Festival of Lights

boxesThe sun had already begun its quick winter descent, reminding the Osenkowski’s that it was again time to get the battered cardboard box marked “X-mas” from the basement. It was one of many boxes there piled in a cardboard Limbo. Peeling yellow tape, dust: these always added to the suspense of the unopened box, but once the top was off, it became clear that nothing changed for the Osenkowski’s in a year’s time.

Even on ordinary, non-holiday days, it was Tony Osenkowski’s husbandly duty to fetch things from the basement since Pat had been diagnosed with subdomusphobia, the fear of basements. With the medication they prescribed for her condition, the stairs would have proved difficult for Pat to negotiate anyhow.

That’s not to say that Pat didn’t try to speed her treatment along, washing her pills down with a swallow of whiskey. Even though Tony tried again and again to stop her from drinking, there she was, slurping Jim Beam straight from the bottle as she poked in the spice rack above the stove.

Two hours before she had told him to get the box. He said he would get it, right after they finished the third hole at the Palm Springs tournament. One-and-a-half hours ago, she told him again, but he was snoring, and he didn’t hear her, so she had to yell at him this time.

He slowly rose from the sofa leaving a comfortable depression in the cushions. Lingering, the suddenness of twilight startled him. Another weekend over, the verge of the next week, and the next.

Pat was cooking a nice turkey for their church’s Advent Family Affair dinner for later that evening. She was “volunteered” to spend the twenty bucks for ingredients and an afternoon basting and roasting the turkey – a privilege doled out by the church’s Ladies Aid Committee. The ladies on the committee usually put themselves down for buns or potato chips.

“I’d like to decorate today, Mr. Groundskeeper!” Pat snapped from the kitchen.

Rubbing the afternoon out of his eyes, Anthony responded, “Sure thing,” and worked his way into the kitchen, toward the door to the basement, which he found with his forehead. “No problem,” he said, rubbing the skin as he started down the stairs.

Pat resumed the basting, giving it her last touches, yelling further commands over her shoulder. “Oh, and see if you can find the box with the cards and wrapping paper!” She leaned over the little gas stove, one of those old stoves that had to be lit every time she wanted to use it. The sleeves on her robe nearly ignited on the open blue flame that kept a pan full of butter melted.

Stove-lighting was another of Anthony’s little tasks; her therapist had uncovered a repressed memory were Pat had been separated from her parents during a Fourth of July fireworks celebration, which explained her pyrogenetiphobia: the fear of starting fires. Those were the blue pills.

Not that Tony felt unrewarded for all his menial errand-doing: Pat was a good cook, and besides being terribly irritable in the mornings and a bit psychotic when she drank, she was a fairly nice person.

Especially considering the crap I have to put up with! That’s exactly what Pat was thinking as she set the turkey in the oven.

It wasn’t that Anthony wasn’t good to her, because he was. It was just that he was so boring and inept. She pitied him mostly. Looking back on the years of her life, she pitied herself as well. Her wretched life, her boring house, her dull holidays: she wondered how she generated enough energy to get out of bed every day.

She heard Anthony stumbling around in the basement. He probably hasn’t even found the Christmas box yet, she thought. Then she heard him hit his head again, probably on the metal shelving where they kept old People magazines and paint cans.

Poor bastard, she thought, preparing her mouth to receive a much-needed cigarette. She sat one of the wooden chairs at the kitchen table, the robe slipped open. She hadn’t yet dressed even though the dinner was only two hours away. She retied the belt and tucked the collars together to cover her chest.

As she smoked, looking out of the window, she spotted the shadows of three children crossing through her yard towards their homes across the street. She rose quickly and crossed to the back door, opening it just enough to feel the chill air slap her face. She yelled at them, “Hey! You kids! Get outta my yard!” She slammed the door. “Find another short-cut,” she muttered, returning to her cigarette at the table.

The sun was setting and it wasn’t even supper-time. She hated winter. The grayness was so predictable, the cold a routine numbness that poked its sharp claws through their poorly-insulated door jambs.

