Chapters 1 and 2 of an experimental new project, similar to John Dies at The End.
It’s not every day you learn you’re a link between worlds and a crucial peg in the ongoing struggle of good against evil, the fate of the entire universe hinging upon your actions.
In fact, I’d say it’s pretty rare.
At least I think. I can only speak for myself. The types of things I learn in a usual day are that the Doritos have gone stale, or one of our eight cats has pissed in my bed. On occasion I learn the Netflix subscription has expired, and sometimes my brother’s back hair and toenail clippings amass so much that they clog the shower drain.
Anyway, that’s what you deal with. Typical everyday bullshit. The ancillary details that somehow become the staple of your life. And yeah, it sucks. My home smells like weed and my car is constantly on the urge of breaking down but at least it’s normal.
Acid spitting demons. Tentacle…things. Interdimensional beings with the power to phase out facets of existence.
Like what the fuck?
And I’m a boring dude. Forgettable. Stinky, even. I’m not a protagonist. A hero. I’m just a unkempt slacker with a mountain of student loan debt constantly paralyzed by crippling anxiety and self-doubt.
Okay, so that’s like half of my generation, but whatever, you get the point.
I can’t even remember to return my DVDs to Redbox, yet I’m charged with saving all of existence?
And who the hell rents DVDs anymore?
Okay, fine, fine I’ll stop wasting time. I’ll get to the point. It’s one that took me 3,500 years to understand (time’s not linear – it’s a long story) but here’s my best summary:
There are infinite universes. Infinite timelines. Infinite outcomes. You are just a thread in the entire cosmic rope of you. Also, there are demi-god assholes wagering on the fate of all of our lives. Most of them are dicks.
Good. So we’ll start from the beginning, because this guide might be helpful to whoever comes next. Even if it’s another iteration of me. Or something.
Stick with me, I barely get it myself.
So all of this…the murders, the massacre, the interdimensional travel, it all started in one place. A place many of us think of as common, but that was destined to be the hallowed ground, the launching point for the ultimate conflict, the one that encompasses all of our lives and which very well could end them all.
We begin at K-Mart.
“Ice cream and debauchery?”
“What?” I ask.
“Cigar and a soiree?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Refreshments and a rave?” Will asks with a grin, flashing his pearly yellows in the process. He’s leaning on the counter across from me. We’re both wearing our K-Mart shirts, blue and embroidered with a red K. Will’s has an accompanying mustard stain that’s gone crusty. I’m on register and he’s on stock, but with how barren and desolate the store is, we both can afford to kill some time.
“C’mon you schmuck, I’m asking what you want to do tonight,” Will says.
“The same thing we do every night, Pinky,” I reply.
Will blinks. “Why are you calling me Pinky?”
“Do I have marker on my face or something?” Will wipes at his face.
“Stop it,” I urge. “I don’t care what we do tonight. Drinks, video games, whatever. I have nothing on the agenda.”
“Dude,” Will whispers, leaning forward on the counter. “I heard there’s a sweet new laser tag place in Johnson City. You can see the lasers shooting through the air. Pew pew and all that shit.”
I look Will in his (dilated) pupils and consider the prospect. A couple of twenty-five year old guys in sweat-stained t shirts going all out on a group of middle schoolers, diving behind cover and screaming while firing a barrage of light beams in a retaliatory strike. It would be like Saving Private Ryan, but somehow more sad and desperate.
“Sounds great,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to shoot thirteen year olds.”
“Yeah, fuck kids!” Will declares.
“A-hem,” a voice rasps.
Will and I look and see Shelly, our manager, standing with her arms crossed a few feet away. She’s a rigid stick of a woman, tiny but imposing, and she’s wearing her “you fucked up” expression on her face.
You’d know it if you saw it.
“Oh shit!” Will says. “Liam didn’t mean he actually wants to shoot thirteen year olds.” He pauses. “And I didn’t mean I like to…”
“Enough!” Shelly belts. “I don’t care what you two morons blather on about. Most of the time it doesn’t make a damn difference in this place but I’d appreciate if you didn’t do it while there were customers waiting in line.” Shelly extends a bony finger past Will, where two customers stand.
“Oh, got it, got it,” Will says. “I’ll go and…”
“Get the boxes from storage,” Shelly says. “I’m sorry folks,” she says to the customers. “Won’t happen again.” She shoots me a glare before stomping off. Will looks to the customers tepidly, offering a shy smile and wave.
“The children are our future,” he declares before trotting off.
“Sorry about that,” I say as the man approaches.
