by RYAN STARSAILOR
• • •
THE HAUNTED HARBINGER
AND THE SLEEPING SENTRY
GRITT CALHOON SLAMMED HIS MASSIVE BOOTHEEL DOWN upon a scuttling cockroach and snorted what was left of an eight-ball from the side of his Bowie knife. As the powder hit his brain, Gritt tried to recall everything he knew about cockroaches. They’re supposed to be indestructible, ain’t they? he thought. Immortal, even. Hadn’t he heard that somewhere? Gritt pondered vaguely what it would mean for an organism to live forever. He bristled at the very thought of it. Life should end, he thought—the sooner the better.
A lonely moment passed as Gritt waited for a cockroach-sized Grim Reaper to collect the tiny soul from the bottom of his foot, but when none showed, he shrugged and got the hell on with it.
Gritt scraped the ruined exoskeleton off his combat boot and tossed it into his mouth. He stood alone on a gravel road behind the old high school munching on the thing while the autumn breeze soared through his greasy black dreadlocks. His veins were full of beer and crystalline tropane alkaloid and his headband was soaked in primo Alabama sweet tea. The good stuff was juicing through him and he knew he had fifteen solid minutes of painless insanity to do whatever he pleased with himself. Briefly he considered rubbing one out just for the hell of it, but the frost in a passing gale gave him second thoughts about taking his power tools out of the shed. Instead he plucked an ice-cold brewski from the refrigerated side-pocket on his woodland camo fatigues and guzzled it down in one gut-busting gulp.
Gritt burped. Every pinecone and acorn shell within a quarter-mile radius scattered in the wake of his poisonous throat-gas. He crumpled the beer can with his monstrous gorilla-fist and chucked it into a radioactive puddle where he had moments earlier taken a healthy bowel movement. Gritt wagged his head like a rabid junkyard dog. His unholy mane of juicy Medusa tendrils smacked against his big huge face and his big huge chest. It made a sound that was undeniably sensual to him. Gritt was feeling good but he knew there was work to be done.
Gritt approached a small brick house between the school and the football field. The front yard was littered with moldy hot dog buns and spent CO2 cartridges and parts of an old dirt bike. Amongst the debris was a scarecrow wearing a Twisted Sister tank top. It was holding an assault rifle and a half-drunk beer.
Gritt glanced up at the roof and saw the sun-bleached skeleton of an animal that he could not readily identify.
Halloween was less than two weeks away, but this weren’t no haunted house, thought Gritt—least not in the traditional sense. But Gritt expected nothing less. He knew intimately the phantom who dwelt within this shrine of absolute garbage, knew it was his duty was to wake him from his sacred slumber.
Gritt cupped his sweaty-ass hands to his hairy-ass mouth.
“Shark!” Gritt yelled. “Git’cher ass out here, ya god danged hillbilly!”
To himself he muttered: “. . . ‘fore I come in there and spank them big ol cheeks ya got hidin in them Pampers, boy. . . .”
There was no response from inside. Gritt tongued a rotten tooth and thought hard. “Time ta consult my muse,” he whispered. He put his hand down his pants and gave his sludge pump a half tug. Just as he’d predicted, a brilliant plan instantly flopped into his brain like a turd pancake on a hot July night.
Clipped to Gritt’s 200 oz. steak of a thigh was a stick of space-grade dynamite—the kind they used for mining on the moon colonies. He fetched it with his jalapeño-flavored pork rind-slicked paw and pressed down firmly on the detonator. He tossed the explosive into a pile of used condoms scattered around the entrance to the crumbling domicile and took cover behind a urine-soaked punching bag. In seconds the bomb exploded into a billion glassy particles. An apocalyptic nut-busting blast echoed across the dead land for many miles. Gritt’s butt cheeks undulated like a Jell-O casserole in zero gravity. The sensation pleased him greatly.
In the time it took for Gritt to inhale a single breath of contaminated air, the door to the brick house swung open violently. Gritt became mesmerized by the white-hot riffs echoing from deep within the shadowy chamber when, as if gazing into a dream or a secret memory, a shirtless ten-ton goliath of a man lurched into view. The man’s colossal body—whose individual parts had been carved from Satan’s obsidian throne and glued together with meatloaf water and Cheeto dust—glistened sweetly now in the cold autumnal moonlight. It was Shark “Iron Gate” Gladiator, Gritt’s old war buddy and best friend.
In the years since Gritt had last seen him, Shark had packed on seventy-five pounds of muscle and appeared to have acquired dozens of new tattoos on his Herculean arms and pecs. Gritt squinted and saw that one of the tattoos was a voluptuous woman straddling the Grim Reaper. He became mildly aroused when he examined the clean line work. Gritt thought Shark’s tattoo was really cool and he wanted one too.
Shark, meanwhile, gazed upon Gritt’s beautiful frame with the same sort of disbelief. Battle-scarred for sure, he thought, but the old bastard was still in good shape for his age—and from the looks of it, still swingin that big ol bazooka between his awesome-ass thighs.
Shark was silent for a moment. He considered that the man who stood before him now was potentially an elaborate Gritt-shaped hallucination who often visited him in his dreams. Shark had enough substance dependencies to make him believe such a thing were possible. Thinking he had nothing to lose, Shark addressed the ethereal fart cloud whom he had missed so dearly.
“Calhoon? The fuck. . . ?” said bewildered Shark. “‘Zat really yew?”
Gritt shook his head.
“It’s really me, shitstain,” said Gritt. “Who the fuck else got a butt as big as mine?” He blushed and hoped Shark hadn’t noticed.
“As I live ‘n fuckin breathe!” said Shark. He put his hands on his big-ass hips and leaned on his big-ass leg in a sexy way. “Shoulda figured it was none other than ol Gritt Jefferson Calhoon throwin fuckin dynamite all over the damn place. Shoooot, boy, yew ain’t changed a god dang bit!”
Gritt smiled and adjusted his testicles with the back of his Desert Eagle. “Knew I’d have to git yer dang attention somehow, ya rascal.”
“Coulda fuckin knocked, ya turkey. Or just let one rip out into the night like yews always used ta do back in the day.” Shark quietly remembered Gritt’s intestinal gases. “Damn, brother. I could sniff out yer fumes in a fart lineup any day of the week.”
“Be careful whatcha wish fer, ya dang lunatic,” said Gritt.
Shark appeared to be combing his pubic hair with a fork. He gazed at Gritt in wonderment.
“What brings ya back?” said Shark. “Been a while, homie. Yew look even uglier than ya did when I last saw ya on Mars, all them fuckin years ago.”
“Jiminy freakin Christmas,” said Gritt. “Wuz that really the last time I saws yew? Hell, Shark. That wuz the day we defended the Olympus Mons encampment from an entire platoon of Matryoshka doom-bots, waddinit? And then to top it all off, Shirley left me fer good not twelve hours later. Said she wuz sick’a findin some other chick’s panties in the couch cushions. God dang, boy. I was depressed as shit back then.”
Shark laughed. “Hoo! I don’t doubt Shirley’s what finally did ya in—not them murderous fuckin nestin dolls. They’s wuz a cinch. Cheap plastic shit, man. But then that’s the Ruskies fer ya. Weren’t no Sputnik.”
“When I meditate upon it now, “ said Gritt dreamily, “I weren’t bummed ‘bout Shirley leavin my dumb ass. No, I wuz bummed cuz she done run off with my fuckin truck!”
“Yer kiddin.” Shark shook his head in disgust. He spat out a dark unknown liquid. “Takin a man’s truck. Shit.”
“I miss that fuckin truck, mijo. Miss it more’n I miss Shirley, that’s fer damn sure.”
“I know yew loved that dang truck, Gritt. We had some good times in that ol hunk’a junk. Shit, man, we sure did put some stains inta them seats, didn’t we?”
Gritt closed his eyes and remembered the stains with great reverence.
“Yeah,” he said wistfully. “We sure as hell god dang did, partner.”
The two men stood in silence and let old memories play out in their weary minds. They were still half a football field away from each other, still feeling weird and fucked-out about the past. Between their enormous sweat-soaked bodies existed a spectral vortex of sorrow that would outlive them both. After the earth itself plunged into the heart of the sun, a radiation shadow of their friendship would float on for all eternity into the dark and endless places far beyond the reach of human comprehension—beyond the reach of time and space itself.
