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Juan Pablo Dominguez plodded the aisles of Waystation IGA looking for Valentina hot sauce. It was the best sauce on anything and it wasn’t even close. The perfect blend of sweet and spicy, with a little smoky flavor. Perfect. 

He couldn’t find it. 

IGA had trouble keeping it stocked, he knew, and he was disappointed. It was one of the most magical things he had ever tasted in his ancient life, and he’d had quite an extensive gastronomic history. He looked quickly through the available hot sauces before settling and grabbing a bottle of Louisiana.

Using his motor cart, he wheeled around and headed toward the front of the store to check-out. IGA had a thick, raw meat, fried food smell about it. It stuck with you even after leaving the store, emanating from your clothes. Juan Pablo hated that. He was a bitter man. 

Stopping his motor cart at the cash stand, he limped out and grabbed his walker, which he had left at register three while he did his shopping. He always checked out at register three. Always. It was pivotal, in his mind, to not being noticed. It was part of his process. Register three was safe because it was always, at the very specific times that he scheduled his shopping, manned by his protégé, little Emily Jenkins.

Grabbing his walker and lifting his elderly skull—held only barely aloft by his skinny, gangly neck—he looked up to the cashier. 

It wasn’t Emily. It was some new kid. A boy. 

“Hello, JP, I’ve been told about you!”

Everyone in town called him “JP”. He despised that name.

“Where’s Emily?” said JP.

“You… …you don’t know?”

“Um, no,” continued Juan Pablo angrily, “I don’t know,”

“Um, I’m sorry to say, but Emily died. She was in a car accident earlier this week.”

JP grimaced, looked to the floor, and then remembered that he was supposed to feel sad. He tried to force out a couple tears, but it was no use. He certainly wasn’t happy about Emily’s death, though. Now he had no protégé. He would have to find a new one. Maybe this new boy would do it. Choosing a protégé was no easy business, but JP, being as old as he was, felt apathetic about most things.

“Dead?” he said, feigning a small sense of emotional pain. He had gotten good at that, over the years—at least he thought he had.

“Yes, sir. She’s gone. I’m sorry. I know you knew her for a long time.”

“A long time?” barked JP, “She was just a kid! How could I possibly know a kid for a long time?”

The kid stared blankly at JP.

“I’ll help you carry out your groceries,” he said finally, “It’s the least I can do.”

The daylight was blinding. Juan Pablo wrenched his black Ray Bans from the pocket of his baggy L.L. Bean khakis, wincing as he shoved them onto his face. The parking lot was full. JP loathed that. He chose his shopping time very specifically because it was a time that usually wasn’t busy. That wasn’t the case today. The place was packed. The neighboring Wendy’s even had a line of cars wrapping around the drive-thru like some metallic, gassy serpent. 

“Why’s it so goddamn busy today?” said JP, looking up at the new kid.

“Actually, I have no idea.” he said, “It’s strange. Just some kind of fluke, I guess. Maybe we’ve got some tourists visiting Abry.”

That impossibility almost made JP laugh. He then pressed the button to open the trunk of his silver Ford Escape.

One of the bags broke as the new kid was lifting it into the vehicle. A quart of milk dropped to the cracked asphalt parking lot and bounced around, making that buoyant thumping sound only created by a dropped quart of milk.

“God dammit,” yelled JP. He was pissed.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the new kid frantically, “My apologies!”

The kid picked up the milk and set it ever so gently into the trunk of the car.

JP was already pressing the button to close the door before the new kid was even out of it. The hatch nearly closed onto his spine. Juan Pablo didn’t give a single shit about that.

“I need some help,” demanded JP, “Come to my house tomorrow around noon. I’ll show you what to do.”

“Oh,” said the new kid, “Well, I’d love to help out, Mr. JP, but I’ve got to work tomorrow.”

JP looked at him blankly. Eventually, the new kid’s expression changed from one of clarity, to confusion, to a new, blanker assuredness. His eyes glazed. He understood.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll be there. See you at noon, sir.”

