December 24, 2012

Short Story: Secret Ingredient

Submitted For the approval of the Midnight Society...
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago I found myself wrapped into a three-way Twitter conversation with Nick Vogt, bka Deli Mane of Dior Sentai, and Blam Lord, the curator of one of my favorite blogs, Blam Blam Fever. The two were talking of zombie apocalypse dreams, and they mentioned writing stories from the dreams. I immediately jumped in to note that if they did write these stories, we could post them here to Decoder, and both were into the idea. I couldn't imagine a better Christmas present to our readers; one that even those who don't celebrate the birth of Santa Clause should be able to appreciate. So without further ado, here is Nick's story. Tune in tomorrow for Blam Lord's contribution.

     “You have ONE job and you didn’t do it! Don’t tell me you were just watching goddamn CARTOONS all day, Mable! Do your ears work? Do you have like brain damage and can’t remember what I tell you!”
     “No, I…” Mable said and looked down at her kitchen floor. She knew her memory worked fine and that she had not just watched cartoons all day (well just one episode of Pokémon, but that was only for a half hour, and less than one really because she always left the room during commercials.) She did not want to say all that to her mom, though; because right now she didn’t want to look at her mother or the kitchen sink.
     What she did want to look at was the little scratches on the floor. She had never noticed those before.They looked like little veins kind of. She stared at the floor’s veins, trying to think about what could’ve caused those scratches. Little mice who had scampered into the kitchen late at night when the whole house was asleep? 
     “You WHAT? How hard is it to wash dishes?”
     “I….”
     “Mable look at me right now. Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
     “Okay…” Mable just wanted to think about the sneaky night mice and not talk to her mother.
     “How will you ever be a wife if you can’t clean?”
     “I don’t wanna be someone’s wife.” Mable said.
     “You don’t wanna do anything. You know what you are? Huh?”
     “I’m Mable?”
     “LAZY. As all hell. And we are not a lazy family. Where do you think I go every day for eight hours? The damn playground?! Where do you think your Father goes? You think he goes out to the woods and hangs out with squirrels? You think you can do that your whole life? You are almost a woman and you can’t be a damn Disney princess befriending the whole woods forever!”
     “I’m not a Disney princess.” Mable looked he mom right in the eyes. “No one’s gonna put me in their castle. No one’s gonna put me asleep for hundreds of years.”
     “What are you even talking about? I’m not talking about castles. I’m talking about real stuff. Like a SINK FULL OF DISHES. Now do these dishes right now before your father gets home and sees this mess he is going to RAISE HELL if he does.”
     “No.” Said Mable. She turned and ran from her mother. Through the living room past the TV playing an infomercial about a special, newfangled turkey-cutting knife that was supposed to “make the holidays SOOOO much less stressful!” And up the stairs and past her brother Mike’s stupid door covered in stupid stickers like “Area 51: Beware of Extraterrestrials!” And into her room and slammed the door. Her mother was yelling behind her but it sounded muffled to her. As if her mom were underwater.
     Mable sat down on her bed next to her hamster Marcus’ cage. Marcus was asleep in there and she watched his little legs twitch and listened to him make little grunts. What was he dreaming about? Probably flying. Mable had never had a flying dream ever even though all her friends at school always said they did and that those dreams were cool. She felt like maybe something (just a little something) was wrong with her for not having those dreams.
     She reached a finger into Marcus’ cage and poked him on the head. She couldn’t resist even though she knew it would wake Marcus up. He was just too adorable in his sleep. It did wake him and he yipped at her. Not a mad yip, she didn’t think. Just saying “good morning!”
     “Are you hungry, Marcus?”
     “Yip!”
     “Okay! Breakfast time!” Mable crouched down by her bed and slid out her Tupperware that she kept Marcus’ food in. He ate boring food. Grains and other grains. She opened it up and nearly puked.