Shark cracked open an ice-cold beverage he’d fetched from the refrigerated side-pocket on his flecktarn camo fatigues. “Hey turd. Ya want one? Got two left.”
Gritt squinted and read the label on the bottle. It was a ‘Strawberry Sunrise’ Kaiser Nacht wine cooler.
“Cram it, Jimmy Buffet. I don’t want nuthin ta do with that fruity Kraut shit,” said disgusted Gritt. “Come on, Shark, yew know that. Ain’t been that long. Unless yer brain’s gone to shit.” Thinking to himself, Gritt added, Which wouldn’t surprise me one god dang bit, I’ll tell yew what. . . .
“Well excuse me, Mr. King of Fuckin England, with yer preference fer fancy fuckin beers. ‘Cept I’m positive yer still drinkin that watery gas station bullshit. I done drank pond scum that tasted better’n that dog piss.” Shark chuckled. “And hell, don’t ask me how I know this, but I may as well be an expert on knowin what dog piss taste like!”
Without a moment of hesitation, Gritt emotionlessly pointed his Desert Eagle at Shark’s wine cooler and, with pinpoint accuracy, erased its ungodly existence from the mortal realm.
Red juice splashed onto Shark’s chest hair, which was curling out of the neck-hole of his snow-camo tank top. Furious, Shark quickly wiped it off with a Led Zeppelin T-shirt he had in his back pocket.
“Sorry, yew say somethin ‘bout Grandpa Allen’s Olde Time Country Brew?” said Gritt.
Grandpa Allen’s Olde Time Country Brew was Gritt’s favorite brand of beer—a fact Shark knew all too well. Over the course of their long and storied friendship, he had witnessed Gritt empty enough cans of Grandpa Allen to fill the New Orleans Superdome—back before it was a massive landfill sardine-packed with millions of putrefied corpses.
“Git on with it,” said Shark, licking sweet German juice from his jumbo-sized fingers. “I know ya didn’t come all this way just ta shoot fine fuckin beverages outta my big fuckin hand.” To himself Shark said, Cain’t take the ‘asshole’ outta Gritt Calhoon, can ya? Shark couldn’t help but smile just then, because even though Gritt was undoubtedly an asshole, he knew that he also had a good heart and was his best friend.
“Listen,” said ominous Gritt. “I came here to warn ya bout some foul crapola that’s headed yer way right quick.” He stared ahead with the dead eyes of a man who had seen some heavy shit that can’t ever be erased, not never. No amount of barbiturates Gritt had managed to cram up his out-hole could stop the dark tide from rolling in. It had come for his heart and had got it from him. Gritt was a cicada shell; he was the ghostly remainder of something that once was but was no longer. He existed now out of habit and hunger alone.
“Warn me ‘bout what, ya maniac?” said Shark. “Yew?” He laughed.
“Quit yer laughin,” said Gritt. “Shit’s serious, Shark. Easy Street Steve’s inbound and he’s bringin them Junkyard Ghouls with ‘im.”
Shark shifted the weight of his huge body onto his other leg. His beautiful juicy arms were akimbo and his glutes were popping back and forth like like a malfunctioning Whack-A-Mole machine. It was very sexy and Gritt acknowledged this silently.
“Aw, hell. Hain’t nothin I cain’t handle on my lonesome. Let’s fergit all about this bullhockey and pound some fuckin brews and grill up some fuckin chicken nuggets, dude. I’d invite ya in but the place is a wreck from last week when I was gittin down ‘n sloppy with these two babes from Salt Lake City—”
“Shark!” Gritt screamed at the top of his ragged old lungs. His voice was so loud that a nearby gopher shit itself to death.
“Easy Street Steve is comin here. Tonight. Ta kill yew. And more than that he’s tryin ta git ta that school yer supposed ta be protectin.” Gritt surreptitiously filled his colostomy bag.
Shark sighed. “I done dealt with these fool-ass buttholes before. Them boys is gunna make a hoot-n-a-holler and that’s all. Jus a buncha dumbass kids playin them dumbass games. They ain’t touchin the damn school, Gritt, that’s fer god dang diggity sure.”
“Three years ago ya woulda been right,” said solemn Gritt. He flexed his abdominal muscles under his skin-tight desert camo tank top. “But near as I can tell it ain’t three fuckin years ago. Them boys is organized now. And they’s buildin somethin mean, man—a big-ass weapon from the darkest depths of Hell, it has been said.”
“Where’d ya git that bogus intel? The dumpster behind a fuckin Chuck E. Cheese?” Shark and Gritt had never actually seen an operational Chuck E. Cheese, nor had any living human being—they had all been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust a hundred years prior. But once, on a military furlough, Shark and Gritt had taken a couple of hookers to the ruins of one in New Jersey and had a foursome in what was left of the ball pit, so the joke wasn’t lost on Gritt.
“Shut up, Shark.” Gritt’s face was stern but he couldn’t help but smile on the inside, remembering the hookers and the Chuck E. Cheese and the ball pit. Military life had been good to him and, from time to time, when he wasn’t whacked out on cocaine or morphine or whatever else he could get his hands on, he thought that maybe he missed it a little. Before Gritt could dwell any longer on past events that brought him joy, his post-traumatic defense systems eviscerated the Chuck E. Cheese memory. It turned to ash and fell to the floor of Gritt’s sad old brain.
Gritt went on: “Baby, listen up. I got enough ammo in Poppa Tango ta take out fuckin Seaworld—and, if I’m bein honest here, prolly Disneyland too.”
Poppa Tango was of course Gritt’s big-ass all-terrain vehicle that was parked nearby in a clearly-marked handicap spot. After he’d retired, the military had given it to him to avoid a complicated lawsuit, the details of which were still classified. The ghastly six-wheeled helltrain served as Gritt’s only means of transportation, as well as his base of operations. He also lived in it, which explained why it permanently smelled like cheese doodles and prehistoric farts.
Shark’s eyes lit up like a Vietnamese air raid. If Gritt was still the same man he’d once known, then he was sure that Poppa Tango truly was loaded with a thousand pounds ammunition and explosives. Hell on a ham hock, he thought, maybe he’d even brought some’a them nasty claymores along for the ride too. Shark licked his strawberry-stained lips. There were potato chip crumbs in the corners of his mouth and furtively he tongued at the last remnants of them.
Shark thought he heard a dog burping the alphabet from inside Poppa Tango’s dark interior. “Shiiiit. Don’t tell me ya got Valerie with ya too! That ol girl still kickin?”
“Kickin ass,” said Gritt. He reached into his cavernous pant pocket and pulled out a small remote. He pressed down on a green button and all four doors of Poppa Tango popped open. Gritt knelt down in the dirt and put two fingers in his mouth. He let out a shrill whistle from between his yellow teeth. In an instant, a monstrous black Rottweiler came bounding out of the passenger seat and landed on the gravel driveway with a thud. Shark swore he saw the dog salute. It was Valerie Calhoon.
Shark shook his head and laughed. “Still got ‘er wearin all them bombs? Dang, that dog’s ready ta blow it all ta hell.” Shark was referring to the X-shaped utility belt Valerie had on, which was festooned with grenades and sticks of dynamite and milk bones laced with angel dust.
“Hah, ol Valerie here won’t let me take all them damn things off. And trust me, partner, I done tried.” The two men smiled. Valerie eyed Shark and sniffed the air. She remembered Shark’s scent from long ago, and knew that he was a good dude and Gritt’s best friend. She let out a friendly bark.
Shark shoved his hand into his underwear and took out a milk bone laced with THC. “I was savin this for Mardi Gras . . . but hell, I reckon yew can have it.” He tossed the milk bone to Valerie, who snapped it out of midair with her ferocious teeth.
“So what’s the werd, turd?” said Shark. He crossed his arms and squeaked out a secret li’l stinker. “What’s Easy Street Steve ‘n ‘is boys up to now? Ya said somethin bout a weapon. Woo-eee! I’m tellin ya, Gritt, them boys ain’t got nothin but low-ass IQs ’n too much time on their hands. Which is ta say they ain’t got shit, man. ‘Specially not no frickin weapon.”
Shark’s gnarly butt-exhaust hit Gritt’s coke-dusted nostrils. Dang, Shark, he thought. The fuck yew been eatin, boy?
Breathing through his mouth, Gritt said: “This is big, Shark. Bigger’n yew and me. This comes directly from the top—from the Heptagon.” Gritt removed a crumpled report of some kind from his microfiber boxer briefs and tossed it to Shark. Shark felt the warmth of his friend’s penis and thighs on the paper, now quickly vanishing in the chilly autumn night, and wondered where all those years had gone.
