Simone de las Vargas von Chortlesworthy was opening the door. It was 3:30 am. Time, as they say, to make the bagels. She opened three days a week, worked 3-1. Outside it was cool and dark. The delivery of sliced bread had been ripped open again, and was lying on the pallet beside the back screen door. Something had torn into it. Simone would find out what later (a raccoon).
There were no jobs. With a Bachelor’s, she was working a night shift making bagels. (But of course, this is what getting an English degree gets you. Everyone knows this.) So Miss von Chortlesworthy worked five days a week, sometimes ten hour shifts, on about three four hours sleep, making slightly more than minimum wage. Most days it was pure horror. Aggression of customers, aggression of coworkers, being burned by the pans and the boiling water, exhaustion to no end. Sweat dripping into your eyes. Your shoes attracted bugs because they became saturated with flour and sesame seeds. One day she woke up to find them full of centipedes. Pure horror.
She was opening the door. The lightly buzzing fluorescents were always on in the back kitchen, and there was that, but something else she could hear. Some other presence was there, and different than usual, because when she opened, alone, in the mornings, she felt things and heard things to indicate some kind of haunting, but this was something else. Maybe the manager had come in early. No? No. Simone clocked in and put her coat on a hook, looking around, unconsciously positioning her back to the wall, her large back. She was a fat woman. You never see that in fiction, right? Ok.
Thank god the managers weren’t there, they were horrors, true monsters of people. But what was there? Simone switched on the radio as she unlocked the main walk-in. It was Rossini. A scuttle. Something ran by. Just a rat. As she entered the kitchen, though, the lid of the kettle rattled. It was removed. Something was inside.
Josephus del Choocho was a lab rat, which is to say he was an investigator. He was a student, a participant in a study. The study, being done at a prestigious East Coast University, involved the “students” as they were called (it is common practice to call paid lab volunteers “students” in the industry, those who test drugs and so forth) being given a story about some kind of psychological study.
They were then told that they would be hired to train with a well-established Private Detective Agency, and sent on extremely low-risk cases (surveilling supposed cheating spouses, looking into small-time fraud or imbezzlement, things of this nature) with experienced investigators. Twice a week, within a day of their having worked, certain parameters would be measured, such as hormone levels, blood pressure. A percentage of participants, supposedly, would receive an experimental substance (designed to increase brain function, support learning, increase non locality of intelligence) and the rest would receive a sugar pill. So, the “students,” drawn from all walks of life, believed themselves to be lab rats, but were also investigators.
What participants were not told was that they were actually not being trained by a well-established Private Detective Agency, but a certain secret Black Ops division of the Federal Government. As far as the witty old professors knew, it was a scientific study, but they had been duped; it was all set up by The Government. So, while the University was grinding its gears farting out data, “ideas,” and hypotheses, the Agency was using them to perform covert operations, spy work. The roaming spouses, the little stories they were eavesdropping on, all the data they were gathering, was on known foreign agents, extremely dangerous, ruthless foreign agents. Josephus, or Joe, and his fellow drug takers, were not “students,” they were not lab rats, they were not even Junior Detective Agents. They were government workers, spies in training, disposable agencies.
Joe was one of the lucky ones. He had, in fact, received the experimental new drug, called usually by government scientists X-3001, or X-Pect (because of its ability to, surprisingly, help its users grow large, comely bosoms, but manly ones, don’t worry). X-3001 gave its users a sense of self-confidence, and tended to increase sense perceptions, to levels approaching those of wild animals. So, the drug was real, although the study was not. In fact, there may have been a number of drugs. All samples were managed by higher ups, government types, distributed secretively down to the lab techs and researchers. (It all seemed to stem from a Dr. Pennigrad, although, of course, he had his own bosses to answer to, and they their own, ad infinitum.) But let’s get back to Joe, doped up, on the mission, just trying to make a little extra money and advance the cause of Science.
