The Snatcher

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Being the story of a young man beginning a new job at an assisted living facility.

Submitted: March 21, 2018

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Submitted: March 21, 2018

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The Snatcher

 

by Harris Proctor

 

 

 

“Oh,” Rodney said, pivoting back to me with an index finger in the air.  “Watch your ass around Mrs. Lipschitz.  She’s a pincher.”  He pointed to a woman in a wheelchair at the far end of the sun room.  Her shawl was spilled about her in tentacles of crocheted wool.

 

“A pincher?” I asked.  I liked Rodney.  I met him right after I left my sample for the drug test.  That had been on the heels of orientation.  The Director snickered and told me I was to follow Rodney for a week.  Everyone else who worked there was standoffish.  Rodney was very nice but had peculiar breath.  He was in the midst of showing me the ropes in the old folks’ home.  I refused to call it the assisted living facility.  At least when I didn’t have to.

 

“Yeah.  A pincher.”  Rodney made a pinching motion with his hand.  “She’ll pinch your ass if it’s within reach.”

 

I laughed.  I thought he was joking.

 

“I guess I’ll just hang out next to her most of the time,” I said.

 

“I’m serious,” he said.  “There’s a bunch of ‘em here.  You have to know how to dodge those crooked old arms.”  He snatched the air with his fingers.

 

I had a few reservations about the job before.  Elder care assistant.  I certainly didn’t care for the idea of being groped by the veiny hands of old ladies.

 

“Uh, why don’t you do something about it?” I asked him.  I’m not sure he heard me.  I can be real soft-spoken. 

 

“Come on.  I’ll show you where we keep all the cleaning stuff.  That’s definitely something you’ll need to be familiar with.”  Rodney unlocked the planet’s most non-descript, beige door, and we walked down a stairwell to a narrow hallway.  Behind the first door was a basement room stacked floor to ceiling with bottles of liquids and bags of powders.  “This stuff comes in the first Thursday of every month.  Whoever is on a mid-shift has to put the order away.  We rotate the stock, so you put all the old product on the lower shelf.  New stuff goes up top.  Leave your walkie-talkie in the hallway.  It can be hard to get a signal in here.”

 

“We rotate stock?”  I picked up a bottle of something called Fabu-glow 2000.  It had a date stamped on it.  “This expires in ten years.”

 

“That’s how it works,” he shrugged.  “We rotate.”  His walkie-talkie burst into a fit of garbled static.  “See?  No signal.”  I heard an unusually melodic alarm coming from upstairs.

 

“What’s that?” I asked.

 

“Code Blue.  Mr. Morehead.  I knew he was gonna go today.  Crazy old Morehead. Knew it.  C’mon.”  He started back into the hallway.  I followed.  As we turned to the stairs, I heard a sound from behind another door at the far end of the basement.  It was like a rusted pair of garden shears slicing through a pile of grapes.  “Come on,” Rodney said.

 

“What was that?”

 

“I’ll show you later,” he said and led me back upstairs.

 

“Rodney,” I began as we walked down the main hall.  I felt someone grab my ass.  I looked behind me and saw an old lady looking innocently away.  It was not Mrs. Lipschitz.  Rodney was still walking down the hall.  I had to hustle to catch up.  “Hey!”

 

“That’s Mrs. Boyle.  She’s a grabber.”

 

“Why do you let them grab your butt?”

 

“I don’t let them do anything.  They just do it.  That’s how it goes.”

 

“Why don’t you say something?  Do something to stop them?”

 

“What am I supposed to do?  Punch a little old lady?”  He simulated the punch with a fervor that made me feel like he’d thought of it before.

 

“There’s more you could do besides punch.”

 

“I dunno,” he said and shook his head.  “They had to put up with it their whole lives, right?  Guys being creepy and all.  So what’s the harm if they get a couple ass-grabs in on their way out?”

 

I was incapable of responding.  It made no sense.  And I found myself picturing these wrinkled old ladies as young women dealing with the unwanted gropes of generations of creepy men.  I struggled for words that floated through my mind but never fell from my mouth.  Rodney continued showing me around the old folks’ home.

 

That was my first day.

 

On the second day, Mrs. Lipschitz pinched my ass.  She let out a whoop while she did it and then threw her arms in the air as though she were on a roller coaster.

 

“Hey!” I hollered.  None of the old folks seemed to notice anything.  Rodney put down his coffee mug and strolled in a wide arc around Mrs. Lipschitz’s wheelchair.  He rolled her away from me and softly chastised her.

 

“Take it easy on the new guy, huh Mrs. Lipschitz?”  She just snickered.  I reached for Rodney’s mug to hand it back to him.  “Hey, there- careful!”  I put the mug down.  Some grey water spilled over the edge as it hit the counter.  “Look what you did!”

 

“I’m sorry,” I said.  “I didn’t expect you to yell at me.  I was only trying to hand you your whatever-that-is.”

 

“Tea,” he said as he wiped the counter and licked his fingers.  “Very expensive tea.”

