town founder’s undying spirit, who they’ve sworn to resurrect using black magic and (judging by the evidence) awkward kicks and chopping motions. To date, these magics and motions have had no effect, save to ensure that very few people visit the museum.
Yosha “Duffle” Baggs – Baggs was born with unusually forgiving cartilage, which he discovered at an early age when his angry parents would ball him up like a discarded phone bill and throw him, with no discernible ill effect. His talent for contortion would serve him well during Pagoda’s post-law era as he and a partner would regularly burgle houses using one of two methods.
In the first, Baggs would fold himself into a duffle bag and his partner would leave the bag on the porch of a targeted home. The homeowner, on finding a bag with no owner, would usually take the bag inside, intent on selling its contents. Upon opening the bag and seeing human limbs, however, the homeowner would usually assume that they’d found evidence of a murder, presumably one being pinned on them, or else why would the bag be on their porch, and so they would stash the bag somewhere while they figured out how to flee town. After nightfall, Baggs could unzip himself out of the bag, help himself to valuables, then slip out undetected.
In the second burgling method, Baggs would make himself comfortable inside a gym bag and then have his partner fling the bag onto the roof of a targeted house. Few people look at their own roof, and even if they did and saw a gym bag, odds are they wouldn’t assume the bag has anything of value. “Probably just thrown up there by a school bully,” they might think. Once night falls, the roof-bound bag would extrude Baggs and from there, he’d gain entry.
Caroline Watts – Watts has claimed that she’s lost all feeling in both of her hands, which has made them terrifying weapons in a scrap. Previous unarmed opponents of hers have ended up with facial features that have been described as “soup like”, “Picassoed”, and “worse than they used to be, though not by much— I’m saying they were ugly! Get it?” When Watts is asked how, if she has no feeling in her hands, she can do such daily activities as tie her own shoes or open doors, she’s been known to smile and say “Other people can do that sort of stuff for me.”
In the post-law-abiding era in Pagoda, Watts built a reputation as a standover artist, known for pummeling a fellow criminal and kidnapping them, then ransoming them back to their gang associates. The local police department strongly advises against greeting her with any variation on “Watt’s up” or “Watt’s happening.”
the best medicine
Two young doctors stood next to an operating table. One of them, Doctor Singh, monitored vital signs while the other, Doctor Lopez, updated the patient’s chart.
“As soon as the surgeon arrives, this should go fairly smoothly,” said Singh.
“Oh yeah?” asked Lopez.
“Based on the tests run earlier today, blood levels, the patient’s symptoms… all signs point to a gallbladder attack. Very painful, but removing the gallbladder is pretty much an outpatient procedure these days.”
“Sure,” said Lopez.
“Unless— and this is statistically unlikely— this particular patient proves resistant to the anesthesia or their gall bladder has an unusually thick nest of connective tissue fusing it to nearby organs or muscle groups. So far, the patient shows no signs of resistance to anesthesia, so… we’re probably pretty good.”
The door to the operating theater opened and the doctors found themselves enveloped in a pungent cloud, as if a pack of microscopic wet dogs had just found their way into their nostrils and started rolling around, or as if a swamp’s worth of damp organic matter had belched into an uncooked bowl of falafel.
Through the door, dressed in surgeon’s kit, came a seven foot tall creature, fur erupting around the face mask stretched across its muzzle.
“Doctor Bigfoot,” said Singh.
“Gentlemen, thank you for the prep work. Which case is this again?” Doctor Bigfoot’s enormous clawed hand trailed across a tray of surgical instruments.
Lopez flipped through the chart. “Gallbladder removal. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy.”
“Right, right,” said Bigfoot. “So here’s what we’ll do. We’re going to drag this body out behind the building until we reach that stand of pine trees. Then we’ll use our front limbs to scoop dirt over it until it’s covered. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not even hungry yet, so… yeah. Quick burial and we’ll circle back in a few days, see how the patient’s doing. Should be ready to eat then.”
“Uh,” said Lopez.
“I think that’s a terrible idea,” said Singh. “For one thing… we’re doctors. We heal people. We don’t … you’re proposing eating a patient. Am I understanding that correctly?”
“YOU THINK I DON’T KNOW THAT? I am a magnificent doctor! I studied under the greatest healers the redwood coastal regions have ever known! I once cured a deer’s depression using moss! I once replaced a bear’s entire skull with bark!”
“We’re familiar with your achievements,” said Lopez. “We have this conversation every time.”
Singh pressed his fingers to his eyes. “No, we know. It’s just… sometimes it seems like your background leads you to make… unconventional suggestions.”
Bigfoot’s pupils dilated. The room and Singh seemed like distant distractions.
Years ago, in medical college, a surgeon yelling: “Who dressed these raccoons up in nurse’s scrubs?”
Years ago, in a lecture hall, a lecturer yelling; “Whose large dog is that in the back row taking notes?”
Years ago, in an ER, as Bigfoot leans over a small child: “How many limbs did you come in here with? And you’re sure none of them were tree limbs? Even though tree limbs are demonstrably better?”
ending theme song
I’m glad I’m doing these and I’m glad you have been coming along for the ride. It’s been good to get the ol’ fiction writing muscles back into shape. Rediscovering what sort of writing I enjoy, as opposed to the sort of writing I’ve oftentimes thought I should be doing, but didn’t particularly want to.
Thanks as always to my wife Amanda for supplying an original illustration in the form of Dr. Bigfoot.
And special thanks to those of you who have shared my infomercials on social media. They don’t work— like, at all— but isn’t it nice that we all tried? They’re fun to write, anyway.
Most of this week’s installment was written in a neighborhood noodle house / tea shop. I’m gonna call it now: coffee shops are played out. Get somewhere that has almond cookies and oolong, man. Times are changing.
The completely changed
Michael Van Vleet