JP got in his car and drove off. He was still angry about Emily, but this new kid seemed like he would function well enough as her replacement.

* * *

“How did you say Emily died?” said Juan Pablo to the new kid. He was leaning forward from his green fabric recliner toward the couch, where the new kid sat. He was uncomfortably close to the new kid’s face. As he spoke, spit sprayed out and covered the kid. The kid blinked repeatedly as if to shield himself from the spray. JP often forgot cultural customs such as not getting right into people’s faces.

“She was in a car wreck,” said the new kid. He was leaning back into the couch, his sweaty palms pressed firmly into his wrangler jeans. His fingers tightly gripped his thighs. He was a nervous kid. 

“A car wreck?” responded JP, “That doesn’t make much sense.”

“Wha… what?” said the new kid.

“Hey,” said JP, “What’s your name, anyway?”

The new kid, caught off guard, blinked three or four times more and then retreated into the couch:

“I’m Kyle,” he said, “Kyle Mattingly. I’ve lived just a block from you for my whole life, sir.”

“What’s that got to do with anything? I don’t give a shit where you live. Anyway, what was it? Kyle? That’s right. I’m going to need you to do some things for me. Emily used to help me. She would do things for me. Things I can’t do myself. I’m old, and plus, people don’t like me in this backwards little town. I’m a grouchy old Mexican! So I’m going to need you to do some things for me. Just think of them as weekly errands if you want. I’ll pay you.”

“Um, okay, I guess. As long as it doesn’t interrupt school, or my work schedule.”

“Don’t worry about school. Some of the errands I’m going to need you to run are at the school, anyway. You can go to school as usual. You’re going to have to quit your job at the grocery store, though.”

“What? I can’t!”

JP glared more intensely at Kyle: 

“Yes, you can. I’ll pay you better than whatever bullshit they give you over there. And the job will be more interesting. A lot more interesting.”

“My parents will kill me! They found this job for me. They made me get it because I quit the basketball team.”

“And good for them! You just tell them that you’re going to be working for JP now and tell them I’m paying you a lot more than IGA ever did. They’ll be okay with that. Parents like their kids making money. It makes them feel like they didn’t fuck anything up raising you. Trust me, they’ll be okay with it. And pretend like it’s grueling work. Parents like to think their kids work their asses off.”

Kyle again squirmed on the couch. His hands had for some reason shifted from his thighs, now dug into the dirty cushions.

“Now,” said JP, “On to your first assignment.” He then stared deeply into Kyle’s innocent green eyes. Kyle understood the assignment subconsciously.

* * *

School was busy. Students scrambled through the halls like New York City commuters trying to catch the subway during rush hour. There was no reason for them to be that busy, Kyle thought; they were only high schoolers. They didn’t know that, though—not like Kyle now knew. Now, thanks to his new master Mr. Juan Pablo, Kyle had a clearer understanding of things. 

As he walked dazedly down the hallway thinking about how he might accomplish the task given him, he was shoved abruptly into the red metal lockers lining the wall. They made a loud clanging sound as he crashed into them; a sound surprisingly hollow for that of a locker colliding with flesh and bone. Kyle wobbled his arms around as an echo rang out from his vibrating limbs. He looked forward to his aggressor. It was that dumbass Dwayne. He was always pushing Kyle around. Shoving him into lockers. Spitting in his food. Lifting up his shirt and ashing cigarettes on his flabby belly. Kyle fucking hated Dwayne. Or at least he used to. He also used to be afraid of him. He wasn’t afraid of him anymore. He didn’t really feel much of anything, anymore, not after what Mr. Juan Pablo had given him.  

“Don’t do that, Dwayne” said Kyle monotonously, “I have important business to attend to and if you get in my way I’ll have to neutralize you.”

“What?” said Dwayne, “What the fuck did you say? You’re going to fucking neutralize me? What the hell does that even mean? Is that some Star Wars bullshit? You fucking loser!”

