Universe W-2020: Mikey’s Tails 3
April 21st, 2020
“So… what’s your plan for the future, Harley?” The Mongrel hears the older human say to the younger. He’s sat up straight on the edge of the Quarryville boat launch like a king, the waves of the mighty Skunksville splishing against his feet as chilled evening crosswinds so elegantly blow back the whiskers sprouting from his pink nose.
“Well, first I’m gonna figure how to subtly start a conversation. I can already tell you’re probing, dad,” says the other, a melody of defiance woven into her tone. The Mongrel shakes his head – why must the humoys be so petty?
“I’m not probing, Har’, I just… you spend so much time alone in your room, and alone hiking, and alone doing things away from the rest of the family… we worry about you.”
“We?” the other one says, and he’s sure she’ll say more too, but before she can, The Mongrel chances a glance skyward. With his supremely powerful night vision feline eyeballs, he sees something approaching from outer space that doesn’t look quite natural, but as if it was designed to appear natural. The Mongrel dashes, his pads repelling the pavement like magnets of different polarities.
After making a show of looking around the boat, “I don’t see anyone out here but you and me, dad. You should get a mink on here to eat up all the mice, because all I’m hearin’ is we’s!”
Mikey nods his head, fans his hands like he’s trying to show how long his last walleye was, “Weeellll, your mother’s busy with her chocolate business. There’s a reason I get to go fishing all the time, you know. I build my furniture and cabinets just fine, but she’s the one who brings home the bread.”
“Yeah, the sweetbread too,” Harley adds. “Dipped in chocolate.”
“You’re darn-tootin’,” Mikey bellows, realizing in his head he’s never before made that wonderful sound and relishing over the fact that the opportunity has come, but now that it’s come to pass, it will stay passed forever. “And uh, and Jarome’s busy with schoolwork and basketball. Honestly, that’s why I’m worried Harley, you’re out here with me right now. You always seem to have free time.”
Harley, getting on defense, a three-and-two zone, “Dad, you’re probing. And you’re probing into mom and Jarome’s lives too. Why are you probing?”
That’s just the problem with zone defense; it’s breakable. “Why are you morally okay with waking up past ten aye-em?”
Harley says nothing, crossing her arms. She left her cell phone at home, but she wouldn’t be using it anyway, she doesn’t text. She doesn’t do a whole lot, to be honest; sleep, eat, smoke, school, paint, hike, foster kittens, occasionally writes what would be known as the world’s greatest haikous if they weren’t written in THC oil on extra-bubba-dubba-jumba rolling papers to be made into phat joints, yo. But they are, you see, for Harley may midnight as Mikey’s shut-in stay at home daughter, but when the sun comes a’risin’, she morphs into Treering’s native crazy Cannabis lady – and she’s damn proud of it, too. Otherwise, how would kindhearted beings like that young dude who lives across the street from her and that old dude who lives in the woods behind the young dude’s house stock up on their holy herbs?
“Fine, don’t answer,” Mikey says, opening up one of the myriad of compartments that line the interior of his boat.
The Monark, Mikey’s mighty fishing boat and neveraging baby, has compartments for fishing poles, fishing tackle boxes, fishing nets, fishing equipment, supplies and amenities, accessories for the fish themselves; hell he’s even got a tank for a live fish, all built into the boat. It fills with lake water and drains automatically too, such a dream!
Our primed fisherman takes an extendable rod from one of the equipment compartments and removes the plastic cap. He feeds the fishing line through all the eyelets of the rod and wraps it around the top one twice before extending the pole, the reel a’spin all the way. He attaches a lead sinker and then a gargantuan spoon plug to the end of the line and lets it fly – if any muskies are swimming tonight, any at all, they’ll be caught by the hook a’dangle off Mikey’s spoon.
