Friday, February 5, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #10


THE SECOND CHAPTER
Part Two

Dominick found the penguin outside, leaning against the back wall of The Happy Hamburger, flippers crossed in front of its chest.

“Thank Bose that I have found you at last,” the penguin said

“You can talk?” Dominick said.

“Of course I can talk.”

“But, you’re a penguin.”

“Actually, I’m a pixie.”

“A pixie?”

“That is correct. One of the faerie folk. I am called Vivian,” the penguin held out its flipper, offering to shake.

“Vivian?”

“Yes.”

“Vivian the pixie?”

“Yes. I am a pixie. I am called Vivian.” If a penguin could be said to smile, Vivian was doing just that.

“But you look like a penguin.”

“Yes, yes I do. I chose a form that would allow me to blend in with your world. I didn’t want to cause any undo excitement or mental trauma to your people.”

“You chose the form of a penguin?”

“You like to repeat things, don’t you? Is that a typical human trait in your world, or are you having cognitive issues?”

“Well, it’s just that we don’t have any penguins in Kansas outside of a zoo.”

“The penguin is not native to your land?” Vivian said, looking a bit concerned.

“No, not at all,” Dominick said.

It had suddenly occurred to Dominick that he was handling his current situation with utmost aplomb. Anyone else would be freaking out under such circumstances, but not Dominick. It made him feel more than a bit proud of himself. It was an odd feeling.

That was when the other penguin appeared.

“Vivian, what’s going on?” the other penguin said. “Did you give him the sword yet?”

“No, Harold, I have not given him the sword,” Vivian said. “There’s some confusion in the matter of our disguises that I am trying at the moment to work out.”

“What’s wrong with our disguises?”

Dominick seemed to have been forgotten for the moment. This was a shame as he found himself practically itching to ask about this sword he was supposed to be given.

“It appears,” Vivian said. “That the penguin is not indigenous to this particular region.”

“But Rick said–”

“Rick was wrong then, wasn’t he?” Vivian interrupted him.

“Look,” Vivian turned to Dominick. “Would you mind just waiting here for a moment while we get this all sorted out?”

“Um, no . . . Er, did you something about a sword?”

But he received no response as Vivian and Harold waddled away.

Dominick tried to follow. The two had moved off the lot and into the dumpster pen behind the Happy Hamburger.

The dumpster pen was where you could find the trash dumpster, that is if you were the sort of person who spent their idle time going out and looking for trash dumpsters. The pen itself was a tall privacy fence made up of vertical wooden planks. It surrounded an area about the size of a small bus but was open at the front for easy access to the dumpster by the city trash collectors. The happy Hamburger’s dumpster, like most, was rusted with flaking green paint. Sitting next to the dumpster was a green and rusted grease trap where Dominick often visited to dispose of the used oil from the fryers each night. There’s never been a joy known in life like the glee one is able to experience when visiting a fast food grease trap.

Dominick watched as the two penguins waddled between the dumpster and the grease trap and decided to go in after them, despite the smell of rancid beef that was all part of the Happy Hamburger dumpster pen. Yet, as he rounded the corner behind the dumpster, the penguins were gone.

Dominick scratched at his head, pondering for a moment if today was truly happening. A lizard man? Penguins? Pixies. Maybe he’d finally inhaled too much of the fumes from the cleaner fluid he employed each day to remove the caked on grease from the front of the fryers. Possibly this was all a dream and he would wake up at any moment in the comfort of his bed. Then he looked at his arm where the lizard man had taken hold of him earlier. He could see the bruises forming there. He wasn’t imagining those.

But still, Vivian and Harold seemed to have disappeared. He realized how long he’d been gone now on this quest of his to find more medium fry boxes and figured it would be best to get back to work. Otherwise Mr. Finkleton was going to come looking for him. One thing you never wanted to do at the Happy Hamburger was make Mr. Finkleton do anything outside of his daily work activities. Never make a cop run, and never make Mr. Finkleton come look for you. If you did either, you weren’t going to be happy about it.

Dominick left the dumpster pen and made his way across the lot. After just a few steps he learned that despite the worry of incurring the wrath of Mr. Finkleton, Dominick wasn’t in any real hurry to return to work. He’d been privy to a much larger world in as little as ten minutes and that’s likely to shake most people. And as Dominick is most people, he felt a little shaky.

