Image by Martin Roberts
(NOTE: The following is a continuation of my debut book from Eraserhead Press, Muscle Memory, picking up the storyline on the day after the first book ended. If you read the book, then I hope you enjoy more of this story, which I will post on this site for free over the next four weeks. If you haven’t read the book but want to get in on this fun, you can find it on Amazon.com: CLICK HERE. Thanks – Steve)
Well, That Didn’t Work
Woo, boy. OK, deep breaths here. Deep breaths… Where to begin? Edgar’s machine. Welp, it did and it didn’t work.
OK, first off, obviously, I woke up. Wasn’t expecting that to happen. Man, I had it all worked out in my head, too. I was all ready to pass on to the Great Beyond. It’s a messed up thing to prepare yourself for death, but death don’t come. I guess I just assumed it would go that way, big blue flash, whoop-de-do switcheroo, Tina comes back and I’m off to feed the grubs under Tucker’s rust bucket Ford.
Not quite. I wake up to find that:
A. The sun is up and the birds are chirping outside and I’m clearly not dead; and
B. Tina’s not back after all, but I’m not Tina no more, neither.
I’m looking up at Little Rico’s mobile right now. It’s dangling above me and the sun coming through the window is glinting off the little mirror right in my goddamn eyes, and I gotta tell ya, it’s making me just a little cranky.
But not as much as the smell. There’s a stench in here that would choke a fuckin’ billy goat. And then it really starts to hit me. Mobile overhead, white metal crib bars rising around me like I’m in some damn Disneyland jail cell. The smell of my own crapped-in drawers.
And that’s when Little Rico wakes up. He’s lying on the floor next to the crib, where I was last night when I finally passed out. He’s gotta be absolutely ravenous right now ‘cause I sure as hell don’t remember eatin’ nothing yesterday.
He’s just kinda layin’ down there, thrashing around. He kicks the crib a couple times and it feels like a damn earthquake. Half a dozen rattles and bells shake and clang in my face. It’s enough to scare the shit outta you, really. No wonder the little dude is always in here crying. We got him pent up in a demented funhouse.
I try to roll over but it takes a couple tries and makes me dizzy. Gotta relax for a sec and get my bearings here. I’ve got a 37-year old mind trying to tell a five-month old body what to do and we’re having a failure to communicate here.
Little Rico’s in full-on meltdown mode. Tina had herself a set of lungs and she could whoop it up when she wanted, and right now Little Rico’s got her cranked up to eleven. The phone’s ringing, too, but I can barely hear it over the screaming.
Now, what the hell do I do here? I have a baby in an adult body thrashing on the floor, liable to do God-knows-what to himself (herself?) if he discovers he can walk, and the best I can do is hold my head up off my chest and look around.
That’s when Julia comes in. I can see her through the bars of my baby jail, clomping into the room in big, loping Tucker strides.
“Holy shit, dude! What’s wrong? Why’re you screamin’?”
I try to say that I’m over here, in the crib, but all I can manage is a garbled mouthful of slobber.
“Oh, wait.” Julia leans down on a knee and looks at Tina’s writhing, crying body on the floor. “Oh, damn. Tina? Is that you in there, Tina?”
I forgot about the switcheroo. That ain’t Julia, that must be Tucker again, back in his own body. Lucky bastard.
“Yo, Julia! I need some help in here! I think Tina’s back and she’s goin’ apeshit!”
Yeah, that’s definitely Tuck.
“What’s wrong?” Julia, back in her own body, rushes in and drops down next to Rico-Tina. She looks at Tucker and says, “Is it really her?”
“Shit, I don’t know. I heard her screamin’ from our house and came runnin’. She ain’t said word one yet, just kickin’ and carryin’ on like this. Billy usually just passes out when he gets all worked up.”
I do not! “Aburdababullba.” I tried to say it, anyway.