Mikey rips the motor and leaves a massive wake in the waters of the unnamed cove where he finds all the old lures washed up on the rocky shore. Seen from above, he leaves an arc through Skunksville the likes of which no native fish has ever seen because they’ve all been dead for years on account of the death toll from the terrible Greater Valley War putrifying the waters to the point where no living thing could thrive, even if it wanted to. They make a couple passes across the expansive southern end of the lake before slowing down under the power lines that stretch across Quarryville Cove. The not really a boat launch is in sight, Harley can see it through her glasses that she only wears at night and through the night blindness that the glasses make all the much worse, but this is a red flag. Her dad, like most Treering natives, is a creature of habit; when he feels he’s gotta do something that he doesn’t often do, he often goes about it in a similar way and, even if the specific variables of the situation differ, there’s always a pattern.
Usually they hike. Tonight they went fishing.
Usually he stops at the beginning. Tonight he stops at the end.
Usually he goes right into it, tonight he’s gonna stall.’
“So, speaking of minks, do you wanna see a picture of one that I caught on my trail camera?”
Harley rolls her eyes. “Meh, not really. I see them when I hike… oh wait, never mind, I don’t leave my bedroom,” with more sass than necessary towards this man who’s given her everything, but still as much sass as she intended because the aforementioned everything came with a probing clause hidden in the fine print that she didn’t bother reading because she was blaaaaaasteeeeed when she decided to incarnate on this stupid mediocre planet.
“Fine, I’ll just show Caine then,” said after almost sticking his tongue out. Almost, for Mikey caught himself before acting all silly. Where’d he even get the idea in the first place? “But, since you went and mentioned your bedroom… why does it always smell like a fried skunk up there, Harley?”
‘Called it.’ “Because I started my own business dad! See, I take roadkilled skunks, not fresh ones but really grisly, real nice and tarred up carcasses, the ones that the vultures look at with fear in their eyes, I take ‘em and I fry ‘em in the full kitchen that I installed in my closet next winter. I fry ‘em up, dry ‘em, rehydrate ‘em, and fry ‘em again, then I sell them online posing as a nonagenarian with an interior lumbar wart that doesn’t let him bend over right and they sell like hotcakes dad, steamy skunky hotcakes, and that’s actually where all mom’s money comes from; sure, she sells the chocolates locally and whatnot, to her friends like I do with… my fried skunk, but the difference is that I’m also multinational. Are you following me here, Mikey?”
Oh he’s a’follow, but to where? “So… so why does it smell like a fried skunk in the hallway near your everclosed bedroom door, Harley?” Right back to the beginning, it seems.
Harley ugggggghhhhs, then, “I told you! The fried roadskunk! I make pancakes and donate them to the needy! Or… well… maybe I’m just studying to be an ethnobotanist with the online courses I’ve been taking an–”
A monumental splash explodes in the distance; the heads of both Wolffes swivel like a lazy Susan and peer into the darkness towards the blinking streetlights of the dam. They see flecks of water splash up and darken the concrete, and not much else.
“What the fuck was that?” Harley asks, hoping her dad won’t go back to the matter at hand.
“I think it was God, he shat himself laughing at your sad excuse for an answer to my question.” Mikey puts an arm on his daughter’s shoulder to show that he’s trying, oh you better believe he’s trying to bear the oppressively dense burden that comes with feeling the human emotional spectrum, but it’s no simple feat. It takes effort, like doing the tango with one pair of legs after you’ve been smitten with two left feet. It’s an unavoidable fact of life, you see; it does indeed take two to tango, and whilst Mikey dances on water like a more cultured Jesus, Harley’s butt remains firmly stuck to the wall by the sap of a pine tree, much stickier than any glue could ever strive to be. “C’mon, tell me what’s up Harles. We used to talk so much when you were younger, remember? When we’d go hunting and fishing?”
“When I would go with you hunting and fishing,” she corrects. “Oh, don’t you frown at me, I didn’t mean anything by it. You know I loved our daytrips, especially those wild and crazy stories you’d tell me about what the animals got up to before we snagged ‘em; those trips and your stories were always my favorite thing about growing up in the forests of Treering. It just wasn’t about the fishing or the hunting for me.”
“Then what was it about?” Mikey asks, storing away the fishing rod. It’s dangerous to cast under power lines, anybody with sense could figure that out.
Harley sighs, her eyes venture elsewhere. “Just forget about it, please. Can we go over and see what fell into the lake? It could have been a car.”