As he crossed the lot and reached the back door, Dominick sighed the kind of sigh that poets can only dream of sighing themselves as they wallow in a state of creative melancholy and gaze forlornly out at a damp Scottish moor. Then, as he was about to take the handle in hand and yank the door open, he heard a voice from behind.

“Dominick,” the voice said. “Where are you going?”

Dominick turned to find a pair of, well . . . he wasn’t quite sure what they were behind him. They were about a foot long and looked a bit like elongated rats.

To be continued . . .



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Thursday, February 4, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #9


THE SECOND CHAPTER
Part One

When Dominick was eleven years old, he’d had this great idea that involved three cans of spray paint, an old go-cart, and a closed up garage. By the third can and the second coat of paint, he’d begun to feel a bit wobbly. Eventually everything had gone black and he woke later in a hospital bed, confused and somewhat terrified. He had sat up in the bed, a tube coming out of his arm, and tried to piece together what had happened and how he had arrived in such a state of affairs.

He’d remembered starting in on that second coat of paint. He could recall a sense of haziness. That was when he’d seen his hamster, Reggie. It had been wearing a sombrero and had tried to sell him a bag of used socks. He’d sat there in that hospital bed, alone in the dark, a machine beeping steadily next to him, and had pondered on how odd that had been, especially considering that Reggie had died the previous summer.

Thinking back on it now as he stood in the Happy Happy Hamburger’s basement and watched a penguin walk into the room — a lizard man with a sword standing between him and the flightless arctic water fowl — he decided that the sock-selling, sombrero-wearing hamster had nothing on the strangeness he suddenly found himself in today. Granted, seeing Reggie had been more than a little off-putting, but he’d known for years now that what he’d seen that day in the garage had been a hallucination brought about by huffing paint fumes. The penguin and lizard on the other hand were all to real.

The penguin was about two feet tall, beyond that Dominick didn’t know enough about penguins to identify it’s species. The penguin paused inside the door, looking from Dominick to the lizard thing. If he didn’t know any better, Dominick would swear the bird was studying the situation, assessing, working things out in its head.

Then, without any fanfare, a sword appeared in the penguin’s hand . . . well, flipper, and it leaped into the air, brandishing the tiny blade. It was a blur of movement as it attacked the lizard, jumping this way and that, flipping about like a gymnast in a tuxedo. Dominick found it hard to follow the penguin but had no trouble spotting the blood that dripped from numerous cuts all over the lizard’s body.

The lizard, try as it might, couldn’t defend itself against such a small, flying, ball of fury and steel. It swung it’s massive sword here and there, never connecting with the penguin. Then the lizard was on its knees, its head bowed. The sword fell from its hands and crashed to the concrete floor.

The penguin stood before it. The bird raised its sword once more, this time as some sort of salute, then finished the lizard thing with one, quick jab to the heart. The penguin stepped back as the lizard collapsed in death.

The room was quiet. The only thing Dominick could hear was the sound of his own breathing. He kept his eyes glued to the penguin. The bird’s tiny sword disappeared as it turned to him. Dominick backed away a step, halted only by the wall behind him.

The penguin did not advance. It merely made a motion with its flipper. A motion meant to convey its desire for Dominick to follow. Then it turned a waddled its way out of the basement, where it vanished from view.

Dominick stood petrified. What should he do? He’d grown up being told never to go anywhere with a stranger. But no one had ever mentioned penguins. Besides, it had saved his life.

His mind made up, Dominick followed the penguin from the room.

To be continued . . .



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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #8


THE FIRST CHAPTER
Part Four

“Are you him?” the lizard spoke. Its voice conjured images of gravel rolling around in a plastic barrel. “Let me see your hand."

“Um,” Dominick said. “Uh . . .”

“Your hand, human dog. Show it to me or I will take it with me,” the lizard brandished his curved sword.

Dominick held up his left hand as he fought against the tears that were forming at the corners of his eyes.

“Your right hand!” the lizard barked. “Show it to me!”

Dominick held up a shaking right hand and the lizard took it in his own. Its tough skin was dry and rough like sandpaper. It gazed at the birthmark in the web between his thumb and forefinger.

