|Hot Stuff & Godzilla come to town|
Alice walks in meekly giving me the self-conscious frown kids carry when their self-esteem has been crippled by the bad role models of older generations. A screeching bitch of a mom is somewhere behind that frown, so is an abusive father, drunken aunts and a high school teacher who bites his pencil and stares at her breasts.
Sure I'm an old geek, but I wish people wouldn't project the ugliness of others onto me. I do little other than run this curiosity shop and my charms and amulets have done a lot of good for the kids in the New Town area. I put the sparkle in their eyes and the shine on their …. whoops! Now I see that I really am an old fool. Her eyes are sparkling but not her amulet, because it’s missing.
Guess the older generations have another chance, but she doesn't because I nod and tell her that I can't just give her another -- the original is hers, and its luck and power are tied to her. She must find a way to recover it.
A good kid she shakes her head yes and turns … leaving beauty trailing in my mind as she walks away. It’s so great to be young and have rosy cheeks, tears like diamonds and pigtails that bounce even when you’re sad.
But what the hell, the dust and parchment of age have claimed me -- I'd be better off dead - would be dead if the slam and jangle of the door didn’t always put my mind to work.
Missing amulet? -- I keep track of my stock so this does intrigue me and I stare into the polish on my curiosity counter. But being careful this time -- I can see whole worlds in the polish, only it's like jumping into a lake and last time I nearly drowned. Choking and spitting -- next thing I knew it was the hospital with Doc Weaver calling the damn thing a stroke.
Tramp clouds stole the gold of the afternoon sun as they drifted over the rippling waters of the Trent River. Crabgrass, thistles and sunflowers reached mutant heights, stirring in mock awareness amid the heaps of rusted auto wrecks near the stony shore. The first evening shadows hooded the forest wall of maples and pines in the valley. Vampire-big mosquitoes swirled at the edges of sunny clearings, and behind the tallest oaks, the sun-brilliant scrapers of New Town rose.
The residents had banned autos, bringing peace to the valley, and here just outside of town the roads were cow paths dug by human feet and the heavy equipment moving up to new developments on the river line. The kids approached the river on the widest of these roads, Alice walking in the lead, sometimes playfully balancing herself on the fallen trunks of blasted trees and the heavy ruts of dried mud the tractors had left. Three boys - Johnny, Chet and Grant - followed her to the trail, paying more attention to their own horseplay than to her.
They halted at the riverbank, staring down at the foaming water for a moment before Johnny pointed to a barely visible trail in the sumac and signaled the others to follow. Shadows crossed their brows like hunter's camouflage as they pressed ahead and their attitudes appeared serious as the trail broke into ferns growing at the edge of a block of pines. Trooping off like soldiers, down the widest row, they cut to the heart of the pines and then through a wall of prickly brush. Johnny held the branches back as the others ducked through and seconds later they were all standing in a circular clearing. A fire pit of huge slate boulders rested at its centre. Deep matted grass and flattened spruce boughs surrounded it. A wrecked Ford languished in the shade, serving as a rain shelter outfitted with bedding and a stereo.
Gold flashed on Alice's amulet, her big eyes sparkled with interest. She kicked a cow skull through some thistles and hopped up on one of the pit boulders. "Wow! This must be where you sacrifice to your wolf god!"
"Nope," Johnny said. "My parents are herbalists and vegetarians. This is my secret spot where I come to barbecue beef, hamburgers and hotdogs. Alice, consider yourself privileged to be told about it. Heck, with every girl in New Town having the hots for me and my parents being nuts -- this secret spot means life and death."
"That's right," Chet said. "Johnny has revealed a big secret to you so how about revealing something to us in return?"
"Like what? I don't keep secrets?"
"I heard you got a secret tattoo under that tank top. How about taking it off and showing us the design."
"Sorry, but the design just don't feel like revealing itself today."
"Doesn't piss me any," Johnny said. "My mom's also a nudist. Sometimes I see sag in my dreams."
"How dare you compare me to your mom's sag."
"Prove you got something better," Chet said.
"Please," Johnny said. "I have my reputation to think of -- people will be saying I've lost the power if a rumour hits the streets that I'm begging girls for boob shots."