Dwayne moved forward to again shove Kyle into the lockers. Dwayne was quick. He wasn’t an athlete, or anything like that—he was much too trashy and lazy for any sort of extra-curricular activity other than selling cigarettes to middle school kids—but he was nonetheless one of the bigger and faster kids in school. 

Kyle didn’t care about that anymore. As the attempted shove came in, he casually shifted his weight, dodging the blow. He then grabbed Dwayne’s arm and threw him up over the lockers into the fragile, removable ceiling tile. As he grabbed hold, Kyle could feel Dwayne’s arm detaching from its socket. Flying into the air, Dwayne crashed through the ceiling, briefly disappearing. He then fell back down, bouncing off the lockers and back to the tile floor. He got up, grabbing his elbow in pain:

“What the fuck?” he said, “Wha… what the fuck is wrong with you?”

Kyle looked at him emotionlessly:

“I said not to interfere with my task, or I will have to neutralize you. Consider this your only warning.”

Dwayne turned and ran. Without getting very far, he tripped on his untied shoe strings and fell face first back into the lockers. Recovering, he again bounded down the hall and away.

A crowd had gathered around Kyle. His two best friends, Sam and Jerry, pushed through to him:

“Fuck!” yelled Sam, grabbing Kyle by the shoulders, “How in the hell did you do that? You just flat whipped Dwayne’s ass! You've been pumping iron in secret, or something? Holy shit!”

“I can’t talk right now,” said Kyle, “I have a task I need to accomplish.”

Kyle continued walking down the hall.

* * *

Kyle walked to the end of the hallway and took a right into the gymnasium. He began walking across the basketball court to Coach Pittman’s office. Pittman would be in his office; Kyle was sure of that. Coach Pittman never did anything during school hours—not even during the P.E. classes he was supposed to teach—he just sat in his office thinking about the upcoming game while his students did whatever they wanted outside in the gym. He didn’t care what they did; whatever they did, it wasn’t going to help him win a goddamn state championship.

Kyle walked directly across the court—from the baseline right through the middle of the free throw line—while a group of students were in the middle of a game of Knockout. Mid-step, he kicked the basketball absentmindedly. It deflated and spun up like a wobbly frisbee into the bleachers, making that pfffffff sound the whole way.

 A volleyball net was set up on the other side of the basketball court, where a seemingly heated match was raging. Kyle walked right through that as well. The volleyball was spiked hard by one of the school jocks—Lance Riley, it seemed to Kyle from his periphery—hit Kyle right in the face. Kyle didn’t even notice, or care. He kept walking. The ball didn’t even leave a red mark. It bounded off his face as if his skin were made of concrete, taking a hard bounce and wedging itself right into the ballsack of an unsuspecting student. Everyone, at first confused by Kyle interrupting their game, then erupted into hysterical laughter as the kid fell forward into the fetal position. Kyle didn’t care about that; he was almost to Coach Pittman’s office. 

* * *

Coach’s door was made of thick steel. It was blood red. Without knocking, Kyle twisted the knob and let himself in.

Coach wasn’t alone in his office. There was a girl in there with him. It was one of the cheerleaders—Lindsey Mudd. She was sitting on Coach’s desk with her legs crossed. Since it was a game day, she was wearing her cheerleading uniform. She seemed to be hiking up her skirt as much as possible. Coach Pittman was enjoying it.

“Coach,” said Kyle.

Startled, Coach Pittman looked up from Lindsey’s skirt into Kyle’s vacuous eyes.

“Kyle!” He began, “Son, what are you doing here? Um, Lindsey, I’ll talk to you later. Don’t worry about your grade. I’ll talk to principal Stevens; we’ll get everything taken care of.”

Frustrated, Lindsey hopped off the desk and paced out of the room, glaring at Kyle on the way out. Her gaze, at first one of anger, shifted to confusion and then fear upon looking into the depths of his void stare.

Kyle looked to make sure the door had closed behind Lindsey. He wasn’t sure why, but he thought he remembered Mr. Juan Pablo saying something about not attracting attention. He wanted to avoid a scene.

“You owe someone something,” Kyle said.

“What in the hell are you talking about, son?” said Coach Pittman.

