The Job: Wrestling with Myself

A PODCAST, THE SORT WITH NO BUDGET AND SOME WELL-INTENTIONED, PASSIONATE HOST COMPLETELY OUT OF THEIR ELEMENT. MARK JOBBERSON IS SAID HOST.

MUSIC: A FRUSTRATINGLY LONG, ASSINGLY ANNOYING MIX OF PUBLIC DOMAIN FAUX ROCK AND ASSORTED PRO WRESTLING-RELATED CLIPS AND SOUNDBITES. UP, UNDER.

MARK: Coming to you live from The Crow’s Nest, I’m “Mild” Mark Jobberson, and you’re listening to Wrestling with Myself, the number one professional wrestling podcast according to people who exclusively listen to this podcast.

MUSIC: OUT.

MARK: This week, we’ve got for you a full review of “Isn’t This Depressing,” the latest monthly live event from It’s Not a Hobby, It’s a Business Championship Wrestling; a look back on the life and career of the five-time Car Wash and Hot Wax Champion, Nipples McSweeny; my Top Ten list of the best places to buy discount, oversized bootleg pro wrestling tee shirts; and an exclusive interview with my neighbor, Terrold, about the time he almost became a pro wrestler, but didn’t.

But first, a message from this week’s sponsor – Joe Bear’s Pro Wrestling Ring and Gear Rentals. (READS) Do you have too much money? Have you watched professional wrestling a time or two? Don’t you wish you could spend all that money you should save for rent and necessities on your own professional wrestling show? Well, with Joe Bear’s Pro Wrestling Ring and Gear Rentals, even the biggest sucker can afford to put other people’s health and safety at risk for the chance at making a buck. Joe Bear’s Pro Wrestling Ring and Gear Rentals, because why should trained professionals with any degree of knowledge and experience with this sort of thing have all the fun?

CUT TO:

A BUMPER. SOMEHOW OF EVEN WORSE QUALITY. STOCK MUSIC UP, UNDER. 

PLEATHERDADDY: I’m The Pleatherdaddy, and you’re listening to this guy’s podcast.

MARK: (OFF) It’s the “Wrestling with My–”

PLEATHERDADDY: (OFF) Look, I already said what I said. Can I get my five bucks, or is this going to turn into a thing?

CUT TO:

THE PODCAST. SORRY.

MARK: Moving on to our first segment this week, an in-depth review of “Isn’t this Depressing”, the latest monthly event from It’s Not a Hobby, It’s a Business Championship Wrestling, live at the public indoor basketball court at Glockenspiel Park. While originally scheduled to begin at two in the afternoon this past Saturday, some minor technical issues ultimately delayed the show until eleven o’clock that same evening. Once the police dispersed and the show was allowed to continue, the first match of the evening finally took place, featuring Dilby Largebottom and Fatty Tightshirtandsweats in a Gluten-Free Bear Claw and Jellyroll Deathmatch–

SFX: A KNOCK ON A WINDOW.

SFX: MARK LITERALLY CRANKS HIS WINDOW DOWN, HARD, FAST, AND LOOSE.

MARK: (OFF) Hello, officer. What seems–

OFFICER: (OFF) We’ve had some complaints about someone publicly pleasuring themselves in this parking lot. You wouldn’t happen to know–

SFX: MARK STARTS CAR, SPEEDS OFF.

Adia: An Unwashed Grill

A WAREHOUSE SOMEWHERE IN THE CYBERPUNK-LIKE PORT CITY OF ADIA. NEON-LIGHTS. CHEAPLY MADE SCI-FI WONDER MACHINES, VEHICLES, AND OTHER NEEDLESS EVERYDAY THINGS. ALSO, IT STILL LOOKS OLD AND ABANDONED FOR SOME INEXPLICABLE REASON.

SIBIL: (COMMS) Night. A cluttered warehouse along Toader Cola & Weapons of Minimal Destruction Incorporated Harbor.

CUT TO:

THE CRAZED, CLUTTERED INTERIOR OF A WAREHOUSE SOMEWHERE IN THE CYBERPUNK-LIKE PORT CITY OF ADIA. GUN FIRE, LASER FIRE, FIRE FIRE, AND THE PAINED, FRIGHTENED SCREAMS OF HIRED GOONS.

GOON #1: This way! She’ll never find us–

PEW-PEW! GOON #1 DROPS DEAD FROM SOME SCI-FI PEW-PEW WEAPON.

SIBIL: (COMMS) January Embers, cloaked in a cloaking device, violently plays with her prey, completely unseen…

GOON #2: (POINTS) There she is!

ENTER JANUARY, CLOAKED, YET COMPLETELY VISIBLE FROM ALL THE ICKY STUFF COVERING HER FROM HEAD TO TOE.

SIBIL: (COMMS) …yet totally visible ‘cus of all the blood and such.

GOON #3: How many of us has she killed?!

PEW-PEW! PEW-PEW! JANUARY SHOOTS THE OTHER GOONS DEAD WITH THE SCI-FI PEW-PEW WEAPON.

JANUARY: Sibil, if you’re going to narrate everything, you can at least do it from the beginning.

SIBIL: (COMMS) I forgot.

JANUARY: You forgot?

SIBIL: (COMMS) Look. It’s not every day I get out to the harbor. I was absorbed by all the lights and trash reefs.

JANUARY: Why didn’t you bother narrating our drive out here? Or, oh, I don’t know, the last two hours we’ve been here?

SIBIL: (COMMS) I thought it was unnecessary exposition.

JANUARY: Whatever. Is that all the hired goons?

SIBIL: (COMMS) Not yet. The last one is currently attempting to…

AN ALARM ALARMS, AS IT DOES.

SIBIL: (COMMS) …activate the security alarm.

JANUARY TURNS TO…

GOON #4 STANDS AT A SECURITY PANEL, FINGERS ON THE SCREEN.

JANUARY: Hey! I see you!

GOON #4: Uh…

JANUARY: I was going to let you live, dude.

GOON #4: Really?

JANUARY: Guess you’ll never know now, huh?

GOON #4: (SHRUGS) Yeah, I guess so… (SIGHS) Go on, then.

JANUARY: Not gonna run or fight?

GOON #4: What for? I’m not getting paid enough for this.

JANUARY: (SHRUGS) Suit yourself.

JANUARY AIMS, READIES THE SCI-FI PEW-PEW WEAPON.

A PAUSE.

JANUARY: Ugh… You’re really taking the fun out of this.

GOON #4: Oh, I’m sorry. Is murdering me and my coworkers with some sci-fi weapon of minimal destruction not fun anymore?

JANUARY: Hey, you’re the ones working for a weapons manufacturer making a fortune from these things.

GOON #4: Whoa, whoa. A job is a job. Not like I have much choice of employment around here. It was this, or repossessing organs for some home electronics store.

JANUARY: That’s awful.

GOON #4: Tell me about it. Louie over there only took this job for the insurance. Poor guy is diabetic.

JANUARY: I mean, not anymore…

GOON #4: Sure, make jokes.

JANUARY: You’re not going to let this go, are you?

GOON #4: Nope.

A PAUSE.

JANUARY: (SIGHS)

JANUARY SHOOTS GOON #4 WITH THE SCI-FI PEW-PEW WEAPON.

SIBIL: (COMMS) Wow.

JANUARY: This place looks and smells like the underside of an unwashed grill, and this is what got to you?

SIBIL: (COMMS) No.