 

“I apologize.  I was trying to help.”  The tea stunk to high heaven.  Like funky cheese.

 

“It’s ok.  I overreacted.  Don’t touch my mug, though.  That’s my only rule.”

 

“I will never touch it again.  Not if my life depended on it.”  I pointed at Mrs. Lipschitz.  “How often will that happen?”

 

“Every time you park your keester within her reach.”

 

“I think I should talk to Human Resources about this,” I said.  He roared with laughter.

 

“Human Resources?  Son, HR ain’t doin’ nothing.”  He laughed some more.  “These are a bunch of decrepit and demented old people with nowhere else to go.  This is their last stop before the great beyond.  What do you want to do?  Throw them out?  This is the way it is.  Accept it or go somewhere else.”

 

“I don’t like being treated like a piece of meat.”

 

“We are all just pieces of meat.”  He drew closer.  “Think of everything these women had to endure.  Getting chased around the boss’ desk and all that crap.  My daddy used to spank women when they walked by.  In church.  Men got it coming if you ask me.”

 

“Got it coming?  I’ve never done that to anybody.  Why am I paying the price for a bunch of disrespectful thugs?”

 

“You never touched a lady’s butt?”

 

“I have, sure, like, touched one.  Lots.  Tons of butts.  But never a stranger.  I never touched the bum of a woman who didn’t want her bum touched by me.  Not once.”

 

“Not even accidentally?  Like on the subway?”

 

“Well probably,” I said.  I remembered one time.  The woman was absolutely gorgeous.  I apologized profusely to her at the time.  “But, see, that would be an accident.”

 

“You’re blushing.”

 

“These women are grabbing on purpose.”  I felt a hand grab my ass.  I turned to see an old man in a wheelchair looking innocently away.  “Hey!”  I stepped away and looked at Rodney.  He shrugged.

 

“Not all of them are women.”  He took a sip of his stinky tea.

 

That was my second day.

 

On the third day, the director called me into his office to let me know I had passed the drug test.

 

“Clean pee,” he said and giggled.  “Clean pee!”

 

“Thank you, Mr. Larsen,” I said.  “May I ask what you would have done if I had failed the drug test?”

 

“You mean if you didn’t have… clean pee?”  He shook with laughter and began to wheeze.

 

“Yes.”

 

He stopped laughing.  “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean would you give me a paycheck for three days and fire me?”

 

“Two and a half days, Harry,” he said.  “Orientation is only a half day.”

 

“I see.  Mr. Larsen…”

 

“Please,” he interrupted.  “Call me ‘Director.’”  He took a sip of watery-looking coffee.

 

“Okay, Director.  Are you aware that a number of your residents have a tendency to grab the buttocks of your staff?”  The director exploded in laughter as he fell out of his chair.  Tears streamed down his face as he trembled and struggled to breathe.

 

“You said buttocks!”  The words were barely intelligible.  Watery-coffee-colored spit was flying everywhere.  “Buttocks!”

 

“Can I go now, Director?”

 

He waved me out of the room.  I closed the door behind me, wondering if he was going to have a heart attack.  Rodney approached.

 

“What are you talking to him for?” he asked me.

 

“He called me in to let me know I passed the drug test.”

 

“Oh,” Rodney said and then raised his voice an octave.  “Clean pee!”

 

“Does he do that all the time?”

 

“Pretty much.  He’ll find excuses.  One time he called me in to tell me they had to drug-test me again.  I thought he was serious.  He just wanted to use the word ‘pee’ in conversation.  He has a childish sense of humor.”  Rodney held his mug.  This tea had a more pleasant aroma than the last.

 

“Why is a juvenile nincompoop in charge of this place?”

 

“I think most places have a juvenile nincompoop in charge.”

 

“Yeah,” I said.  “But rolling out of his chair when he hears the word ‘buttocks?’  I was making a point about his staff being harassed.”

 

“He’s going to get the hiccups if you used the word ‘buttocks.’  You brought up the grabbing?”

 

“Of course I did.”

 

“Heh.  The Director won’t do anything about that.”  Rodney took a swig from his mug and gestured up and down the hallway.  “He wanders around looking to get grabbed.  When you hear the giggling, you’ll know what’s going down.”  Rodney pinched the air with his fingers.

 

“You must be kidding.”

 

“Nope.”

 

“How did he get the job?”

 

“His family owns the place.  Majority interest, anyway.  He doesn’t do much, really.  Hell, I’m more in charge here than he is.  He just has the title.  Director.  It’s a pretty nice title if you think about it.”

 

“This place is run by an idiot because his family gave him the job?”  I was starting to look for the nearest exit.

 

“That’s usually how it works.”

 

“I think I need to find a new gig,” I said.

 

“What?”  Rodney looked genuinely shocked.  “You’re only three days in!”

 

“Two and a half,” I said.  “And I think that’s probably more than enough.”

 

“You have to give it more time than that.  Trust me.  Things get better.  There are some real perks to this job.”