Most people would be worried about being fired for such a transgression. Admittedly, when I first joined the K-Mart team, I was concerned about my performance. About being on time. About doing things the right way. About greeting every customer with a smile.
Now I’m tempted to tell half of them to fuck themselves.
The rude mean half. I’m not some type of monster.
Not yet, anyway.
There’s no threat of being fired. The place can barely keep enough employees to function. And how can they? Minimum wage pay, no pay increases per year, extremely limited mobility, the unsavory assholes taking out their daily ilk and strife on you as they berate you over the price of shorts, the limited variety of snack cakes, and the behavior of their own mutant children.
Okay, so they’re not really mutants.
Most of them.
The point is, who cares? Slap that on a bumper stick. Sell it to all the millennials. Nothing matters we’re all going to die, have some fun in the meantime.
That’s not a typo.
“Excurse me!” The man in front of me repeats. He has a strange accent, or some type of slur. Regardless he sounds Scandinavian, or eastern European or something.
“Hello sir,” I say. The man before me is tall, and Frankenstein-like in his demeanor. His body moves in lurches, appearing lumpy and improperly set. He’s like an action figure a kid’s twisted one times too many, and it looks like his shoulders are permanently pushed upwards out of place.
This isn’t the only odd thing about him. I swear to God (well, at least some iteration of the higher power that does exist) that this guy is the spitting image of Gary Busey. Well, Gary Busey if he’d gotten in a bar fight. His face is swollen and lumpy, though there are no sign of cuts or bruising.
I feel a strange vibration. A chilling tickle up my spine. And that’s not some revisionist history. I didn’t know what was up with this guy or what was bound to happen, but when you see a Frankenstein-like Gary Busey with a strange accent and those horrible horse teeth staring at you with corpse-gray eyes, you know something’s up.
Busey slams three objects down upon the counter. His hand shakes over them, as if he is straining to pull his arm back. To make his arm work. He used his other hand to grab his wrist and assist. I stare down at the three items.
A cucumber. An opened (and bitten) stick of butter. A pack of Trojan Brand Condoms.
Again, the R’s aren’t typos.
“Therse are the things that are being bought togrether, am I being of the correrect?
“Excurse?” Busey coughs. His breath smells like dogfarts.
“What did you ask, sir?”
His eyes roll in his head. His tongue falls out of the side of his mouth. Now, for the first time, I understand the true nature and severity of what I’m dealing with.
A meth head.
In a town as forlorn and economically distraught as Rosedale Pennsylvania, plenty of people hide from their problems with drugs and alcohol. There are no jobs, no opportunity, just failing businesses and disappointing people. I can’t blame people for hiding from themselves, for hiding from the reality of their lives. I’ve done it plenty, but the meth heads…they are a different variety. Often times they are…
“Dangerous,” Busey says, except he pronounces it “Dan Grr Us.”
“I am dangerous,” Busey repeats, slobbering down his oafish face. “I am are buying what the humans are liking to be buying.”
I look down at the cucumber, the half-eaten stick of butter, and the condoms, and agree that the combination could indeed be dangerous.
“Yes, very dangerous. Um…do you have…a rewards card?”
Busey recoils like he’s been struck. His eyes go wide and he bears those impossible piano key teeth.
“Cardddddd?” he slurs.
I flick on my checkout station light to indicate I need a manager. Busey looks up, confused, and running his hands through his stringy hair.
“The realms are of the threatening of to merging,” he rasps.
“Sure,” I agree. It’s at this point, the customer behind him, who so happens to be his cohort, approaches, and I shit you not, he looks almost exactly like Danny DeVito, except paler and covered in grease.
“It has been foretold,” DeVito says solemnly in a voice vaguely reminiscent of Sean Connery. “That the Keybearer would react in such a way. So said Lekreshi, Snake Lord of the Black Sun. The moment of triumph is upon us.” He babbles this as snot leaks down his nose onto the collar of his shirt, which I notice, is a women’s designer brand.
“Are we…larping or something?” I ask taking a step back from the counter.
“What are you name?” Busey shouts, drawing the attention of others in the store.
“Liam,” I say. “Liam Conners.”
They freeze. They go rigid. Their eyes shoot wide.
“Uh, what…did I say?”
DeVito tilts his head back. He cranks it back until it’s pointing straight at the ceiling. Green gunk oozes from the side of his mouth as he lets out a guttural cry, sounding like some unholy union between a cockroach and an automotive engine.
“Sccrrrrunnnnnnnkcccchhtch!” Devito wails.
Busey opens his mouth as well, though that’s a bit of an understatement. His jaw unhinges and out from his gullet spring forth scaly, black as night tentacles.
