‘Cage Your Sloth!’

I issued a challenge on Facebook yesterday. I wanted to give away a copy of my first book, Muscle Memory, so I proposed this:

“A signed & personalized paperback copy of my first book will go to the first person who writes a NEW Amazon review of one of my other books. The review must be at least 243 words long, be partially written in a foreign language (different from your own normal language, that is), contain the chorus from your current favorite song, and it MUST utilize the following words in any sequence: CONSTABULARY, SLOTH, PORTICO, TOOLBELT, JEFF, PACZKI.”

I figured no one would take the time and the post would quickly be forgotten. Sometimes, I throw little giveaways out like this without much fanfare or buildup, mostly because I’m bored at work and need to do something to keep my brain from slowly oozing out my ear. But I figured wrong. Within an hour, Scott Pratt responded with this masterpiece, which I would like to reproduce here, with a couple added images.

I present to you, an amazing impromptu review of my book, Samurai vs. ROBO-DICK:

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read! Cage your sloth!, April 24, 2013

By
Scott L. Pratt

This review is from: Samurai Vs. Robo-Dick (Paperback)

sloth and copAs I was reading “samurai Vs. Robo-Dick I looked over to my friend, Jeff the Sloth and smiled gently. He was eating a pazki and jelly had dropped from his mouth onto his toolbelt. I was sitting on the Portico, as the Constabulary walked by. Jeff seemed upset at their presence, and yelled out to them, “Carry on my wayward son There’ll be peace when you are done Lay your weary head to rest Don’t you cry no more”. The constabulary lead halted and stared for a brief second before saying, “Sobald ich stieg über den Lärm und Verwirrung Nur um einen Einblick jenseits dieser Illusion Ich wurde immer höher steigenden Aber ich flog zu hoch Obwohl meine Augen sehen konnte, war ich noch ein Blinder Obwohl mein Verstand denken konnte ich noch ein wütender Mann Ich höre die Stimmen, wenn ich trauma Ich kann hören, wie sie sagen”

I was upset that Jeff confronted the non-military police officers, and told him to tighten his toolbelt and go inside. He obliged, and I continued to read. I was upset that he was being such a robo-dick and distracted me from reading. As I read, I realized that I was wearing a brown shirt and had a stack of junk food at my side. Was the author writing about me? I was more intrigued. Did I mention that my wife is a redhead? Anyway. All was silent after Jeff disappeared into the house. I was able to finish the magnificent book. I highly recommend it to anyone that loves the bizarre. The book is really well thought out, and amazing. Just make sure your talking pet sloth is locked in his cage when the constabulary walks by.

sloth cage

* * * * * * *

I loved this so much, I decided to offer up two more copies of Muscle Memory to anyone willing take on this challenge. If you can match what Scott did, I’ll send out a personalized copy of Muscle Memory to YOU. Tag me on Facebook, or email (lowe435@gmail.com) me the link to the review when it’s posted on Amazon.

And as luck would have it, to aid you in this task, my collection Mio Padre, il Tumore is free for the Kindle until Friday, April 26th.

Book for a Buck, and other newsy things

Some of this is very recent and some of it is old news, but rather than tossing out a bunch of separate posts, I decided to combine things.

Commence ADHD-style update of a blog post written as a handy numbered list … now:

1. Until further notice, Muscle Memory will be $0.99 on the Kindle. (CLICK HERE, YO) I think maybe I’ll keep it there until I publish my next book. What that book will be and when it will happen is still unknown at this time, but stay tuned…

2. The sequel to Muscle Memory, which is very aptly title “Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle More Memory” is abso-fucking-lutely free and can be downloaded RIGHT HERE ON SMASHWORDS in a number of ebook formats. I posted it online right here as well in four parts, but then I realized I never updated this site about where to get the whole story in one place. Duh.

This is neither Short Gary, nor a real cow.

3. Here’s some flash fiction for you, from me, courtesy of Bizarro Central: Short Gary Takes a Cow to California, along with another Gary-centric short story by Daniel Vlasaty.

