No. 13 - With Heights and Malt Liquor
Aecca/Decca closes the fridge door, gives the kitchen a cursory looking over. Not seeing what he's looking for, he walks through the passageway to the front foyer and pulls a balled-up hoodie out from between two legs of the banister.
"Where you going?"
Aecca turns to face the ever-inquiring Jerry Rig Rig and Mudman sit in the living room, half-watching teevee, half-reading comic books and magazines. El Humidor lays on the crusty sofa, half-conscious. Some part of his lizard brain goes through the motions of smoking a cigarette.
"Plaid. To get beer," Aecca responds, pulling on his hoodie, fishing into his pants pockets for wadded up dollar bills, "you losers got any money?"
"Did someone say beer run?"
Everyone startles at El Humidor's light-speed lurch into full lucidity and an upright seated position.
"If, IF you're buying in," Aecca quickly stipulates. El Humidor pauses for a heartbeat, his eyes jumping from housemate to housemate, whom shoot icy contempt back at him. Too many times has El Humidor "gone in on" a beer run, only to not spend a dime and merely provide "safe passage" for the beer in question. His housemates are now usually quick to make sure he actually coughs up a few bucks or some pocket change in advance. Mudman, curiously, accepts personal checks.
"Yes, yes, El Humidor shall pay." The contents of Humidor's pockets spill onto the coffee table.
"Got enough matches?" Mudman picks up one of the numerous matchbooks which seem to make a majority of the junk through which Humidor now sifts, plucking the occasional dollar.
"El Humidor is NEVER without his goodest friend, the flame, my muddy companion! Ah ha! Four! Four dollars!" El Humidor's eyes light up in vindication.
"Well then, let's go ladies," Aecca puts his hand on the front door knob, waits expectantly for Humidor to pull on his surplus Czech army summer jacket thing.
"I'll come," Mudman intones, slowly but smoothly moving to join Aecca at the foot of the stairs.
"Well, shit," says Rig, still half-watching the teevee, half-reading an old issue of Portland Mecha Quarterly. The other three look blankly at him front where they stand by the front door. Aecca sighs, rolls his eyes. El Humidor taps a sneakered foot.
"Hold on, I'll come, too," says Rig.
As Rig readies himself, the remaining housemates meander out onto the front porch and lawn. El Humidor gets out a cigarette and begins to fiddle with it, a sort of pre-expedition ritual. Mudman gives cash to Aecca, who does his best to brush the half-dry dirt off. Cashiers' have refused honest money from Mudman before.
Rig emerges at last from the house and the foursome head down the street, Aecca and Mudman taking the lead, Humidor and Rig the rear. As the sidewalk narrows and widens, the group alternates between walking four abreast, or two by two, or occasionally, say, El Humidor walking backwards addressing a cluster of the other three.
Conversation rambles and goes no where. The housemates beat a strange route, from side street to alley, then to bizarre muddy pathway between an overgrown blackberry patch and a suspect apartment building, and through an unexpected open field. The 'mates grow silent passing through here, eyes dancing over old concrete foundations which jut from the
ground, daydreaming that the earth has dislodged some marvelous artifact from its skin. Conversation resumes as they head back up a side street and onto the semi-major arterial avenue along which lay the major landmarks of the housemates' geographical and economic reality: the bar, the Safeway, the Plaid, a video rental joint.
Their destination in sight, Humidor casually suggests pushing on a few more blocks to the 'Box for a beer or two, maybe some pinball, then hitting up the Plaid on their way back to the house. The suggestion is ignored by the other three. Its only half past three in the afternoon, and Humidor's mild obsession with the daytime crowd at the Pillbox Tavern is not shared.
Avenue traffic is evaded and the Plaid door goes ding-ding as the four enter and make their way to the beer coolers. Rig puts a hand on the handle of one of the doors, as if he already knows what he's doing, but just stands in anticipation as they wait in a row in front of the humming glass doors, eyes darting from price to price, minds running an obscure calculus of price and preference and quantity. Everyone sort of shuffles or leans their way into physical proximity of what they want to buy.
"Why... hello there... darlings!" El Humidor croons.
The other three glance to see what it is that Humidor is obsessing over this time, only to see Humidor standing
slackjawed at the end of the row of coolers in front of a sales display of 32 ounce bottles.
"What it is?" says Aecca, stepping out of the orbit of a 12-pack of Oly.
"That's new," posits Mudman, looking away from a fistful of Mickeys hand grenades.
"Malt liquor?" says a skeptical Rig, "that's not really our area..."
Humidor turns to face the other three. His eyes are saucers. He looks a little faint. "A buck oh five," he says.
Aecca takes a sudden step back, as if the words were a shove. Rig starts scratching at his chin in thought. Mudman grabs one of the bottles and reads the label.
Mudman: "Seven point five percent."
Aecca: "At a dollar five each?!"
Mudman: "Sandoon. Funny name..."
Rig: "And five cents deposit..."
Humidor starts piling bottles into his arms. The others break rank and do the same.