Her attention was diverted from the morose winter landscape by Anthony’s voice in the basement. “Shoot! Pat! The bulb burnt out down here!” She noticed he was using his ‘something’s-the-matter-I-need-help’ voice, high-pitched and panicky. “Could you please hand down that flashlight; it’s in the kitchen drawer!”

Her silence filled the air with contempt.

As the first few trickles of juice trailed down the turkey’s slippery skin, Pat drew another deep breath from her smoke and picked up the morning edition.

“I’m busy cooking this turkey,” she finally yelled down to him, turning to the crossword puzzle page.

“Aw, c’mon, Pat, just throw down the flashlight!”

She folded the paper in half and searched the counter behind her for a pen before responding, “What do you want me to do about it? The flashlight’s down in the basement with you!” It was then she first smelled something chemical wafting up from the basement like gasoline or paint fumes.

“You put the flashlight in the basement? Why’d you do that?” Anthony was getting frustrated, bumping around in the dark like an idiot while his wife ignored him, safe in the kitchen. He inched along a wall of boxes, guiding himself with his fingertips. The smell of turkey made his mouth water. He was hungry and lost in the dark.

Unfortunately, his fingers didn’t warn him of the imminent collision between his knee and an oaken wardrobe.

“Ow!” The pain shot through his whole leg, cramping his calf muscle. “Just where in the hell did you go and hide that thing?”

“I didn’t put the flashlight in the basement, you did! Remember? I told you I didn’t want that thing next to my spatula!” Stained with oil and paint, it belonged in an equally ugly place, his basement, and certainly not her kitchen, she had said. Pat could really sense his frustration, and she chuckled out a little curl of smoke when she heard him thumping into things. He still hadn’t found the damn Christmas box.

It was true: Anthony hadn’t found the box or the flashlight, but he had tipped over a five-gallon pail of oil-based primer. That was the smell Pat had noticed upstairs. The fumes were just now beginning to affect Anthony, burning his eyes a bit. The thought of the roasting turkey, however, was making his stomach grumble. He was imagining sitting around at the fellowship hall of the church and gorging himself on turkey and stuffing with all the other church families, maybe sit by the Pastor’s wife. She was a real milf. This thought helped calm him, although his knee still hurt. He had no idea that he was tracking his footprints all over the basement floor, searching blindly either for the box or the flashlight, completely disoriented.

“Are you making a mess down there? I smell gas or something. Did you knock something over?” She wasn’t able to place the smell. She also was stuck on a five-letter word for egalitarian in the crossword.

“Well, if I had that damn flashlight maybe I could see, but no-oo, you had to go and hide it!” If Anthony had his flashlight, he would have seen a mess of red footprints leading from the puddle of primer near the tipped pail. He would have realized he had been meandering over the same areas for ten solid minutes and was presently back where he started.

Pat laughed, “Oh, why don’t you go hide, you moron!” She thought she said it too quietly for him to hear, but his ears were working better than ever in the dark, and she spoke louder when she was drunk.

He hated her…attitude. That’s what she had. Attitude, like the way she thought he was stupid. He didn’t know if he was stupid or not, but he didn’t want anyone else to think so. He felt dizzy. The turkey smell was overpowering, now making him feel nauseous.

He finally found the flashlight sitting on top of his work-bench. Lifting up the flashlight made his head spin, and it slipped from his fingers.

“Damn it!” He heard it crash against the floor with a slight splat as it hit a puddle. He slowly lowered himself until he once again gripped the handle of the flashlight. “What the hell…” He could feel that it was wet. He sniffed his fingers, and something acrid burned his nose and made his eyes water.

“Finally!” He announced. He clicked on the flashlight, but there was no light. He shook it back and forth in a quick round of troubleshooting that revealed the problem: no batteries. Unknown to Anthony, Pat was using the batteries for a power massager when he was at work.

“What’s taking you so long down there — did you get lost?”

Her voice grated on him, especially as sick as he was feeling. He flung the flashlight hard into the darkness, listening to it crack against the wall.

“Geezus, Pat, have a little sympathy! I think I’m bleeding down here!”

