(From the Banned in 2025 stories)
c/o Jagof’s Wholesale Personal Protection Devices
How’s business? I saw a report on the news the other day about the economics of your place, how there’s so much money flowing down from the rich the last couple of years. They just keep spending at places like yours, don’t they? They can’t manage to prevent it all being <i>acquired</i> by their friends and enemies. Can’t hold on to their property — sorry, their "shared resource". Must be nice, having all that flowing cash; just buy a new whatever when the old one wanders off.
Actually, it’s kind of about property that made me want to write to you. Sorry it’s been a while. Things have been busy, you know? Gilda presented me with a divorce (she waited a year too long — bitch didn’t get anything but what she could walk out the house with) and Sam Junior’s been downtown with his hoodrat friends since Christmas.
So, I’ve had the place all to myself. Not bad, if you’re a suspicious bastard like me. Four locks on the front door, and I plastered up the back. Bricked up all the windows except for the one on the front porch. Anybody knocks on the door, I play sick, beg ‘em to go away, tell ‘em they can have the terracota sculptures Gilda bought for the stoop. Then I laugh, because I bolted those puppies right into the concrete. One kid — he was pretending to sell encyclopedias — almost gave himself a hernia trying to get one up.
You may be wondering, then, why the postmark on this letter is from a different area code than my house in Renton. It’s because, apparently, it’s not my house anymore. I’m living in a refrigerator box just East of Factoria. Couldn’t find anyone who’d take me in (or open their doors.) You might suggest, with your hurried pen, that I sleep in my car. I would love to — vinyl is such a terribly comfortable material — but can’t, because it’s been decomposing in the driveway ever since some enterprising youth swiped the wheels; bits of it keep disappearing, and the interior was the most recent. Hell, I cut the top off myself and used it to block up the skylight.
The whore living next to me has a TV box addition to her fridge box home; next time she goes to work, it’s mine.
I know what you’re thinking. I’m good like that. You’re thinking, What did Sammy do this time? Well, first off: don’t call me Sammy. Next off, well, it was my fault; I can own up to that, at least.
I’m not homeless. I’m just temporarily divested of home. Ever since possession became ten-tenths of the law, when the right of ownership became a banned ideology, I just haven’t felt quite like myself. Probably a fear of this precise chain of events. Well, maybe not this chain; I suspect I thought it would have rained more, so there’s that much, at least. I don’t know why I’m telling you this, though, because the right to bear arms is still gloriously protected. All hail the King of Deterrents.
The story. A couple days ago, I decided to celebrate Junior’s birthday. I didn’t tell him, and I think his memory’s so burned he probably didn’t even remember himself, but it was a good excuse to go down to No-Longer-Leilah’s. (Remember that place?) Felt like I had a hangover even before I left the house, so guess what? I forgot to electrify the doorknob on my way out. I told you the piece of shit should have been mounted on the outside wall, a big-ass blob of tin and warning labels so that, even if it wasn’t on, a bastard’d think twice about touching anything conductive. Should have listened to me.
I get back from Formerly-Leilah’s, humming some song I hate, and first thing I notice is that both the terracotta sculptures are torn up. Some punk was mighty persistent, I thought. Walked up to the door, put my key in the lock, and my brain skipped a groove. Next thing I remember, I was resting with my back against the porch rail and the taste of ozone all down my esophagus. I sat there for a while, and had nothing better to do than listen. I could hear shouting and chanting and some young version of singing all through the door.
Turned out a whole gang of kids took advantage of the dead current, picked the two external locks, cut the two internals, and squatted on my house. My house, damnit!
I knocked on the goddamn door. Kid who opened it had arms like a whale’s penis and I ended up sitting on the porch again. "Sorry, popsicle," said the kid. "Houses should be free." I tried breaking into the basement window, but not very hard, because I installed the triple-bonded polymer panes just a couple months ago. Two of the kids were having sex on my table saw and when they saw me peeping in, one of them grabbed a tube of epoxy and smeared it all over the inside of the window. Couldn’t see in for shit.
Police won’t do anything, obviously. Citizen’s Union is considering the matter, and will attend to it after considering what to eat for lunch, I guess.