“Tina?” Julia grabs hold of Rico-Tina’s shoulders and says real calmly, “Tina, honey, it’s me. It’s Julia. I need you to calm down.”
Rico stops crying and sits there looking at Julia, sniffling and dripping snot.
“Tina. You’re back now. It’s over.”
Rico just sits there watching her. He always liked Julia. She seemed to have a way with him that calmed him down. Meantime, I’m laying here in the crib trying my damndest to say something, but the old vocal cords just aren’t quite up to snuff. In my head I’m yelling Tucker’s name, but all that comes out is a burbling mess of gibberish.
Tucker looks at me and says, “Hey little dude, everything’s gonna be alright. You just hang on a minute and when momma feels a little better she’ll whip ya up some titty.”
Julia swats him on the arm. “Stop talking to him like that, dummy. I swear, between you and Billy, that poor kid’s first word is gonna be a curse word.”
I say, “Murflburbulburbis.” That ain’t what I’m trying to say.
Rico’s just looking around kinda stunned. Something’s firing up there in his head, but he don’t understand any of it. And just imagine if I start crying right now and Tina starts leaking again. And what if he sees it? Would he try to feed himself?
Holy shit, I can’t think about that. Bad image! Bad image!
“Tina, if you understand me, say something.”
Julia gets only a blank look in response.
“Something’s not right here.”
“Well, shit no, it’s not right,” Tucker says. “She’s just spent the past twenty-four hours dead inside Billy’s head. What if she was awake the whole time? What if she was in there and could hear all of it? Think about that. She heard all the crap with the FBI guys. She listened to us stuff her into the freezer, and sat there turning into a Popsicle, only to be yanked out and tossed into the ground…”
They sit there looking at each other and contemplating all the horrible things that dead Tina might have experienced. The whole time, I’m trying to tell them what’s really going on, but it’s no use. My mouth is like mush.
“Dugberberbah.” That ain’t “Tucker” but it’s getting there. And I got drool running all down the front of me. I kick my feet and jabber like a fool, but they act like I’m not even there. Then Little Rico says something in the neighborhood of “motherboard”.
Julia says, “What? Did you just say smorgasbord?”
“I think she said muddy toad.”
Little Rico says, “Apusampie.”
Tucker snaps his fingers in front of Rico’s face. “I think she’s insane. Or she wants to give somebody named Apu some pie.”
Julia scrunches up her face and taps her teeth with her fingernails. “Grab me that rattle over there.”
Tucker plucks a baby blue plastic rattle from the toy box next to the crib. Julia shakes it in front of Little Rico and he grabs it with Tina’s hands and shakes it himself. I’m pitching a fit now, spittle flying around in long strands and running down the bars of the crib.
“Duggah, Jewaha, Duggah, Jewaha.” I got a weird Hebrew-sounding chant going on over here. Julia finally looks at me and gets it.
“No… flippin’… way.”
I bob my head up and down at her and say, “Jewaha, Jewaha.”
“What?” Tucker looks at me too. Takes him a minute longer. He’s gotta look back and forth between Rico and me before his fried synapses finally make a spark.
I look him in the eyes and say, “Duggah.”
When he gets it, his face goes dead-fish white and he passes out cold.
And he calls me a fainter.
* * *
So here we are again. Sitting at my kitchen table, looking around at each other, wondering what the fuck is going on. Little Rico’s slamming down a bottle, his second one already. Julia found some powdered formula in the cupboard and mixed it up for him. She tried to give him a graham cracker, thinking since Julia had teeth and such that he’d be able to eat regular food, but he nearly choked on it. Chewing ain’t real high on his list of motor skills yet. Of course if it was a nipple, he woulda ripped that sucker to shreds.
I’m in Rico’s high chair. Unfortunately, chewing ain’t exactly in my repertoire right now, either. They’re trying to give me my own bottle, but there ain’t no way I’m drinking that shit.
“C’mon Billy.” Julia tries to shove it in my face again, but I give it a ninja chop and send it spinning to the floor.