 

“Like what?  They start grabbing your crotch after a while?”

 

“Well, if that’s your sort of thing…” he shrugged.

 

“That’s not my sort of thing!”

 

“I know, I know.  I’m just getting wise with you.”  Rodney put his hand on my shoulder.  “Get through the week.  If you don’t think you can come back on Monday, then don’t show up.  The director won’t even notice.  I’ll make sure you get your paycheck.”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“Yeah.”  There was relief in his voice.

 

“Are you going to show me what’s in the basement now?” I asked.

 

“Later,” he said.  “Let me show you this first.”  And he led me to a storage room full of bedpans.

 

That was my third day.

 

The fourth and fifth days went better than the first three.  I learned how to avoid the busy hands of the residents.  It was like a dance.  A never-ending cha-cha around the snapping claws of old fingers.  Towards the end of the day on Friday, Rodney sat me down.  He took a swig from his mug.

 

“Tell me something- why did you take this job in the first place?”

 

“I guess I needed a change.”

 

“What were you doing before?”

 

“Waiting tables.”

 

“Ugh,” he said.  “That’s terrible.”

 

“It’s not that bad,” I said.  “The money was decent.  It was fine when I was twenty-two.  After a while it put a strain on friendships and dating and stuff.  Always working nights and weekends and all.  My last girlfriend, Veronica.  She left me because of the hours.”  That was a half-truth.

 

“So that’s why you left?  The hours?”

 

“Partly.  Mostly I wanted to have a job that meant something.  Y’know?  Something that contributes to the world?  When you’re a waiter, you can make sure someone’s birthday dinner goes smoothly.  Or maybe you can be a friendly face when somebody is having a rough day.  But that’s it.  And that happens so rarely.  It’s an endless series of strained, ninety minute relationships.  My big purpose was dropping meat in front of a hungry mouth.  Most of the time you just refill coffee.”

 

“I hate coffee.”

 

“So I started looking for different work and I realized that I didn’t have much by way of skills.  Marketable skills.  I don’t have a degree.  My work experience was all restaurants.  That would only help me get another restaurant job.  Then I saw this job posted in the paper.  I never read the paper.  I just happened to be at my dad’s house to return his shop vac.”

 

“I told them the paper was the way to go,” he said.  “Job at the old folks’ home needs to be posted the old fashioned way.  Newspaper!  So it’s thanks to me you ended up here.”

 

“Great,” I said.  “Thanks a lot.”

 

“You are going to thank me more sincerely than that.  If you come back on Monday.”

 

“I’m pretty sure I will,” I said.

 

“You’re pretty sure you’ll be sincere?”

 

“No,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure I’ll come back.”

 

That was Friday.

 

The weekend was pretty vacant.  On Friday, I fell asleep on the couch after eating my dinner.  My roommate, Jeff, woke me up when he got in.  He was working at the same restaurant I used to haunt.  He asked if I wanted to get high and play Code of Honor IV: Blood and Guts with him.  I told him I had a lot to do the next day.  I cleaned up and went to bed.  I lay there for an hour wondering if I should just smoke some pot and send video-game insurgents to hell.  I reminded myself that there wasn’t a ton of meaning in killing fake people.  At least I always went for the head shot.  Jeff liked to pop them in the knee first and wait a second before shooting them in their guts.  Can it be sadistic if it’s fake?

 

I woke up at seven in the morning.  No alarm clock or anything.  It felt bizarrely natural.  I had spent years working nights.  Waking up past noon damn-near every day.  I made a cup of coffee and realized I had no earthly idea what to do with myself.  I walked into the living room and saw Jeff asleep, sitting up on the couch with the game controller in his hand.  I needed my own place.  I decided to go to the library.

 

The city has a beautiful library.  I love the smell of moldering paper, too.  When I was in college, I used to walk through the stacks and run my hands along the spines of the books- the way people walk through fields of grain in movies- all slow-motion and fingertips.  I should have spent more time in class.  Or at least reading some books instead of smelling and rubbing them.  I pulled one at random and began reading.

 

Ivan VII, also known as Ivan the Persuasive, had twenty-eight sons by three wives and four mistresses.  Of these, only Gregory the Bastard was deemed fit to rule.  His reign lasted six months, cut short when he was stabbed to death by his twenty-seven brothers.

 

There was so much I didn’t know.  I lived in a tiny bubble, floating aimlessly through the world.  Ignorant.  I wondered if I could make the most of this new job.  To learn from the old folks, not just wander past them.  To let them touch me.  METAPHORICALLY.  I could soak up their knowledge and experience, not just empty their commodes.  It sounded good.  Maybe I’d even call Veronica and let her know how much I’d changed.  I put the crappy Ivan book back on the shelf and headed home to play Code of Honor.  I was going to start a new chapter of my life.  First thing Monday morning.

 

First thing Monday morning, Mrs. Boyle went into cardiac arrest.  Rodney took me downstairs.

