"Care for a bit of spotted dick?" you ask the British Airways stewardess as she passes, making sure to give her butt a high five (for doing such a great job at being a butt).
"The doctor says it's not even contagious," you clarify to her rapidly disappearing form. "And by 'doctor' I mean Beefsteak Billy, the hobo that sleeps in my car, and by 'not contagious' I of course mean he said, 'You should get that checked out as soon as possible.' "
She turns to you, righteous indignation coloring her cheeks, and then suddenly lapses into stunned silence.
"No," she finally assembles the words. "I thought you were dead after the last time!"
"You shouldn't think too hard about these things," you casually answer. "You know there are stupid kids in China that only get to think once a day?"
In front of you, a dozen tiny, empty bottles rattle on the tray table. At first you were angry that they were trying to gyp you with these miniature liquors, but now you find that you enjoy the way they make you feel: Like a giant. Like a violent, drunken giant.
"Anybody wanna peanut?" you scream into the face of the man seated next to you. He does not stir. Wow, hey -- he must have some fantastic shit. You rifle through his coatpockets, coming up with myriad bottles, vials and cases of little paper tabs -- most of which have labels typed in something you suspect is not an actual language.
"Do you want to be best friends?" you whisper to his unconscious form, whilst shoveling fistfuls of stolen mystery pills into your mouth from a bottle covered in Wingdings.
You awaken on a gray and desolate moor. The damp ground beneath you gives way with the rubbery resistance of moss. The fog enshrouds you completely. It is so dense and immobile that it seems to conceal shapes -- a car here, a row of shrubbery there -- but all vanish beneath your touch. You wander for what seems like days, before finally stumbling from the murk into the cold sunlight of a coastal dawn. You stand atop a broken bluff. Far below you, cloaked men stand before a boat, arguing.
Shit. Do British cops wear cloaks, or is that wizards? Can wizards be cops? You take no chances, flattening yourself to the ground while you observe them.
After a few moments, some of the strange men split off toward the boat, carrying a small, carved wooden box between them. There is something fundamentally wrong about their movements -- something stiff, not quite fluid enough to be human. You catch a glimpse of one's wrist: It is unearthly pale and spotted, as though diseased.
The men on the boat are focused on their task; they do not seem to see you.
You often find your mind drawn back to that one strange day on the moors, and today is no different. You consider the cloaked men as you drain water from the boiled potatoes. You pull the masher from the utensil drawer, transfer the starches to a plastic bowl, and set to work. Just getting old, you suppose, it's normal for the mind to dwell on youthful days. You consider adding cream or butter to the mashed potatoes, but decide against it. Leave that adventure to the young, you figure, with their regular bowels and active palettes.
Still, you can't seem to get it out of your head: What were they doing with that box? What was inside of it? Gold? Jewels? A nice, red ball?
That would've been fun to bounce, you muse.
Then, pain. Numbness down your left arm. You shake it, trying to regain feeling, only to find that the tingling cold is extending. It ebbs up into your chest, your neck. Vice-like now; the breath will not come.
No, you think, it can't be! Not like this! Not so soon!
You remember the box again, and you realize that the old saying was true: When your time comes, it's not the chances you did take that you end up regretting, but rather, all the sweet box-loot that you didn't.
You die boring, and that's bullshit.
It was practically out of your hands from the start: If mysterious robed figures didn't want you to steal their shit, they wouldn't have owned it right in your face like this. Who do they think they are, with their things, stuff and objects? They ain't better'n you!
You somersault determinedly down the sandy hill, because Zelda taught you that it is the most efficient form of movement. And sure enough, before you know it, you've already arrived, slammed headfirst into the hull of their boat, and thrown up into the eyes of the only guard that saw you, who subsequently bashed his own skull in while flailing to dig the burning whiskey waste from his ocular cavity. All is going better than expected! You enthusiastically pump your fist, and spend the next five minutes thinking of a cool one-liner to say to his corpse.
"Fuck you, corpse," you finally settle on.
You're quietly disappointed in yourself. You'll make sure to mentally insert a better line later, when you inevitably remember this as way radder than it actually was.
You heft yourself up onto the deck, crouch behind one of those giant spools of rope they always have on boats for some reason -- what the hell are those things for? -- and wait out the remainder of the bizarre voyage in relative silence.
This would normally be an impossible task for you, but you're still stuck on that one-liner thing.
"You should have seen that coming ... UP!"
"Hope your eyes aren't in AA!"
"Here's puke in your face!"
When you snap to, you're amazed to find that the boat has stopped, and also that it is now night. The cloaked men are nowhere to be seen. The vessel has docked at an ancient and crumbling pier, jutting out just below an equally dilapidated castle. The strangled, choking sing-song of the cloaked men's bizarre non-language echoes softly from an open cellar door. To your left, a small shack has a light on. Within it, an old, gentle-looking woman is laughing at something.
