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Mundementia One Interludes: Black Friday
There is a sign, and seemingly in spite of the fact that I am in the Restaurant Where No God May Hear You Scream, it seems that my prayers have been answered. The restroom that I find myself in is large and cavernous, as might be expected, but is otherwise devoid of disturbing Pandaemonial imagery. An atypically large mop-drain set flush into the rough stone tiles of the floor gives a sort of indefinably sinister air to the room, but such thoughts are reasonably far from my mind as I wander casually over to one of the urinals, lower my signature blue jeans, and begin to euphemize.
At least this place isn't crowded, I muse, as I stand, occupied. Hell is nothing if not efficient, and it seems that the same applies to fast-food chain restaurants built in its vestibule.
I suppose that's the trick in life. Learn to be picky, learn how to comparison-shop. This restaurant is really rather quick on the service but is built at the mouth of Hell. This one has a nice menu, but it's relatively expensive and is, additionally, run by the Mob. This one has good food at reasonable prices but it frequently attracts various revolutions, coup-de-tetes, and whatnot, and you're never sure what faction your current hostess belongs to. It's a question of balance. Walking lines. Knowing what you will and will not put up with out of life. Yes. That must be the key to it all.
There are a few subtle clanks from behind me, but I dismiss them as residual noise from the restaurant. Yes. The strategy of going along with the flow of things seems to have steaded me well so far, but perhaps as I come more and more into my own in this new world of mine, I will learn to be an active participant in my own destiny. I can envision it being so, even now. Perhaps today will be a starting point, even! Perhaps today, Black Friday, Nineteen Ninety-Seven, will mark a turning point in the life of Charles Madison Glass. How fitting, in a weird sort of way. How... right-sounding.
Yes. That shall be my new resolve. That shall be my rallying cry. From here on forth, no one will ever dare take advantage of Charles Madison Glass aga--
"JEST LOOK AT THIS _BYOOTIFUL_ CRAYTURE!"
I whip around so quickly that my head spins and I wildly and reflexively lunge out with one hand to steady myself against the exposed plumbing at the top of one of the urinals.
I gaze upon he who now suddenly and inexplicably shares the room with me.
He is, to wit, a huge reptilian beast. An alligator, or, no, wait. A crocodile. The verdigrised lid of the mop drain wobbles openly in the wake of his probable passage up from the depths. He's Big. Reallybig. Reallyreallybig. Huge. Standing on his hind legs. Big teeth. Jaws. Gah. Erk. Aah. Yeeck. Augh. Fuah.
"THESE SPUNKY LI'L FELLAS ARE KNAWN AS 'HOWMOW SOYPIENS,'" it continues, speaking earnestly towards a point near the floor, currently blocked to my view. "OR: *HYOOMUNS*. THOY'RE _CLEERLY_ WUN OF THE MOWST _FASCINATING_ BEASTS LIVING UP HERE ON THE SURFACE WUHLD." Slack-jawed and bug-eyed, he turns his attention towards me. "*LOOKATTHISONE!* ALL WIGGLIN' AN' SQUIRMIN'!" He chuckles maniacally for a moment. "OI'M NOT GONNA HURTCHA, LI'L FELLA!"
I forgot to mention: AAACH!
Those factions of my brain not currently engaged in the careful process of panic are concentrating on certain selectively vital muscular maneuvers, those being, to wit, attempting to wrestle my pants back up while staying upright on a slippery floor and grasping desperately at a slick, condensation-laced water pipe, simultaneously attempting to cover my more delicate bits with, well, anything. In all frankness, successful completion of all of these actions simultaneously would require at least two more hands than I have available to me, and an extra leg would help, too. Given my current biology, however, I encounter certain difficulties in execution which leave me tangled up in a knot on the floor.
Instantly, I am leapt upon by a rotund little one-foot-tall hamster badly in need of a few turns on the old stationary wheel. He wears a brightly-colored union badge and brandishes a remarkably large television camera, the latter of which is pointed directly at my face. I scream again.
"GE' A GOO' SHO' OF THIS!" Exalts the deranged crocodile. "NAW, NAW, DOWN FAHTHAH! JEST _LOOK_ AT THE COOLERASHON ON HIS PROIVATES!"
The pudgy little hamster dutifully complies, scampering down to an area with a better shot at my euphemistic region. Instantly, the crocodile lunges upon me and holds me down, simultaneously jamming his face into the aperture of the camera. "MOWST AWF THE TOIME, THOY HAVE THIS PAHT COVERED UP WITH A..." He gestures for the word. "...THICK, CLAWTH-LOIKE SUBSTANCE. YEW CAN SEE IT DOWN HERE, ARAWND 'IS OINKLES."
