|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
The Waiting Room
“So what’s going down at Cape today, good buddy?” Chuck speaks into his phone, singlehandedly backpedaling your narrative timeline that has, thus far, been a continuous, uninterrupted stream. “Besides my sobriety and levels of unconsciousness, that is. Hey-ooooh!”
Chuck Leary is currently in the process of rolling a bonzoblunt, a beautiful Cannabic construct that consists of anywhere between half an ounce to one full ounce of ground herb bound in the leaves clipped from one of the many Cannabis plants living in one of his many sub-plasti’spa’junkean grow rooms… or maybe this Cannabis came from one of the above-ground grow rooms, it’s very hard to be sure. When it’s done though, the bastard will be two inches thick and ten inches long – dreams really do come true.
“Well, I just sent an elderly man who was dressed like a priest to the hospital, so there’s that. Not really at Cape, per say, but I feel pretty good about it.”
Chuck stops rolling for a second to take that in. Then he keeps rolling, commenting, “Wow dude, that’s uh. Kinda fucked up.”
“NAH!” Sigmund confidently shouts through the BioBotdy of Jackson Rainfort, an entirely fictional character of a man with more history than most men have fingernails and toenails combined. “He totally deserved it. Anyway, I just got fired, so the contest winner and I will be en route shortly. The other human child I abducted into the closet completed his work on the escape pods a few minutes ago so, as I said. We’ll be departing shortly.”
Chuck pauses his very important work again, for an entire four-point-two seconds this time, to let that one settle. Then, “Sih–” sigh “Sigmund, you realize how fucked up that sounds, don’t you? Like, your word choice and whatnot?”
The comms line takes on a dreadful lapse of words, not even a void of communicationless silence bridges the gap between our two polymorphic powerhouses this time. Chuck gives Sigmund a few choice moments to think about what he’s said, to come to the answer himself so he can actually learn from his mistakes, but Sigmund stays mute, seeing how he didn’t make a mistake in the first place.
“The whole abducted thing, I mean?”
Well clearly it wasn’t that fucked up, because Chuck’s back to preparing his happybaton as soon as he says The; no, definitely not that fucked up, just fucked up enough to comment on it.
“No, sir, I don’t know how fucked up my words sound once your brain perceives them. Honestly, even given my experience with it, I’m not sure what in the world goes on inside the bulbous mass of neurons inhabiting your cranial cavity in general, regardless of what it’s perceiving or if it’s perceiving anything at all. But! Whatever does conspire, it clearly results in your success. So, for that reason, I respect it. I won’t bend to conform to that strange, broken mold you want to pour the world into, but I respect the fact that you broke it. And that’s just what it is.”
As Sigmund begins to backtalk him, Chuck sighs, thinking, ‘Nobody gets me,’ but as his closest friend continues to speak, that frown turns upside down, Chuck’s thoughts swirling into a chemical reaction and combusting into a giddy, ‘Close enough!’ as his heart basks in the warm, fuzzy glow of Sigmund’s respect. Somehow, even though he can’t see it, Sigmund senses this smile and smiles back at his very different equal.
On two opposite ends of a long stretch of water between a bunch of walls, one much taller than the rest, two grown men are holding radioactive glass rectangles next to their brains and involuntarily flexing the muscles in the lower half of their heads.
“So yeah we’ll be there soon, the winner and I,” Sigmund says, dredging reality through their shared moment.
“What about the other kid? He seems kinda cool.”
A moment’s pause. “Why?”
“Why does he seem kinda cool, I mean,” the kinda cool said in a bad impression of Chuck’s voice, as if something Chuck said made Sigmund feel inadequate.
“Well, because he built a working escape pod system capable of transporting two living human bodies through land, sea and-or air from the mainland all the way to New Manhattan using only the materials available to him inside of a public high school’s custodial closet, all without alerting said school of said escape pod system. That’s fucking insane, like, you levels of insane. Well, not you levels of insane, per say, more like me levels of insane mixed with you levels of brilliance. It’s like he’s an alternate universe’s version of you and me put together except he’s not totally batshit evil. Because you know, if such an existential mishap were to exist, it would not be the type to get invited to my birthday party. C’mon, the fact that a human like that exists, well that’s just… that’s just incredible.”
“It wasn’t that hard, man!” a high and youthful voice chimes in through the background static, “I just, like, fabricated a bunch of stuff using my brain! I’m kind of gifted like that, I would explain but it would be spoilerific!”
“See? Listen to his vernacular, this kid’s the shit.”
Sigmund hangs up the phone, calls back a minute later, says, “See you soon,” in a very breathy voice, and then hangs up again. Chuck, amused by all this, snickers as the communicator melts back into his ear and he keeps on working on the bonzoblunt, his hands carefully massaging the herby flakes into their rightful place in the Universe.