“Don’t feign ignorance. If you do that, I’ll have to force you to remember.”

“What? What in the hell are you blathering about? I don’t owe nobody nothing!” 

Kyle stared at Coach Pittman for several seconds. Not terribly long, but long enough that it made Coach uncomfortable. Kyle looked as if his battery had run dry—he was totally distant. Eventually, he snapped back into reality:

“Would you understand better if I were Emily Jenkins? What if she had come into your office informing you of what you owed?”

“Emily Jenkins? She’s dead! You’re really going to come in here and bring her name up to me, in a time when we’re all grieving? I don’t know that I’ve ever…”

Coach then realized. His eyes widened:

“Oh, no; I missed a payment... I’ll get it for him. Don’t worry! I’ll get it.”

“I believe you,” said Kyle, “I know you’ll get it to him, but I nonetheless have to do my duty. Mr. Juan Pablo wants to avoid having these kinds of mistakes happen in the future, so he instructed me to forcefully instill its importance into your forgetful mind. It’s obviously not there yet—at least that’s what Mr. Juan Pablo says.”

Coach Pittman’s eyes widened further, a look of horror now melting into his face. Kyle stepped forward and clenched the fabric of Coach’s T-shirt, now drenched in cold sweat. It smelled with the body odor of anxious fear. Kyle lifted him from the ground and, with one hand, held him above his head—a one-handed power-clean. Kyle levitated from the ground into the air. When Coach Pittman’s back made contact with the ceiling, Kyle kept pressing. The concrete roof cracked. Chalky dust fell downward into Kyle’s eyes. He didn’t even blink. Kyle kept levitating and pressing until he was pressing against Coach’s face—Coach’s frantic, babbling spittle spraying him all over. 

Kyle didn’t care about that. He could hear Coach’s ribs and spine buckling from the force of the pressure. That was good. Mr. Juan Pablo said Coach needed to remember his duties, and the best way to make people remember was through pain. Hovering into Coach’s eyes, Kyle said:

“Do your duty. Make your payments. Keep your secrets. You know who Mr. Juan Pablo is. You know what he can do to you. Don’t ruin your life. Make your payments.”

Still hovering, Kyle let go of Coach Pittman. He fell hard onto his thick, wooden desk, which, being strong as it was, managed to avoid breaking. Upon impact, Coach heaved his pelvis skyward, grimacing in pain:

Goddammit! I’ll make the payments! I promise I will! I’ll do it! Just please leave me alone! Fuck! I think you broke something…”

“I most certainly broke something. That was the whole point of doing what I just did. That and fear. Make your payments. Goodbye.”

Kyle, returning to the ground, turned and left Coach Pittman’s office. 

Outside the volleyball game was still raging. Kyle again made eye contact with Lindsey Mudd. She was scared and confused. She looked away. 

* * *

“So you frightened the bastard, huh? That’s good.” 

Juan Pablo was rocking back and forth by the crackling fire in his living room chair, his briarwood pipe dangling from his mouth. He grabbed a piece of paper—an empty envelope on the side table next to his chair—and held it over the fire. He then removed it, lit his pipe, and tossed it spinning back into the flames. He coughed hoarsely into his plaid button-up shirt upon inhaling the smoke from the burnt paper and tobacco:

“Goddamn bullshit lungs,” he spat before continuing, “A few of these fuckers around here forget their payments from time to time, and for some reason that bastard is the worst. He starts thinking he’s hot shit if you don’t whip his ass every now and again. I think it’s part of his pathetic nature.”

“Well, sir,” Kyle began, “He should know better from now on. I broke his back. Dropped him hard onto his office desk.”

“What the fuck did you say, boy?”

“I said I dropped him, sir. I taught him a lesson. That’s what you requested of me.”

“I said teach him a lesson, not break his goddamn back! This system I’ve got, you know, it’s fragile. More fragile than it seems. You can’t just go around breaking people’s backs. We need them to be scared but we also need them to be silent. If you get too crazy they’ll start squealing to all the other little piggies in this goddamn slop heap of a town.”

