The Amazing Institute*
This Is Spartak!
A cooperative writing exercise between Ednoria and Kugelblitz for the entertainment of Chickenhat and Buckleyj during the 2013 MS Ride. Strangely enough, both Chickenhat and Buckleyj contributed portions of their own! Attribution is as follows:
Kugelblitz: Mort, Guy
Chickenhat: Jeb, Marcy
Put another varmint down this morning. That makes two for the week, this one was a groundhog. Dropped him as he was just spying out the squash plants down by the bridge.
What else. Put some flowers under Mike’s picture and thought about him for a while. Weeded the garden pretty good, it was a little warmer today so my back didn’t hurt too bad. I think I might have more corn than I wanted this year but I won’t mind. Swept around the porch some and watched the sun come up. Chickens were hunting bugs in the lettuce, which is fine. Did not see any hawks.
Penny called wanting money for some project or boyfriend or whatever. I think she was calling from a truckstop or something, it was noisy. I also walked down to the back lot to clean up the mess from last night. I saw some lights down that way and it looked like some of the townies were back there with sparklers pretty late. After I walked down the holler I didn’t find any beer bottles or trash. The pond looked like it always did and the fence was still up. I looked around for some trash and listened to the woods for a spell and caught my breath. If I close my eyes I can just barely hear Route 68 way down the bottom of the ridge. I mean the traffic there, not the road.
Saw one of those safety barrel things in the water, the orange kind. It was hard to see in the green water but enough of it was close enough to the surface to make out the battery box and yellow flasher light, which did not blink. Damned kids must have dumped it there. I’ll tell Lee to stop by with his road crew and pick up his barrel if I see him down at the Shot Shack later.
I just looked back at the first one I wrote and this is number fifteen, give or take a few misses. So, therapeutic writing. Most of it is just gardening stuff and making sure nothing eats my food. Which is fine because I don’t want any goddamned foodstamps. Just live within your means and you will be fine. Why my leech daughter cannot ever get that through her head is beyond me. Just like her mother.
Going to clean the .22. Excitement never quits around here.
Got in late this morning, overslept after last night’s ruckus. The base must have been doing nighttime exercises again and didn’t bother telling us. Even though Marcy was on duty, everybody called me when they saw the lights. They don’t think of her as a real deputy, though she’s been one for two years now, and she can handle the town drunks just fine. The first one that tried to lay a hand on her found that out quick enough.
I told the first two it was UFOs and to go back to sleep, it wouldn’t matter anyway. We’d all be their slaves by morning. But then widow Johnson called, and she was so upset I got dressed and drove down to the station. Marcy was just warming up the squad car to go out and take a look, so I rode shotgun. She would have let me drive but I’m not having any of that. She’s got to prove herself to these people. They still think of her as little Marcy, whose dad used to run the liquor store before he ran off with Evan. Nobody saw that coming, although the coffee klatch down at Myrtle’s diner will tell you they did. Oh yes, they’ll nod and whisper and say they had their suspicions, but it’s all a bunch of bullshit. But Marcy’s tough, and they’ll get used to her eventually. Give ‘em another 20 years or so.
Well well, I’m a cynical bastard this morning. Let’s just stick to the facts, shall we?
We went down to the old Johnson farm first and took a look around, not expecting to find anything, and we didn’t, though we made sure to take our time about it. She said she’d seen some orange lights in the sky, blinking on and off, and she heard a weird humming noise. Then they went down over near Mort’s place. Marcy and I looked at each other but we didn’t say anything. Neither of us was going down to Mort’s place at this time of night without an engraved invitation. We both like our skins just the way they are, all in one piece with no bullet holes letting all the blood out. But we told Mrs. Johnson that we’d check it out first thing in the morning. But now it’ll have to be the fourth or fifth thing, because I’ve got to finish the paperwork for the new squad car the county keeps saying they’ll give us. Third time’s the charm, I always say. Better get to it.
Went by the Shot Shack the other night, told Lee about that barrel. He thought it was some townies too. I didn’t hang around, just got some high brass number fours and a few sacks of fertilizer at The Coop.
Penny called while I was putting in the last of my runner beans, I heard the answering machine beeping when I got back in. I had work to do. Deposited my check and looked at what the garden could bring, I think I can make it if I again this year if it isn’t an early frost.