Shark scanned the stained and slightly moist papers. He scrunched up his face like a jigsaw puzzle made of braised beef and pretended he could still read. It had been years since he had intentionally laid eyes on the English language. “Yew wanna explain this bullshit ta me? Baby, this jus sounds like a buncha bureaucratic hocus pocus. A fart in a windstorm. Hell, nothin’s changed there. The Heptagon’s full of fuckin cheese-eaters.”
Gritt lunged toward Shark and snatched the papers from his friend’s grasp. He threw them to the ground. He knelt down. In a gentle voice he said to Valerie, “Make it rain, little sister.”
Valerie Calhoon obeyed her master without hesitation. She galloped over and popped a squat. A dog turd the size of a football torpedoed out of her rear end and landed hard onto the documents below. It sounded like a burrito thrown into a hotel pool, which was a sound that both Gritt and Shark just so happened to be intimately familiar with.
Twenty years of friendship will make anyone dump on cue, Gritt thought. Call it what ya want (he went on), but as far as I’m concerned, that right there is freakin ‘L-O-V-E’ love. He felt an emotion well up deep inside his ruined heart, but before any evidence of it appeared on his face, he pictured a hot girl he’d once boned in Carson City and instantly returned to feeling like a screaming black hole with arms and legs.
“Fuck that shit,” said Gritt, pointing down at the dogshit-smeared papers. “Them squirrelly turd merchants in Washington ain’t exactly what ya might call terse. Fifty god dang pages of butt-sniffin and dick-yodelin is what that is, near as I can tell. All ya needa know is that Easy Street Steve and them Junkyard Ghouls is buildin some kinda super-weapon. One that can shoot ‘cross oceans. I double dog dare yew to dwell on that, compadre.”
The oceans, of course, were littered with radioactive debris and rotted-out naval ships and fallen satellites—were mostly mutated whale skeletons and trillions of gallons of sludge where no friendly thing grew—but Shark got the picture.
“Well, what’s the school gotta do with anything? ‘Cause them pederasts ain’t touchin this fuckin place, that’s fer damn sure.”
For the last decade, Shark had been tasked with protecting the only place left in Hallelujah, Kentucky where a kid could go to get an education. He loved the school—loved seeing the smiling faces of the children. He mowed the football field, coached the girls’ softball team, chaperoned homecoming dances, and occasionally drove a school bus. He was a caretaker of sorts—a guardian to what the world needed most, which was a future. As such, he took his job very seriously.
Gritt said, “Them wieners on Capitol Hill have come to believe that Easy Street Steve and them boys’a his need the school for harvestin purposes. Raw materials and the like, if’n ya git me. I reckon they’ll demolish the thing and take them iron beams and them bricks with ‘em. Build somethin worse than anything yew or I could ever fuckin imagine. Fuck, man. Them Junkyard Ghouls may be a buncha foolhardy little shits, but they’s organized foolhardy little shits. Industrious, too.” Gritt chewed on a stick of beef jerky that he had found in his chest hair.
“Hell, I caught wind of somethin like this,” said Shark. “Didn’t pay it no mind. Johny Timbuck told me Easy Street Steve’s jus tryin ta build some kinda fortress. Prolly just a place where him ‘n them Junkyard Ghouls can stand around ‘n take turns shittin into a pumpkin, or whatever it is them dingalings do fer fun. And yew know Jonny Timbuck, Gritt—he hears thangs.”
“Hell,” said Gritt, “ol Johny Timbuck would tell ya the sky was purple if ya jerked him off a little. That don’t mean nothin.”
“I still don’t buy it,” said Shark, folding his arms. “There ain’t a single brain in that whole lot, Gritt. I’ll bet ya dollars to dingleberries them boys ain’t buildin shit. More than likely, them guv’ment pecker-suckers are jus schemin ta take from us what little we got left. Like they ain’t took enuff already. God damn, Gritt. After all the lies they told us ‘n ya wanna go werkin fer them dinosaur queefs again? Give me one reason why I should believe any’a this fermented horseshit.”
Shark went on: “Yew been gone a long time, man. Thangs is changed. I know how it is ‘round these parts. The fuckin fed’ral guv’ment is sayin Easy Street Steve wants us dead ‘cuz of some fuckin science project he’s tryin ta duct-tape together? Dream on, Gritt. Easy Street Steve’s jus a small-time crook with a limp dick and no imagination. He’s a nobody, dude.”
Gritt clenched his teeth so hard one of his back molars crumbled. “This machine—the one Easy Street Steve’s buildin—they’s sayin it’s more powerful’n anything we ever saw on the front lines. I’m talkin a real weapon of mass fuckin destruction—emphasis on the mass.”
“This ain’t our fight, Gritt. If this frickin turd launcher is so fuckin dangerous then why don’t they call in the National Guard or some shit? ‘Steada hirin a coupla worn-out losers like us?” Shark shoved a wad of chewing tobacco into his cheek and farted defiantly.
“I seen ya jump into the line of fire with less info than this, Shark. Hell, ‘member that slave robot uprisin on Europa? We gunned down, what, six, seven hundred Spider Knights that day? And all ‘cuz Colonel Nuthole said, ‘Kill ‘em all, boys.’ Back then that was enough fer us both. We did it ‘cuz it was our fuckin duty. And as a result we saved a lot of fuckin lives, as I do rightly recall.”
Shark fingered a fat Cuban cigar dangling from his left ammo strap. He took it from its tube, clipped the end with a pocket knife, and crammed it into his mouth next to the brown wad of chewing tobacco. He fired it up with a butane lighter engraved with his ex-wife’s initials. After a long drag he let the smoke slowly escape from his gorgeous nostrils. He sighed and closed his eyes. Gritt seemed so sure of Easy Street Steve’s plan, but Shark’s great aversion to taking orders from suits made him uncomfortable. Still, the school was his life. If Gritt was right, then this was big.
“Gritt,” Shark said finally. “We never did talk about what happened.”
Gritt spat on the ground and rubbed the matted rat’s nest of hair on his chin. “I didn’t come ‘ere ta talk, Shark.” Just then he wished he had some more white thunder to take the edge off. Looking up at the moon wistfully, Gritt said, “I came here to save yer fuckin ass, brother.”
“I can see it in yer eyes,” said Shark. “I know that fuckin look.”
“Yew ain’t see shit, dumbass. I’m just thinkin, all right?”
“Oh, yer thinkin, all right—thinkin ‘bout the war.” He took another long and sensual drag of his cigar and tensed his gluteal muscles back and forth.
“This ain’t got nuthin to do with the fuckin war, Shark. It’s over, ya hear? And I’m over it, too.” Gritt looked down at Valerie, who had retrieved a serrated bayonet from Poppa Tango and was sharpening it between her teeth. In his peripheral vision he watched Shark, still puffing away on that Cuban. Just seeing his face again reminded him of that fateful day on Deimos, and the flamethrowers, and the screams of the children. . . .
“Maybe it was a mistake ta come here,” Gritt said glumly. “Hell, maybe there’s nuthin we can do anyway. The fuck was I thinkin takin orders from them cocksuckers again? I’m retired. We both are. Hain’t we earned the reward of dyin alone?”
In his mind, Gritt heard a sweet little girl’s voice—the one on Deimos, all those years ago. He heard it so clearly his massive knees grew weak. She had asked him to save her, and he had failed her. What was her name again? The name of that little angel who gave her dying breath in Gritt’s arms? He couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he remember? Probably all them dark years of hard drinking ’n loveless bonin, he thought. It had all but annihilated the great man he once was. What a waste.
“I should git the fuck outta here.”
“So yer jus gunna wipe yer butt and go home?” said Shark. “Gritt Calhoon like ya never seen him before, ladies and germs, walkin away from a fuckin assignment—from savin the god damn school.”
“Hold up, butthole,” said Gritt. “A minute ago yew was laughin at me like a bitch. Leave it ta Shark Gladiator to flip a dude’s balls around when he’s down ’n out.”
Shark said, “Didn’t mean ta catch with yer pants down while yew’s was takin a fuckin brain shit, but ya done convinced me otherwise, partner. And now yer jus gunna peace out. Fuckin figures, man.” Shark mindlessly honked the tip of his penis through his pants like a clown nose.