Today, he was following a couple at a distance, a man and woman. They were nondescript. They did not resemble anything. They went into stores you have seen everywhere and bought things we have all bought, perhaps things you are buying now, or thinking of buying now. He was bored, but we all get bored sometimes. That was when he got careless.
At the bagel shop, Simone (let’s call her S, it’s less annoying) approached the oversized kettle. The lid exploded up, and the bagel monster appeared, shining, glossy, coated, on one side, with cornmeal.
“I am here,” it said, in a voice like fire, “I am here to eat the souls of those who have wronged you.”
You were dreaming about having sex with your ex-girlfriend, and feel guilty about it the next day, when you talk to your wife. Not that you’ve ever cheated, or would, probably, meaning that you probably wouldn’t, but still, you felt guilty. It’s weird. In the dream, you get all flaccid, like a boiled bagel, so even there, it’s embarrassing. You can’t win.
At work you compose a story in your head, not knowing that it will, someday, become a beautiful book (but a book no one will read). The story involves many characters, and, somehow, you remember all of them easily, in spite of the fact that birthdays and history and social niceties somehow slip the mind regularly. But then, a story with beauty and characters is interesting, and those other things are not. We remember what we care about, or what we are terrified of losing.
The sex dream comes back to mind as you work alongside your wife at the restaurant. There is something pleasurable about remembering a dream and not telling others, but is it more enjoyable than telling someone and having them like it? I don’t know. Work is hard that day, but most work is, unless you are some sort of rich monster.
Joe had, up until he lost focus, been working alongside his “wife,” as partners are often called in the detective biz, Sammulelly de las Cojones. Most folks called him Samm. He was, Samm, experienced, a veteran of the thing, having been at it for over twenty years. Of course, now, Samm was not actually a detective, the agency being a myth, a setup, but he was a 20-plus year veteran of the aforementioned Black Ops division, a group so secret not even this author knows its name.
Agent S grabbed his chest. He collapsed. Joe, blocks ahead already, could not notice. Samm writhed on the ground in agony. Was it poison? He wondered, as he blacked out. Subsonic nervous triggering remotes? Deadly pressure point attack? As he died, a crowd formed around him. A van pulled up, then, and someone dragged his body in, screeching away.
“You are what?” Simone said.
The bagel monster was about to respond when it paused. There was the noise of a door opening as her managers and boss came in, all drunk, stinking of beer.
“Hey! Simon, how are you? We forgot that,”
But this was all they got out, because the Bagel Monster leapt from its kettle, and tore them limb from limb. Simon remembered all the times they’d mocked her, forced her to work long shifts, “forgotten” about promises for a raise, allowed her coworkers to harass her. In the cool night air of the pre-dawn store she could not help but smile a little. A car drove by outside, but did not pause. The lights flickered. The monster stood over the corpses.
“Now I eat. You might want to uh take a break.”
She walked out the patio. It was cooler out there, dark, pre sunrise, still. A man, employed by the city, was driving around in a little cart watering the flowers that hung from the lampposts. She always wondered if it cost more to pay for a little motorized cart, spray can, gas, than it would to do things the old fashioned way (ie, walking around with a jug of water). Simone could hear sounds of chomping. Hmm, she thought, my life is changing.
“Yes, for the better,” the monster said, between bites of human corpse. “Your managers are particularly chewy.”
“It’s the kind of people they were- tough, rough, uncouth. Did you hear what I was thinking just now?”
And with that, silence. She looked about. No monster. No managers, no owner. There were a few small puddles of blood on the floor, so it hadn’t all been imagined, a few small puddles on the linoleum. More cars drove by. A police car which did not stop.
“Oh no!” she thought to herself. “We’re going to be opening soon. Nothing is ready!”
Half an hour to opening. Flee or improvise? She looked around for ideas. Still, no monster. She’d have to do something.
