Wednesday, October 10, 2012


    For weeks, I stumbled around New Tankesta with tired eyes, swerving between pedestrians on the sidewalks. Downtown, people would stare at me as I veered into the walls of skyscrapers and collapsed onto the ground, screaming. To them, I'm sure I was just another of the regulars; the street-dwelling nut jobs and vagabonds who never got a break from the big city.
    I just didn't realize what was happening, or who I was, and I can't tell you how that whole lifestyle came about. I simply found myself homeless one day, with no desire to go running back to my parents, whose estate had by then been mentioned in a top 50 list in Forbes magazine.
    I hadn't become a slobbering amnesiac. I simply wished to roam through grimy urban streets without a plan. I wanted to have a never-ending conference with the sun and the stars and make a home of Karkulan Park, in the city center. My bed was a dilapidated wooden bench that had been vandalized famously with the phrase, "Floozy Rash", which had been etched in loving, angular letters by one of the local kiddy punks.
    One slow, dripping Saturday in July, I had taken shelter under the awning of a pizza shop on the corner of Chop avenue, and the owner (a roiling, sweaty, Italian blimp of a man) came outside to accost me. I was sitting on the sidewalk with my back propped against the glass storefront, chewing on a lollipop stick, when I heard his feet scuff the concrete a few feet to my left.
    "What's-a da matta wit you, eh? I'm trying to runna da pizza parlor and you're-a scaring away all-a da customers! Shoo! Go away, nasty man!", he said.
    I was roused from a daze when he began complaining, but once my eyes brought him into focus, I saw an epiphany of a sight. His shoes: they were old and grimy; black, and his fat feet caused the sides of them to loll over the edge of their soles and touch the ground. He wore a white button-down shirt covered in slimy red splotches of sauce, and there was a rorschach pattern of sweat under his arms and in the middle of his chest and belly.
     His pants: they were unzipped. Between the zipper's golden teeth, I espied yellowed briefs, and right on the tip of where I thought his winkie was, there was a little bit of shredded mozzarella stuck to the cotton. He was a lost, doomed, Italian man, and I, the same (save Italian).
     He grew even more enraged when I failed to respond or move away from his pizzeria, and he took a few steps closer to me and started smacking his palm with the back of his other hairy mitt. During the three seconds it took him to waddle nearer, my mind was twitching with the image it was dissecting.
     The digits of his hand were each garnished with an outcropping of black, pubescent hairs. There was a patch of them on every section of every knuckle, and they were beaded with his gruesome oily sweat. Every step he took was an entertaining treat: as one massive thigh advanced past the other, it would hang behind until just the last minute, and once the strain of the leg pulled it along, it erupted forward and tremored like ambrosia in an earthquake.
    He wore olive green pleated slacks, and at the place where his thighs must have been rubbing together for an unknown number of horrendous, nightmarish days, the fabric had become so worn that it was eaten away. The resultant hole was about the size of a tea saucer, and the meat of his legs had been in contact with each other, coercing the dermis into a puffy, chapped expanse of salami.
    My eyes widened; their ducts vomited screaming tears.
    I was lost in that moment for an eternity. When the warp of time returned to something normal and he began beating my ribs with the stick of his push broom, I felt as though my soul was too old to exist.
    But that was the beginning of the thoughts.
    After the episode in front of the shop, I must have walked fifty miles through the streets, lunging at parents pushing their babes in carriages and sneering at them as I spat in their bald, innocent faces.
    I couldn't stop thinking about the girth. The bulk. The slop and the sweat and the slime. The shriveled and the voluptuous parts of the Italian that gleamed in spite of the smog filtered sky. Every nuance of his image paraded through my brain, and for the next seventy-two hours, I was a hoarse beast in the streets of a grand metropolis.
    I wondered how an organism like him could even have remotely similar cells to mine. I became obsessed with wanting to know what was inside of that stomach of his; did it contain the usual mortal, meaty fuschia of human insides?
     A week later, I came back to a semblance of cognition for long enough to realize that I was in a dim room whose walls were covered with corrugated metal shelves bearing row upon row of cleaning supplies. There were brooms and mops and buckets; a maintenance closet. At the far end, next to the door where, out of the wall, jutted an old-fashioned porcelain sink, there was a pile of potato sacks, only...