Put some black-eyed susans on Mike’s picture. He looked so proud that day, all dressed up in his Class As. Sometimes I think he looks sad, sometimes maybe he looks tired.
Son of a bitch if I didn’t hear someone hollering down by the pond in the evening. I thought about calling the Sheriff but he is about useless and probably would want me to fill out some goddamned paperwork before he would come near the place. He was a little tightass when he and Mike were in school, too.
Never did get out to Mort’s yesterday. We got a call from the highway patrol asking us what the hell did we think we were doing? I had no idea what they were talking about and said so. They said there was a line of those big orange barrels across the main road just south of town, and traffic was backed up a couple miles. I went out there and it was the damndest thing. No sign of any work crew, or any road hazard I could see. You wouldn’t use those things unless there was a hell of a pothole. I called Lee and he said he had nothing to do with it, but he came out and hauled them away. He said they could always use a few extras.
I asked him how Billy Joe was doing, and he said she was thinking of retiring next year and setting up a shop in town selling cupcakes or something like that. Too bad. She was a great one for keeping the seasonal help in line. They might start out cursing a blue streak and acting like they were God’s gift to any woman that walked by, but after a week with Billy Joe it was all “Yes ma’am” and “No sir”. I don’t know how she did it, but she’s makes a hell of a better road crew than she does a cook. She dropped some homemade brownies by the station one Christmas and we almost ended up using them for target practice.
Today it was seventeen kinds of paperwork for the town’s Fourth of July celebration. Permits for fireworks, and the mayor wants to bring in a band to play in the town square. We’ll have to close off all the roads around it and see if we can get some extra help from somewhere. Marcy says we can get some help from the Boy Scouts, they have to do a bunch of volunteer work for merit badges. I guess they could clean up afterwards, but if I have a bunch of minors helping during the festival that’s another seventeen kinds of paperwork to worry about. Marcy says I worry too much. She’s probably right.
I did call Mrs. Johnson and she said she hadn’t seen or heard anything since that night, so that’s ok. I told her we were looking into it and to contact us if she needed to. She thanked me and invited me and “that nice young lady” to come have dinner with her sometime. She’s never been very subtle.
I think this is 18 or nineteen days since I was supposed to write this therapy stuff, according to the VA lady doctor. Anyway I got up early and eased down to the pond this morning. I was gonna just go down and clean up the usual mess that the kids leave but I saw something yellow. all I had was a trashbag and a beer in one hand. Fine, I’ll rip those kids a new one.
Lee’s big assed state roads truck was parked just on the other side of the gate by the pond. He came by for the barrel I guess. Odd part was no one was in the truck, period.
I yelled some but didn’t hear nothin. Lee and Billy Joe were not around and I checked the crew cab and the keys were still in the ignition? I thought Lee was trying to pull a joke on me. No one was in the bed either, although he must have just picked up a brand new bunch of bright orange cones. They were so new they looked like they glowed a bit. I started to take the keys and then remembered that if I called that numbnutted Archie or the new girl deputy came by they would want everything left alone.
I sat there for a while waiting for Lee or Billy Joe to come back from taking a dump or a nap or whatever and no dice. I kept getting a funny feeling the whole time too, like I was being watched. Hell I guess I gotta call the law.
Here I was worried about how I was going to go down to Mort’s and explain I was there about some lights in the sky and he ends up calling me! Actually it was Marcy he called, since she was on duty. But he asked for me, so I knew it had to be something serious. I used to be at the house all the time when Mike and I were growing up, but things changed after the divorce. And when Mike killed himself that was it. I went to the funeral and he wouldn’t say a word to me. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I figured he was still in shock. But it’s been 3 years now, and he still won’t even say hello to me when I see him on the street. Marcy says it’s because I’m still alive and Mike isn’t. I guess that’s as good an explanation as any.
Anyway I went down there at some godawful hour in the morning and he took me down to the pond and showed me Lee’s truck, with the keys still in the ignition. Lee’s just not the kind of guy to leave his truck like that, and I know Billy Joe was with him. We always used to tease her about her coffee mug, the one with “I heart Heavy Metal” and a skull on it, and she’d tell us to shut up, it was a gift from her granddaughter. She never went anywhere without that mug or a pack of cigarettes, and there it was in the cupholder, still half full.