Dr. Pennigrad appeared, phantomlike. His coat billowed out, and his hair was also billowy. The lab was a forest of computer screens, most off, only one on. It was the security monitor, and on it, images of Samm and Joe. Also, Miss S, and the married couple.
“Very good,” he said, “very good,” rubbing his palms against his eyes.
Work being done, you drive home together.
“Should we go out? China One?”
“Ok,” and you drive there, but when you arrive something else happens.
Samm looks around when he gets to where his partner would have been. Nothing. The crowd is there, but no “wife.” Dr. Pennigrad observes from the lab, smiling. Samm seems to look up and make eye contact through the monitor.
“I know it’s you. I know it is.”
His heart stopped. He waited.
But then, Samm had moved on, glancing around, dialing some number into his phone, presumably the “detective agency,” a number which went to another room in the same building, with someone playing the part of the detective. It was so nearby that the Dr. could hear the person pick up, and the muffled voices of their conversation, as Samm kept walking.
Miss S. walked to the police station, unsure of what to say.
We parked at the restaurant.
Samm kept walking.
The perspectival monster arose from the body of the first monster.
The lab was part of the Onnerwerks Buidling, a large concrete structure designed by Theophilus Onnerwerks in 1945. It appeared, at a first glance, extremely bare, barren even. The walls were smooth, outside and in. They were made of quartz mined from local quarries, covered with a thin veneer of Afghanite, which gave the walls a pale blue, glowing sense to them, which was augmented by the pale blue lights (lights which no one seemed to be able to locate, set in the walls and ceilings at strange angles). You could say it was austere and forbidding, entrancing, with sudden explosions of luxury at surprise rhythms- certain rooms were empty, and many were vast, nearly empty (containing just a few tables and chairs, maybe a small lamp or two that seemed to switch on and off at its own volition, at the right moment) but then you’d find other rooms exquisitely set up with large black leather couches, glowing walnut tables polished to a high shine, black teak chairs and footstools, bookshelves reaching up to dangerous height made of photoluminescent protoshimmery fossilized ash. The books themselves could not be checked out, but could be examined and enjoyed within the confines of Onnerwerks, and a digital copy always appeared in one’s device upon leaving. (Sometimes said digital copy would delete itself after a semester, sometimes it would never allow itself to be deleted.)
Dr. Pennigrad’s office was on the top floor along with the labs. At night, sometimes he would climb out to the roof and look down at all the people walking around. Top of the world. He would take some lemonade out and reminisce about his childhood. His parents had both been scientists, and had raised him to be a scientist. Summers at science camp, bookshelves full of Einstein and Newton. Lots of aquariums full of exotic species. The Doctor would sip his lemonade and think about the past and the future. What would he innovate? How would he humiliate his colleagues with brilliance? What accolades and awards would weight his elegant shelves?
This night, he was up on the roof, with its little garden and birds flitting around, pecking groundward, and as he was opening his aluminum Thermos he heard something behind him. Turning, he saw the giant form of Dr. Feingoullldddde. The latter gentleman was seven and a half feet tall, and seemed, somehow, to be covered in barbarous fur, reddish fluffing fur- a giant beard, furracious eyebrows resting above blazing eyes charneling with atavistic intelligence.
“Hey buddy, howyadoin?”
“Oh hi there,” Pennigrad mungered. “Did you uh”
“I just come up here sometimes to think about things, you know, reminisce- reminisce about my childhood. My parents had both been scientists, and had raised me to be a scientist. Summers at science camp, bookshelves full of Einstein and Newton. Lots of aquariums full of exotic species. I sip my lemonade and think about the past and the future. What will I innovate? How will I humiliate my colleagues with brilliance? What accolades and awards will weight my elegant shelves? You know, the normal stuff.”
“Yes, the normal stuff.”
In the pause, the sky seemed bigger. Then there was a car honk off somewhere not too far. The ruddy giant approach a few steps, and clapped Pennigrad on the shoulder in a friendly manner.
“Things ok with the new project? Any results to speak of?”
