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That Got Away
Full Court Press
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
Copyright © 2011 by Vicki Solá
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means
electronic or mechanical, including by photocopying, by
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval
system, without the express permission of the author
and publisher, except where permitted by law.
Published in the United States of America
by Full Court Press, 601 Palisade Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons
living or dead are purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Control No. 2011927085
Editing and Book Design by Barry Sheinkopf for Bookshapers
Cover Design by Jay Hudson (www.yojayhudson.com)
Cover Illustration Copyright © 2011 by Jay Hudson
Colophon by Liz Sedlack
SOOPERFLEA AND ME
THE WHOLE MESS BEGAN one early September Saturday. Fiery horns and blistering percussion—from my almost-boyfriend Carlos Santiago’s new Salsa CD—worked overtime, keeping me awake as I sped toward a little white house down by the Jersey Shore, one I hadn’t seen in five years, thanks to my workaholic ways.
I’d managed to cram in a whole three hours of shut-eye before hitting the highway. Checking the rearview mirror, I caught sight of my red-rimmed eyes, framed by windblown blond hair—and a couple inches of dark roots.
My so-called career in radio—working at two different New York stations—wasn’t nearly as glamorous as most people imagined. What with seventy-hour weeks, plus the freelance production I did on the side, I had no life. I have to admit though, it had been my choice. Long ago, I decided I didn’t want to live an ordinary life—a decision I grew to hate.
Sighing, I hit the gas harder. As miles of hot, black pavement flew under my tires, and parkway exit numbers grew smaller, I swore I could smell the sea.
Traffic was light. Glancing at my watch, I declared, “Three forty-two, skies are blue!”
That split second, something—it sounded like a bomb—detonated overhead, slamming my ‘64-and-a-half Mustang—my late dad’s last gift to me—into a wild spin.
Deafened by the blast, blinded by a fluorescent flash, I dug my fingernails into the cushioned steering wheel cover and struggled to regain control of my bucking red bronco.
A nightmarish squeal sliced through the sulphur-laced air when I finally managed, bearing down with all the force of my one-hundred-ten-pound frame, to floor the brakes with both feet. Eyelids squeezed shut, I braced myself and waited.
It was over. The maniacal maelstrom had run its course, leaving behind a vacuum of silence, save for the stray buzzing between my ears.
My body crumpled down into the bucket seat. Dazed and drenched, tears criss-crossing my face, I sat motionless as my heart hammered my ribs like a machine gun and forced gallons of blood through my veins. I thought I was going to blow up.
Only when my head stopped spinning did I dare open my eyes.
Things looked pretty routine. No signs of mass destruction, no evidence of calamity—no raging fires, blackened terrain, or scorched craters. Not even a fallen tree. Traffic, although sparse, flowed in an orderly fashion. When my legs stopped shaking, I got out and checked the car. Odd. Not a scratch.
Feeling like a little kid, alone and scared, I drove off the dirt shoulder and headed for South Seaside Park.
A couple boring miles later, an enormous green sign appeared. Hung from a nondescript overpass, it proclaimed in bold white letters that I was enjoying my trip on the recently resurfaced Perswayssick Thruway.
“Perswayssick Thruway!” I shouted, squinting.
As I freaked, the six-lane highway dissolved unceremoniously into an unpaved ramp leading onto the Perswayssick River Bridge, a structure that didn’t simply cross the zigzagging river—dull and narrow, it spanned its entire length.
My new wristwatch twinkled on the seat beside me, its sterling band snapped. The cracked face read three forty-two. Hadn’t even paid for the damned thing yet—I’d charged it. Scowling, I jammed the timepiece in my pocket and peered down at the murky river, surprised by scores of luminous, cobalt-blue ovals splashing about.
As I gazed amazed, a muddy mist rose, obliterating the blobs—and everything else. In seconds, the dank vapors—accompanied by an unfamiliar, gut-wrenching stench—painted my windshield green.
Ticker thumping up in my ears, I steered toward what I hoped was the road’s edge and eased to a stop. Before I could close my windows, Carlos’s CD ejected itself, disintegrating as it whizzed past my nose, and words shot out from all four speakers like snipers’ bullets.
“We’ll be comin’ right back at’cha wit’ ‘The Line to Your Heart’s Always Busy,’” shrilled a dentist’s drill of a voice. “It’s been number one for six months! Okay, peeps, it’s five p.m.! Your dial’s mutated to 1780 AM, WGAS, part of the Gas Broadcast Network!”
“Our live mierk cams show we’re havin’ a inversion! Yee haw! I love inversions! Out there on the bridge, your visibility’s a big fat zilch—an’ so’s your mother’s!”
My jaw dropped.
“Let’s hope,” continued the screechy piece of chalk, “this inversion sticks ‘round for our Annual Mierk Fest nex’ weekend!”
“Y’know, I love this planet—even though I miss mine.”
Acid rose into my throat, burning my tonsils.
“The river’s overflowin’ an’ the goonafish are jumpin’! Whatta soooper Snatturday!”
At least it was still Saturday. Maybe.