JANUARY: What is it then?

SIBIL: (COMMS) I just went over the job order again, and this idiot put the wrong address.

SOMETHING EXPLODES NEARBY.

JANUARY: (SIGHS) (SHAKES HEAD)

Zeroes: In Loving Memory of Paulie Oldperson

BIG CITY NEWS. INTENSE MUSIC, NEWS ANCHOR, DESK, NEWS OF SOME FLAVOR. MELODRAMATIC AND OFFENSIVELY OVERPRODUCED.

NEWS ANCHOR: I’m Hugh Man. Tonight on Big City News, The Open-Micer, notorious, foul-mouthed supercriminal known for their deep-rooted insecurities, lack of self-awareness, and penchant for crossing lines with all the grace of a beached manatee, hijacked a local softball game this afternoon. After brutally murdering seventy-five year old Paulie Oldperson, the beloved voice of the Big City Little Peoples for over fifty years, The Open-Micer took control of the announcer’s booth and proceeded to torture the several hundred in attendance with a new thirty minute set. Eyewitness reports state that the set was arguably their best yet, but still relied heavily on dated racial humor, misogynistic undertones, and funny voices that weren’t very funny at all. By the time Nightshift arrived and put a premature end to The Open-Micer’s set, eighteen people were already left with severe brain damage, seven had torn off their own ears, and at least forty known fatalities. After thousands of dollars in property damage, the Open-Micer is currently in BCPD custody. But the question remains: why did Nightshift not kill this sadistic monster when they had the chance?

CUT TO:

THE DANK, HEADQUARTERS OF THE VIGILANTE NIGHTSHIFT. REALLY JUST A LAZILY CONVERTED MOTEL ROOM. NIGHTSHIFT BROODS IN A CHAIR. THE NIGHTWATCH (PECKER, NIGHTGIRL, AND DOUG) WATCH BCN.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Meanwhile, back at The Dank, the secret headquarters of the mysterious vigilante, Nightshift, crafted from the rodent-infested remains of an abandoned motel under a freeway, our hero broods in his favorite chair while The Nightwatch – Pecker, Nightgirl, and Doug – loyal friends and allies in an unending existential crisis, watch tonight’s broadcast of Big City News.

PECKER: He has a point, ya know.

NIGHTSHIFT: We don’t kill, Pecker.

PECKER: I know, I know. But hear me out…

NIGHTSHIFT: No.

PECKER: I’m going to say it anyway.

PAUSE.

NIGHTSHIFT: I’ll allow it.

PECKER: I get that, as a rule, you don’t kill…

NIGHTSHIFT: We don’t kill. If you work with me, we do not kill. Right, Nightgirl?

PECKER, NIGHTGIRL, DOUG LOOK AT EACH OTHER.

NIGHTGIRL: Yeah, sure. No killing. Just lots of serious, often permanent, life-altering injuries and brain-damage.

NIGHTSHIFT: Doug?

DOUG: I mean… not that I can confirm with any degree of certainty at the moment?

NIGHTSHIFT: Works for me.

PECKER: But The Open-Micer has killed hundreds of people over the years. He killed two of your last four Peckers!

NIGHTGIRL: I really miss Pecker #2.

DOUG: I still talk to #3.

NIGHTGIRL: Aww. How’s he doing?

DOUG: He’s still a bit bitter about not being able to ever walk again, but they’re adjusting.

NIGHTSHIFT: Look. There are certain lines you can’t cross and still come back. If I kill, I’m no better than The Open-Micer, Questionnaire, Ostrich, Murdering Mike, or any of the countless other costumed criminals and maniacs roaming the streets of Big City.

PECKER: Yeah, but even the police use lethal force.

NIGHTGIRL: The military, too.

NIGHTSHIFT: I didn’t become a vigilante working outside the law, enlist orphaned children and my neighbor as soldiers in my one-man war on crime, or squander my family’s vast fortune on an impressive selection of themed gear and equipment just to be compared to the police.

DOUG: You did beat up that homeless guy, though.

NIGHTSHIFT: Vagrancy is a crime, Doug!

NIGHTGIRL: Only because you paid off a dozen people to help pass the “Evict the Homeless” bill last year.

NIGHTSHIFT: (FAKE YAWNS, STRETCHES) Man, what time is it? Oh, wow. Is it that late already?

PECKER: We’re not done talking about this, Bruno.

NIGHTSHIFT: Yes, we are. (HANDS THEM SHEETS OF PAPER) Here are your assignments for tonight.

NIGHTGIRL: (READS) High-risk parkour across the skyline and security detail for Creme Yourself Donuts. Cool.

DOUG: (READS) Water the lawn.

PECKER: (READS) “Keep The Open-Micer company tonight in his cell at Big City Minimum Security Criminal Daycare for Costumed Criminals”?

NIGHTSHIFT: You’ve been slacking off lately, Pecker. There. I’ve said it.

The Job: Steakhouse Tony

A MAKESHIFT WRESTLING LOCKER ROOM LOCATED BEHIND A HIGH SCHOOL GYM. VARIOUS ODDLY SHAPED PEOPLE IN ODDLY DESIGNED COSTUMES. A SMELL THAT CAN BE SEEN.

FRANKIE: (VOICE-OVER) Injuries are an unfortunate part of the job. Health insurance, however, is not.

CUT TO:

FRANKIE SIDELINES, A HEFTY, SWEATY MAN IN OVERSIZED, YET SOMEHOW STILL SNUG CLOTHING, HOLDS A MAKESHIFT CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE BELT.

FRANKIE: I’m Frankie Sidelines, and I’ve been in the wrestling business for almost twenty years.

CUT TO:

A THIN, SMALL LINE OF MOSTLY BORED PEOPLE QUEUE UP OUTSIDE THE GYM. SIGNS FOR “TETANUS CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING”, “RUSTED NAILS AND RAZOR BLADES MURDERFIGHT” HANG HERE AND THERE.

FRANKIE: (VOICE-OVER) You hate to see it. Nobody wants to get hurt.

VARIOUS WRESTLERS ATTEMPT, FAIL TO CONVINCE ANYONE TO PAY FOR AN AUTOGRAPH, HANDMADE TEE-SHIRT, PENCIL, OR EVEN A PHOTOGRAPH.

And we do what we can to not seriously hurt each other. This is a competitive sport, afterall. We’re not stand-up comedians.

CUT TO:

FRANKIE IN THE MAKESHIFT LOCKER ROOM, STILL CLUTCHING TO THAT MAKESHIFT CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE BELT.

FRANKIE: In the last two decades, I’ve seen a lot of men and women suffer horrible hospital bills and long-term gaps in their wrestling resumes.

WRESTLER #1 LIMPS INTO THE LOCKER ROOM, BLEEDING INCONSIDERATELY ALL OVER EVERYONE’S THINGS.

One time after a show, Steakhouse Tony needed twenty staples in his head after a woman confronted him in the parking lot, demanded a refund, and then tazed him when he told her he wasn’t even on the show.

WRESTLER #2, BLEEDING AND WITH SOMETHING CLEARLY STICKING OUT OF THEM, IS DRAGGED INTO THE LOCKER ROOM.

“Springboard” Steve Goodknees can’t walk anymore after he broke his back doing a quadruple hickory-smoked dive onto the concrete floor outside of the ring. But those fifteen people who bought tickets, though? They definitely got their money’s worth.