 

“This is Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Devourer of Souls,” he said as he unlocked the door at the far end of the basement.  He flipped on a light switch.  In the center of the massive room, perched on a sunken patch of steel grating, was a hairy blob, ten feet across.  It was vaguely pumpkin shaped, though it twitched and rolled like an egg about to hatch.  “No one is allowed in here but you and me.  And, of course, Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Sower of Unspeakable Torment.”

 

“Rodney,” I said, almost entranced by the shiny, rubbery skin beneath the blob’s caterpillaresque whiskers.  “Is this a joke?”  Around the edge of the room was a sort of catwalk made of the same kind of grating.  A thin railing followed the odd contours of the catwalk.  “What the hell is that?”

 

“Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Devourer of Souls, Creator of the Nightmare Realm of Hallas Pruktrea, Vomiter of Dread, Father of Unseen Abominations.”  The blob let out a fart as a hairy tentacle shot straight out of the top it.  A mouth formed, filled with rows of pyramidal teeth.

 

“EEEEYAHHHHHHEEEEE!  WHOOOOGAHHHH!  LOOOOTHAHHHHHH!” it wheezed at us.  Its voice sounded like rusty garden shears slicing through grapes.  The mouth stretched as wide as a garbage can, and countless ribbon-thin tongues fluttered in its rank breath.

 

“What does that mean?” I asked.  My knees were knocking.

 

“I have no idea,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder.  “Let me show you how this works.  There’s a code blue up there for Mrs. Boyle.  Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Un-maker of That Which Is Made, will draw her soul in with his magic or whatever.  As the soul gets closer, we are going to bat it into his mouth with this broom.  I’ll show you the rest after.”

 

Sweat burst from my pores as a ring of octagonal fins emerged from the hemisphere of the blob.  They undulated and rotated about its waist as the tentacle-mouth wheezed.

 

“OOOOOAHHHHHHHHGHAAAAAA!”

 

“Try not to sweat around Slog-Thogath Garrukka,” Rodney said.  “That shit is like ketchup to him.  Oh, that reminds me.”  He pulled a squeeze bottle of ketchup out of his pocket and threw it towards the blob.  The mouth snatched it like a striking cobra.

 

“HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIZZZZZZZZZZZZEEEEEEEEE!”

 

“Man, he loves ketchup.  I gotta confess.  I’m kinda the same.”  Crooked arms, each tipped with a crustaceanary claw, sprouted from the fins in every direction.  The pinching and snatching of the claws sounded vaguely like a round of applause.  “There he goes.”

 

“What in the name of God is happening right now?”

 

“This is how it works.  Lookit!”  He pointed over my shoulder.

 

I turned and saw a glowing sphere, turquoise and translucent, floating from down the hallway. About the size of a basketball.  It wafted toward us.

 

“See,” Rodney said, stepping towards the door and swiping the broom at the sphere.  “Can’t do shit yet.”  The broom passed right through the orb, leaving a trail of glittering flashes that twinkled like stars as the bristles emerged on the other side.  “Now watch as Slog-Thogath Garrukka, First-Born of the Wretched Nebulae Spawn gets his breath on her.”

 

“Her?”

 

“Yeah,” he said, gripping the broom like it was a 42-ounce Louisville Slugger.  “That’s Mrs. Boyle.  Her soul anyway.”  The mouth reared back and heaved a foetid exhalation at Mrs. Boyle’s soul.  “Now, watch this.”  Rodney took a cut again at the orb, and this time the broom popped it toward Slog-Thogath Garrukka.  The orb must have had some curious weight to it, despite its slow-floating routine.  The head of the broom recoiled off of Mrs. Boyle as though she were made of hard rubber.

 

“Rodney…”

 

“Quiet, now,” he said as he took swing after swing, nudging the sphere toward the myriad-tongued mouth.  “I’m doing stuff.”  Again and again, he batted the orb.  It kept drifting toward the equatorial row of snapping claws.  Rodney’s uppercuts kept it floating on a path toward that hideous mouth.  “Can’t let the claws get to her.  Won’t be nothing left.”  With a grunt he gave the glowing, spherical soul of the recently departed Mrs. Boyle a last crack.

 

“SHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!  YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBA!  NAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!  WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKEEE!”

 

With another cobra strike, the mouth snapped at the glowing ball.  The rows of pyramidal teeth clamped down on it, sending spaghetti-length lightning bolts all about.  The orb hummed, then cracked.  A dust cloud erupted as the mouth crushed the orb.  The room instantly smelled like honey and lilac.  Chunks of Mrs. Boyle’s essence flew about the room, and were immediately snatched up by the hideous claws which threw them back to the ribbons of tongue fluttering back and forth.  One mango-sized lump soared past the claws and landed with a clang on the catwalk.

 

“Yee-haw!” shrieked Rodney as he ran after it.  He pulled a baggie from his pocket and scooped up the lump the way a dog-owner does with dog-poop.  The appendages began to retreat back inside the blob.  “Let’s go now.  We’ll come back and empty his bed-pan when he’s sleeping.”