You rap uncertainly on the door, and the laughter from within snaps off like a switch. The door swings open a crack, and a ravaged face, full of equal parts apprehension and charity, gazes out at you.
"What's up, baby? You want some spotted di-" you start to say, but the words die in your throat.
The old woman hurls the door wide, and you see her for the first time in her entirety. The matronly, loving, kind-of-hot-in-a-settle-for-it-way face is the only thing remotely human about her -- the rest of her body is naught but a swirling, nebulous vortex of shadow. You catch glimpses of beasts in there -- here a claw, here a patch of scales -- but they shift, morph, change and disappear into the shapeless darkness before any can resolve into a whole. She opens her mouth, and emits a guttural screech -- the same impossible gibberish from the men on the boat.
"Here's puke in your face!" you scream, shoving the roiling mass of creatures backward. You use the distance this bought you as run-up for your drop kick, and it is a thing of pure and transcendent beauty, perfectly executed in every way: A three step run-up - no more, no less - with both feet leaving the ground simultaneously on the third stride, your body positioned perfectly horizontal at the time of impact. If poets weren't such pussies, they would write of this moment and only this moment until the death of the written word; after all, no love you've ever encountered is strong enough to overcome a single solid, Kirk-style, two-footed full body kick.
You sink up to your knees in the black hole of the crone's torso, but finally contact something hard within it that gives way. She coughs at the impact, and falls to the floor in a hacking mess. Luckily, the twisting madness of her body cushions your fall, and you leap to your feet unharmed. You take in your surroundings. In the far corner, a makeshift cage stands askew. Its contents: One frail, frightened, and absolutely gorgeous redhead. She looks beaten, ragged, half-feral with trauma and shock.
You silently move forward and reach out to undo the latch of the captive woman's cage. She shrinks away from the door. Poor girl must be terrified, you think to yourself as the lock grinds open and the door swings inward on complaining hinges. Suddenly, she explodes up from the shadows, hurtling through the air almost completely horizontally.
A dropkick, you realize with awe, every bit the match of my own. If she wasn't currently caving in your chest cavity, you know you would have just found your soul mate.
But she is caving it in.
She is absolutely doing that.
You die as hard as you possibly can (if only to show your appreciation for her form).
"Care for some spotted dick?" You say, swaggering up toward the cage and leaning nonchalantly against the inert tail section of the demon-hag. Your elbow sinks six inches deep into insanity, but you don't want to look stupid - like you didn't already know that a crone-beast's tail opens onto the Realms of Unreason; like you're some sort of chump - so you just leave your arm where it is, dangling in a hell dimension, while you await her response. Something tentatively licks your wrist. There is an agonizing moistness. You instantly understand what it feels like to be digested. And yet you stand firm.
Or lean turgid, anyway.
The girl's expression practically soars when she hears your voice. Of course! You used human language; now she knows you're not one of the changed ones. Man, let this be a lesson to you: Always inappropriately proposition hostages before freeing them.
That's just a good Life Rule from now on.
You withdraw your hand from the abyss with a wet, sucking pop, and know intrinsically that it will never again be completely your own. You shake it off, and open the cage. The woman bounds out, grabbing at you desperately. She is whimpering with relief, so out of control with gratitude at the sight of another human being that she digs her nails into your arms, nibbles at your ear, licks your neck - everything you've always hoped people that you've just released from cages would do, but they usually just call the cops.
After a minute spent silently giving yourself fistbumps behind her back, you push her off.
"Rrrr..." she starts to speak, but the words come hard. It's obvious she has not done so in some time. "R...Rrrebecca," she says, at last. You immediately know that the image of pure want in her big brown eyes just now has seared itself into your memories forever.
You grab her hand and turn toward the door. "There'll be plenty of time to hump on top of hellbeasts later, baby, but for now: There's a box of mystery stuff out there that I'm pretty sure I deserve, and lovin' takes a backseat to lootin'."
The two of you exit the shack, and slip quietly through the cellar door.
You make your way down the steps, slippery with some kind of rank ichor that you cannot see; for once, you are grateful for the half-light. At the bottom of the stairs, a flickering torch sits against one wall. Beyond it: Darkness. After a few minutes of struggle, you finally wrestle the torch from its sconce and turn to proceed down the tunnel. Instead of brick and shadow, your eyes register only a vast expanse of blotchy white; two pools of shimmering blue on either side. A face, you slowly come to realize - a face mere inches from your own. The white of blotchy, pallid skin. The blue of mad, merciless eyes. An expression comprised of equal parts cruelty, wrath, and glee - you recognize the look; it's the same on your driver's license.