Grant tossed a heap of kindling on the fire --- he paused. "I'm interested in the power, not boobs. How about you and Alice telling us what these powers are?"
"Certainly," Johnny said. "Let me begin by saying that I don't personally believe Alice has any powers at all. She's one of those phony high school witches. This wolf fang I’m wearing is deadlier than any sort of witchery. Should I choose I could use it and incantations to call up the evil revenge of the wolf god. The way it works is that if I name you your worst nightmare takes the shape of a wolf and comes to finish you. I can also become a werewolf if I want."
"Don't use it on yourself or a sag-boobed vegetarian wolf will chase you," Chet said, inspiring an outburst of laughter.
"That's how ridiculous it is," Alice said. "Even if it were true your wolf fang only has two real powers while my amulet has three. Should I need protection, I can use the incantation to call up three forces of evil -- First I can ask that you be buried with the dead. Should the person I’m fighting happen to be dead or something, then the amulet will send forth the thing from the river bottom. If the thing from the river bottom is not powerful enough I can go all the way with a special incantation that will cause Godzilla to walk and crush the enemy."
There was silence as Alice finished, then anger faded in Johnny's hazel eyes, his cheeks pinked and he suddenly exploded --- convulsions of laughter shaking him as he fell to his knees. "Godzilla walks," he choked, tears beginning to pour from his eyes. He began to pound his fists on the grass as he continued to howl. "Ha! Godzilla -- I saw him on monster tube the other night. Even in the new short version you still see the big zipper."
Now Alice was pissed -- her eyes reflecting the sunset and the flames Grant had rising. She held her amulet like she was about to use it.
Then Grant spoke and Johnny's laughter subsided. "Whether Alice's amulet has powers or not, it’s still valuable. I propose that we solve this problem in a way that will verify the truth. I got a pack of cards in my bag. Let's have a little game of strip poker between you two. Rules are lose a hand and you doff an item of clothing -- once you get down to the necklaces you’ll have an option -- doff your underwear and walk back through New Town in the skin or hand the necklace to the winner instead. In this deal should Alice decide she can't part with the amulet, Chet and I win as we get to see what we want. Whoever wins the necklaces will own them and have a chance to test their powers."
"Great Idea," Chet said.
"Okay," Johnny said. "If Alice is game I’ll play. But my rules are no crying when you lose."
Alice looked at all three guys. Her anger became calculation. "Count me in."
The game had progressed evenly and with a bit of a surprise. As it turned out both Alice and Johnny had been wearing swimming suits beneath their clothing and they were now stripped down to the bare essentials. Grant dealt the deciding hand --- a strong fire now rising and crackling in the clearing, the flames highlighting Chet's drooling chin as he watched Alice.
Johnny's pupils expanded as he stared at his cards. Alice frowned as he pulled one card. She drew two and hid her emotions as she studied her hand. They laid them out silently and Grant squinted in the firelight. "Three kings for Johnny, three queens for Alice."
Alice grimaced - Johnny grinned - Chet began to wheeze and Grant looked to Alice, his eyes signaling that he expected obedience to the rules.
Her hand touched her top then the amulet.
"No," Chet said. "Toplessness is legal now. You can't get in trouble for it."
"You'll have to walk through New Town," Johnny said, his grin swimming with victory, as he knew Alice would never do it.
A light wind tousled the willow tops in the graveyard. Johnny and Grant stood in the ferns, gazing through the iron fence at two somber workers dragging a coffin over the grounds. They took it up to the icehouse and returned through the stones. Using a rope and a winch they removed a third coffin and carried it off. Their last trip was for their digging tools then they disappeared up the main road leading to the storage building.
"Why do you suppose they dug those three up?" Grant said.
"Don't know. Maybe they were ordered exhumed by a court."
Bushes rustled behind them and they turned quickly, Johnny's leather shirt and fang necklace catching sunbeams. He squinted into the sun, spotting Chet emerging at the end of the forest path. Chet wore a big thin-lipped grin, and his gray eyes were alight with mischief.
"Did you give her the note?" Johnny said.
"Yeah, I saw her coming out of the curiosity shop in New Town. I think she wanted to buy another amulet but couldn't afford it. She swallowed the bait and will be out here before sunset. She says to tell you you're a bastard."
