Mike Dies At The End

by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by sairobi

(mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/61440.html)

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead.

Let’s say a hipster is chatting you up at an otherwise boring party — one of those homely types who’d have been shit out of luck had Weezer not brought nerd chic back. Anyway, he tells you how he once built a time machine. Nothing fancy, just a garden-variety thing. He went back about fifty years, hoping to get laid at Woodstock, and ended up sexing up this hot guy he picked up at a Joni Mitchell concert. This hot guy turned out to be the hipster’s dad, who, convinced away from the straight side of the Force, moved to San Francisco, started wearing leather chaps, and never met the hipster’s mom — and the hipster abruptly ceased to exist.

As luck would have it, though, this act of inadvertent suicide worthy of a Darwin Lifetime Achievement Award made it so that the hipster never traveled back in time in the first place, thus ensuring that his father followed the straight and narrow, married the hipster’s mom, and sired their 2.5 kids, the youngest of whom went on to build a time machine, seduce his young, bearded father, and kick-start the entire chain of events that led to this self-perpetuating time paradox. “In fact,” says the hipster, playing with the lime in his midori sour, “I’m probably not even here talking to you at all.”

Is he right?

I could always tell the worst calls because they were always the ones that came while I was giving Mike head.

If you’d put them together in a grudge match, though, you’d have seen that calls came less often than he did in that apartment, so Mike reached over to the nightstand and flipped open his phone, even as I cursed him with a mouthful of dick. “Carlos’ Taqueria,” he answered, just in case it was the CIA. Mike insisted spooks hated Mexican food. Once, in high school, he’d tried breaking into a secret government facility armed only with tacos, and had actually managed to take down a security guard, squirting packets of hot sauce like stun guns. “Oh, sure. …The Sonic on Main or on Elm? …Got it. We should be there in…” He glanced down at me, and I bared my teeth around his cock. “Fifteen minutes? Great.” He snapped the phone shut. Asshole.

“The drive’s twelve,” I informed him, picking a stray pubic hair from where it’d lodged itself under my tongue.

He shrugged and settled back in the chair, his knees splayed. “That’s your problem.”

illustrated by sairobi

~*~

Here’s what everyone in the field knows but won’t admit: all forms of psychic ability, and I do mean all, are sexually transmitted diseases. If more parents knew about this, there’d be fewer proud moms on Oprah talking about how intuitive their spawn are, and more federal investigations into daycare centers.

I found this out the hard way from a guy who picked me up in a bar one night. He seemed like an okay guy, a bit shifty, but you can chalk that up to nerves. Maybe I should have known something was wrong when skipped the standard ‘I’ve never done anything like this before’ closet-guy denial speech, flipped me over the hotel bed, and started pounding my ass. As sex went, it was fairly mediocre. Next morning, I saw him get up and leave the room, which was made weird by how I found his body a few minutes later a bloody mess in the bathtub.

It only occurred to me afterward that I’d actually seen him walk through, and not out, the door, but I don’t do mornings.

Police grudgingly ruled it a pretty definitive suicide, since the cops in Springfield aren’t exactly what you’d call charitable to faggots, dead or living. I figured the subsequent hallucinations were just a fluke, maybe brought on trauma or bad shellfish — at least, until I infected someone else.

Long story short, I sucked Mike’s dick on a bet and now he sees ghosts. Fortunately, he still talks to me.

It’s not just ghosts, though. All manner of weird shit tends to pop up on our radars: shoes that talk, coded messages in the traffic lights, houses that take walks when they think no one’s looking. Sometimes the evening news addresses me by name. On a trip to see his aunt, Mike noticed that you can prove Fermat’s Last Theorum if you stare at the New York City subway map long enough. It’s kind of like being a paranoid schizophrenic, except with the occasional outside confirmation.

“I fucked your mother,” the squirrel on top of my car told me as I approached, and I shooed it off by opening the door. I’m adopted anyway.

There was a complex set of bullshit reasons Mike had laid out for the reason we took my car instead of his on jobs, and I didn’t care enough to refute them, so we did. I checked the rear view mirror to make sure I didn’t have any semen on my lips, shrugged at the faint stubble I hadn’t tried to wrangle in a few days (I am not a beardy man), and put the car into reverse. “Did our mystery caller say what she wanted?”

“He, actually,” Mike corrected me. I was surprised — 98% of the people we come in to help are women. For one, women are more intuitive than men as a general rule; for another, I’ve never met another gay psychic, which should tell you something about the infection patterns. “And he was vague, but he sounded pretty scared. And cute.”

I rolled my eyes. Mike’s attempts to set me up with anyone were annoyingly pointless. If the guy weren’t infected already, there’d be no way I’d consider passing it on to him, and if he turned out to be already, well, he’d probably turn out to be straight, too. If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any at all. I ignored Mike all the way to the Sonic on principle.

As I pulled into the lot, I saw our man. It had to be him; even if he hadn’t been searching the landscape with spooked, nervous eyes, he was the only person at the picnic tables (a concession to those who don’t like their tater tots and Texas toast perched precariously over their crotches). Mike was right — he was cute — but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing I agreed.

“Ty?” asked Mike, stretching out his hand as he walked up. “I’m Mike, we spoke on the phone. This is Jason, like with the hockey mask.”

Ty had that look to him of a community college student dressed by Marilyn Manson in a spiteful mood. I counted nine different piercings on his face alone, some in places I didn’t know you should put holes through. He had a limp-wristed handshake, which was worth -3 points in the Would Fuck column. I like guys with confidence. “The thing is,” he said, without preamble, “I didn’t know who to call, but a friend of mine said you’d understand.” He ate a french fry. There’s nothing in the world more unintentionally hilarious than a goth eating a french fry.

“Why don’t you tell us about it,” I said, in my best Dr. Phil voice. Of course, at this point, ‘us’ was a loose term, as Mike was more interested in telling the speaker box to bring him a SuperSonic cheeseburger, paying for it with the credit card he’d taken out of my wallet.

“Sure,” said Ty, though he waited until Mike was listening again to start his story. “…Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, but–”

“You can skip the disclaimers. Yes, it sounds crazy. If it sounded normal, you’d be telling it to the school psychiatrist rather than the two guys you just met in front of a Sonic.”

Ty’s fingers worried a rather large-gauge hoop in circles through his earlobe. I coughed and added two points back to the Would Fuck column. “Okay, so a couple of friends and me were out on Saturday — just, you know, killing time — and Miles said, hey, there’s a house out on Dyer Road that’s supposed to be haunted.”

Mike and I exchanged secret Buddhist eye signals with one another. The Old Dell Place, as the locals knew it, was the site of nearly every drunken dare, wannabe Satanic orgy, and Wiccan ritual performed by teenage girls who’d learned their craft by watching Charmed in the county, but as far as we knew had failed to play host to even a mild showing of honest-to-Ganesha Weird Shit. “Go on,” I encouraged, though with a great deal of skepticism. Lying about mystic experiences for the purpose of watching the crazy fuckers run around like idiots got you perma-banned from sex consideration, no exceptions.

