Thursday, April 3, 2014

Trade in the Monster by Dustin Reade (Random Title 24)

At dusk, the ocean of bile churned and burbled. The pallbearers milled about in the thousands, waiting to carry the carcasses to the bile’s edge. Whipping tentacles with purple tops and pinkish-white suckered bottoms thrashed a little ways from the shoreline, waiting to drag the corpses to the pit of the stomach to be digested, the beast’s first official meal this quarter. Ahmed leaned over his gyro stall and whispered conspiratorially in my ear, “one day we will be the unlucky ones, eh?”

    I turned and caught his eye. His face was lean and tough, with smooth lips like the lips of a penis stretched from the base of one cheek to the other. I never liked him. Something about him always made me feel dirty, diseased, as though he carried a virus in his eyes that could pass from person to person with nothing more than a wink. I shrugged, tossed the bag of dead rats on the counter, and said in a plaintive voice, “not today, Ahmed. Can we hurry this along? I have to be back at The Colon in a few minutes.”

    “Good work in The Colon?”

    “Fine,” I said. “Seriously, how long does it take to cut a hunk of lamb and put it in a pita?”

    Ahmed handed me the gyro and gathered up the rats. With one look inside the bag, he nodded his head and clucked his tongue.

    “Amazing,” he said. “How these little creatures manage to survive without being digested…it is truly remarkable.”

    “They’re too small,” I told him, taking a big bite of the gyro. “The monster doesn’t even know they’re in here, I bet. When it swallowed the world, I doubt it realized there were this many creatures on it. You read the paper the other day? Some scientist near The Spleen discovered the remains of three or four other planets, near the outer anus. There were all of these half-digested alien corpses, crumbled buildings, all kinds of things. The Monster has been at this a while, and I doubt it even realizes the magnitude of what it destroys.”

    I took a deep breath, just kind of staring off into space, and said, “It just kind of eats, you know?”

    “Like you, no?” Ahmed said, chuckling under his breath as he tucked the rats into the safe beneath the register.

    I threw the empty gyro wrapper in the trash and walked back to work.

    Near the bile’s edge, I watched a young boy drag a deer into the churning ocean. I wondered who in his family he was protecting. The tentacles had been creeping further inland, taking the elderly from their beds. The Monster is always getting hungrier. For the most part we can keep it placated with the dead, or with rats and animals, but The Monster must forever eat, forever be digesting something. They figured it out a while ago. The Monster is biologically immortal, like a hydra. It is an alien, a planet-eating demon of unimaginable size. Apparently, it just roams about in space, eating whatever it comes across, including planets, and the tentacle-bacteria in its stomach pick the planet clean of life forms, then pushes the detritus out The Colon.

    One hundred years ago, it swallowed the Earth. Terra. Home. It took some time, but we eventually figured out a way to keep The Monster fed without having tentacles randomly pluck us from our beds. Animals, old people, and most of all the dead became its food. Money soon became useless; as did anything you couldn’t toss to the tentacles should they come for you in the night. They seemed to know the difference between organic and non-organic matter. Scientists thought it might have something to do with sensors in their suckers, but know one really knows for sure. So, we began trading in little lives for our own. That is why I fought so hard to get a job in The Colon. All of the bio-runoff, all of the human waste and leftover body parts meant one thing: rats. You can get almost anything with a bag of rats.

    I clocked in and got to work. My desk faced a wide picture window overlooking the river of digested elements. There were no tentacles in The Colon, another perk of the job. There was a knock at the door and a moment later, Jeb, my coworker, walked in. He was chewing furiously on his bottom lip, rubbing his hands together.

    “I did it,” he said. “It’s done.”

    “Are you sure?”

    “Yes,” he nodded furiously. “Completely sure, I managed to secure two pressurized suits from a half-digested NASA vessel that came through the other day. I guess that means Cape Canaveral is gone, along with most of the east coast.”

    “I guess so,” I said.

    “Anyway, that is it, finished. The bulk of the boat has been finished for a while, and I managed to scrounge up a few more oxygen tanks. With the suits, we should be set.”

    “When do you we leave?” I asked.

    “Whenever,” Jeb said. “Tomorrow morning, tonight, it doesn’t matter.”

    “How about now?”

    Jeb looked at me. I could see the terror in his eyes, and the thin layer of excitement just beneath.

    “Are you serious?”

    “Dead serious,” I nodded.

    “Right,” Jeb said quickly. “But what do we give in our place? The ship weighs about two-thousand pounds, and that is all accounted for, but with the two of us inside, that’s what, three hundred pounds of unaccounted weight? The workers in The Outer Anus will notice. We’ll have to trade something, make a swap.”

    “I’ll figure it out,” I said. “Give me a little time. We’ll meet at the docks in two hours.”

    Ahmed was still at the gyro stall when I reached it. He was just closing up, humming some ancient song to himself. I tapped him on the back, and he spun around, surprised. He smiled when he saw me.

    “My friend!” he said happily. “Back for more gyros? You have that many rats? Well, I am sorry, but I am all closed up for the day.”

    “I’m not hungry,” I said. “I need your help. The Colon Police discovered my rats. They want to have me arrested for hoarding.”

    “That is terrible!” Ahmed said. “But what could you want from me? How can I help you?”

    “They haven’t found all the rats. I think if I could get rid of the rest, they might lessen the charges. I was hoping you could take them?”

    Ahmed’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “Yes!” he said. “Yes, of course! Where are they?”

    “Follow me,” I told him, heading for the abandoned shoreline.

    Two hours later, I made it to the docks. Jeb stood under a burnt out lamp post, twisting his hat in his hands. I could see the makeshift boat bobbing up and down in the water.

    “Did you do it?” he asked when he saw me. “Did you find a way to account for our weight?”

    “Most of it,” I said, climbing into the boat and fighting my way into the pressure suit.

    “It has to be precise,” Jeb said, climbing into the seat beside me and strapping himself in.

    “I have a plan,” I told him.

    The boat moved, silent and slow, down the digested river, occasionally bumping into a rotten corpse, or scraping along the tripe-like bile floor.

    “How did you fix the weight problem?” Jeb asked when we were approaching The Interior Anal Exit.

    “I can’t tell you,” I said. “Not yet. Here, we are almost there. I think we are dragging something behind us. A corpse, most likely. Get out there and dislodge it, we can’t have anything weighing us down. I only freed up enough for the two of us.”

    “Okay,” Jeb said, climbing out the manhole door.

    I quickly slammed it shut behind him and activated the lock. I could hear him pounding on it as I accelerated the boat. I could hear him screaming for me to let him in, but I couldn’t. Ahmed had been about my size, and would cover my own weight. If Jeb had really wanted to escape, he would have found some way to trade his weight, to swap, to make room for himself. I was thankful of his work on the boat, but now it was too late.

    I rounded a sharp curve and heard him roll over the boat into the bile just as I pushed through The Asshole and traded in my old life for a new, lonely life among the stars.


Dustin Reade lives in a trailer behind a BBQ restaurant in Port Angeles, Washington. His book Grambo was published as part of the 2013-14 New Bizarro Author Series. He is also the head editor of the online bizarro fiction magazine, The Mustache Factor. He once won one of those “Eat-A-Giant-Steak-And-Win-A-T-Shirt” things in Hollywood, California.


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