I can’t figure out what happened. Did they just walk away? Marcy says maybe Lee ran off with Billy Joe, but I know she’s joking. Besides, it doesn’t make any sense. Why would he leave the truck down there? Mort hates having people on his property but we need some answers. We’ll have to get the truck back to the depot too.
He knew he weren’t ‘possed ta be out after curfew, and mama didn’t like none of those books Jeb were always readin’, but ever since readin’ bout nightcrawler hunting he jus’ couldn’t hep himself.
The flashlight was the important part, from what he read, but so far all thy showed up in the light was frogs and worms. Ain’t no nightcrawlers as far as he could tell.
Gots to remember to hide his shoes and socks and warsh up his legs when he got back. Mama’d whup him for sure if she caught him or found out. Probably put him in a juvee home if she knew he’d got hisself knowledge from a book.
Dang batteries, should’ve checked ‘en earlier. Can’t catch no nothing with a flickering light going on and off. Heck, might as well start headin’ back through all this muck. Back to where one of them road cone things with the blinking light had been… somewhere back there.
Shoot. Lost. Well, kinda. Head towards the loudest noise in the woods and you’re bound to come up on one side or the other of the old power plant. Why they left the machinery and pumps goin’ he’d never understand, but it’d get him home if he just listened for a sec.
(On… off… on… off-on…)
Huh. Nothin’. At least… nah. That ain’t the power plant. Must be something else.
Hey! What just made that splash!
Archie was here early this morning and he looked around. He said that some other people would come by later and asked me if I wanted to make a statement. I said no. I also said I don’t want a bunch of idiots poking around here.
Nobody found Lee or Billy Joe.
I couldn’t go back to sleep so I just went out on the back porch and watched the stars. It was pretty and I dozed off listening to some whipporwills calling to each other and then I woke right up. At first I thought it was one of them flashbacks but it was not because I did not dream about villagers or anything. I was really, really awake thoughand something was not right. I grabbed the Browning up and just listened, like I was on ambush again. The sun was almost coming up and everything had that little bit of mist. Felt spooked and I laughed at myself, no gooks in the wire, just a catfight going on down the ridge a ways.
Just about the time I thought maybe my meds weren’t working I noticed how quiet it was around the house. I couldn’t hear no chickens. I went down to the chicken house and every damned one of them was just gone. No blood, no feathers, no rooster either. I saw some pointy little marks around the henhouse but I have no idea what they were. Marks went down hill.
There was a traffic cone down by where the springhouse used to be. I glared at it for a minute and punted it into the brush and damn near broke my foot. It must have had a bunch of mud or asphalt jammed inside it. Good thing I was wearing my jump boots.
Alright. Fine. Guess I need to get a few things together and take a look around.
Penny called while I was trying to open the old footlocker. I was gonna cut the lock off but the key was next to the bolt cutters. Got a few things into my old ruck and went out.
The radio hissed with dreamy waves in the background.
“NK3OMS…NK3OMS. Repeater no reply? NK3OMS over” I let the mic key up and tapped the mic on my forehead. What the hell was up? Sherif not running the repeater is like the sun not coming up.
But more disturbing was the complete lack of any traffic. I backed the wheelchair over to the television. The picture was digital slop. “Dammit! Mom! Is your cell working?” The only reply was the typical clatter of bottles.
Where was that little brat? He will be in shock when I tell him he can work the brakes and gas.
Damndest thing. My little tripwires were mostly all still there this morning and my back is just killing me after all that walking. Told Penny I was fine, told her I took my meds like usual and a bunch of other BS. Meds make me sleepy. Can’t sleep now.
I set Mikey’s Garmin up on the trail in the wee hours this mornin on the firebreak from the pond back to 108 and looked at this evening. The sun moving left to right. It takes a picture every little while or so and I had hoped to catch one of those townies snoopin around. Wished I had some of this gear in Nam. Took me a while to get the thing to work, it had a few pictures of Lucky and some shots of Mike’s Chevy. Old stuff. One picture of a slender handsome gent with a sawed off shotgun in some old tiger cammies and that’s it. Dammit so that’s what she called my concentration face.
Oh and one blurry picture of a traffic cone in the middle of the trail. The time stamp said 1748. Light is bad and it looks like someone propped it up on a few sticks. Someone’s idea of a joke. Someone is fucking with Morton Simonsen. O. fucking. Kay. then. Someone is in for a rude goddamned surprise.