“I understand, sir. No more breaking backs.”

“You’re goddamn right. No more breaking backs. Else I may have to get myself a new assistant, and trust me, that wouldn’t be good news for you, Kyle. I couldn’t just let you go free, what with your new abilities and all. I would have to neutralize you.”

“I wouldn’t want that, Mr. Juan Pablo.”

“Fuck no, you wouldn’t. Now get out of here. Do you remember your next stop?”

“Yes, sir. The gardener, over at Bernie Borbeaux Greenhouse. I’ll talk to him. I won’t break his back.”

“Yes. Collect the payment, don’t break anything.” 


Kyle turned and hurried out of the room, Juan Pablo’s shadowy silhouette flickering in the flame behind him. Outside, the sky was pitch-black. It was only six in the evening but at this wintry time of year that meant an early enfolding of night’s dark blanket. The Gardener would still be at Bernie Borbeaux, that’s what Mr. Juan Pablo had said, at least. He closed shop at five but usually didn’t leave until around seven, even in the winter when there was less going on.

Kyle got into his sandy Toyota Camry and pressed the key into the ignition. He could likely fly to the greenhouse quicker than he could drive there but Mr. Juan Pablo told him that was off-limits. Said it was a good way to get noticed. Kyle reckoned he was right but he couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to soar into the night sky. Briefly levitating to the ceiling of Coach Pittman’s office had given him an unexpected thrill, even despite his newly acquired mechanized mind. 

It was a remnant of his former humanity, that was all.

The road was barren. The small central Kentucky town of Abry was dead, as if the liveliness of the town had itself shifted with the darkening season. The odd, remnant small business owner could be seen locking up shop for the evening. Swaggering adolescents wearing poofy jackets strutted out of the local convenience store—still called Five Star, even though it hadn’t been an actual Five Star in nearly ten years—blowing grape flavored smoke skyward. As frigid as it was, it was as if the smoke they were blowing created an entire undulating, polluted cloud. They apparently enjoyed that. 

The greenhouse was located just outside the city limits. The Camry cruised down the road, the faded whimper of its lights dim from the dirt coating the inside of its aging bulbs, which shone pathetically through the darkness. As if by habit, Kyle pressed the disc button and turned on music from the CD player. Peter Gabriel’s voice rang out through the closed windows of the vehicle: 

Games without frontiers… War without tears… 

Kyle didn’t pay attention to the song. He didn’t care about music anymore, at least not at all like he used to. Turning the CD player on in the first place was simply muscle memory. 

Adolf builds a bonfire, Enrico plays with it… 

The Camry slid into the gravel parking lot of the greenhouse, creating a dust cloud that swarmed the plastic film walls of the building before disappearing into night’s blackness. Kyle pulled in parallel with the front door, his headlights pointing directly out toward the exit to the highway. He would want to make a quick escape when he was finished with the gardener, Mr. Barnett. He didn’t want the cops to for some reason make it over there and see him. Mr. Juan Pablo advised against that, and Kyle didn’t want to upset Mr. Juan Pablo. Not at all. 

The place was still open. Kyle pushed through the heavy plastic strip curtains and entered the green house. Other than those at the very front, all of the lights were off. If he had wanted he could have walked right over to the cash stand and robbed the place blind. He didn’t want to do that, though. He didn’t give a shit about money anymore. 

A light flickered erratically like an injured firefly toward the back of the greenhouse. It was a flashlight. It was Mr. Barnett. It had to be. Kyle cupped his hands cylindrically to his mouth, creating a megaphone, and yelled: 

“Mr. Barnett! I need to speak with yooooouuuuu!”

His voice had considerable kinetic force behind it. The brittle wooden tables that held the plants shook and buckled, some of them even collapsing, spilling a rainbow of flowers to the floor which were quickly buried by the bland soil which had previously entrapped them.

“Y… Yes?” said Mr. Barnett, his flashlight now moving closer. When he came into view, he looked afraid, but upon seeing Kyle, he lowered his guard.