Gritt and Shark absorbed the tomblike silence that encased what was left of their their souls. The two men stood under the glow of a dying street lamp and waited for the fallout breeze to offer them a solution.
Gritt stretched his arms towards the heavens and thought about how crazy life could be sometimes.
“Takin yer silence to mean yer gunna help my ass defend the school,” said Gritt, lowering his arms.
“The hell yew talkin bout, boy? Last time I checked, I’m the gatekeeper of this last bastion of knowledge. Yew’s just tourist, homie, with yer fuckin snow cone and yer Mickey Mouse cap. And if what yew says is true, then yew bet yer fuckin big beefy ass I’m standin my fuckin ground. Those fuckin kids depend on me. Hell, Gritt, yew ain’t the only one with scars.”
Shark was eating a corndog now.
“In case ya fergot,” Shark went on, “this is yer frickin hometown, man. Or at least it was. And as fer me, I’d sooner die here, protectin this building—which is so precious to me and yew fuckin know it—than I would out there in that wild fuckin world.”
Gritt watched a crow take flight and soar into the dark abyss above.
“Out there we have a chance,” he said.
“Yeah, that’s what ya said last time. Now look at ya, ya fuckin cokehead. If Easy Street Steve ‘n them pack’a maniacs really is buildin that fuckin super-weapon like yew ‘n them weasel dick politicians say they is, then the proverbial bucket’a rat turds is about ta hit the proverbial fuckin fan, my friend.”
“The fan is weak,” said Gritt. “Damn thing’s ‘bout to fall out the fuckin window.”
Gritt slung his shotgun over his shoulder and held it there with one hand. He turned to Poppa Tango, the only home he knew, and went about pondering some deep shit. Memories flashed before his dead eyes. For a moment he found himself trapped in the amber of a psychedelic fever dream.
All that fightin, he thought. All them wars. The blood of the insurgents. The blood of good friends. Momma and Poppa. The farm.
The four-letter word turned his blood to ice.
Li’l fuckin Andy, he thought. My baby buddy boy. Taken from my lovin embrace too fuckin soon.
In his mind, played back like a movie reel, Gritt saw himself standing by Andy’s hospital bed. He watched as a machine helped the little boy to breathe. Andy lay there in a coma he would never wake from, his precious face still bruised from the wreck. Gritt imagined himself reaching out and gently moving the hay-colored hair from his son’s blackened eyes.
A smile formed on Gritt’s dismal face. He hadn’t used those particular muscles in so long. He tried to remember the last time he had and couldn’t.
Shark chuckled. “Did I just see a smile on Gritt Calhoon’s face? Je-sus! Someone ring up the fuckin Hallelujah Tribune. We got us a hot story developing down here at the local high school.” He slapped his tree trunk-thick thigh. Tortilla chip particles blasted off his fatigues and quickly he inhaled them.
“Relax, dummy,” said Gritt. “I wuz jus thinkin ‘bout a rack’a horse ribs I ate the other day.”
“Uh-huh. Sure ya were. ‘Cept I betcha a million fuckin bags’a blow yews was sortin through yer mem’ries.”
Gritt reached over and slapped Shark’s toned buttocks. “Ya keep that up and maybe I’ll change my mind ‘bout savin yer ass again.”
“Yew? Savin my ass? Dream on, turd.”
“Don’t pretend like ya don’t need yer old buddy Gritt by yer side, ya god dang trickster.”
“So yew sayin yer gunna stay and help me fight off Easy Street Steve and them Junkyard Ghouls?”
“That all depends. Ya still got that urn full’a coke buried out back?” Gritt winked. There was a renewed vigor in his eyes and Shark couldn’t help but half-chub.
“That I do, partner,” said smiling Shark. “S’long as ya ain’t mind snortin up my grammaw’s earthly remains along with it.”
“Weren’t be the first time I snorted ol’ Grammaw Gladiator,” said Gritt.
The two men laughed heartily.
“Dang, boy! I’m excited as hell!” said Shark.
Shark reached for his holster and pulled out his M1911. He held it into the air triumphantly. The pale light of the moon shone down and reflected off the cold steel of the barrel. He fired three shots into the great black nothing and burped inside his mouth.
“All right, all right,” said Gritt. “Settle the fuck down. Put that li’l peashooter away ‘fore ya hurt yerself.”
“Peashooter?” Shark bellowed. “This girl could blow the balls off a buffalo from a hundred yards away.”
“Maybe a baby buffalo.”
“Some would argue that’s a more impressive target.”
Gritt snorted. “Whatever, Shark.”
“Hell, I’m jus bustin them big ol nuts’a yers,” said Shark. “Assumin ya still got them thangs.” He smiled. He saw the outline of Gritt’s enormous testicles in his pants and it comforted him in ways he scarcely understood.
Gritt put on his reflective aviators and began shaking wildly. He diverted seventy-five percent of the blood flow from his brain and sent it to his testicles, which swelled to the size of two abnormally large coconuts. Shark noticed this and was impressed.
“Well, what’re ya waitin fer?” said Gritt Calhoon. “Mount the fuckin gat and let’s see how many of these nuthuggers we can take down with us!”
• • •
CHIME OF THE DEATH-BRINGERS
IN NO TIME THE TWO WARRIORS HAD FORTIFIED the roof of the school with sandbags and chain guns. Gritt had laid tripwires and landmines while Shark had unloaded the ammo crates and constructed a makeshift barbed-wire fence in the shape of the American flag.
Valerie, meanwhile, stood guard across the way from atop the announcer’s booth by the old football field. Stoically she scanned the darkness below. Gritt had given her a distress flare, which was now clenched between her teeth. The flare served one purpose: to warn the incoming goon militia that they would soon be murdered by two sociopaths and a dog.
Shark slammed his left cowboy boot down on a wall of sandbags and rolled up his pant leg. He massaged a dollop of shea butter into his thigh. He surveyed his and Gritt’s handiwork and was pleased by what he saw.
“Shit’s lookin good, man,” he said to Gritt, who was loading two M136 AT4 anti-tank rocket launchers. “We gunna give these boys hell, that’s fer damn sure. Just seein all this fuckin shit again is gettin the blood flowin in my big ol yew-know-what.”
“It’s a purdy sight, no doubt about it,” said Gritt. “We have built ourselves a fortress of death, and it is from this place that we shall once again ferry the souls of our enemies to their fiery beds below.”
“Amen,” said Shark. He scratched his balls from outside his pants with a chicken bone and bit his bottom lip. He was in an inquisitive mood.
“Hey Gritt,” he said. “If’n ya could have two penises, would ya want one on top’a the other, or would ya want ‘em side-by-side?”
Gritt pondered this for a moment.
“This might sound controversial,” said Gritt, “but I reckon I’d prolly want ‘em side-by-side.”
“Yeah?” said Shark. “Whyzat?”
“‘Cuz I’d rubberband ‘em together ta make one big ol wide-ass superwiener.”
Gritt saw Shark crack a smile. “Whatchu smilin ‘bout, boy?” he said.
“Nuthin. Jus thought it wuz cool that we had the same thought process. Superwiener’s definitely the way ta go. The logistics of the pink-n-stink combo makes my fuckin head spin. Hell, I’d almost rather do fuckin long division,” said Shark, who pretended to know what long division was.
“Agreed. I don’t wanna be thinkin ‘bout nothin when I’m wrasslin around in them sheets. Whole point’a bonin is that it’s mindless.”
“Gettin primal with a superwiener. Shoot, Gritt. That there sounds like heaven in a hand basket.”
Gritt grunted as he loaded one of the AT4s. “Never did care for these damn things. Got nothin ‘gainst the Swedes, o’course. Lord knows they got some hot-ass chicks over yonder. But man, these fuckin rocket launchers’a theirs always give me a god dang nutache.”
“Want me to get my Panzerschrecks outta the attic?” said Shark. “Still got four of em collectin dust somewheres up there.”
Gritt scowled. “Hell no. I ain’t goin inta battle with no Nazi shit.”
“Relax, Gritt. I only got ‘em ‘cuz theys was cheap.”
“Yeah, well, ya also got the blood of six million innocents on them Panzershits a’yers, if’n ya know what I’m sayin,” said sneering Gritt. “I ain’t from fuckin Antiques Roadshow or nothin, but I sure as hell wouldn’t call that cheap.”
“Yew ain’t changed a bit, Gritt.” Shark grinned. “Guessin that’s a no.”
