Weird Tales Magazine held a short story contest that required participants to write a tale based on a SPAM subject line. “Boy eats fried rat, pictures” seemed particularly odd. I was fortunate enough to win second place.
Almost everyone has seen the pictures, and the unfortunate few at the Coma Farm who haven’t will be getting the audio version with their next round of Oxygen Blast®.
I ate a fried rat.
It all started this morning. I got up and immediately updated my “life^feed®.” As I’m sure you’re aware, last night’s dream was a big disappointment and I made sure that everyone knew. See the thing is, I’m kind of like a big deal on “life^feed®.” I got like 30 thousand people following me, so it’s kind of expected that I weigh in, you know, on everything. So yeah, the dream was stupid gay. “I want my 8 hours back,” I totally posted that. I mean seriously, this season’s dreams are completely lame and there are times when, I swear, I think about opting out.
When I got to work, I updated my geographic location on “feed®” (that’s what everyone calls it now). Normally all that would be handled by GPS, but I was such a dumb shit that I bricked my v.4 implant trying to run a pirated copy of “Historical Sex Kittens: The Golden Girls.” For two weeks my nipples looked like Bea Arthur. I had to downgrade to 3.5 which means I have to use a web interface like some kind of animal.
After that, my co-workers and I took a break to watch video feeds. Boring. I mean how many assassinations are they gonna cut to the old Benny Hill theme? Finally though, Richie points at the vendor in the corner and says, “Dude, you should totally eat that sandwich.”
I looked over at the machine. This particular vendor hasn’t worked in decades. I mean, Big Pete claimed it once spit out a Bacon Sack, but Big Pete’s also a liar. No one’s seen a Sack since that guy asphyxiated himself. I saw the video too, it was just okay. Anyway, there was something lodged in the dispenser alright but it wasn’t a sandwich.
It was a rat.
The stupid animal had caught itself in the shoot and the last time someone downloaded a Fried Meat Bucket® completely cooked it in fat grease.
“Eat that sandwich, dude.”
“This isn’t a sandwich,” I replied.
“Your mom’s a sandwich,” Richie said and immediately posted his snappy retort on “Hooker®” (nobody uses “feed®” anymore).
No way I’m looking stupid, I thought. I can eat this. I grabbed the fried varmint with both hands and said, “Dude, get your camera.”
“I’m a v.4, I can take it with my eyes.”
“Dick,” I said and bit down. The meat flavoring did little to improve the taste as my friend’s eyes exploded in a white hot flash.
Last time I checked, our pic had like 48 million views or something and over a 100 million comments. The really funny ones are mine.
(August, 18th 2008)
“This sucks,” I thought as I stared at a giant moose head on an over-sized beach towel.
What brought me to look into the eyes of that faded beast you ask? Well, this adventure began on a cold morning in a parking lot. I had reserved a truck from U-Haul, a popular truck rental company and arrived on time to pick it up. The idea behind the reservation was just that, a reservation. To guarantee a truck so I could move everything I owned from my old townhouse to our new home. Simple enough set up, right? I pulled my car into the parking area and immediately noticed things were off. An older gentlemen in a parked car who, by all accounts was very excited about my arrival, began to frantically vie for my attention. He popped his inquisitive gray face from out the driverʼs side window of his Mercedes.
“You know anything about this?” he muttered.
My dumb, expressionless face looked back at him like a box of hammers. Seeming to take a cue from my confusion, the old man motioned towards the u-haul office.
The office was locked and much too dark. There werenʼt any lights on inside and the little light from outside was obscured by countless advertisements for 20 dollar van rentals, and specials on two kinds of packing twine. Knocking did nothing, but I kept at it anyway.
Fifteen minutes passed. I wasnʼt getting anywhere and my hands were tired. After assuring the customers who arrived after me that I didnʼt, in fact, “Know anything about this” I decided I needed to talk to somebody. I reached into my pocket and soon realized my cell phone was missing. This of course meant I had to find a pay phone, which these days is an art in and of itself. If you are lucky to find one, it is often the victim of some heinous crime. Iʼve seen phones that have been horribly mutilated, demeaned, the handset often ripped from itʼs cradle and covered in fluids. Terrible, terrible, fluids. Luckily, I found a working pay phone a quarter mile down the road at the court house and following a series of well placed key presses and some heavy breathing I got through to customer service, who while unable to locate the missing U- Haul staff, was kind enough to locate me the nearest dealer 35 minutes away.