Thus far today, Chuck’s rolled forty-two joints, thirty-nine of which he’s smoked already, one of which he’s smoking at a terribly slow pace at the present moment; a prototype of the bonzoblunt, the alpha version only half as large in every dimension as its soon to be successor; he’s packed every single bong/wet pipe in the entire building (which is a fucking lot of bongs/wet pipes); filled every single dry herb vaporizer that belongs to every member of the higher society of the city, you know, because one should do charity work every now and again; earlier today he busted in on a hash production factory and committed a gruesome hostile takeover, increasing the production of both the golden and the hand hash ten-fold, and… well, he doesn’t remember how else he’s conjured the spirit of the Holiblaze today, but he definitely might have done some other stuff.
Usually Chuck surrounds himself with the more creative crazies that inhabit this concrete jungle on the annual Holiblaze, but since yesterday was the actual holiday and the majority of the humans he smokes up every Holiblaze don’t own ninety percent of the city of New Manhattan like he does, they had to get right back to work when the festivities were through. As for the humans who have ascended to the status of Chief Executive Officer, well, like I said, yesterday was the actual holiday. Chuck thought they were all his friends, but it’s apparent now that they’re just some humans who don’t mind sharing a smoke with him when their given geographic locale allows for them to conveniently do so. Or maybe not; Chuck’s really deep into his own head right now, they probably just have shit to do.
The Fog Is Thick And The Air Is Thin
Like a rehabilitated turtle who successfully crossed a hot road without irreversibly charring her feet, after a quick nap, Chuck pops his head out of his shell and, joints in hand and the bonzoblunt up his sleeve, waltzes over to Karen’s desk to find his plucky secretary busy scrawling squiggly little symbols down in what appears to be a new notebook.
Karen evaporates into a terrified vaporous form when Chuck appears at her desk with the tip of his lighter cast ablaze. He startles the pencil right out of Karen’s cloud of a hand, can you imagine?
In a swift, uninterrupted motion, Karen returns to a more solid human form, sweeps her notebook off the desk, and reaches for one of the many hand-crafted bongs that keep her company in an inanimate way. She grabs a pipe that’s only a foot tall, making up for its vertical inadequacy with the inclusion of no less than three different styles of percolators (showerhead, honeycomb, and UFO if you’re curious) and brings the mouthpiece to her lips. Chuck lights it and Karen inhales for about a second and a half, the baby cloud of smoke bombarding her lungs in a way that makes her cough for a solid three minutes. Three to one, how’s that for a ratio?
When Karen stops hacking up whatever was once festering in the now diluted pores of her lungs, Chuck takes out his couple of joints and lights them, embarking on a blissfully calm tirade of talking to himself in a way that sounds like he’s having a back and forth about how humans never come through for him. He even does two different voices for what he sees as comedic effect and what Karen sees as the decline of a man who had never really ascended to the tallest of his potential heights in the first place. After a couple baby tokes, Chuck proceeds to kill both joints in one shot, moving on to the biggest freaking blunt Karen has ever been afraid to hit. CrazyPsychoLocoMan takes more hits of the thing than Karen can even bother herself with counting, and by the time he passes it to her, the entire office is a hotbox, more densely packed with smoke than the bonzoblunt is packed with pre-smoke.
The fog is thick and the air is thin, just how Chuck likes it. While Karen is busy attempting to figure out how to hit the blunt without actually hitting it all the while making Chuck think that she hit it because she’ll be damned if her boss thinks less of her because of an aversion to inhaling combusted plant matter, a watch forms under Chuck’s sleeve on his right wrist. The watch then vibrates, alerting Chuck that the pods he’s been expecting have entered the NewMann airspace. With absolutely no warning, the hoverpads that are now embedded in the very fibres of Chuck’s business suit’s being lift our Cannabic chieftain off the ground and, with the endoskeleton inside his business suit that provides support for the power armor making Chuck’s legs move as if they’re sprinting, carries him towards the laundry chute that Karen insisted on having installed so she didn’t have to use the elevator to do her laundry.
Chuck uncomfortably and painfully contorts his body to fit into the basketball-sized hole in the wall and raccoons his way through the darkness, a similar darkness the young Jack and the elder Jackson are facing inside their pods whilst they await acceptance by the Cape Enterprises, Uncorporated facilities.
<They get there.>
They sure do, a big round of applause for the very detailed pre-script notes. The arrival of Jack and Jackwithasuffix is unbogged by the large number of vicious mercenaries, strung out anonymous narcotic-fueled road warriors, and pinstripe-suit-wearing gangsters that constantly roam around the city’s underground in search of their next big score. None of these players would even dream of attacking a Cape brand piece of technology though, mostly due to the fact that their lives have led them to find themselves on Chuck’s payroll in one manner or another. They’re also all huddled together on a low rooftop right now smoking up the field of Cannabis Chuck planted for them this morning, so, realistically, they’re not even thinking about dollars.
Even still, realistic isn’t often found in the lexicon of NewMenn, and the many crowds of murderous marauding moneymakers keep their eyes trained on the skies as the jet-powered capsules blast through the air inside the titanium walls, their brains cast a’spin with depraved, overtly sexual daydreams of blood-lusty power rushes themed around overtaking an empire more solid than Rome’s after it was built in a day.