“Hun,” Mikey chuckles, “if it was a car then we would have seen the sparks when it bashed out the handrail up on the dam, and that’s if it made it past the concrete divider.”
Evidently so; it’s all well and good, Mikey wanted to take a few more casts before the end of the night anyway. The Monark putt-putts backwards and then stalls for a bit, or rather Mikey stalls her, waiting until the drift takes her just right, points her in just the right direction, aaaand… now.’ He cranks the stick and recoils slightly when all two and a half horses under the plastic shellmet burst from their gates, their aquatic gallop so loud that neither of the Wolffes hear the far-off splash of the second craft hitting the waters of the Wanaque Reservoir.
The Mongrel, however, does notice, as he watched it all happen from perch on the metal handrail. He was watching the humans at first, but the curious activities of the tall and purples quickly became more interesting, until they were no longer. He looks back and the boat marked Monark’s set a’rocking – the larger human is excited, seems to be reeling something in.
“Harley!” Mikey yells, drowning out the chirp of the crickets for a blissful few seconds. “I think I got one on the line, it’s a big one!”
“SO REEL IT IN DADDY!!” Harley shouts, pounding the seat with both hands, feeling joyously eight again.
“The net!” as he pulls the pole into a mean bend.
Harley stands and squabbles for the net but trips over her right slipper, catching herself on the QWD pipe that her dad installed to hold up the big net. As she gains her bearings on this boat set a’rock, whose only wish is to jack said bearings and make her splash, Harley makes an executive decision and unpipes the big net from its sheath. Solid aluminum body with a chipping brass paint job, black plastic netting with holes big enough for squirrels to slip through, and an extendable handle to top it all off; the perfect weapon.
“THE NET!” Harley shouts, silencing the splash of the waters.
Mikey, the bend in his fishing rod resembling sacred geometry, continues to reel with all his might, pulling and letting off, pulling and letting off, fighting with the beast of a muskie he’s about to land, the first fish in years, no, in more than a decade! A lot of fishermen around the Skunks’ claim to land fish every time Mikey putt-putts up to them to engage in a pleasant howsitgoin’, but he knows they’re always full of it; there used to be birds everywhere around this lake, mergansers, cormorants, even a pair of bald eagles with a nest, but nowadays they either stick to the swamp on the north end with the healthy rodent population and all the dead trees – the rank, down and dirty part that puts the skunk in Skunksville – or they’ve moved on entirely. No fish-eaters means no surfacefish, and Mikey trolls with deep-water spoonplugs, real nasty jobbies made from bent steel with hooks that double as embalming tools, the perfect muskie lure according to fishing professor and certifiable self-appointed fishing god Puck Berry, and Mikey’s been brawling with this reservoir for years – he hasn’t even had a nibble, not in at least a decade. Tonight, though? Tonight’s more than a nibble, tonight is a chomp. Tonight, Mikey’s going to land the biggest musk–
“What the fuck is that?” as that thuds against the interior hull, the piece of lakeweed that came with it flopping over Mikey’s boot.
Harley drops the net and picks that up, astonished at how dense it feels, and looks it over. It’s got a rounded head with four rods coming off the back end that attach to a propeller with a square shielding around it. The thing looks like a miniature torpedo more than anything.
“I… don’t know, I think it’s a bom–”
A blinding flash of light. Harley drops the catch. She holds her legs steady but sways, violently reaching her arms every which way in an attempt to grab hold of the miserable balance that flits in the air around her refusing to let her grasp it, the boat still rocking. She feels something squishy, like the belly of a father human, and then she steps backwards to try to avoid the timbering Mikey, but her calf hits the side of the rod storage compartment and she falls backwards into the drink. Harley isn’t sure if she hits the water before or after her dad does, but she’s totally certain of one thing: when the boat flips and the solid, fiberglass lip of it kisses her forehead, it does not fucking feel good.
And neither does Skunksville’s icelavawater that fills her lungs when she gasps in pain.
And neither does Mikey’s knee in her stomach.
And it’s beginning to get dar…
The Asphalt Beach
The time is now – The Mongrel dashes once more, en route to the asphalt beach.