 

“Bed pan?”  My feet felt like lead.  Rodney pulled me by the arm.

 

“Commode.  Whatever you want to call it.  Come on.”  He practically dragged me back upstairs.  The Director was waiting for us in the hallway.  His fingers were tented under his chin.  His eyebrows were arched high into his sweaty forehead.

 

“Is all… as it should be?” he asked Rodney without a hint of a giggle.

 

“He said you have to give me more space,” Rodney muttered.  The director nearly doubled over with excitement.

 

“He mentioned me?”

 

“Kinda,” Rodney replied.  “Sorta.  Not really.”  Still towing me along, Rodney attempted to push past the Director.  A sweaty hand stopped him.

 

“When do I get mine?” he rasped into Rodney’s ear.

 

“Soon.  I need to go back for it.  He’s agitated today.”

 

“I want it!” the Director snarled.  Rodney stepped back and gestured to the stairway door.

 

“You have a key, right?  Go and help yourself if you don’t like the way this works.”

 

“I want,” the Director stammered as his eyes flitted between Rodney and the door.  “I…I…I want you to bring me mine as soon as possible.”  Rodney stared him down.

 

“You’ll get it when you get it.”

 

The Director straightened his jacket and headed to his office.  Rodney took a small pad and a golf pencil.

 

“This is my address.  Come here around seven tonight.  You look shook up.  Take the rest of the day.  I’ll punch your time card.”  I started to walk away.  “Hey,” Rodney called after me.  I turned around.  “You can’t tell anyone.  Ain’t nobody believin’ you anyhow.”
 

I drove home slowly.  I stopped halfway to puke.  All over some poor bastard’s minivan.  It wasn’t even close to noon when I got home.  I crawled into bed and pulled the covers over me.  I pulled out my phone and put it under my lamp.  I did that sometimes.  When I was having a rough day, I’d put an everyday object in a strange place.  I did it so that I would have to find it in a strange spot when I woke up.  To prove to myself that I hadn’t been dreaming to begin with.

 

When I woke up, the daylight was waning and the phone was just where I left it.  I pulled myself out of bed and rubbed my eyes.  My hands smelled vaguely like the honey and lilac that filled the room when Mrs. Boyle exploded.  I felt rested and calm.  I told myself I should feel more horrified knowing that a hairy, soul-eating flesh-pumpkin was out there.  I guess I was anxious on some level, but more than anything I felt curious.  I was also strangely horny, considering the day I was having.  I resisted the impulse to call Veronica and headed out to meet up with Rodney.

 

He lived in a huge, old apartment block.  One of those places that was built right before codes required elevators.  I lived in a place like once.  The joint had a huge sub-basement with a furnace the size of Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Doer of Stuff.  Rodney had an apartment on the second floor.  He answered the door in a terrycloth robe with a mug in his hand.

 

“Bet you’re feelin’ pretty good, huh?” he said, stepping aside and gesturing me in.

 

“How did you know?”

 

“Today was your first rodeo.  Not mine.”

 

“Why do I feel this way?”

 

“It’s the spice.  That cloud of dust when Slog-Thogath Garrukka burst the bubble.  It gets your blood pumping.  You puked on the way home, right?”

 

“Yeah,” I said.  “All over a minivan.”

 

“Good.  First time can be rough.  You get sick.  You get sleepy.  Then you wake up feelin’ like a fresh daisy.  Now you’re good.  We’re gonna keep that right on going.  Follow me.”

 

The hallway was narrow, the ceiling incredibly high.  A galley kitchen was off the first door and a small bedroom off the second.  At the end of the hallway was a bedroom converted into some sort of library.  A roll top desk was in one corner.  Packed bookshelves were everywhere.  Notebooks and legal pads were strewn about the furniture and floor.  A shelf ran around the entire room, about a foot and a half from the ceiling.  Mason jars were lined up on it, each with a piece of masking tape bearing a name and a date.  Inside of every jar was what looked like a piece of petrified wood.  I scanned the shelf until I saw it.  A jar with a mango-sized lump in it.  The masking tape read BOYLE.

 

“Are these all people?” I asked.

 

“Not really.  Kinda.  A little.”  He sipped his tea.

 

“You have their souls in jars?”

 

 “Each of these is a piece of their essence.  STG eats their soul, but usually a chunk breaks off.  I get that part.  Rodney’s share.”

 

“Rodney’s share?”  I looked from one jar to the next.  DuBeamarcheBivinsMacDonald.  Some of the tape was yellowed and old.  Some of the chunks were the size of walnuts.  One large jar appeared empty.  Newsome was written on it without a date.  “This is what happens to us when we die?  A hairy pumpkin eats you, and a dude named Rodney chops you up and snorts you?”

 

“I don’t snort these,” he said and picked up a second mug.  He held it out, the handle pointed straight at me.

 

“You’re kidding.”

 

“Try it.  It’s amazing.”

 

“You are drinking Mrs. Boyle?”  I stared into the cup.  It looked like tea.  It smelled of honey.