“So we went up there — five of us. Anyway, Bobby and Miles took on in, and I was right behind them, except I’d had too much to drink at that point, and didn’t make it farther than puking my guts up in the hedges.” Ty drummed his black-painted fingernails on the table, in a show of variety that was sure to win him Time Magazine’s Nervous Gesturer of the Year Award. “By the time Kristy’d gotten me up again, Zoe was pulling on the door — but she couldn’t get in. At first we thought they’d locked the door, the assholes, only–”

“Only?” Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for nail polish. Plus two more.

“…Only it opened again and they were old.” Ty chewed his lower lip. “I mean, it was them. Miles has a scar on his cheek, here, and it was the same one, only they looked like their granddads. And then they just … died.”

“You think something like two dead college kids would have showed up in the paper,” observed Mike, who as far as I knew hadn’t picked up a newspaper since potty-training his iguana.

Ty took a deep breath. “See, that’s just it. That’s when they walked right back out, just like they had when they walked in. Stepped right over their old bodies. Now Bobby’s locked up in his apartment, and Miles said he was going home to his family, only Zoe said she called them and they hadn’t heard from him–”

He cut off his story as a waitress in a perky paper cap came over with a red plastic tray, giving Mike a wink as she deposited his order on the table. “Beefy,” said Mike approvingly, leaving us to assume he was talking about the meal, not the girl. “Anyway, it sounds just stupid enough to check out. Meet you back there at … eleven tonight?”

I hated it when Mike made decisions without me, even when I agreed with him. Ty, however, looked less steady on the ‘agree’ front. “Why are we waiting for tonight?”

“Because it’s scarier at night,” I told him. “You don’t bait a scary thing in broad daylight. It won’t show, or worse, it will, and it’ll be insulted.”

“Oh,” said Ty. Now his expression had changed to the ‘what have I gotten myself into?’ thirty-yard stare, and I was half-hoping he’d chicken out and decide that whatever had happened, it was best to leave the doubting of the official explanation to the crazy fuckers. But he made a resolute little cough, and stood. “Eleven. I’ll see you there.” He didn’t offer to shake our hands again, but Mike’s were covered in ketchup, so it was probably for the best.

I was left with my thoughts and the sound of Mike’s chewing as he drove off. On the one hand, it sounded batshit crazy — but on the other hand, we trip the batshit crazy fantastic on a regular basis. And anyway, he seemed genuinely upset, and that was a fair indicator that something off had happened. “You believe him?”

Mike poked at his fries, which made them change the song they were singing. “Did you notice he had a tongue stud?”

“He did?” I whipped my head around in the direction of Ty’s departure, but he and his 1988 Chevy were already at the traffic light. “Shit, I missed that.”

~*~

The Old Dell Place looked like your textbook haunted house: Victorian architecture, peeling paint, swinging shutters, missing shingles — which was probably why it was so popular with dark art wannabes. When we got there, Ty was already waiting, worrying a cigarette. He walked over as we popped the trunk and started gathering our gear. “What’ve you got there?” Son of a bitch, he did have a tongue stud. I wondered how I’d missed that.

Mike cracked open his backpack, which was more illustrative of his organizational skills than of its contents. “Oh, just the usual: Bible — King James Version, of course, no self-respecting dark creature would be caught dead cowering in fear of anything but the one authentic Word of God in English — holy water, an icon of the Virgin Mary, four butane lighters, couple feet of rope, an apple, Jim Beam — cheaper than kerosene — cell phone, my library card, couple paper clips, and a toothbrush.” The holy water was in a plastic squirt bottle with DEFINITELY NOT HOLY WATER written on the side. Sometimes dark creatures were stupid. “Tools of the trade! Don’t worry, we’re trained professionals.”

I didn’t bother mentioning that the training Mike spoke of had involved semen in my sinuses (both times!), and opened my own backpack. “Okay, Ty, you stick close to me.” I ignored the look Mike gave me, handing him his flashlight instead. “Holler if you find anything.”

Ty clutched at the hem of his shirt. “You mean … we’re splitting up?”

“Sure,” said Mike, hefting his pack onto his back. “Look, scary things like their notoriety too. Gotta let them think they’re in charge, you know? Like with my last girlfriend.”

“Just stick close,” I repeated, turning my own light on. “Okay, tell us again what happened.”

With a deep breath, Ty stepped forward. “Okay, there’s where I was, and then Miles and Bobby stepped up here, and then there’s where the bodies were, right there on the porch, but–”

The porch’s current most notable feature was how entire planks of it were coming up (I made note to travel lightly), with ‘absence of geriatric corpses’ coming in at a close second. I poked the first step with my toe, and it creaked but it held. “And they didn’t say anything?” Ty shook his head. “Great,” I said, walking up to the front door. My phone buzzed in my back pocket, but since it obviously wasn’t Mike, I let it go to voicemail.

Mike poked at the front door, then kicked it in, commando-style. “Hello, ghosts! We have come for you!” he announced to the interior; any ghosts would probably be amused by his presumptuousness, and anything that wasn’t a ghost would probably be irritated by his assuming it was. The initial response was quiet. “Well, Jason, now that we three innocent and beautiful young folks with so much in life to live for have arrived at this haunted house, I think we should split up to look for clues.”

“I agree,” I answered with the same artificial enunciation. “I will take our new friend Ty with us, so he will not be scared. Mike, are you sure you will be fine all alone?”

“Oh, yes.” Mike put his hands on his hips, raising his volume. “I will be fine all by myself! Nothing can hurt me! I ain’t afraid of no ghosts! I am also not afraid of any ghosts! Ha ha ha!”

I shrugged, dropping my voice back to a normal level. “Think it worked?”

“Who knows? Meet back here at midnight?” The luminous dial of Mike’s watch showed a few minutes after eleven. “Think your friends would’ve gone upstairs?”

Ty looked like a three-year-old on his first day of preschool, eyes wide and every inch of his body language reading ‘I want to go home’. I’d stopped maintaining the Would Fuck tally, since I was being professional now, but I had to admit it was terribly cute. “I…” He swallowed, looking around at what little of the house our beams illuminated. “They didn’t have flashlights with them, so … probably not?”

Mike jerked his beam to the right. “I go this way, you go that way.” He sauntered off into the darkness, humming a jaunty tune.

I took a left into what must once have been a nice living room, inwardly pleased at how literally Ty was taking my ‘stay close’ instruction. “…So, um, you guys been doing this long?”

“About two years.” I lifted the corner of a rat-chewed rug with my toe. The shag was a puke green; I always thought rats had better taste. “I mean, we’ve known one another since we were kids. Anyway, you know how it is, you help a guy get a banshee out of his toilet, and the next thing you know everyone in a hundred-mile radius is calling you to get the banshees out of their toilets. And so forth.”

