Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle, More Memory! (Part VII)

Image by Martin Roberts

(NOTE: The following is the final installment of four parts that make up the 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 have enjoyed more of this story, which you will be able to download an either a PDF or eBook soon. If you haven’t read the the first part of Muscle Memory but want to get in on this fun, you can find it on Amazon.com: CLICK HERE. Thanks – Steve)

Previous installments:

Part IV – Well, That Didn’t Work (READ IT HERE)

Part V – Roadtrip! (READ IT HERE)

Part VI – Matt Lauer, Muthafucka! (READ IT HERE)

Part VII

What Would Kirk Cameron Do?

If I wasn’t freaking out and running for my life, I would be rolling on the ground laughing my ass off. The machine worked. Oh man, did it work. The SWAT guys shat themselves. Nobody cared about us anymore, especially when Joey turned on them with his SWAT guy rifle and chased them off.

OK, real quick:

I’m back in Tina and Rico’s back in himself. He seems pretty pleased about it. Just keeps looking at his hands and gurgling. Personally, I’ve never been happier to be sporting a set of tits and a va-jay-jay again.

Unfortunately, Tucker and Julia are back in each other, but compared to the alternative – our corpses lying back in the mine, leaking from a hundred bullet holes – they seem to be pretty cool with it.

Joey made out like a bandit. He switched with the SWAT guy that was nearest to him. He went from a skinny white dude with a taser to a badass SWAT honcho with a machine gun and all kinds of sweet gear. As soon as the switch went down, he sprung on the rest of his crew, knocking them over and generally scaring the hell out of them by pointing his gun in their suddenly unfamiliar faces. They didn’t know what was happening, and before they knew what hit them, we were gone.

We’re coming up on the house now and the light’s starting to fade. Joey checks the lay of the land, but there don’t seem to be nobody around. No need to be here, I suppose, when they knew we were in the mine.

Julia stops and everybody turns to look at her. “OK, we need a plan,” she says in her newly re-acquired Tucker voice. “What do we do now?”

“We need to get you guys switched back,” Joey says.

“What about you?”

Lord knows where Joey’s real body is now. Since we got the van, Tim has been MIA and I’m guessing they got him, or he went back and turned himself in. That would explain how they knew where to find us.

“Don’t worry about me. I’ll take care of that on my own time. But you folks need to get straight and then disappear.”

I say, “What about Edgar?”

“Nothing we can do for him, either, if he’s alive. Besides, they have his real body and there’s no way we’ll be able to get to that. This is the best we can do for you now.”

It’s a shitty deal, and I hate to do it to Edgar, but SWAT Joey is right. There’s nothing we can do for him. It won’t be long before the BODY SWAP team stops freaking out and comes after us. My guess is they’ll be plenty pissed, too, and won’t be stopping to tell us to get on the ground this go around. We are most definitely out of time.

“Alright,” I say to Joey, “how do we do this?”

“Tucker and Julia, you two head home and stay together.”

I look and Rico. “What about us? We just got him right. I can’t be switching back with my son again.”

“About that…” Joey grabs my arm and leads me toward my house. “Listen, we need to try something radical here.”

“Radical like how?”

“Like, put Rico in his crib, make him nice and comfortable, close the door to his room to make sure none of your pets and anyone else goes in there. Then you go over to Tucker’s barn and have a seat on the ground where you guys buried your body.”

Actually, that makes a hell of a lot of sense. Kind of wish I would have thought of that last night.

But that also means one of two things will happen. Either I stay who I am because Tina’s really dead, or one more switch puts me where I belonged in the first place.

“You understand what that means, right?”

I look SWAT Joey in the eyes and nod, but my “Yep” gets stuck in my throat.

“OK,” he says. “You get there right now and wait about ten minutes. I’ll head back the way we came, throw the switch on the machine one more time, and hold off the SWAT guys for as long as I can. As soon as the switch goes down, Tucker and Julia will come check on Rico and… Tina. Or whichever one of you is in there. And you all jump in a truck and get the hell out of here. Find a way through the containment line. You should be able to get out because everything is in disarray. There’s bound to have been switches all over the line and the longer we wait, the longer they’ll have to collect themselves. We have to move fast before they can get square again.”

“There’s a lot left to chance in this plan,” Julia says.

“I know, but what options do we have left?”

Julia just nods ‘cause she can’t think of anything better. Tucker comes up to me and wraps Julia’s arms around my Tina shoulders. “Dude,” he says. “If I don’t get another chance to say this, I want you to know you’re my best friend.”

He lets go and steps back. It’s getting dark out, but I’m pretty sure I can see tears in his eyes. “Same to you, dude.”

Julia puts a meaty Tucker hand on my shoulder and squeezes. “Good luck, Billy. No matter what happens, we’ll be there for Rico and Tina. Or you.”

“Thanks, Julia.”

They linger another second and then hurry off to their house. I pump Joey’s hand and say the only thing I can think to say to him. “Thanks.”

He nods. “Hurry up, now. You’ve got ten minutes and then I’m throwing this switch.”

He takes off into the woods.

I head for home.

* * *

I clean Little Rico up and he’s asleep before I get him in the crib. I know I ain’t got much time, but I stay there an extra minute to look at him. I know that it’s probably the last time I’ll get to. I want to stay there and rock him and smell him and listen to him breathe, but I can’t. There’s no more time for that. I kiss him on his forehead and close the door behind me.

Demolisher and Princess Diamond Roses are sitting in the living room watching me.

“You two, stay there. This will all get right real soon.”

Princess Diamond Roses barks at me in response and Demolisher lifts a huge Mastiff paw to his mouth and licks it, clearly not interested in anything I have to say.

Tucker’s barn is kind of a wreck from the party there the night before. Rubber bullets are still all over the ground from when the SWAT dudes shot up Danny Boy. But they ain’t playing with kid gloves this time. No more rubber bullets. This shit got real. I rip away the yellow caution tape over the door and sit down on the ground in front of Tucker’s truck. Just below me is me. And her.