I’m also very excited about two new anthologies that include my work: a humorous short story called “Praise the Lord and Pass the Parmesan” is in the Eraserhead Press anthology Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which also includes pieces by John Skipp, Stephen Graham Jones, S.G. Browne, and a lot of other big names. I also sold a dark, extreme horror story called “Every Day a Holiday” which appears in the Pill Hill Press book “A Hacked Up Holiday Massacre“. That one boasts an amazing lineup that includes stuff from Jack Ketchum, Joe Lansdale, Bentley Little, Wrath James White, Lee Thomas, and a bunch more.

These books are both extremely cool and a lot of fun to read.

4. Some friends and acquaintances outside of the Bizarro world have seen new books come out recently and I wholeheartedly recommend them to you:

- AJ Brown’s Along the Splintered Path is a collection of three dark, short novellas, including the outstanding story “The Woodshed”.

- How about werewolves? You like werewolves? Dig you some Graeme Reynolds then: High Moor

- While we’re talking pulp, this is a must-read based on the dedication alone. Vernon D. Burns writes at the beginning of his pulp-tastic romp Gods of the Jungle Planet: For Diane - I hope his dick falls off, you cheating whore.

That’s fucking beautiful right there.

5. My most recent Amazon purchase, which takes full advantage of the 4-for-3 deal that’s still happening (is this newsworthy? Maybe it’s nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at pointing out the 4-for-3 deal from Amazon once again, but this is seriously a cool thing and I got four books that aren’t available in my library for the price of three, which to me is quite newsworthy): A Town Called Suckhole by David W. Barbee; Gargoyle Girls of Spider Island by Cameron Pierce; A Hollow Cube is a Lonely Space, by S.D. Foster; and A Choir of Ill Children by Tom Piccirilli.

Now, to quit my job and just write and read books all day long.

What? Bad idea?

Happy Birthday to my first book!

Somebody’s turning 1 very soon! My first book (the first of hopefully many more… like at least 5 more…) will officially celebrate its first year of existence on Oct. 13th. I think a celebration is in order.

For the past year, the goal has been to sell 200 paperback copies of MUSCLE MEMORY, and with a month left to reach that goal, I’m close. All I need to sell to reach it is about 50 copies. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this little fella’s birthday than to see that number get to 200 on Oct. 13th. So here’s what I’m asking: in lieu of a nice card with a $5 bill inside, pop over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble and buy a copy. Aside from making this proud poppa’s day, you’ll be spreading the joy of literacy and crude dick jokes across the world.

But if that’s not quite incentive enough, I do have a list of reasons to purchase one or several copies of MUSCLE MEMORY:

1. I mentioned 200 paperback copies – this is the magic number I need to sell by November to be offered a 5-book contract from my publisher, Eraserhead Press. MUSCLE MEMORY is also available in just about every eBook format you could wish for, but paperback sales are the numbers the publisher is looking for, so that’s the reason.

2. If you know someone who loves to read, this makes a great gift. This is a comedy, with a touch of tragedy as well, and it’s been described as “fucking amazingly fun to read” and “character driven, funny and wise” and “profound, while still giving us chunks of hilarity” and “A short but fun read and a great little unexpected journey that comes highly recommended.” Give the gift of laughter this holiday season.

3. It IS short. This is not some 500-page tome that will take you half a year to get through. You can consume it in a single sitting and still have time to watch back-to-back-to-back episodes of “Hillbilly Handfishing” on Animal Planet.

4. It’s still part of Amazon’s 4-for-3 deal. Buy four books that are part of this promotion, and you’ll get one of them for free. So, going back to that gift idear thing, you could conceivably get four copies for the price of three and cross off four people from your holiday gift buying list. (And I would only need 13 of you to do that to get to 50!) Imagine the excitement on your kids’ faces when they rip open their presents and discover this little slice of magic waiting to damage their fragile, developing minds entertain them. Or you could get four different but excellent books for the price of three. Here’s a partial list of some cool Bizarro books that qualify, and here’s another one.