"Bastard, eh," Johnny said, his eyes going back to the graveyard. "Say, I just got a great idea. Our note says she has to walk a blindfolded zigzag through the graveyard and meet us at the icehouse before we'll give her a chance to win back the amulet. Those three graves they just opened are exactly on the path. We could each hide in a different grave and when she gets close, jump up and scare the boobs off her."
"Wow, what a great idea," Chet said. "I'm going to jump up and steal a feel if she passes me."
Alice came up the path at eight and found the cemetery gates closed by an iron lock a jackhammer couldn't break. Evening was still golden on the graveyard hill and twilight haze dusted the stones with life. A host of stone angels offered protection should she decide to walk through. As a counter force, the icehouse stood in long shadows on the hilltop -- a squat work of evil and jail for the dead, it promised to spit forth greater pain than any pranks the boys could plan. A beard of shadow reached down from its stone walk, touching a line of huge black obelisks. Mostly regular stones spotted the grounds below the obelisks -- it didn't look like it would be a hard walk even wearing a blindfold.
She prepared to climb the gate then she halted. Smoke clouds were blowing under the icehouse door and drifting down into the stones. The image of Johnny, the abominable fool, burning a corpse to scare her came to mind, then she threw her purse around the back of her neck and grabbed a cross bar to pull herself up. It took all of her strength and she nearly tore her crotch on the spikes at the top. As she went over she slipped, crashed down in the grass and rolled to the side of a small stone. Rising, she swore as she saw a grass stain on her butt, then she froze as a voice echoed through the stones. It was Johnny's voice, sounding amplified by some sort of speaker or megaphone, demanding that she put on the blindfold.
Pulling a strip of violet cloth from her purse she tied it around her head. She cupped her hands over her face for a moment as she said the incantation for the amulet. “. . . and bury the first one with the dead," she whispered as she pulled her hands down. She thought about what the old man had said as she began to take careful steps -- the amulet and its powers were tied to her, so she hoped it would work without being around her neck.
Chet rested on a mat of pine needles at the bottom of his grave. He shivered, the whole thing starting to irritate and spook him, then he heard Johnny calling for the blindfold. His blood immediately caught fire and he flew to his feet for a look over the lip of the grave. The last rays of the sun were angling off the marble in such a way as to blind him. Patches of twilight revealed nothing. He couldn't see Alice at all and above something dark roiled in the sky.
Ducking back down he decided she had to come his way. It wouldn’t take more than a couple minutes. And the atmosphere wasn't scaring him but he was sure it would terrify her. He'd just wait till he heard her approaching, then he'd jump up and take a real long feel of those breasts.
Slowing his breathing he tried to listen -- but instead of Alice's footsteps every sound in the world came to his ears. He heard the willows rustling, the iron gate slamming in the wind, strains of distant music, crickets, crows and his own heavy heartbeat. A minute passed -- he was sure he heard the tap of a footstep, then something scraping and something larger dragging on the ground. It was positively creepy -- he had to hand it to Alice, she was smart enough to play their game -- making weird noises to scare them, too.
A gross burp echoed and he grinned and crouched, preparing to leap. The scraping was heavy now; a second and it would be over the grave, so he stole the moment and leapt up over the lip. He saw two big men swinging a corpse. It flew straight into him, carrying him back to the bottom of the grave. A second body flew down, and a third, leaving Chet winded under what felt like a hundred sacks of slimy cold potatoes. Then the shovels started, earthworms hit him in the face and he let out a last tiny gasp and rattle. . . .
His eyes were blind and he could feel the maggots spinning in his brain, forming a new arrangement and hideous thoughts. A light flashed and a memory carried in the charge -- he'd been swimming on that day long ago and now he'd been down here in this frozen pocket for who knew how long. Water, bile, and algae rushed in his lungs and throat -- then the pain of having once been human passed and he rose to the power of slime and the call of the amulet.