Thing is I should have gotten something In a snare, a rabbit at least. Come to think of it haven’t seen any rabbits lately. Looks like asparagus tonight.
Need a few things from the Shot Shack. I asked Jessie while he ringing stuff up if anyone had heard from Lee and Billy Joe and he just gave me a funny look and asked me if I was OK. OK? I started to say something and saw my reflection in the mirror over the ammo counter. I was still wearing my cammies. Shit. I was gonna ask him about any pranksters and cones but decided there was enough crazy in the store for Jessie and just took my stuff and left. I smiled at him to let him know there weren’t any hard feelings. Jessie just watched me leave. Jesus, some people.
Think I’ll sleep light tonight.
Kept waking up. Thought something was scratching around the propane tank. I had all the lights off so the NVG would work better. Fresh batteries which cost a goddamned mint. Looked out in the yard and it was quiet, every time. Felt jumpy and maybe I wished for Lucky to be here. Hell even Penny, just to keep the crazies away. Had me a flashback, the usual one with Donofrio freezing up just before everything went to hell. Royce was telling us to leave him. Old dead friends.
Woke up in a cold sweat. Heard something skittering around on the tarp out back. Went over to the door and tooka look out with Mr. Night Vision Gear Comma One Each. A cone was out there and someone was dragging it with a string or something. I couldn’t see how it was being moved and I must have screwed up my noise discipline because it stopped and plunked down a bit.
I put a few 9mm rounds right through the cone, nice tight little group. Didn’t make any more noise than poking your finger through newspaper. Archie would shit if he knew I had a silencer. Hell he would proably shit even more of he saw some of the stuff Mikey and I had in the footlocker.
Mr. Someone must have left after I shot his little prank, because I could not find him. Wished I had me a thermal scope so I could have tracked him. Came back to the house and the goddamn wilted over cone was gone. There was some kinda plastic smell where it was and I remembered smelling that down by the sign truck the other day.
Took a slow walk around and didn’t see anyone, not even a skunk.
OK so I am getting jittery now, slept a bit and after sunrise went out to improve a few things. Mr. Someone or a group of them must have showed up and dropped off a mess of cones all over the place, mostly down near the springhouse. There are even some of those barrels which started this whole goddamned thing. I never hear heard a thing, which shook me up some. That’s what I can see from the house. Wish I had a cigarette.
Maybe I’ll call Archie or Penny.
Little Dipper , Big Dipper
Northern Star Northern Star!
Moss grows on the South Side
And the Highway ain’t that far!
Keep. Breathing. Keep. Running.
Mama is gonna have my hide.
Got a call from Penny, and now I’m a little worried. She says she’s been trying to call Mort all day and that his phone is out. That’s just plain weird. He always complains about how much she calls him, but I think he secretly likes it. I’m going to head down there tonight once Marcy gets in. If he’s in one of his moods, he’s less likely to shoot at me if I’m not in uniform. He hasn’t had a really bad spell in years, not since he started taking his medication regularly, but I remember the last time. Holed up in his house for days, taking potshots at anybody who came near the place. Only reason he came out that time was because his beagle Lucky got away from him. Poor thing was half-starved and shaking like a leaf, but he ran right up to Deputy Collins, who always had a thing for dogs. Then he stood there and howled for all he was worth, most dismal sound you ever heard. Mort came out pretty quick after that.
Lucky died a few years back, and Mort never got another dog, so I guess I can’t count on “canus ex machina” this time. Maybe he’s sick.
Had another call from the highway patrol. Another big wreck thirty miles up north. Some kids went through and put up traffic cones last night, right near the embankment on Route 216. There’s a gravel shoulder there, and a steep drop. Cones led right off the road, and four cars went over before anybody figured it out. Three people dead, two more in critical condition, and one missing. Patrol thinks maybe he got hit on the head and wandered off. Hell of a mess. Anyway they gave us his description in case somebody picked him up and he ends up here.
OK I know I have had a few episodes and maybe Mikey eating his gun may have set me back a ways mentally but I have never been accused of making shit up. This is important. They are moving around and the big ones don’t seem to mind bullets. Slow though. I got the door closed up and am pulling out a few very select anti-personnel devices and pointing them at the doors. The little ones are quick but aim at the middle and they go down. Legs like needles.