“Huh,” said Ty, which was the proper reaction. There was a banshee in the toilet, and as much as you think the guy might not have wanted her there, I assure you, she wanted to be there even less. It was a pretty matter-of-fact arrangement.

I drummed my fingers hard against the wall, but not so much as a bug scurried out. “It’s clean,” I observed.

Ty looked, in a word, skeptical. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”

“Well, you know? It kind of is.” I knocked with my flashlight against a suspicious-looking brick in the fireplace, and heard nothing but good, solid brick. “In a house this old, you expect to see … something. Even if it’s just some sort of psychic residue, the leftovers from all the Hot Topic pagans who’ve tried with varying levels of success to get in touch with the Dark Beyond here. But there’s just a whole lot of nothing.” We rounded a corner into what would never be featured on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens‘ kitchen extravaganza. “Well, think about it this way: how was your room at home when you were a teenager?”

“What do you mean?”

I nudged a cabinet open, to find nothing but an old cylinder of Quaker Oats. God help me if I’d picked the one place in the world haunted by Wilford Brimley. “Clean or messy?”

“Messy,” Ty admitted, with a nervous little laugh.

“And if your mom had walked in one day,” I asked, twisting knobs on the sink just enough to determine that unless I wanted a big glass of air, I wasn’t getting any help from those pipes, “and found your clothes picked up, your bed made, floor not only visible but swept and mopped clean enough to eat off of — what would she have thought?”

The floors creaked as Ty’s heavy boots trundled across them. “She would’ve tied me to a chair and read me the riot act until I admitted what I was trying to hide.”

Satisfied that there was nothing of consequence in this kitchen, I continued onward. My cell phone buzzed again, and I ignored it about as professionally as you can ignore low-grade buzzing right above your ass. “Right. Well, imagine this house is sort of like your room. And way too clean is just as suspicious as way too messy. A certain amount of clutter is expected. Hell, you find it everywhere. Cyphers on cereal boxes, fractals in sidewalk cracks, dead cats who don’t understand why you’re not paying attention to them– Why are you looking at me like that?”

The expression on Ty’s face had taken on a glossy, horrified rictus — which, on the plus side, showcased his tongue stud nicely. “…You’re serious. I mean … shit, I figured you were serious, but–”

“But I sound like a paranoid schizophrenic, and now you’re wondering what you’re doing alone in a dark house with me and my crazy friend,” I sighed. This was, in fact, near-verbatim something I’d been told more than once. And I used to be such an upstanding, wholesome young man. “And you’re trying to figure out which one of us is John Wayne Gacy and which one is Jeffrey Dahmer, right?”

“No, no.” Ty held his hands up, your classic surrendering soldier pose. “I just … guess I thought you were just humoring me, or something.”

I decided right then and there that I was going to put this man in a life-threatening situation sometime over the course of this evening for the specific purpose of making out with him. It’s a dirty trick, sure, but I’m kind of a bastard. For the moment, however, I merely reached out and put my hand on his arm, just above his elbow. “I believe you.” I gave him my most charming smile.

It was at that moment Mike’s voice — “I found Elvis!” — rang through the house. It was our code for ‘I have discovered something so inexplicably weird that it cannot be described and you must come see it for yourself’. If ever we actually did find Elvis, I figured, we’d have to think of something else.

“Come on,” I said to Ty, leading on in the direction of the cry. I didn’t take my hand off his arm, and he didn’t try to make me.

~*~

When I was seven, my parents took me to Vegas — and I, predictably, spent most nights in the hotel room, told to amuse myself with the hotel’s Disney channel. If I’d been older, I might’ve figured out a way to bust out the pay-per-view porn and compounded their parental guilt, but seven’s a bit early for such larceny, and anyway, the idea was strangely unappealing to me for reasons that didn’t crystalise until a few years later. So instead I hung out and read my Encyclopedia Brown mysteries, and when even they got boring, I turned off all the lights and stared at the gap in the heavy hotel curtains, the place they didn’t quite touch, through which spilled all the sparkle and glitter of the city, a tall, thin line in the darkness.

That’s the first thing I thought of as I entered the unexpectedly spacious bathroom and saw Mike’s find. I can’t explain it any better than saying that it was just what you’d imagine if someone reached out into the air and pulled reality apart, only to find astral Las Vegas on the other side (which, in retrospect, made calling it ‘Elvis’ fairly appropriate). It was taller than any of us, but no wider across than my arms could reach.

“Think fast!” said Mike, and before I quite knew what was going on, he’d tossed his apple through the crack and toward me. I fumbled spectacularly, and it hit my chest with a grotesque, squishy thud.

I’m not too manly to admit that I have a somewhat effeminate scream, described by some as even ‘girly’. “Aaaugh! Son of a bitch!” I staggered backward and instantly cursed Mike and his offspring unto the tenth generation for making me look bad in front of the cute boy. “Why the fuck did you do–”

“It was fresh this morning. And that’s not all.” Mike pointed toward the corner wall, where a perfectly lovely apple — definitely not the rotten projectile whose unlucky target I had just been — had just rolled to a stop. “Now there’s two of them.”

Comprehension was delayed by how abjectly grossed out I was. “Now I’m going to smell like–”

Ty pushed past, poking with those shitkicker boots at a lumpy pile of rotten apple on the floor. “What just happened?”

Mike shrugged. “Beats me. I’d guess this is why the place is so clean, though. When scary things get scared….”

“Well, it’s nice to see that every ghoulie and ghostie and long-leggety beastie in the vicinity has been chased away by a phenomenon for making bad photocopies of apples.” I shook out my shirt, somewhat satisfied with my impromptu cleaning job, though I knew that smell would never come out of what had been my favorite shirt. It was your standard knit polo shirt, only when you looked closely, the little animals embroidered on the left side looked like a unicorn fucking a gorilla. I’d stolen it from an insufferably trendy ex.

illustrated by sairobi

“It doesn’t just do apples,” said Mike. “I tossed my flashlight through first, and now I have two, but one’s out of batteri–”

“Holy shit!” It was probably the fastest I’d moved in my life, and it was entirely from reflex: I reached out and grabbed the back of Ty’s collar, yanking him backward with all my might a split second before he could wander confidently forward right into the crack. “What the fuck, man, don’t just walk into it!”

“Into what?” Ty yelled back at me, obviously rattled by my sudden decision to change his course for him. His already pale face had already dropped three shades closer to chalk-white, and his nervous hands were shaking. “What the hell!”

The crack chose that moment to hiss and snap a little, sounding like a cross between a grease fire and hitting a Precious Moments figure with a sledgehammer, widening by an inch and spreading its tendrils out along invisible planes. Startled, Mike and I jumped — but Ty remained relatively still in my grip, obviously unmoved by the breaking noise. Mike recovered first, sneaking toward us while still giving astral Las Vegas a wide berth. “He can’t see it, Jase.”