Blackened hands and bloated flesh rose to the surface and he pulled over the logs to shore. There he crawled like a swollen dog, the odor of his corruption nearly killing the frogs on the sand. In his dim mind he saw the graveyard, pictured an open grave and felt the need for burial. There were people gathered under bright spotlights and moths swirling as he rose to his feet and sloshed through at the edge of town. He watched them scream and run and he couldn't care. Stray dogs howled in the streets, crows screeched in the air, cats hissed in the alleys and an old man at the gas station fell dead at the sight of his spotted face. Passing through the auto wrecks and in the woods he heard a funeral march, the music pouring from the iron bars of the gate and the icehouse on the graveyard hill.
At the gate he seized the lock and watched with a water-fattened eye as it became rust and crumbled, then he went inside, hearing the sound of water and rot slosh in his heavy boots as he walked to the grave. He neared the lip and saw a frightened boy leap up from below. A spark ignited in his mind -- "My Son, my Son," he rasped through reedy vocal cords, then he embraced his son, holding him as he screamed and struggled -- holding him so they could fall together to burial and the grave.
Johnny leapt from the grave, heading for the icehouse, fingering his neckline and wolf fang as he walked. Weird sounds and screams had been drifting in the graveyard. It looked like Alice knew how to play freaky games just like they did. If that was the case, he wasn't going to hang around in a grave and be her next sucker. Besides, he had a nice little treat in store for her.
Iron on oak, the icehouse doors loomed over him. He stood on paving stones, his feet hidden in the smoke streaming under the crack. He'd dropped the key in the grave so he raised his hands and used the power of the wolf to move the hinges. They opened slowly, creaking, wood splitting as the locks snapped. A fire burned inside -- black braziers smoking with flesh and charcoal to either side of a stone slab and coffin.
Turning, Johnny looked to his rear, deep into the graveyard. It was too dark to see Alice. It was too dark to see anything other than the moon rising at the treetops. He knew she had got past Chet and Grant. Perhaps she was hanging out down by the obelisks. No matter, his game wasn't the childish sort of Chet and Grant's. He wanted the amulet and he knew beyond any doubt that if he wanted to keep a witch's amulet and make it work, then he had to burn the witch.
The pyre had been prepared. He walked into the icehouse and pulled a torch from an iron cup in the limestone wall. It ignited in his hands. Walking to the coffin, he used his left hand to throw the lid open. A garish waxen face caught the torchlight and the horrible stench of a body not fully embalmed came to his nostrils. He inhaled deeply then set the torch back in the wall and went in deeper to get the flasks of oil he’d stored.
Perfumed scents of oil sweetened the rot of death. Johnny soaked the corpse thoroughly and used the torch to ignite it -- magnificent flames rose on the burning body, the heat forcing him to step back from the slab. Another fire began to burn in his mind. He kissed the wolf fang and whispered the incantation, then he turned to face the graveyard as the transformation began.
His hair whitened, lengthened and thickened like weeds. Great strength rushed to his hands, forcing them to bend and grow. Blood rushed in his limbs, his chest expanded and fire began to gather behind his eyes.
As his nose lengthened his night vision came to him and he spotted Alice way down by the gate. It had somehow been thrown open and she was running for the forest path.
Thought she could get away, the little fool. A growl rose in his thickening throat. He decided to wait a few moments for the transformation to finish, and then the power of the wolf would carry him to her.
A sudden thunder drew his eyes to the treetops, and as he looked the ground began to shake. Beyond the tree wall the night sky had risen like a giant. A cloud mass swirled behind some huge thing as it approached. On the ground the wind had died. Choking smoke rose around him, a terrible roar shook the stones, earthquake convulsions knocking some of them down.
Thundering feet came into view at the gate, the repercussions threatening to topple the icehouse. Johnny rushed out as a slab fell behind him and crushed the coffin. He went down the crumbling hill, but even with wolf paws he was unable to keep his footing. Mud took his legs and he slid, landing back in the open grave he’d just left.
At the bottom he whimpered like a frightened dog and stared up, then he hissed as he saw Godzilla rising. The massive feet came down right next to the grave, shaking cold earth in his eyes, and when his wolf vision cleared he saw the enormous head and dagger teeth.
Godzilla roared mightily and reached down to seize him. He had no angle of escape, but could only howl --- and before the big jaws closed on him he saw the rubbery neck. Just like on monster tube- he was sure he could see the zipper.
--- The End ---