How can something so innocent be so fucked up and wrong?
Gunshots ain’t gonna bring no one around here. Maybe a few booms will. Come get some you little orange assholes.
Penny, please don’t think I lost my marbles. I’m sorry.
Highway just up ahead. I think I see something.
What the hell is going on around here? Has this whole town gone crazy?
Ok, I need to back up, get this down so I can try to make some sense of it.
I went over to Mort’s this evening. I stopped and got him some donuts first, I remember he always used to like the ones with chocolate sprinkles when I was a kid. His truck was there like always, but the door was hanging open, looked like somebody had tried to rip it off its hinges. The keys were on the ground right next to it. That spooked me good and proper. Mort is not the kind of guy to leave his keys lying around, or his truck unlocked.
I bent down to pick up the keys, and something made a banging noise. I just about jumped out of my skin. It was Mort’s front door, wide open. I watched it bump against the wall a couple times. I don’t remember drawing it, but my gun was in my hand. I called out to Mort, but I didn’t get any answer, just that door banging in the wind. Other than that it was quiet. Really quiet. Mort has chickens, I know he does, but I didn’t hear them or any other birds either.
I went up to the door real slow, calling Mort’s name every few seconds. No answer. I thought about calling Marcy on my cell, letting her know what was going on. But then I heard something inside, somebody moving around maybe, and I forgot all about that and rushed in.
I was afraid I’d find Mort on the floor, dead or dying from a heart attack or cut up by one of those crazies you hear about every once in a while who decides they need to kill a few dozen people in order to bring meaning to their twisted lives. But he wasn’t there. I hadn’t been in Mort’s house since his divorce, but it hadn’t changed much. The front room still had that blue couch that had been old back then. It looked the same, maybe a little more saggy. There was a picture of Mike on the mantelpiece, with flowers in front of it. I didn’t notice all that at first, of course. I was too busy looking for trouble.
What I did notice was Mort’s old footlocker, the one he’d told us boys never to touch, sitting right beside the couch, wide open. I knew Mort had a few guns, but Jesus Christ! This guy was sitting on an arsenal! And not only guns, but weird stuff, tripwires and things that looked like they might even be grenades. The stuff was scattered all over the couch and on the floor, in a kind of semicircle with a clear space in the middle. Like he was kneeling there and using the couch for cover.
So I looked back at the front door. I hadn’t noticed it before, but it looked like there were some bullet holes in the walls there. And one of those orange traffic cones, with at least two holes in it and looking half-melted. Why the hell was Mort shooting at traffic cones in his own house?
I took another look around, and I saw that there was a notebook in the center of all the gear. It was open and Mort’s chickenscratch was all over the pages. I picked it up but couldn’t make anything of it right off, so I stuck it in my jacket.
Then I heard that noise again, the shuffling or whatever it was. I went into the hall real slow, hoping my gun hand wasn’t shaking as much as I was. It was coming from the kitchen. I got to the door and peered around, real careful, and just about had a heart attack myself. Mort has a gas stove, one of the old kinds without a lot of the safety equipment they have on the newer ones. All the burners were off, but I could practically see the haze in the air from all the gas in there, and I could smell it like anything. The oven door was open too, and one of those orange cones was sitting on it. That was strange enough, but the thing that made me turn and run was what was sitting next to it. We may not be the most up-to-date Sheriff’s department in the county, but we all have to have training once in a while, it’s mandatory. And I know enough to recognize an incendiary device when I see one.
I don’t know how I got out of that house, but I did. I fell at least once, slipped in a puddle or something, and by tomorrow I’ll probably be stiff as anything. But I got out and over to my car and had it started and moving in record time. I ran over a couple more of those cones in the driveway, and I had just about gotten to the road when the house went up. I only saw it in my rearview mirror, but that was enough. I slammed on the brakes and covered my face, which was a good thing because every window in the car shattered. I could feel the heatwave rolling over me, but it passed soon enough.