    When I stepped toward the door to leave, I found that this pile was the slimy man, in the flesh, laying dead on cold cement. There was a bloody sheet covering part of his body, so I peeled it off of him and tossed it sideward, only to find that he had been split open from groin to solar plexus, his entrails strung out all over him like a morbid Christmas garland. His lips were contorted like melted plastic, and covered with dry maroon.
    His pants were ripped open at the crotch, and everything in that general area was covered in a white powder. Upon further inspection, I found a box cutter resting between his thighs, and boy... oh, boy... those thighs had been sliced open vertically, with maximum precision, and they were stuffed. Impregnated with scouring powder, as if whoever had mutilated this man was disgusted by what he saw inside and had to seal up the wound; obscure the pure hell within.
    And my hands were covered in crusty blood. My shirt was brown and rigid with it.
    It was then that I knew I was done for. I had ripped this poor pizzaman to shreds, and at the revelation, my knees became weak and buckled under me. I fell, and my face became flush with the floor and the soles of his feet, which had been excavated with some jagged metal thing until the bones within were revealed.
    I slid my hand between his legs and grabbed the box cutter. Finally, I had gotten my answer. He was very much normal. Quite human. Quite deceased, at the moment. I reflected upon the thought as I held the blade within inches of my face and stared at its razor edge.
    I had to do it. Find out if I had guts like his. Every experiment worth its salt in the history of Science had used a control, and what was a more adequate specimen of normality than myself: I, at the center of the very world I knew, whom the day began and ended with? So, I plunged the vicious little steel triangle peeking out of the plastic handle into my belly and yanked it up in a fluid motion.
    My skin parted with itself so easily, like a fine, milky silk, but I was astonished to find that there was no pain. Then, the door was kicked open, and a slick-looking man who looked like a stock broker stood over me. He was frowning, but not very surprised.
    "Ah, god. Why'd ya have to do this, Christoff? You're just like the other three", he said.
    I was frozen in confusion, but I couldn't feel my steamy intestines spitting out of the rip in my abdomen. Everything seemed strange, but not entirely random, about the man. I asked him how he knew my name, and why was he just standing there and not calling the police?
    "Call the police?! Ah, hell. You are really a piece of work. Maybe this is my fault for skipping your last re-calibration. No, no, son. We keep all malfunctions in-house. We sure wouldn't want the media catching wind of this shit."
    I asked him what he meant by malfunction as I stroked the very edge of the opening in myself, wondering why it felt so perfectly sheared; like an arid eyelid.
    "Eh, well, ya forego a little bit of maintanence here, a lube job there, and the next thing you know, you're stripping gears and gutting the local Italians. It's not like this hasn't happened before. Look... you even did a number on yourself. Oh, man. Oh, god. The Karakistas are going to have my head. I better phone in an evac."
    The debonaire gentleman produced a phone and began tapping in a number, and I looked down at myself, at the hole in my body, and saw that there was no blood. No guts. No humanity squelching out of me. I felt a panic coming on and propped myself up on my elbows to find a horror churning in my gut.
    There were only gears inside. Cogs! Springs! I was a human timex, laying next to the late, great canoli king and a suspicious shark-eyed business man who really wasn't one at all. I started to stammer. I told the man that this couldn't be right. That I was just a spoiled white kid who shirked a life of luxury in favor of slumming it in the streets of the Big Pineapple.
    He chuckled with his palm to the phone's receiver. "No, my boy. Your "parents" are the presidents of the company that had you manufactured. You were never meant to leave their house. They're gonna have my ass now, 'cause I told 'em that you would finally be the perfect son they'd been waiting for."
    The world began to spin. I couldn't accept what he was saying. He returned back to his conversation, turning his back on me, and started to tap his foot impatiently.
    "Yeah, we're at Rizzo's on the corner of Chop. Come on in when you get here", I heard him say.
    People were coming, and I realized that I didn't want to be around when they got there. Seeing my last opportunity for escape, I grasped a nearby shelf and hauled myself up onto my legs, the gears inside me whirring and grinding a little louder with the exertion. The man turned around while sweeping a hand across his slicked-back hair, and I charged him, knocking him into a stack of milk crates.
    The greater area of the store was a mess. Blood was splattered all over the preparation table amongst a miasma of olives, pepperoni, pepperoncini, mushrooms, green peppers, and anchovies. For a moment, I wished that I wasn't on the run so that I could nab some money from the register and call in an order from Papa Jim's. I could have gone for a slice, as long as it wasn't from Rizzo's.