“Yes,” it hissed. “The mark. You will be coming with me.” The lizard thing tighten its grip on Dominick’s hand and pulled him away from the wall.

There comes a point in every person’s life, when faced with danger, that they are forced to make a choice. Fight, or flight. For some, the choice is made for them. Dominick wanted to choose flight, but the creature was holding him fast. He could only fight if he wanted to survive, and survival was very high on his list of priorities for the moment.

Dominick yanked his arm free from the lizard’s hold and backed away.

“No point in running from me, boy,” the thing said. It made no move toward Dominick. It didn’t have to. It stood between him and the door. “I’ve spent far too long looking for you. Not letting you go now.”

“Why?’ Dominick said. “What did I do?”

The lizard thing didn’t answer. Instead, moving faster than Dominick was prepared to deal with, it had him wrapped up in arms that felt like steel. It squeezed. Tighter and tighter.

Dominick couldn’t breathe. He kicked and struggled in the thing’s grasp but the more he fought, the tighter he was held.

“Fighting is useless,” the lizard thing said. “Soon you will be unconscious and then I will present you to my Lord. I may even put a bow on you.”

Dominick could do nothing but look over the thing’s shoulder at the doorway on the other side of the room. It was just a dozen steps away. Freedom, so close. He began to lose focus. Everything but the far rectangle of light grew hazy and dark. He watched enough television to know that his brain was being deprived of oxygen and that soon it would all be over.

He didn’t want things in to end. Sure, his life wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but it was his life. He felt rather attached to it. He tried to imagine everything he’d yet to do. Like see the Grand Canyon, learn to play the piano, or find himself in a lifelong, committed relationship that was all about love and mutual respect.

But none of that was ever going to happen. Not anymore. His life was going to end here in this spider-infested basement. The thought, probably the last thought he would ever had, made him angry.

The anger sparked something deep within him and suddenly the fog lifted and everything became clear and vibrant like a rich man’s television. He’d always hoped to own a television like that one day, but the creature who held him wanted to put an end to all that.

“NO!”

The shout had come from him. It was followed by an explosion of force that propelled the lizard thing back from him. Dominick fell to the dirty concrete floor, but managed to keep his feet under him. He gulped in air like he was breathing for the first time in his life. It took him a moment or two to get his bearings, and when he did, the lizard thing was picking itself up off the floor back near the doorway.

He couldn’t understand how it had happened, what had caused the creature to fly away from him as it did. He tried to wrap his mind around what was truly turning out to be one very odd day. But try as he might, he couldn’t quite get a grip on things.

All he could do was catch his breath. He’d still needed to get by the lizard thing which was, like him, finding it difficult to reconcile the circumstances it suddenly found itself in.

“I don’t know how you did that, boy,” it said. “But I won’t be caught off guard like that again. You don’t have to be breathing when I take you with me.”

It took a step toward him.

That’s when the penguin walked in.

Here ends the First Chapter

Friday, January 29, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #7


THE FIRST CHAPTER
Part Three

The Happy Hamburger had been built so that you weren’t able to get to the basement from within the building. Meaning that Dominick had to leave through the back door and take the steps to the right that led down underneath the pavement. He stood at the landing and gazed into the dankness that was the bottom of the concrete steps. Nothing moved, but he knew the spiders were there.

The last time he’d been in the basement he’d seen a lizard. Mel hadn’t believed him, but he saw it all the same. It had been a tiny little thing, but it had been clinging to one of the concrete walls. All Dominick could think of from that point on while he’d looked for a box of cups was the horror of lizards and spiders dropping down on top of him from the ceiling. He could feel them crawling beneath his shirt even now as he stood looking down the stairs.

He didn’t have to go down there. He could quit. Just walk away. There has to be better places in this city to work. Jobs that don’t require you to brave falling spiders and lizards.

Two thoughts changed his mind and got his feet moving down the steps.

The first was his fifty dollar a month comic book habit. If he walked away now, he wasn’t guaranteed to find a new place of employment right away. It may be weeks before he would be hired on someplace else, and he couldn’t miss picking up any of his issues.