I close my eyes and set my palms on the dirt floor. Any minute now, Joey will throw the switch, and I’ll find out if I’m dead.

But first, a shuffling sound nearby disturbs the silence inside the barn. I open my eyes and look up at a dark form standing before me, backlit by the fading sunlight of the day. For a second, I think maybe I’m having another dream, like the night before. Maybe Terry Bradshaw has come back to answer my questions again, put everything straight for me before the final switcheroo.

But it’s not Terry Bradshaw, God rest his Super-Bowl-winning soul.

A flashlight clicks on in my eyes and the beam blinds me for a second, then it’s gone. I open my eyes and look at the illuminated face hovering before me in the darkness of the barn.

“Kirk Cameron?”

“Hi, Billy.”

What the fucking shit? Did the switch happen? Am I imagining this? Am I already in Hell? That must be it, I died and now I’m in Hell.

“You’re probably wondering what I’m doing standing here.”

“Are you the angel of death, Kirk Cameron?”

He laughs and clicks the flashlight off. “No, I’m not the angel of death. I’m looking for something.”

I can’t even begin to imagine what Kirk Cameron would be looking for in my neighbor’s pole barn, in the middle of a quarantined area, so I ask him to explain himself. “Um…”

“Actually,” he says as he squats in front of me and switches off the flashlight, “I’m looking for a machine. I’m sure you know what machine I’m talking about.”

“Um…”

“Small, really lightweight, kind of looks like something that was made out of Home Shopping Network products?”

“Yeah… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Kirk laughs. “It’s OK, I’m not going to hurt you over it.”

“You hurting me wasn’t really what I was worried about, Kirk Cameron.”

“Here’s the thing: I need to find that machine. It’s pretty important and it’s kind of my job.”

“How is finding an alien switcheroo machine your job? Ray Comfort put you up to this, didn’t he?”

Kirk Cameron sidles over and sits next to me on the ground. “No, nothing like that. Ray Comfort and I really aren’t friends. Actually, much of my public persona is really a front. In all honesty…” He pauses for effect and looks me in the eyes, the auburn sunlight faintly illuminating half of his face. “I’m an undercover agent.”

“Ha!” I accidentally spit on him a little. “You’re shitting me, right?”

He smiles congenially and wipes my saliva off his cheek with the back of his hand. “Sounds totally nuts, right?”

“Well, duh.”

“Which is why it makes me the perfect covert agent.”

“Covert agent for who?”

“That’s Top Secret.”

“Fine, don’t tell me. But at least explain what the hell you’re doing here.”

“Like I said, I’m looking for the machine.”

“How do you even know about the machine?”

“Well, it all began in 1987-”

“Hold up a sec, dude. Is this a long story?”

“It was going to be, yeah. Why?”

“Because in, like, two minutes, the switcheroo machine is going off again to set us straight. But if you’re here, you’re going to be stuck in my wife’s body, and I’m going to be stuck in yours. And I don’t think either of us wants that.”

“You’re right. You want the short version?”

“Please.”

Kirk Cameron cracks his fingers. “OK, here it is. The government came to me after the release of my body-switching film ‘Like Father, Like Son’. Seems that a switching machine really did exist and, based on my familiarity with the strange effects of body-switching, coupled with my unique ties to a very specific situation, I was the only man for the job.”

“That really doesn’t explain why they chose you.”

“Because of my connection to its inventor.”

“Who was…?”

“My father.”

“Really? How’d he build it?”

“Aliens showed him.”

“Where is he now?”

“Don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Aliens took him.”

“Why do you need the machine?”

“That’s how I’ll find him.”

“Aliens leave a forwarding address on it or something?”

“Yes.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Damn.”

“So, where is it?”

“SWAT guy Joey has it.”

“Where’s SWAT guy Joey?”

I point out the door to the woods. “That way.”

Kirk Cameron nods and stands. “Then I’ll take it from here. Good luck, Billy. Thanks for your help.”

“You’re welcome, Kirk Cameron. Hope you find your pops. Now, you better get out of here before we do the flip-flop.”

Kirk Cameron heads for the door. Just before he leaves, I say to him, “I never saw any of your movies after you got all churchy.”

“That’s alright. They were bankrolled by the government to be used on captured insurgents as a form of psychological torture, anyway.”

“And that whole crocoduck thing? That’s real, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

“I knew it.”

“Take care, Billy.” He looks down at the ground beneath me. “I’m sure when this is over, your wife and kid will be fine.”

Kirk Cameron smiles and turns and walks out the door, disappearing into the dusk.

It’s real quiet after he leaves. No crickets making noise, none of the normal night sounds. I wonder if they’ve switched as well. Nothing is what it was before. Nothing will be again, either.

I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Even once all this gets set right, it’ll still be different. No, that’s not a bad thing at all. I guess that’s the way it was supposed to be, anyways.

There’s a lot I still don’t know, won’t never learn the answers to. And you know what? I’m good with that. There ain’t answers for every little thing. Sometimes, it’s got to be matter over mind.

But as I look up into the bright blue flash of light that’s filling the evening sky, I am certain of one thing: Kirk Cameron is right.

I’m sure my wife and kid will be fine.

THE END

Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle, More Memory! (Part VI)

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)

Previous installments:

Part IV – Well, That Didn’t Work (READ IT HERE)

Part V – Roadtrip! (READ IT HERE)

Part VI
Matt Lauer, Muthafucka!

I wake up with a start. Musta passed out as soon as we hit the road, because I don’t remember shit about the drive. Tucker’s gently shaking me.

“Hey dude, we’re here. Let’s go.”

“Holy shit, how long have I been sleeping?”

“About a half hour. Traffic was a little hairy around the stadium where the Today Show is filming, but Joey found a good spot in the back lot. Flashed his G-Man badge and pulled some heavy shit on the rent-a-cop attendant.”

“Cool. Now what do we do?”

We pile out of the van and look around and I know exactly where we are.