     “Ugh! It smells so bad today!” She yelled. Marcus’ food always smelled funky to Mable. But today it was extra bad. It was a new kind of food. She told her mom that Marcus hated this generic, Albertson’s brand pet food. He ate it and didn’t complain, but she knew it upset his little stomach. He would fart a lot and burp from it. She imagined it was kind of like how she wasn’t supposed to have milk or cheese or yogurt or ice cream. She had fed it to Marcus the day before and it made him really sick to his stomach.
     Mable looked at Marcus’ little beady eyes. “You don’t want this again, do you? Mom messed up and you shouldn’t have to be sick because of that…”
     “Yip”
     Mable thought for a moment. Marcus was hungry but had no food. What would she want to eat if she were a Hampster.
     “Something natural. From the woods!” Mable had heard that pet food was just ground up road kill anyway. Really Marcus should be eating real plants and not some road kill mixed in with grains that comes from the grocery store.
     “You’re an animal from the woods. You should be eating from the woods. This is so silly.”
     “Yip!”
     Mable hadn’t been out to the woods today so she could use a trip out there. It had been raining yesterday and so she missed the woods. Also, it would give her a chance to leave and be gone when her dad got home. He would, most likely, transform into The Hulk when he saw the dish pile. A 5’8 man seeming like a 10 foot green angry man just from his yelling and shaking and pointing and grinding his teeth and veins all popping out of his neck.
     Mable glanced at her Power Puff Girls clock. It used to be her big sister’s before Maggie had moved away to New York City. Power Puff Girls was a little before Mable’s time. The clock read 5:15. Her dad came home at 5:30 most days from work. She would have to run to the woods fast. And hope that she could stay out there until her parents stopped being mad at her. That usually worked for her mom. Not so much for her dad. But it could help to shrink The Hulk from 10 feet to maybe 8 and a half.
***
     The woods were Mable’s favorite place ever. Even when it had just rained and she had to walk through leaves and muck and slugs. She had her rainboots for keeping her feet dry so that didn’t matter at all. She also carried her little pink backpack. She hated how it looked (pink being her least favorite color of all time), but she loved how much it could carry. Whenever she went into the woods Mable always wanted to take so many cool treasures back with her and the pink bag was her most useful bag for that.
     ‘What would Marcus really want to eat? Hmmm…’
     All she saw was twigs and little rocks and pinecones. And worms. None of that looked particularly appetizing. Maybe she should look higher up in the trees and not at the ground? Mable looked up and just saw branches and leaves. A couple squirrels running from tree to tree. A little bird flew overhead. Then her foot hit a tree’s root that was popping out of the ground and she tripped.
     “Agh!”
     Her head fell into the mucky ground. Gross. She should’ve been looking at where she was walking. That’s why you are supposed to look at your feet when you are walking in the woods… Mable picked her head up from the ground and spit out some dirt. She kind of liked the taste of dirt, but also didn’t. It reminded her of beets. Which she also kind of liked, but kind of didn’t. She was the only one of her friends who even liked beets even a little bit.
     When she brushed muddy hair from her eyes (still lying on the ground) that’s when she saw it: A mushroom! A bright orange mushroom! She had never seen or thought mushrooms could be so pretty!
     She remembered one time when she turned on the TV to watch Pokémon and it was set on the Food Network from shows her parents had been watching the night before. It was Iron Chef. They were competing, making different dishes all with Portobello mushrooms as the “secret ingredient.” She remembered thinking how yummy the mushrooms looked on the grill.
     An orange mushroom probably tasted like peanut butter. Or maybe like an orange. Or like a skittle. Which was a little bit like an orange but kind of better.
     She stood up and plucked the mushroom out of the ground. It made a little POP noise as she did. And a bit of orange dust billowed up out of the hole in the ground where the mushroom once was.
Mable held up the mushroom and looked it at it. It looked so yummy. But dirty. She didn’t want the mucky, beet-taste on it. But, she did want to try it.