“Oh! You’re Kyle Mattingly! You scared me! I didn’t realize you had such a voice on you! I was scared to death!”

Mr. Barnett looked over at his collapsed tables and the spilt flowers:

“What happened there?” he said with confusion, “How did you…?”

“You know how that happened,” said Kyle, an icy glare cutting through the cold air and connecting forcibly with Mr. Barnett’s startled, wide sockets.

Awareness crept into his being.

“Oh no. Are you… are you here for him?”

“Yes. You need to pay up. You forgot your payment this week.”

“I’m sorry! I’ve just been so busy, and I thought, with Emily dying and everything, JP might want to take a week off, you know? He might have his mind on other things. He might be mourning…”

Mr. Barnett was shivering reflexively, and not from the cold.

“Mr. Juan Pablo doesn’t mourn. It’s pointless, and he doesn’t do pointless things. You need to pay up.”

“Okay, okay; I will! I don’t have it with me right now, but I’ll get it. I’ll stop by Abry State Bank and pick it up tomorrow. I can drop it in JP’s mailbox.”

“That won’t do,” said Kyle, “He needs it today. You’re doing him a real disservice by not having the money. You need to learn to make your payments on time.”

Without waiting for a response, Kyle strode over to Mr. Barnett and used both hands to grab him by his soil-encrusted denim overalls. He lifted him and flew into the air, into the plastic ceiling of the greenhouse. Upon impact, the building itself lifted from the ground, its plastic walls wrapping around Mr. Barnett before flapping down. For a brief moment Kyle picked up the entirety of the building, but eventually the plastic split and fell crashing back to the ground. Kyle continued soaring upward into the cold night. He flew higher and higher. It was incredibly cold up there, he knew, but he couldn’t feel anything, not anymore. Mr. Barnett, however, was shaking uncontrollably, his eyes now vacant and fishlike. He continued flailing and then passed out in Kyle’s arms, his fingers and nose blue, his face purple, nearly frozen and mostly breathless.

Kyle descended and set him on the cash stand. He put his hand to Mr. Barnett’s heart and brought him back to wakefulness. Mr. Barnett began coughing. Spit and frozen snot covered his face. Kyle thought that was disgusting.

“Get Mr. Juan Pablo the money by tomorrow, or I’ll be back.”

Kyle turned and walked back to his Camry, which was somehow undamaged—a clear gravel path still pointing back out to the road—and pulled out. Police sirens wailed from behind him as he drove back toward Abry. 

* * *

“You did what?” said JP.

“I taught him a lesson,” said Kyle, “just like you told me to. He won’t be missing any payments anymore. If he has any money to make payments with, that is. He might be hurting after this little incident.”

“You fucking idiot. You dumbass prick of a child!”

Juan Pablo’s bare feet were planted firmly on the ground, his thick yellow toenails digging into the carpet as if assaulting it. He gripped the sides of his rocking chair in uncontrollable anger. The wooden handles of the chair splintered and split. Juan Pablo glared at Kyle:

“What in the fuck did I tell you about doing that type of shit? Are you stupid or something?”

“I handled the situation in the way I saw fit.”

Juan Pablo chuckled at that, a nefarious, squinting glare now spread across his shadowy, fire-flickering face.

Kyle was beginning to look angry himself. He took a step toward Juan Pablo.

“What in the fuck do you think you’re doing?” said JP.

“I’m doing what I need to do.”

Kyle took another step forward. His feet lifted from the ground. JP, once entirely angry, now exposed a bit of fear on his face. He lifted his arms in self-defense. 

Kyle flew forward and grabbed each of JP’s wrists—so wrinkled and saggy with age. Kyle was disgusted by them; the process of ageing being something he now considered beneath him:

“You’re falling apart, old man. You thought you could live forever in this little town, but you’re breaking down; these brittle wrists prove it. I could snap them in two. You know what? I think I will.”