WRESTLER #3 IS WHEELED INTO THE LOCKER ROOM ON A MAKESHIFT GURNEY, FALLS OFF.

And there was that time Two-Timing Tim Philanderer was stabbed in the ring during a match by one of his wives. He lived, but he only has one kidney now. Shame, really.

WRESTLER #4, STUFFING THEIR FACE WITH A CAN OF BEANS, CLUTCHES AT THEIR CHEST, SLUMPS OVER DEAD.

Fortunately, I’ve somehow managed to go all these years without any serious injuries. Probably because I only come to watch and hangout with anyone who gives me the time of day. But I’m doing my part, ya know. Gotta show them it’s all worth it.

Zeroes: Attack of The Tack Hammer

LOS ANGELES. NOT AN APPLE, BE IT LITTLE OR LARGE. BUT LOTS OF PEOPLE. LOTS OF TRAFFIC. SOMEHOW EVEN MORE ROAD CONSTRUCTION.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Not very long ago, in a less interesting part of Los Angeles…

AN INSULTINGLY EXPENSIVE SHOEBOX OF AN APARTMENT. TIM LAZILY WATCHES INTERNET VIDEOS.

…a rather stupid man named Tim sat at home, watching funny internet videos. But after a video listing the definitive top ten shades of beige…

TIM BECOMES MILDLY MORE INTERESTED.

…Tim soon found himself watching one video after the next on how to become a supervillain. And while he never had much interest in physical activity…

TIM GRABS, JIGGLES, SHRUGS AT HIS PHYSIQUE.

…Tim did like the idea of wearing gaudy costumes all day instead of a gaudy work uniform.

TIM NODS IN AGREEMENT.

By the end of the night, Tim had a solid understanding on the basics of supervillainy.

A KNOCK AT THE DOOR.

By the middle of the week, thanks to Unicorp’s two-day delivery option…

TIM OPENS DOOR, FINDS DELIVERY-MAN STANDING THERE WITH A LARGE PACKAGE.

Tim had his first off-the-rack supervillain costume.

DELIVERY-MAN: Sign here, please.

TIM SIGNS FOR, TAKES PACKAGE, SLAMS DOOR IN DELIVERY-MAN’S FACE.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) By the time Tim eventually opened the package…

TIM STRUGGLES TO OPENS PACKAGE, PULLS OUT A CHEAP DOMINO MASK, CAPE, AND TACK HAMMER.

…and pulled out the small domino mask, a cape, and a tack hammer waiting within… 

TIM DONS THE DOMINO MASK AND CAPE, HOLDS UP TACK HAMMER, AND ENGORGES WITH VILLAINOUS PRIDE.

…he had already mostly decided on a villainous codename.

TIM: I am… “The Tack Hammer”!

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) And five minutes before his shift on Friday, Tim marched on over to Cheap Phones and Smokes…

TIM MARCHES OVER TO:

A CELL PHONE REPAIR AND CIGAR SHOP. A BORED CLERK SITS BEHIND A COUNTER.

…the cell phone repair and discount cigar shop where he was still technically employed…

TIM, ENTERS, EFFORTLESSLY HOLDS IT HOSTAGE WITH HIS TACK HAMMER.

…held it hostage with that tack hammer of his, and demanded a staggering eleventy million dollars.

CUT TO:

A LIMO PULLED OVER ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD. THE LIMBO DRIVER, A MAN IN A CHEAP SKULL MASK AND CHAUFFEUR OUTFIT, SITS BEHIND THE WHEEL. POLICE-MAN STANDS BY THIS.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Meanwhile, in a different, equally less interesting part of Los Angeles, an even less interesting man also named Tim, but known to even fewer as the skull-masked, limo-driving vigilante, “The Limbo Driver,” was attempting to respond to The Tack Hammer’s devious, surprisingly effective ploy, only to find himself pulled over by Police-Man.

POLICE-MAN: Do you know why I pulled you over?

LIMBO DRIVER: Was it because I was going ninety miles an hour in a residential neighborhood?

POLICE-MAN: No, I’m going to let that one slide.

LIMBO DRIVER: Oh, thank god. Another one of those, and I’m going to lose my license.

POLICE-MAN: Don’t celebrate just yet. My telepathic link to the national local crime database tells me your Superhero License expired last week.

LIMBO DRIVER: Shit.

CUT TO:

CHEAP PHONES AND SMOKES. TIM HOLDS HIS TACK HAMMER IN ONE HAND AND A SACK MARKED WITH A DOLLAR SIGN IN THE OTHER. CLERK STILL SEATED BEHIND THE COUNTER.

NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) And that’s how, with only a tack hammer and one man’s inability to pay his bills even with a thirty-day notice, Tim successfully walked away a true supervillain and eleventy million dollars richer.

The Job: Rabid Frenzy

A BIRTHDAY PARTY IN SOMEONE’S BACKYARD. CHEAP, YET OVERPRICED PARTY DECORATIONS. EXHAUSTED ADULTS. UNMUZZLED CHILDREN OFF THEIR LEASHES.

RILEY: (VOICE-OVER) We don’t do it for the money. The Job is about passion. It’s about dedication to a craft. You can’t get into this business expecting fortune and glory. Mostly because the pay is shit.

CUT TO:

RILEY RABID, A HEFTY MAN IN PLEATHER, ADDRESSES THE CAMERA.

RILEY: My name is Riley Rabid, and I am one half of the tag-team “Rabid Frenzy”, along with my partner, Freddy Frenzy.

CUT TO:

TWO BACKYARD WRESTLERS, DRESSED IN TATTERED STREET CLOTHES AND NO PROTECTION, “COMPETE” IN A MAKESHIFT RING WITH MAKESHIFT WEAPONS. SEVERAL PARTY GUESTS WATCH.

RILEY WATCHES THIS FROM A SAFE DISTANCE.

RILEY: Look at those guys. Killing each other for free. That’s the difference between professionals and backyarders. This is our life. This is who we are, every day, all day. We aren’t a couple of “weekend warriors” looking to make a quick buck and a bad joke of the business, ya know.

WRESTLER #2 BEATS WRESTLER #1 WITH A VCR.

I mean, we do work weekends. Almost exclusively, now that I think about it. But that’s only because most shows are on the weekend.

CUT TO:

BACKYARD WRESTLER #1 TEARS OUT THE THROAT OF WRESTLER #2’S, CELEBRATES BY DRINKING THE BLOOD OF THEIR FALLEN FOE. PARTY GUESTS POLITELY CLAP.

RILEY: You’d never catch me doing that sort of thing for free. No, sir.

FREDDY FRENZY, A FLABBY MAN IN PLEATHER, WADDLES UP TO RILEY.

(TO FREDDY) How’d it go?

FREDDY: (HANDS RILEY A FIVER) I talked the mom into paying us half upfront.

RILEY: Nice.

FREDDY: Get ready. We’re up next.

RILEY PUTS ON A BIG, RED CLOWN NOSE.

RILEY: I’m always ready.

FREDDY PUTS ON A COlORFUL WIG AND RED NOSE.

FREDDY: Let’s do this.

THEY HIGH FIVE AND WADDLE OFF TO JOIN THE PARTY, HONKING HORNS AND GENERALLY CLOWNING IT UP.

The Job: Bobby Bloodhound

A PUBLIC PARK. BIRDS TWEET. PARENTS AND CHILDREN GATHER AND LOOK ON AT A SMALL GROUP OF STRANGELY DRESSED MEN AND WOMEN MAKING A MESS OF THE PLAYGROUND EQUIPMENT.