A Great Novel
As the pods approach the twenty-second floor of the building, two escape-pod-sized holes open up in what appears to the naked eye to be the concrete outer wall of the Cape Enterprises skyscraper. To the properly clothed eye, however, it is pristinely clear that the structure is composed of hemi-atomic nanobots capable of shifting so smoothly that whatever structure they create looks liquid once it starts reshaping itself, all the while remaining perfectly solid the entire time. This is actually some of the most advanced technology ever developed in all of New Manhattan; it took Sigmund thirty years of his life to bring it to fruition. The majority of these years were spent on conceptualization because of his starting at the very capable young age of two, but that’s beside the point.
Once this miraculous technology, easily capable of trillions of unique, paradigm-shifting applications, was bestowed the gift of realization, what did Sigmund’s boss make him use it for? The construction of a building… a flipping single building. Not an entire city, but a single, not even the tallest, building. Sure, now, in the present day, Sigmund totally understands Chuck’s logic; however, at the time, the decision came off as so abominably asinine and unthoughtful that Sigmund nearly broke off their newly formed partnership and started his own company. Now that’s a universe that would make for a great novel… anyway, back to this bullshit.
From within the building’s twin orifices, a pair of very delicate projectile airspeed sensors notice the pods slowing and making their final approach. Two robotic arms reminiscent of the invention of the Marvelous Comics character Doctor Kraken extend from the depths and intercept the friendly bogeys, cushioning the impact by melding with the exterior of the pods, the arms swallowing the pill-shaped metal coffins like a wild python swallows a fawn in the Floridian Everglades, drawing them into the veritable belly of the beast.
Jack feels his bodily orientation shift from laying face-down to standing up and he winces as the sound of alloys being ripped apart encases him. It was dark inside the pod, and now that the pod’s been removed from the equation, it’s still dark. Until, that is, a series of spotlights shine up from the floor in a straight line ahead of Jack, leading our school skipping anti-socialite down a narrow corridor to a room where he meets up with Jackson Rainfort, who’d at some point exchanged his custodial onesie for a very gratuitous speedo.
Before Rainfort can explain that he was holding a plank for the entire duration of the flight and he is sweaty for that, and only that reason, seven scaled down versions of the interceptor arms grow from the floor, walls and ceiling around him, the three-fingered hands closing into spires and impaling Jackson seven ways from Sunday before retracting and repeating the process seven more times. And today’s only Tuesday, sheesh! With an accepting smile on his face, Rainfort falls to the ground, his body laced with more puncture wounds than Julius We’reAllFriendsHere,Right? Caesar. Jack screams until his throat is so raw the action causes him physical pain, and then he passes out. If he hadn’t, he would be aware of not only the floor opening up beneath him, but also the platform that lowers him thirty or so stories, setting him comfortably down on the very desk that he had fallen asleep watching the night before. Behind the desk, sitting in his chair with his hands patiently folded, is the one and only Terry Telascopesaplenny.
Eventually, Totally Terry grows tired of the tribulation of waiting for another human, and he shakes his guest out of unconsciousness, invoking the remainder of Jack’s ear-wrenching post-real-life-snuff-film-experience scream. The scream lulls itself into a dull, “Uhhhh,” when Jack realizes that he’s currently sitting at eye level with his hero, understatedly happy about finally meeting this marvelous man.
“Welcome, AlienFootPrint, to the TerryStudio,” Terry begins, decidedly not waiting for Jack to stop drooling over him. “It really is an honor to have you here, I did some research on your viewing statistics and I was quite humbled to learn that you’ve been watching since the beginning! I could think of nobody else who would be worthy to win this contest, young man, and I thank you for your participation in my work. Without creatures like you,” as he waves his hands around, showing off the walk-in-closet-sized studio, “none of this would be possible.”
Jack doesn’t even know what to say, so he says nothing, just keeps staring in awe at the Adonis of a critical thinker sitting in front of him. Then, the memory of the custodian getting penetrated in the absolute second or third worst of ways floods back into his brain in the place of the dopamine that, by all rights, should be flowing. Then, he starts screaming.
“AAAHHH!!!!!!” as Terry’s technically artificial blood curdles, “TERRY! W-WE AREN’T SAFE HERE! A JANITOR BROUGHT ME HERE AND HE JUST… I…” sob, sniffle “I JUST WATCHED HIM DIE, TERRY!” sob again “HE DIED OVER AND OVER AGAIN, I MEAN, HE… he was… he waS IMPALED! HE GOT KILLED TO DEATH TERRY WE GOTTA SAVE HIM!”
Jack is drowning himself in far too hysterical of an emotional state for Terry to even entertain the idea of entertaining him. He softly places a finger on Jack’s lips, shushing him like a mother does a child after he steps on his first toad.
“Come with me, my son; all will be revealed.”
Idiotically enough, this makes Jack stop crying.