Can you help an old friend out? We did too good a job on proofing the house. Should have left myself a back door, but I didn’t. Just a box of heart-beaters, or some of those gas pellets, if you can. Anything, really, that’ll help a high-cholesterol divorcee take on the entire Apple Dumpling Gang.
I’m drunk, which accounts for all the words, and the occasional good grammar. Sorry. I figure, since it worked so well last time I did it, y’know.
Attn: Jagof, CEO
JWPPD of Seattle
Dear Mister CEO,
Thanks to your timely reply to my last letter, I’ve spent two solid weeks in this here box. Just yesterday, the whore next door took a utility knife to one of my walls. Now I live in three-quarters of a refrigerator box. You could at least send a post card. I go back to the house every day to check the mail box, and to yell at the damn kids. They don’t set a foot outside the door. I crouched in the bushes a couple evenings ago, like a careful hunter, certain that they would have to emerge sooner or later in order to feed. A pizza delivery boy rode right up the front steps on his bike — left skid marks on the concrete — and rang the doorbell. The big kid with the ropy arms answered it. I couldn’t hear what went on, but just as I was tensing myself to dive for the open door, the delivery boy gunned the engine and drove into my living room, amid a chorus of hurrahs. I waited four hours; he didn’t come back out.
Some good news, though. I met up with Junior, again. This is good news because somehow (I haven’t yet asked, and I’m not about to) he has managed to obtain enough money to insulate the walls of a mansion. He says it’s pretty much worthless; he carries it around in two thick rolls in his fists, and I keep thinking he’s going to punch somebody. He may think it’s worthless, but I still say it’s the honest way, the American way. Theft may be good for some, but damned if I’m going that route.
I ran into Junior downtown, as I was trying to find a new place to store my box, far away from knife-wielding prostitutes. He didn’t recognize me, at first. He was higher than I’ve ever been, tell you that much. I told him about the gang — they call themselves the Callow gang; have you heard of them? are they new around here? — and he asked about his action figures. I told him someone was probably using them as sex toys. He was silent for a moment, then said, more thoughtfully than I’ve ever heard him sound before, "I’d like them back."
I could see where this was going, so I egged him on. "You know, Junior, they’re not yours anymore."
"Oh," he said. That’s it. I tried to coax something else out of him, but nothing doing. Thinking he was a lost cause, I turned to head back up the hill, thinking about how to build a duck blind in my own backyard, and not ten feet up the road I turn around, and guess who’s following me? Not saying a thing, not even looking where he’s going. He padded along behind me all the way home.
Didn’t have very many opportunities that night. We spent the dead time trying to devise a plan. Here’s what we came up with (and when I say "we" I mean "I"):
As soon as we hear their godawful music shaking the foundation, we’ll climb up the drain pipe and locate the skylight (which is where the roof of my car ended up). Using the pounding of the infernal rhythm to mask our actions, we will employ our combined weight to break through the plexiglass of the skylight, and then, momentum willing, crumple the sheet metal beneath and take the squatters completely by surprise. Junior’s two contributions to this plan are his considerable weight and the suggestion that we pipe marijuana smoke down through the air circulation vents to calm the kids, as if they were honey bees.
I would feel a lot more comfortable about this plan if we had a couple of your little boppers in our hands, but, hey, I know you’re a busy guy.
We’re going to wait a couple of days, so no need to rush. Junior and I will do some bonding. He just got back from a convenience store. He bought candy and Vodka. No, he tells me, he didn’t buy any of it.
Dad’s dead. He says, Thanks a lot. His plan didn’t go too swell. Callows had a slaggish deej, and he fucked up his own turntables, so when the music started it stopped again. We were already on the pipe, and didn’t want to slip off. I was wearing big boots that woulda beat on the house like a drum if I kept going, so dad went on up by himself. I stayed put– I tried to. Drain wasn’t up to code. Dad installed it himself. Right about when I heard dad pound steel, the bolts ripped out and I hit the ground flat-assed.
I thought I heard heart-beaters; I could hear them — <i>pop, pop</i> — going off right alongside some crier kid going, "Intruder alert! intruder alert!" and the deej scratching some plastic like gunfire. I didn’t think dad could have broken through the steel on the skylight, unless he had installed it himself.