It’s at this point the story gets weird.
The tentacles force their way from his mouth like a creature trying to escape his throat. They’re two fingers thick, and six of them whip out of his mouth, flailing around violently. Busey seems in limited control of the tentacles, stumbling around drunkenly and trying to keep his head raised.
“The transfer is still young. The process is incomplete,” DeVito rasps, green gunk spilling out of his mouth.
I stand back, mouth agape, and convince myself this is a dream. Yep, I’m asleep in my bed, the one spring near the bottom of my mattress pressing up and poking me in the spine. I’ll curse at it when I wake up but boy will I be happy to get out of this nightmare.
I pinch my cheek. I shake my head. Anytime, now. C’mon Liam, wake up and get back to your mediocre existence. Anything is better than this.
Busey slams his hand on the counter and squeezes the edge of it. There’s a crunching sound as the counter gives under the force. The eel-like tentacles are pointed my way now, molesting the air and reaching out for me.
DeVito begins singing in a voice that comes across as static. His tone is deep and rhythmic, like this is some hymn or cultic chant.
“Sommmmmmmeboddddddddddy onccce tollld meeee the worrrrrrrrrld issss gonnnna rolll meeee,” DeVito belts.
“What the fuck?” I whisper. I’m paralyzed, unable to move as the tentacles grow closer. This isn’t real. It can’t be.
“Blooorrck,” Busey grunts as the tentacles extend further from his throat. He’s leaning over the counter as I back up against the wall. The hungry tentacles whip and lash, seeming to grow excited as they approach my face.
“I ainnnnnn’t the sharrrrpest toooooooool in the shedddddddd,” DeVito continues.
“What the hell is going on?” A voice cries. I’m broken from my paralysis and see Shelly rushing towards Busey. She’s coming from behind and can’t see the appendages bursting forth from his mouth.
No, get out of here Shelly! Run! I want to shout the words but they collide in my throat, tumbling out as a stunted croak.
Shelly puts her hand on Busey’s shoulder, meaning to spin him around. When touched, he shoots up straight and rigid.
“Intruder!” he croaks through the tentacles. They vibrate with each word. He spins around to face Shelly.
Shelly’s eyes go wide and all color flees her face. The reality of the nightmare is made apparent to her fragile mind just before Busey strikes. It all happens in a blur, but I’ll never forget the expression engraved on Shelly’s face for that split second. It was absolute horror dashed with bafflement, all coated in a sick layer of acceptance.
She knew what was to come.
“Heyyyyyyy nowwwww you’rreeeeeee an alllll starrrrrrr.”
The tentacles lash at Shelly, stretching to impossible lengths and wrapping themselves around her. Effortlessly, they lift Shelly into the air, Busey craning his neck back as he holds her over himself. The tentacles slither over Shelly’s skin, wrapping themselves around her limbs as she cries out hysterically. Then, they find their targets, burrowing into her flesh like worms into wet soil.
Wiggle, wiggle, slicch, slicch.
Her cries are bloodcurdling.
Chaos ensues. People scream. Some pull out their phones and call the cops. Most run out of the store. Amidst this I’m frozen, heart barely beating, as I watch my manager be drained of blood. The tentacles act like pumps and I hear the suction as they slurp the blood from Shelly’s body, pulsating as they take in her essence. Busey’s eyes are rolled up in the back of his head as he absorbs her lifeforce, a look of ecstasy on his monstrous face.
Shelly is fading. The color is gone from her body, and it looks like she is shriveling up, like the tentacles are a straw as she’s a Capri Sun pouch. The pain in her eyes is rich, and all life is fading from her eyes as her skin goes loose and…
“COWABUNGA MOTHERFUCKERS!” Will yells. I look over and see him flying in on a Razor scooter, kicking the floor with all he has to gain speed. He’s wearing a Chewbacca mask and holding a shovel. He hops off the scooter and it clatters to the floor next to DeVito.
“Hey now, you’re a rock star,” DeVito observes.
“That’s right I am shit-weasel!,” Will shouts. He presses the side of his mask, which lets out an electronic Chewbacca roar, before he lays into DeVito with the shovel, striking him in the crotch.
DeVito doubles over, gasping for air. “A…all…t-that…gl-glitters…is….g-gold,” he sputters.
“ONLY SHOOTING STARS BREAK THE MOLD!” Will screams before bashing DeVito on the back of the head. He falls to the ground, writhing and sputtering.
Will presses the side of his mask, letting out another Chewbacca roar as he shouts, “Can you DIG it, sucka?!”