This wasnʼt a typical rental office either. A sign above the door read “Trains and Things!” but the giant U-Haul trucks outside led me to believe I was in the right place. Upon entering it was obvious that it lived up to itʼs “and Things!” claim. Sure they had “Trains”, that much was obvious, but they also had steak knives and ironing boards. Amid the miniature steam engines and cabooses were chocolate covered cherries, stamps, mailboxes, novelty t-shirts, fine crystal, disposable cutlery, fake poo, seat cushions for small rowboats, and babies- the plastic kind mind you, though as I approached the purveyor of the fine establishment I think he could have arranged otherwise. It was like someone had walked into a flea market and said, “That’s about
right” and built the store around it. Perhaps this is how “Trains and Things!” got its start but I didnʼt have time to get into the local history. I had shit to move, which coincidentally, would have made a great addition to the novelty t shirts that sandwiched the waffle irons and beach umbrellas.
“Iʼm here for the truck”, I said, “did they already call you?”
“What are you talking about?” he wondered aloud, pacing the length of his store and stuffing a large oversized teddy bear into a manilla envelope.
“U-Haul, they said they were gonna call you about a truck. I rented one earlier and the guy never showed up. No one told you?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, finding his way back to his stool, which sat behind the main counter and to the left of the key making machine. “You still want it?”
“Yeah, thatʼs why Iʼm here”
“Okay, but I gotta be honest with you… itʼs kind of loud. A lot of people rent it and then donʼt want it, so I donʼt want to go through all this paper work if youʼre not going to rent it”
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“I donʼt really know anything about how trucks work, I just rent them. So whatʼs it gonna be?”
“I guess,” I said, pushing back the overwhelming sense of defeat that usually doesnʼt overtake me until late afternoon.
“Great,” he replied, “Oh, and youʼre gonna need gas.”
It took a hundred dollars of diesel to fill her and as the rolling beast forced itʼs way from the fill station parking lot onto the highway the clicking blinker acted more as an afterthought and less as a warning. The other cars either welcomed its advance or be damned under its 24” wheels. While we rumbled down the road, hours behind schedule, I couldnʼt help but notice the contorted face of my friend, who while placing a Parliament Light into his half opened mouth, shouted, “Shitʼs loud”.
The truck served itʼs purpose. Two dented dining room chairs and a broken baby crib later, I was moved in and ready to head back to “Trains and Things!”. This time my friend was replaced by my father. He sat to my right, stared out the passenger cab window, and criticized the wiring on passing telephone polls.
My passenger wasnʼt the only difference on this trip either. Unlike the car that got me there, the U-Haul “Eazy Loading Mover” did not come equipped with a navigation
system, which meant, there was no monotonous female voice to narrate my trip back, unless of course you count my 75 year old father, who by all accounts is not a woman but could easily match the navigation systems in terms of last minute turn suggestions and quiet judgement. No, this time I was going to have to rely on my wits and instinct. I didnʼt need a machine to tell me how to drive. No. Not unlike the great highway pioneers of dayʼs past, I would use street signs, wind speed, and a half torn piece of paper I wrote notes on to make it back to where this all started. Back to the one place that could end this evening, and refill any of your old printer ink cartridges should you see fit.
The lights of the passing lampposts did little to help with my notes. In haste, I had scrawled some directions on a torn piece of paper from a notebook I used for work. If what I read was true, I either had to take route 79 north for 6 exits or talk to Jen in copy editing about the manuscript changes. To make matters worse, the street signs in this part of New Jersey were completely white. Not light but white. Completely white, with white text. The sun, for all its life giving qualities, had completely fucked me on this one. The signs on every cross street had been faded to the point of illegibility.
“Can you make that out?” I said, pointing to the next cross street.
“I think it says Mangrove?” my dad replied.
My own memory, which unfortunately only seems to be good for retaining Duran Duran lyrics, would have to save us now. As I pushed back the thought of having to somehow rescue my father with the chorus to “Planet Earth”, I tried to recall my original trip here. The last thing I could remember was an overpass, and that a left turn was involved. As fate would have it, I saw an upcoming intersection, and beyond that an interstate passed over it. Things were starting to look up.
The darkened road wound around a few nondescript curves, but then a couple of locations stood out.
“This looks familiar” I stated, half triumphantly.
Lights could be seen in the near distance. Several parked police cars, construction vehicles, and workers blocked off the rest of the road ahead and prevented any further travel. If I was heading in the right place, I was certainly going to have a hard time getting through this roadblock. Not without dynamite anyway.
“You sure this is the right way?” my father said. “I think so,” I said pulling the truck over in a nearby parking lot. “Go ask them how to get there,” he said motioning towards the workmen.
I am not one to ask directions easily. Itʼs not a matter of pride mind you, Iʼd just rather not start the conversation if I have the choice. Most of the time itʼs because between the time I leave the car and the time I arrive at the feet of whoever is going to be host to my asking, I have already forgotten the address. To combat this I have often resorted to repeating the words in my head over and over and over in the hope that by the time I get there Iʼll have all the right pieces. Of course if I do manage to blurt out the right information, the entire time Iʼm supposed to be listening to the directions coming back my brain is still stuck in a permanent and irrevocable loop. This shouldnʼt have been an issue as I was looking for a train shop on “main street” and that seemed easy enough for even me to remember. I crossed the street and made my way to the two people who looked to be in charge.
“Excuse me, Iʼm looking for a U-Haul dealer thatʼs also a train store. Itʼs on Main Street, do you know where that is?”
“Main Street?” the officer said, flashing a quizzical glance to the elderly gentleman at his right.
“He wants LOWER Main Street,” the old man sputtered, his mouth curving back into a half crooked smile that exposed what were most likely teeth, though from my vantage point could have passed for something youʼd use to line the bottom of a fish tank.
“Lower main,“ the police officer agreed and punctuated the statement by stamping his left foot on the road like a prized race horse. He was on construction duty, and like the old man who stood at his side, was acting guard in front of a make shift barrier that quarantined the stretch of pavement behind them from me and any other joker who wanted to see this road through. Iʼm not a betting man by any means, but if you had to come up with a large sum of money to say, save an orphanage, then you could wager on two things: that these guys knew a thing or two about lower main street and it would be a cold day in hell before anyone could drive their car anywhere near the newly laid blacktop.
The old man, who by the way was clearly the architect of whatever ingenious public work project was occurring behind the wooden gates, seemed to sense my disorientation. “Lower mainʼs about, now let me see-” he muttered, seemingly more confident with every stammering syllable, “Yeah. Lower main street is definitely that way,” he said as he pointed down a darkened road, his mouth now agape in full smile. There was no questioning it now, he had teeth, and by my count at least eight of them. I knew this because each nub was periodically basked in a bright yellow light from the nearby construction barriers with the kind of intensity that is normally reserved for super market openings and couples skate at the roller rink.
Defeated and confused, I made my way back to the truck. My father by this point had already developed a seven point argument on why the ongoing construction was doomed to failure, but sensing my mood he cut it short after point five. We drove off, making our way north in the direction the toothy gentleman indicated.
I tried to convince myself that I was going in the right direction. “This looks familiar” I said again.
My elation was soon coupled with despair as the familiar looking landscape was engulfed in long stretches of uncertainty. We were about a half hour in and things were looking bleak. A mile of empty road, wheat fields, an abandoned car. This was most certainly not the way to the U-Haul dealer.
“See if you canʼt get a map,” he said. “You should always have a map”.
I had gotten this far without resorting to logic and reason. No. Technology got me to that place once, and by God, technology was going to get me back. As luck would have it my phone could act as a Global Positioning System if I bought the right software. I immediately went online and bought the application. My father stared quizzically at my phone as it downloaded the future at 740 kilobytes per second.
“This is definitely going to work” I assured him.
Once I entered the address into the phone, we made a U-turn and started to take our cues from a monotonous voice that crackled orders through a tiny speakerphone. This was the future and I wasnʼt wearing a jet pack or a silver jumpsuit. I was driving with my father in a really loud truck somewhere in New Jersey. It turns out the future plays through crappy speakers and cost about $2.99.
We drove a little bit faster now, the telephone alerting us to each turn and fork in the road. Things were going to be different this time.
My father looked at me and said, “Okay, now this looks familiar”
He was right too, things did look familiar. We were heading back. Each step closer on a familiar path. Heading back. Under an all too familiar overpass. Back. The phone confirming each step toward the blinding white light of a construction zone.
“Your destination is ahead on the right.”
The cellphone took us straight toward the old man and police officer that nearly an hour ago I had talked to. This time however I was not pulling over, I was gonna follow that cell phone into the mouth of hell if I had to, and if that meant taking this giant truck and slamming it through the police roadblock then so be it.
As the truck pulled forward, the officer thwarted any attempt to breach the construction zone.
“I need to get in there,” I said motioning beyond them. “I need to get home”
Thatʼs when I saw it. Behind the men, behind the make shift construction barrier, a mere 30 feet away hidden behind a large construction vehicle, was “Trains and Things!”. A monument to futility.
The officer looked over at the store, then back to our truck, then back at the three or four other trucks that could be seen in the parking lot. Reluctantly, he waived us in.
The long day of defeat was finally over.
“Oh he wanted Main Street,” I heard the toothy gentlemen mutter as the truck lumbered forward to its final resting place. “Why, weʼre on main street.”
This is a modified version of the Accent theme by Handsome Code