5. Because you love me.

6. Because this book inspired a hateful book burning campaign by a crazy person: http://destroymusclememory.wordpress.com/

7. As soon as I get to either 200 copies or Oct. 13th (whichever comes first) I will stop posting and Facebooking and Tweeting about this damn book. I love the little sucker, but I’m sure most of you have gotten the idea by now. I apologize for any MUSCLE MEMORY marketing fatigue that you may have experienced. It will end soon, I promise. In fact, as soon I get that last 50, so there’s your motivation.

8. OMFG YOU DON’T NEED ANOTHER REASON THIS BOOK IS AWESOME WITH A CAPITAL A JUST BUY IT ALREADY SO I CAN STOP SHOUTING DON’T YOU WALK AWAY FROM ME HEY HEY HEY HEY COME BACK HERE JUST GET A COPY AND STOP TRYING TO BE SOME HIPSTER DORK WHO DOESN’T WANT TO DO WHAT THE IN-CROWD IS DOING AND JUST GET IT AND PUT DOWN THAT CAN OF PBR AND READ A FUCKING BOOK JEEZ

9. Sorry about that. Got a little excited.

10. There’s a FREE sequel as well!! Read the original, then get more of the story on Smashwords for absolutely zero dollars and zero cents ($0.00) CLICK HERE FOR MUSCLE MEMORY 2: MORE MUSCLE, MORE MEMORY!

There you go, 10 rock solid reasons why you should help me finally get to 200. If I make it, then you could quite possibly read books in the near future about a Samurai’s revenge against a fascist home owner’s association, or about a monkey with a 120-MPH fastball playing Major League Baseball, or about a man who ingests your soul every time he yawns. Or quite probably something else completely new. If you want to wait until Oct. 13th, that would be cool, but really, it can happen any time between then and now. I’m easy like that.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Muscle-Memory-Steve-Lowe/dp/1936383012/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Barnes & Noble link: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Muscle-Memory/Steve-Lowe/e/9781936383016/?itm=1&USRI=muscle+memory

Embracing the Wave of the Future

As I push ahead in my pursuit of a book contract from Eraserhead Press, I have been concentrating on selling paperback copies of my book “Muscle Memory”. As I’ve explained before, ad nauseam, I need to sell 200 paperback copies of my book for a chance to be offered a 5-book contract from Eraserhead. It’s a requirement of the New Bizarro Author Series, which is the Eraserhead imprint that put out my book. So when I market my book, it’s almost exclusively the paperback version I’m pushing.

However, in the interest of getting as many readers as possible, I also made the book available for the Kindle back on March 25th. The paperback has been out since mid-October, about twice as long as the Kindle version, but in the months since it has been available, the Muscle Memory ebook has nearly sold as many copies as the paperback version. And that’s with very little mention of this edition from me. To stress the point further, right now the Kindle version is outselling the paperback 2-to-1.

Amazon’s overall sales numbers have shown this to be true, that ebooks are now outselling paperbacks on their site. At first, I was a little skeptical of the company’s numbers, assuming that they might be skewing the sample to help push sales of their Kindle, but my own sales numbers seem to be bearing this out. No, this is not a very scientific analysis, but I do loves me some anecdotal evidence, so I’m running with it.

And that is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that “Muscle Memory” is now available in more ebook formats. I have published it for the Nook, and also on Smashwords, where you can download it in multiple formats for your respective eReader device. I’m hoping the paperback sales will continue, but I’m not going to do it at the expense of a wider distribution of my book, so I am officially opening my arms wide and lovingly embracing you, Technological Future. But please don’t go all sentient and wipe out mankind. That would suck.

If you have a Barnes & Noble NOOK, you can get Muscle Memory HERE.

If you want another ebook file type, grab a copy from Smashwords HERE.

And if you decide to check it out and want more of the story, you can get the FREE sequel, “Muscle Memory 2: More Muscle, More Memory!” on Smashwords RIGHT FREAKING HERE.

Thank you, good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

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…