     Mable always packed her bag with a water bottle, a flashlight, her scissors and her notebook just to be prepared for anything. She sat down on a nearby rock, set her mushroom down and took out her bottle of water and the scissors. She splashed a little water on the mushroom (although the water bottle said WHOLE FOODS on it, the water bottle was re-used and it was tap water in there now). And then she used her scissors to cut it in half. She figured half would be for her and half for Marcus. Marcus had a little stomach and didn’t eat much so she gave him the smaller half.
     Then, she took a bite. It did not taste like peanut butter or an orange or a skittle. It tasted like cream cheese. Like cream cheese and tomatoes a little bit. It wasn’t bad at all. She put the mushroom in her backpack and got up off the rock. She would eat the rest at home. She needed to get back to Marcus because he was probably starving to death right now. The poor little guy.
     As she walked through the woods back she was proud she had found something other than twigs or little acorns. The orange mushroom didn’t taste awful and at least it looked very cool. She realized it was very hot out, but, even though her pink bag was her biggest bag, she didn’t have room for her raincoat, so she would have to keep wearing it. She was sweating now and realized it would get her smelly but she didn’t care. She wasn’t far from home. The sweating under her clothes was probably what was making her really itchy, too. She felt a little gross. She would take a shower once she had fed Marcus.
***
     Mable got to the back door of her house, turned the knob to open it and pushed and it wouldn’t open. Did they lock it? She went to push harder and realized she was having a hard time pushing it. She felt weak. That back door was always super heavy and hard to open but right now she was having the hardest time she ever had with it. Mable took a step back to catch her breath. She was breathing heavy and felt tired out. The walk back from the woods had taken a lot out of her for some reason.
     “Okay. On the count of three…One…two…”
     Mable pushed on the door with all her strength and got it open. She stumbled into her house feeling very dizzy. The world spun around her. Mable flopped down onto her stomach right on the living room floor. This was the second time she had fell today. So clumsy.
     “Mable! Where have you been!?” It was her father’s voice booming at her. No, it was The Hulk’s voice. She tried to stand up but it was taking her a while. Like she was telling her arms and legs to stand but they didn’t want to listen.
     Mable’s Dad’s hands grabbed her and pulled her to her feet. She was staring into his eyes.
     “Your mother said you didn’t do the dishes today when she told you to? And then you just run away when she’s talking to you? Where did you go?”
     “The…woods…” Mable wanted to say more but her mouth was so dry. She could barely even get those words out. Her body started shaking. She was very cold now. Why did they have the air conditioner on set to so cold in the house? Yes, it was hot outside but this was ridiculous.
     “How many times do we have to tell you that you need to START doing some WORK around this damn house, Mable!”
     Mable had the hiccups now. Oh, she hated the hiccups. She always was worried that they would never go away anytime she got them. She was always worried she’d have the hiccups forever. On her third hiccup, she felt something leak out of the corner of her mouth. She felt it ooze down from her mouth onto her Raincoat. She looked down and saw pinkish foam. Then her stomach hurt very bad.
Damn it! Had she eaten ice cream or milk today? Is that what was going on? What had she eaten? She was having a hard time thinking. Her head felt like it was full of air, like air on a hot day when it gets all shimmery. Her dad was saying something but Mable could barely hear him. This time not because she chose not to and she wanted his voice to be underwater either. She just couldn’t hear him. Like her ears were plugged up. She tried to read his lips. It looked like he was mouthing, “Are you okay?” He looked worried. He looked funny actually. REALLY funny. She felt a huge laugh coming up and she couldn’t stop it. She was laughing now. One of those major crack-ups where your whole body laughs. And then she barfed.
     Pinkish green foam sprayed from Mables mouth right into her dad’s face. Her dad screamed. He clawed at his eyes.
     “Fuck!” Yelled her dad. His face stung.
     And that’s when Mable leapt onto him while he was blinded. She opened her mouth and sank her teeth into her dad’s neck. It tasted like skittles.