“Oh, shit, Heinz Field!” We’re on the outside, gawking up at exterior of the huge stadium, home of America’s real football team, fuck the Cowboys. I’d be more excited if we weren’t here to kidnap a quarterback.

There’s a couple big-ass truck trailers with satellite dishes bolted to the roofs and long snakes of cable running out from them. They’re parked outside a huge gate that leads to a long tunnel. On the other end of the tunnel is a metal frame work on top of the greenest grass, and the distant sound of amplified voices. They must have the stage set up on the field for the Today Show. The rest of the area is cordoned off, and luckily, there’s no one milling around back here at the moment.

To the right of the satellite trucks sits a dirty trailer. Yellowed curtains are pulled over the windows so we can’t see in, but I can hear the faintest strains of some sort of country music.

Tucker points to the trailer. “I betcha he’s in that one.”

I say, “How can you possibly know that? We haven’t seen anyone back here yet.”

“I’m telling you, that’s our boy in yonder trailer. Terry Bradshaw is diva as fuck.”

Rico says, “Diva!”

“Tuck, seriously, stop cussing,” Julia says. “This baby is already gonna grow up warped as hell from all this nonsense, you don’t have to make it worse.”

“Sorry, babe. Can’t help it sometimes.”

We all look around but it’s strangely quiet. I’m getting a bad feeling. If we’re gonna do this, we better hop to it. “Hate to interrupt you two, but we need to shit or get off the pot here before somebody sees us.”

Edgar edges forward and looks around the corner of one of the satellite trucks. “Mister baby is right,” he says. “The coast is clear. I say we make like Young MC and bust a move.”

Joey slips into the open, walking casually, but swiftly, with purpose. Edgar trots right out behind him, then Tucker with Rico on his back, and Julia with me in her arms. We look like a family of carnies.

Joey gives a quick look behind the dirty old trailer and steps around to the front. We all follow. The door’s down at the opposite end of the trailer, and there’s twangy country music coming from inside. I’m pretty sure I can hear someone singing that he’s so lonesome he could cry. That’s definitely our boy.

Halfway to the door, a booming voice echoing from the stadium tunnel stops us all cold.

“You needs to tell dat bitch if she put cinnamon in my brew again, I’m a slap the taste out her mouth.”

We all look at Joey, but he’s as frozen as the rest of us. We can’t go forward, because it sounds like somebody’s huge bodyguard is coming, but we can’t go back because whoever it is will see us trying to beat a retreat back to the shadows. One way or another, we’re fucked. And here he comes around the corner.

“I’m about sick of this muthafuckin’ shit up in this fucked up…”

It’s worse than a bodyguard, or security.

It’s Matt Lauer.

He cocks his head at us and says, “What the fuck is this shit?”

What shit? Don’t know what you’re talking about. Just going for a little stroll.

Nobody responds, we just gape at him.

“You a bunch of fuckin’ mute retards or somethin’?”

Little Rico says, “Fuck retard!”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Matt Lauer steps closer, anger and violence emanating from his fantastically expensive looking suit and caked-on makeup. “It’s a closed set up in dis bitch. How the fuck you shitbags get in here?”

Joey snaps out of it and comes to our rescue. “Mr. Lauer, this is the Gillespie family from, um, up north. They’re the winners of the VIP backstage tour contest we ran last month.”

“Fuck you talkin’ about? I ain’t authorized no muthafuckin’ VIP tours on my closed muthafuckin’ set. Fuck’s wrong with you?”

Shit. Nice try, dude.

“Wait just a fuckin’ minute here.” Matt Lauer flings his coffee cup against the side of Bradshaw’s trailer.

“I know what the shit this is.” He calls back over his shoulder without taking his eyes off us, “Leroy! Get yo dumb ass over here. We got us some Scientologist fence jumpin’ muthafuckas up in this bitch!”

Tucker chokes on a laugh. “Scientologists? Dude, are you high?”

Lauer takes a menacing step toward Tucker. Rico reaches out a hand and playfully tries to grab the talk show host’s red silk tie. Rico loves him some silk.

“Did Cruise send you?”

Joey edges between Lauer and Tucker and tries to take control of the situation. “Now, Mr. Lauer, please calm down, I assure you that no one sent us here to-”

“You best step yo skinny, pale ass the fuck off me, bitch.” Lauer’s hand moves toward his jacket and I notice the bulge there for the first time. Dude’s packin’ on the set of the Today Show.

“This here my set, and I make the muthafuckin’ rules, not some punk ass white boy and his band of merry muthafuckas, you feel me dog?”

“Yeah, yeah, I feel you, but you-”

“I nothin’, bitch. You need to go back to Cruise and tell that glib punk ass that the Lauer ain’t playin’ this shit no more. Bitch wants a fight, he needs to bring his little five-foot-two ass and a stool so he can step the fuck up.”

Lauer reaches further into his jacket and it’s becoming apparent that we’re about to have a gangland shootout on the back lot of the Today Show set. (Live from Pittsburgh!) Joey’s hand is in his coat now and the both of them are twitching. Somebody’s going to draw. Agent Joey is about to cap Matt Lauer. I’m about to shit myself again.

Before the lead flies, Edgar charges. “Fuck you Matt Lauer!”

He lets out this weird, garbled war cry and drives right at Lauer. I don’t think the dude knows what the hell is coming at him at first because he just gives Edgar this puzzled, ‘Did that goat just talk’ sort of look. Then he’s drawing on Edgar, but Joey steps in. My tiny baby brain can hardly keep up. There’s a flurry of suit-coated arms and slack-covered legs and flying wool.

When the tussle ends, Joey’s kneeling on the pavement next to Lauer, whose body is twitching and quivering. A trail of foamy saliva runs down his cheek. Joey removes the stun gun from Lauer’s neck and replaces it inside his jacket. He checks Lauer’s vitals and grimaces at the growing dark stain in Lauer’s expensively tailored crotch. Then he looks up at us.

“Let’s get Bradshaw and get the hell out of here.”

From behind us, the trailer door swings open and a huge, bald mountain of a man in a smoking jacket appears in the doorway.