I brushed the glass away and called Marcy. She didn’t believe me at first, thought I was pulling another prank on her. I told her to go outside and look at the smoke. That got her attention. She called out every emergency service she could think of, and in minutes the place was a whirl of lights and sirens. They got the fire under control pretty quick, which is good, because the weather’s been kind of dry lately and nobody wants to be fighting forest fires
In all the excitement I forgot about Mort’s diary until I got home at about three this morning. That and the squashed bag of donuts were crammed into my jacket. Now it’s six, and I don’t know what to think. What the hell was going on out there? Mort hasn’t been the same since Mike died, but I wouldn’t have thought he was capable of dreaming up shit like this. I guess you never know, though. I wonder if they’ll find his body somewhere in the wreckage?
And here I thought writing this down would help me figure it all out. Yeah, right. I’m starting to feel as crazy as poor old Mort. I better get some sleep.
But still… I can’t help but think of those traffic cones. I know there weren’t any in the driveway when I came in. How did they get there?
Oh hell. I’m going to have to call Penny.
The keys worked, which was a relief. Guy opened the chunky lock and dragged the gate open. He and Ken had driven all the way up from Sunderland to fill in for a bit.The Highway Storage Lot, # 47 beckoned. Everything looked clean and orderly, too. Even the grass had been cut.
Ken went over to check out the sign truck which still had some evidence tags on it. He pulled them off while Guy looked at the property reciepts he had on a battered clipboard. Inventory was going to take all damned day. At least they could drive the truck down to that little Shot Shack store for lunch.
Probably had plastic wrapped sandwiches and both kinds of coffee. Guy hated eating somebody else’s sandwiches. He heard the sign truck turn over a few times and looked up. Ken was giving him a thumbs up from across the yard. Guy waved back.
Ken was alright except he weighed too damned much to be out on a road crew. Which was why Ken was available when this Lee dude went missing. Run off with his partner or something. So it goes.
Guy ticked off the keys and matched them to the buildings, salt storage was the big brown tit shaped shed, another open sided shed with some stacked and racked road signs. Gas tank storage was the red key. Most of the tools, materials and hopefully the fridge and a coffeemaker were probably in the larger barn in the back. He flipped a page, supposed to be a backhoe and dumptruck in there as well as, he groaned, about two dozen different kinds of pesticides, solvents and industrial cleaners. Each one would have to be checked and dated and a hazmat statement updated. Whee.
He could hear Ken walking across the gravel behind him. Together they went over to the barn and Guy sorted keys until he found the Medeco key, for the Medeco lock, duh. Good locks here. The brown stained door wouldn’t open though, something flexible was jammed up against the other side. They both tried to shoulder it open but it only moved about an inch and slowly rebounded. Gumby was not entertaining today.
“Ain’t this some pretty shit?” said Ken. Guy shrugged and looked around.
The steel bay door was for the vehicles. It had a padlock that secured it to a ringbolt in the concrete apron there. He was going to look for the key when he noticed the ringbolt was floating loose in the concrete. Ok, he had seen worse. Some stuff took a while to fix because work got in the way. It happened.A quick lift and the door came up a few feet, enough that Ken could get his lardassed self under the edge and they could push the door up far enough to walk under it. Except it wouldn’t stay up.
“What in the fuck-” started Ken and Guy cut him off, “Where in the hell did this stuff come from?”
The barn was neatly stacked from floor to ceiling with traffic cones. Ranks of them. In the back there were barrels and each bay was carefully filled with more cones. It was fucking Cone Central and there was no possible reason for them to be here. There were so many cones that you could barely swing your arms in there, all the way to the ceiling, twenty feet overhead. Where was the front end loader?
“What is this, the Maryland Central Cone repository? What did someone do, misplace a zero on a requisition?” They stepped inside and let the door rattle down, leaving them in the orange dimly lit interior. Ken walked over and poked one of the stacks of brand spanking new cones.
“More like a few zeros in a row,” he mused.
Guy kept shaking his head as he looked around. Un-buh-lievable. There was some pretty big stuff in the back, too, what were they? Buoys? Since when did State Roads do anything with buoys? They looked new too. The whole barn smelled new. Were they buoys?
“Ken, I have never seen anything like this before. I’m going to fire up the radio and call central and get some more info. Somebody is missing some cones somewhere.” His voice was muted. How many cones could you put in a tractor trailer? This looked like a few loads at least.
“Gumby has been busy,” he snorted, and turned towards the back of the barn.