Someone’s whooping like a dust freak and I make it up onto the roof by way of the old tree in the back. Saw a column of light coming up from the bathroom, where the skylight looked into. Tried to walk as softly as I could and some part of the roof in front of me exploded, and whoever yelled "Intruder alert!" before now decided to start singing about all their funny guns, a love song to their funny guns, and somebody else was laughing.
I made it to the skylight and peeped over the edge. Dad was all beat up, burned by the beaters– looked like a toy that got blasted with M-80s. Head up against the toilet. He saw my head and, real slowly, flipped me off. I don’t think he meant it for me. Then he kinda died, or whatever.
You know, mister Darl, there was one thing I tried to learn on the streets, and that was you never own your friends. I didn’t do good at that. I started out knowing I’d have to learn it, like knowing one day you’re gonna have to take algebra, but I didn’t want to.
I knew a girl name Nimble. I spent some time in her orbit last Christmas. She could get a grip on damn near anything, and had magic that could hide four loaves of bread in her clothes. I started to know how she’d act. Like I’d see a setup in a supermarket and just know who she was going to distract, who she was going to play, what she was going to go for first. Dog crap in the sidewalk, I started to know which foot she’d step on to avoid it. See what I mean?
Couple weeks ago, she takes my glasses while I’m sleeping, grinds one of the lenses down on the asphalt, and cuts her wrists. All the way to the hospital, she held her hands different than I’d ever seen, and her blood was a lot darker than I’d thought. A nurse dumped evil eyes on me, even after I told her flat serious that I’d never gut a woman in my life (even if she did have evil eyes)–
Just not the way I’d treat my toys, you know?
Anyway, go to hell,
I haven’t heard from you in a while. I was sorry to hear of your recent real estate fiasco. I hope that things have cleared up; I’m assuming that they have, since I haven’t received a follow-up letter from you in several weeks. Life in the office has been busy, and life at home has been too short for a proper correspondence. But I have salvaged a few concurrent minutes, here, and a eager to learn of your success re: house. Did you get the sample pack I sent you, pursuant to your letter? That should have been enough to deter a small gang of teenagers; usually, they’re more scared of you than you are of them.
I do hope the package arrived safely. I was in the post office just the other day and happened upon a mildly disturbing discovery. As I was entering the hallway where the boxes are kept, I nearly ran over a young boy carrying a double armful of letters, flyers, and other assorted bits of junk; he had the look of a boy sent to gather firewood for camp. As he shuffled past me, a small avalanche of number tens chanced to slide from his grip and scatter on the floor. I bent to help him retrieve the letters, thinking, at that time, that they all belonged to, perhaps, his mother, but he just shoved out the door without so much as another word.
It was only by accident that I glanced down at those envelopes I had already retrieved. One of them, you will no doubt be surprised to read, bore my own address. Yes, the little deviant had ransacked my mailbox! I went straight away to complain to the postmaster, who informed me, in bored and pandering tones, that the mailboxes had been unlocked by government mandate more than four months ago. Four months! And during all that time I continued to put my key in the lock and turn it, imagining that I was being afforded a modicum of security! It’s an outrage. I imagine I looked pretty foolish.
I just wanted to give you the proverbial "heads-up," in case your city postmaster is as incommunicative as is mine.
It occurs to me that, if you have not already resolved the possession issue of your house, you might enjoy spending some time at my humble abode. We’ve got a couple of squatters, too, but they’re good folks; an older gentleman and his granddaughter. They help out around the yard and the young lady does the dishes from time to time — no less, I’d wager, than my own daughter would, had I a daughter. There is plenty of room for you, and for Junior, should he need a space to occupy.
Consider it an open invitation. We live not two hours’ drive apart, and yet it has been how long since we last had a beer together? Too long.
I look forward to your response.
Ian Donnell Arbuckle lives in Washington state with his wife Elisabeth. His stories have appeared in magazines such as NFG, Open Wide, The Writer’s Post Journal, Full Unit Hookup, Bewildering Stories, and Kenoma. He is working on his fifth novel; his first three are available for free at: http://www.lulu.com/idarb. His impersonal website is at: http://www.highenergymagic.org/~ian/
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