“Now, here’s the toppa the charts for yuz!” A tone-deaf cowboy, accompanied by twangy, out-of-tune guitars, began caterwauling, “The line to your heart’s always busy, I call it all da-a-a-a-a-y long…”
My fingers never reached the dial. A thundering wallop from behind slammed me back against my seat and blasted the Mustang through the guardrail.
Airborne, I tumbled through pea soup, praying that my dad was watching over me. Then, a sharp tilt forward smashed my skull into something hard, and I found myself floating. From above, I stared as my vehicle hurtled through the lifting fog.
Below, on the mucky riverbank, a red-caped black dog stumbled upright on paddle-shaped feet. Forelimbs extended, he took a giant, clumsy leap into the sky. His pendulous ears whipped in the wind.
My doomed automobile continued its slow-motion descent, listing to the right, bags and books streaming out of the passenger windows in a hideous arc. Old magazines and my flat spare spilled from the open trunk. As each item splashed into the foul waters, the blue things sprang up, annoyed.
The caped canine zoomed underneath my car moments before impact with solid ground, and hoisted it back into the air.
Gravity began to tug at me. I felt leaden, and the pain returned. From the corners of my consciousness, gleaming clusters of disembodied eyeballs glared my way, then vanished into the returning haze.
Shivering, my agony replaced by dull throbbing, I drifted through damp dreariness.
THE MUSTANG ROCKED GENTLY. As I came to, I noticed the protruding peepers of a panting black hound plastered to me. Atop his whipped cream-splattered snout sat a shiny wet nose. A shiny, wet running nose.
Microscopic dots obscured my vision as I pushed the door open and stepped out. Swaying, I collapsed upon the creature.
He spoke English. “Here, sit down,” he suggested, guiding me toward a flat rock that sat in the middle of a muddy gully.
“Th—thanks. . .” I stuttered.
“A pleasure, Nicki.”
“I—I don’t recall telling you my name—”
My eyes remained fixed on him. “No.”
“I’m Sooperflea, at your service.” He pointed to the triangle-enclosed backward “S” embroidered on his navy shirt.
The canine-humanoid’s voice boinged like a rusty spring. He was just about my height—when I sat.
“Real name’s Fleaglossity,” he continued, wiping his schnozz on his sleeve. “Fleaglossity Floppinsplodge. But’cha can call me Flea. All my friends do.”
“I’m Nicki—as you already seem to know,” I replied, gazing into his concerned cocoa eyes. “Nicki Rodriguez.”
He extended a furry, four-fingered hand. “Pleased t’meet’cha.”
“Likewise,” I replied, catching a glimpse of my own lavender-tinged hand.
“Don’t worry, that’ll go away,” Flea assured me. “Your face, too.”
“The purple, I mean—y’know, your dimension burn.”
“You’re only twenty-four,” he continued. “You’ll heal fast.”
“How’d you know—”
“You’re lucky. I was jus’ passin’ through on my way into the city, to meet a buddy.”
“City? What city?”
“Perswayssick City,” he answered, matter-of-factly.
Silly me, I should’ve guessed.
He shook his oversized head. “Nah. No way y’coulda guessed.” My mouth opened wide.
“Come wit’ me—y’need a good meal.”
I forced a smile.
“‘Zig’ll take care of ya. He’s my bes’ friend—we grew up together. C’mon.”
My eyes wandered down to Flea’s gargantuan high-tops. Circled X’s decorated each ankle.
The superhero studied his red sneakers self-consciously.
I pondered my fate—silently. Where the hell was I, and how could I get back home?
“Don’t worry,” said Flea, “we’ll answer all your questions before y’leave.” Leave. Just what I wanted to hear.
A hurt expression crossed his face. He stumbled face first into the dirt, mumbling.
His shoes are too big, I thought.
“Nah—they fit jus’ fine,” he insisted. Astonished, I watched him stagger to his feet. As we trudged toward my car, a lump rose in my throat. My vintage Mustang sat dented and gashed.
“Don’t worry, Nicki, they can be banged out an’ painted over.”
Just get me back to the parkway, I thought, blinking back tears.
“I said I’d get’cha back to your parkway—later.” He smacked my trunk shut.
I stopped in my tracks. Flea kept walking, and tripped right into the driver’s seat. He could just about see over the dashboard.
Consoled by the presence of my handbag, its strap tangled around an inner door handle, I took a shallow breath and flopped into the passenger seat. Breathing hurt.
“Now lessee, howd’ya start this thing? Oh, yeah.” Next, he grasped the gear shifter. “Hmmm… kinda like prndl, but on the floor. Wow, I can jus’ ‘bout reach these pedals. The long one on the right makes it stop. . .this shorter, sideways one makes it go—”
Flea tapped the gas, then hit the brakes full force. Smash went my head on the dash. Curiously, he had no problem finding the clutch.
He chuckled. “It’s jus’ the opposite on my planet.”
“An’ where I come from, Prndl is a girl’s name, too.”
“I’ll drive!” I yelled, coming to my senses.
“Nah—you’re in no shape.”
“IT’S MY CAR!” I began blacking out as I reached for the wheel.