With some surprise, you discover there is a knife in your belly.
"Fair enough," you rasp to the almost-man, blood staining your lips, "totally would've done the same in your shoes."
As you curl into yourself, leaking life out onto the stones, you stare at the blade. It is buried in your guts to the hilt, and has been twisted counterclockwise, hard, so as to widen the wound. You die giving the man an appreciative nod, as if to say "hey, not too shabby!"
You lead the girl, still shell-shocked from the horrors she must have endured, gingerly down the slick granite steps. A torch flickers on the wall, its metal rivets rusted to the iron bands of a sconce. You grapple with it for some time, but just as it comes free, the girl barks a sudden, shocked warning behind you.
You spin about, and find her struggling with one of the cloaked unmen.
"Your face and fire!" You scream, thrusting the torch into the hooded opening where you assume the man's head to be. The stink of burnt flesh and something else - something greasy and rotten, like old sausage - fills the room. The thing hollers something in its terrible warbling tongue, then grasps its face, and dies.
Your face and fire? Jesus. That was worse than 'here's puke in your face.'
You kick yourself for another opportunity lost, but there's no time to dwell on it now. You grab the girl's dainty wrist, and jog off together into the damp labyrinth. You round corner after corner, each identical, each equally inert and abandoned. Just as you're about to give up the search, you take one final passage and nearly trip through a doorway, framed by sputtering lanterns on either side. Two unmen guard the entryway, their backs to you. They grumble, mutter, and giggle crazily to themselves. You motion to the girl for quiet. She drops into a ready crouch beside you. Moving as one, you each seize a guard by the throat and tear into their neckflesh with your teeth.
"Rough," she snarls, spitting a mouthful of foul crimson fluid onto the ground.
"Word," you agree, also retching polluted blood onto the cobblestones, "this was like, easily the second worst tasting guy I've bit this week."
You exchange a blood-tinged smile with one another, drop the corpses, and slip through the entranceway together.
It's here: The mystery box.
Your treasure! At long last! It's been like ten hours since you started wanting it; that's longer than you've ever stayed focused on anything.
You flip the top back from the ornate wooden box and notice, too late, the scenes of madness and death etched deep onto its every surface. Inside, on a slip of dark purple felt, sits a small stone idol. In form and appearance, it is ordinary, but something untraceable there traps the mind - the alien posture, the faint smirk, the flashing in the jeweled eyes. The lines seem to quiver and shift almost imperceptibly.
Pain wells up in your head. A pounding, rumbling, rolling agony. It builds in power and frequency until you are lost to torture.
The whole world is naught but war-drums and the screams of the dying. The idol is violence. All of violence; the avatar of violence on Earth; it is the extent of human depravity and need and destruction, and it has made a home within you now. You are a vessel, and it has boarded you. But to fill you with its rage, it must empty you first: All that made you who you flows out, like water down a drain - and sure, okay, maybe you were mostly violence and depravity already, but come on, there was some other good stuff in there too! Like how good you were at Mario Kart. You knew exactly when to hit the throttle to get the start boost, like every single time. And also uh...um...well, damn. All right. Yeah, it's pretty much just the Mario Kart thing that's gone. Now there's vileness and despair instead.
"There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done," you inform the girl, snapping up the unopened box and stepping toward the door. She follows closely on your heels. Suddenly, a piercing alarm rings out! Its tone is unearthly, it seems to ululate from the very Earth itself. Just behind the ringing, you can hear the distant, mad gibberish of the unmen, and the slap of their approaching feet. You and Rebecca exchange worried glances, then break into a panicked sprint. She pulls ahead easily, her auburn hair whipping wildly as she takes her great, leaping bounds. It is all you can do to keep up. Finally, knees weak, lungs convulsing, you lunge out into the open air of the harbor.
"Hey, I've got some cyclopean architecture right here, fellas!" You holler, shaking your wang at the furious horde bearing down on you. A look of distaste breaks through the inhuman snarl on one of the unmen, and he immediately loses step with his comrades. He shakes his head at you in revolted disbelief, tosses down his dagger, and turns to walk away - the fight gone out of him. You laugh, tuck your dick back into your waistband, then jog away to the waiting vessel.
You slip the mooring knot loose and leap up onto the deck, only to find Rebecca already there, panting gently from exertion, a look of restrained mirth on her face.
She gets off on this shit too! You realize, making a mental note to schedule a drunken toy store smash 'n grab date when you get back to civilization.
You slap at the controls, and the boat lurches backward, out to sea and away from the raging mob. As you disappear from view, they hurl furious epithets and, in at least one case, sobbing accusations of molestation at you in their ancient and ungodly language.
