Monday, November 02, 2009

An Established Curriculum

FFF #8

"Warning: choking hazard, small parts, not suitable for children under 3 years" was what the Li'l Edgar Allan Poe Posable Figure box said, but Johnny didn't listen because he was almost thirteen so he ripped off the head and ate it. "There, you old bastard," he muttered as the taste of Chinese plastic faded from his tongue, "that will teach you and Mrs. Kessler! Screw the stupid book report! I ain't doing it!"

The head of Poe seemed to lodge itself halfway down and it felt as if it was gnawing at the root of his tongue. Johnny coughed and sputtered a bit, but the head refused to move on to the indignity that he had planned for it. "A cold drink will fix this right," he thought. There wasn't any milk in the fridge, but the carton of grape juice was full. Johnny wasn't the kind of kid to stand for the formalities of cups and glasses, so he drank right from the carton in the way his mother frowned upon.

"There's your case of Amontill...Amantill...Amandildo!" Johnny thought to himself, "Try and unbrick your fuckin' way out of this one, you creepy old son of a bitch!" as the grape juice loosened Poe's head. It seemed to make a subtle thud as it hit bottom.

"Johnny! Time for bed dear!" his mother called from the sofa.

"Aww Mom! It's only nine-thirty!" Johnny whined.

"I don't care. You are a growing boy and you need your rest. Besides, it's a school night and I want you bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning. Go to bed!" she said with a mother's resolve.

"G'night," he mumbled as he shuffled off.

The sheets were cool as he slid between them and settled his head into a comfy spot on the pillow. His belly rumbled as his limbs went slack in relaxation. "Stuffed green peppers must be sitting wrong," he considered as his eyes closed and sleep quickly overcame him.

Like most nights, Johnny quickly fell into a dream state and pictured himself in school the next day. Mrs. Kessler called his name to give his book report and Johnny swaggered forward to the head of the class with all the confidence of a flinty western gunfighter. Mrs. Kessler and the class looked at him with rapt attention. Johnny turned his back to the black board and looked out across the sea of faces. "For starters," he began, "I didn't read the effing book!" The class gasped along with Mrs. Kessler who held her hand in front of her mouth to hear such a blaspheme. "You want to know why? This stupid son of a bitch has got nuthin' to teach us for one. He ain't scary for another, and nobody talks like this any more! Who the hell can follow what the fuck he is talkin' about? I can't, and you shouldn't have to suffer through any more of this hack's bullshit!" At this point, the class broke into cheers and Mrs. Kessler dabbed her wet eyes with her hanky and shook his hand. She held it for a long time and thanked him for his honesty and in helping her see the light. She gave him an 'A' and promised that they would never study Edgar Allan Poe again in PS 128! Johnny basked in the glow of his fellow classmates and looked down the front of Mrs. Kessler's ample sweater as he did it.

Johnny awoke with a start as the dream ended abruptly. He was in his own room and was nestled in his own bed, but the warm feeling of adulation from his classmates evaporated in an instant and was replaced by a very cold sense of fear. The house was quiet. Nothing broke the stillness of the night as Johnny stared at the ceiling above him in the darkened room until the distant howl of a lonesome dog pierced the night. Johnny's belly howled along with the mysterious hound.

Johnny wasn't old enough to know what fear or despair smelled like, but his room was filled with a grossly uncomfortable stink, and it wasn't from fluffing the covers after stuffed pepper night. His alarm clock started to tick progressively louder despite it's digital operation. It seemed to be ticking in time with his heart in a familiar but uncomfortable tick-tick, thump-thump manner, as if one was calling out to the other, and the other answered in it's own kind.

Johnny reached up to wipe the fat beads of sweat from his forehead before they slid into his wide eyes that were trying to penetrate the gloom. He struggled to ascertain from which direction this nameless fear would strike out at him. He found his hand to be numb and lifeless as he pulled it across his brow, as if he had been laying wrong on his arm and it had gone to sleep of it's own volition. As his own hand passed over his eyes, even this limp member could detect a volcanic temperature that arose from his head.

As he tucked his arm beneath the warm covers, Johnny tried to convince himself that it was only a good dream that had drifted into fear on his awakening and there was really nothing to be afraid of. Johnny stared hard at the covers that were bathed in a sliver of moonlight from his blinds to steady his rattled nerves. He needed to be fully awake or to quickly drift back off to sleep, as this was the only way he could think of to shake these late night jitters. As he pulled the covers up to his neck, he tried to return to his lost dream of class-wide admiration, and moved his feet a little deeper into the bed.

He was surprised when one foot struck something cold and hard. His eyelids shot up and his focus studied his feet in the small stripes of moon light that fell from his blinds. He looked at his feet intently in the dim light.

Whatever his foot had struck had a life of it's own. To his amazement, it seemed to cling to his little toe with a vice-like grip. He heard the soft snap of toe bones crunching before the pain ever registered in his sleep addled brain.

Johnny kicked and thrashed, and he shook the painful attack loose. "The hell.." was as much as he could muster before the covers revealed that, whatever it was, it was climbing up his leg towards him and the bump under the covers was moving with a steady pace. He held still and watched. He could feel tiny fingers clasp one hair and then the next in an effort to pull itself up his leg. He could feel tiny shoes dig into his shin and push themselves along by their own perverse exertion. The covers humped up and moved with the sensations to reassure him that something wicked was crawling up his leg.

"Arrgh!" Johnny screamed as he squirmed and threw back the covers. A six inch figure in a tiny black suit was clinging to his leg hairs and looked at him with a death stare, or would have, if it had a head. Johnny thrashed around some more and tried to kick it off with his other leg, but it was as if his limbs had been paralysed and he was held in place by glue.