Terry takes Jack’s hand and walks out of what would be the view of the camera if the studio was broadcasting and through the saloon-style doors that leads to the TerryChamber. Inside this chamber is a single blocky white chair with a whole inedible arrangement of wires, tubes and screens protruding out from and running through the room’s sole piece of husky furnishing. Terry takes a seat, smiling that same accepting smile that Jackson Rainfort contorted his face into a little while ago, and places his hands firmly on the arm rests before slumping over, giving Jack a certain look on his face that reflects his watching not just one, but two fully matured humans randomly die in front of him in the same day. And to think, just a couple chapters ago, he thought it could only go up.
When Jack passes out again and hits the floor, another platform materializes below him and raises our boy out of the TerryStudio. The lift ascends through the many layers of the shallower part of Cape Enterprises Uncorporated’s sub-plasti’spa’junk levels, landing him in a most extravagant, if not slightly smaller than your average American hotel elevator, elevator. Accompanying Jack in this tiny, unventilated room is a sweaty fortysomething wearing a transparent plastic lab coat over a pair of blue denim overalls, his armpits and bellybutton visually obscured by the body heat induced clouds of fog, similar to the ones Jack breathed onto the windows during his moody moment on the bus ride this morning.
Sigmund tries to say something but Jack doesn’t stir and, after a few light love taps to the rib cage, the world’s most brilliant and inventive scientist gives up, unable to wake a sleeping teenager. It’s a shame too, because on Sunday, after choosing the winner of the contest early, Sig went as far as reprogramming the elevator to play hardcore gangster rap music instead of the usual smooth, jazzy tunes that it normally melodicates for its passengers. As the elevator rises, the stupid fast flow of the number one independent rapper in the world T3ch Nin3 slices the air to pieces, leaving not a single molecule unvibrated. Now that he’s being forced to listen to this type of music, Sigmund begins to understand what rhythm is.
The elevator continues to rise through Cape Enterprises, Unc. Approximately nine floors before the elevator dings, Jack wakes up and is more than a little startled by his new elevator buddy.
The World’s Largest Raccoon
“Uh… wh-who are uh, who are you?” the boy mumbles after two floors of silence, trying to make himself disappear into the corner of the elevator nearest the door.
“I’m Sigmund, the head of Cape Enterprise’s science division. Also known as Jackson Rainfort, the greatest goddamned custodian this planet has ever known, and Terry Telascopesaplenny, the host of the hugely popular, extremely relevant, and totally ineclipsable VidTube channel TerryTeamTwenty, which I know you’re more than familiar with. Because you won the contest.”
“Ex… excuse me? That literally makes no um, no sense. Neither of those guys even liek, even look like you. They’re both… they’re both… they’re… I watched them die, Mister Sigmund, they’re dead. Un… unless… did you… kuh–…kuh–” Jack says with great trouble. Then, when his testicles drop from the safety of his body, “Did you kill them or something? Are you some kind of like, some kind of sick, twisted, sick serial killer guy that like, that dresses up in his victim’s clothing so he can like, feel like he’s in their shoes?”
Sigmund, without missing a beat, says, “Well, if that were true and I wanted to feel like I was in my so-called victims’ shoes, I would just put their shoes on. After I spilled their guts and gave the floor to my slaughterhouse a new paint job, that is. But no, those humans are not actually humans but rather an invention of mine called BioBots. I won’t get into specifics because your brain would have an aneurysm trying to understand what I would be saying to you, but they’re basically life-sized human dolls that I’m able to control remotely from the comfort of a chair that I would never keep in my living room.”
Sigmund, legs aching from having to stand and walk more in the past twenty-four hours than he did the entire week prior, waddles into the waiting room with Jack in an apprehensive tow. It’s a posh little room, purple carpet with a few pieces of eggshell furniture and a tremendous bong with a few hoses leading out of the orbicular base which is sat upon a glass top coffee table. Sigmund plops down onto a couch with a permanent dent in the cushions and takes his shoes off so he can start massaging his feet. The unmistakable smell of hard work having been done hits him directly in the olfactory bulb, but he pretends it smells great, never being one to boycott his own brand.
One step out of the elevator and frozen with fear at the sight of the bongibus Maximus, Jack takes a few seconds to be all neurotic and then snaps back to reality. He gravitates to a chair across the room from Sigmund and sits down, his ass bypassing the chair in favor of his entire lower back. They sit in silence for a moment, that almost uncomfortable and certainly awkward silence that arises between two humans who don’t know each other at all but are put together by fate, a higher power, or otherwise, to accomplish a task. Think a group project in high school with one of the students being student-aged and the other student being a middle-aged man with exceptionally odious feet. Scratch that – think a group project in college. The silence is popped by the crackling noises that erupt from Sigmund’s steppers as his hands work their magic, grinding, snapping, and soothing the tired muscles and bones bound together inside his baby-soft foot skin. He goes as far as letting out a moan before Jack whips out his magic chalk and draws a line.
“OH-kay, can you please, like, stop that?”
Sigmund looks up, his hands perched mid-rub. “Why, what’s wrong?”