I squirm desperately. "GETOFFAME! GETOFFAME! WHATAYOUDOINGGETOFFAME!"
"WOT AN *INCREDIBLE* OPPORTOONITY!"
"LEMMEGO! LEMMEGO! AAAGH! BASTARD CROCODILE!" I begin pummelling him with my fists, to no apparent avail.
"GOLLY!" Chuckles the gregarious beast to his little camera-weilding associate. "WOTCH 'IM!"
With his attention distracted by the camera, I somehow manage to wriggle out from under his grasp and send myself careening across the cavernous restroom.
"OOP! LOST 'IM, THERE!" Quickly, he lowers himself into a blithely menacing crouch, alternating glances from me to the camera and back. "THOY COME TO THESE PLOYCES TO YURINATE, MAHWST OF THE TOIME. THOY'RE SOOCH _SHOY_ BEASTS, THAW, THOY _EYOOSHULLY_ JEST RUN AWOY! WE'RE LUCKY TO 'AVE GOTTEN BETWAYN 'IM AN' 'IS AWNLY AVENYOO OF ESCOIPE!" The crocodile continues his slow, inexorable advance.
My breath is raising my chest in quick gasps as I stagger, leaning backwards across the long sink counter. "Stay... away... from me..."
"LOOK AT THAWSE HACKLES!" He burbles to the camera. "'E DOESN'T THINK OIM 'IS _FRIEND_!"
"YOU _AREN'T_ MY FRIEND!!!" I scream, finally, hitching my pants to a comfortable vertical altitude. "ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO WHAT I'M--"
"'E'S A PERKY ONE, 'E IS! THIS WUN IS A _MOYLE_, AND SO, CAN BE MORE _FIERCE_ AN' _AGGRESSIVE_ THAN THE FEMOYLES. NAHW, THERE'S A CERTAIN *REALLY* INTERESTING OINGLE YEW CAN GET ON THESE LITTLE CRITTERS IF YOU GRAB 'EM BOY THEIR OINKLES AND SUSPEND THEM UNCOMFORTABLY OVER THE FLOOR!" The crocodile lunges forward. In desperation, I grab wildly for something, anything to swing at the horrible beast. My hand contacts a soap dispenser, and I tear it from the walls, brandishing it in the direction of the crocodile only about as well as it is possible to do with a soap dispenser. In immediate two-second retrospect, it does probably look a bit silly, but the sudden motion does seem to startle him. He retreats back into his happy predatory crouch.
"I'LL HIT YOU WITH THIS... soap dispenser." I hazard. "HEAR ME?!?" I continue, with renewed vigor. "COME ANY FURTHER, and you get this... soap dispenser... er... LODGED IN YOUR HEAD!" I give it a threatening waggle.
For the first time so far, _something_ I've done seems to penetrate the crocodile's cinderblock brain. He lowers his voice into a stage whisper and hunkers close in to his hamster sidekick. "He's picked oop a blunt object!" Hisses the crocodile. "It's wun of their maynes of _self-defense_. Those stories yew hear about thayse 'hyoomuns' picking up sticks and rocks and bashing paypul's heads in?" An expression of ghastly wonder crosses the croc's face. "_THOY'RE TRUE!_ Awl the more rayson yew kiddies at hawm should be _extraymely_ cawshus if yew _ever_ see wun..." He gestures, with a clawed forelimb. "...Splashing about in _yoh_ li'ul neck of the syewers! Layve the _dayngerus_ stuff to awld Irving, here!"
My breath fizzes in my chest even as my brain goes on tumble dry. "Look, you bastard. You're really, really huge, and I don't envy my odds against you in hand-to-hand-combat. So, if you are, indeed, really interested in filming me, do me a favor and _Don't_ make me do anything that the both of us will reg--"
"LOOKitTHAAT!" Gushes Irving. He chuckles. "'E's _angry!_"
"YOU! AREN'T! EVEN!! *LISTENING TO ME!!!* YOU! MORONIC--"
Irving takes my moment of distraction to lunge in. He begins high and threatening, pushing me backwards and off balance, making me stagger against the sink counter. Simultaneously, his tail whips around and swipes my already precarious legs out from under me. I fall, whacking my head on the cold faux-marble, an event which leaves me stunned. Irving drags me, barely struggling, away from the sinks. "GOT CHOO!" He chortles. "Nahw, lets get yew out where we can ge'a GOOD LOOK a' choo!"