The figure continued to pull himself along by the hairs on Johnny's leg, and as he did so, the clock grew louder and the figure grew bigger with each tug at these fine hairs. As he reached Johnny's knee, he was three feet long. As his cold gray claws hooked into Johnny's underwear, He was four feet long. When the figure reached his cold, plastic hands around Johnny throat and began to gently squeeze, he was a six foot plastic headless corpse and his weight was a hundred and sixty pounds heavy on Johnny's chest.

Johnny struggled to loose himself from this death-like grip. He fought against his foe with limbs that wouldn't answer. He tried to cry out for help, but his voice only made a rasping, gurgling noise and he knew that no one would ever hear him again. He quit fighting and resolved to die at age thirteen, beneath the crushing weight of a life-sized plastic corpse who would consume his very soul.

The body seemed to turn it's non-existent head on him and recognise him for the first time. The bloodless plastic hands slowly crushed his wind pipe a little harder as it leaned close to his face. He could feel the hot breath emerge upon his cheek from a severed plastic esophagus and it seemed to have quickened it's breath to match the timing of his pounding heart.

The plastic hands gripped tighter still and Johnny felt the life ebbing from him when the figure leaned into his face and muttered from it's throat hole, "Read it," in a ghastly hiss.

Johnny ceased to be and grew cold where he lay.

Johnny's mother got up early like she always did and stopped at the bathroom to relieve herself, then headed off to the kitchen to make her morning coffee. "What are you doing up?" she said with a startled cry.

"I couldn't sleep," Johnny admitted, "and I had some homework to finish before school today. I made coffee already. Have some. I did." Johnny's eyes were as bloodshot as a crack addict and he spoke in a monotone so different from his usual bouncy self. He turned his red eyes back to a book and scribbled like mad on a paper already filled with notes.

"Why the sudden interest in school work?" Mom asked as she filled her mug, "You never cared this much before?"

"I got up early cause I had to take a crap," Johnny explained in a disembodied voice, "There was a head in it and it told me so." he turned his eyes slowly back to his book and his notes as if his life depended on it.

Of this, he would never speak of again.

Mom got used to his new all black wardrobe and his vegan diet, but he was never the same again.


**Author's Note** This story comes from meeting Riley's teacher at an ungodly hour of the morning today after a long night of celebrating my birthday. I can only pray that you have average kids, as the gifted ones are tougher to handle. As a parent, you owe them to start putting your boot in their ass now. I'm finding out now, it is my job.


  1. Maybe I should have had a six inch posable Melville figure when it was time to read Moby Dick back in the day. Or maybe a Tolstoy figure.

    Great dream sequence Doc. The breath coming from the headless esophagus - really cool.

  2. The moral of the story: don't screw with dead cracker authors. They'll defend that canon somethin' fierce.

    You saying putting a boot in their ass like it's a bad thing. Take that, damn kids!

  3. Excellent story! God damn you are a good story teller! You do a really fine job of building the atmosphere.

    That's the trouble with kids though, isn't it, especially the bright ones - you never really know just how far to insert that boot.

  4. Wow Doc - you sure can tell a good story. Loved this and the line - "I got up early cause I had to take a crap," Johnny explained in a disembodied voice, "There was a head in it and it told me so." he turned his eyes slowly back to his book and his notes as if his life depended on it. Very well done sir!

  5. Going with what Mr. Macrum said it would be really cool to have a posable Mark Twain to drink with and talk about life.
    Great story!

  6. MrMacrum- I wasn't sure how a headless plastic figure would say anything but I just ran with it. Even a Melville figure wouldn't have helped me as I could never wade through Moby Dick.

    Cormac- Thanks.

    Randal- Dead crackers are not to be trifled with, and "boot in the ass" was my dad's parenting style. I think he learned it in the army.

    BB- Thank you dear. I tried to pattern it after as much of the Poe stories as I could remember. And when it comes to the boot depth, if their feet don't leave the floor, you didn't kick hard enough.

    Alan Griffiths- When I sat down to write this, the first thing I thought of was little Johnny trying to excrete the plastic head the next day. After that it was all down hill.

    I have read a fair amount of Poe because I decided early on that if I wanted to be a good writer, it would be helpful to read how the masters had done it and to a certain extent imulate them until I felt I could do it on my own. I often fall back on Poe when it comes to establishing tension and atmosphere as he was the best. He could have two everyday people sitting silently and having coffee and make the scene so charged that you found yourself biting your nails and turning pages at a rapid pace just to find out what happen. But instead of some resolution to end the tension, he just kept piling it on, making it more moody, more scary, more frightening, and in the end, there was no real resolution and the reader was left with this lingering unease.

    I wrote this in one sitting and didn't go back to edit it as the deadline was looming and it was one-thirty in the morning. On rereading it, there are some minor tweaks to the language that I would change, but it seems to hold up without it. I almost never write something in one go. It usually takes two sittings and at least one edit for me to get it the way I want it, especially if I've had a couple of beers. This was the rare exception.

    Thank you all for your kind words. I hope I can continue to entertain you with each new story.

    yours in ink,

  7. Allow me to, yet again, quote one of my fav Spongebob excerpts:

    "I have NO talent. Mr Doc has ALL the talent."

    Meanwhile, I was such a pussy in school-- I woulda' just done th' damned homework...

  8. Oh, you rock, Doc. Alan already referred to my favorite line. Ha! + nice closer.


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