 

“This is how it works.  Old folks die at the home.  Slog-Thogath Garrukka sucks them in.  We send the ball to his mouth instead of the claws.  He gobbles up most of it.  We get a piece.”

 

“We?”

 

“Yeah.  I’m offering you a junior partnership.”  He motioned with the cup.  I took it from him, but I didn’t drink any.  I just looked back and forth between him and the cup.  “How old do you think I am?”

 

“Uh, I don’t know.” I looked from the cup to the jars to Rodney.  “Forty-six.”

 

“Try a hundred and thirty-two.”  He took a swig of Mrs. Boyle.  “Do you think you can figure out the secret of my unusual longevity?”

 

“The junk in the jars?”

 

“Yes, the essence of all of them.”  He motioned tersely to the high shelf.  “The dearly departed.  Keeps me young.  Kinda young.”

 

“This is completely insane.”

 

“No,” he said.  “This is how it works.  How it has always worked.  At least at the home.  I started there when I was about your age.  I was back from a tour in the Philippines.  That was hell.  Hurt both my legs.  Almost died of malaria.  My knees are still shot.  A family friend got me the gig at the home.  Back then those places was only for wealthy families.  Most people couldn’t afford to put their old folks away.  Wasn’t no Medicaid or nothin’.  I was there a couple of years before a dude named Lyman showed me old Slog.  I became Lyman’s junior partner.”

 

“What happened to him?”

 

“Got greedy.”  Rodney looked down and shook his head.  “He took any old chunk that fell from the lips of the Devourer of Souls.  See, you have to discriminate a little.  You can’t take the crazy ones.  You drink in what they were.  Some people are kind.  Some people are clever.  Some people are bat-shit crazy.  Especially crazy if they’ve been in the old folks’ home for long.”

 

“So Lyman went crazy.”

 

“Jumped right into the mouth of you-know-who.”  Rodney sipped from his mug.  “I never heard a scream like that before or since.”  I watched him slowly pace around the room.  He stared at the jars.

 

“Why do you need a partner?  Why me?”

 

“I need to retire.”

 

“So, that’s it.  I’m your replacement.”

 

“Yeah.  For a little bit at least.  Every few decades I take on a junior partner.  I can’t be working at the same place for a hundred years in a row.  People start asking questions.  Especially now, with computers and all.  You’ll hire me back in a couple years.  Once the staff has rotated through.  In the meantime, I can focus on my project.”

 

“What’s that?”

 

“Screenplay,” he said cheerily as he sat on an old armchair covered with sheets of loose leaf paper.  “I’m working on writing the greatest film ever.”

 

“Wow.”

 

“It’s about a bicycle race.  And the two main characters are both named Howie.  There’s all kinds of jokes about that.  ‘Howie.’  ‘You mean me?’  ‘No, you idiot, the other Howie!  Idiot!’  But the action is all in the bicycle race.”

 

“That sounds like something else.”  I tried my best to sound enthusiastic.  “How long have you been working on it?”

 

“A while I guess.  Off and on.  Y’know, work gets in the way sometimes.  I started it, geez…Whenever they had that big concert in Upstate New York.”

 

“Woodstock?”

 

“Yeah,” he slurped Mrs. Boyle.  “That’s the one.  Off and on.  So what do you say, partner?  Are we partners?”

 

“I don’t know.  I feel weird about batting souls into the mouth of some demonic gourd.”  I looked into the mug again.  The oils on the surface of the liquid seemed to move on their own accord.  The aroma was mind-blowing.  “We slap them into a monster, and we drink their essence.  And we share some with that weirdo director.”

 

“First off, the souls are going to be devoured regardless of our involvement.  Second off, we are doing them a favor by not letting the claws get after them.  I’ve seen it.  It’s pretty nasty.  And last off, we don’t share nothin’ with Director Dingbat.  Nothin’ good anyhow.”  He grinned.  “Remember how I told you about Slog-Thogath Garrukka’s bedpan?”

 

“Don’t tell me…”

 

“What the director doesn’t know can’t hurt him.  What other job you gonna find where you make your boss eat shit?  You can think it over if you want.  At the end of the day, you are helping these folks on the last stage of their journey.  And you get a shot at something people have chased after forever.  Eternal life.”

 

It sounded good.  Except the part about having to work at the old folks’ home for eternity.  But there would be vacations and overtime.  I would certainly be able to get a lot of reading done.  The scent of the tea tickled my nostrils.  Rodney held out his mug.  I clinked it with mine and we drank in silence.

 

“Does every old folks’ home have a Slog?” I asked.

 

“I dunno,” he said.  “This is the only home I’ve ever worked at.”

 

The next day I woke up feeling more alive than ever before.  Almost as though I had had the first real night’s sleep in my life. I was one day into consuming the essence of a recently-deceased old lady and I was loving it.  I was twenty minutes early to work.  Rodney seemed a little surprised, but pleasantly so.