     Mable’s mom ran into the room. She saw her husband lying on her back convulsing. Mable looked up, her mouth full of neck and blood. Mable swallowed and stood up. She started walking toward her mom. She walked like when she had first started to walk. Stumbling all around. Mable’s mom watched at her daughter’s stumbling walk toward her and couldn’t move. It wasn’t real. It was a dream. She would have to wake up soon. She watched as her husband stood up from the floor slowly, his body moved like a puppet being controlled by a string. Puss and pink foam leaked from her husband’s mouth. And then she turned to run.
     Mable’s mom rushed into the kitchen. They were coming for her. They wanted to kill her. That’s all she knew. Those were the only thoughts all she could think. Mable’s mom opened a drawer to grab a knife but it was empty.
     “Fuck!” she yelled to no one but herself. They were all in the sink.
     Mable’s mom reached her hand into the sink and grabbed a dirty pot. Annie’s Macaroni and cheese was crusted onto it. The burnt bits from the bottom. Her son had made it. She knew because Michael always burnt Mac And Cheese.
     Mable wasn’t far from her mom now. Mable reached out her hands to grab at her mother’s dress, but her mom slammed the pot into Mable’s head. Mable’s neck snapped and a bone popped out the side of it. Mable fell over, and slumped over the stove sideways. She groaned a little.
Mable’s Dad came through the door into the kitchen. His heavy boots slamming into the floor hard with each step he took. Those damn workboots he didn’t even need for his job but he thought made him seem like more of a man. She hated those.
     Her husband opened his mouth and vomited puss at her. She moved to dodge it but it sprayed all over arm. It felt like hot oil on her. She had worked at a restaurant once and would be on the fry-a-lator all night sometimes. The puke on her arm felt like whenever the hot oil would splash up out of the fry-a-lator onto her. But even worse since it was all over her arm. She dropped her pan.
“Shit!” She yelled she ran toward the door. She had to get out of the house.
     Mable’s mom opened the door and ran outside. husband was now behind her and she couldn’t go back. She would just have to run somewhere. She didn’t know where. But somewhere.
***
     Mike walked downstairs from his room. He had been playing Unreal Tournament with his headphones on and hadn’t heard any of the commotion downstairs at all. He walked into the kitchen to get a glass of ginger ale. He saw Mable slumped over the stove.
     “What the hell? Mable…you okay?”
     His sister groaned a little. She stood up and shook her whole body like a wet dog. She turned at looked at Mike. She opened her mouth wide a roared at him, showing a mouth of gore-covered teeth and making a deep, very non-Mable sound. Almost like a howler monkey he had seen on an episode of Nature once.
     “Oh damn, you…aren’t’…okay…”
***
     Mable’s mom ran down the road. She was out of breath but could still hear her husband groaning behind her. Her arm was killing her. It felt like it was about to fall off. She must be freaking out, she thought. Her heart was racing. She was dizzy. She looked down at her arm. The burn had turned into a cut. It was disgusting. Oozing out pink foamy puss. “Her husband, having no common sense or really any kind of thoughts at all in his brain, was walking right in the middle of the road.
***
     Mr. and Mrs. Henries, a retired couple were out for a drive on this Saturday. They had come out to Western Massachusetts all the way from New Jersey just to see the foliage. They were the kind of people who didn’t even mind being called “Leaf-Peepers.” As they turned a corner, their red Volvo’s stereo blasting Jimmy Buffet, they were going just a little too fast to stop and avoid hitting the strange, drunk-looking man who was walking down the road. Mr. Henries hit the breaks, but their car still hit Mable’s dad and they ran him over.
     Even though the noise of the crash was so loud and the radio was loud, the Henries could swear they both heard a wet, squishing sound. That was the sound of Mable’s dad’s head exploding underneath the tire.
     “Oh my god!” Yelled Mr. Henries. They stopped the car and both hopped out. Mr. Henries crouched down to look at Mable’s Dad’s body. Pink, foamy puss leaked out of where the head had been and made a puddle.
     “Is he okay?”
     “Do you think he’s okay? No! He has no fucking head!”
     “No head?” Mrs. Henries didn’t want to look, but kind of did. She walked over timidly. She saw Mable’s Dad’s body and turned and quickly puked.