The second was the thought of starting somewhere new. Being around people he didn’t know, being put into a situation where he would be forced to get to know them. He’d have to learn how to do this new job as well. It would be like starting all over, which, in fact, was exactly what it would be.

So he made his way down the stairs, pausing on the final step to give his surroundings the sort of visual inspection that would cause Sherlock Holmes to say that he might be a bit obsessive. Satisfied that there were no spiders or lizards about, Dominick stepped off the last step, opened the door to the basement, leaned in just far enough to flick on the lights, and then shuffled inside.

He left the door open and moved quickly to the boxes just inside the door. The basement was meant to be used as a tornado shelter and was as wide and long as the building above. It had been made to hold the employees and a full lot of customers were a twister to strike during work hours. In the twenty-three years that the Happy Hamburger has stood, not once has there ever been even worry of a tornado. So Mr. Finkleton had been using it to store what wouldn’t fit upstairs.

Dominick couldn’t find what he was looking for in any of the boxes near the open door, so he moved further into the room, throwing startled glances at the ceiling above him as he went. It wasn’t until he reached the far wall that he found the medium fry boxes.

As he tore into the carton, a sound behind him locked him in place like a statue. It had been a ripping sound like someone tearing a towel in two. He wanted to turn and see what had made the sound, but he found that he couldn’t move. So instead he listened, strained to hear the noise again, but all that his ears could pick up was the sound of a car driving by out on the lot above.

After that there was only silence.

The silence then turned into the slow, steady sound of breathing that, like the ripping, came from behind him. Unlike the ripping sound, the breathing grew louder as it drew closer and was accompanied by a steady clicking on the concrete floor. To Dominick it was the same sound his grandma’s dog made when it walked along the sidewalk in front of her apartment, the dog’s claws tapping away on the cement.

But this was no dog he heard. This was much bigger.

The clicking stopped directly behind him. The breathing continued. He could feel it on the back of his neck like a small furnace. He shut his eyes and tried to imagine he was somewhere else, but the heat on his neck made it difficult.

He forced his body into motion, struggling with his every instinct that told him to climb up the side of the wall and chew his way out through the ceiling. Instead he turned.

Dominick blinked.

He shook his head. Then he blinked again.

He couldn’t quite make his brain process what his eyes were telling it that they saw.

It was a lizard.

A big lizard.

It was taller than he was and it stood on two legs.

And it held a sword.

Then, just as his brain was starting to believe that his eyes weren't lying, the lizard spoke.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, January 28, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #6


THE FIRST CHAPTER
Part Two

Dominick placed a handful of frozen fries into a small, rectangular, steel mesh basket, and plunged the basket into the boiling vegetable oil. He stood, motionless, stoic, statuesque, gazing with feigned interest at the fries as they bubbled, popped, and hissed in the liquid fat.

He could sense the frenzied activity going on behind him as Mel created hamburgers at supersonic speed. Dominick just stood and waited on the fries. Wishing, no praying, that there was more to life than the Happy Hamburger.

“How long on those fries?” Mr. Finkleton cried as he wrapped burgers in paper and thrust them into a bag.

“Thirty seconds,” Dominick said, watching the timer on the side of the fryer.

Fries took two minutes to cook. Onion rings took three; chicken patties took four and a half. Dominick knew all the times by heart. It was something he’d been proud of once, back when he was still a kid and this was just an after school job he’d taken to earn enough to keep gas in his car.

That was six years ago. He’d graduated high school with little thought for his future other than just getting out of his parent’s house.

College had never really been an option for Dominick Hanrahan. He’d never had the drive to keep his grades up beyond just squeaking through at a solid D average, he’d avoided all manner of sports like a zombie apocalypse, and he’d never been able to spell extracurricular activity – much less know what one was – so a scholarship was out of the question. His parents had always seemed to be between jobs which made a college fund something akin to Bigfoot, so paying his way had never been an option.

He’d been told by his high school counselor, on more than one occasion, about the various Federal Aid programs that might help pay for his post-secondary education, but in the end, Dominick just wasn’t interested in more school. He’d never had the kind of fond memories of his days at East Hills High that hearken back to the fabled “Glory Days”. He’d always just been one those walking-the-halls teenagers who generally tried to avoid getting beat up, a task he’d often found unsuccessful.