Ty squirmed in my arms, and I realized that I was perhaps still holding him a little more tightly than the situation now warranted, so I let go. It did my ego good to see that he didn’t immediately try to get as far away from me as humanly possible. “Can’t see what? Someone tell me what the fuck just happened!”

This part was always awkward. “Right there,” I said, pointing in the general direction, “is one of those things I told you about, one of those things people like Mike and me can see. It’s a big crack, kind of a rip in the world, and it’s taller than you, and it’s getting bigger. And Mike just tossed his apple through it, and instead of one apple, we got two — only one was old.”

“Like what happened to Miles and Bobby,” said Ty, now staring at what his eyes perceived to be a blank space in terror of what he couldn’t see. I knew the feeling. If I’d known about a quarter of the scary things I know about now before I could look at ’em, not knowning that they were there but that they could be there, I would’ve taken up permanent insomnia as a lifestyle choice.

“Right, and to Mike’s flashlight batteries. Which makes me think that this isn’t just a crack in space, but a–” I stopped myself before I could say wrinkle, “–crack in time.”

“A crack in time. Right.” Ty clenched his hands into furious, impotent gothic fists. “Okay, that’s it. I’m getting out of here.” He spun on his heel and marched out the door with a resoundingly martial step, and I crossed my arms in a huff but resolved to let him go. After all, I thought, I’d be mad too if the two crazy fuckers I’d gone house-hunting (as it were) with suddenly started yelling at me not to walk into invisible menaces. We’d let him go, let him cool his heels, and find him outside afterward when we knew better what we were getting into.

It was only after he’d passed through the door that I figured he, sans flashlight, probably had no idea where the exit was.

“Do you think we should–?” I asked Mike, but I didn’t get any farther in that sentence before learning that Ty had a scream even girlier than mine.

~*~

There are some things which, by the very act of existing, negate the possibility of a benevolent God. Genocide. Child molesters. Snow boots with shorts. The fauxhawk. Antonin Scalia.

And RealDolls.

In my never-ending quest to find new online masturbatory material — a quest which only spiked in urgency once my list of potential sexual partners was reduced to a) Mike, and b) my hand — I have more than once stumbled upon RealDolls: ‘the world’s finest love doll’, to hear the website tell it. I once made the mistake of clicking on ‘ENTER’, and was rewarded with photographs of zombie-like faces, eyes glassy and unfocused, features expressionless, lips frozen in a permanent O.

At first, I ran away in terror. In time, however, terror turned to fascination, and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in front of the computer screen at 3:30 in the morning, my dick gone entirely limp in my hand, reading all about how their elastic flesh can withstand over 300% elongation and how the insides of the vaginal and anal entries are made of a different grade of silicone than the rest of the body. The dolls themselves came in several versions, ranging from standard busty centerfold to cute Japanese schoolgirl to horrifying hentai creature from the black lagoon. There was even a male one, sprawled lifelessly on his back with his rubbery dong protruding from his shorts, and I remember wondering at the time who precisely would pay $7000 to fuck the corpse of Gary Sinise.

It was that very waxen, dispassionate face that greeted us as Mike and I rounded the corner to find what, precisely, Ty had already discovered. Plastic Gary was standing tall, his artificial wang at full attention, swaying a little as he held high a great brass bowl. Around him, in a circle, sat about thirty female RealDolls, all as naked as he, with their flat eyes now fixed upon us. Each one had a hand between her legs, and her knees spread. In the middle was chalked a design that looked half like a Solomon’s Seal and half like a drawing of my own asshole I made with a hand mirror when I was twelve. We’d obviously interrupted something important. It was kind of amazing how much irritation faces entirely devoid of expression could convey.

“Excuse us,” said Mike, “our reservations were for the other Satanic orgy tonight, we’ll just be going now.” He grabbed the doorknob and began to pull the door it towards us at a convincingly casual speed.

That was when they all began to move — and quickly, sounding like a box of rubber gloves caught in a kitchen sink disposal. “Run!” I shouted, grabbing Ty’s hand and yanking him back to reality, dragging him into the darkness.

Now, under normal circumstances, I don’t have anything against vaginas. Sure, they’re not my cup of fish (to mutilate a phrase), but, contrary to offensive stereotype, I will not flee in terror from a woman’s squishy bits. Unless, of course, they are entirely artificial and snugly nestled between the legs of two dozen female-shaped plastic sex dolls coming at us with boneless, lumbering strides, jaws bobbing up and down slightly with the impact of each step, breasts pendulous, spines curved slightly too far forward, bound and determined to re-create that scene from the end of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, only not in a good way — in which case I will not only run, I will also whimper a little.

All aboard the Gay Man’s Nightmare Express, now making all stops in the Uncanny Valley.

I scrambled back the way we came, groping half-blind through the house’s interior, trying to retrace half-remembered steps. Still keeping in mind the dim possibility that we might live through this, I resolved to adopt a strict policy henceforth of studying floor plans before venturing into any more haunted houses.

Monsters tend to roar and snarl, and I’ve never met a ghost who could shut up about itself, but the RealDolls shuffled mutely along behind us, the only noise their bare feet’s fat, fleshy slapping sounds against the floorboards. My brain suggested that it sounded like the world’s fastest circle jerk, and I made a mental note to ask for a lobotomy for Christmas.

Still gripping Ty’s hand, I rounded the corner to the kitchen and slammed the hall door behind us — only to find another of them waiting there, poised atop the counter with its legs spread wide and the curiously hairless diamond of its vaginal entry displayed prominently. As soon as we stumbled into view, it sprang forth, pouncing from its perch and landing crab-like on all fours, breasts pointed to the ceiling, elbows bent the wrong direction, head lolling back so far I could see its hair dragging on the ground, skittering bug-like at a frightening speed and oh sweet Jesus coming coochie-first right at us.

To his great credit, Mike — having himself had close, personal contact with multiple vaginas — recovered from the horror more quickly than either Ty or I. “Get a kick out of this, bitch!” he shouted, running forward and planting his foot firmly between its legs like a soccer player convicted of domestic abuse. The blow knocked it back and on its side, and Mike ran forward, punting it again. “Taste the agony of defeet!”

I mean, I can’t swear to the pun, but I like to think that’s what he said.

It knocked back against the wall, limbs tangled. “The website says they’re not supposed to be able to do that.” Mike indicated the doll, which twitched like a beached whale but stayed down.

“I’ll send them an email tomorrow,” I promised, dashing past it and into the living room before it could get to its feet again.

As my flashlight beam fell on the front door, I made the mistake of assuming we were home free, proving the corollary to Murphy’s Law that says all you have to do to make things go wrong is to think for a second they’re going to go right. It wasn’t until I actually stepped into the entryway that I realized how wrong I was. What looked like the entire orgy had relocated there, poised like a naked powder puff football team, ready to charge. Plastic Gary the quarterback stood front and center, his dong bouncing slightly in our direction like a dowsing rod. His tongue-less mouth moved as though he were trying to form words, but lacked the fine muscle control to make his lips do anything more than flap like a nutcracker in time with his penis.