Pat slowly stood and reached for a fresh bottle on top of her refrigerator and poured herself a tall one, “Yeah, whatever you say,” she snorted at him.

Anthony used his wife’s voice like a beacon, steadying himself until his feet found the stairs. His head reeled with fumes, and he had enough of her attitude. He was muttering something to that effect as he pulled himself up the stairwell. His eyes narrowed as he reached the light of the kitchen, the brightness overwhelming his balance. Pat saw the primer stains that Anthony had tracked up the stairs and into her kitchen. Her chuckling mouth lost all joy immediately.

Finally able to focus at where Pat was pointing, Tony saw the footprints. His feet and the bottoms of his trousers were soaked red. He thought he was bleeding profusely. He couldn’t understand why his wife looked so angry — she should be helping him, damn it! But instead, she grabbed a rag from the sink and seethed, “You’re making a mess! Don’t just stand there, moron!” She crossed over to him, dropped to her knees, and began scrubbing furiously at the red stains.

“Look at this mess!” Her voice was so shrill, her words pushed him over, too weak to stand. He waved his arms in little circles, but it was no good. He fell back down the stairway. He saw his wife kneeling, wiping away his footprints. She was mumbling about the crap she had to put up with, unaware of the thumps her husband made as he disappeared back into the basement.

The darkness engulfed him again. The smell of turkey filled his head, and his body felt as tender as he imagined the turkey to be. He rested a moment at the foot of the stairs, no longer hungry, no longer tired. He couldn’t feel anything. Groping around him, his fingers contacted the primer, but he thought it was his blood.

On the side nearest the railing, Anthony felt something that had fallen out of his pocket during his tumble down the stairs. He’d had a book of matches in his pocket all along, having used them earlier to light the stove for Pat’s turkey. He could still hear her up there, frantically cleaning and cursing him.

“Better light than never,” he mused bitterly. Setting the sulfur head against the flinty surface of the matchbook, he slid the match hard along the length of the strip.

A little spark buttressed to life. His pupils narrowed in the tiny white light, but soon widened in horror as the little flame kept growing, catching his shirt and skin, Everything around him suddenly became white-hot. He watched every single one of the footprints on the floor ignite.

“PAT! PAT!” He was screaming and trying to put the flames out.

Pat tossed the filthy rag into the sink. “Aw, go to hell,” and she rubbed her eyes, drowsy from the highball, oblivious to the imminent explosion that would positively ruin her turkey.

 

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Dark humor fiction: The Teletubbies’ Final Gig

2007-3-27-teletubbiesAnarchy.

The children of J. Edgar Hoover Elementary School were very close to it, and the teachers were concerned that a fourth fire drill in as many days might tip them over the edge.

The principal, Mr. Faber, put his foot down when the teachers asked him to delay any more fire drill for a few months.

“We used $15,000 of the taxpayers’ money for a new fire alarm system,” he told them at the Teachers Committee meeting. “We’re going to get the taxpayers their money’s worth out of this system!”

Mr. Faber scratched the back of his neck, digging under the collar. “I suppose you all know,” he said, “how kids are today: stubborn, rebellious, unteachable, disrespectful.” He frowned and stared at the ceiling.

“And dirty!” chimed in Mrs. Drought, the first grade music teacher.

Her fellow teachers murmured their agreement.

“Nasty little monsters!” came a high-pitched voice from the back, most likely the math teacher, Mr. Poderkin, who disguised his voice so that it sounded like Minnie Mouse. He recently was accused of hoarding children’s socks.

“They come to us without even the basics for communication!” Miss Lehrenson, the young Communications teacher lamented. “They don’t even know how to talk right!” Everyone in the room clicked their tongues in loathing and agreement.

“And they’re too short!” The Crafts teacher yelled, sending the whole room went into an uproar of chatter. The teachers threatened to develop a “list of names” of the most dangerous of the students against whom some type of unsanctioned actions would be undertaken.

Mr. Faber clapped his stubby hands together, “Please! Sit down!” But the uproar was too uproarious. Plans were being half-baked, petards were being foisted. Unable to regain control of the staff meeting, Mr. Faber walked quietly through the door and a few paces down the quiet hallway, and then he pulled the arm on the red box, sending the harsh blare of a fifteen-thousand-dollar fire alarm through out the school. “Now that,” he thought, “sounds like a million bucks.”