PERRY: (VOICE-OVER) Life is so… fragile, ya know? One moment, you’re here, binge-watching episodes of Quantum Leap. The next, people are finding your body in a shark cage suspended fifteen feet in the air, after having been the unwilling participant and prize in a Wrestler-on-a-Pole match between two rival factions, but then never let out of the cage because everyone else took off running when the fire marshall raided the place due to a lack of proper permits.

CUT TO:

“PRICKLY” PERRY PEARSON STANDS OUTSIDE THE MEN’S ROOM.

PERRY: I’m “Prickly” Perry Pearson, and we’re gathered here today to celebrate the life and career of our teacher, our friend, and our brother, Bobby Bloodhound.

CUT TO:

THE STRANGELY DRESSED MEN AND WOMEN GATHER AROUND A SMALL TOY WRESTLING RING WITH A MAKESHIFT URN IN THE CENTER.

PERRY: I first met Bobby when I was just twenty years old. I always dreamed of being a professional wrestler, and Bobby was the one who showed me the ropes. I mean that literally, too. My first day, Bobby charged me twenty dollars just to show me where they stored the ring ropes.

When I heard the news of Bobby’s passing, I knew we had to do something for him. So a bunch of us gathered up what little money we had and booked a show in Bobby’s honor at his second favorite stripclub.

Unfortunately, someone forgot to put down the deposit and we got bumped for a bachelorette party.

LIL’ PETE: (OFF) Sorry!

PERRY: Of course, that ultimately didn’t matter because someone else forgot to book the ring rental.

A PAUSE.

PERRY LOOKS AROUND, POINTS TO HIMSELF, GRIMACES.

CUT TO:

PERRY JOINS THE OTHER STRANGELY DRESSED MEN AND WOMEN AROUND THE TOY RING AND URN.

PERRY: Right. Where’s the ring bell?

EVERYONE LOOKS AT EVERYONE ELSE.

PERRY: So, we forgot the bell too? How are we supposed to do a ten-bell salute without a bell?

EVERYONE SHRUGS AND/OR NODS.

PERRY: Shit. (LOOKS AROUND) Hold on. I’ll be right back.

PERRY “RUNS” OFF.

CUT TO:

PERRY RETURNS WITH A TRASH BAG FULL OF CANS AND BOTTLES.

LIL’ PETE: What the hell is that?

PERRY: A trash bag full of cans and bottles, obviously.

LIL’ PETE: Isn’t that a bit disrespectful?

PERRY: We’re all here, dressed like a bunch of assholes in a public park, gathered around an old toy wrestling ring, with our dear friend’s ashes in an old shoebox, and all because we’ve utterly failed him in death as we failed him in life. So, I think we’re beyond having to worry about aesthetics, Lil’ Pete.

LIL’ PETE: Fair.

PERRY: Right… (CLEARS THROAT) We love you Bobby Bloodhound, we miss you, and we always will. Goodbye, Brother.

PERRY SHAKES THE BAG TEN TIMES, THE CANS AND BOTTLES RATTLE FROM WITHIN.

EVERYONE STANDS IN SILENT ATTENTION, INCREASINGLY EMOTIONAL WITH EVERY SHAKE AND RATTLE.

THE BAG TEARS OPEN ON THE LAST SHAKE, BOTTLES AND CANS SPILLING OUT EVERYWHERE.

PERRY: Shit.

The Job: Sack Lunch

A PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING RING.

ENTER ANNOUNCER.

ANNOUNCER: (INTO MICROPHONE) In a high school gym in a town lost among the weed- and bramble-choked hills, where the streets are cracked and broken, and the people there… more or less the same as its streets, we present to you a tale of hurt, betrayal, and more hurt.

GENERIC ROCK MUSIC FILLS THE HIGH SCHOOL GYM.

ENTER TERRY OF THE GRAVEYARD, DRESSED AS A HUMBLE EMPLOYEE OF THE LOCAL CORNER DRUGSTORE.

Terry of the Graveyard, son of Gordie the Accountant and Breastua the Mighty, worker of the graveyard shift down at Nippleson’s Drug Emporium and Liquor Library, lover of pills, and sniffer of glue!

MUSIC CEASES.

ANNOUNCER HOLDS MICROPHONE AS TERRY SPEAKS INTO IT.

TERRY: (INTO MICROPHONE) Woe unto the poor soul who ate from my packed lunch which held mine reuben on marble rye, a baggie of cookies, and boxed juice of the fruit cocktail variety! Shame unto the damned, blasted, and damned soul who would take of my lunch without so much as reading my name that was clearly written in plain English on the brown sack in which it was held! And short be their days, as I, Terry of the Graveyard, seek not only reimbursement of lunch lost, but battle to satiate my hunger and blood to quench my thirst!

ANNOUNCER: (INTO MICROPHONE) What manner of beast or man or man or beast would take of another’s lunch so? Who among us dare to touch another man’s sack without permission?

TERRY: (INTO MICROPHONE) It was… It was… Oh, but it breaks mine heart in twain to say, but it was…

DIFFERENT GENERIC ROCK MUSIC PLAYS.

ENTER MANAGER MIKE.

ANNOUNCER: (INTO MICROPHONE) Mike, Manager of the Late Nights and occasionally of the evening when The One They Call Katie unexpectedly, yet expectedly calls out!

MUSIC CEASES.

MIKE: (INTO MICROPHONE) It is I, Manager Mike, and none other!

ANNOUNCER: (INTO MICROPHONE) Twas you who stole of the lunch engraved with the name of Terry of the Graveyard?

MIKE: (INTO MICROPHONE) Lies upon lies upon falsehoods upon unsubstantiated untruths!

TERRY: (INTO MICROPHONE) Nay! Twas Manager Mike who stole of my lunch and drank of my drink!

ANNOUNCER: (INTO MICROPHONE) If your personage is not of the thieving flavor, why does thou stand here before us when your shift is in but a few hours?

TERRY: (INTO MICROPHONE) Guilt pangs at his heart like so many cholesterols! Shame hardens his soul as his arteries do!

MIKE: (INTO MICROPHONE) My heart is free of guilt and blockages, and the only thing hardened is my resolve! If thou will not keep still thy lying tongue, then I shall remove it for thee!

TERRY: Have at thee!

ANNOUNCER EXITS THE RING.

A BELL RINGS.

MIKE AND TERRY AWKWARDLY HOLD, GRUNT, TICKLE, AND SLAP EACH OTHER ABOUT IN COMBAT!

A PHONE RINGS AND RINGS.

MIKE AND TERRY STOP MID-WRESTLE.

MIKE: Would someone please answer that?

TERRY: Yeah, it’s a bit distracting.

ANNOUNCER: Sorry. I’ve got it.

MIKE & TERRY: Thank you.

MIKE AND TERRY COMMENCE WITH THE WRESTLING.

ANNOUNCER EVENTUALLY ANSWERS THE PHONE.

ANNOUNCER: Hello? Hello. Hi. Right, sorry. Uh-huh? Uh-huh. Uh-huh… Okay. I’ll tell them. Bye.

ANNOUNCER HANGS UP, JUST AS MIKE AND TERRY STOP MID-WRESTLE.

TERRY: What was all that about?

MIKE: It better be important. We’re in the middle of a very serious blood feud at the moment.

