by Jeremy Maddux
It was about midday when all the commotion started out on Brightway Boulevard. A man in pinstripe business attire was coming back from lunch with the routine sugar buzz of his franchised coffee kicking in when he noticed something on the ground. He went to his knees to be at eye level with it. It was uncharacteristic of him to do so, but he was sure he’d seen the thing move.
He discovered that it was an insect, although not one he had ever seen. Its wings were folded back as it scanned the ground with curious antennae that branched off into yet another pair of antennae. He watched it long enough to know it had drawn something up out of the pavement, possibly nourishment. It reminded him of a junebug except for the pincers and spider legs. It was indeed the strangest insect he had ever seen, so he called someone else over to try and identify it.
He hailed an older man over who threw his weight in all directions as he walked. He was clearly a man of burdens.
“You there! Excuse me, sir, sorry to trouble you but I was wondering if I could get your opinion on something.”
“I’m not taking your damn survey. There’s nothing you have that I want. Yes, I’m one of those closed-minded old sheeple that really believes the official story of 9/11. I have no beer money for you. Now, excuse me.”
“It’s not any of those things, sir. It’s an insect.”
Right here on the ground. I first noticed it about five minutes ago and I’m no closer to knowing its species.”
He’d stirred up the old man enough that he pulled out his reading glasses. He waited for the man in the pinstripe suit to back away so he could have room.
“It’s a cockroach! Why are you wasting my time with this? Don’t you have some schools to remove prayer from?”
“I’m… sorry, sir?”
“I know you’re that teacher who protested to have any mentions of God stricken from the school record. You sued the Owen County District and won. Why don’t you finish up your conversation with the roach? I’m sure he’ll be good company to you.”
“Sir, it’s not a cockroach! A cockroach has four legs. This one has six!”
“Freak of nature…” he said, walking on. He didn’t get far before he was right back there with the insect and the man in the pinstripe suit.
“Let’s suppose you’re right that it’s not a roach. It looks like a roach and certainly behaves like one. What moved you to determine it wasn’t a roach?”
First of all, its antennae have antennae. I’ve never seen or heard tale of such a thing in the insect kingdom. Second, it has six spidery legs. Can’t you see how the hind and back legs bend outward? It’s just like an arachnid.”
“Then explain the wings.”
“That’s just it. I can’t.”
“If you can’t see the plain science before you, then let me go pluck someone at random from this pedestrian lot to offer an unbiased view.”
“Welcome to it,” said the man in the pinstripe suit.
At last, the old man returned with a young black man armed with I-Tunes and headphones braced around his neck. The old man’s instigations vexed him.
“Just take a look down there and tell us what you see, young man, and be honest.”
The young man jumped backward, tripping over a fire hydrant and busting his butt on the sidewalk asphalt.
“You guys trying to give me a heart attack at 25? I have a severe case of arachnophobia. Summer Camp ’98. I got bitten by a black widow and a brown recluse on the same day. I hope it didn’t shoot its venom at me just now! I’m scared to death! If it comes down to it, I’ll sue!”
“We don’t even know if it’s poisonous,” insisted the old man. “You’re really telling me that roach looks like a spider to you?”
“Only roach is what you’ve been smoking, sir.”
“So he says roach. You say spider. I say I don’t know. Now what?” asked the man in the pinstripe suit. “I know! We’ll take the scientific approach!”
“So we isolate it by eliminating what we know it couldn’t be, right?”
“Actually, I was just going to poke it with a stick.”
Doing so caused the bug to spray a warning scent from an almond shaped fixture tucked beneath its wings, which fluttered as it emitted the pheromone of obscenity.
“Whoa, stinkbug!” shouted a woman in a heavy raincoat as she crossed the busy intersection.
“Ain’t no stinkbug I’ve ever seen” said the young man with headphones.
“Well, I can assure you that’s what it is. I recognize the smell. There was an infestation at my summer condo once.”
“I simply can’t agree with that charge, ma’am,” said the man in the pinstripe suit.
“There’s nothing else it could be,” she insisted.
It was at this time an on duty patrolman with an authoritarian gait joined the congress of onlookers.
“Alright, I’m gonna need to take statements from everyone. Who fired first?”
“Officer, there were no shots fired here,” said the old man.
“Then explain to me why they’re zipping up old Alan Cole over at the package store.”
“I didn’t hear a single shot fired, officer. We’ve been busy trying to contain this situation here,” said the music lover.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked the officer.
The man in the pinstripe suit was the first to offer an explanation, which was only fitting since he’d started all this.
“This insect, or bug, we’re not really sure which, has displayed traits relative to a junebug, spider, cockroach and even a stinkbug.”
The officer stooped low to examine it.
“I was afraid of this.”
He went back to his car and radioed for backup. When the officer returned, he mustered a short, dry ‘Ayup’ and settled both hands on his belt and holster.
“Might have to dust off the Patriot Act for this one.”
The man in the pinstripe suit couldn’t believe his ears.