As you drift away into the open ocean, it occurs to you that you don't know how to drive this thing. But hey, that didn't stop you from stealing that ice cream truck at the beach last month, did it? You do what you did then: Jam the accelerator open, flop wordlessly down to the floor next to a beautiful woman, and once again cede your fate to the fickle whims of the sea. Seems like it just ain't a weekend these days until you cede your fate to some fickle sea whims.
You tenderly grasp Rebecca's hand, and she smiles demurely. She leans into you, and you gladly follow where she leads. Your lips seal, your tongues flicker, and narrow sparks explode behind your eyes. You did not understand love before - the closest you came was that time you mixed Everclear with pop rocks - but as the world drops out and adrenaline surges into your fingertips, you think you might have a pretty good idea, for once. After an eternity of formless, blissful wet and warmth, you open your eyes... just in time to see the serpent wrap itself around her throat and yank her away.
You scramble across the deck on your knees, and lean your head out over the railing. It was not a serpent, after all - just a single, dark tentacle, split off from a writhing mass of thousands. It still has her about the neck, while another has seized each wrist. One undulates forth from the murky water and wraps itself around her thigh. Another follows suit, pulling her legs apart. Tiny yelps of wordless fear percolate through her lips, and she turns to meet your gaze, eyes pleading.
"I'm uh...I'm gonna see how this plays out, actually," You answer her unspoken question, and begin unbuttoning your pants.
But before it gets to the good stuff, your boat banks sharply, as if struck from below. You tumble overboard, grasping for the handrail, but missing - mostly because you still have your dong in one hand and are quite unwilling to release it. It's like your father always said: You don't pull that thing out unless you're going to use it, and you don't put it away until you do.
But instead of slipping into the freezing waters, you land on something spongey and pockmarked, its surface slick with mucus. Your stomach drops into your knees as you are vaulted sharply upward. In seconds, you find yourself hundreds of feet up in the air! You alternately scoot and crabwalk, penis enclutched, over to peer off the edge of the thing carrying you. You cast your eyes downward, and stare into the face of what waits behind the world. Your mind tries to categorize it, to break it down into individual parts and reassemble them as a whole that can be comprehended by the human mind, but there is no island of reason in that sea of insanity. The scale, the shape, the stench of the beast - all that it is shrieks decay and corruption. It instills a fear in you so pure that it manifests physically, seeps in through your pores like cold seawater, flows over your thoughts, and drowns them. Emotions die. Words fail. Ideas relent. Logic flees.
You awaken in a quaint shack, all around you the sour musk of old wood and antique furniture. With consciousness comes the assault of memory; you snap into action, attempting to flee - but are brought up short. Handcuffs. The panic slips away into confusion. Your eyes finally resolve the shape across from you: The friendly, chubby face of a policeman.
"Well 'ello, is he awake then?" He asks himself, rhetorically.
"Where am I?" The words stumble out of your throat like drunks after last call; confused and purposeless.
"Llanrhystud. Police station. Gave us quite a night, laddie," the cop pours steaming liquid into a little glass and offers it to you before continuing. "Finally caught up to you on the beach."
"The unmen! We have to warn the people!"
"The unmen! They're like men, but there's something wrong about them! The horrid pallor, the stiff movements - they're monsters!"
"Didn't see any of that," the man answers carefully, "just you, naked as the day you was born, sprinting through the streets of a British fishing village."
"Oh, they were English? Well, shit, that explains it," you nod in acceptance. "But what about that guttural sing song gibberish? No human mouth could produce that language!"
"Well, I suppose technically you're in Wales," the man admits. "Had that problem at first meself too. Not from here, originally. It's like they're holding a grudge against vowels, innit?"
"The tentacle beast?" You question, losing certainty with every word.
"Found you beatin' the piss out of me set o' bagpipes, if that helps."
"I guess so," you concede, having become somewhat accustomed to accepting the accounts of others above your own memories. "So I'm what, under arrest for theft? Public nudity? Drunkenness?"
"What? Lord, no!" The officer laughs good-naturedly, "you're in Wales, boy! That's just a weekend 'round here. No, you've just a fine to pay, and off you go."
"Oh, hey awesome! What's the fine for?"
"Animal molestation," the man answers, suddenly serious. "When we found you on that beach, you was nipping old Mrs. Bennett's pretty lil' Irish Setter. Poor thing's gone half-feral, now. Mrs. Bennett swears it won't stop kicking at her now, strange as that may sound. And she's not sure, but she thinks it's got blood in its teeth."
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you can just complain about this column being split up too much, or being too long, or even too short! It's Choose Your Own Adventure: Commenter Edition!
For more bastardizations of CYA by Robert, check out Choose Your Own Drug-Fueled Misadventure: High In Outer Space! and Choose Your Own Drug-Fueled Misadventure.
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Can we rest?