“Dammit,” she says. “You need to eat something.”
I wanna tell her to get bent and fetch me a grilled cheese or an omelet or something. But then I remember that teeth would be required to eat those, so instead I just cross my chubby little arms over my chest.
“Billy, this isn’t for you. This is for Rico. You need to understand that this little situation you’re in can be fixed, but until that happens, everything you do right now affects your son. And your infant son needs the vitamins and nutrients that are in this bottle.” She snatches the bottle off the floor and sets it on the tray in front of me. “Now drink, you little brat.”
She’s right, of course. But that shit is so awful. Just the smell of it makes me wanna upchuck. Give me the natural stuff any day. Of course, that tap is not in service at this moment. Not gonna sidle up to my infant son’s breasts and catch a snack. Jesus, if I wasn’t already going to hell for everything that’s happened, just the thought of that should punch my ticket.
Fine. I nod my head. Julia picks up the bottle and shoves it in my mouth, a little rougher than need be, I might add. I suck out some formula and spit it at her.
“Hey, watch it jerk.”
Tucker says, “Easy, Julia. He’s just a little baby. He don’t know what he’s doin’.”
“Tucker, he’s a grown man in there. He knows exactly what the hell he’s doing. And right now, he’s acting like a baby, which I guess is only natural for you guys regardless of how grown up your body is.”
Tucker takes the bottle from her. “Here, I’ll do it. You go make sure Baby Momma over there doesn’t discover what his topside lady parts are actually for. Be kinda like having your cake and eating it, too.”
He looks at me and gives me one of those Oh Shit faces. “Yikes, sorry. That comment was just all kinds of inappropriate, wasn’t it?”
I cock my head at him. Duh, ya think?
“I know, I really didn’t mean that. This is just so messed up. First you’re your wife, now you’re your own kid, and your kid’s your wife. Even West Virginians would say that’s fucked up. I don’t even know how to begin to figure out what to do next.”
You and me both, pal.
“Well, at least you’re not a sheep.”
Edgar. I forgot all about him. And his machine.
“Oh damn, Edgar,” Tucker says like he’s reading my mind again. “We need to get over there and check on him.”
“You guys go on,” Julia says. “I’ll make sure Billy, er Rico, doesn’t go anywhere. Man, this is getting confusing.”
No shit. And speaking of shit, I really have to take a crap and I have no choice but to do it in my pants. Tucker’s not gonna be real happy with me in a couple minutes.
He scoops me up with one hand and we head over to Edgar’s. Nobody answers the front door. I try to tell Tucker that he’s probably in the barn.
“What’s that, dude?”
I point at the barn and say, “Bawbah.”
No, dummy, barn! You try to say it with a soft palate that feels like pudding. “Bawbah, bawbah.”
Tucker looks around. “I don’t see a ball bat, dude. Besides, I don’t think it would be cool to bash in his front door with a baseball bat. He’s probably in the barn, anyway.”
Now you got, genius. I clap my fat little hands for him. He doesn’t quite pick up on the sarcasm.
“Aw, you havin’ fun little guy?” Then he tickles me under my chin. His fingers feel like sandpaper, but I can’t help but let out a little giggle, as if this wasn’t creepy enough already. I shake a baby fist at him and promise him in slobbery gibberish that the second I get back to normal, I’m kicking his fucking ass.
“Well, right back atcha little fella.”
We get to Edgar’s barn and Tucker bangs on the door.
“Yo, Edgar! It’s Tucker. You in there?”
Silence for a second, then a sad sounding, “Yeah.”
“You still got your wool sweater?”
The door swings open and Edgar shuffles out on four sheep hooves.
“It didn’t work,” he says. Then he looks up and me and Tucker. “Wait, Tucker? That’s actually you in there?”
“Yeah, it worked for me and Julia last night. We’re back, baby. But what about you?”