There’s a rule in horror movies that says the last thing you want to do in a haunted house emergency is go upstairs, and I respect the good sense and logic it tries to convey. But when you’re facing down two tons of anthropomorphic silicone and your best friend yells, “Stairs!”, by God, you’re going to run up those stairs like you’re Rocky Balboa.

Which is exactly what we did, nearly falling over ourselves in the process. I heard the circle jerk sound start up again from behind us, and my foot was barely steady on the top landing before I tore blindly down the hallway. Lungs burning, I raced forward, dragging Ty with me the entire time, not even able to look back and see if Mike was still with us. We neared a small corridor off to the side, and my eyes caught sight of an open door. There, I thought, if we could just get down there maybe we’d have a chance–

My phone chose that precise moment to go off, making a buzzing so distracting that I ran face-first into a previously unseen column, staggered backward, and passed out.

~*~

I came to as Ty dropped me on the floor. “Shit, he’s too heavy,” he gasped, a bit of commentary that might have hurt my feelings under normal circumstances.

“Eh, he can take it,” answered Mike, sounding way too calm, considering it was my body they were talking about here. “Hey, what’s that?”

“What’s what?” I asked, shaking my poor abused head free of cowbebs, but I was already looking.

Real estate agents have field days with this kind of setup. Here we have the master bedroom — definitely the crowning feature of this charming farmhouse fixer-upper opportunity. The heavy iron bars on the windows, of course, afford the kind of security you’re looking for when you want to keep things in as well as out — as does the door, which, as demonstrated by the furious yet impotent pounding from the other side, serves as an effective deterrent to angry plastic sex dolls. It comes fully furnished, too, if you count the three seat-less chairs, the remains of what might once have been a cracker barrel, and the freaky spectral writing on the far wall. The perfect starter home for headcases!

I pulled myself to my feet and staggered closer to the letters — an idle gesture, really, because anything that’s two feet tall and glowing a delicate shade of lilac is visible from some distance in a darkened house. There were only two lines, anyway. The first read, HEY JASON! YOU WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE?

The second, far less helpfully, appeared to be in Korean.

“Son of a bitch,” I said, rubbing the bump on my forehead.

Mike walked up behind me. “Okay, it’s time to use those Asian superpowers I know you’ve got.”

My lips drew into two thin lines. “First of all, I’m Asian-American–”

“Asian superpowers are genetic, I read on the internet that–”

Secondly, I left Korea when I was three months–”

“Somewhere in that Asian brain–”

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly here, I can’t read Korean–”

“Jase, a whole fucklot regarding our survival is depending right now on you being a slant-eyed superhero, so it’s time to cowboy up Asian-style and find some way to learn, or–”

“Um, I can read Korean.”

Ty’s quiet comment brought our somewhat incoherent and indefensibly racist argument to a halt. The pounding from the far door had nearly become rhythmic white noise, the perfect background to our slightly dumbstruck lull in the conversation. Finally, I ratcheted my brain back into gear. “You can read Korean.”

“Yeah.” Ty — whom I had up until that point assumed to be the whitest white guy ever popped out of the unbuttered popcorn, baby powder, and really white dudes factory — nodded. “I’m a linguistics and East Asian studies double major. I mean, I’ve only had five semesters of it, so I wouldn’t say I’m fluent but…”

Mike pointed to the wall behind us. “But you can’t see that.”

“See what?” Ty squinted at the wall in the same blank way he’d squinted at the crack in the bathroom.

But Mike was already tearing open his backpack, searching for paper, while I was fishing around for the ballpoint pen I knew I’d stuck in mine. “Hold on, let me write it down for you–” Mike thrust into my hands his copy of the Bible, open to the handy blank page that divided the Old and New Testaments. Figuring that my soul was already hellbound for far less original sins, I held the pen steady, fixed my eyes on the letters on the wall, and began to copy as best I could the circles and lines of the unfamiliar characters.

I was nearly done before Ty had the decency to clear his throat. “That, ah, doesn’t really look like Hangul….”

I looked down at the page in front of me. There — face-to-face with the first page of the Gospel According to St. Matthew — were several highly nuanced, artistic pen sketches of cocks and balls. To add insult to injury, they weren’t even remotely in the same position as the marks on the wall. Confused, I picked up my pen and started to draw the straight line of the first character, only to watch in horror as it morphed against into the rounded head of a fat, dripping cock. I gripped the pen in a fist, trying one more time with the simplest strokes possible, but all that came of it was an uncomfortably detailed schematic of a rather hairy ballsac.

A long silence followed.

“Well,” said Mike, “this is demeaning to us all. …But mostly to you. Way to suck at being Asian.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “A-plus in being gay, though!”

“Fuck it, you try!” I tossed the Bible at his head, figuring a penis-filled Word of God was as good a bludgeoning tool as any.

Mike sidestepped the blessed projectile and shook his head. “That wall has a truly evil curse on it.” He went over to touch the letters, but they shimmered and disappeared as soon as he got his hand close. “No tracing either.”

“…Why can’t I see the writing?” Ty asked. “I mean, I could see the naked mannequins.”

At that moment, another breaking noise sounded from downstairs, loud even over the ever-present bombardment by the RealDoll army. “For the same reason you didn’t just hear that. The dolls are — pardon the pun — real. Think of them like puppets — even if you can’t see the strings moving, you’ve still got Pinocchio doing his thing in front of you.” I waved about my hands importantly, because gestures always make a truly incredible explanation more plausible. “This, and the crack downstairs, are entirely not of this world.”

Ty shook his head, cutting me off. “No, no, I mean — why can you see it, and I can’t?”

Mike and I shared another round of Buddhist eye signals of varying degrees of seriousness before Mike shrugged and stepped up to the exposition plate. “It’s kind of like herpes–”

“Oh, it is not like herpes.” Why did I ever think leaving the important explaining to Mike was a good idea?

“It’s a gift that keeps on giving!”

“…Okay, maybe it is like herpes, a little. You don’t just have it; you catch it from someone else. And I got it from someone else, and Mike got it from me.”

Ty looked thoughtful. “So … why can’t you just give it to me?”

“Great idea!” Mike clapped his hands and walked back over to the door, which looked like it was thinking about coming loose from its hinges sometime in the next few minutes. “You ladies get on with it. You can lie back and think of England.”

“What the hell is he talking about?”

As much as I hated to admit it, Mike had correctly identified our only way of getting out of here at this point. I took a deep breath and pulled Ty aside, trying to initiate something of a more intimate, serious conversation. “This thing we have — psychic herpes, or whatever it is — look, I don’t even know what it’s called. There’s not a name for it, and I can’t get rid of it. There’s no antibiotic.”