“What in tarnation is goin’ on out here?”

* * *

Terry Bradshaw is foaming at the mouth and he’s got his own dark circle of piss expanding from his crotch.

“Joey, you need to put that damn thing away.” Julia pushes past him into the trailer, wary of the stun gun in his hand, and kneels next to the greatest quarterback in Steelers’ history. (Fuck Ben Roethlisberger’s rapey ass.)

We all crowd around Bradshaw and look at him. I can’t get over how huge he is in real life.

Tucker says, “How the hell do we get him out of here and back to the van?”

Nobody’s got an answer for him. He says, “One thing’s for damn sure, I ain’t carrying him.”

Joey leans down and grabs Bradshaw’s right arm. “At least help me get him off the floor.”

They heave and heft and finally get him thrown over Joey’s shoulder. Bradshaw has to outweigh Agent Joey by at least a hundred pounds. His skinny Agent-Tim legs wobble under the weight and his face is bright red. “Let’s go before I pass out,” he says.

“Wait.” Julia spins around the room, looking. “We should probably disguise him somehow. We can’t just go running around with an unconscious Terry Bradshaw over your shoulder in the middle of Pittsburgh. We’ll be stoned to death.”

I point to the little table that comprises the trailer’s kitchen/dining room area. My little baby finger wobbles uncontrollably. Julia turns and looks at what I’m pointing at. A metal helmet from a knight’s suit of armor. The entire dining room area is filled with odd garments, like Terry Bradshaw got a little clepto over in wardrobe.

“Dude,” Tucker says. “Just like in your dream, right?”

I’m beginning to suspect that it wasn’t a dream. More like a vision. The part that scares me, though, is that I never really got the ending of it.

* * *

I’m startled awake by the slam of a car door. God damn, every time I hit the car seat, I completely pass out. I don’t remember shit from the time we got Bradshaw off the set and back to the van.

“The hell’s going on?”

Julia picks me up out of the car seat. “We’re back at the mine. We have to get our butts moving, there’s helicopters everywhere.”

Bradshaw is up and walking, but he looks as groggy as I feel, stumbling along as we hightail it to the mine. Nobody says shit for the whole walk back, except for an occasional mumble from Bradshaw, muffled by the knight’s helmet on his head.

“No worries, Terry Bradshaw,” Tucker tells him. “Everything’s gonna be cool.”

We get to the other end of the mine and quickly realize that everything is, in fact, not cool. Dudes dressed in all black, with black helmets and big black automatic weapons aimed at us come streaming out from behind every tree and bush. A helicopter swoops overhead, blasting us with rotor wash that pushes all of us back into the mine a bit.

We’re fucked.

Julia turns to Agent Joey and says, “What the hell do we do now?”

Agent Joey tells her, “We’re fucked.”

The SWAT guys are screaming at us to get down on the ground, closing around us in a steady crouch, pressing in, a tightening, suffocating circle. Edgar is bouncing on his hooves and peeing uncontrollably. He shrugs off the pink backpack with the alien machine. Then he screams that weird, high-pitched war cry bleat again, and goes charging out of the mine. He darts to the left and takes off into the overgrown brush and several SWAT guys take off chasing him.

Tucker grabs Julia and pushes her behind him. I’m still in Julia’s arms and now I can hardly see shit. A gun goes off and a round hits the roof of the mine entrance about twenty feet above our heads, showering us with chunks of rock and dust. These guys aren’t fucking around. They want us to get down now. I think they’re going to shoot us.

Terry Bradshaw staggers out from behind Joey, who can’t grab his arm in time. He’s mumbling something incoherent from beneath the knight’s helmet, trying to pry it off his head. The SWAT guys drop to a knee and train their weapons on him. They have no clue he’s the greatest quarterback in Steelers’ history. They think he’s a body-switched nutjob wearing medieval headgear.

I hear Edgar bleating again in the distance and another round echoes in the mine entrance. Jesus, they shot Edgar! Julia peers around from behind Tucker and I see Bradshaw stumble another step sideways then drop to the ground. His right leg is turned a weird angle underneath his wide bulk. And there’s a distinct, smoking hole in the forehead of the knight’s helmet.

No, they didn’t shoot Edgar. They shot Terry Bradshaw.

I don’t feel bad at all about crapping myself this time.

The SWAT guys are shouting at each other to hold their fire. They back off a bit, clearly confused. Tucker is taking little choppy steps toward them, spitting and red-faced, but unable to speak through his rage. Joey is stunned and motionless. Little Rico is sitting on the ground, crying and holding Tina’s hands over her ears.

They just killed Terry Bradshaw.

Shot him in the fucking head.

We’re gonna die right here. They are definitely gonna shoot us all.

I look down on the ground in front of Julia’s feet. I try to think of a prayer. Something to say to God before they light us up, but I can’t think of anything. My mind is completely blank. I don’t feel fear, or anger, or regret, or sadness. Nothing. I’m empty.

I’m looking down at a backpack.

A Strawberry Shortcake backpack.

My mind ain’t blank no more.

“Julia!”

I wiggle in her arms, but she’s looking at Tuck and the SWAT dudes.

“Julia!”

Still nothing. I lean over and bite down as hard as I can on her tit.

“Ow!” She looks down at me.

“Julia, the backpack! The machine!”

She looks at the backpack. Her gears are turning, but I’m not getting through yet.

“The machine! Get the machine out and use it!”

The light bulb finally comes on. Now she’s got it. She bends down and unzips the backpack, pulls out the switcher machine. It’s not very complicated. There’s a switch on the side, a sort of lever, like it was harvested from an old adding machine.

I say, “Put me in Rico’s lap first!”

She sets me on Rico’s legs and he looks down at me. There’s a glint in his eyes, a spark of familiarity, like he recognizes who he’s looking at, and he stops crying.

Julia reaches out and grabs Tucker’s pant leg, closes her eyes, and throws the lever.