He shot me a “told-you-so” look and clicked the radio on. “Better put on that seatbelt. We gotta backtrack a few miles to get on the bridge.” We lurched forward.
That same flat voice droned, “—the line to your heart’s always busy.” Flea hummed along as he hit every pothole and curb in sight. He had to be the worst driver on any planet.
“I’m not the worst driver,” he protested. “Jus’ a little—whaddayacallit—rusted.”
“Who said you were a poor driver?”
“Y’thought it—an’ y’thought worst, not poor!”
“An’ stop wonderin’ where the parkway is!”
I tried not to think aloud.
When that corny, twangy song ended, a familiar, grating voice began to pitch an ad: “An’ now, an importan’ message from us here at Gas Radio! My kingdom for a horse! My corporation for a brief! Ah, the age-old lament of the busy, squirmin’ executive! Whaaat could be worse than ill-fittin’ underwear?
“I’m Doctor B. Z. Z. Guhneeeecey, an’ I wanna talk t’ya ‘bout somethin’ personal! It’s sad but true—eighty per cent of corporate blunders are produced by ‘executive squeeze’—the torment of ill-fittin’ underwear! There’s no tellin’ how many financial tragedies can be attributated to chafin’ an’ itchin’! Well, I’ve done somethin’ ‘bout it!
“I’ve invented an amazin’ new revolutionary formula! Jus’ one application of clinically proven Bend-A-Britch, an’ I unconditionally quarantine that your very personal undergarments’ll conform to you!
“Even works on tail holes! Call I-T-C-H-Y-B-U-T-T-S today to find out more! Remember, y’heard it here, on 1780 AM, Gas Radio!”
I hoped it was just a bad dream. “I’m changing the station.”
“It’s your car,” he snapped. “But y’know, that underwear stuff’s pretty good. An’ no—you’re not dreamin’.”
I slapped the button to FM. The same high, nerdish voice babbled on. “Bad afternoon, everyone! It’s a soooper Snatturday here on 109.3 FM, WGAS, Gas Radio! Yee haw—”
I punched one of the knobs so hard it popped off into my hand. Grunting, I chucked it over my shoulder.
“Flyin’ objects are dangerous,” Flea admonished as he sped onto the bridge.
My eyes rolled upward.
Suddenly, he jammed on the brakes and his bulbous nose struck the wheel, honking like a Model T’s horn. We skidded hundreds of yards, trailing stinky clouds of burning rubber. Splattered on the passenger-side windshield was one of those luminous blobs from the river.
“Aw, I tried not to hit him,” cried Flea. “Poor goonafish. Little guys are really jumpin’ this time of year.”
My neck had locked, forcing me to stare at the road kill. The globby thing was actually a fish, strange and two-tailed, with no apparent head. “Ugh—can’t move,” I moaned.
The superhero reached over and grabbed me by my shoulders. After a rapid succession of twists, pulls and yanks, I was able to turn from the grisly mess.
“Been studyin’ to be a chiropractor—can’t keep this superhero stuff up forever.” He stepped out, scraped the smooshed goonafish off the glass and tossed it back into the Perswayssick, giving it a proper burial at sea.
THE BRIDGE RAN OVER dry land for the last mile or so.
“Why does this bridge span the length of the river?” I asked. “Why doesn’t it cross over like a normal bridge? And why does this part go over land?”
“Jus’ the way it is,” answered Flea, stony-faced. He gunned the gas and the Mustang flew down the ramp, smoke billowing from behind.
“Don’t say it,” he warned, cheek muscles twitching.
“I didn’t,” I snarled, through clenched teeth.
He glanced up at the rearview mirror. “Hmmm. . .blue exhaust. . . engine trouble—”
Did the creature ruin my engine?
“I didn’t ruin it. I merely observed that the smoke comin’ from your tailpipe is blue. Y’might be burnin’ oil. Remember, Nicole, if it wasn’t for me, y’wouldn’t be here to give a deck of vlecks!”
“Sorry, Flea—I mean, I just—”
“I know what’cha meant. An’ I’m not a creature!” He made a sloppy turn onto Street Road, an industrial thoroughfare neither scenic nor smooth. Never-green traffic lights adorned each corner. Each stop smacked my soggy gray matter up against the inside of my head. The flop, flop, flop became a steady rhythm, a distraction of sorts. Almost made me forget his driving.
Flea’s head whipped around. “Did’ja say somethin’?”
“No—not a word,” I replied, in the most convincing tone I could muster.
I decided I’d better think as quietly as possible. But wasn’t I entitled to the privacy of my own mind? Wasn’t that a most basic right?
I faked a cough to cover those last couple thoughts.
“Y’oughtta get that checked,” advised Flea. “Sounds bad.”
Uncomfortable with my deception, I turned my attention to the world outside. Street Road, more country-like now, had been graced by an early autumn. A chaotic carpet of riotous hues crackled under our sporty tires.
“Perswayssick County’s so pretty this time of year,” proclaimed Flea, misty-eyed.
“Uh-huh.” Vision blurred by my own tears, I cradled my pounding head and cursed my luck.
Since graduation two years before—still grappling with my dad’s death the summer after freshman year—I’d been toiling away for pennies. Didn’t have time or strength to look for another “dream” job.