     “Ohnoohnoohnoohno” she kept repeating to herself. She started down at the ground. Mable’s mom stumbled up to Mrs. Henries.
     “You…saved me…” Said Mable’s mom. Mrs. Henries looked up. Mable’s mom’s eyes were bloodshot. She was walking like she was drunk just like the man they had hit and killed. Were these people on meth? She had heard that’s what some people out here in the woods did.
     “Get away from me!” Mrs. Henries turned to run but Mable’s mom was already too close to her. Mable’s mom reached out and grabbed the back of Mrs. Henries hair. Hair that was not completely gray despite her age. That was something she was very proud of. Mable’s mom pulled Mrs. Henries close and bit into her cheek.
     When Mr. Henries had heard his wife scream “Get away from me!” he stood up. He was about to run toward them when, to his utmost surprise, the headless (and what he thought to be lifeless) body behind him had stood up.
     Mable’s Dad put his arms around Mr. Henries, hugging him tight.
     “Agh! Let me go!” he yelled. Mr. Henries struggled with Mable’s Dad, but this headless man was far too strong.
     He watched as his wife pushed away Mable’s mom, ripping Mable’s mom’s jaws from her cheek. She held her wounded face and screamed in pain. Mr. Henries watched his wife fall to her knees crying and holding her face.
     “No!” He yelled. “Let me go!” Mable’s mom heard this. She didn’t hear the words. Just loud, muffled noise. She turned and stumbled toward Mr. Henries. Mrs. Henries blood and bits of cheek all over her the front of her dress.
***
     Marcus’ stomach rumbled loudly. He squeaked at it but it wouldn’t shut up. He had been squeaking “YIP” to try to get Mable’s attention for hours but she wasn’t around or maybe she was ignoring him? No… Mable never ignored him. She must not be home. But she didn’t go to school on these days of the week, right? Maybe Marcus had lost track of the days. Counting them and keeping track of them was always hard for him. Hamster brains are not exactly designed for that kind of thought.
     Marcus got up from lying on his back and scooted his little body over to his water. He would drink some water and pretend it was food. He had been doing this over and over and it kept not working but he thought he would try at least once more. He looked at his reflection in the water for a moment before he plunged his tongue in to lap some up. For a brief instant he wondered why he looked like he did and why Mable, his best friend, looked like she did. She was so very different looking…But then he didn’t care. The water felt cold on his tongue. He closed his eyes and tried hard to picture that it was hampster food…for a moment he could taste the hampster food in his mouth…But then he swallowed and it was all water going down. “Yip”
     Just then, Mable entered the room. Or…Something that was pretending to be Mable? She did not smell like Mable. Marcus noticed that right away. She smelled like blood and sickness. Like when Marcus’ little brother had died coughing up blood next to him when they were just babies.
     Mable stumbled toward Marcus’ cage. Foamy puss and gore covered her face and her clothes. In her right hand she held her brother’s intestines. They dragged on the floor behind her. She had once been very intrigued to learn just how much intensines can fit in a human body. She had always forgot if it was the length of one Tennis court or two…
     Mable looked Marcus in his little eyes and let out a groan. Marcus knew this was not his best friend. He backed into the corner of his cage. He wanted to take his eyes off Mable, but he couldn’t.
Mable reached toward the cage door groggily with her free hand. She tried to open the lock but her fingers did not want to grab the small lever. They twitched slightly, but her fine motor coordination was vastly impaired. Frustrated, she spit out puss on the floor and shook her head violently. Marcus heard sounds of her neck cracking over and over as she did this. She roared at the cage and swung her arm like dead weight. She struck the cage and sent it flying off the table. It crashed on the floor and busted open.
     The impact stunned Marcus for a moment. He slowly crawled out of his cage and he looked up at Mable who stood over him. “Yip?” Marcus squeaked. Mable ripped a chunk off her brother’s intestines and dropped it onto the floor in front of Marcus. “Yip?”
     Mable pointed a shaky finger at the intestines “For….you…to…eat…yummy…”
     “Yip.”

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