My head creating a faint *thuddathuddathudda* noise against the tiles, I am dragged nigh-senseless into the clear of the room. The camera-wielding hamster takes up a position near one of the walls. "AS OI WAS SOYING!" Resumes Irving, pulling my legs and arms uncomfortably above my back and suspending me hammock-ish-ly above the floor. "Yew kids at home best remembah that oi've been speshally _troined_ for this. You see, oi _cayme_ from this cultcher! Roysed by HYOOmuns!" Irving nods his head at the camera like a spastic marionette, his eyes bulging. "Oi knaw, it seems hahd to beloive! Bu' It's _TRUE!_ In fact, Oi wouldn't even be with yew roight now had now wun of them aksidentally _flawshed_ me dahwn the JOHN when Oi waz just a scrawny little thing!" His reptilian face resolves itself into an easy grin. "Oi hahdly have any memories of that toime, but Oi loike to think it's given me a soht of empathy with these MAHVulus BAYSTZ!"
"_*EMPATHY*?!?_" I shriek, thrashing around. "YOU DON'T EVEN PAY ATT--"
"Oi'me mayking 'im angry again." He notes, his eyes clear.
My screams end in whimpers, and the energy I conserve is re-routed to my wiggle muscles. With one apoplectic jerk, I free an arm from his clutches, placing me briefly off-balance and momentarily loosing Irving's hold on my remaining limbs. I drop heavily to the tiles below. In a desperate crabwise scuttle, I move away from the ghastly nature-show host, nearly knotting my limbs in the process, an act which also sends me skidding acrosswise in the direction of the hamster camera-jockey. A moment later, my momentum gives out, and I collapse chin-first onto the hard floor, directly before the rather large rodent. My eyes meet his.
"help... me..." I wheeze.
"Can't." Says the hamster, uninterestedly, chewing placidly on a bright orange bit of wood. "Union reg's."
I pound my head gently against the floor. "...damn... ...organized... ...labor..."
"OOP! AY's GETTING AWOY!" I feel a jerk at my ankles, in more than one sense of the word, and this is followed by the uneasy but rapidly-becoming-familiar vertiginous feel of inverted suspension. "NAHW!" He blazes, cheerfully, a virtual kiln of bubbly exuberance filled to the brim with the misshapen elementary-school art projects of vapid idiocy. "WUN MORE GOOD SHOT, an' then, woy'd better THAYNK about RELAYSING HIM."
"...yes!" I cry, to deaf ears, as the little rodent cameraman zooms in on one last violatory film opportunity. Yes! Release me! Film me, exploit me, do whatever you need to! Just let me FREAKING go! I close my eyes, trying to hold out for the last leg of this little psychodrama.
Irving chuckles happily in the background. "GOO-DNESS KNAWS HAHW theyse PERKY LITTLE PROYMATES got DISPLOYCED all the woy over hiyr to the NAWTH AMURICAN CAWNTINENT in the FIRST PLOYCE."
My eyes snap open. Ohno.
Irving prattles on without pause. "SOME coyme boy bawt, or boy ployne, or... or..." He gestures for the word again. "OR EVEN POSSIBLY boy a HOYPOTHETICAL _LAND BRIDGE_ betwayn here and the YEURASIAN CAWNTINENT, which thoy COLONIZED after MOYGRATING frem THEYR _BIUTHPLOYCE_ in AFRICA!"
Ohno. Don't say it. Please don't say it...
"NAHW," Irving prattles on, "THOYSE CLAWTH-loike COVERINGS can provoide _SAHM_ protection from the..." He gestures around for a prodigal word again, eventually making up for the time spent searching with a joyous reunion once it has been located. "_*HARSH*_ and SOMETIMES _BRUTAL_ CLOIMAKTIC CONDITIONS of NAWTH AMURICA." Irving musters his cheery goodwill into one last spasmodic utterance. "_*OI JEST _LUV_ THESE CRAYTURES!*_" he shrieks, "_*AN' IT POINS ME DAHWN __REAL__ DEEP TO SEE 'EM SUFFERIN' LOIKE THIS!!!"
Lord, give me the headache. Give me the indignity. Give me the certain-sure knowledge that I have been trussed up by an overzealous nature-show host from the underdark of Hoderund and talked about in the third person, while a fat little hamster busies himself putting my nether regions on film for educational purposes. Lord, you may have all of that. But Lord, Please, PLEASE, don't let him say...