ANNOUNCER: That was The One They Call Katie. She said her go-bloots is acting up again, and she needs you two to come in early so she can meet up with her old high school besties for a night of binge drinking.

MIKE AND TERRY CEASE WITH THE WRESTLING ALTOGETHER.

MIKE & TERRY: Boh!

Whispers in the Dark: The Sound

Transcribed from tape labeled, “Taylor.”

TAYLOR: “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.”

My Layla passed away a few years ago. One morning she woke up and died. Doctor said something popped in her head. I never talked about it much. I guess a lot of us wish we had. I know I do.

I heard on the news it started at 12:42, when all the lights went out. Some people online said it was later than that. Of course, some said it was earlier. I don’t know what time I heard The Sound. I only remember it was late, and cold. But, The Sound? The Sound… it was soft, pleasant. “It sounded like a pod of whales, but it looked like a sea of lights.” Sometimes I wish I could keep waking up to it. Sometimes, I dream that I do.

Layla waited for me outside the front door of our apartment. Pale in white, like the day I married her. And in The Sound, I heard her voice. She called, she cried. She said things – things only she knew. Things only I knew. Things she shouldn’t know. Called me awful names when I wouldn’t let her in. All I wanted to do was let her in.

I never thought I deserved Layla. She was too kind, too sweet, too understanding. Too trusting. I was a mess before she met me.

I was a mess when she married me. I was a bigger mess after she left me. I don’t know what I am now. But to see her standing there? I didn’t deserve to have her back. But I’m starting to think, maybe… maybe I deserved what came next.

From the window, I saw others opening their doors. They let in whatever they saw. I once heard someone saw a cat. So, who knows? But they saw what they saw. We all heard what we heard. And some of them… they opened their doors, and let that light in.

Our neighbors – sweet girl, awful mother. We used to hear them scream at each other through the walls. One day I realized the fighting stopped. Saw the girl one day in the laundry room, and she was all smiles. That night, when the sound began, she was screaming at her mother to go away. Screaming and screaming, “You’re gone, you’re gone! I killed you! You’re gone!” She kept her door closed.

The woman across from us… she opened her door. She’s gone now. Like everyone else.

My neighbor moved the next day. I helped her load a few boxes and bags into her car. We didn’t say anything the entire time. Box, car, box, car. (CHUCKLES) She didn’t even thank me, now that I think about it. But before she drove off, she, uh… She said, “It sounded like a pod of whales, and looked like a sea of lights.” I don’t know where she is now. I guess she’s gone too.

Whispers in the Dark: 264 Hours

Transcribed from tape labeled “Sergio.”

SERGIO: When I try to sleep, all I see is a man’s eye dangling in a way that eyes shouldn’t.

I haven’t slept in about… seven days? I’m not sure. What day is it?

I once read a man went like, 264 hours without sleep. I don’t know what happened after that. Maybe he died.

I saw a guy die once. Did I ever tell you about that? Not too long ago, actually.

I’d been working overtime, extra shifts. Whatever I could get. We had to get some serious work done on my wife’s car. Cost a fortune.

One night, I’m scheduled to work swing. My wife needed my car, so I got a lift to work. But I was on my own going the other way, though. Had to take the bus.

(SIGHS) All I wanted was to get home.

It’s like a forty-five minute trip home. Straight shot, which is nice. No transfers. But that’s plenty of time for something to go wrong.

The old man was there when I got on. The kids came in about ten minutes later. Buncha college kids – not anymore, of course. But they were at the time. And they were laughing, giving the driver a hard time. I think they were drunk.

Something about the old man caught their eye. Maybe it was just him being there. Could’a been me.

It started with some jokes. One of them pulled out their phone, started recording the whole thing. Made the old man the star of their pretend late-night talk show. They sat there on all sides of him, asking all sorts of personal, awful questions they had no business asking. I can still hear the twisted way one of them cackled. Not a laugh like the others, but a cackle. Like this was the funniest thing in the world to them, but they hated it at the same time. It was… sick.

The old man wouldn’t play along. They got mad. And then, they hit him.

I love hockey. Something about the raw, hard-hitting nature of it. This big kid – red hair, something he thought was a beard – he body checked the old man – boom! – right against the glass. Shook the whole bus.

The bus driver didn’t say anything, he just pulled over and ran. Maybe I should’ve done the same.

Sometimes I wonder if those kids were just bad people. Not that I’m much better. I sat there and watched it happen.

They pounced on him, stomped on the old man like they were putting out a fire. By the time they stopped, his head… his head, it… it looked like a kicked-in jack-o-lantern.

Sometimes I wonder why he was there. Where didn’t that old man get to? It keeps me up at night, that old man and his eye.

Whispers in the Dark: Lexi

Transcribed from tape labeled “Lexi.”

LEXI: Sometimes I dream of a shape of a man, little more than a vague approximation – two arms, two legs, something like a head. Maybe more, sometimes less.

At least, I think it’s a dream. Pretty sure.

Most nights it stands outside my home, beneath the dirty glow of the street light. Other nights, closer. Sometimes on my lawn, beneath my orange tree… or, uh… at my door.

They stand there, looking at me looking at them from behind the safety of the curtains hanging in the window of my living room, this shape lost in fractured light and shadow. It shouldn’t see me, but it does. I can feel it.

The Job: “Cheapshot” Sandors

A STRIPMALL PARKING LOT.

SETH: (VOICE-OVER) This job isn’t for everyone, you know. It’s given me a lot, but it always gets its cut. Always.

CUT TO:

SETH “CHEAPSHOT” SANDORS, A MISSHAPEN POTATO OF A MAN SEEMINGLY DRESSED FOR HIGH SCHOOL GYM CLASS AND HOLDING A LARGE, HEAVY TEXTBOOK.

BARRY: I’m Seth “Cheapshot” Sandors, and I’ve been a pro wrestler for twelve years.

CUT TO:

SETH BEHIND A DUMPSTER.

SETH: I’ve lost friends and loved ones to this business, actually. I mean, I know where they are – they haven’t just disappeared into thin air, or something. Obviously.

Well, for example: My sister once hit me with her car for a chance at a free trip to Classy Lou’s All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. She didn’t get it, unfortunately. And she hasn’t answered my calls… or responded to my lawyer’s attempts to get her to pay my hospital bills.

And then there was the time my one-time best friend slept with my girlfriend just to get a psychological upperhand in a match I wasn’t even involved in. (BEAT) Which, now that I think about it, doesn’t make too much sense, really…

A SILENCE.

Oh, check this out…

SETH REVEALS SEVERAL DISTINCT SCARS.

(POINTS) This is where they replaced one of my ribs with a titanium rod for some reason. This one is from the time I took a VCR to the back of the head during a “Be Kind, Rewind” match. And this, uh… this is from an unruly class of twelve–year olds who all decided to throw their desks at me for asking them to, please, put away their phones and stop recording my crying from all the mean things they were saying to me. (NERVOUS LAUGHTER) Middle-schoolers, right?

ANOTHER SILENCE.

Anyway. I couldn’t go back to teaching middle-school English after that. (BEAT) Literally, I wasn’t allowed back on campus. But I also saw it as an opportunity to take my natural ability to absorb inhumane amounts of physical, mental, and emotional abuse and make something of myself. It’s all about making those opportunities for yourself.

That’s why I’m here, actually.

JOE, A MAN IN A WHEELCHAIR WITH A MAKESHIFT CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE BELT, PASSES BY.