“Oh,” said Ty, looking slightly less enthusiastic with that on the table, and also now frowning at my hand on his arm. “How, um, do you get it?”

“Sex.” I tried to sound casual and found that my palms were sweating like a middle schooler on his first date. “You have sex with an infected person, and you get it yourself.”

“Oh. Oh.” Ty’s cheeks turned a precious shade of pink. “Well, maybe we shouldn’t–”

“But Mike’s right. Whatever it says on that wall, it’s the only clue we’ve got to getting out. And, you know, we can chance hanging around a little bit longer, to see if something else happens — but the door’s not going to hold out much longer, and to tell you the truth, I don’t know how much we are either. And I’m sorry, but I’m out of ideas.”

Ty laughed a little, a desperate, nervous noise. “So you want to suck my cock and give me psychic herpes.”

“So you can read the ghostly Korean writing on the wall and hopefully get us out of the haunted house where we’re under siege by RealDolls.” I nodded, amazed at how utterly insane it sounded when said like that. “That’s about the long and the short of it.”

“What about Mike?” asked Ty. “Aren’t you two … you know? Together?”

I looked at Mike, who was now trying to wedge a chair under the doorknob, without great success. “Mike stands by the time-honoured closet-case theory that letting another guy suck your dick doesn’t make you gay — only in his case it’s actually true.” Mike gave that statement a big grinning thumbs-up; I saw his thumb and raised him a middle finger. “We’re best friends, though sometimes I’m fucked if I know why, and he lets me suck him off because since we don’t just go around fucking people who aren’t already infected, he’s got every psychic female in a hundred-mile radius between the ages of sixteen and sixty-five on speed dial, but I’ve got nobody but him.”

“I’m touched,” said Mike. “Now, will you get on it?”

“Will you shut up for five seconds?”

“Do you need mood music? I can sing the great guitar ballads of the ’80s, ’90s, and today.”

I leaned in a little closer, trying to look sexy even though I knew my attempts at the best of times mostly succeeded by inspiring sheer pity. “Look, Ty, I’ll understand if you don’t want to–”

“I won’t!” Mike hollered.

Shut up!” God, he could never let me get laid without getting a hundred words in edgewise. “Because this isn’t a little thing, this is a big thing, and it’ll change your life and the way you see things — but you’re really hot, and I actually think I kind of like you a lot, and trust me when I want to say that I would want to suck your cock even in the least dire of circumstances, and I don’t even know if you like guys or not, but I’ve been thinking ever since Mike pointed out your tongue stud to me about how I really want to kiss you–”

Ty grabbed the front of my shirt and yanked me toward him, throwing me so off-balance we mostly just knocked teeth. He yanked a little higher, though, and we started working out the logistics of a kiss. By the time I got my hands around behind him, grabbing his bony little ass for all it was worth, though, we getting were pretty good at it. Count ‘kissing a gothy guy with a tongue piercing’ at the top of my list of life goals I hadn’t even known I’d had before I was fulfilling them.

“Fine” he finally said, pulling away just enough that our lips brushed as he spoke. “Suck my cock.”

He didn’t need to tell me twice. I was on my knees and at his fly like fags to a Broadway musical. Minus any further preamble or foreplay, I reached into his pants, pulled out his cock, and stuffed the whole thing in my mouth. It was only when the curved barbell hit the back of my throat that I realized, holy shit, this guy’s got a Prince Albert. You learn the most interesting things about people when you’re sucking them off.

Simply put, I love giving head. I have loved it ever since the days of discovering in elementary school that the best way to eat popsicles is not to bite, but fellate, and I say with no small pride that at least a dozen guys I’ve sucked off have told me I’ve been the best head they’ve ever gotten. Mike’s continuing to let me blow him on a semi-regular basis was actually more for my benefit for his; I actually get depressed if I go too long without it. And as Ty’s equipment was the first I’d had in my mouth for two years that wasn’t Mike’s, I was relishing the variety.

Speaking of Mike, I heard a disgruntled sigh from the direction of the door, but I ignored him; this was payback for every time I’d sat chastely in the driver’s seat while he got head from some cheerleader in the back of my car. Besides, he’d had his turn. I pushed a little, and Ty stepped back against the wall, bracing himself. I reached up for the waistband of his pants and just yanked them down to the tops of his boots, relishing the opportunity to get my hands all over his hips and thighs. He had a little tattoo of some Chinese character just at the edge of his well-groomed pubic hair. This was not the penis of a straight man I had in my mouth.

I could feel him fumble about my shoulders and hair, the classic I’m getting a blowjob and I don’t know what to do with my hands guy gesture, which was inspirational in its own way. Though I usually felt it somewhat gauche not to wait my own damn turn, I reached into my own pants and started stroking it. Hey, there was always the possibility that this wouldn’t work, and that we’d end up either starving to death in this farmhouse room or being beaten to death by a mob of angry RealDolls, or both — which meant that this would be the last time I’d ever get off. Thus, I intended to make the most of it.

Ty went weak-kneed as I flicked at his PA with the tip of my tongue, which just encouraged me to do it again. “Shit, I’ve … I’ve gotta sit down,” he managed, looking a bit cross-eyed.

“You do what you need to, dude,” I laughed, giddy and hard and possibly about to die sometime in the near future. I sat back, putting my weight on my ass instead of on my knees, and my lower legs instantly thanked my new position for its contribution to their blood circulation. With a trembling thud, Ty found his way to the ground, stretching his legs out in front of him. “You okay there?”

“Yeah, I’m — hey, what’s that?” He squinted in the direction of the wall-writing, and I knew that whatever the it it is that we pass between us, it was slowly taking hold in Ty’s system, seeping like black water into the cracks in his mind, turning up the volume on the world. And since guilt at having infected someone with a certified crazy person virus is a real bonerkill, I took the coward’s way out — distraction.

“It can wait,” I said before swallowing him to the root again. Reputable scientific studies will confirm that the throaty moan he made in response was, in fact, a noise of agreement.

There are relatively few cocksucking dilemmas (95% of which are spit or swallow?), but I quickly realized I’d come up on a new one variation on get it over with as quickly as possible or prolong the magic? On the one hand, being dismembered by RealDolls while jerking off and sucking a hot guy’s dick was undoubtedly the subject of at least three dedicated fetish websites, and I didn’t want to die knowing I’d missed a golden money-making opportunity for having my untimely yet unique demise captured on film. On the other, I really, really liked Ty’s cock. It was quite the dilemma.

Ty, however, solved the problem for me by trailing his hand down the length of my body. I’d settled curled on my side around him so my knees were touching his hip — a somewhat awkward contortion, but right now I was hardly in a position to complain. A pair of slightly chilly, ring-circled fingers slipped beneath the waistband of my pants to wrap around my cock. I moaned and scootched my hips closer to his grip, hoping that the way I was deep-throating Ty kept him from registering how unsexy the motion was.