“Mostly the uh, mostly the smell. I, um… do you… can we wait somewhere else? Or can I, at least? You’re doing your… thing over there, and this room is just kinda…blegh. I mean, I uh… no offense, you have a really nice building here and all, Mister… uh…”
Sigmund lowers his feet to the floor.
“Oh, you’re afraid of the bong. Why didn’t you just say so, I can put that away.”
He gets up and wrangles all of the bongibus’s hoses together, stowing it away in a secret closet inside the wall. The cavity closes as soon as Sigmund walks away.
“There, no more bong.”
“Uh, thanks, buh–”
“And it’s Durham, Mister Durham. But you’re welcome to call me Sigmund, names are just unnecessary labels. I’ll know when you’re talking to me.”
“Oh, okay. But I, uh, I wasn–”
“And when you’re talking about me. Remember that.”
Jack makes a mental note to never speak of this man outside of his presence, which, suddenly, is taking on a very Terry-esque aura. “Yes, sir. I wasn’t afraid of it or anything. The uh, the big… pipe, thingy, I mean.”
Sigmund looks up from his excruciatingly sensitive feet, again, and scoffs. “Were so. Don’t worry, I am too; it overshadows my masculinity and manhood in ways that no woman could ever dream of doing. I completely understand. And this building isn’t mine; I just work here, live here, operate, and create everything that roams inside of it. And that includes assembling and programming the robots who maintain it, too. The building itself belongs to the Cee-eEe-Oh, Chuck. He also works and lives here.”
“Wait a second… you guys, like, live here? You live at work ?”
A smile of sheer punishment stretches across Jack’s face, his brain channeling the spirit of Lonny Ghost AD. “I’ve heard of taking your work home with you, but this is ridiculous,” said as if he was a character in a shitty sitcom.
A pause accompanied with eye contact overflowing partially with disdain and partially with hatred.
“…Yes, we do, most of the companies in NewMann offer their employees some sort of living quarters arrangement, although usually it’s to shave a dollar or a thousand off the employee’s salary. Not me though.”
“No? You must do your day job pretty well, then.”
Sigmund’s eyes light up brighter than the exhaust flare of an old-timey space shuttle, the likes of which his third-grade crayon-scribed spacecraft designs had surpassed in terms of not only efficiency, but also practicality.
“Wow, well thanks there, Aye-eFf-Pee! I actually appreciate that a lot. Whenever Chuck compliments me – he’s my boss – it always feels entirely obligatory because, you know, he’s my boss and all, and there’s not really anyone else who’s aware of what I do. So, again, thank you!!1!”
“You’re… welcome?” Jack scratches the back of his head and slides down lower in his chair, wondering why Sigmund said the word one.
Suddenly, an orchestra of scratchy sounds erupts from within the walls. What sounds like the world’s largest raccoon seems to be squirming through a ventilation system that’s far too small for its girth, and Sigmund is very put off by this.
“Kid, stay in your seat. This could be one of two things, and I’m pretty sure I know which one it is…”
As he dramatically trails off, a gloved hand bursts through the sheetrock and disburses drywall crumbs all over the carpet that Sigmund’s cleaning robot just cleaned a couple days ago. Then, an adjacent gloved hand punches through and the hands clasp together, fingers interlocking. The owner of the hands then does two little practice pulls before attempting to pull his hands through the wall, as if he saw somebody do something similar and thought he could attempt the same feat. Thought being the operative term, of course, given the loud FUCK that escapes the holes when his hands don’t break through. The wall then melts away and a man wearing a torn and tattered business suit, fedora and all, cobwebs in his goatee and dust bunnies underneath his eyelids, falls from the wall and lands upside down on his neck. The Suited Man mulishly holds this incredibly comfortable position as the hole in the wall he hatched from melts back to solidity.
Before anyone has a chance to acknowledge whatever the hell that just was, the elevator dings and a respectfully dressed woman who radiates a plucky attitude steps out, taking in the scene of the waiting room with a look of perplexed apathy in her eyes. Without saying a word, she just walks out, everybody but the suited man’s eyes following her as she does.
Once the room belongs to him again and the armadillo that followed Karen out of the elevator walks through the wall opposite Sigmund’s couch, Chuck floats off the floor and lands standing upright, the hover pads in his suit melting into his shoes and turning the business clackers into uranium-powered vacuum cleaners that suck up every stray piece of wall debris that tangled its way into the violet carpet. These pieces are broken down to an atomic level and remade into business suit fibres that repair all the tears and other damages Chuck’s very defenseful suit suffered in the laundry chute. Then, he greets the familiar-looking pale child that Sigmund at one point had stashed in a dark closet.
“Sup kid, you must be the winner. Welcome to my city! If you touch anything, a laser pointer will shine down on your fingers. Except it’s not a laser pointer, per say, but an actual laser that will amputate the living fuck out of your piggly little digits,” Chuck says, demonstrating the consequences by pulling all the fingers off his right hand and holding them between the fingers of his left hand, as if they were stubby little claws. “Kind of like that, except you’ll bleed and die because you’re not as cool as me. We clear?”