The Mongrel Knows
One thousand machine guns, all lined in a row, simultaneously open fire on Harley’s lungs, esophagus, and greater torso area. The clean lake water that flies from her mouth and splats upon the weathered old road feels like it should be thick and rich with the taste of copper and iron, but it isn’t. It’s just some lake water, from the surface, too, perfectly clean of the undead detritus that clouds up the sick murky comforter blanketing a valley-wide permanent fish deathbed. After succeeding in slapping away the unshaven face of her father and pulling herself up on her hands and knees, Harley continues to feel her throat get shredded up and coughed out for at least another seven seconds.
Then she sees Him.
The Mongrel tries to dash, but the human girl proves wily; she snatches him right off the ground, doesn’t even give the little bastard a chance. His being captured has nothing to do with the fact that he was probing into this woman’s life for an indiscriminate amount of time prior to this night and that he had been planning on following the humoys home after their fishing trip anyway, no, definitely not; the one called Harley is just that good.
When he eventually catches up, Mikey, with outside voice, says “HARLEY! Are you okay?! Why did you just sprint up here, how is that even possible, you almost just drowned! I can hardly breathe right now, but you just went an–”
Then he sees Him.
“Is that MooMoo? What the heck is goin’ on here??”
“Dad!” Harley shouts, or perhaps The Mongrel wills it so, “this is not MowMow. I just found him, look how adorable he is!”
The Mongrel allows four belly rubs before the fur flies, and fly indeed it does.
Then, “I think I’m going to name him Milkshake, what do you think?”
Mikey walks up and pets the little guy’s head, his fur is very soft. It feels nice on the ragged calluses that line his hands from a life of woodworking and cabinetry. He would make the perfect companion, a manifestation of love to balance out the goddess of fear incarnated into a black and white furball stacked with more fat than fur, forget about whiskers, but still… achieving such balance would involve taking in another cat, feeding another bottomless pit of individuality.
“There’s no chance you’re gonna leave him out here, is there?”
Even The Mongrel knows the answer to that, and it has nothing to do with his gift of existential omniscience.
“I think you should go with Earthquake, he’s huge.” A moment of silence, a scratch of his stubble. “Or maybe just keep it classy, go with Mongrel.”
The Mongrel knows he made the right choice.
As if allured by the honeysuckle perfume of an interdimensional flying rod, all three of the heads positioned to perceive the strange events surrounding the Quarryville not really a boat launch on this most arbitrary of April nights turn towards Skunksville, but not to her waters. Not to the power lines, nor the buoys that float beyond them, nor the mountain on the other side of the reservoir, its canopy lit up by the lunar twilight in just the right way that make it glow haunted. No, they look to The Monark, the mighty seafaring vessel of the Wolffe clan, the loyal aquatic craft that’s performed dutifully and well over the last decade and a half, the boat upon which countless summer cruises, nightfishing jaunts, and father-daughter-mother-son fishing trips were had and enjoyed, the green hull which swamped countless unsuspecting kayakers who were uppity enough to paddle out to the open waters. Oh Monark, the upsidedown oyster shell with a motor, the glorious green gutcheck that scraped the bottom of Skunksville’s shallow waters more times than Skunksville herself had stolen the lures Mikey cast from his Monark.
Now it floats dead in the water, belly up like a bloated corpse just raring to pop.
Mikey Wolffe, Skunksville’s true king, the only one who still drowns bait in Treering’s very own dead sea, raises his hand to his forehead in salute to Monark, as does Harley. The Mongrel simply twitches his tail and begins to get rambunctious, squirming his way free of Harley’s grasp. He does not dash though; he merely sits on Harley’s feet and licks the soak from his fur because goddamn are these humans dripping with Skunksville’s nasty water. Don’t they know that lake is a crypt?