TO BE CONTINUED WITH THE FINAL INSTALLMENT NEXT WEEK…

Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle, More Memory! (Part V)

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)

Previous installments: Part IV – Well, That Didn’t Work (READ IT HERE)

Part V

Roadtrip!

About three or four miles from the house is an old soft coal mine. Hasn’t been used for years and years, got the boards over it and the Keep Out and No Trespassing signs everywhere. Me and my brother practically grew up in there as kids. We played Indiana Jones in the old mine cars. A lot of them were rusted right to the rails. Always found something cool down there in those tunnels. Parts of somebody’s old whiskey still, ancient liquor bottles from the ‘20s when it doubled as a hideout for rum runners coming up from Florida to Chicago, sometimes an old birdcage from when the mine was still active.

I used to think about those canaries they put in there. They took them down in the mine as a warning signal. If the canary keeled over, they knew they hit deadly gasses that they couldn’t smell. My Grandpa Gillespie worked the mine when he was younger, before they shut it and moved on down the road. He said that the birds were always more accurate than any slick electronic device. It was the perfect system. Bird died, you got the hell out, simple as that. Grandpa Gillespie worked a steel forge into his fifties before he died and was the toughest sonuvabitch I ever knew, even though I never got to meet him in person. My old man worked the same forge until they shut that, too, and moved on down to another country. He was a tough dude, but never tougher than Grandpa was, according to him. The old man certainly didn’t lack for trying, though. The only time you’d catch a smile on his face was when he told a story about Grandpa Gillespie working the steel mill or the mine.

Which is where we’re fixing to head right now.

“If we can get to it without being seen, it’ll be perfect,” Tucker says. “Those shafts go down for miles, but there’s crossways passages they cut for ventilation and extra exits in case of cave-ins. We can enter through the main opening in the east side and come out about four miles away to the southwest and them agents won’t be none the wiser. Chances are they probably don’t even know it’s there.”

Julia says, “So then what, are we going to walk to Pittsburgh?”

“No, just to Charlie Cooper’s.”

“Who is Charlie Cooper?” Agent Joey says.

Julia shakes her head and says, “No way in hell, we’re not going to that bum’s place. He’ll probably shoot you on sight if he catches you out there.”

“No he won’t, Charlie’s not as bad as you think.”

“Who is Charlie Cooper?” Agent Joey says again.

“Not as bad as I think? What about that whole incident at McGillicuddy’s with the broken bottle? You forget about that already?”

“He was just playing around.”

I say, “Tuckew, he twied to swice your head off wiff a busted bottew.”

“Dude, don’t exaggerate. He couldn’t have actually sliced my head off with a bottle. You know how hard it is to decapitate somebody? There’s bone and cartilage and-”

Agent Joey shouts, “Who the hell is Charlie Cooper, and why the hell would we consider going to his place?” Everybody quiets down ‘cause he’s got one of them looks in Agent Tim’s eyes. Dude’s starting to slip a little, I think.

Julia fills him in. “Charlie Cooper fixed Tucker’s old hunk of junk Chevy a year ago, but Tucker hasn’t paid him yet. Charlie is the best mechanic around here, but he’s also the bat-shit-craziest loon in the county.”

Tucker says, “It was not a year ago, it was only ten months. And Charlie’s not bat-shit crazy. He just drinks a little too much sometimes.”

“Tucker, ten months is basically a year, and he would have killed you if he wouldn’t have been falling-on-his-ass drunk.”

“Whatever, it wasn’t like that. And all of this is beside the point, which is, we walk over to Charlie’s, get the car, haul ass to Pittsburgh, grab us some Terry Bradshaw, and get back in time for dinner so we can fix this stupid situation.”

Julia rubs her temples and closes her eyes. “Tucker, how are we going to drive the car if Charlie’s got the keys?”

Tucker thinks on that for a minute. “Guess I haven’t gotten that far yet. But I’m sure we’ll come up with something by the time we get there.” He points at Agent Joey and says, “Shit, it’s not like we don’t have federal agents on our side here. J here can just flash a badge and perform a little police brutality if it comes to that.”

Agent Joey shakes his head and rubs the bridge of his nose. “I don’t think roughing up citizens is a good idea. There has to be a better way of doing this.”

Nobody pipes up with a better way of doing this.

“OK, fine,” Tucker says as he crosses his arms like a little kid. “What’s your plan, then?”

Agent Joey thinks for a second then says, “I have a better idea, just give me a minute. You guys get the machine and gear up.”

He stalks off toward the house without another word. Julia throws her hands up, kind of looks like a puppet on a string, and says, “Well, that’s a great idea. Thanks for sharing.”

Joey either doesn’t hear her or decides to ignore her. Either way, he goes inside without so much as a look back over her shoulder.

Tucker says, “Are we sure it’s a good idea to put a government worker in charge?”

“Whatevew, guys. Wets dust stop boo-sitting and get weady to head out.”

We hurry over to Edgar’s barn. He’s pulling straw away from the machine, which looks a little like an old fashioned telegraph but with a couple metal disks on each side that look suspiciously like retractable metal colanders.

I stab a chubby baby finger at it and say, “Dis is awien technowogy?”

“What?” Edgar bobs his head. I think he’s trying to shrug his sheep shoulders, but it looks to be harder than he anticipated. “It’s from the fifties. What do you think it would look like?”

“Not wike sumfing Tuckew could make in his powe bawn.”

Tucker says, “In my poor bon?”

Julia says, “Pretty sure he said pole barn.”

“Fank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Whatever,” Edgar says. “The thing works. How it looks is beside the frickin’ point. Somebody with fingers and thumbs just grab the damn thing already.”

Tucker would probably be scratching his head right now if he wasn’t holding me in his arms. “Are we bringing that thing with us?”

“Well, yeah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. We can’t just leave it here for the Feds to take. What the hell would be the point of everything we’re doing?”

“Well, is it heavy?”

Tucker lifts the machine, about the overall size of a typewriter, up off the hay bale. The thing looks like a boat anchor, but Tuck plucks it up without straining. “Wow. It weighs next to nothing. That’s amazing. It must be some new metal alloy, like that stuff in Terminators.”