Jack passes more silent but deadlies than he cares to admit. “Y-y-y-yeah I uh I–… I thh-think so, sss-sir…”
“Gravy. And you see this tie?” as he points to his purple tie, very contrasted against the white shirt underneath his black business suit. Sigmund rolls his eyes and continues to massage his feet, the scent suddenly taking a fecal turn that’s only sort of unpleasant.
Wait, what? Fuckin’ ew.
“Yeh-yeh-yeh–… I think so.”
Chuck peels the top layer off the tie to reveal a zipper. He unzips the zipper and opens the tie similarly to how the BS comics character Uber Man opens his shirt to reveal the big U logo, revealing to the waiting room a single red button. Underneath this button reads two words: HOLOCAUST and NUCLEAR, not in that order.
“I used to have more buttons on here, but I control the majority of my suit’s functions with my mind now. Not this one though; it’s too dangerous and I am far too tempted to use it. At all times. Don’t make me press this button,” his voice taking on a cold graveness, the likes of his father’s. Then, in the normal Chuck voice, “Cool?”
Jack faints in his seat, wakes up, and faints again. Then, and only then, does Chuck close his tie and go over to the hidden closet, taking the bongibus Maximus out from the solitary confinement that it would never deserve in a million years. He holds his palm above the bowl and out pours a ridiculous spout of Cannabis flakes – some scorched, some covered in partially activated THC, some fresh as the day is middle-aged – and packs them down until the bowl is full. He then hands a hose to Sigmund, who accepts it with a welcoming smile, before taking a hose for himself, lighting the bowl with a blowtorch-sized flame that shoots out of his weenus, of all places.
Inside Chuck’s head, a voice says, ‘Okay, they’re hitting the big bong. Well, the bong they think is big, anyway. That’s our cue; you two go see your man, we’ll see ours. Meet back here by tomorrow,’ followed by the sound of a four-way high five.
Chuck, happy his power armor’s computer made some friends, is completely undisturbed by this and sees no reason to mention the fact that foreign voices have been speaking in his head for a couple days now.
Jack doesn’t wake up to the sound of coughing, because nobody in the room is coughing. It’s not really the smell either, because his nose is stopped up from all the crying he was doing in his passed out dream. No, it’s the strange, light, euphoric buzzing that he suddenly feels. It’s very subtle and even more unfamiliar, but it kind of feels… good. It’s almost pleasant… actually, it’s exactly like a runner’s high, that magic rush of endorphins that Jack bathes in after crushing an opponent on the racecourse. Everything just feels so happy right now… that is, until Jack realizes that he’s caught a contact high from the secondhand smoke of the grown fucking men sharing the room with his underaged self.
Not that there’s a legal age for the consumption of substances in this city, but some traditions are just worth upholding as far as Jack Monta is concerned.
As he opens his eyes, Jack notices the walls are moving just a little bit. It’s nothing crazy, they don’t look like they’re dancing, necessarily, but they’re just kind of… breathing. Everything is, as a matter of fact; every inanimate object in the room, from the sofas to the paintings to the fedora on the scary man’s head is breathing, respiring, growing and shrinking in perfect time with the cyclical filling and emptying of Jack’s lungs. The bongibus Maximus has taken on an entirely new look as well – the hoses resemble tentacles, writhing and squirming and puffing out small streams of smoke; scratch the tentacles, they look like caterpillars, long, silver, lanky caterpillars, the same kind that are depicted in that weird old movie Allison Wunderland.
Up until this point, Jack has never really understood that movie; talking animals, a main character that eats and drinks whatever she possibly can just to see what happens next, a teleporting cat with hypnotic eyes, the smoking caterpillar that he sees several of right now, locking lips and exchanging lung-filler with the strange fat man wearing a transparent lab coat so he can show off his grotesque body and… the wombat with the cap of mush… oh my god, he’s been talking to me this entire time!’
It’s safe to say that Jack still doesn’t understand that old movie, nor what’s going on right now, but he’s getting a glimpse into it, a peek through the keyhole with his very own eyes that are plugged into his wonky brain, the very brain that’s having a very difficult time not enjoying itself right now.
“Woaahhh… uhhhh… guuuyyysss, what’s like… happening?” he says in the fastest pace he can possibly manage.
Sigmund and Chuck look at the random American teenager they both met today, then at each other to share a grin. Then, Sigmund offers his best attempt at a simple explanation.