The walk home is a short one. The Wolffes live right next to the Quarryville boat launch and the outside lights were left on, the front door left open. Mikey attempts a stealthy entrance and goes thwarted when Harley tromps in pissed and slings the soggy shoes from her disgustingly moist socks. The Mongrel follows closely behind and sniffs the air madly, trying to latch on to the general wavelength of this wooden cavern. It doesn’t take long, for he is the one above the one above the few above all, and he senses many presences amongst him. One of a mother skilled in the ways of chocolate, one of another human, a baller, younger than Harley but not by much, and then… a terrified, monstrous presence, one that likes to hiss from the dark corners of an empty room when nobody’s home to hear her because she’s not sure if the humans will like the song she has to sing.
The Mongrel follows The Harley up The Stairs. She closes the door at the top of the stairs behind her, lest Mikey follow and probe further into her Harley life. She loves her dad dearly, but she knows him well. Knocking on a door past midnight is not the Mikey move, whether he’s probing or not.
Mikey takes to the guest bedroom; Glauria has to wake up very early to get down to the shop and get the chocolate ready for dipping, it wouldn’t be very nice to wake her up so late.
With his Skunksville night fishing garb in the hamper and the mold already growing, Mikey throws on some plaid pajamas and a white tee and slaps the sheets like he slapped Skunksville not twenty minutes ago. Crazy how you can be thrashing in the water trying to pull your unconscious daughter to shore before she drowns and then boom, suddenly you’re in bed. Alone… with my thoughts.’
Mikey shudders. He checks the alarm clock – 1:23. Great; well, as good a time as any to hit the hay, he supposes. Mikey Wolffe’s taken many a’fishing trip, many a’hunting trip, and many an’ice fishing trip, and he’s got the mounted deer heads and plaqued fish to prove it, too. He’s a man of many tales and a tail to go with each one, and tonight’s might be the greatest one of all.
The night he caught something in Skunksville.
“I can snatch a cat Dad, let ‘em fuckin’ try!”
After a limited series of footstomps with highlights of tailflicks from the sassy new member of the Wolffe household, the door at the top of the stairs slams with the force of a daughter who’s lucky to still be alive. Mikey tries to chase after her, but he feels a light hand on his shoulder pulling him away.
“Let her be, dear, she can handle herself,” says Glauria, her voice impatient and strained under the weight that sweeps through every Quarryville househouse this morning, besides the Monta one.
“Shake and bake, Mikey!” Jarome shouts through cupped hands. He double-hand throws the basketball he was carrying under his arm and the old codger-dodger catches it. He’s still got it. “Think fast, big guy, the car’s not packed yet!”
A minute later it is, and three-quarters Wolffe are on the road.
Shortly after bangin’ a right off Skunksville dam and merging into a trickle of traffic that’s bound to burst into a torrent, Mikey’s hotline goes off. It’s Caine, Caine Bucknick, the mayor of Treering!
“Caine!” Mikey shouts, never one to talk quietly into a phone. “What’s goin’ on, did you see th–”
“Oh you better believe I saw it! Zane told m– hey, you know my son Zane, right?”
The gravity of the situation hisses out the driver’s side window. Meanwhile, in the passenger seat and the sad excuse for a back seat that’s about to catch an avalanche of inefficiently packed luggage, armageddon takes hold.
“Well sure, I know good ol’ Zane Bucknick! I’ll tell ya, Caine.”
“Oh no you won’t,” says Caine, loud enough for Jarome to hear. “He’s my son, I’ll tell you! But lis’en, you need to head to those new affordable housing projects in Jaskell, and you need to head here quick! That alien ship is spookin’ the kook out of everybody, you’ll be hard pressed to get a room by the time Hoffman’s first bell tolls.”
“The affordable housing projects in Jaskell??” Mikey repeats, panicked. “But Treering Ave isn’t built for all of Treering to drive down it at once, this is going to be a disaster! The traffic is going to be backed up for days, and Caine, the potho–”
“You’re probing, Mikey. Get over here, we’ll talk soon.”
Mikey cracks a smile. “Allllllll righty. Hey, by the way, I have a picture of a mink to show you.”
Caine hangs up, but Mikey knows he’s smiling.
“You know, guys? I think it’s a good thing that this is happening now. Imagine if it happened last weekend? And we still had to hole up in Jaskell? There’d be nowhere to hide the Easter eggs!”