My part-time gig at the left end of the FM dial, hosting and producing a noncommercial Salsa show, wasn’t bad, although the pay was. Management gave me free reign pretty much, as long as I didn’t blow the place up, and local bands were grateful for the exposure I gave them. And I’d met Carlos. But I worked thankless twelve-hour shifts at the other end of the dial, at slick Spanish commercial station WUGG, where I yearned to lock myself inside a soundproof studio, stuff a rag in my mouth, and scream at the top of my lungs during my twenty-minute lunch. Only thing stopping me was that my boss would probably be hiding with me, videotaping my meltdown.
Freelance production augmented my slim earnings. Doing odd jobs for showbiz wannabes helped chip away at my student loans, and my sanity.
I’d just pulled an all-nighter, recording a client. Now, here I sat, nursing a migraine, talking to a driving dog.
I coughed so loudly, Flea almost drove off the road.
THE SINKING SUN SHOT glistening copper highlights across the acres of tall fields that surrounded us, making them shimmer and click in the cool breeze.
Enraptured, Flea pulled over and parked. “Ah, rindom, the source of life! It’s harvest time!” Clusters of raspy arrows protruded from each weapon-like plant.
Bucolic calm shattered abruptly when a tornado of black feathers exploded up from the stalks, followed by an outraged raven, thrashing to free itself from the hostile crops’ clutches.
After a prolonged, ear-splitting battle, the bird sputtered into the sky, shrieking “Nevermore!” and set down atop a nearby billboard.
Mierk Fest on the Perswayssick! advertised the sign, picturing a motley assortment of humans and canine-humanoids mingling happily. Mierking, Goonafishing, & Picnicking! Fun for the Whole Family! Snatturday & Someday, Septober 16th & 17th!
Fluttering about, still delivering its soliloquy, the Poe crow fell off its perch. Flea giggled, then started the car, hit the wrong pedal and climbed the curb.
My jaw tightened.
He glanced my way. “My telepathy stopped workin ‘bout three miles ago.”
“It’s been kinda spotty,” he added, leaning closer, “like summa my other powers. Some days, my ESP doesn’t work at all. But I do know, your dad is lookin’ out for ya.”
MINIATURE CLAPBOARD HOUSES, THEIR arched doorways boarded up by knotted planks, dotted Boulevard Avenue’s hillsides. Paint peeled off the single-storied, windowless dwellings, and their half-shingled roofs resembled checkerboards.
Between shacks, weeds towered over broken bottles and crushed cans, and crumpled bits of newsprint skimmed the ground, turning like pinwheels.
Up ahead, a lone, matted schnauzer—a tiny, regular dog—eyed us furtively, then ventured from its spot smack in our car’s path, dragging a brown paper bag. Flea leaned on the horn, and the animal became a dirty blur. A couple miles later, we rolled past a tall cyclone fence that guarded an expansive yard heaped with overturned shopping carts, many missing wheels.
“Shoppin’ Cart Orphanage,” volunteered Flea, bearing right onto Murgatroyd Avenue—a main drag.
It took forever-and-a-half to pass a broken-windowed, smoke-vomiting plant known as the Mierkolatory, an architectural disaster of pachydermian proportion, coated by centuries of soot. I wound my window up and Flea stepped on the gas.
By the time I’d stopped retching, I found myself gaping at a semicircle of sleek, mirrored buildings, surrounded by twisted shrubbery clipped like kangaroos, giraffes, and anorexic hippos.
“Freak O’Nature Foods’ Corporate headquarters,” Flea informed me. Gothic, three-headed hawks, their stone beaks gushing thin arcs of water, stood at each end of the central, dozen-doored entrance.
“A sign for the turnpike!” I exclaimed, bolting upright. “I could drop you off, then—”
“It’s not your turnpike!” shouted Flea.
A SPARKLING CITY FILLED the windshield. Everywhere, skyscrapers rushed up into the night skies, their myriad lights indistinguishable from the stars.
I craned my neck to stare up at one particularly surreal edifice.
“Why do they call it Seemingwhale Towers when there’s only one?”
“Uh. . .well, y’see,” stammered Flea, “they started buildin’ two, but, uh, had a recommendation to put one on top of the other—y’know, turn it into a single buildin’. They kept the original sign, though—it was easier than orderin’ a whole ‘nother one.”
“Jus’ the way it is,” growled Flea, screeching to a stop when a cluster of jaywalkers began a leisurely stroll. Perswayssick City’s pedestrians—and drivers—reflected the diverse mix represented on Street Road’s Mierk Fest billboard.
Nearby, an elderly, tweed-jacketed Flea look-alike tripped, recovering his balance seconds before his ankle-high, leashed brown-and-white puppy could escape. A group of human youngsters howled. The superhero flashed them a dirty look.
As the last stragglers sauntered past, the light turned red. Flea took the opportunity to point out a ritzy restaurant across the street. A scarlet carpet ran from door to curb, and its marquee’s thousands of micro-sized bulbs spelled out “Les Pantalons de Napoleon,” in elegant script.