Shelly is nothing more than a ragged corpse now, skin hanging off her bones, eyes sunken in and nearly falling out of their sockets. The tentacles discard her, tossing her aside like garbage. Busey turns his attention to Will, tentacles whipping and lashing his way.
He’s going to kill him. I have to do something. I have to save my best friend.
Will is approaching, shovel wound up behind him like a baseball bat, when I strike. I fumble behind the counter for anything I can find. Anything to help my friend, and I throw the first thing I get my hands on.
It soars through the air and my aim is true.
The pack of menthol cigarettes connects with the side of Busey’s face. He winces, and one of the tentacles catches the pack before it hits the ground. The tentacles rip the pack apart and bury themselves into the cigarettes, sucking them dry just like they did Shelly.
Busey stumbles, going pale. He lets out a series of coughs and for a moment the tentacles go limp. He holds his head and tries to regain his composure.
The cigarettes. He must not have liked them.
“Ha,” Will shouts. “Didn’t your mom ever tell you not to smoke? Well, too bad for you because the only thing worse for you than cigarettes is a shovel….to….your…nads.” Will presses the button but the Chewbacca cry doesn’t come. He runs forward and swings the shovel, throwing his whole body into it. The head of the shovel connects with Busey’s crotch, letting out a loud thunk in the process.
Busey doesn’t crumple. He doesn’t even react to the shot. He still seems to be recovering from the menthols.
Fuck this. I can’t let Will go at it alone.
I grab a plastic bag and hop on top of the counter. Busey is hunched over slightly so I have my angle. I jump onto his back and pull the plastic bag over his face. The tentacles are forced downward and hang limply from his mouth as I yank the bag and suffocate him.
“Fuck yeah!” Will shouts as he brings the shovel back and busts Busey’s balls again.
Busey is getting a little more life in him. He’s wheezing as he stumbles about, each motion with more force. I feel the tremor of the tentacles as they shake and come back to life. I don’t think I’m going to be able to hold him.
Thunk! Will slams Busey in the dick again.
“Sterrrp….sterrrp crunching my balls,” Busey coughs. Just then he’s back, snapping up like a rodeo bull. I’m nearly thrown from his body. The tentacles spring to life and cut through the plastic bag, leaving it as shreds in my hands. They launch forward and seize the shovel, yanking it from Will. They waive it above Busey’s head like a spoil of war, and I wonder if they’re about to bash me with it.
“Playground tactics!” I cry, letting go of Busey and falling to the ground. I crouch behind him, pressed right to his legs.
Will gets it.
He picks up the scooter with both hands and raises it above his head. Will whips it around in a circle, like it’s a flail, and the stand of the scooter picks up speed. The tentacles pull the shovel back like they’re going to swing it but Will is too fast. He charges forward and blasts Busey in the chest with the scooter, wheel hitting him dead center. Busey is hulking and powerful, the shot barely sends him back, but I’m right under his feet.
“Werrrt therrr ferrrrk?” Busey cries as he falls backwards over me. There’s a deafening crack and wet thud as he bashes his head off a nearby display shelf. I scramble to my feet and witness the result of our attack.
Busey is out of commission, at least for the time being. He’s laying in a heap, head tilted against the display shelf. There’s a puddle of black liquid congregating around his head, his eyes rolled up in the back of his head. The fall caused him to bite down on the tentacles. Some of them hang from his mouth like half slurped spaghetti, while others are severed in two. The bitten ones wiggle on the floor like fish out of water. After thrashing for a few moments, they straighten themselves out, and as if coordinated, slither towards me, a thick trail of black ooze left behind with each motion.
“I….like….girls that wear Abercrombie and Fitch…” DeVito rasps. Will and I turn back to him and see him rising to his feet. Boils have overtaken every visible inch of his flesh, and through their thin membrane is something contained in them.
They look like worms, or a smaller version of the Busey tentacles. Either way, Will and I don’t want to find out.
“I’d take her if I had one wish,” DeVito grunts as he gets back to his feet. “But she’s been gone since that summer.” There’s a pause, and then his eyes shoot to us, resolute with as much purpose as they are malevolent hatred.
“Since that summer,” DeVito snarls.
“Fuck this, let’s go,” I shout and start running towards the exit.
“That song blows, bro!” Will says before pressing his Chewbacca mask, letting out another valiant electronic cry before he hops on the scooter and pedals his way behind me.
We scramble out of the store into the cool night, the chaos of songs and shouts left behind us and the calamity of sirens ahead a mere taste of the insanity yet to come.