 

“I have a project,” he said.  “And if you think you feel good now, just wait till we pull this off.”  I looked past him and saw the director giggling at the end of the hall.  His butt was dangling in the snatch-radius of Mrs. Lipschitz.  She looked away with complete disinterest.  The director wagged his bum back and forth.  Rodney glanced over at them.  “Hang back a minute.  Here.”  He handed me his mug.  I took a big gulp.

 

“Does it always make you feel this way?” I asked.

 

“You mean like Superman?  Only when it’s real fresh.  Like inside of a week.  After that, it’s nice but not so intense.”  He took the mug back and kept his gaze on the director and Mrs. Lipschitz.

 

“I’m guessing you’re waiting to see if she grabs that ass…” I said.

 

“No, I’m waiting for him to go away.  Don’t feel like dealing with him right now.”

 

“Rodney, are you okay with them grabbing you because you’re going to ingest the remnants of their soul?”

 

“Yeah.  Something like that.”  Another care worker wheeled the old guy with the busy hands down the hall.  The director broke away from Mrs. Lipschitz and followed the two of them around the corner.  “C’mon.”  We walked through the planet’s most non-descript, beige door on our way to the lair of Slog-Thogath Garrukka, Wielder of a Thousand Titles.  I paused in the hallway.

 

“Rodney…”

 

“Yeah?”

 

“There must be a ton of these things out there.  Slog’s, I mean.”

 

“I don’t know what you mean.”

 

“Well,” I said.  “We all die.”

 

“I don’t.”

 

“Well, everybody else dies.  But they don’t all die here.  So there must be other Slog’s out there to devour their souls.  Or Slog-like things, right?  Or maybe there is a heaven where we go if we manage to elude the teeth and claws.”  Rodney stopped and thought for a moment.

 

“I have a couple old books.  Books about a cult that worshipped him.  It.  Whatever he is.  That’s where I got all his names from.  He likes hearing the names.  Or, I should say, he gets very upset when you don’t use the names.  He’s supposed to be real old.  Like really, really old.  It’s pretty interesting.  I started it, but I didn’t finish it.  Yet.  I was thinking that my next script might be loosely based on it.”

 

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” I said.  Rodney cocked his head.  I fumbled for a way to finish the sentence other than ‘but that’s a way better idea.’  “I think you should focus on your bicycle story,” I mumbled.  He nodded.

 

“You’re probably right,” he said and unlocked the door to Slog-Thogath Garrukka’s room.  The blob was as quiet and still as the first time I saw it.

 

“You ever touch it?” I whispered.

 

“Naw,” Rodney said.  “You don’t know where that thing has been.  And you don’t need to whisper.  He’s asleep.”

 

“What if he wakes up?”

 

“He won’t.  Here’s why we came.”  He pointed into the far corner, behind the sleeping thing.  “You know what that is?”  It looked like a dull disco ball.

 

“Newsome.” I guessed.  Rodney arched his eyebrows at me.

 

“You’re a bright kid.  That is Mr. Newsome.  Not sure why he tucked him away like that.  Saving him for a snack I guess.  Been there for a while.  But now we’re going to get it.”

 

“How?” I asked.

 

“You’re going to jump down there and get it.”

 

“Uhhh….” I looked at the distance between the orb and the sleeping monstrosity.  Ten feet.  Maybe fifteen.  “I don’t want to do that.”

 

“You have to,” Rodney said.  He said it matter-of-factly, as though I had a parking ticket to square up.

 

“Give me one good reason I should get down there with that thing.”

 

“I can give you lots of reasons.  For starters, that is an intact essence.  That’s like a bottle of fine wine over there.  And he is sleeping soundly so you’re safe.  And that is Randall Cody Newsome over there.”

 

“I have no idea who that is,” I said.

 

“What?  Didn’t you ever see Cab Stand! before?”

 

“The old television show?  Sure,” I said.

 

“Newsome was the producer.  He wrote most of the episodes.”

 

“I love the one with the Japanese businessmen.”

 

“That’s my favorite,” said Rodney.

 

“That doesn’t explain why I need to go get it.”

 

“Look,” Rodney said as he glanced over his shoulder.  “I got bad knees.  You can jump down there, grab Newsome, toss him up here and then climb back up.  I can help pull you up with the broom, too.”

 

“You just want Newsome because he wrote screenplays!”

 

“Teleplays.  We call them teleplays.”

 

“You want it, you go and get it.”  I folded my arms across my chest.  “I’m not getting that close to the hairy pumpkin blob.”

 

“You could have gotten it in the time you’ve been arguing with me,” Rodney grumbled.  “That is intact.  Almost pure.  That will last us years.  You feel like Superman now?  Wait till we crack that egg.”  I looked at the globe in the corner.  I felt myself beginning to want it.

 

“You swear on your eternal life that he won’t wake up.”

 

“The only thing that’ll get him going is a code blue.”