“That’s a real high-class bistro,” explained Flea, “named after Napoleon’s pants. There’s a real pair of his trousers on display—in a locked case nexta the men’s room.”
“His Waterloo pants,” he whispered, awe-stricken.
Moments later, a white, fully-articulated stretch-limousine slithered, snakelike, around the corner, each segment sliding smoothly from view. It appeared to have more than thirty doors on each side. “Grate 1” was the moniker engraved on its Jersey tags.
“We’re almost—hic—there—oh, no—this—hic—always happens—hic!” spluttered Flea.
“Hold your breath,” I suggested. I didn’t know him well enough to scare him.
“Never—hic—works!” A look of helplessness washed over his face. Equally pathetic were his attempts to park between two ambulances. He jerked back and forth for ten minutes, hitting a trash can. Its contents spilled across the sidewalk.
“I think—hic—I’m finally gettin’ used’ta your car,” he announced, ramming both emergency vehicles, incredibly, in a single stroke.
Averting my gaze, I noticed that same ethereal limo parked across the street. It took up an entire block. Hand-scrawled “out of order” signs covered each adjacent meter.
Meanwhile, my measly Mustang cowered curbside, illuminated by orange-and-puke-pink neon, flashing the name “Gneeezle’s.” Purple calligraphy below read Fine Family Dining Since 2005. Filthy, half-drawn venetian blinds languished behind the gaudy lighting.
Flea leapt out of the car, unaware that he’d caught his cape in the door.
“Flea!” I called out, too late. Fabric ripped as his nose hit the pavement, blaring like a trumpet on steroids.
He squirmed his way upright and, whistling a carefree tune, hopped onto the sidewalk, only to stumble over the trunk of an uprooted tree.
My legs had gone numb, and my back felt stiffer than a petrified two-by-four. I staggered over to Flea and helped him to his oar-shaped feet.
Clutching onto each other, we hobbled toward the eatery.
“This is—hic—a real high-class joint,” Flea boasted from under my armpit.
Looks more like a high-class dump, I thought. My empty stomach rumbled.
ME AND GNEEE
“GNEEEZLE’S,” I WONDERED ALOUD. “Three E’s in a row—”
“Spare a vowel, spoil the food!” shrieked a familiar voice from under a deflated chef’s hat.
Jet ink spattered both sides of this canine-humanoid’s cranium and triangular ears, dipping down over his right eye. Dingy white fuzz carpeted his scowling snout. A soiled apron covered his T-shirt.
“You’re purple,” he observed, staring me up and down. “Y’should see an epidermicist.”
Flea pinched me. His hiccups had disappeared.
“C’mon in, I guess,” snarled the surly critter. He flung the plate glass door open and shoved past us. “Last one in’s a rotten egg!”
Flea flew in after him.
Seconds later, a grungy index finger pointed my way. “Yooou!” whooped the voice attached, “yooou’re the rotten egg!”
I bit my lip.
“Heya, ‘Zig, whazzup?” inquired Flea, ignoring his buddy’s antics.
“Price of vowels.”
The two slapped high-fours, sprang up and down rubbing elbows, pranced in clockwise, then counter-clockwise circles—hopping on alternating feet—a half-dozen times.
Afterward, Flea turned to me, winded. “What’s your name again?”
“Nicki, who needs to get back to the parkway.”
“Icky!” shouted Flea’s friend. “Icky Parkway—whatta stooopid name!”
“Nicki,” began Flea, nodding in the loudmouth’s direction, “this is Dr. B.Z.Z. Gneeecey—we jus’ call him Bizzig—or ‘Zig.’”
I gasped. “You mean—that’s—”
“That’s Guh-neeecey,” stated Gneeecey, “wit’ three E’s—but’cha only pronounciate two, ‘cause one’s a spare. Spares are good—in case y’get a flat.”
My stomach growled.
“An’,” he informed me, before I might commit any phonetic blunders, “y’pronounciate the G, but it ain’t spare—ain’t got another.”
“Y’know,” bragged Flea, “‘Zig’s known as ‘the Grate One’—”
“That’s G-R-A-T-E,” interrupted Gneeecey. “Wouldn’t wan’cha to picture it wrong.”
Didn’t think I would.
“I s’pose,” he said, scratching his noggin through his hat, “I could use that G as a spare, but it might not fit—it’s too used to bein’ near different letters.”
I extended my hand. “Pleased to meet you, uh, Doctor Gneeecey.” Hmmmph. Doctor. Doctor of what? Vowels and consonants? My dad was a doctor. A real one, who had run a clinic in East Harlem.
Gneeecey’s snoot wrinkled.
“C’mon ‘Zig,” coaxed Flea. “I can vouch for her.”
After an awkward moment, Gneeecey’s hand grasped mine. His bristly fur made me itch.
“‘Zig owns this place,” said Flea, peering into the dining room, “plus the WGAS Broadcast Network.”
I perked up. “I work in radio.”
Gneeecey, still shaking my hand, scrutinized me through narrowed lids. “Guess they’re lowerin’ standards everywhere.”
“Keep tellin’ ‘er how g-r-a-t-e I am, Fleaglossitty.”