He shakes his sheep head. “I came in here last night, uncovered the machine and got it all turned on, and that’s when I remembered the Feds took my body away yesterday. I’m probably off in some government bunker somewhere with a prod up my butt and wires stuck to my boys.”
Tucker grins at me and says, “Sounds like a typical Saturday night for you, Edgar.”
I snort and spit up a little formula on his arm. And I’m pretty sure I sharted. He looks at the white stuff on his arm. “Aw, man. That’s gross.”
You don’t even know the half of it yet, dude.
“Always with the jokes,” Edgar says. “Even in a situation as serious as this.” He looks at me. “So if the machine does work, then that means… Oh no. Billy’s gone, isn’t he? And Tina? Did Tina…”
“Well, about that. Kind of a snag.” Tucker looks at me and says, “You wanna tell him or you want me to?”
I’ll handle it, dude. I say, “Hi Egger.”
As royally screwed as this situation is, I must admit it’s kinda fun to see the reactions here. Edgar’s sheep eyes get all wide and his sheep mouth drops open.
“Wa-a-a-a-ait a second, did Little Rico just talk? Did he just say ‘Edgar’?”
“Yeah, he did. But he ain’t Little Rico. Wave to the nice sheep-man, Billy.”
I wave my chubby little hand at Edgar.
“What the f-u-u-u-u-u-“
“Excuse me, folks.”
Tucker spins us around to face Agents Tim and Joey. “Jesus, guys,” he says. “You scared the shit outta me. Stop sneaking around like that.”
They stammer and shuffle their feet and look at each other nervously. Agent Tim rubs the back of his neck and won’t look us in the eyes. Neither of them seems to be himself this morning.
Agent Joey says, “Folks, we, uh… We have a situation here.”
Tucker sniffs the air. “You smell that?” He looks down at me and sniffs again and takes his typical Tucker-minute to figure out the obvious. “Aw, man! No way you just did that!”
* * *
“You might as well learn to do it now.” Julia’s standing next to the changing table grinning like crazy at Tuck. He’s got a fresh diaper in one hand and a bottle of baby ass powder in the other.
“You said last night the first thing you want to do when this all gets fixed is start a family, remember.”
Tucker looks down at me and says, “Yeah, and I do, but I don’t think this is quite the same.”
“Baby shit’s baby shit,” she says. “Besides, he’s your friend.”
His shoulders drop and he edges a little closer to the table. The smell hits him again and he looks like he’s about to toss. Any other day, I wouldn’t let Tucker near my kid with a diaper in hand, but that was before yesterday. Now, I just want somebody to get this shitty rag off of me, I don’t care who it is. I clap my hands and jabber something in the neighborhood of, “Let’s get this show on the road.”
“Alright, alright.” He takes a deep breath and dives in.
Now, I’m a proud poppa and I like to brag on my son all the time, but you gotta believe me when I say that the kid is packing some serious heat. That ain’t some big fish tale, either. I’m talking John Holmes, Jr. The little dude may never walk straight with the poundage he’s haulin’ down low. Tucker peels back the diaper real slow, like radioactive waste is going to leap out at him.
“Holy shit,” Tucker says. “This kid’s a carnival freak. Congrats, Billy. If you’re half the man your son is, I’m jealous.”
Julia says, “Alright, enough of that. Let’s get this over with and find out what the hell the FBI guys are crowing about.” She stands next to him and tells him what to grab and where to use the disposable wipes. The second that cold, wet thing hits my ass I lose all control. Tucker’s got no chance and I hose him down. Looks like a water cannon shooting into the air, like Mentos in Diet Coke. I think I even get some in his hair.
“Dude! Aw… Dude! That was NOT cool!”
No, not really.
“Your first diaper change,” Julia says with a huge smile on her face. “I think this is a moment we’ll never forget.”