Sorry, I’ve gotta clock-in real quick.

SETH SNEAK-ATTACKS JOE WITH THE LARGE, HEAVY TEXTBOOK.

(GESTURES) Come on! Come on!

REFEREE APPEARS OUT OF NOWHERE.

SETH PINS AN UNCONSCIOUS JOE WHILE A HORRIFIED CROWD WATCHES.

(TO REFEREE) Oh, stop staring and do your job!

REFEREE: (LIGHTLY SLAPPING THE PAVEMENT) One! Two! Three!

SETH STANDS, HOLDS UP THE MAKESHIFT CHAMPIONSHIP BELT IN VICTORY.

ANNOUNCER APPEARS OUT OF NOWHERE.

ANNOUNCER: Your new Calvin Carson’s Town Center and Outlet Mall Champion, Seth “Cheapshot” Sanderson!

EVERYONE LOOKS UPON THIS IN SILENT CONTEMPT.

Whispers in the Dark: Tearing Me Apart (Sam)

DENA: I still have this picture of us from that day. See? That’s the three of us, sitting on the sand a little bit out that way. Cassi is the one on the left, Sam’s the brunette in her swimsuit. And that’s me, sitting on a bit of driftwood. It’s been… God, it’ll be fifteen years this summer. I’m older now than Sam ever was. Has it really been that long?

We, uh… We were all coworkers. We all worked at [REDACTED]. Remember those? (LAUGHS) I guess I’m showing my age. But, uh… Cassi and I, we were both just kids then – we went to the same college, actually. Sam was a bit older than the two of us, but you couldn’t really tell by the way she acted. The two of them worked together for a bit before I came along. I transferred to that location a little less than a year before that photo was taken.

(SIGHS) If we only knew…

I’m sorry. It’s… It’s been a long time, but it hasn’t. Ya know?

Umm…

A SILENCE.

Anyway. The three of us were close, I guess. We talked a lot. We even went out for drinks after work, especially if we all got stuck working the night shift on a Friday or Saturday. You start doing that, you get to talking and sharing. Sometimes a little bit more than you probably should. Sam shared – a lot. But she never said much about her husband. With everything she told us, Cassi and I knew Sam like a sister or a… or, her gynecologist. Ya know? I knew more about her body than my own. I knew the name of her high school boyfriend – that I still remember. But I couldn’t tell you her husband’s name.

One night while we’re locking up, Cassi asks Sam why she’s been looking so tired all the time lately. And that’s when Sam told us her husband left her.

An hour later, we’re drinking and talking. And Sam tells us how she found all these messages and photos on her husband’s phone. They were watching TV, and he left to use the toilet. And he just left his phone there, with all this opened up for anyone to see – he was that checked out. And as she’s looking at all this, he comes back and sees her looking at all this. And she said that’s when he told her he was leaving. Just like that. He said that, turned around, packed a bunch of his things, and walked out. She hadn’t seen or heard from him since.

The three of us didn’t work together for a while after that. It was just the way the schedule came out, I guess. At one point, Cassi got to thinking Sam had asked not to work with us anymore. But I don’t think Sam would have done that.

After a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, we all worked the same Friday night together. Cassi got there first. And as I’m clocking in, we both see Sam walk through the door, looking like the living dead. She must have lost twenty pounds in just a few weeks. Her hair looked thinner. We asked if she was feeling sick, and she just sort of waved at us and said it was a bit of food poisoning.

I don’t remember who suggested the beach first, if it was Cassi or me. It was warming up lately and we’d been throwing the idea around for a while, but our schedules hadn’t lined up in forever. But at some point that night, Cassi looks at the schedule and sees we all have that Saturday off. So, she and I start talking about maybe going to the beach first thing in the morning. A minute later, Cassi shouts across the store, “Hey, Sammy! You wanna see me in my bikini tomorrow morning?”

Sam said, “No,” actually. (LAUGHS) But, uh… Cassi eventually convinced her. Somehow.

A SILENCE.

I only saw Sam two more times after that day at the beach. This is the way I like to remember her.

Sam emailed us that and a bunch of other photos later that same night. She was so happy to use this expensive looking camera of hers, with all these lenses and accessories. The way she ran all over the sand and tide pools, snapping a photo of the waves and seagulls and starfish, you’d never think anything was wrong. Like, everything that had been pulling her in every direction let go all at once. Even if only for that morning. She didn’t even realize she’d cut her foot on something until after she sent the photos.

I didn’t see Sam again for another week, but Cassi worked with her that Tuesday. Cassi actually called me up during their shift, asking me to keep an eye on Sam, telling me how Sam somehow looked worse than ever, that she was hobbling around on one foot and complaining about an infection on the other. By the time I saw it on Friday, the skin above her ankle was all red and tender, with these blistering sores that oozed and stuck to her socks. Sam said she was taking antibiotics and left it at that.

I was scheduled to work with Sam two nights later, but she never showed.

A week passed before anyone started asking questions. Two weeks passed before Cassi and I agreed to visit Sam’s apartment after work.

Sam lived in this cute little one-bedroom with her husband, just a block away from the store we all worked at. (LAUGHS) It was a five minute walk, but she still drove every day.

We knocked and knocked at her door until one of Sam’s neighbors stepped out and told us nobody had been in or out lately. They figured she’d run off or something. But the way they described Sam… they said she was a loud girl, always fighting with her boyfriend. Even after he’d left, they still heard Sam crying and screaming day and night. But now it’d been silent for a day or so.

We, uh… Cassi, that is – she managed to get us into Sam’s apartment.

A SILENCE.

It was dark. Very dark. All the lights were off, the curtains were drawn and pinned shut. And warm, so very warm with the way the doors and windows were closed up. But the smell… It smelled like dead fish and sea water. You could hear the hot water running from every faucet – in the kitchen, in the… in the, uh…

I threw up immediately, just as soon as Cassi opened the door and that thick, moist wall hit me in the face like a brick.

Cassi went in ahead. A minute later, I heard her screaming.

The carpet was so wet I almost slipped while walking down the hall to her bedroom. I remember that too. I took out this little setup she had there, with these photos of her dog and sister and mom. Knocked all of that to the ground.

But, uh…

Jesus.

(HEAVY SIGH)

There was… blood… blood and, uh, rotting flesh. Everywhere. The carpet, the walls. Like it had melted and dripped all over the place.

(SOBS)

I’m sorry. I just…

No. No, I’m okay.

(BREATHES)

Cassi is just… She’s screaming in Sam’s bedroom. Screaming and screaming and screaming. And it’s so hot and wet everywhere. And I’m still trying to catch my balance. I had to throw my shoes away after that, they were just soaked and caked in all of the, uh… They were ruined. Just ruined.

But I get into the bedroom, and there’s this leg on the floor. Like, just sitting there. Right there on the carpet by the bed, like it had fallen off in her sleep. Like it had melted off.

And then we looked in the bathroom.

Uh…

(NERVOUS LAUGHTER)

I turned on the light, and we found her. We found Sam.

(EXHALES)

Most of Sam was floating there in the tub, in this… (SNIFFS) this soupy mess of salt water, blood, and, uh… (CLEARS THROAT) and everything else. One of her arms was missing from the shoulder down. The other was a half-melted glob of goo. And her… Her other leg was floating in a puddle on the tile.

I remember screaming, and then not much after that.

A SILENCE.

I still dream of that day on the beach. It’s the rest I wish I could forget.