“Well, it’s all very preliminary…”
“Yes, of course. Your work has always struck me as very interesting,” he said and laughed a bold brawny bawling guffaw. “Very interesting! I cannot wait to see what you all find as far as the usages of X-3001.”
Then he dove off the roof and flew down to the parking lot. Hoverpack.
“Uh, ma’am, can we help you?”
Miss S paused and reconsidered. She turned and walked out the door of the station. As she walked briskly down the early street she glanced many times over her shoulder, but no one had followed her out. It seemed that being suspicious didn’t matter. Where to go now? She was uncertain. There was no going back, that seemed clear, and she had left the cafe locked, so the customers who showed up would probably just throw their hands up and redirect themselves to a franchise coffee and food provider of some sort. But then someone else would show, some other worker, and then the owner, and things would start to fall into place. She was on the run, apparently, this was how that happened. Should she go home to her condo and think for a minute before making her next move? The police might just show up there any minute. But she had to gather things up, gather herself before making a decision, and just running, to who knew where, seemed counterproductive. She almost ran into a telephone pole.
Okay- she put her hand up and stopped herself on it and did not knock herself out.
“I’ll go home, just for a second, put some things together, and then head out. Oh and Cecelia.”
What would she do with her cat? Criminals on the run, what did they do with their cats? She walked back towards the cafe keeping her eyes open for people who’d know her. It was just starting to get light out. A few cars would drive by here and there, too slowly, suspiciously, but no one bothered her. An old lady walking fast. Another old lady with her golden. Golden sunrise. Garbage on the street from last night. The man in the cart still watering. A car horn honk. She looked around. The 99 Civic was parked on Water street, and she didn’t glimpse a soul who’d bother her, thank goodness. Simone drove home.
Joe looked back to hear a vehicle screeching away and a crowd dissipating. Where was Samm? Where was Samm? He, Samm, had always liked to play practical jokes on his partners, so Joe assumed this was what had happened. He spent the rest of the day glancing over his shoulder, hiding behind corners, and giggling to himself, thinking what fun he’d have when he caught his partner trying to pull the wool over his eyes. After hours of this readiness, hours of waiting for Samm to show up and say “gotcha,” J was tired. His feet ached in his cheap shoes and his neck was getting crackly. Time for a break.
He stopped into a Donut Shop. Apparently, something had just happened, as the employees were talking intensely behind the counter to each other as he walked in and looked at the menu on the wall.
“She just didn’t show up this morning-“
“And neither did they-“
They all turned at once to face him, smiling vaguely, ready to interact.
The married couple burst forth from the basement of China One. The door split open and the chains fell off. All the cooks and workers in the kitchen stared at them, and then began babbling in Chinese to each other. As if they were one body, their arms, in sync, began lifting heavy cleavers, eyes flaring redly.
A scream rang out, but it was not theirs. It was the battle cry of the married couple. It was terrific. It was the last sound the cooks and workers heard. At this same moment, the bagel monster appeared.
“Ah, you’re here. I was expecting you, of course. Have a seat, my good chum.”
Dr. Pennigrad motioned to a swivel chair as the banks of monitors glowed. Joe paused, then sat down, keeping his laser pistol trained on him the whole time. If he’d learned a thing or two, and he was, after all, “a student,” it was this- always keep your laser trained on the bad guy. And don’t make long speeches.
After the battle, the married couple walked down the street, weapons in hand. The charred remains behind them. They had never been separate. They had never been of two minds, and now they knew that.
“Where should we go?”
“I don’t know.”
He held her hand and she gave her hand, squeezed back, easily.
“Let’s go somewhere new.”
I don’t know.
They walked into the sunset. They were in the sky, dancing in the sky. Flying through space. Before a little while the two found themselves on a new planet, in the moon palace of the moon king and moon queen, which they had always been.
“Time to take the throne,” someone said quietly, which they did.
They ruled for 999 years and their reign was pure justice.