* * *
“What I’m about to tell you does not go beyond this room.” Agent Tim adjusts his tie and clears his throat. We’re all seated at my kitchen table watching him as he tries to be as professional as a guy who slept in his suit last night can be. “I’m sure you know there was another incident last night. More switches have occurred, including…”
He looks at Agent Joey, who nods his head. Tim says, “Including us.”
Tucker stops drying his hair with a towel for a sec and says, “Wow. Ya know, I never would have guessed. You guys really do act quite a bit alike.”
Joey says, “We are trained to handle most stressful situations with calm, but this one has us a bit… on edge.”
Tim says, “I’m freakin’ a little over here.”
Rico knocks over the bottle in front of him and farts, a good, loud ripper. The noise surprises him and he giggles and says, “Abu Dhabi.”
Joey looks at him and says, “Mr. Gillespie, are you feeling OK?”
I say, “Goey. I Biwwie.”
Tucker says, “Wow, you’re getting’ pretty good, dude.”
Agent Tim, whose only real difference is the fact that he’s now a black guy, says, “Is that baby talking?”
Joey, now in the skinnier, taller body of Agent Tim, leans forward to get a closer look at me. “Oh no. You didn’t sleep in the baby’s room last night, did you?”
“Ya. Iwasa assigent.”
Joey looks at Julia. “What did he say?”
“I think he said it was an accident.”
“Yeah. That seems to be going around lately.”
Edgar trots into the middle of the room and plops down on his haunches. “I wanna know where my body is. I could be back to normal right now if you a-a-a-assholes didn’t kidnap me yesterday. My civil rights are bein’ violated here.”
Agent Joey seems to be quite a bit calmer than his partner, who’s just standing there staring at me with his mouth kinda open. Joey says, “Mr. Winter, we apologize for the inconvenience, but your body was removed as a matter of national security. We’re trying to figure this out as fast as we can.”
“Lot of good you guys are. You can’t even keep it from happening to yourselves.”
“Yes, that was unexpected. We were not informed of the signal’s reemergence in time.”
Edgar says, “Um, signal?”
Joey realizes he just let the cat out of the bag. He thinks for a sec then says, “OK, what I’m about to tell you is classified. You may not repeat this information to anyone.” Joey looks at Tim, but he’s not really with us right now. Joey keeps going. “There were reports of an unknown signal originating from somewhere in this town. A… foreign signal, previously unrecorded. Without getting into too much, I’ll just say that it… interacted with an existing government signal and something happened. That’s why we were sent here yesterday.”
Sonuvabitch. Just like Terry Bradshaw said in my dream last night.
“But we couldn’t find the signal anywhere, it was gone. Then it came back on last night and it happened again. Our superiors informed us this morning that there has been another rash of new incidents all over town, but also reports of reversal of the original mix up, as was the case with the Dentons here. I didn’t inform our superiors of our condition, however.” He paused and stared out the window.
“I don’t know why I didn’t. I should have. Hell, I have a responsibility to do so. But I just couldn’t. They’ve issued a pull out order for every agent and unaffected person and quarantined the entire area. This town is now completely surrounded and the federal government has no intention of letting anyone in or out of here.”
Agent Joey looks at each one of us. I didn’t think it was possible for Tim’s face to be any more serious, but Joey manages it. He says, “Before the signal disappeared again early this morning, they managed to pinpoint it to somewhere in this general vicinity. A containment crew is gearing up right now and they’re going to tear apart about three square miles until they find the source of that signal. We are smack dab in the middle of that search area.” Joey looks at Edgar. “Now that I’ve told you this, is there anything you guys want to tell me?”
We all look at each other. I guess the jig is finally up. Julia nods at Edgar.
“In my barn,” he says. “There’s a machine. The source of your signal. It’s alien technology from the nineteen-fifties.”
Joey doesn’t say anything, just looks real grim and serious. Julia says real worried, “What will they do with us?”
“You will all be detained. As will we. I don’t know what is going to happen to us.”