“‘Zig’s an inventor, too.”
Gneeecey’s left sneaker tapped impatiently. “Aaaaan’?”
Flea adjusted his tattered cape. “He’s also Perswayssick County’s Quality of Life Commissioner.”
“An’,” interrupted Gneeecey, still pumping my arm, “I was jus’ elected Grate Gizzy–”
“Perswayssick County’s highest office,” explained Flea.
Gneeecey pounded his sunken chest. “Now—even before my official inordination nex’ week—the freeloaders gotta answer to meee.”
“Stinkin’ whatever, Fleaglossitty. Y’know, I shortened Gizzygalumpaggis to Gizzy ‘cause it wasted consonants. No word needs three spare G’s. It was that conversationalist platform that got me elected.”
“Y’mean conservationist,” said Flea. “That, plus y’swore you’d be held accountable for returnin’ us to—”
“Enough, Fleaglossity.” Leaning closer, the white-and-black wonder confided, “Mos’ folks say I can do no wrong.”
“An’ as Grate Gizzy,” squealed Gneeecey, “I oversee myself as chairperson of the Quality of Life Commission—so even I gotta answer to me. An’ I get to ride horseys!”
Reeling, I leaned against the wall.
“It’s tough bein’ me all day,” added Gneeecey.
“Start a support group for yourself,” suggested Flea, as he lowered himself into the chair I’d been eyeing.
“Hey,” inquired Gneeecey, only just noticing the superhero’s scruffy condition. “Wha’ happened to you? Your cape an’ nose—”
“Ain’t nuthin, ‘Zig.”
“Did sheeee do that?”
I gazed down at my muddied maroon mules.
“Nah, ‘Zig—I kinda fell outta the car—”
“Well, y’better go put quarters in that meter ‘fore they ticket’cha. If they do, don’t expect help from me.”
“Wait, Flea.” With my free hand, I began digging for change.
“Y’let her call ya Flea?!”
Sooperflea shuffled past his slack-jawed pal. “S’okay, Nicki—I got it.”
“GETTIN’ BACK TO MEEE,” continued Gneeecey, still shaking my hand, “I do mosta the cookin’, too.”
“Really?” I answered, my legs crumbling beneath me.
“I gotta,” he added, in a martyred tone, “till Altitude’s trained. He’s a mouse.”
“Oh my.” The room began spinning. “Uh, could I sit somewhere—”
“That’s in addition to everythin’ else in my hectic life. Us important people got it rough.” Suddenly, he cast my hand aside with enough force to dislocate a shoulder, and covered a small, round object with his foot. As he lurched down, he bashed his honking schnozzle on a tabletop.
“Y’hunka garbage!” he screeched, kicking it till splinters and hardware flew. “DIE!”
The little table stood on one leg, defying him.
Gneeecey snatched up a steel rod and smashed the remaining post until it exploded into a fine powder.
On its belly, in a cloud of dust, the piece of furniture seemed to plead for mercy.
Bulgy peepers glazed with hate, Gneeecey displayed a dime. “Finders keepers, losers weepers! Why’re y’lookin’ at me like I’m nuts?”
As I collapsed into a nearby chair, I tried to quell the small but nagging notion I had died.
“Need that lousy chair inside,” said Gneeecey, as he pulled it out from under me.
Mouth gaping, I stumbled backward.
“Y’look like y’smell somethin’ rotten—whaddaya think this is, Denmark?”
The place did smell strange. “Now that you mention it—”
“Let’s sit,” suggested Flea, just walking in and steering me toward the very same seat that had been yanked out from under me, and a table much like the one just murdered.
Meanwhile, Gneeecey grinned at a jumbo, wall-mounted TV, and his own blabbering likeness, amateurishly superimposed, flying over the Perswayssick River.
“Vote no to Question 345 this Octvember 68th—stop the riverfront divlopment!” shrilled his onscreen image, flapping unwashed off-white arms. “An’ save the engendered goonafish!”
“That was meeee!” exclaimed the good doctor. “Wasn’t that ‘nouncement ‘bout votin’ ‘gainst the divlopment cool?”
“Uh, yeah, ‘Zig,” replied Flea. “Y’sounded very, uh, natural, speakin’ up against the development.”
“Mark an’ them’ll love it!”
Wearing a cat-that-swallowed-the-canary grin, Gneeecey swaggered into the kitchen.
INSIDE GNEEEZLE’S, PEPTO-PINK, neon-orange, and fluorescent-purple tie-dyed, Haight-Ashbury flower-power ruled, juxtaposed shamelessly with quasi-classical Greek furnishings.
Scores of poorly-reproduced vases, repainted in brilliant black light colors, sat scattered throughout the lava lamp-infested dive. Some housed raspy rindom stalks, others contained drooping ferns. Our table, lit by a particularly lurid violet fixture, tottered precariously whenever we moved so much as an elbow.
A framed caricature of Socrates gripping a goblet engraved “Hemlock” graced a nearby wall. Captioning underneath read, “Sock it to me!”