The hand that grabbed my hair, attempting to move my head in time with his stroking my dick, was a great indication he hadn’t noticed a thing. I used to bitch all the time about how guys would try to fuck my face when they got really into it, but that was before Mike, who didn’t care enough about getting head to bother; now, as Ty’s cock ring knocked the roof of my mouth, I just got harder. It’s funny the things you miss.

“I’m gonna come,” gasped Ty, and I was glad I didn’t hear Mike throw in a ‘good for you!’ at that moment, because if he had, I would have been obliged to drop everything and kick him in the nuts. I always think it’s polite when guys give you a heads-up. “Fuck, Jason, I’m–” This time, he didn’t say it — he just did it, warm and salty, and I sucked him for every drop I could get.

I think I fell a little in love with him when, less than three seconds after he’d finished coming, he remembered what his hand had been doing and went back to jerking me off. “Fuck,” I breathed, pressing my lips against the base of his softening cock. My nose landed somewhere near his tattoo, and I had a brief thought (one of those really random ones that only seem to come when you’re on the brink of a great orgasm) that it should be the character for nose goes here. That, at least, would make some practical sense.

And then I was coming into his hand, gasping and pawing, muffling the sound against his skin as I shuddered and shook all the way down. Mutual orgasms and saving our lives? My work here was done. I sprawled across Ty’s lap, staring with unfocused eyes at his cock jewelery, marveling at how sparkly it was. I was so relaxed and intrigued by the sight, I couldn’t even get mad that Mike had apparently turned his flashlight into a dedicated spotlight. I just lifted another middle finger in his general direction, an almost-respectful salute to his assholeish voyeurism.

“….Answer?” Ty’s voice sounded dreamy, and it took me a moment to realize he wasn’t talking — he was translating. “…Answer your … cell phone … penis-president. …No, wait, that last part doesn’t sound right.”

But I was already rummaging through my pockets, looking for my clunky silver phone. I flipped it open and saw 34 Missed Calls — most of which had been there for a while — and scrolled to the most recent entries. All of them came from a nineteen-digit number, the same that showed as the phone began to ring again. I pressed the ‘talk’ button. “….Hello?”

“Hey, Jason! It’s Mike!”

I looked across the room to Mike, who was standing right there, using himself as a doorstop, making some sort of spastic origami out of my earlier dong art. There were a lot of things Mike was capable of, but cell phone ventriloquism wasn’t among them.

“No, dickweed,” said the voice on the phone, who sounded exactly like Mike, only a little raspier. “It’s Mike from the future.”

I glared at the Mike in the room with me. “Are you doing this?”

“Doing what?” he said, and he sounded so entirely clueless that I knew he meant it. “Who’re you talking to?”

“Tell him his mom kept Playboys under her side of the mattress and they were always dog-eared to the girls with the long dark hair,” said the Mike-voice on the phone.

I covered the mouthpiece of the phone with a few fingers. “He said your mom used to have copies of Playboy under her bed, and she dog-eared the brunettes?”

Mike frowned. “…Is that me on the phone?”

“Apparently.” I shrugged and took my hand away. “Okay, uh, hi?”

“Hi, great! So, I bet you want to know how to get out of the house.”

“It had kind of crossed my mind.”

“Great. I want you to go to the door and yell ‘Spiro Agnew!’ at the alarm system.”

“Alarm system?”

“You know, the dolls.” Future-Mike sounded very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. “That’s their safeword. Words.”

Still cautious, but willing to try anything at this point, I hauled myself to my feet and walked over to the door, where the hammering from the other side had subsided to a dull roar. I guess even custom-fabricated silicone hands get tired after a while. As a point of courtesy, I took the phone away from my mouth before shouting, “Spiro Agnew!

The pounding stopped, replaced instead by a sound that I was disturbingly certain could only have been made by several plastic bodies’ collapsing into a heap on the other side. “Great,” said Future-Mike, “now open the door and take the gun.”

“The gun?” I asked, but I was already turning the lock. Sure enough, the doll on the topmost part of the pile — ‘Tami’, if I remember my forays into that particular canyon of horrors correctly — had a gun perched atop her jiggly, jiggly breasts. I snatched it away and darted back in the room quickly, just in case they were thinking about a repeat performance. It was a little gun, black and weirdly heavy. It came to me that this was the first gun I’d ever held. My adopted pioneer ancestors would be so ashamed of me. “Okay, got it.”

“Great, great.” There was a pause. “Now I want you to shoot me in the head.”

I nearly dropped the phone. “What?

Ty looked worried. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ve got to do it, man,” said Future-Mike. “Have I ever steered you wrong before?”

Yes!” Recounting the entire laundry list would have kept us there for at least a week more, so I let it go at that.

“Oh. Well, sorry about those. But really. You want to get out, you have to shoot me in the head.”

“This isn’t like the time you promised to buy me a beer if I helped you drill a hole in your head for you, is it?”

Future-Mike laughed, the sound thin and tinny over the cell phone. “Come on, sport. One shot.”

Back in the present, the real Mike — my Mike — had come close and was trying to get his ear in near the cell phone’s speaker, and I was just as studiously trying to keep him away from it. “Hey, what’m I saying?”

“I don’t think it’s you,” I told both Mikes at once. “I think it’s some fucked-up ghost playing a trick on us.”

“Hey,” said Future-Mike, “that’s not nice. Give the phone to me, will you?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Call it payback for that time in seventh grade I stood lookout while you kissed with Bobby Appleson behind the school gym.”

“It was eighth grade,” I corrected him, but I was already handing the phone over to the real Mike. To my fourteen-year-old estimation, it had been the greatest show of bravery and friendship ever evidenced, the kind of epic loyalty portrayed in cowboy films and cop buddy movies, and I’d promised Mike that I’d do anything for him in return. Leave it to the son of a bitch to wait until now to call it in.

The real Mike took the phone and held it to his hear. “Uh-huh?” There was a slight pause. “This is just like the — yeah! And then — yeah, right! And the … dude, I’d completely forgotten about that.” It was like watching a stand-up routine performed by a schizophrenic.

Ty walked up behind me; at first I thought it was to keep my body as a semi-shield between him and the crazy man on the phone, but then he wrapped his arms around my waist and my entire context for his motivation changed. “What’s going on?” he asked, leaning his chin over my shoulder so our cheeks touched.

I shrugged my free shoulder. “He’s trying to convince him to make me shoot him in the head.”

“Oh.” Ty thought about this for a second. “Wait, who’s trying to convince whom?”

“I’ll tell you later.” In front of us, Mike kept on with the most unhelpful single side of a phone conversation in the history of man. I put the hand that didn’t have the gun on top of one of Ty’s, twining our fingers together. “Hey, if we get out of this alive, do you want to go for pizza, or see a movie, or have sex where my creepy best friend isn’t watching, or something?”

Ty grinned and squeezed in a way that, even in a life-or-death situation, felt pretty positive. “I’d love to.”