At twenty-two, he still felt like the same guy. But instead of classrooms, classmates, and lockers; he had walk-in freezers, coworkers, and fryers. He couldn’t imagine a life that would ever be much different.

The fryer began to beep at him. The fries were done. He turned the alarm off, pulled the basket from the oil, shook the excess oil from the fries, and dumped them into the scoop station where he used the specialized fry scoop to fill a medium sized colorful box with the hot fries. It was, in fact, his last medium fry box.

“I need fry boxes,” Dominick announced. He shuffled out of the cook aisle before Mr. Finkleton could respond and made his way into the back room where they kept all of the supplies.

A minute later he found small fry boxes, large fry boxes, even super extra large fry boxes, but no mediums.

He stuck his head around the corner to look up the cook aisle.

“I don’t see any,” he called out.

“Try the basement,” Mr. Finkleton shouted back. “We got them on the truck two days ago.”

The basement.

Dominick hated the basement.

There were spiders in the basement.

He caught Mel’s eye and she threw him a look of mock terror. He only scowled in return.

To be continued . . .

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #5


THE FIRST CHAPTER
Part One

The smell of cooking grease hung thick in the air the way a blue whale might. The sponge-like cloud formed itself around Dominick Hanrahan like a malodorous cocoon, blocking out everything but the heat that wafted up off of the deep-fat fryers. He stared blankly into the four steaming vats of oil and tried to think back to happier times — to better days — but the stench of superheated vegetable oil made it more than a little difficult.

Dominick was idle and bored, as was wont to happen at this time in the morning at the Happy Hamburger Drive-In Restaurant. Between the breakfast and lunch rush there wasn’t much to do, other than clean, and that wasn’t a thought that appealed to him for the moment.

Instead, he clutched at a plastic salt shaker and wondered what might happen were he to plunge it into one of the fryers. He figured the plastic would melt, but what would happen to the salt within? He looked around the narrow cook aisle as he mulled the decision over in his mind.

On one side of the aisle sat a large grill with bun prep station and condiment bar. On the opposite side — where Dominick worked — lurked the four fryers, a french-fry scoop station located to the left, and an industrial freezer to the right. Everything had been done up in gleaming stainless steel because it was easier to clean.

The boss, Mr. Finkleton, was in the back taking his pre-lunch constitutional. He’d taken a book with him into the employee restroom, which meant he’d be a while. Melisa, the lady who manned — womaned? — the grill behind him, wouldn’t care if Dominick fried the salt shaker. If anything, Mel might egg him on.

In the end, he decided not to do it. While he was positive that Mel could get away with such shenanigans, Dominick knew for certain that he himself would be caught. He’d always had a knack of not getting away with things.

For a moment his eye caught the mark on the back of his right hand. It had been there for as long as he could remember; a curious paleness that he’d always thought looked like a pitchfork near the web between his thumb and index finger. He’d asked his parents about it many times, but they never had an answer. A birthmark, nothing more.

Suddenly, cutting through Dominick’s musings, a shrill beeping sounded from the computer up front, its insistent cries begging – nay, demanding – to be attended to. He panicked and shoved the salt shaker in his pants pocket.

Following the beeping was a loud clatter from the back of the store. More specifically, the clattering and banging came from the employee restrooms.

“I’ll get it!” Mr. Finkleton called, bursting from the men’s room and buckling his belt as he hurtled up the cook aisle.

Dominick braced himself as the boss hurried past for fear of being pushed into one of the fryers. The narrow cook aisle inside the Happy Hamburger left little room for two average-sized human beings to stand back to back and Mr. Finkleton was larger than most string quartets.

Sweating, Mr. Finkleton arrived at the computer, pulled on a headset with microphone, and pushed a red button on the computer’s right side.

“Happy Hamburger, how may I help you?”

The computer was an overlarge piece of machinery that was made up of a monitor and keypad. The keypad wasn’t like the keyboard on your typical home computer. Each key on this pad had a picture of a hamburger, cheeseburger, or other product offering at the Happy Hamburger. Mr. Finkleton was punching keys furiously as the customer ordered from out in their car.

“Hanrahan!” Mr. Finkleton yelled, though Dominick was only feet away. “Fries! We need more fries!”