Its companion piece, an illuminated, life-sized Bacchus, clenched a froth-filled mug. Each time the jovial immortal’s mechanical fist hoisted the vessel over his head, he winked, and his motorized mouth opened, exposing a neon ad for Perswayssick Breweries’ full-bodied, rindom-based Slog.
The schizophrenic scheme extended back to the kitchen’s chipped steel doors, where two Greek pillars, obviously plastic, stood guard.
FRAMED BY HIS FAKE columns, Gneeecey stared into space, wielding an oversized ladle.
I held up a cruddy, bent utensil. “Fork’s a tad dirty.”
“Ain’t nuthin’ wrong wit’ that utensicle—it’s jus’ a little oxidated. Ya oxidate when ya breathe.”
“I just meant—”
“An’ a few germs won’t kill ya, neitherwise—they immunizate’cha.”
“She jus’ meant,” began Flea, “y’know—”
“I stinkin’ know what the Iggleheimer meant! Everythin’ here’s quaquaversically quarantined to be clean, unless it ain’t.”
My bleary eyes rolled up to the ceiling, one high enough to accommodate the six-foot-plus, waxy-skinned humanoid staring our way.
Flea tugged on Gneeecey’s apron. “Why’s that creepy dude wit’ amber skin keep lookin’ at us?”
“That’s my friend Mark.”
“You’ve never mentioned him before.”
“He’s a new friend.”
“Why’s he keep lookin’?”
“Maybe,” suggested Gneeecey, waving to the humorless gray-suited man, “he wants to order take-out for his brothers.”
“Don’t think so,” replied Flea, as Mark disappeared into the gloomy shadows.
LEAFING THROUGH GNEEEZLE’S MENU, I wondered if I was on my own planet.
“Y’know, ‘Zig,” began Flea, patting his round belly, “the malted cauliflower sounds delicious.”
“We’re outta that.”
“Okay—make that Surprise Stew. An’ bring me a mug of Slog. Wit’ extra pulp. Put it in the freezer first, for ‘bout ten minutes.”
“Gotta charge y’for the extra pulp,” growled Gneeecey, scribbling away. His ladle protruded from under his arm like an extra appendage.
Flea licked his shiny black lips. “An’ bring me some Swillsville crackers.”
“Don’t eat wit’cher eyes, Fleaglositty.”
“An’ gimme a coupla squirts of Zurt.”
“I’ll hafta charge ya the extra buck for each squirt.”
“An’ tell me, are your slothflogs fresh today?”
Gneeecey crossed his arms. “Y’think I’m gonna say no?”
“I’ll find out for myself.”
Gneeecey jammed his face in mine. He had dog breath. “Well, whaddaya waaant awready?”
“Y’know,” I replied, backing away, breathing through my mouth, I’m really not very—”
“Course ya are,” interrupted Flea. “Your stomach’s rumblin’!”
Turned off by alien aromas wafting through the air, and a sign that warned, “Don’t Wake the Food!”, I closed my menu.
“Nicki, it’s on me,” declared Flea. “Don’t even look at prices.”
“Whaddayathink this is?” screamed Gneeecey, pounding a fist on our table, causing it to rock. “A soup kitchen? Your account’s delinquent—an’ now I’m s’posed to eat her dinner?”
All things considered, that last suggestion wasn’t bad.
“An’,” he bellowed, “when Planet X uploads my books, your account gathers thirteen months’ interes’!”
“Thirteen months, daily compounderated interes’!”
The superhero rose to his size-thirteen paddles. “Do I hafta remind y’bout the time I saved your—”
Gneeecey reached back and grabbed his backside. “How dare y’mention that?! Why yoooou—I’m gonna—hmmm—grfff—” The good doctor’s arms and legs sliced through the air as his threats deteriorated into unintelligible shrieks. Gneeezle’s patrons didn’t raise their heads. Maybe the food had deadened their senses.
After several minutes, Gneeecey slumped over our table, spent. He’d bent his ladle into a Z.
“Election took a lot outta him,” whispered Flea. “Everyone wants a piece of him.”
“Whaddaya waaant awready?” demanded Gneeecey, firing spit into my face with each syllable.
“Uh. . .I think I’ll have some of that Chinese take-out from next door,” I replied, squirming. “Listed here, under Entrées.”
“Wong’s is CLOSED!”
A STEADY STREAM OF high-decibel expletives—punctuated by crashes and smashes—poured out of the kitchen.
I glanced over at Flea.
“Be charitable,” he advised, crunching on appetizers that resembled the rock collection I had when I was seven. “He’s had lots to overcome in his life.”
Just then, Gneeecey, an avant-garde vision in soot, burst through the doors. “A boiled pot never watches,” he grumbled, plopping down next to me.
Before he caught his breath, a brass band struck up a dirge-like rendition of “Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds.”
He and Flea shot up so fast, they nearly toppled the table. Facing the television hung over the Slog bar, the two placed their hands over their hearts.
As their tragic anthem blared, a lone tear streamed down Gneeecey’s cheek. “My plaaanet,” he bleated, blowing his nose in his hat.
Onscreen, cameras panned across an orange-and-green octagonal field. Its vivid patterns created an illusion of movement, making my woozy head swirl.