That gap is probably where the office is, if I can wedge myself in there. Office means radio. Guy pulled his Orioles cap off and stuck it in his waistband as he went into the little orange corridor. It was warm in here.
Something shifted. He stopped and looked at the cones ranked next to him. There were short stacks in front of the big stacks, all the way up. “Highway worker found under cone slide, film at eleven.” He snorted to himself, right. Kathy was going to love this.
There was something kinda odd when you got up close to them, though.
“Guy? You hear something?” Ken’s voice was muted, softened by all the cones. He must have pulled some cones down up front, there was the sound of some falling. Dammit, they would have to be restacked, and all of them counted. He sighed, this day was just getting better and better. Ken was distantly cursing, then he trailed off.
“Nope.” Guy looked closer at the wall o’ cones. SPARTAK was written on each orange base in this squared off font. Danger Bold, the choice of cones everywhere. He pulled out his phone and took aa picture of it. The flash left some spots in his eyes.
There was a scrape from behind him, a dry clicking. Now he was hearing it too. He poked a cone with the cellpphone experimentally, they were pretty solid. What was this made of? The surface looked slightly porous. It was quiet.
“Ken? Come here a minute.”
There was no answer from the bay. His throat was suddenly dry.
The insect clicks were from the cones. One of them in the stack rotated slightly, the word leered up at him.
Oh. God. There were little gold feathery antennae coming out of the hole in the top, caressing the air. The air was filled with tiny clicks. He stepped back.
And they were on him.
Jeb (4) / Marcy (1)
“Hey, Marcy? Yeah, no calls from Archie yet. Still nothing from Billie Joe or Lee except their truck. No, I never hear from Morton, not since that time with the dog. I’m sure we’ll hear something soon. Still dealing with a bit of a mess on 216.”
“Mind coming over here a minute? Thanks.”
“You know Jeb, right? Mrs Johnson’s foster kid. (No, I don’t think she takes ‘em in for the food stamps. She’s a bit off, but she’s got her heart in the right place.) Found him on the main highway covered in mud and carrying a broken flashlight. No, not just dead batteries, broken, like he’d smashed it on something. Nell is patching up some kinda puncture wound on his hand and he hasn’t said much that made sense yet. There’s no one answering the phone at the Johnson farm and I just got paged to go get the truck I was hoping you could keep him company until we hear from his, um, folks.”
“Heya, Jeb, remember me? Marcy?”
(He looks up from the bent and broken flashlight next to him on the bench and nods his head, yes. The boy can’t be much more than 12 now, his short hair must’ve turned into a light brown over the last year. Right now he’s in a dry small white t-shirt about 2 sizes too big for him and his socks and shoes are next to him on the bench almost dry.)
“I’m running the dispatch desk tonight, you wanna come over a sit with me for a bit while we wait for a phone call from your, uh… brother?”
(The boy nods slowly, looks once at the flashlight before taking it off the bench and gathering his shoes and socks in the other hand before following her. Even though she offers a hand he doesn’t take it. She motions to the office chair next to her station in front of the front desk bell, one of the brass ones with the button on top, and he settles in, placing the flashlight next to the bell.)
“D’ya’eet?” (Nods once.) “Need anything?” (Shakes head twice.) “Is your hand okay? That’s a pretty neat bandaid you got.” (Jeb looks at the plaster on the back of his hand. Looks up at Marcy.)
“Wasps. I fought ’em off… it fell down the hill.”
“When was this? Before you got picked up?”
“When I got to the top of the hill, outa the mud, right by the road. I put my hand on it and there must’ve been a wasp nest inside ‘cos it started buzzin’ and it stung my hand and I swung my flashlight a couple times at the buzzin’ things comin’ outa the top and it was right on the edge so I pushed the nest over… I ain’t in trouble for losin’ a traffic cone, am I?”
“Uh… no? No, I don’t think so, hon. I think your socks are dry if you wanted to put them back on.”
(He nods again.)
“Maybe you might wanna draw a picture or something? I’ve got plenty of paper and pencils here.”
(Nods, put his socks and shoes on, and scootches the chair up to the desk. After a couple of minutes Jeb stops at the same moment the phone rings. Marcy puts her hand on the headset button by her ear and answers.)