“Yes, Mr. Finkleton.” Dominick mumbled.

Dominick opened the freezer door to the right of the fryers and let out a sigh. He moved in the methodical, unhurried way of someone who was clearly just going through the motions.

To be continued . . .

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

That's When the Penguin Walked In #4


OBLIGATORY PROLOGUE
Part Four

Lord Hob stood and ran a hand through his black hair as the two prisoners where made to kneel before the dais.

“My Lord,” the General said. “May I present to you King Douglas and Queen Marion of Haven.” The General bowed one more time and took his place behind the Royal couple.

“My Lord, my Lady,” Lord Hob said. “After all this time it is good to finally meet you. I only wish it could have been under different circumstances.”

“Spare us your false courtesy, Lord Hob,” the Queen said, her mouth twisting over the word ‘Lord’, making a mockery of it. “Kill us and be done with it.”

“Well, well,” Lord Hob chuckled. “I guess we see who wears the pants in this monarchy, eh, Doug?”

King Douglas had no reply.

“Do not attempt to presume,” the Queen said. “My Lord Husband has too much honor to dignify you with idle conversation. Me, on the other hand—”

“Are void of honor?” Lord Hob interrupted.

“I no longer have the heart for honor, My Lord,” the Queen said. “The only reason I can even stand to be in your presence without vomiting is the knowledge that my son is out of your reach.”

Lord Hob could only stare at the Queen following such a remark. But try as he might, he was unable to melt her face with just his look. He’d have to use other means of ending her existence. Something more practical.

“Bring me my sword,” Lord Hob commanded.

“Your sword?” The Queen said with a sneer. “So you plan to remove our heads? Is that it? I have to say, Lord Hob,” there was that mocking tone once again. “You are nothing if not predictable.”

It was true that Lord Hob often enjoyed taking those that displeased him and relieving them of their heads. In fact, regardless of what he may have said to the General moments earlier, he’d wanted nothing more than to decapitate the lizard man for his failure to capture the Prince. But Lord Hob was no homicidal maniac. He didn’t just mercilessly slaughter the people around him over every slight or bad feeling. If he was such a person then he’d have no one to lead his armies effectively. General Branch was in possession of a keen, tactical mind, something you don’t come across all too often. Such talent could not, and should not be cast aside so easily.

At the same time, he couldn’t allow the Queen to speak to him in such a fashion, and try as he might, he could think of no reason for needing either monarch in the future.

“No,” Lord Hob said. “I think I could come up with something a little more creative then just simply taking your head.”

A human in leather and mail approached the dais carrying a two-handed sword in a white scabbard. He knelt, offering the sword to Lord Hob, hilt first. Lord Hob pulled the blade free. He held the sword aloft between himself and the Royal couple. The blade, like the handle, hilt, and scabbard, was white like a newly grown tooth.

“Soul Eater,” the Queen’s eyes had gone wide at the sight of the sword.

“Very good, my Lady,” he could be mocking as well. “You recognize the blade.”

“You bastard,” King Douglas said, rising to his feet. “Do with me as you will, but spare my wife. She deserves better than this.”

“So he does talk,” Lord Hob said. “Do you scream as well, Douglas?”

Lord Hob swung the sword at the King’s face, pulling back at the last instant so that only the tip of the blade grazed the King’s cheek.

The instant the white steel made contact with his flesh, the King began to scream. He clutched at his face where dots of blood had formed as he fell to the ground. The Queen threw herself atop her husband, wrapping her arms around him. His screams rose to near inhuman levels and he convulsed in her arms. So much so that he jumped out of her grasp.

Lord Hob sat down once again on the King’s throne, the sword across his lap, and watched with growing satisfaction at the last few moments in the King’s life. Moments spent in horrific agony, which ended just as suddenly as it had begun.

“That’s what you have to look forward to, my Lady,” Lord Hob said, leaning forward. “But before you die a most horrible death, know this. I will find your son. Time, cost, it matters not. I will find him. And when I do, he will die by my hands. My armor, so pristine, so white, will awash with his blood. Die with this knowledge in your heart. And die knowing that you were helpless to stop me.”

End of Obligatory Prologue.
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