“Dude, dat was wiquid metew. Dis fing wooks wike it was made from a Sawad Shootew.”

“A what?”

“Sawad Shoot- nevewmind.”

Tucker turns it over and examines it real close, but Edgar nudges him with his head. “Yeah, great. Amazing discovery. Now can we please go before the men with the guns get here?”

Tucker says, “Looks like some kind of nameplate on the bottom. Maybe it’s like a brand name or something.”

“Yeah, a brand name,” Julia says. “Because aliens need to maintain brand identity between their different body switcher machinery.”

“Well, there’s something written on here. Like a name or something. Looks like a doctor’s signature. ‘K. Cumberbund,’ maybe?”

Agent Joey walks into the barn and says, “We’re all set.” He stops short when he sees the machine. “Is this it?”

Tucker hands the machine to him and Joey hefts it in his hands. “Wow. That’s amazing. It weighs almost nothing.”

Julia shoulders past them and heads for the door. “Well, what are we doing standing here playing with ourselves for? Those other assholes in sunglasses are going be here any second and I really don’t want to be around when it happens. What about you ladies?”

Joey pulls his sunglasses from his breast pocket and throws them on with one hand. “She’s right, let’s get this show on the road.”

I say, “Hey, Joey, how come you hewping us aww of a sudden? Just yestewday, you were Mistew Supew G-Man.”

He settles his sunglasses just so on the bridge of Tim’s nose. Can’t tell who he’s lookin’ at on account of them reflective lenses. “I don’t know. Call it a change of heart.” And he places Tim’s hand over Tim’s chest to show what he means. Then he spins on his heels and hurries off toward the road.

Tucker says, “Walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes tends to do that, huh?”

Fuck an A, bubba.

* * *

OK, problem number one: Little Rico.

He’s got a fully developed adult body and no idea how to use it. So walking’s out for him.

Tucker hands me to Julia and runs and grabs his wheel barrow from his barn. After some wrestling and a little protesting, he gets Rico into it. Tucker tries real hard not to touch any of Tina’s mommy parts and blushes when he accidentally grabs a boob. Rico squeals when he does it and creeps me the hell out all over again. Does he like having his boob touched? Jesus, that’s my infant son in that body. Why would he like it? Does it make him hungry?

Dammit, I gotta stop thinking about this. Focus… Focus.

Tucker takes him for a spin around the yard to test the wheelbarrow out and Rico shrieks and giggles. Actually, it looks fun as hell.

“Wets get a move on.”

Agent Joey pulls out his sidearm and he’ll lead the way as our point man. Julia’s got me and a diaper bag filled with all my necessities, and Tucker’s got Rico, but now we have nobody to carry the machine.

Problem number two.

Julia says, “Can we toss it in a back pack and strap it to Captain Wooly there?”

She shoves me into Tucker’s hands and, after about five minutes and a turrets-like stream of cussing, comes up from my basement with the pink Strawberry Shortcake backpack Tina’s mom got for us when Tina was pregnant and they both still held out hope that it was going to be a girl.

Tucker says, “Your mother-in-law bought your unborn child a backpack?”

“You should have seen aww da cwap we got. We wan out of space to put it aww. Wunch boxes, bicycews, toddwer cwothes.”

Julia says to Edgar, “OK, lamb chop, front and center.”

“Aw, come on,” Edgar says. “When will the humiliation end?”

Julia slips the machine into the backpack and zips it up. “Just shut up and wear it. You’re already a farm animal for Christ’s sake, what difference does it make what kind of backpack you’re wearing? Now, hop up here so I can get the straps around your shoulders, or whatever the hell you sheeps have.”

Edgar snorts and does as he’s told. Julia fights to get the backpack onto him and gags a couple times in the process. “Good God, you reek.”

“Well, I’m a farm animal, remember?”

“Can we pwease get the fuck outta hewe?”

“Little dude’s right,” Tucker says. “We’re burnin’ daylight.” He shoves me back in Julia’s arms then snatches up the handles of the wheelbarrow and looks at everyone. “All set then?”

Everybody looks at each other and there’s a pause. We’re quite a sight to take in here, with a grown woman squealing and jabbering in a wheelbarrow and a sheep wearing a pink backpack.

Wait ‘til Terry Bradshaw gets a load of us.

* * *

Finally, some luck. We make it to the mine entrance without seeing a soul. Couple hairy minutes there when a helicopter flew over, but other than that, nobody.

Tucker says, “Damn, that was easy.”

Julia looks around and shakes her head. “That’s what worries me the most. Nothing is ever this easy when you three are involved. There’s got to be a disaster just waiting around the next corner.”

Tucker blows her off. “No way. We’re golden now.”

We trudge through the mine in silence. Agent Joey pulls a tiny flashlight off his belt and lights the way. The thing throws off an amazing beam of light from something so small.

“That’s a pretty nifty light you got there,” Tucker says.

“One of the perks of working for the government. We get all the cool stuff.”

“You awen’t wiff da FBI, aw you Joey?”

He looks at me with the hint of a devious grin on Agent Tim’s extremely white face. I can see it even in the dark. “No comment.”

Tucker stops and sets the wheelbarrow handles down. “OK, guys. Timeout here. We need a better plan. There’s too many rocks and shit in the way. It’s gonna take me two days to push this damn thing through here.”

We stop and look at him, dripping with sweat in the beam of Joey’s flashlight. Edgar says, “You’re a big, tough guy, Tuck. Why not just give Rico a piggyback ride the rest of the way? It can’t be too much farther.”

Tucker huffs for a second with his hands on his hips before shrugging his shoulders and reaching for Little Rico. He’s kicking his Tina legs and clapping his Tina hands and just having the time of his life.

“Alright, big man. Or baby woman. Whatever.” Tucker gets Rico to Tina’s feet, fairly wobbly and unsure of himself. It takes a couple tries, but Rico gets the idea soon enough and we’re back on track shuffling along in the dark of the mine, Rico babbling away on Tucker’s back. Tucker gags a couple times as Rico wraps Tina’s arms around Tuck’s throat pretty tight.