Five minutes later the four biggest grins ever seen emerge from the Plaid. A plastic bag clutched in every man's hand, clinking with the sound of high-content low-cost liquid intoxicants. Briskly they walk, making the trek back in considerably less time. Upon arrival the usually sullen, argumentative High Style is momentarily filled with laughter and joviality.
Aecca squats on his haunches finding empty spots in the miasma of the house fridge, the other three taking turns passing him 32 ounce bottles out of the plastic bags. Aecca occasionally mutters and curses a "what the fuck is this?" as he examines some forgotten to-go box or brown paper bag, before thrusting it into the air behind him, where upon someone unceremoniously takes it and throws it into an overflowing trash can.
"Probably should take the trash out," Rig meekly suggests, as himself, Mudman and Humidor grab a bottle and mob out into the living room. Mudman alights to an overturned milkcrate next to the house's Frankenstein stereo arrangement and digs through an old shoebox full of cassette tapes labeled in a variety of styles and legibility and interpretation. His fingers hover for a moment before fishing out a tape and popping it in the deck. Staccato punk rhythms and intelligible lyrics bang out of the mismatched speakers.
"What's this? We are listening to?" asks Humidor, peeling the plastic wrapping off a new pack of cigarettes.
Mudman cracks the cap of his 32, "Polish punk comp tape."
"I found that in the Crocodile bargain bin," says Rig.
Aecca emerges from the kitchen, his stocking of the fridge complete, "we should try and get a second fridge. For beer only." He sits down in the chair by the window, nod at Humidor, who tosses him a cigarette.
Aecca opens his beer, pauses. Everyone briefly glances at each other, then takes the first gulp. Faces sour.
"Beer with the flavor of fruit? Will this land never cease to amaze me?" Humidor takes a second, enthusiastic pull.
Mudman eyes the label on his bottle, reads aloud: "Tropical Splash."
"Whatever the fuck that means," says Aecca, half-absently taking another slug.
"Nectar! Sweet sweet nectar!" El Humidor's a third of the way into his bottle already (that's a little under 12 ounces for those keeping score at home).
"I admit, once you get past the, uh, taste," muses Rig, eyeballing the bottle's contents through its narrow aperture, "its not too, uh, bad."
Decca shrugs, "beggars can't be choosers, I suppose."
"At these prices, I guess you could say it sweetens the deal!" Rig looks around the room. Answered with silence. "Oh, c'mon, gimme a gruffaw, huh? A gruffaw!?"
"Who wants another?" El Humidor's up and heading for the kitchen, his empty 32 slowly spinning on its side on the floor.
"Geez, Humey, pace yourself a litt--" begins Rig.
Humidor freezes, spins on a heel, screams! "Humidor said. WHO. WANTS. ANOTHER?"
Silence. Broken only the gulps of the other three mates sipping their 32s.
"Well, if you're up."
"Very well!" The grin and the flourish return to Humidor's demeanor. He struts to the kitchen and returns clinking, four more bottles clutched to his person.
Their palettes now accustomed to syrupy sweet malt liquor, the four cohabitants consume their second bottles in a slurry of non sequitors and inside jokes. Somehow, the old discussion of rearranging the main floor is flushed out into the open, batted somewhat disinterestedly around like the shuttlecock of bored daughters of magnates of industry, then abruptly discontinued as the focus shifts to where a band should set up to play in the living room. Aecca's a fan of bands playing before the big front window, since that way he can watch from the stairs' banister. Rig makes his typical and actually quite reasonable case for having them set up right in front of where the teevee is, so that the crowd forms a sort of ring around the band. More interactive that way, personal. Not an army of ears arrayed before a false altar. Mudman shrugs and mentions that he's always liked basement shows. The low ceilings, the physical and symbolic descent into noise and chaos. Humidor, as always, the idea of a band playing in the kitchen hilariously novel.
"Speaking of the kitchen," hints Aecca.
"Yes! Yes!" Humidor practically leaps up and heads for the kitchen to retrieve more bottles.
Rig snaps his fingers, "y'know, we should get a second fridge. For, like, beer only. A beer fridge." He absently sets a bottle cap down on his miniature robotic sofa. It clatters away across the floor into the bike graveyard.
"An excee-lent idea my frumpy frontificating friend!" says Humidor, distributing another round of brown bottles to his fellow renters. El Humidor's vocabulary becomes quite inventive when under the thumb of a few drinks.
"Frontificating?" Mudman, frowning, furrowing his brow.
Aecca leans forward, puts his empty on the coffee table, "and who, exactly, will put beer in this dedicated beer fridge?"
"Well. Uh..." Rig scratches his chin, looks distractedly at the corner of the ceiling.
"Did not the Crooked House have a second fridge, dear Mudman?" Humidor asks. Mudman nods.
"And was there beer in it?" Aecca asks.
"No. But it was nice for parties," this answer draws slow, approving nods from everyone.