“God damn right it is. I’d sooner skydive off a snake’s dick than touch one’a them wiener schnitzel launchers.” He locked the last rocket into place and leaned the AT4s against a low brick wall facing the soccer field.
Shark put his hands on his hips and looked at his old friend with amusement. “Lookit us,” he said. “Jus like ol times. Hell, I never thought we’d be doin this shit again. If Chumbo and Harland and Woof Boy and all the rest’a them boys was still alive—shit, we’d really give them Junkyard Ghouls a taste of the Almighty’s wrath. Ya think the ol squad’s lookin down on us from’a strip club in the sky, Gritt? Like guardian angels or some shit?”
Gritt smacked one of the sandbags as though it were a big huge butt. He looked up at the moon. Instead of a lonesome ball of grey dust, he saw his son’s face.
Gritt was silent for a long while.
“Gritt?” said Shark. “Yew OK, buddy?”
“Yeah. Jus thinkin ‘bout . . . well, nothin. Fer’git it.”
Shark lowered his voice: “Yer thinkin ‘bout Andy, ain’tcha?”
Gritt folded his arms. “No point hidin it, I guess.”
“Shit, Gritt. I’m sorry, man. I know yer still hurtin. Prolly always will.”
“How long’s it been, anyway?”
“Ten years ago today.”
“He’d be proud of ya, Gritt. Andy loved this school.”
“He sure did, Shark. But there are a lotta other kids countin on us ta make fer certain these doors stay the fuck open.”
“And Easy Street Steve knows that, Gritt. Hates it, too. He ain’t gunna stop till this whole place is a pile of atomic turd dust. So we gotta take his fuckin ass down ‘fore that comes to pass.”
“Uh-huh,” said Gritt. He could barely focus on what Shark was saying. He leaned back and rested his weary head against the side of the bunker. He took his shotgun off his back. Delicately he released the forend locking mechanism, sliding it down the barrel, and glanced inside the loading port. It was an old war habit of his to count the shells in his gun before a firefight. One in the chamber, nine in reserve. Ten shells, he thought, for ten Junkyard Ghouls destined for doom.
Gritt’s shotgun had, at one time, been a standard-issue police pump shotgun he’d picked up at a flea market in Memphis. Over the years he’d heavily modified it to suit his needs. He’d filed down the barrel and had carved out the stock like a jack-o-lantern to reduce its overall weight. He also increased the ammo capacity and had mounted a titanium infrared rifle scope to the top of the gun. He called his creation Sin Daddy Slim.
“Yew still fuckin around with that ol peppergun, huh?” said Shark.
“She ain’t let me down yet,” said Gritt.
“Just make sure ya point it at the bad guys, ya hear? If one of them fuckin pellets makes its way into my ass again, I’m comin after yew.” Shark laughed. “Hell, I still got some’a yer buckshot lodged in my left buttcheek, ya dang rascal. Took all the fun outta sittin on a toilet seat, I’ll tell ya that much.”
“Yew just let me worry ‘bout the aimin. I’m gunna serve up some closed-casket funerals tonight. Jus keep yer fuckin nuts in check, Shark.”
The fields surrounding the school were utterly silent. Gritt took a pair of night vision goggles out of a supply crate and strapped them to his head. Looking out over the sea of darkness, he saw on the outside what he always saw within: a whole lot of nothing.
“Hey Gritt,” said Shark, “yew ‘member that fucked up barber shop in Hanoi?”
Gritt was still doing a perimeter scan. “Ya mean the one where they gave ya a blowjob while they cut yer hair?”
“Yeah, that one.”
Gritt grinned. “Yew kiddin? Best dang blowjob I ever got in my life. Whadda ‘bout it?”
“Nothin. Jus . . . we had some good fuckin times back then, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, we fuckin did.”
“Yew ever miss it? Topplin regimes? Goin on missions ‘n shit?”
“Aw, I don’t know. I cain’t even really remember what it means to miss somethin anymore.”
Shark rolled his eyes so hard Gritt heard them scrape against the inside of his friend’s skull. “Don’t try’n feed me that god dang bullhockey, ya turd. That’s a frickin whopper of’a lie if I ever heard one. And I heard some fuckin lies in my time.”
Shark’s mind kept on thinking.
“Gritt, do ya . . . do ya think it’s racist to hate them Junkyard Ghouls?”
“Naw man. And anyway I ain’t even sure that’s how it works.”
“‘Cuz I ain’t racist or nothin. I just don’t like it when peoples is diff’rent’n me, y’know?”
Gritt was meditatively polishing his Desert Eagle with a Confederate flag.
“Hey Gritt,” said Shark. “Yew ‘member when we’s was stationed in Germany? And Capt’n Cockroach got drunk one night ‘n sat on the missile launch panel and accidentally blew up all them Cambodian refugee camps—”
“Shh!” said Gritt. He saw that Valerie’s ears had perked up. He flipped on a morse code lamp and flapped the shutter up and down, saying, What is it, girl?
Valerie nodded. She responded with an elaborate gesture of her paw:
Trucks inbound. Bunchuva ‘em.
Get ready fer a fuckin showdown, Gritt.
And with that she pointed a flare towards the heavens and bit down on the end cap. A streak of hellish light shot out of the tip and erupted in the night sky.
“O say can yew fuckin see,” said Gritt, filled with awe at the sight.
“By the dawn’s early fuckin light,” said Shark as he loaded a modified 300-round Beta C-MAG drum magazine into his G36 assault rifle.
Gritt shoved his hand into his boxer briefs and clutched a pocket-sized copy of the United States Constitution.
I will fight fer these words, he thought. Even if I’m the only fuckin one. Cain’t help it. Still believe in this shit. Might be the only thing I still believe in, ‘sides the healing power of snortin nose sugar with a coupla college chicks uv’course. . . .
A cacophony of diesel engines roared over the pitch-black emptiness. It reminded Gritt of the legion of mutant wasps he and Shark had slayed on Christmas morning in the mineral caves of Io nearly two decades before.
Gritt ripped the night vision goggles off his huge head and motioned for Valerie to join them on the roof of the school. She jumped down from her perch, lunged across the space between the two buildings, and managed to climb the six-story school by gripping a drainpipe with her teeth and hurling herself up several feet at a time.
Dang, thought Shark. Lookit that bitch go.
Shots rang out and the two men took cover behind a wall of sandbags. Gritt reached for the extension cord connected to the floodlights and gave it a fierce tug. The rooftop went black. A thin band of moonlight shone down from a thicket of deathly clouds and Gritt and Shark independently acknowledged that it was beautiful as shit.
“And now once again we go to battle with the enemies of freedom,” said Gritt. “For unto us a child is born in the darkness of this eternal midnight, and his name shall be called Death.”
Shark was moved by Gritt’s words. “A poet of war,” he said. “My best friend.”
Gritt wrapped his hands around Shark’s biceps and Shark did the same to Gritt. The two men pumped their fingers into each other’s flesh in perfect unison.
“Val!” whispered Gritt. Valerie was ducking behind a crate on the other side of the roof. “Come ‘ere, baby girl!” Laying low, the dog made her way over to Gritt and Shark, who were mentally preparing themselves for the imminent bloodbath. She put her paws on Gritt and Shark’s biceps and pumped along with them.
“Lookit this fuckin dog,” said Shark. “In the midst of a war zone and she’s sober as a pineapple on Sunday morning.”
“Gunshots ain’t nothin new to this old girl,” said Gritt, scratching her behind the ears with his coke nail.
Gritt peered over the edge of the low wall and saw a dozen or so M1117 armored vehicles maneuvering into an offensive formation around Shark’s house.
“Shit,” said Gritt, “they brought the fuckin calvary with ‘em. Them Junkyard Ghouls is a bonafide operation, man.”
“News to me,” said Shark as he kissed his sidearm for good luck.
The voice of what sounded like a prepubescent boy voice squawked out into the frigid night air. It was Easy Street Steve, speaking through a megaphone:
“Attention assholes,” he said, “this is your god speaking. I just wanted to let you know that me and my Junkyard Ghouls are claiming this school for our own. As your new ruler, I command you to throw your pathetic little squirt guns over the side of the building and approach the ledge with your hands raised high above your heads. Perhaps I will even let you dumdums live. We shall see! You have five seconds to comply, and then I’m burning this school to the ground!”
“One!” barked Easy Street Steve.