"*OI THINK WE SHEULD PUT HIM BACK IN THE ___**WOILD!!!**___"
NO! DAMNIT, DAMNIT, _DAMNIT!!!_ Wasn't I the one who insisted we say the Grace yesterday? Huh? Well, actually, come think, it was CORVID who actually started the thing off, but didn't I specifically approve of it? Huh? Do the words Crisis of Faith mean anything to CAPITAL Y YOU? WHAT KIND OF HOLIDAY IS THI--
"WE'LL JEST TRANQUILIZE 'IM FOR THE LAWNG TRIP BACK OVER TO HIS HAWMLAND!" Potters Irving, dropping me and flipping me over. "AFTER A THOROUGHLY DISAWRIENTING JOURNEY, WE'LL TOSS 'IM, AS IS, BACK INTO THE _HEART_ OF Th' AFRICAN SAVANNAH, WHERE 'E BELONGS!"
"...noooo... for the love of god..."
"OI KEN JEST IMAGINE HOW GROITFUL HE'LL BE! JEST THINK IF THIS LITTLE BEAST c'd TALK, awl the WUNNERFUL THINGS he'd SOY!" Irving pauses in a moment of reflection, rummaging through an inexplicably-present medical kit. "That is, if his li'l broin could comprehend the good we're dewin' 'im."
I go limp, making little whimpering noises. Doom approaches in the form of a big, excessively wide hypodermic needle dripping amberese fluid.
"Nahw, jes' huld still..."
The needle contacts my flesh. My sanity roars around me...
And then, there is a beeping noise. A little, digital, four-blip series. There is a pause, and then, it comes again.
The roaring in my ears gradually fades into a uneasy silence populated only by this tiny little repeating sequence.
Irving and I stand/lie there, frozen, our eyes fixed upon the same point near the floor.
Camera perched jauntily upon one rodentine shoulder, the chubby little hamster cameraman casually reaches across to his left forepaw and flicks the Light/Alarm-Off switch on his Digital Wristwatch.
The camera falls to the tile floor with a dull crash.
"That's a wrap." He says, dully.
Irving's jaw drops. "WOT?" He exclaims at last.
"That's a wrap." Repeats the hamster, in a determinedly bored tone.
"_WOT?_" Repeats Irving. "BU'... BU'..."
Irving's great crocodilian maw waggles pitifully.
"_BU' WE WERE JES' GETTING TO THE BEST PAHT!_" He whines.
"Can' do nuffin about it." Yawns the little hamster. "OSHA reg's. Exposure to overly fresh air. It's a bitch, but, y'know." He yawns again, wider. "Where's the coffee." He notes, not precisely stating this as a question.
"Er." Says Irving, scratching uneasily at the tiles of the restroom with one nigh-draconic hindlimb. "Oin't nen."
The air slowly chills and thickens between host and camerahamster, not unlike new gelatin.
"There's some back at the station." States the hamster.
"Wull, yes..." mumbles Irving, looking downcast.
The hamster nods, slightly, to no one in particular.
"I'm outta here." He says, promptly scurrying back towards the mop drain.
"WOIT!" Says Irving. "HAHW KEM--"
"Contract." Intones the rodent. "Coffee and fresh chewsticks midafternoon. And I warn you not to cross the Union, Irving."
For the second time today, I am treated to a vision of the fires of Hell, in the eyes of the little hamster.
He vanishes down the drain hole, the camera trailing along behind him. Irving blinks introspectively.
"Wull," he mutters, "not mech good doin' it ef it's not on film."
In a shot, he too is gone. The lid of the drain cover falls with a bright crash, and suddenly, but for crumbs of chewstick and the lingering foul scent of Irving, it is as though neither of them were ever here.
I lie there for a moment, trembling.
Then, I steady myself, straighten my clothes, go to the sink, and splash a quantity of water on my face. I reach down to the soap dispenser on the floor, pull up on the release lever, catch a wad of industrial pink liquid soap, bring my hands back up to the stream of water, dampen them, and rub them briskly together. Once this has been done, I rinse them well, then, turn off the little handle, stopping the flow of water. Subsequently, I pull a single manifold towel from the dispenser and proceed to dry my hands in excruciating detail.
I pause, and inspect my actions of the past few moments.
"Huh." I say, curiously.
I shrug it off, my composure already returning; I have traversed the route from normal functioning to absolute panic so many times now that I could walk it blindfolded in my metaphorical sleep, and as a result, my transit times have gone way, way down.
Ah. Now, to enjoy my lunch with my friends.
I walk to the door and casually swing it open.
Standing at the threshold is a huge spectral-brown Limousin steer wearing a yarmulke. The orbits of his eyes are filled with liquid black malevolence, and his thick bovine muzzle is twisted into an evil, rasping grimace. The potent odor of rotten beef and degraded organophosphates assails my nostrils, and I am seized up in coughing fits.
"Greeetings." Wheezes the steer in a voice of cheese and ashes.