"I can't believe you, you lived, in that, that hellhole," Rig's eyes glaze over with fear.
"Humidor, are you okay?" Mudman's been watching Humidor with great interest ever since Humidor started rubbing his eyes, shaking his head.
"Thees stuff," says Humidor, gesturing at the bottle in his grasp, "its, not feeling so good, anymore for me."
"Its all that fucking sugar in it," says Aecca, rubbing his temples, "I can taste the sweetness in my skull."
"Yeah I feel like, like I just ate a jar of melted twizzlers and chased it with a pint of tequila," Rig tenderly palpates his stomach.
"Humidor's hands, they are cold," his eyes darting back and forth, Humidor shakily brings a cigarette to his lips. He strikes a match and brings it up to his face. He freezes.
Within a few heartbeats everyone's watching the frozen Humidor, all swaying slightly in a boozy breeze.
Humidor springs up and back off his seat. "Fuck! Jesus! Keep away! Away from El Humidor!!" He backs up against the wall, his eyes fixed at something in the direction of the front door.
"Christ, Humey, what the fuck is your problem?!" swears Rig dismissively (as is usually the case with things involving Humidor), but nonetheless he, along with Aecca/Decca and Mudman, follow Humidor's terrified gaze.
The room is full of gasps and stifled screams as the housemates look upon the monstrosity in their living room. A towering eight or nine feet of alien organics, insectoid spheres set upon a conical head, massive body all plunging edges and space-age triangular knobs and ridges, the creature-thing coldly regarded the scared shitless flatmates with masklike hollow eyes from which behind peered nothing.
"Is that thing for real?" squeals Rig, "oh shit!"
Everyone shrieks, again, as the thing whips his gaze over to Rig. Humidor lets loose a staggered series of deep sobs as it actually takes a step forward. As it takes a second step Mudman scurries on all fours past it and into the adjunct bicycle graveyard.
"Jesus Christ what do we do!?" implores Aecca, scrambling backwards but still prone on the floor.
"Um, um, I dunno. What do you want? We mean you no harm!" Rig's talking fast, his eyes pondering escape routes, then the thing takes a quick step right over Rig's defenses (the coffee table), bends over and reaches at Rig's head with a pointy tri-appendaged hand thing. Rig slips out of its clutch, losing his cap in the process. The creature pauses to examine Rig's baseball cap.
Rig joins Aecca and the sobbing Humidor together, their backs to rear of the house. The insect-alien-monster turns to face them and raises its arms up and emits a long, low, loud scream laugh. The threesome pale and go all weak in the knees.
Mudman comes out of the kitchen into the room. He's holding a used coffee can. He looks hard at the bug-demon-thing, blinks hard. Turns the can over and empties its contents of old batteries and broken pencils onto the floor. As this trash clatters on the floor the Aecca and Rig glance back at Mudman.
"Mud'! What do we do!" screams Aecca.
"We're fucked! Fucked, I say!" prophesies Rig.
El Humidor breaks out of his panic, "is this El End of El Humidor?"
Mudman drops to his knees, puts the coffee can on the ground in front of him, and unceremoniously jams his index and middle fingers into the back of this throat. He gags, and lets loose a current of frothy red stomach contents into the can. Shaking, he looks up and wipes vomit from his cheek, the rises and brings the can over to his friends. They are fleetingly skeptical, but Rig and Aecca both take to their knees and begin retching. Humidor shrugs and pukes onto his own lap.
Panting, sweating, convulsing, the housemates peer around their suddenly quiet domicile.
They are alone.
"What was in that stuff?" Aecca stands, begins gathering the remaining half-empty Sandoons.
Still sitting on the floor, Rig flops his back against the teevee stand, picks up one of the empty 32s, "Sandoon...," he says, musing.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," says Aecca, "some fiendish plot, I'm sure. Hey, Mudman, get the rest of these out of the fridge."
"What... are you... doing?" murmurs a weak, vomit-covered El Humidor. Humidor does not take puking well. His recoveries tend to be weak and slow.
"Flushing this vile demonshit down the fucking toilet, that's what I'm doing." Aecca stands with a commanding air before the bathroom, one half-empty held out above the bowl. Silence. Lower lips are chewed. Nervous glances at the yet unopened bottles Mudman now clutches.
"Toss unopened beer?" Rig nervously toying with his hat, which he has retrieved from the floor.
"It is not natural. It is not done. Taboo!" Humidor seems re-energized, slightly.
"Being visited by a fucking, jesus, were you guys NOT JUST HERE fucking now when that, that THING was here? You guys are crazy! We are flushing this shit down the toilet."
He tips the bottle, its contents splash against the porcelain.
Silence follows, as bottle after bottle is dumped. Shame, too, a little, when the coffee can's contents are dumped. Everyone cleans up the debris in quiet reflection.
Then, Humidor bounds back downstairs in a clean change of clothes, and sing-songs: "So, who is want-ing to go the World Fam-ous Pillbox? El Hum-i-dor is buy-ing!"
Words & drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes