Sunday, April 08, 2007

[microfiction] Lenny

Most days there's a ghoul in my car. Wait, I know what you're thinking: he means a gremlin. The occasional refusal to start, or an interesting ping that disappears whenever you bring it to the mechanic, or the folding seat that jams until you give it a hefty kick right there. Everyone has gremlins every so often.

No, I mean a ghoul, with glittering yellowish eyes containing pink specks, wasted cheeks, and transparent skin that doesn't hide the serous grey flesh and the occasional squirmy thing. You can imagine my reaction the first time I saw him. Yeah. Good thing I was only pulling into my driveway. The hedge didn't cost much to replace. My heart, which was flapping like a parched chihuahua's tongue, should have exploded. Or at least, that's what Lenny told me later.

I assumed the gasping "Oh, crap" sound came from me. Instead, the chihuahua cooled down, I put the car in gear and scraped backwards, glancing at the neighbors' windows. (My twelve steps I took a decade ago, but there's still a few old farts who wag their noses at the memory of the last time I gave them some exciting gossip. That was my previous car, and my previous wife's car. But like I said, that was a long time ago. Now they gossip about what a miser I am. Better to be hated for being rich than poor, I say.)

I parked, fumbled for aspirin in the glove box and swallowed several dry, eyes squinched tight. Green and pink specks there ... where I had just seen pink specks ... yeeeyi. I opened my eyes and watched the soothing waves of the sagging headliner. Even in my worst boozing I never hallucinated pink elephants. That's how I knew I wasn't a really serious alcoholic. But I was, and still am, terrified of them, because I think they could come anytime, like flashbacks.

"Try it again" murmured behind me. I whipped around, and there was the thing again. The first weapon I grabbed wouldn't rise. Hand brakes are firmly attached for some stupid reason. A book. No books. My briefcase! Grabbing the handle, I slung it around at the creature, and papers went flying around the car. Yeah, on the drive home I'd opened it to answer my cell phone and never closed it. "God. Damn. Just. Fuck. Me. Harder," I yelled, batting the empty briefcase at it with each syllable.

"Oh, oh, stop!" I noticed I couldn't see what I was beating on anymore. It was cowering in a fetal position, arms shriveled like yesterday's mayonnaise protecting its gummy head. "Please stop. I'll leave, I won't do it again!" Its voice had the same pitch as my kid, or at least the same pitch I remembered before his mom moved out of state. Which reminded me I was running late on my support payment. And also sparked a microgram of sympathy in me. I mean, you can't really tell how old a ghoul is – they all look like Keith Richards.

In the lack of whamming sounds, it peeked up at my glaring face. Those awful, hypnotic yellow eyes – my head thunked the rearview mirror. "Ow! Damn!"

"Umm ... are you okay?"

"No vital organs," I groaned. "How about you? Did I hurt you bad?"

"No pain. I don't have any nerves anyway. But I was scared you loosed the Harpies on me."

"Harpies?"

It sat up, trying not to look at me. "The white flying things. Look like Harpies."

"Oh, no, man, that's just paper." I breathed out, and started picking them up. A person needs to do something normal at a time like this. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"I was supposed to give you a coronary." Its shoulders dropped. "It ... I haven't done it yet ... I guess I'm not so good at this."

"Well, everything takes practice. On different subjects that is, um, yeah, to try to get all the variants of a situation. It's like debugging. You never know what's going to trip you up, so you have to try everything. Testing against zero, negative numbers, empty input, you know empty strings, em ... what the hell am I talking about?"

"Beats me. I'm just worried now."

I stuck out my hand. "I'm Alexy."

"Lenny."

"Lenny." I pointed at the little creamy maggot writhing on the back of his hand. "And that's, uh, Squiggy?"

"Who?"

"Never mind." We shook hands. I looked down. "Um, do you want that back?" He shook his head and I put the pinkie finger as politely as possible in the wastebasket. "What're you worried about?"

Lenny's face sagged so deeply, he made a bloodhound look like Angelina Jolie. "I've failed. I just can't kill people. This was my last chance, Malacoda said. After this I get kicked off the team. He'll probably toss me all the way to the Sixth Circle. I hate the Sixth Circle. The heat just speeds up putrefaction. I don't think he'd toss me further, though. I hope not."

"Well, I think I may have an idea."

Lenny rides with me back and forth from work every day now. He saves me tons of time because I can use the commuter lane. Lately there's been a pretty high turnover on the toll bridges I take, but now that we're commuters, I hardly notice a difference.

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