“AlienFootPrint, what’s happening to you is an entirely natural process. The human body, which you are in possession of currently, is full of many systems. The skeletal system, which is the physical framework of your body; the nervous system, which allows your body to talk to itself without anyone else hearing; the immune system, the greatest healing mechanism known to man because, realistically, it’s the only one we know; the gastrointestinal system, which transmutes solid food into bioenergy; the respiratory system, which has allowed you to breathe in our less-potent-than-firsthand secondhand Cannabis smoke, and; the endocannabinoid system, which allows the body to use the TetraHydroCannabinol, as well as all of the many other cannabinoids present in the combusted gaseous form of the Cannabis you just inhaled into your body, to name a few. What’s literally happening is an alteration of the normal way you perceive consciousness, but there are lots of different viewpoints to what’s happening inside; as far as I am aware, you are experiencing a neurochemical reaction that alters the normal way you perceive consciousness. You see, when the innumerable number of receptors in your endocannabinoid system, one of the many systems in your body, some other examples including the skeletal system, which is more or less the framework of your physical being; the nervous system, whi–”
“Yo, winner, listen to me,” Chuck cuts in, noticing Sigmund had closed his eyes and wandered ass backwards into a thought loop. “You’re cruisin’ right now, your spirit’s getting a small glimpse into a different way of experiencing life. This may not be your first life, and it’s definitely not your last, but this is the first time you’re living. And you were petrified of this very moment happening, have been for years, so you’ve treaded very carefully over the frozen lake of constantly sober consciousness up to this point. But here’s some things: winter don’t last forever, and a state of consciousness doesn’t define who you are. Wherever I go, here I am, and that’s all you need to know. Wait, where are you going?”
Jack is panic-stricken, his heart is beating out of his chest as his finger smashes repeatedly into the elevator button. The insects that aren’t in the room are acting like Jack, and Jack is buggin’ right now. Or at least he thinks he’s bugging out; in reality, the Universe has possessed him in an attempt to move the plot forward. Get it, Chuck?
Chuck, staring at the boy, suddenly has an epiphany. He takes off his left shoe and pulls out a needle so miniscule that it doesn’t look like it has a point. Calmly he approaches the sweating boy and, after checking to make sure there are no open windows here on the ground floor of his building, he takes a deep breath. Chuck then jabs Jack in the back, injecting him with the sobriety fluid that he shared with his Stepmom all those years ago and hasn’t touched since.
Jack doesn’t even feel a pinch, everything just winds down; the walls stop breathing, the bong stops offering him a pipe, and his Mother’s voice in the back of his head stops screaming at him at the top of his neurological lungs. He turns around and looks up to a grinning Chuck, his savior, the only thing that ripped him from an ensuing life of drug addiction like that of his poor, doomed brother.
“Feel a little better?”
Jack nods, wanting to say something but finding that hypnotic-eyed cat from before wrapped around his tongue. Sigmund, who has since retired to the couch, is eating barrel after barrel of cheese balls, watching with a smug little grin as these two bipedal hairless apes share a moment.
“Good. So, I take it that was your first time smoking Cannabis? How was it?” Chuck asks, this being the first time in a long time he’s popped somebody’s Cannabic cherry.
Jack is about to unleash a torrent of reasons why it was the worst experience of his life, but then the elevator behind him dings and opens to reveal a cloud of smoke, out from which steps his brother, apparently, still wearing those ridiculous purple contact lenses.
“Are you freaking kidding me Jack, I missed your first time?!”
Sam shouts like he owns the place. “I suppose I saw this coming.” Sam looks around, taking in the soft, closed-in environment the Universe chose to host Jack in as he dove into his first episode of reefer madness. “Waiting room, huh? Yeah, I could see it.”
“What are you doing here, Sam? And why do I keep having to ask you that question?!” Jack shouts, ushering Chuck and Sigmund into an uncomfortable silence.
“Well first, like I indirectly told you in Sigmund’s closet, it’s
Sam now. Sam. I don’t go by Sam anymore. Secondly, I wanted to be here, so, naturally, here I am.” Sam pats his brother on the head like he was comforting a scared puppy, and then turns his attention to Chuck and Sigmund, and then to the bongibus Maximus. He holds his stare on the bongibus for quite some time, then, without breaking eye contact with one of the hoses, “So uh. We gonna hit that thing or not?”
Chuck shoots upwards through the many floors of his building and explodes with the fiery flamboyance of a firework, leaving a Cannabis leaf of green fireballs to dissipate among the artificial clouds spawning out of one of Chuck’s child companies CloudCo, a child company of the lighting industry’s monopolizer The Illuminati Company, which Chuck also owns. Then, resuming his suited form, he says, “I thought you’d never ask, Hippieman. How do you make that sound though, that like… zuh noise.”
Sam takes a hose and points his finger at the bowl, a small flame emerging from his fingernail and lighting the plant. Chuck walks up and opens the hole in his palm again, continuously filling the bowl as Sam empties it. They lock eyes and the gauntlet is thrown down – Chuck keeps filling and Sam keeps burning, neither stopping until the innards and outtards of the bonzoblunt are firmly packed inside Sam’s lungs. He doesn’t exhale.
“You just kind of curve your tongue, it doesn’t matter. Look, y’all are great and I wish we could stay here and smoke forever with my little brother, but this thing is dragging on. You’re keeping them waiting.”