 

I stepped to the edge of the catwalk as quietly as I could and slung my leg over the side.  It was probably a five foot drop to the sunken grating.  I lowered myself down and tiptoed along the wall until I was on top of Mr. Newsome.  I picked up the sphere.  It was heavy, yet it felt like it was going to float away from me.  A lead balloon.  I hurried back.  Rodney lay on his stomach dangling his arms out.  His hands made eager grabby gestures.  Then a melodic alarm sounded in the distance.

 

Code Blue.

 

“Hurry up!” Rodney hissed as I turned to see the hairy tentacle flatulently erupt from the top of Slog-Thogath Garrukka.  “Gimme!”

 

“Pull me up!”

 

“Gimme Newsome and I’ll pull you up!”  He shouted.  I handed off the disco ball.  Rodney rolled over and put Newsome on the catwalk.  Then he rolled back with the broom.  And he started hitting me in the face with it.

 

“Dude!  Dude!”  It was the only thing I could think to shout as the equatorial fins sprouted, undulated and rotated.  I tried to slap the broom away.

 

“Sorry, friend,” Rodney said.  “I don’t think you’re going to work out as a junior partner.  I’ll drink to your memory tonight though.”

 

“You knew a code blue was coming!”

 

“Yeah.  Mrs. Lipschitz.”  He whacked me with the broom a couple more times.  “I got like a sixth-sense for when they’re gonna happen.”  The gaping mouth formed at the end of Slog’s tentacle.  It slowly grinned at me, revealing the rows of pyramidal teeth.  I thought I could see a honeycomb of eyes behind those hideously geometric fangs.

 

“WHHAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH-WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” it screamed, pelting me with a gust of its atrocious sewer-breath as its ribbon tongues fluttered.  The crooked, clawed arms emerged from his flapping octagonal fins.  The dreadful snapping and snatching began.  This was it.  I was done.  I looked up at Rodney.

 

“Prick.”

 

He grinned down at me.  I saw a glow creep up behind him.  Slog-Thogath Garrukka seemed distracted by the sudden light.  It was Mrs. Lipschitz.  Her soul anyway.  A tiny appendage emerged from the radiant sphere, forming a tiny index finger and thumb.  The little glowing digits reached out and pinched Rodney’s bum.

 

“Hey!” he shouted and dropped the broom.  I snatched it up.  I jumped and cracked him across the knee as hard as I could.  He went down in pain.  I jumped again and pulled myself up onto the catwalk.  Slog reared back, ready to breathe on Mrs. Lipschitz’s soul.  I kicked Rodney until he rolled and fell onto the sunken floor.  Slog stopped breathing and grinned at Rodney.

 

“Pull me up!  Pull me up!”  Rodney’s hands shook.

 

“Sorry, Rodney.  I think that this is your Code Blue.  Did your sixth sense see this one coming?” I noticed Rodney’s keys had fallen out by my feet.  I picked them up.  “Looks like I have the keys to your library.”

 

“You bastard!  You leave my screenplay alone!  I get full writing credit if you produce it!”

 

One of the crooked arms reached out and snatched Rodney by the hand, dragging him into the swirling rotation of those awful rippling fins which suddenly exploded into a furious spin.  The clatter of the snapping claws became deafening, and the spinning shape of Rodney’s body disappeared in a brick red cloud that was devoured by a wild fluttering of infinite tongues.  It was little more than an instant and he was completely gone.  All that remained was the faint aroma of ketchup.

 

Slog-Thogath Garrukka’s fins slowed.  He listed a little.  He seemed drunk.  Mrs. Lipschitz hovered next to me, waist-high.

 

“Thank you,” I said.  I reached out slowly and touched the floating orb.  It grew brighter for a moment and then disappeared in a flash.  The was a crack, like a lightning strike, and I thought I caught the aroma of roses and ozone.  My fingertips tingled.  The variety of grotesque appendages withdrew into the hairy pumpkin.  All was quiet.  I tucked Mr. Newsome under my arm and locked up the room.  I took a random duffel bag from the supply room and dropped my disco ball inside.  Upstairs, the director was waiting for me with his fingers tented under his chin.

 

“Where’s Rodney?”

 

“Rodney was let go.  He said he doesn’t need Rodney anymore.  He said you and I are in charge now.”

 

“He mentioned me?”  The director doubled over.  “I’m in charge?”

 

“We,” I said.  “He wants to do something special for you.  Not right now.  Soon.  I’ll bring you in to see him.  He says to be patient.”

 

“Wow!”  Lightly clapping his hands, he paced in a small circle.  “When…do I get mine?”

 

“He said to be patient.”

 

“Patient,” the director said.  He mimed a zipper closing across his lips.  “Me.  Patient.  Shh.”  He giggled and skipped away.  He paused at the end of the hall to dangle his buttocks near an old lady.  She reached out and pinched.  He shrieked with laughter and bounded off.  That’s how it works.  For now, but not for long.  Things were going to work a little differently soon enough.  I looked at Rodney’s keys in my hand.  I had some reading to catch up on.

 

Fin


© Copyright 2018 Harris Proctor. All rights reserved.

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