Kyle began putting pressure on JP’s wrists, twisting them away from his forearms. JP yelped in pain; horror painting his face:
Gaaahhhhhh! Don’t, Kyle! Don’t do it. I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll…”

JP’s demeanor shifted abruptly. He cackled hysterically, falling back into his chair, his wrists still clutched by Kyle. Kyle, once so confident, now looked confused. It was the truest sense of emotion he had displayed since evolving into his new form.

“What are you laughing at, old man? I’m about to break you in half! I’ll fly you up to the moon and bury your bones in the dust!”

JP continued to laugh:

“You will do no such thing, you stupid child. You honestly thought I would give you more power than myself? I couldn’t even do that if I wanted to! I’m an ancient being, you’re just a teenager who happens to have been given a few tricks. You can’t snap my wrists. You couldn’t even touch me if I didn’t allow it.”

For the first time since being granted his new form, Kyle felt true pain. His hands, still clutched around JP’s wrists, boiled suddenly with a scorching sensation, the smell of burned skin and melted rubber filled his ultra-sensitive nostrils. Kyle released his grip and backed away, holding his hands up to examine them. They were gone. They were melted away, the only small bit remaining bubbling nubs.

Looking up, Kyle saw JP—now on all fours and ready to pounce—lunge at him. In midair, Mr. Juan Pablo opened his mouth, unveiling a set of six-inch razor-sharp teeth and an ever-lengthening black tongue. Juan Pablo’s alien tongue wrapped around Kyle like a python, again singing and melting his skin as if by chemical burn. He then engulfed Kyle’s head with his massive, unhinged jaw and ripped it off, human blood and bone flying together with robotic wiring all over the living room. Some of the wires were flung into the cackling fireplace, briefly enraging it.  

Kyle’s headless, half-robot body, now lying dead on the floor, wobbled and writhed spasmodically. Mr. Juan Pablo, scowling in frustration, reached into Kyle’s pockets to grab the car keys. He then reeled in his tongue, reattached his jaw, grabbed his walking cane, and limped out the door. He started the car and began his drive to the greenhouse. He wasn’t much a fan of flying places, not anymore. 

It was exhausting. 

He was a simple man.

* * *

The scene at the greenhouse was worse than Mr. Juan Pablo had expected. The entire structure—which was nearly the length of a football field—had collapsed. Police cars and fire trucks surrounded the place, their lights flashing. Mr. Juan Pablo hated those lights. Not because he associated them with danger—he didn’t give a shit about the cops—they were just too bright for him. He winced and shielded his face with his gangly, wrinkling forearm. 

Stepping out of the Camry, Juan Pablo grabbed his walking cane and began waddling toward the scene of the destruction. Upon seeing him, a local police officer—the only one in the immediate vicinity—trotted protectively over:

“Oh, JP!” he said. It was Officer Donnelly. He was an idiot. Very naïve. Always thinking everyone had good intentions: “Don’t come any closer, sir! It’s not safe over here. Please get back in your car and head home.”

Officer Donnelly was holding up his hands and pushing them forward and backward, as if to telekinetically usher JP back into the car. 

Mr. Juan Pablo didn’t utter a word in response. He continued his innocent limp toward the officer and upon closing in on him unlatched his cyclopean tongue, wrapping it spaghetti-like around Officer Donnelly’s neck, crunching the cartilage and snapping it off. His head flew into the air like a popped bottle of celebratory champagne. Juan Pablo, eagerly lunging forward, caught it in his vacuous mouth, greedily sucking off the salty skin and savoring the eyeballs before spitting the skull—now disintegrating from the slimy coating of acid—out into the gravel parking lot. 

JP reeled in his deadly appendage and continued his innocent trudge ahead. He was, after stepping forward with his left foot, dragging his right slowly across the gravel. He thought it made him appear older, and more helpless. The gravel collecting under his foot created a chalky trail of dust as if the remnant of some gargantuan predatory serpent. 

The rest of the police officers, firemen, and EMTs were closer to where the inside of the greenhouse once stood. Laying on what used to be the cash stand was Mr. Barnett. He was alive, and seemingly cognizant, but totally hysterical:

“I’m telling you, it’s true! That boy, Kyle Mattingly, there’s something wrong with him. He’s some kind of devil. I swear to you he is! He flew me up into the sky and damn near froze me half to death! Look at this shit, will you?” 