“What? Slow down! WHAT? You have GOT to be kidding. No, I don’t believe you, that’s just crazy and I have had ENOUGH of all these pranks going on tonight. What? Okay, fine, I’ll look outside.”
(She gets up and walks from the front desk, her low heels clicking evenly with each measured step to go look out the panes of the glass front door. When she turns she is running as she holds her headset to her ear.)
“Okay, okay, just hold on. I’m calling EVERYBODY. You just…”
(She looks at the paper on the desk in front of Jeb for a second. It’s unmistakably the shape of a traffic cone, but with spider legs coming out from the sides and feathered antennae coming out of the top. And printed in large bold letters around the bottom a word she’s unfamiliar with, but for some reason sends a chill up her spine “SPARTAK”. Her voice wavers for half a second before she speaks again.)
“Ar… Archie? You be careful, y’hear?”
What happened to the boy I’d never knowd. Pulled on ma jeans an I wheeled outta my room and past the TV room. Creepy kinda flicker from the flat panel.
I could smell the ’shine for I saw her laid out on the sofa. One mason jar was turned over, one in a death grip in her hand. And the witch had one dem parkin cones on her head.
“Well thats an improvement, ya hag,” but I didnt stop just rolled to the bottom of the stairs. “Jeb!” I yelled up to dark. Dammit. Well I didnt get my pull ups practice anyways. And I guess it was my fault Ma got all liquored up. Ever since Pa and me…
Well she started with that cow eyed look…
And then she said it again, “Bobby, you look so much like yer Pa…” and her eyes go ta where my legs used ta be.
“You mean from the waist up right MA!” Makes me so mad! She dont wanna even know Im here. She fostered in Jeb just cause she didnt wanna look at me none. I almost feel sorry for da boy.
Clatter of mason jar come from the sofa. “Oh dont cha worry Ma, I knowd you put your stock up in Jebs room! Like I could never go up no stairs!” And I just launched myself out da wheel chair. It flew back and hit da door. Weird like da door was open a little, but it slammed shut when my chair hit it.
I hand walked myself up the stairs grumblin every step. VA doc said I would do great in them cripple lympics, but I dont wanna hang out with them freaks. Shouldn’t outta laugh just made my bang my nuts. And that just made me laugh more.
“Bobby Johnson didnt lose his Johnson!” Peckers from the football team I guess meant well and all but I werent gonna be a towel boy. Still throw better than Randy any ole day.
Hot up here at the top of the stairs. Jeb door is open and no lights on. Dang it! Window is open too! Lil bastard probably ran down the Zip line to the barn. Sure nuff the Hay loft doors was open. Damdest thing. Who put dem big highway barrel cone things round the truck? Maybe Ma went and got all hooked up with one of the SHA boys. Figures the whore would only get paid in traffic cones.
After climbing down from the window, I saw Jeb had my police scanner tucked under the bed. Gaddam that boy! I was burning hell fire now! Nobody think I cant find my own shit? I grabbed the scanner and jar of shine. Had to sling it all or I couldnt walk.
Heard a crash and thump from downstairs. “I swear to fuckin Gawd I will cut off your head and shit down your throat Ma!!!” and I scooted to the top of the stairs. I reached up and click the light switch but nothing happened.
But there was Ma’s body all laid out at the bottom of the stairs. Parking cone still sitting on her head. One dem saw horse construction thingies with the flashin yellur light on it was over Ma’s legs. I aint seen dem in forever.
Then there was this sound, it was like dressing a deer but with a real dull knife. The orange cone on Ma’s head kinda moved away on its own. It didnt look right. I could tell there was a puddle forming round Ma’s body cause there werent no head.
“Oh Shit! No that aint even right!” And as I said that I swear the flashy light thing on the saw horse turned up and looked at me.
When I looked back, the parking cone was crawlin up the stairs on these spinddly lil legs and had like feathers comin out the top.
“SHIT!!” And I bulleted that mason jar. Wudda made Johnny U proud! That cone flew back and hit my wheel chair. Aw shit! My chair! And that saw horse start walkin over Ma’s body.
“SHIT!” and I backed up into Jebs room and slammed the door.
I made for the window and tugged on the zip line. Woulda used the pully but then I saw them big cones was down by da barn.
Ill just hang out here until mornin, long as Jebs and mines belts hold up. Lots of crazy traffic on the scanner. Man I gotta pee.