 

**************************************************

Two small people stood before Mr. Faber, pushed forward Mrs. Kinderpants of the second grade.

“Mr. Faber,” she said, “This is Dana,” and Mrs. Kinderpants indicated the little boy lodged on her right hand, “and this is Ruby,” and Mrs. Kinderpants pushed her left hand forward accordingly. “They were found in the janitor’s closet, Mr. Faber, and they were kissing!”

Dana smiled and raised his eyebrows, causing his ears wobble.

“Is that true, Ruby? Were you doing something naughty in the janitor’s closet?”

Ruby stared intently at her feet and seemed about to cry. “Will I get in trouble if I tell the truth?”

“No, of course not! Honesty is always the best policy, young lady,” and Mr. Faber leaned down next to her on one knee and said, “now tell your Uncle Fabie, did you let Dana here give you a smooch?” Ruby nodded slowly and sheepishly. “Well, that was very, very naughty, and I’m afraid you won’t have recess for a week.”

Ruby started to cry and scream “not fair!”

“Unless…” Mr. Faber raised a hand to stop her outburst.

“Unless what?” she sniffled.

“Unless you come to work for us,” he concluded.

Her eyes widened. “I could teach the pony-riding class!”

“No,” Mr. Faber shook his head sharply. “Idiot. I mean, keep an eye on the other children. You know, spy.”

They came to terms: three Good Work! stickers on every assignment for information leading to the capture and punishment of potential terrorists. Mrs. Kinderpants led her away leaving Dana to Mr. Faber for further questioning.

“Do you like my big leather chair, Dana?” Mr. Faber stood and patted the seat of the mahogany leather. “Go on! Give it a try! It spins!” And Dana slid on and used his feet against Mr. Faber’s desk to push the chair around and around.

“You like to spin, don’t you Dana?”

Dana giggled and spun faster once he realized Mr. Faber was paying attention. Mr. Faber, however, had enough of the spinning and gripped the back of the chair sending Dana slamming into the armrest.

“Hmmm…‘Dana.’ Isn’t that a girl’s name?”

Dana nodded, rubbing his ribcage. “Uh hunh.”

“Well, you can’t go around having a girl’s name. I’ll call you ‘Danny’ instead. You’re not a girl, are you, Danny?”

Dana smiled and nodded. His ears seemed barely attached to the sides of his head, and they bent and unbent themselves. “I’m a boy-girl! I’m intersexual. I’ve got a friend, too, and he’s the Green Monkey and he likes me and we go to the fence and put rocks on there.”

Mr. Faber’s face flushed. “That won’t do! You’ve got to choose one way or the other, Danny! Are you a boy or a girl?”

Dana leaped to his feet upon the still-spinning chair, “I am the Green Monkey and I built a rowboat out of a shoe!”

“Okay, Danny, settle down. Be careful. That chair cost your parents a lot of money. Now, do you like to play football and play cops and robbers or do you like to play with dolls?”

Dana sat on the chair with his little legs folded beneath him. “Sometimes when my sister is gone I take her dolls…” Mr. Faber frowned and rolled his eyes “…and I light them on fire because the Green Monkey has a matchbook that he lets me look at sometimes when my sister’s not around.”

Mr. Farber’s face brightened, “Oh, that’s good, Danny! You kiss girls and burn their dolls! I think you’re going to be all right!” Mr. Faber explained about the committee with the list of names and said that Dana’s name was on the list and that bad things could happen if the committee caught up to him.

“You don’t want anything bad to happen to you, do you Danny-boy?”

Dana nodded. “I caught a locust. In a jar.”

“So if you help me with a little project, I’ll see to it that your name comes off that list. And that means that you’ll be safe. You want to be safe, don’t you, Danny?”

“My locust’s name is Hal. He’s got a jillion friends and they’re coming here from Egypt to look for him.” Dana stopped spinning on the expensive chair long enough to heave into the expensive trashcan.