Shark gulped down a dozen amphetamine capsules and took out a pack of chew. He held it to his mouth and dumped the contents into his left cheek. He mixed the two stimulants around with his tongue and pushed the newly-formed wad into a wet corner in the back of his mouth. Finally he squeezed his testicles from outside his pants to assure himself as much as he could that life was real and he was still alive inside of it.
Gritt, meanwhile, bit the plastic sheath off a syringe as thick as a banana and shoved the pointed metal tip into an earthworm-thick vein running down his arm. He pressed on the plunger and injected his bloodstream with 400 milligrams of synthetic adrenaline.
Shark took a straight razor out of his cowboy boot and sloppily carved out a lightning bolt in one of his muttonchops.
Valerie snatched a milk bone soaked in LSD off her ammo belt and devoured it in one bite. She wagged her head savagely and howled into the godless sky.
“Let’s give these boys a soundcheck,” said Gritt.
Gritt rose from the shadows and gazed down menacingly from his perch atop the school. At six-foot eleven-inches, he was a volcano with a pulse. Glowing with madness, this god of chaos held Sin Daddy Slim high above his head and flexed his arsenal of supernatural muscles so hard he nearly threw up.
Beneath him a hundred or more Junkyard Ghouls squirmed in the moonlight, each wearing their signature skeleton jumpsuits and pumpkin masks. Easy Street Steve, who was four feet tall, stood in the center of the clan, his head adorned in a crown of raccoon bones. Gritt squinted and saw a family of cockroaches scuttling at Steve’s feet. He wondered why they weren’t underground. Prolly surfaced to be near the biggest cockroach of all, he thought. To be with their king. And soon, he went on, they will be underground once again, the whole lot of them, and I will be the one who sends them there.
“So, you’ve decided to surrender,” said Easy Street Steve, still speaking into the megaphone. “That’s a good boy. And don’t worry—your precious Sin Daddy Slim will be in good hands. My hands, in fact. I’ll have you know that I plan to add it to my trophy collection!”
Gritt shuddered at the thought of Easy Street Steve’s child-sized hands touching anything at all. Enraged, he bellowed from on high: “Nobody’s takin ol Sin Daddy away from me! ‘Specially not no pederast yuppie bitch.” He hocked a loogie and sent it spiraling down. “Listen right good, ya li’l fucker: Gritt Calhoon don’t surrender shit, and ya best ‘member that ‘fore I squash them nuts’a yers mega hard.”
“You fool! Where will you go? Hmm? There’s no getting out of this one, Gritt Calhoon!” The Junkyard Ghouls erupted into frenzied laughter.
“Boy, I’ll tell ya where I’m goin,” snarled Gritt. “I got me a first-class ticket to Hell, and yew’s gunna be my carry-on! I’m ‘bout ta pretzel-fold yer dumb ass ‘n personally deliver yew to the Dark Prince of Damnation himself.”
Gritt lunged into a tactical position and indiscriminately aimed his shotgun at the Ghouls.
Gritt pumped off three shots in the span of half a second while Shark sprang up out of cover and took hold of the gatling gun. He squeezed on both triggers. A thousand spicy-hot rounds flashed out of the muzzle and rained down upon the scattering mass of flesh below. Dozens of Ghouls dropped dead. Blood oozed from the bullet holes in their jumpsuits. Shark held back tears. He had unleashed a masterful brushstroke of heavenly judgment and he knew it.
“How’s that taste, ya Hallowiener-suckin buttholes!” screamed Shark, whose voice boomed over the mechanical rattle of the M197.
Valerie, now horribly slanted and halfway mad on drugs, began slinging grenades over the parapet toward the cluster of armored vehicles. The space-grade explosives bit through titanium armor like tissue paper, igniting the gas tanks. A massive chain reaction ensued, wiping out the Junkyard fleet in one fell swoop.
Valerie’s eyes spiraled wildly as orbs of fire lit up the night sky. She was an old gal and well beyond the age of producing puppies, but the explosion aroused her in a way she couldn’t explain, and for a moment she swore she was in heat again.
Easy Street Steve and the Junkyard Ghouls scrambled for cover behind Shark’s house. Several of the foot soldiers took aim at the school and shot out the windows while others tossed molotov cocktails inside.
“Motherfucker!” screamed Gritt, who was pumping cobra shot into the Ghouls fleeing to the cornfields. “Val, go put out them fires!”
Valerie let out a terrible guttural noise that convinced several of the Junkyard Ghouls to finally embrace religion. She rushed to the supply crate and fetched a fire extinguisher. With a spasming paw she swung open the rooftop door leading into the school and went to work suffocating the flames in the blazing classrooms below.
“Make sure ya save the fuckin history room!” said Shark, swallowing a few more capsules of speed while he continued to pepper the side of his own house with hundreds of 20-millimeter rounds. “Don’t let them fires erase the past!” To himself he thought, Maybe that’s all we got left. . . .
Slinging both AT4s over his hulking shoulders, Gritt glanced at Shark and seemed to smile. “History was always Andy’s favorite fuckin class.”
“I know it was, Gritt,” said Shark. “I know.” He picked out a Ghoul whose shape was disagreeable to him and sent him to his reward.
Easy Street Steve, who was ducking behind Shark’s bullet-riddled 1967 Ford F100, squeaked into the megaphone: “Nice try, old timers! A valiant effort, really!”
Gritt fired off two rockets at a pack of Ghouls who instantly exploded into wet meat. He turned to Shark. “What’s this fuckin wacko talkin ‘bout now? We done killed mostuv his men at this point—in record time I might add. Shoot.”
Shark slammed another C-MAG into his G36 and tucked his penis between his legs with the butt of his rifle. “Who knows, man,” he said while injecting 10,000 milligrams of codeine into his neck vein. “Maybe all that fuckin candy corn has finally rotted out his fool brain.”
Gritt and Shark gazed upon the battlefield and saw that it was littered with costumed corpses. No life remained in their visible spectrum and it pleased them both deeply.
“Hope you idiots are ready to be spooked into oblivion!” said Easy Street Steve, holding back laughter. “‘Cuz what I have planned for you is all trick . . . and no treat!!”
“Pff. That’s the lamest shit I ever heard,” said Gritt to Shark. “I’m pissed as hell now.”
“The hell’s goin on?” said Shark. “Seems like we’re snagged at some sorta impasse.”
Gritt closed his eyes and sighed. “Shark. Yew ever use a word with a French origin again ‘n I’m gunna spank that butt’a yers so hard yer diaper’s gunna explode inta confetti.”
The stillness of the night was snapped in two when Gritt and Shark heard what they perceived as huge thunderous footsteps far off in the distance. The footsteps, or whatever they were, slowly advanced toward the school in a perfect mathematical rhythm.
“‘Zat a fuckin ogre or some shit?” whispered Shark. “A giant from the deep. . . ?”
“Naw, cain’t be,” said Gritt. “We done sent all them cocksuckers into extinction years ago.” Least I think we did, he thought to himself. Gritt pondered the enormous cost of shipping space ogres from Jupiter to Earth. Even if there still were a few of them around, the whole thing seemed economically infeasible to him.
The ominous din went on and on. Easy Street Steve was cackling like a psychopath into the megaphone while the few remaining Ghouls took potshots at the roof. Gritt swore he heard some of them high-fiving and doing whip-its.
“I ain’t crazy, is I?” said Shark, tossing a few sticks of dynamite to Gritt. “Yew hearin them tremors?”
“How the fuck could I not?” Gritt remembered he was deaf right ear.
“Shit, man, lookit over yonder!”
Out from the swirling black mist beyond the cornfields came what appeared to be a giant armored skeleton with glowing red eyes. Its chilling unnatural gait shook the foundation of the school. Shark, who had a weak bladder, pissed himself a little. Gritt surveyed the golem from top to bottom and knew it was easily over a hundred feet tall. He saw Ghouls dangling from the beams making up the great mechanical monster’s rib cage. Atop its expansive skull was a mounted chain gun with a reinforced steel plate shielding the gunner.
Gritt ground his teeth together and snarled. “What a fuckin abomination of engineerin.”
Shark sprayed the ground with the brown fluids he’d been sucking on and wiped his lips with the back of his thick-ass forearm. “And a waste of fine fuckin steel.”
“Guess them guv’ment boys was right about them Ghouls’ buildin capabilities,” said Gritt. “That lumberin piece’a shit that’s comin ta kill us sure as fuck wudn’t built by no lovin god I ever heard of. Hell, not even Lucifier himself would mastermind the creation of such an unholy contrivance.”
“Bet that thing’s got the structural integrity of a fuckin port-o-potty, though,” said Shark, who had an associate’s degree in plumbing.
“Hey baby. Whaddaya say yews and me find out?” said Gritt. “My daddy always said ya gotta kick the tires ‘fore ya take a girl home.” He was sucking on a corndog-flavored lollipop. “Let’s kick this old girl’s tires right hard.”
Shark was mystified by this analogy, so he changed the subject.
“Saved ya somethin, brogurt.” Shark took a plastic baggie stuffed with cocaine out of his back pocket. “Howz this’n fer a midnight snack?” He tossed it to his old friend.
Gritt caught the bag with the hand he had earlier used to wipe his ass. He shoved his snout into the bag and vacuum-inhaled the mountain of ghost candy in a second flat. A chaos storm of murderous instincts twisted in the freezing mire of his brain.
Gritt was juiced out of his skull and he felt very good.
“Jus like old times, Gritt.”
“Jus like old fuckin times, Shark.”
Gritt slammed a fresh mag into his Desert Eagle and racked Sin Daddy hard.
“Val!” he shouted. “Git’cher ass up here! Got a coupla bones fer ya to chew on!” He was referring to the skeleton colossus making its way toward the school. Shark, who was otherwise illiterate, found Gritt’s play on words both clever and humorous.
Within seconds Valerie had rejoined her friends on the roof. She was completely insane. Every cell in her body was whirling and snapping and popping with lysergic acid. She squinted her eyes and peered ahead at Easy Street Steve’s abhorrent opus, which was lurching now through the football field. Soon it would be upon them and Valerie knew it. She trotted over to a crate of grenades and gathered up a mouthful of the things with her acid-soaked teeth.
“Sorry for the mess,” said Easy Street Steve, whose excitement was palpable. “But we really must wrap things up here! You killed many of my boys tonight, but no matter! I will recruit new ones soon enough. Enjoy your last few minutes on Earth. I wonder which circle of Hell your retirement home is in? I suppose you shall soon find out.”
Gritt and Shark watched as a four-wheeler driven by an overweight Ghoul emerged from the cornfields and sped over a mound of nuddie mags on Shark’s driveway. Easy Street Steve climbed on the back of the vehicle and slapped the driver’s bulging gut. The two darted away into the night.
“Son of a bitch—” Gritt reached for one of the AT4s and fired off a rocket in Easy Street Steve’s direction. A passing breeze pushed the rocket toward a telephone pole.
“Zephyrus, god of the western winds,” Gritt said quietly, “why hath thee turded up the trajectory of my flawless aim?”
“Gritt,” said Shark, grabbing Gritt’s buttcheek. “We got bigger turds to fry, buddy.” He pointed his beefy sausage-finger at the skeleton death-machine, which was now gazing down upon them from thirty feet above. Shark and Gritt had been too whacked out on drugs to accurately measure the passage of time.
The red spotlights that made up the skeleton’s eyes bathed the rooftop in a sinful hue. Steam poured out of its nostrils. It raised one of its impossibly huge fists and slammed it down upon the roof of the school, nearly crushing Shark and Gritt. A brassy mechanical laugh came blaring out from somewhere deep inside as the fist readied itself for another blow.
Gritt rolled to the edge of the building and hurled an empty rocket launcher at the skeleton, which bounced off its gleaming armored skull and vanished over the side of the roof. He did ten backflips in a row and ducked behind some ammo crates.
Shark was firing at the Ghouls dangled out of the rib cage. He recognized instantly that Gritt was readying a sweet move from long ago. “Gritt!” screamed Shark. “We gunna hit these knuckleheads with a Whiskey Delta Tango or what?”
“Hit ‘em hard, more like,” said Gritt. He blindly chucked a well-timed grenade toward the skeleton, which exploded in midair. An orange fireball bloomed on the gruesome thing’s face. The explosion killed several Ghouls inside and Gritt knew this.
The Ghoul on the mounted chain gun sparked a fat blunt. Rather than bullets, the gun was loaded with miniature pumpkins—dozens of which were now headed toward Gritt and Shark. The pumpkins, they soon learned, were filled with explosives that blew up upon impact with a solid object.
Shark whistled for Valerie, who, remembering her role in the Whiskey Delta Tango maneuver, came barreling toward her old friend. Shark mounted himself upright onto her back and rode the dog like a surfboard toward the skeleton beast. Gritt, meanwhile, was running parallel to Shark and Val at forty miles an hour. Pumpkins were exploding all around them, but the trio did not fear death and thus were unfazed.
“WHISKEY!” said Shark, getting close.
“DELTA!” said Gritt.
Valerie flung Shark off her back and Gritt launched himself from the ground.
“TAAANNNGGGOOOOO!” they shouted in unison.The two men locked arms midair and soared through the cold night toward the huge mechanized symbol of death which they intended to destroy.
Gritt and Shark’s boots landed hard atop the skeleton’s bulging steel head. Before the Ghoul manning the chain gun had time to react, Shark grabbed him by the throat with his big-ass hand and choked him out. He gripped the Ghoul’s spine and ripped it straight out of his body. Shark threw it into the cold darkness below with zero emotion. What was left of the man slumped over and slid down the side of the machine.
Shark seated himself behind the chain gun, aimed downward, and began firing pumpkin grenades into the armored surface. Gritt hung onto Shark’s leg and watched in amazement as the little pumpkins betrayed their environment. When the smoke cleared, Gritt and Shark saw that a hole had opened up. Its circumference was large enough for two massive human bodies to fit through.
“Maybe it’s time ta retire ol Sin Daddy and getchu one of these fuckin thangs,” said Shark, dusting off his pants and tucking an erection between his hairy-ass muscular legs.
“I’d sooner retire my own dick,” said Gritt, who knew in his heart of hearts that he would never retire his dick.
The Ghouls operating the skeleton noticed the breach in their command center and began clamoring up through the newly-opened hole. A Ghoul emerged from below and Gritt slid the barrel of Sin Daddy into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Brain matter splattered all over his camo fatigues and blended with the brain matter of many other men whose deaths had turned Gritt’s clothes into a Jackson Pollock painting from hell.
“God damn, Gritt! Coulda warned me first!” said Shark as he brushed bloody bits of skull out of his sexy-ass chest hair.
“Sin Daddy’s got a mind of ‘is fuckin own. Not my fault, Shark.”
The Ghouls inside panicked. They pulled switches and pushed buttons at random. Several rockets launched out of the chest turrets and hit the side of the school. The windows on floors three and four shattered and classrooms were set ablaze.
“Fuckin hell!” said Shark. He jumped down the hole leading to the command center. Gritt peered inside and saw that Shark was killing everyone with his bare hands. He was touched by the sight, knowing that Shark’s rage was a product of his great love for the children and the school.
Dang it. What a beautiful soul that man has, thought Gritt Calhoon. I am proud to call him my friend. He wiped away a microscopic tear.
Gritt killed his emotions and knew it was time to join his friend in the sacred art of death-bringing. He thundered down the hole. His thick boots slammed onto the thin plating below. He was excited as hell to be back at it again. Somewhere deep inside the ancient recesses of his being, Gritt swore he felt the faintest traces of a female orgasm.
Shark busied himself smashing the masked miscreants’ heads against the machine’s neon circuitry while Gritt pumped round after round into anyone who tried to stop him. Soon the floor was carpeted with the corpses of men who had lived violently and who had died that way too.
“I can hear more of ‘em beneath us,” said Shark. He pointed to the floor. “Prolly strokin off to the dyin gasps of their dumbass friends, no doubt. Makes me sick, Gritt.”
“Smoke ‘em out,” said Gritt. He was rolling a filterless cigarette with a page he’d torn from the Book of Revelations.
Shark ripped a canister of tear gas off his ammo belt and tossed it into a ventilation shaft leading down to the engine room. Within seconds Gritt and Shark heard gasps and screams reverberating off the steel walls.
Gritt sucked in a lungful of sweet Virginia tobacco and sauntered over to the control panel. Shark kept his gun pointed at the ladder.
“Whatchu lookin fer, shithead?” said Shark. “Doubt yew’s gunna find a chili dog dispenser over there!” He laughed.