Mr. Barnett brushed the still-brittle, snot-covered exterior of his mustache.  

“You think this happened to me sitting out here? It’s not even that cold tonight!”

“Now, now, Mr. Barnett,” said another of the local men in blue, “I don’t know what happened here, but we’ll get to the bottom of it. I’m sure, whatever it was, it must have been a real shock to you. Scrambled up your brains pretty damn good, that’s for sure. Don’t worry, I’m sure your insurance will take care of it.”

The officer then looked to the ground, raking his foot back and forth awkwardly. He didn’t have a clue about insurance, that much was clear.

“Scrambled up my… what in the fuck are you talking about? I’m telling you the truth, goddammit!”

“I’m sure you’re telling your version of the truth,” said the officer, “I don’t doubt that. Now let’s get you out of here. We need to get you over to Bardstown so they can take a look at you at the hospital.”

“I’m fine! I’ve got a bit of the chills, that’s all. You bastards need to listen to me. You need to watch your backs. That kid is out there somewhere!” Mr. Barnett then lifted himself from the table and flipped his legs around as if to stand up.

At that point, one of the EMTs rushed forward, forcefully applying an oxygen mask over the face of Mr. Barnett. Unleashing a yelp, which was inevitably muffled by the mask, he settled. Before falling into a deep sleep, his eyes lit with horror as he noticed JP limping toward them. The EMTs then got him into a rolling-bed and lifted it into a nearby ambulance. Red lights flashing, it hit the road and was quickly gone. Juan Pablo continued his sluggish lurch forward. 

Upon entering what was left of the greenhouse, the remaining two officers saw him, immediately deducing his limp for injury:

“Mr. JP! What’s happened to you? What are you even doing here?”

The first officer stepped forward, extending a helping hand to Mr. Juan Pablo. Without thinking, Juan Pablo unfurled his oral tentacle, momentarily letting it drag behind him in the dust before aggressively wrapping it around the officer’s forward-stepping leg. JP wrenched the officer upside-down and hurled him through the air, launching him high into the night and out of sight. 

Upon witnessing his partner’s abrupt departure from the scene, along with the alien monstrosity now before him, the lone remaining officer unsheathed his pistol and pointed it at JP. His hands were trembling. He had never shot anyone before. He didn’t sign up for that; he just wanted to be a small town cop, busting teenagers for buying underage booze, and whatnot.

“Mr. JP!” he screamed frantically, “Duh…don’t…”

His finger slipped. His firearm discharged into JP’s squamous maw. Juan Pablo took a step back, coughed, and then retched putrid purple slime to the ground. JP looked up in anger, his gaze expressing a fury no one in town had ever seen from him.

The cop dropped his pistol and stepped back in terror. It was no use, it was merely reflex; he couldn’t escape, he knew that. 

JP again swung his tongue from the ground toward his prey, this time driving it lance-like through the officer’s gut; acidic slime dripping out upon impact and melting the clothes and skin of the cop.

Gahhhhhhhh!” he yelled. His screams, initially vocal and shrieking, quickly morphed into more of a grunt as he lost consciousness and his head fell. His body, still being devoured by the acid, eventually split in the middle, sliding in parallel fashion off JP’s tongue to the dusty ground.

JP looked at his work apathetically. He was tired. Using his wrinkly arms, he grabbed his tongue and force-fed it back into his still unhinged gullet. He walked back out toward Kyle’s Camry, back to where he could get a view of the ever-present Milky-Way. He couldn’t stay in Abry, not after all this shit. He would have to find a new town. Or perhaps, after all these years, he would finally again fly; finally go home. He got in the Camry and hit the road, unsure of which option he should choose. More sirens, fresh to the scene, passed him hurriedly as he sped down the highway. He lit his pipe, took a drag, and exhaled in relief. He was excited. After all these years in this dump, it was time for a new adventure.



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