We trudge on for what seems like a long time. I know where we’re going, but it still seems to take forever. And I have to shit again. Another thing about a baby’s biological makeup I discover is that the sphincter muscle is just as underdeveloped as the vocal chords. Jostling along in the dark, Julia stumbling along, shaking me up like a two-liter of Coke. I feel like I’m about to burst all of a sudden.

Julia says, “So, Joe, are you going to let us in on the rest of the plan here, or are we on a need-to-know-basis?” She shifts me from her right arm to her left, flips me over to a front cradle so her arm presses right into my baby belly. The pressure in my baby intestines lets go. Oops.

“The plan,” Joey says patiently, “is that when we get to the other side, we’re meeting up with Tim. He’s to commandeer a vehicle and arrive at the other side of the mine in…” He looks at his watch, illuminated in ghostly green. “About fifteen minutes. If we’re not there yet, he’ll circle around and come back in another fifteen minutes.”

“And this is gonna work? What about you? Won’t the other agents wonder where you are?”

“No, they know where I am.”

Julia stops suddenly and shifts me to her other arm. I can feel warm nastiness squeeze out from the edges of my diaper. I’m just about to mention this to Julia, but she’s not gonna hear me.

“How do they know where you are, Agent Joey?” She does not sound happy. I think I’ll just wait a bit before I drop my little bomb on her.

Agent Joey turns and shines the light at his face so we can see him. “Because, that’s what I told Agent Tim to say.”

Tucker chimes in now, sounding pretty agitated, not to mention short on breath from lugging Rico-Tina on his back. “I think you need to tell us what the fuck is going on, and no more of this Agent Spookman government bullshit.”

“Yea-a-a-a-a-a-ah!”

Way to tell him, Edgar.

“As I mentioned earlier, we were ordered to return to the command center just outside of town. We were to do this after we secured our sectors. A few minutes after we set out, Agent Tim, on my instruction, reported to command that the four of you were not in your homes and that I, against standing orders, decided to pursue.”

Julia shifts me again, throws me up onto her shoulder with a push against my butt, and I feel the mush squish down my thigh. “Umm, Juwia?”

She doesn’t hear me, though. “You told them that we’re on the run? Are you shitting me?”

I know I certainly am.

“Calm down, ma’am. The containment crews will continue to search while also looking for us. But by the time they get to the mine and figure out where you all have gone, we’ll be on the other side, hopefully driving down the road toward Pittsburgh.”

“I can’t believe this,” she says. “You’ve just made us fugitives from who knows what secret bullshit government agency you work for. And all so you could cover your ass?”

“With me in pursuit, it can work to our advantage. The focus will be on my location, and once Tim reports back, he’ll be able to slip away unnoticed and come back for us, outside the containment area. And I can advise of my position and direct the search teams wherever I want them to go.”

Tucker snaps his fingers and says, “Yeah, I get it now. Send them on a wild goose chase on the other side of the county while we go the opposite direction. That’s pretty damn brilliant if you ask me.”

“A wild goose chase? You mean like maybe going to kidnap a football player because a guy in a baby’s body had a dream about him?”

Joey ignores her comment and says, “And it’s not like you aren’t fugitives. Right?”

Julia huffs and opens her mouth to respond, but she doesn’t. She tries again, but apparently she’s run out of things to argue about, which could be a first for her. Instead she sniffs and says, “What the hell is that smell?”

I wondered when she would finally notice.

* * *

Back to walking, everyone silent. They got a nice little rest while Julia cleaned me up. I felt bad that she had to do that.

Well, actually no. Not really.

Up ahead, I can see light begin to brighten our tunnel. The other end is just ahead. Edgar breaks the silence at that moment with a song.

“I was bo-o-o-o-rn a coal miner’s daughter!”

I’m struck again by how well he can talk, and then remember a question I never got an answer to. “Hey, fuzz baww. You nevew expwained why you can talk so good.”

He stops in mid-lyric and, with what sounds like annoyance in his sheep voice, says, “What’s to explain? I just woke up yesterday and started talking.”

Tucker says, “Just like that? You wake up and there’s no weird transition to get used to bein’ a sheep or nothin’?”

“Didn’t know I was a sheep at first. Tell the truth, I didn’t figure it out for almost a half hour. And by then, I’d already been talking for awhile.”

Julia snorts. “Talking to who? The chickens?”

“Yeah. And the other sheep. Muriel my goat. I tell them good morning every morning.”

“So you just stawted talking? Just wike dat?”

“Yes, I did. And I’m sure you could to.”

“Bewieve me, I’ve twied.”

“You don’t have to try. That’s your problem. Just don’t think about it and do-o-o-o-o-o-o it.”

Tucker says, “Yeah Michael Jordan, just do it.” He gets a big laugh out that, but no one else joins him. And of course, he doesn’t seem to notice that he’s the only one laughing at his own joke.

“Dat’s some gweat advice. Don’t fink about it? How am I not supposed to fink about it?”

“I don’t know, I’m just telling you that’s how I did it. Matter over mind. Don’t think, just do.”

“OK, fanks. Dat’s bwilliant advice.”

“You know what,” Edgar says. “I think you just need to shut up now. Your baby babble is starting to get really annoying and I think you’re just doing it for the attention.”

“Say what?”

“You hear-r-r-r-r-r-rd me. You’ve been freaking out for two days now about what a bad break you got here, having your little emotional meltdowns, making it all about you, even though I’m the one who’s stuck in a farm animal, and my real body is off in some government lab with an electrode shoved up my ass – and Tucker, if you make a joke about that, I’m biting you in the dick!”

Tucker’s grinning mouth, hanging open with a wise crack lodged in his throat, slowly closes.

I can’t talk for a minute. My little baby muscles start to shake and I can feel the volcano rise in me. Feels like every frustration from the past day and a half, hell, everything for the past two years, comes rising to the top until I can’t hold it back no more.