Tucker says, “Well that’s not very reassuring. You work for these guys, why are you telling us this? Shouldn’t you be lying to us and trying to make us feel better about this situation?”
“Normally, yes, but this is the government we’re talking about. We all have good reason to worry.”
Just then we hear the distant thump of a helicopter.
“That’s them,” Joey says. “They’ll be here soon, before the sun goes down.”
Tucker says, “So what the hell are we supposed to do?”
Tucker looks at me. “What?”
I clear a little baby mucus from my throat and try again. “Tewwie Badshaw.” Alright, got a ‘D’ out.
Julia rolls her eyes. “God, Billy, who cares about football right now?”
Of course she doesn’t get it, but right away Tucker senses I’m trying to say something important. Any mention of TB gets the attention it deserves in these parts. I’d hug him right now if I could.
“Whatcha trying to say, Billy? What about Terry Bradshaw?”
I take a deep breath. This is gonna take awhile.
* * *
Tucker’s chugging real hard on it. Some of it is sticking, but not all of it. “So, Terry Bradshaw told you what was happening, but he gave you, like, three different explanations?”
“And you think he knows what’s really going on?”
“And you think we need to bring him here to figure everything out because he explained it all in a dream?”
Tucker looks at everybody else. “Makes sense enough to me. Let’s go snatch us a Hall of Fame quarterback.”
Julia just laughs, one of those kinds of laughs that sound like they’re spit out of her mouth. “You gotta be shitting me, Billy.”
Little Rico says, “Sitting me, Bibby.”
“Watch youw wangwauge, Juwia.”
“Sorry, Billy, but this is ridiculous. You’re suggesting that we bust through a government quarantine and drive to, what, New York? Or Los Angeles? Do you even know where this guy is at? All so we can kidnap a washed-up ex-football player and bring him here because he told you what was going on in a freakin’ dream? Do you not realize how crazy that sounds?”
Tucker says, “I think they do their NFL show in New York.”
“Juwia, it’s about as cwazy as saying I’m stuck in da body of my five-monf owd baby son.”
Tucker says, “Hey, you’re getting really good at talking, dude.”
Julia looks to Agent Joey for some help. He holds his hand out to her as if to say hold on there a sec. “I hear what you’re saying, ma’am, and I understand your point, but…”
“But? BUT? What the hell do you mean, but? You can’t seriously be considering this idea.”
“Well, frankly ma’am, in the past thirty hours, I’ve seen more stuff that hasn’t made sense to me than has. And this idea has as much merit as anything I had in mind.”
“Juwia, what do we have to wose here?”
“How about our lives, Billy? If you try to leave town, they’re gonna shoot you. Don’t you remember ‘Outbreak’?”
“You weawy need to stop watching dose VHS tapes.”
“OK, fine, whatever. I won’t take part in this, so you guys can just go do what you want. Get shot, see if I care.” She gets up from the table and storms out to the living room.
“I guess I better go talk to her,” Tucker says.
Tucker goes out to the living room. I hear the TV click on and the volume go up, drowning out the sound of Tucker’s voice as he tries to reason with her. All I can hear is Matt Lauer.
“The Today Show is live from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania this morning, and joining us in about thirty minutes will be Fox NFL analyst and Steelers legend, Terry Bradshaw.”
Then I hear Tucker. “Whoa, what did he say?”
Julia says, “I don’t frickin’ believe it.”
Tucker comes rushing back to the kitchen. “Dude, they just said on the news Bradshaw’s in Pittsburgh, right now!”
Agent Joey jumps up, a little awkward given his taller, skinnier, pasty white frame. “How far is Pittsburgh from here?”
“It’s ownwy wike firty minutes away!”
Julia stands in the hall watching as three eager faces look her way. She throws up her hands. “OK, whatever. Let’s go to Pittsburgh, I guess.”
Edgar presses his nose against the screen door, munching away at some grass. “Did somebody just say we’re goin’ to Pittsburgh?”
To be Continued…