    I dashed for the front door, feeling my freedom come closer every second, but a black despair seeped into my spine when five men with automatic rifles closed in on the storefront and filed through the front door to surround me. They had their muzzles trained on my head, and the dapper man from the broom closet limped up to me from behind and clamped a leather-gloved hand tightly onto my shoulder.
    "Time to meet the parents", he said, and a sack was drawn over my head.
    I was thrown into a van and we drove for hours. No one spoke a word, and when we began to drive over what sounded like gravel and stopped, the driver snuffing out the engine with a brisk turn of the key, the side door was drawn open, and I heard my "folks" cooing and laughing to each other.
    "Oh, dear", Mom sighed, "Looks like it's happened again, Martin."
    "Well, it could have been worse", Dad said with a gruff chuckle.
    I was escorted down a driveway and through a door, and the sack was taken off of my head. I was home, but it didn't seem possible. I had always known home to be a mere bus ride from the suburbs to downtown New Tankesta. I asked Mom if it was all true. Dad was beaming at me.
    "I'm sorry to say, dear, but it is", she said, "And it's a real shame that you gave us the slip. We might have come up with an update that allowed you to process a real urban environment. As it is, though, your CPU was simply not up to snuff, and you had all the promise in the world.
    "You see, you had a logical conundrum, so to speak, and it caused you to explore your inquiries, even at the cost of murder, which we have not yet written into your ethics program", Dad added.
    "And now, we're going to have to put you in the back with the others and start a new one of you from scratch", said Mom.
    I tried to wrestle myself free from two handlers who had been standing at my sides, holding me tightly in place, but it was to no avail. I told them that I didn't want to be shut away from the world. That I wanted another chance. That I would be good: I promised.
    "We're terribly sorry, son", said Dad, and then to the guards, "Take him away, and give him a coloring book to play with while he's in there. The others have ripped out their processors by now, so he'll practically be on his own."
    No, I screamed. No, no, no. I implored them not to discard me to "the back", whatever that meant. But in spite of my efforts, I was dragged onward. As I was taken, I twisted to look back at the two of them, my "Mom and Dad". They were standing next to the dapper stock broker man, hand in hand, smiling and waving goodbye.
    The guards shoved me into the room, where I plowed sidelong into a nondescript brick wall. The floor was vomit-green carpet, but other than this, there was nothing in the way of decorations or furniture. In various places around the room, clones of me lay on their sides or stomachs, motionless.
    One of my captors, who had remained at the door, gave me a smug look. I stared at his face and noticed that he had a hair lip. It made me jittery. I wanted to know why this deviation was, and I began to walk toward him.
    "No fuckin' way", he said, "You're not getting me like you got Ted last year." He tossed a coloring book and a handful of crayons at me and shut the door, which sealed itself with hydraulic locks. I was inside with my dead selves, and it was horribly quiet.
    It's probably been something like two years since then, and as time went by, a couple more of myselves were thrown in with me, but they ended themselves pretty quickly once I told them how. I instructed them on jerking on a silicon node attached to the side of their metal spine until it dislodged and watched, standing over them, as they collapsed to the carpet, the light leaving their eyes and their limbs whipping themselves into curious last poses.
    I'm unsure why I haven't put myself out of my misery. Something just compels me to stay here and wait. I'm hoping that someday, one of the guards will slip up while shoving another one in and I'll successfully make a dash for the hallway and the front door, until I'm on that gravel road and headed back to the big city.
    I just know I'll get another shot out there. I'm drooling now. I can't wait so see all of those insides, outside.
                                                                                                                                                               [Author's Note: This story shares a mythos with another story on this very blog, written by our very own Boulshed. You might remember "Zombies on the Night Run" from 2010.If so, then you'll find it a treat to know that Rizzo's pizzeria was taken over by his younger cousin from Preekionstiey, LE after the portly Italian's unfortunate demise at the hands of Christoff and remodeled. The protagonist of Zombies eventually comes to work for the man and, as you'll remember, fails to deliver the greatest pizza of all time due to a troublesome bunch of zombos. It's silly how secret connections like that work into stories, isn't it. Enjoy the world of Terror Keyboard!

                                                                                                                                                                        By the way, to any Italian people reading: A lot of my friends are Italian. We have fun here. No harm meant.]

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