“That’s okay, Danny. You’ll be all right now. As long as you help me. But until you agree, I can’t promise that bad things won’t happen. Very bad things.”

“Sometimes the Green Monkey does my math…”

“Enough with your delusions, Dana. Go back to class. Think about what we talked about.”

Dana wasn’t suffering from delusions as Mr. Faber supposed. There really was a locust named Hal and there really was a Green Monkey and his name was Schubert. Schubert and Dana and Hal lived a half mile from the school. Technically, Hal lived in a jar in the garage and Schubert lived in Dana’s psychoaural field.

And there really was a matchbook. It had a picture of Mrs. Kinderpants naked on it because the matches came from the Torchlight Lounge where Mrs. Kinderpants supplemented her meager teacher’s salary on the weekends with a thong and a penguin. The penguin wore the thong.

It turned out that the “help” Mr. Faber wanted from Dana involved the matches. Having been visited by a select and particularly vicious arm of the Teachers Committee one night, Dana was convinced that the only way he and Hal and Schubert could maintain normalcy in their lives was to comply with Mr. Faber’s request: to light the school on fire to give the expensive fire alarm system a real test.

Schubert and Dana bought seventy-two gallons of gasoline that they wheeled to the school in a Radio Flier wagon. It would take them several trips, let’s face it.

Dana wondered if he and Schubert would be able to get past the security force that each day frisked the children. The guards employed by the school came from an agency featuring washed-up television stars. J. Edgar Hoover Elementary landed the frighteningly plushy cast of the Teletubbies. LaaLaa ran the portable metal detector over the frightened children as the brutish Tinky Winky carelessly frisked them with his cold, fingerless paws. Po dumped out the contents of each backpack and lunch box and swore in Chinese. Noo-Noo handled all the aggressive cavity searches while Dipsy danced and giggled (which was classic Dipsy).

As Dana neared the entrance, LaaLaa spotted his huge canister of gasoline, and she leveled her Taser® and sent the boy flopping to the floor as electric current coursed through him.

Tinky Winky clapped his paws. “Again. Again-again!”

Mr. Faber pushed his way past the Teletubbies. “Let little Danny-boy pass through. My what a big science project you have there!” Then in a lower voice, he whispered in Dana’s ear, “Do it down and dirty around ten o’clock. That’s when we’ll have all of the Names trapped in the auditorium during the Puppets for Safety show. Meanwhile, you and me and the Committee will be safe and sound out front listening to the sweet music of our expensive fire alarm. You like our fire alarm, don’t you Danny?”

Dana shook his head. “Schubert thinks Mrs. Kinderpants needs to drop ten pounds.”

“Good boy, Danny. Do you have the matches?”

Dana nodded and waited until all of the other children and the safety puppets were in the auditorium, soon to be entombed in a crypt of Dana’s fire.

After pouring out the entire contents of the fiery red canister at strategic entry points, Dana began rubbing the match head against the black flint strip that corresponded to where Mrs. Kinderpants’ dirty place should have been. A little flame sprang to life. Dana knelt and was just about to drop the flame that would light the gas that would torch the school that taxes built when a strange humming filled the air. At first Dana thought it must be the fire alarm. It grew louder and it wailed unlike any fire alarm drill Dana ever had heard. It was the drumming of a jillion wings beating against a jillion crunchy thoraxes.

Dana yelped and blew out the match. The children within the auditorium inhaling the delicious aroma of gasoline were safe from a plague of Egyptian locusts who had been trapped in an evil Pharaoh’s tomb with Brendan Fraser’s potential for thousands of years. They were angry and had the munchies.

The Teachers Committee and Mr. Faber and Po and Tinky Winky and LaaLaa were devoured in a bloody frenzy of clicking and screaming by the black cloud that enveloped them.

Dipsy danced and giggled, and then he died.

Dana was revered as a hero by the city for saving the children, and the locusts worshiped him as their new deity. This allowed him to establish himself as King of North America, ruling the continent from Mr. Faber’s spinning chair. His reign was marked by a period of relative stability, except for the occasional mass genocide of those who disagreed with him.