Mike snapped the phone shut and tossed it back to me — which, because my arms were occupied, meant more that he lobbed it against my undefended chest; it bounced off near the same place the rotten apple had hit and crashed to the floor. I didn’t like this trend. “Better do what I say, Jase,” he shrugged. “We don’t have a lot of time. The rip downstairs is about to burst.”

I looked at the gun in my hand. “You’re crazy, you know.”

“Do it for me; I said I can’t do it myself.” Mike stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Apparently suicide is exempted from the laws of temporal mechanics. Some sort of clause; I’ve got my lawyers on it, but it won’t help us retroactively. Or, you know, it will, but not yet–”

“So I’m just supposed to kill you?”

Mike leveled his gaze at me. “Remember the time I had sex with Cyndi Kendall on your mom’s bed and told her it was you?”

My jaw set a little. “Yeah?” Why was he bringing this up now?

“And the time I made you lose your job at the Circle K by shotgunning five Mountain Dews while balancing a Twinkie on my dick just as your manager walked in?”

Ty made a disgusted sound from over my shoulder. “Five?”

And the time I yarfed in the back of your car before you went away for the weekend and didn’t tell you about it?”

My car had earned a purple heart that night. “Mike…?”

“And the time I told that cute guy you were flirting with at the bar in Tampa on our senior trip that you were actually a woman?”

Yes.” I felt my lips thin.

And the time I’m about to tell your future homo life mate the awful secret about how when you were seventeen, you and my mom–”

For never having held a gun before, I turned out to have pretty good aim as I lifted my arm and put three bullets right between Mike’s eyes. A bright red cloud burst from behind his head, and he staggered forward a few steps, still wearing that shit-eating grin, before pitching backward. Before he could hit the ground, however, the world shimmered and flickered out.

~*~

It was bright, and I tried to raise my hand to shield my eyes, but something was holding it in place. I panicked for a minute, picturing first the grip of a giant tentacle monster, then a stroke that had paralyzed my entire right side, then a tentacle monster again. When I looked down to check, though, it was only Ty’s painted fingers, still clutching tight. Behind him stood Mike, yawning and scratching his balls. We were on the front porch of the Dell Place, and the sun had just come up.

For a moment, nobody moved.

“So,” said Mike, looking about as un-dead as he ever did, “I think the IHOP has a two-for-one pancake special this morning.”

I’m not ashamed to admit that their butter pecan syrup brings a tear to my eye. “That sounds great. By the way, what the fuck just happened?”

“This is my house,” said Mike, walking down the steps back to the car. “Well, not now. But I’m going to come into some money — I didn’t say how, so I’m guessing it’s just better not to ask — and buy the place.”

Still holding my hand, Ty followed on Mike’s heels, looking as glad to get away from the place as I felt. “So … that was all your fault?”

Mike set his pack down on the hood, rummaging through and producing my cell phone. He tossed it in my direction, and I actually managed to catch it this time. “Pretty much, yeah. I remember reading in Tobin’s Spirit Guide that industrial silicone is a quality magical conduit. Apparently RealDolls make great familiars. Anyway, I’m going to meet up with some guys doing work on time travel, and, while doing an experiment, open up a rift in the downstairs bathroom that swallows the world if it’s not stopped.”

It was sad to note that one the Grand Scale of Weird Shit that had happened in my life, this didn’t even make it much past a seven and a half. “So I shoot you in the head, which stops you from growing up, buying the house, and causing the rift.”

“Precisely.” He pulled out the bottle of Jim Beam. “Here, I told me you’d need this afterward.”

I took it and downed a good quarter of it graciously. Ty seemed far less mollified by this gesture than I, but then again, Ty’s bloodstream wasn’t about to play host to several fingers of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. “But … you died.”

“Sure. Which, as the esteemed penis-president just pointed out, stopped me from growing up, buying the house, and causing the rift.” Mike frowned at me. “I also told me to tell you not to drink it all, or you’ll just puke it up again and it won’t do you any good.”

“Do you remember Schrödinger’s cat?” I asked Ty, ignoring Mike’s chastisements about my alcohol consumption. “It has to do with atomic theory. The idea goes, the cat’s in the box, and there’s some sort of atom, and when the atom decays — which it’s as likely to do as not — the cat dies. Until you open the box and check, the cat’s equally as likely to be alive as it is dead. So it’s sort of in a state of simultaneous dead-aliveness.” And they said those late nights watching Nova while stoned would never amount to anything. “And Mike’s … like the cat. He’s both dead and alive, and as long as we don’t press the matter, I guess, he can … stay that way.”

Ty stared at me, dumbfounded, I was certain, by my unexpected brilliance. “…That makes no sense. What’s the box in your analogy?”

“He’s right, dude,” said Mike, slinging his bag onto his back. “You are talking grade-A shit.”

“Fuck you both.” My wounded science nerd pride and I set about finishing as much of the bottle as we could without reaching the vomit event horizon.

“Not at once,” said Ty, who added, to Mike, “No offense, man.”

Mike shrugged. “None taken.”

That matter settled, Ty walked to his car, and I followed. “What I don’t understand,” I said, as he snatched the bottle before it could get to my lips again and ringed his tongue around the rim in a manner so suggestive that was probably illegal in most states, “is why the message was in Korean. That makes no sense. It’s Mike’s house, he’s trying to get our attention from the future — why not do it in a language more than one of us here actually speaks?”

“Oh,” Ty said, “I’ve got an idea.”

I looked blankly at him for a moment, then followed his gaze up to the house — up, past the damaged siding and the half-hanging shutters, up to the window of the room where I’d so recently simultaneously assassinated and not-assassinated Mike. In the early morning sunlight, visible just beyond the iron bars, stood two figures, wrinkled and cardigan-clad, with their arms around each others’ waists, waving and smiling. One sported a little moustache I knew right then I’d forget to remember never to grow; the other had enough facial jewelery to embarrass any grandchild and probably still looked just as ridiculous eating a french fry.

A hand slipped around my waist, mirroring the shadowy pair’s position. “How about that?” said Ty, his voice barely a whisper in my ear.

“Come on, jizz-weasels,” shouted Mike from the front seat as the engine of his — well, my — car roared to life. “Next stop’s Moons Over My Hammy — which, in case you were wondering, is also what was on the blue plate special I served your mom last night.”

Lacking the heart to tell Mike that was Denny’s, not IHOP or my mother, I climbed in the passenger seat of Ty’s car. It smelled like patchouli and beer, and I had to move two linguistics texts and a Noam Chomsky book out of the way before I had a place to sit down, and Black Sabbath roared at me at a deafening volume as soon as the car turned on, and I loved it all instantly. “Follow that asshole,” I instructed, reaching across the front seat to put my hand on Ty’s thigh. By the time we hit the main road, I was sound asleep.

~*~
brief notes:

Dave Wong inspired this story. beeblebabe made it awesome. And sairobi made it pretty!

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