IT’S OVER

Whispers in the Dark: Brixby

ANONYMOUS: Mr. Brixby stepped out for his nightly smoke at a little past one in the morning. Fifteen minutes later, I’m watching him get his arms plucked off behind a dumpster.

I’d been working at the El Dorado for about two, three years by that point. I was hired to cover the swing shift a few nights a week, then it just sort of took over my whole life. Eventually, they had me working mornings and graveyard so often that it felt like I lived there as much as everyone else.

Mr. Brixby was what we called a “long-term resident.” Most of our guests were. Not that there were ever many guests for much of the year. Not outside the summer tourists. It wasn’t exactly anyone’s first-choice. And the ones who stuck around weren’t exactly there by choice, if you get what I mean. Mr. Brixby was one of those. He said he was there for work, but I don’t think any of us knew what he actually did for a living. But he was a nice guy. Paid his rent on time. Loved to talk about the latest tech toy he’d picked up somewhere. This one time, he came back from wherever with this 3D camcorder. Remember those?

Anyway. When he wasn’t out doing whatever it is he did when he wasn’t there, Mr. Brixby was usually in his room. The only time he ever stepped out before morning was for his nightly smoke. In fact, he was in a smoking room. Had been the whole time he lived there. So, I never understood why he always stepped out to smoke in the parking lot, same time every night. I’d say it was for the fresh air, but…

When I worked graveyard, I’d empty out the lobby trash cans and join him. We’d just talk about his latest toy, movies. Not the most stimulating conversation, I guess. But his weed was great. And plentiful.

The night it all happened, I was working graveyard. And I saw Mr. Brixby step out that night too, same time, same way. But before I could get to all the cans and join him, this couple came stumbling in, belching and farting something about needing a room for the night. If they hadn’t been so drunk, I wouldn’t have taken so long to get out there. Or maybe I should’ve just told them to kick rocks – it wouldn’t have been the first time. And I think about that a lot, ya know. If I had just gotten out there sooner, maybe, uh, Mr. Brixby wouldn’t…

Anyway. I get out there some fifteen minutes later, and I don’t see Mr. Brixby anywhere. His car’s parked back there. Not even a whiff of smoke. Just me, a bunch of dripping garbage bags, and a dark, empty lot.

So, I go to the dumpster.

SILENCE.

Working graveyard at a motel, you see your fair share of freaks and crazy shit. I’ve seen people hiding in other people’s rooms. I’ve been threatened by people meth’d out of their mind. We even got cursed once, this family we kicked out laid out these weird, I dunno… markings? They drew markings in salt at the front entrance as they left with all their shit. But you never expect to see a man being…

(SIGHS) I know what the cops and papers said, but it wasn’t some coyote. I was there, not them. I saw them. And, look. I know it sounds how it sounds. But there were two… At first, I thought it was a couple of homeless guys digging in the dumpster. It happens. But…

One of them was holding Mr. Brixby there by the arm, twisting it, and he’s got Mr. Brixby doubled over on his knees, like this. And his eyes are screaming – I see his eyes looking at me looking at him, and I can see they’re screaming – but nothing’s coming out his mouth. And the other one is there, just off to the side, eating Mr. Brixby’s other arm. Just gnawing and tearing away at it like, uh… like one of those big turkey legs you get at the fair.

And then, I screamed.

The cops showed up not long after. One of our other guests must have heard me out there screaming and called. But by the time they got there, those two… I told the police the same thing I told the papers, and somehow they turned it into a story about a coyote attack. But I told them I saw two homeless men attacking Mr. Brixby and that they both took off running, over the fence and into the river trail.

Truth is, I don’t know what I saw that night. Or maybe I know exactly what I saw, and I can’t even admit it to myself. But whatever I saw, I guess my screaming scared them off. And I did see where they went. But they didn’t run. And they didn’t head for the river trail.

SILENCE.

My family didn’t exactly live in the best part of town when I was growing up. I still don’t, really. It was never bad, but… This is an old town. There’s a lot of the old sewer lines and drainage running beneath any given block, ya know? So even in the nicest house on the nicest street, you’re likely to find a cockroach here and there – those big ones that look like they could run off with a small dog if it tried. They crawl out of the sink, out of the bathtub. Had one climb out of our toilet once. When I screamed, those things dropped what was left of Mr. Brixby, fluttered these fleshy flaps or wings on their back, and scurried down an old storm drain. I don’t know how, but they… squeezed and slipped right down through that small hole. (SNAPS FINGERS) Just like that.

Just like that.

IT’S OVER

Whispers in the Dark: Mark

MARK: My wife and I used to rent a place a couple of blocks up that way. She got a new job and we moved here to cut down on the commute. That sort of thing. It’s a nice little spot, isn’t it? Quiet. Lots of sun. Plenty of trees. Parking’s a little… But we made it work.

SILENCE.

Sorry. Drifted away for a second.

Anyway. The first few nights, I slept better than I had in years. But after that… I don’t know. Maybe it was the stress from the move, sleeping in a new place with new sounds and new people making sounds, but after that first week, I’m sleeping less and less. I’d just lie there in bed for hours until I’d dozed off without even realizing it. Eventually, I’m up pacing for just as long, back and forth, back and forth, until the sun’s starting to rise and my feet beg me to stop. I don’t want to read, I don’t want to look at a screen, I don’t want to listen to music. I just want to sleep. But I can’t.

After a couple of weeks of me waking her up and keeping her up, my wife went from concerned to annoyed to leaving me a hand-rolled joint and a note that said, “If you’re going to huff and puff for several miles all night, I would prefer you do so outside.”

So, I went for a walk.

I went for a lot of walks, actually. A lot of walks on a lot of nights. And something about doing that, walking around when the rest of the world was asleep, it worked for me. I still wasn’t sleeping much, but I was sleeping.

And as I kept doing this, I developed a little routine. I’d walk up Gomer, cross to Pyle, and then back up around Howard or Fine. Just like that. I liked to watch the ships come into the harbor from the hill.

That’s where I first saw the old man.

Actually, I’m not sure when I first saw him. One night, it was like he was just there. I mean, nothing stood out about him. Not really. Aside from him being this one-hundred-year-old man walking up Pyle at two in the morning with what had to be about twenty, thirty pounds of something in this large canvas bag. I never saw him in or around a car or bus. Every store in walking distance closed hours earlier. But every night, there he was, inching his way up the hill with that heavy bag of his. Crawling in and out of the shadows and street lights.

It never even crossed my mind to offer to help the old man with that bag of his. Not once. Not until that woman did.

Can’t remember her name off the top of my head, but there was a bit about the woman in the news. I think. Right after it all happened. I didn’t know her, but I’d seen her around here before. Probably lived in one of these apartments. She was always in workout gear, always out for a jog. A lot of people run by you like you’re not even there, but she’d always look your way, give a little wave or smile or nod.

That night, I heard the woman before I saw her. They were standing right over there, on the other side of Pyle. I was standing about here, bunch of cars parked in front of me, and I heard someone say something. I don’t know what she said exactly, but with it being as quiet as it is at night around here, I still heard her say something to the old man from this far up the street. Maybe she was trying to get around him, or she turned the corner and almost ran into him. Anyway, I heard someone say something, so I looked around and saw her standing over there with him. And she pointed at his bag, clearly offering to help. But the old man shook his head and waved his free hand at her and clutched that heavy bag with the other. The way he’s acting, I figured he’s told her, “No, thanks,” and wants to be on his way. But then, she insisted. And then, he resisted. And they went back and forth like that for a minute.