Chuck is confused, more so over the fact that Zham is still holding in that monster rip than he is regarding who they’re keeping waiting, but confused nonetheless. Jack’s returned to his seat on the chair furthest from all these psychotic drug addicts, and Sigmund, in the background, pipes in, hoping to fill the silence.
“Who are we keeping waiting, lackey?”
“Not your lackey. And the aliens, of course.”
All three of them ask, “Aliens?” in unison, giving
Sam a reason to make the pfft noise.
“Yeah, the aliens that do Psychedelic drugs. They’re up in your office waiting for you with some space drugs right now, actually. Get a move on!”
Chuck is already in the elevator as Sigmund labors to get up out of his chair. He does a combination of sprinting and waddling to close the gap between himself and the box and, as soon as his bare and sweaty feet hit the velvet floor of the elevator, he wipes out, smacking his face against the back wall.
Sam joins them, eager to see his friends again, and all three of the soon to be passengers look back at Jack, who hasn’t budged from his chair.
“You comin’ kid? You won the contest, let’s go get your prize,” Chuck offers as he holds a hand out like he was in a movie trying to save the last passenger on a sinking yacht before it’s consumed by the lake of lava.
“No, no that’s okay. I’ll just wait here guys, I don’t mind.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” all three of the elevator buddies say simultaneously, Chuck adding, “If that happens again, we’re chewing Mushrooms.”
“No, I’m not fucking kidding you. Sure, I wanted to meet the extraterrestrials, but like… I didn’t know they did drugs, I uh… I think I’ll pass, honestly. They don’t seem like very good, uh… very good creatures, I guess.”
Inside of his head, Jack hears the noise of a radio tuning. First there’s mostly static, but when the source finds the right channel, a voice comes through.
‘Get in the elevator Jack, or else you’ll hear voices for the rest of your life. We ain’t playing hombre, we’re the best of the best. You know what that means?’
Jack says, “What?” out loud, garnering strange contortions of facial muscles from the humans in the elevator.
“Who are you talking to, Jack?”
Sam asks earnestly, although he’s pretty sure he already knows the answer.
‘That means,’ the voice in Jack’s head continues, ‘that we’re capable of the worst. Your mother’s voice in your head, the one that keeps you up at night? Maybe that’s us. Maybe we’re the voice in her head that makes her drink. Maybe we were the voice in your father’s head that told him to leave your mother… no, wait, that voice wasn’t in his head. Anyway, maybe we’re the voice that’s been talking to Chuck this whole time.’
“Wait, what?” Chuck chimes in, having heard that last bit. “I thought that was the voice of my power armor’s computer?”
“Your power armor doesn’t have a computer with a voice, boss,” Sigmund says, slapping his belly in a show of pride. “I designed it to interface directly with your mind, I thought you knew that.”
“I… I did, but… what the fuck?” Chuck takes off his hat and rubs his head, suddenly more mentally exhausted than he’s ever been in his demented kaleidoscope of a life.
Sam holds out his hand and a perfectly rolled Cannabis cigarette materializes in his palm, the end already lit. He hands it to Chuck, adding, “Here man, it’s all very confusing at first. You’ll get there.”
Chuck takes the lefty and tries to burn it down in one shot, but the ember does not grow. The tip barely even glows; even though his body is filled from his toes to his fingertips with smoke, the joint hasn’t shrunk. Chuck never believed in beings that are higher than himself on the consciousness spectrum, but at this point, he’s one regenerating Magic Mushroom away from getting down on the floor and kissing this beautiful hippie’s feet.
Jack, meanwhile, is at war with the voice in his head, and he’s losing. In a last-ditch attempt at securing the dub, he says, out loud, “Fine, do it. It’s not like my life can be any worse. Grow the brain tumor, I don’t even care anymore. My idol is a fat man who does drugs and works for a bigger psychopath than my brother, who also does drugs. And, toppin’ it all off now, my brother bought himself a pair of gay contacts and now he thinks he’s friends with aliens. Who also do drugs. I should’ve, just, fuckin’, I should’ve stayed in school.”
The voice pauses and contemplates the situation while everyone else in the room averts their eyes. ‘Okay Jack, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be threatening you. How about this: I won’t tell anybody else in the room with you right now that your full name is Jackson, just like that janitor, if you go along with the group. Also, more pertinently, you won’t be accidentally subjected to any drugs that you don’t want to do. Deal?’
Jack contemplates this for a moment, everyone else in the room watching him from the elevator. Chuck is growing tired of pressing the OPEN DOOR button every twenty seconds that Jack stalls them. Quite honestly, the narrator is getting tired of this too, and so was the original author, I have to imagine. This chapter’s easily about two thousand words too long at this point, the kid needs to get a move on.
Realizing only one of these three factors, Jack finally submits and joins the other three-quarters of the population of the room.
Sam exhales his hit into the waiting room through the closing elevator doors and his body flows out with the smoke, demoting the squad to a trio. As two of the Universe’s current main perspectives and one side perspective begin to ascend, Jack hears the changing of radio frequency in his head again, the tuner landing on his Mom’s favorite classic rock station, the one it was originally set to.