“Fuck you, you flea-bitten prick! In case you haven’t noticed, I don’t have a body anymore! Mine is fucking dead! My wife fucking killed me! If this ever gets switched back the right way, I’m a fucking goner! So stick that up your ass with your electrodes and get out of my fucking face! I’ll be a whiny prick if I want to, because I’m IN A FUCKING BABY’S BODY NOW!”

I’m panting and trembling. And in the intensifying light of the end of the mineshaft, it looks like Edgar is grinning. He nods his sheep head and says, “See, matter over mind. Just like that.”

Son of a bitch. He’s right. I didn’t think about how to talk, I just did it.

Rico breaks the momentary silence and the lingering tension for us by saying, “Fuck!”

And now I’ve taught my baby how to properly cuss like a sailor.

* * *

Joey peers out of the shadows of the mine’s eastern mouth. The coast appears to be clear, but we’re all hanging back, waiting for him to signal us out toward the road. There’s a gravel path that leads from this entrance out to some old county road that only got a number and never a proper name. Somewhere in the distance there’s a helicopter thumping away from us, the Doppler whump slowly fading off. From the mine, you can just make out the road, up the hill and through the trees. Just off to the side, obscured by trees and midday shadows, is a black van.

“There’s our ride, but I don’t see Agent Tim,” says Joey.

Julia says, “Maybe he wised up and decided to remove himself from this cockamamie scheme.”

Joey nods. “I think you’re right.” He looks back at the rest of us and motions with his head to follow. “Let’s get going before another chopper comes around.”

We hustle up the gravel road. For the first time, real fear creeps up my gut like acid reflux. They used rubber bullets on Danny Boy, but at what point does that change to real ones? When you leave the containment area? How big of a priority was this for the government? I mean, you could see how this would be an embarrassment for them, no doubt. Unable to crack some alien technology that looks like it was made out of my mom’s old cooking pots, unable to keep a bunch of body-switched hicks like us contained in their homes. And just imagine if we actually do what we’re planning. What if we successfully kidnap Terry Bradshaw and smuggle him back in?

And just what the hell was he going to do once we get him there?

I shake the thought from my tiny head. No time for that right now. Matter over mind, like Edgar said. Stick with the plan. We’ll figure it out later.

“You feelin’ OK, dude?” Tucker’s watching me from the corner of his eye while Rico pats him on the head. Rico’s babbling, saying, “Fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fu.” He looks at me with a big, happy grin. “Fuck!”

“Rico, no. Don’t say that. Bad word, buddy, no-no.” I look at Tucker. “I’m alright. Just thinking about what we’re going to do.”

Rico says, “No-no.”

Tucker hitches the Rico/Tina bulk on his back a little higher. “Same here. Kind of wondering what’s supposed to happen as soon as we get Terry Bradshaw back here. He’s a Hall of Famer and all, greatest Steeler to ever live, but he’s not a miracle worker. I mean, aside from the Immaculate Reception.”

I suppose we’re about to find out.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle, More Memory! (Part IV)

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)

Part IV

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.

Son.
Of.
A.
Bitch.

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.

“Bawbah.”

“What’s that, dude?”

I point at the barn and say, “Bawbah.”

“Ball bat?”

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!”

Sorry, dude.

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.”

“Tanks.”

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?”

“Tewwie Bahshaw.”

Tucker looks at me. “What?”

I clear a little baby mucus from my throat and try again. “Tewwie Badshaw.” Alright, got a ‘D’ out.

“Terry Bradshaw?”

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?”

“Uh huh.”

“And you think he knows what’s really going on?”

“Uh huh.”

“And you think we need to bring him here to figure everything out because he explained it all in a dream?”

“Eggsactwy.”

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.”

“Fanks, Tuckew.”

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…

Muscle Memory 2 – It begins on July 18th

Image by Martin Roberts

Starting next Monday, July 18th 2011, I will begin posting here on this blog the sequel/continuation of my debut novella, MUSCLE MEMORY, which will bear this title inspired by Hollywood and as voted on by the readers -

“MUSCLE MEMORY 2: More Muscle, More Memory”

If you haven’t read the Muscle Memory yet, get you a copy on Amazon.com. (or Barnes & Noble.com, or really, any other online outlet) Amazon currently shows the book as 2-3 weeks out, but they’ve re-ordered and will begin shipping copies much sooner than 2-3 weeks, so it won’t really be that long. If it does take that long, then just email me and I’ll send you a free gift to say I’m sorry. But it won’t take that long.

CLICK HERE TO BUY A COPY FROM AMAZON

Here’s what is coming over the next several weeks, the publishing schedule for Muscle Memory 2:

- July 18th: Part IV – “Well, That Didn’t Work”

- August 1st: Part V – “Roadtrip!”

- August 8th: Part VI – “Matt Lauer, Muthafucka!”

- August 15th: Part VII – “WWKCD? (What Would Kirk Cameron Do?)”

What are advance readers saying about Muscle Memory 2?

“I hope to be reading serialized parts of this story for the rest of my life. I love this shit, man. It’s almost too awesome for words… Two thumbs up.” - Caris O’Malley, author of The Egg Said Nothing

“I was finishing it up in the elevator at work this morning and trying hard not to laugh out loud at Kirk Cameron’s dialogue so I wouldn’t look like a psycho laughing to himself. Then, just as I compose myself, I look to my right, and this dude has the most beautiful mullet I’ve ever seen. I mean it was just perfect. Then I remembered Kirk Cameron’s mullet from Growing Pains, and I lose it. I lower my head and make this weird farting noise with my mouth, then bust into this retarded sounding giggle. Mullet just glared at me.” - Kevin Wallis, author of Beneath the Surface of Things

And finally, I will begin work on an extra special short story, as clamored for by you, the readers. Everyone’s favorite character from Muscle Memory will get to tell his own story. It will be tentatively titled: “The Man Who Was a Ewe: The Tale of Edgar Winter”. More details on that project soon…