Commentators marveled at the legions of fans that packed the arena, waving purple-and-orange “X” banners in support of their visiting planet’s underdog team.
“Those X’s,” Flea informed me, “are short for E-C-C-C-H-S.”
“Saves lotsa C’s,” added Gneeecey. “Reminds me, tomorrow, after the Alphabet Exchange, I gotta go down to piss.”
“That’s short,” explained Flea, “for Perswayssick Interplanetary Stocks an’ Securities.”
I blinked again.
“Game’s startin’!” shouted Gneeecey.
Emblazoned on a huge scoreboard was “Planet Eccchs Gnorks vs. Home Planet Zoid III.”
Gneeecey shot me a haughty, sidelong glance. “I’m from a consonant-rich planet. Where are yooou from?”
“Earth.” Couldn’t believe I’d just said that.
“Earth—sounds so puny—”
“Say it over an’ over again! Earth! Earth! Sounds meanin’less after a while, don’t it?”
Sighing, I glanced up at the screen.
Attired in baggy purple-and-orange suits, matching football helmets, and monstrous kelly-green masks, the Gnorks rushed the field. Zoid III’s smug players, already in formation, sported streamlined silver uniforms.
Flea stuffed an onion-like, three-legged slothflog in his kisser. “Our Gnorks are finally contenders.”
“Congratulations.” I knew what it was like to root for the New York Mets.
“We’re playin’ the toughest team in the quadrant. But we got Gronkle.”
“Highes’-paid player this side of the universe,” added Gneeecey, tearing past with a toilet plunger.
“But,” cautioned Flea, “we’re not used to Zoid III’s zloggy atmosphere. Our fans are wearin’ masks. See all those purple nurkzoog particles floatin’ ‘round?”
“Yes,” I replied, hoping a football game might steady my nerves before I hit the parkway.
“No—zorgle’s more like football, baseball, an’ bowlin’ combined,” stated Flea.
“Hey—you said your telepathy wasn’t—”
“Sorry—I jus’ guessed wha’cha were thinkin’.”
“PLAY ZORGLE!” bellowed an argyle-tuxedoed referee as whistles screeched.
Roars erupted from the stadium, and Gneeezle’s Slog-chugging crowd.
Gneeecey tossed plates and bowls at our table as he dashed from the dining room to the kitchen.
“Watch it!” warned Flea, dodging a plum-colored flying saucer.
Egg-shaped eyeballs glued to the screen, Gneeecey pitched a jumble of unmatched utensils our way, coaching his team all the while. “ZORG! DON’T LET ‘EM PLOOK! DEFENSE! DEFENSE!” He ran backward through the kitchen doors and landed on his butt. It honked loudly.
Seconds later, he emerged, hauling a steaming, mustard-colored bucket across the orange tiles. Teeth clenched, he lifted it up to our table. “Here’s your lousy stew.”
Flea salivated as cloudy amber broth rained into Gneeecey’s oversized dish, along with a canvas upper, some bottle caps, a seaweed-covered tire gauge, and several blue blobs from the river.
“I’m givin’ me an’ you the bes’, right offa the top,” proclaimed Gneeecey, pouring out a smaller portion for Flea.
A gallon or two later, the chef turned to me and, swearing under his breath, dumped remnants into my cup—an athletic sock, some screws, and a clump of something green.
The two canine-humanoids took little notice of what they gobbled so ravenously—and noisily. Folks here obviously had different nutritional requirements. And strong tooth enamel.
Gneeecey accidentally stuck his elbow in my soup and shot me a dirty look.
I didn’t give a deck of vlecks. I’d pick up a snack soon, at a parkway rest stop. Or hopefully just wake up and raid my own refrigerator.
□ □ □
Want to read more?
The Getaway That Got Away
is available in paperback and
on Kindle, Nook & iPad
You can purchase the book directly from
NEWSFLASH! Check out my author interview on NFReads.com:
I'll be signing copies of YOU CAN'T UNSCRAMBLE THE OMELET on Wednesday, November 20th at Taino Towers Crystal Room in El Barrio, NYC. In addition, I'll be emceeing this event, featuring live sets by Orchestra Broadway and a tribute to legendary promoter Richie Bonilla.
I'll be reading from
YOU CAN'T UNSCRAMBLE THE OMELET on Thursday, Nov. 7th, 7 pm, at Hasbrouck Heights Public Library in NJ!
BRAND NEW BOOK: For more info, click on the pic:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
"Z for zany!"
“A super fun and whimsical story… I could tell that you spent a lot of time thinking about the world you were creating here, so kudos to you. Your aliens were a ton of fun. I especially liked Flea… Has a nice conversational tone… The writing flows. The visual quality is especially commendable… The mixed-up malapropos that the aliens use were very funny… Some great things happening…a really fun read.”
—Judge, Writer’s Digest 21st Annual Self-Published Book Awards, October 2013
The sequel to The Getaway that Got Away is here!
Our brave protagonist, young Nicki Rodriguez discovers, quite accidentally, that she possesses quantum powers! And she won't
be takin' orders from Gneeeecey no mo'!
And sho' 'nuff, Gneeecey ain't gonna be very happy 'bout that!
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