“Fer a fuckin self-fuckin-destruct button, dingus!” said Gritt, who now wished he had a chili dog. He twisted his mouth as he looked over the multitude of glowing buttons before him. “Guess I’m jus gunna approach this thing like I did when I first started hangin ’round with chicks, all them fuckin years ago.”
“Shoot, boy. That could mean anything. Hell, all these years later and I still ain’t found the god dang G-spot. At this point I reckon it’d be easier ta track down fuckin Big Foot!” He chuckled. Shark blasted a Ghoul who was foolishly attempting to climb up into the cockpit. He felt nothing upon watching the man lifelessly fall back down the hole.
“What I’m sayin is,” said Gritt, “I’m gunna push some fuckin buttons ‘till this baby girl sprays the dang sheets.” He turned to Shark and winked.
“Aww yeah, boy!” said Shark.
Gritt pushed a flashing green button and a flamethrower mounted inside the skeleton’s mouth blasted the side of the school, completely destroying the math room.
“Shit!” said Shark. “I thought yew said yews was gunna destroy this fuckin turd we’re ridin around in—not help these cheese-dicks destroy the god dang school!”
“Whoops,” said Gritt, turning off the flamethrower. “Guess I picked the wrong fuckin button.”
“Aw hell, man, who give’s a hoot in hell ‘bout that room anyway,” said Shark. “Math fuckin blows. In a way yew did them kids a favor.”
A large orange button the size of a frisbee caught Gritt’s eye. He read the words written upon its glowing surface:
INITIATE SELF-DESTRUCT SEQUENCE
Gritt licked his lips and punched the button with his massive fist. A few gears shifted deep inside the belly of the machine and Gritt knew some hard bogus shit was about to go down.
“Let’s hit the rooftop, buddy boy,” said Gritt. “This lumberin turd dumpster is ‘bout to say howdy-ho to the Grim fuckin Reaper.”
“Huh?” said Shark.
“Shit’s ‘bout to blow. See yew topside, motherfucker!!” Gritt grabbed the side of the hole in the ceiling and swung himself up like a gorilla made of cancer cells. He leaned down and offered his paw to Shark.
“Grab on!” said Gritt. “We only got a few more seconds till this tub’a putrefied dog shit dials up the Almighty and says, ‘Daddy dearest, I’m comin home!”
“Jesus, Gritt, speak fuckin Anglish!”
“Let’s git movin, Shark!” Gritt grabbed the back of Shark’s snow-camo tanktop and yanked him up through the hole. Back on their feet, the two men made a run for it. They roll-jumped off the edge of the skeleton and flew like dinosaur turds in a Louisiana hail storm toward the roof of the school that they loved so much.
Gritt and Shark crash-landed unscathed in the center of their sandbag fortress. They looked up and saw that the skeleton was smoking and malfunctioning. Its claws were latched onto the lip of the roof and that was bad news for everybody.
“We gotta get that shit bucket away from the school!” said Shark. “If we don’t, it’ll take everything down with it!” Shark began to panic. There was no way they would be able to dislodge it in time. Everything he and Gritt had fought for would go down in flames—literally.
Gritt fumbled for his car keys. “I got me an anti-aircraft guided missile system rigged up in the trunkuv ol Poppa Tango,” he said. “Them li’l puppies’ll take this bitch out quick. Now, if I can jus ‘member which fuckin button it is. . . .” He pushed a blue button on the remote and Poppa Tango’s alarm went off.
Shark was spraying the skeleton’s ribs with hollow-point rounds. “Gritt, hurry the fuck up!”
Gritt pushed a magenta button and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ started blaring out of Poppa Tango’s aftermarket sound system. He pushed a yellow button and a chili dog was dispensed into the passenger seat. “Shit, dude!” said Gritt. He pushed a green button and a blowup doll inflated in the truck. “There’s like a hundred fuckin buttons on this damn thing! I cain’t ‘member which one’ll dew the god dang trick!”
The skeleton was shaking wildly now. There were only seconds left.
“Fer shit’s sake, Gritt!” screamed Shark, who assumed his life was finally over. “Take cover!”
Just then, a dozen rockets soared down from above, one after the other, and pummeled the skeleton’s quivering chassis with fire and brimstone. The machine swayed violently after each blast until finally it detached itself from Hallelujah High School and stumbled away in huge backward strides toward the football field. At the fifty-yard line the machine tripped and crashed down into the dead earth below. Black smoke poured out of its steel orifices.
“The hell—” said Gritt. He looked up at the night sky to see that the rockets had come from a UH-60M stealth helicopter that was hovering above Shark’s house. Tugg Chunker and Tank Friendly, Gritt and Shark’s old squad mates, were hanging out of both sides holding dual rocket launchers.
“Hot damn!” said Gritt. “Yew boys sure did rattle them fuckin bones! Ya freakin miscreants, I swear.”
“Yew want us to finish ‘em off, Gritt?” said Tugg, aiming one of his rocket launchers at the pile of scrap metal in the center of the football field.
“Naw, baby! It’s taken care of!” said Gritt. He put his hands on his hips and sucked on a meatball-flavored cough drop.
As the surviving Ghouls frantically climbed out of the wreckage, a timed bomb at the center of the machine erupted into a fat ball of fiery death, killing everyone inside.
Touchdown, thought Gritt. And now for the halftime show. Quietly he tooted along to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and smiled.
“Shit, baby!” said Tank. He smacked Tugg’s protruding gut with the palm of his hand. “Yew see that shit, baby? Well, did’ja?”
“Pay up, Tank! Yew owe me a fuckin cheeseburger.” said Tugg. “Told ya Gritt and Shark couldn’t do it without us.”
“Well excuse me fer havin faith in my friends!” said Tank. “And anyway it was Gritt and Shark who dunked those turds in the toilet bowl of forever. All we did was flush ‘em down.”
“I’m jus givin yew guff,” said Tugg. He tickled Tank’s hairy armpit.
“Knock it off, ya perv,” said Tank, who was giggling.
“Whatchu boys arguin ‘bout?” said Gritt. “Ya freakin pervs.” He shook his head and smiled. “Hooo.”
“Aw hell, Gritt, we’ll tell ya later,” said Tugg, who had taken a bag of barbecue-flavored potato chips out of his microfiber boxer briefs.
“What I wanna know is . . . how the hell did Tugg and Tank know to come here?” said Shark.
“I think I got a god dang hunch.” Gritt looked around the roof until he found Valerie, who was sharpening a bayonet between her teeth. He saw that she was holding a portable radio transceiver in her paw. God dang, he thought. This ol gal, I swear.
“Yew call this in, Val?” said Gritt.
Valerie glanced up at her master and almost seemed to smile before going back to sharpening the knife.
“That’s some fuckin dog ya got there,” said Shark.
“Ya don’t hafta fuckin tell me, Shark,” said Gritt, crossing his arms and shaking his head.
“Yew two done jerkin each other off down there?” said Tugg. He motioned for the pilot to lower the helicopter. “Got a new assignment fer yews two.” He was squirting spicy brown mustard onto a hot dog that he had not previously been holding. “If’n y’all’s interested, that is.” Tugg grinned.
Tank pulled five beers out of the refrigerated side-pocket of his midnight-black fatigues and passed them around.
“Git in, ya sons’a bitches,” said Tank, parting his big-ass mustache with his thumb and index finger. “Yew too, Val. We gunna need them skills ya got, girl.” He handed a beer to the dog.
“Damn, how big is this assignment?” said Gritt, cracking open a Grandpa Allen. “Got the whole squad back together. Not that I’m complainin, of course.”
“Bigger’n yer dick, that’s for damn sure,” said Tank. “And twice as hairy, too.”
Highly fuckin improbable, thought Gritt.
Gritt took a sip of his beer and thought about some shit. He was still toying with the remote on his keyring. He pushed a black button and a dozen guided missiles shot out of the back of Poppa Tango. The missiles blazed through the darkness and blew up a grain silo near the cornfields. Everyone aboard laughed.
“Looks like we’re out’uv retirement, Gritt,” said Shark. He smacked his friend in the balls.
“Sure does, Shark. Sure fuckin does.”
As the helicopter ascended into the clouds, Shark and Gritt and Valerie looked down at the school. The old gravel road was piled high with corpses while small fires smoldered here and there. They knew that they had done right. The school was saved.
Gritt scratched Valerie behind her ears and fed her a milk bone powdered with mescaline. Shark was nodding off in his chair.
What a wild fuckin night, thought Gritt Calhoon.