Finally, the old man relented.

I remember reading something about how the woman had some kind of heart defect. That she must have just dropped dead on her jog that night, blissfully unaware that her heart was ready to stop at any second. It’s a cute story. But, uh…

(SCOFFS) Look. I know this sounds absolutely crazy. And I feel crazy for even being here, telling you all this and hearing myself say it out loud. I know I’m crazy every bit as I know that woman didn’t drop dead from a bad heart. I know there was an old man with a, uh… a bag. This plain, normal, not-crazy looking bag with, I dunno, something in it just as plain, normal, and not crazy. But when he opened the bag and she looked at whatever it was she found there, that’s when she dropped dead. She didn’t tip over. She didn’t clutch at her heart. She didn’t even try to brace herself. She just, uh… It was like she was a puppet and someone cut her strings. Whatever held her up was just… gone. And then, she… she collapsed and folded up on herself. Just right over there. Sometimes, I think I heard her ribs cracking.

And the old man, he stood there for a bit. I don’t know how long, but he stood there. He didn’t look around. Didn’t call for help. He just stood there, shaking his head.

And then, he left. Same way he always did. Walked right up Pyle, passed me like I wasn’t even there, and then over the hill.

SILENCE.

Sorry. I was just…

Anyway. That was, uh… that was years ago now. I don’t go out much after dark these days.

IT’S OVER

The Job: “Twin-Beds” Jablonski

A CITY SKYLINE.

TWIN-BEDS: (VOICE-OVER) It’s never easy being a champion. And it is a heavy title and responsibility that I take very, very seriously.

CUT TO:

JOHN “TWIN-BEDS” JABLONSKI STANDS IN A MOTEL PARKING LOT, HOLDING THE EL DORADO INN HOT TUB, CABLE TV, AND WI-FI CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE BELT.

TWIN-BEDS: I’m John “Twin-Beds” Jablonski, and I’m the El Dorado Inn Hot Tub, Cable TV, and Wi-Fi Champion.

CUT TO:

TWIN-BEDS’ MOTEL ROOM. HE’S STILL WEARING THE BELT.

TWIN-BEDS: This is actually my third reign as El Dorado Inn Hot Tub, Cable TV, and Wi-Fi Champion.

My first run was back in 2009, lasting nine-and-a-half weeks. I was coming off a bad breakup, and the El Dorado was the only place I could afford. The previous champion, Eric “Seltzer Water” Anderson, had just been evicted that afternoon, and I was the first one who checked-in after that. I lost it when I fell asleep at the pool and some tourists took photos with me as I slept. The mom didn’t realize her foot on my chest was, by El Dorado Inn official rules and guidelines, an official pin. I tried fighting it, but was escorted off the premises shortly after by security.

Then I found myself back here in 2015, after I lost my job stealing airport luggage. I won the title again a short time later from a recently divorced father of three. Sure, maybe the guy needed the money more than I did. And sure, maybe it was a bit rude to interrupt his bi-monthly supervised visit with his kids by blinding him with some bottle of toilet cleaner I swiped from the housekeeping cart in the hallway and taking away his sole source of income and personal dignity as he lie beneath me, screaming about how he couldn’t see, and his kids crying about me hurting their daddy. But that’s the job, ya know? Don’t climb the mountain if you aren’t ready to be blinded and thrown off the top.

CUT TO:

THE MOTEL PARKING LOT. TWIN-BEDS IS PERHAPS A LITTLE TOO ATTACHED TO THE BELT.

TWIN-BEDS:  I don’t do it for the money. (BEAT) I mean, I do. But it’s not much.

CLERK: (OFF) Excuse me? Twin-Beds? Mr. Jablonski?

TWIN-BEDS: (TO CLERK) What’s up?

CLERK ENTERS, APPROACHES.

CLERK: Hi. Sorry. But, uh… Your credit card declined.

TWIN-BEDS: Did you call Debbie? Everything should’ve been sorted out Thursday with Debbie.

CLERK: She said she isn’t covering your room anymore. The manager said they’re going to need you out by eight tomorrow morning. You can leave the belt on your bed.

A SILENCE.

TWIN-BEDS: Where am I supposed to go?

CLERK: I’m sorry, Twin-Beds. But they don’t pay me enough for this shit.

CLERK EXITS.

ANOTHER SILENCE.

TWIN-BEDS: (SIGHS) Checkout isn’t even till noon…

Whispers in the Dark: Amber’s Story

SOMEONE speaks as they eat.

SOMEONE: My grandfather died when I was four. It wasn’t until a year or so later that I learned he was supposed to stay that way.

When I read the recent news story about the first natural death in over fifty years, I was skeptical too. Of course I was. This wasn’t the first story of it’s kind. It wasn’t even the first this year. Ever since the tragic 1968 pandemic, the world has latched on to any and every hope that maybe, just maybe the end is in sight – medications, genetic treatments, and, yes, stories like Amber Sawyer’s. And every year, we’ve been left disappointed.

The first such story that I could find in print is from 1973. Gloria Whitaker of Philadelphia claimed her thirty-year old sister, Dolores, passed away in her sleep. But unlike countless incidents of families – even entire apartment complexes and neighborhoods – devoured in their sleep during those first five years, Gloria awoke to a quiet house and her sister’s inanimate corpse still in bed. And according to the article, instead of running in terror, Gloria wept. But she wasn’t heartbroken about Dolores’ death, as they both had been with the passing and subsequent reanimation of their parents in ’71. No, she was overcome with joy at the thought that her sister might be the first of many to once more find rest after death.

Turns out, Dolores died from a ruptured aneurysm that mercifully damaged the part of the brain affected by Romero’s.

When Amber’s case started trending, I assumed the inevitable autopsy would show something similar – perhaps a head or brain injury she decided to sleep off instead of seeking medical attention. Perhaps drugs or alcohol were involved. This was a nineteen-year old college student, after all. In a world where the dead simply don’t stay that way, it’s not hard to feel a little bit immortal at that age.

But then… nothing.

Far as I know or can tell, Amber Sawyer is the first person to be medically declared dead of natural causes for the first time since 1968. There was nothing in her system. No aneurysm or head trauma. No defect. Nothing but a dead girl with a bad heart who stayed that way.

My mother is getting on in years now. She’s called me up every night since Amber’s story made its way to her local newspaper, sharing stories of a world where Amber’s death wasn’t news, only a fact of life. And like many others, she’s afraid of what will become of her when what should be the end comes, but doesn’t. She doesn’t want my father to keep her around in chains, like how her mother had kept her father, my grandfather, all those years ago. Every night she asks me to tell her that Amber’s story isn’t yet another news story that will come and go like all the rest, and every night I’m left unsure what to say.

When she asked me again last night, I replied with a question of my own: “Why did grandma keep grandpa around?”

And to her credit, she finally shared with me what grandma had said all those years ago: “God took him, but left the rest behind for me.”

I want to tell my mother that the world is a different place. That when she’s gone, she’ll stay that way. But I can’t. Because I’m unsure. Because I still have my doubts. Because I worry Amber’s story will be no different than Dolores’ or my grandfather’s. Because a not-so small part of me is scared of a world without her in it. Because in a world where the dead don’t stay that way, it can be that much harder to let go.

An uncomfortable silence. And then…

They continue with their meal without another word.

THE END