“You’re not serious?”
“Son, if there’s one thing I’m serious about, it’s national security. If it’s two, it’s national security and keeping the gays out of wedding chapels. Now, if I treat this as just a stupid bug, then it turns out to be one of those military-controlled cybermoths gone rogue, or even commandeered by sleeper agents, guess whose ass will be twisting in the breeze when all is said and done?”
“Did you conjure this ‘stealth moth’ scenario as a legitimate possibility or have you actually been preparing yourself for this?”
“It’s just hypothetical, but it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened! I should know! I listen to ham radio!” The officer displayed immense pride at this farcical factoid.
When the officer’s partner wandered into the scene, he was taken aback.
“Pat, the coroner’s here. What the hell are you doing wasting your time with that cricket?”
“It’s just a body. Tag it and bag it. This is a very sensitive situation we’ve got here.”
Once the officer’s backup arrived, things escalated considerably. The Highway Department was called in to divert traffic around the mystery pest. The sun was beginning to set. All of the spectators, the man in the pinstripe suit, the old man, the music lover, the lady in the raincoat, the squirrelly police officer, could not bring themselves to leave.
Dusk brought out stranger characters, like Roxy the Cornergirl, who was none too pleased that the blue and whites had occupied her block. She would have no customers or clientele as long as they were there. She sat down on the stoop of a brownstone apartment and fished through her purse for a cigarette.
“The hell are you people staring at? What’s with the roadblock?”
“None of us can agree on what it is.”
“Oh, let me see! I’m here every night! I’ve seen it all!”
She staggered over on loud, clicking heels and swung her arms with each labored step. She crouched over to shine a handheld flashlight from her keychain on it.
“What? You’ve never seen a praying mantis before?”
“Now I’ve heard it all!” said the old man. He borrowed a cigarette and joined her back on the steps of the brownstone.
“The matron saint of the creepy crawlies. The mother mantis kills her lover during mating.”
“Do you see some of yourself in the mantis?”
“She’s a symbol of hope for helpless women everywhere. She uses sex as a weapon.”
“Kind of like you,” postulated the police officer.
Suddenly, the bug unfolded its wings and flew off. The party had no choice but to disperse. The next morning, the bug returned to the same spot and landed. Several of the bystanders from the day previous once again gathered around it. There were now two of the insects, one carrying an egg sac on its back.
The police were once again called to the scene, and once again, they set up a barricade around the thing.
By the third day, the media began to have a field day with the city’s silent visitor. All talk of war with Syria or Iran, of the Federal Reserve’s legalized tyranny, of the president’s executive orders negating the Constitution, were mere footnotes to the spectacle of the insect.
World famous entomologist, Douglas E. Sabian, was called in to examine the creature. After extensive field study, he came to a gripping conclusion.
“It’s clear to me what this magnificent creature is. It is all of us! Not one of us can figure ourselves out or decipher the puzzles of our selves without the abstracts of psychiatry! I believe we need a new science to accurately study this creature! Insect Psychiatry!”
Plans were made to begin funding Dr. Sabian for his study of the organism. The Mayor declared it would require much sacrifice on the part of the city’s inhabitants, but with patience, our curiosity would be rewarded.
The Occupy movement caught wind of this, and descended on the city’s infrastructure, demanding that they rescind this absurd proposal to allocate excessive funds to the study of vermin.
Police erected a human barricade around the insects, decked out in full riot gear. Many died protecting them. In the ensuing months, the families of deceased officers demanded reparations for their roles in protecting the unclassified species.
Congress passed a bill protecting the newly discovered species, and made it so that any harm inflicted on their ‘persons,’ so to speak, would be considered felonious.
Presidential candidates ran expensive campaigns pledging to protect the insect at any cost.
Wide-eyed eccentrics sprung from out of dingy apartments like floorboards to say that it was an alien takeover—that the invaders had come in the guise of pests. Their claims were roundly rejected and ridiculed.
So the Bread and Circus continued for a determined ten years, before the species died out altogether. It was unable to live in this harsh atmosphere which had been so contaminated with mercury, cadmium, nickel sulfate and pesticides.
The nation grieved and mourned for the loss of their greatest distraction, which had made them forget about the wars, the famine, the economic turmoil, the political scandal emanating from every congressional orifice (or office, what’s the difference?). In a somber tribute to the lost arthropod, the people cleaned up these affairs themselves, taking back their government.
When the history books came to be written about this tumultuous period, they finally settled on a name for the creature, the ‘Amnesia Bug.’
Jeremy Maddux is a megalomaniac, but don’t worry. You can trust him. He has worked backstage for a professional wrestling organization, suffers from a Martyr Complex and periodically dates an ex con. He once listened to an Alice in Chains song on repeat for twelve hours in a trance while he wrote. He really misses the 90’s. In his spare time, he hosts a podcast called Surreal Sermons featuring the most up and coming authors of Bizarro and Extreme Horror.
by Jeremy Maddux
The Turbo Dome was filled to capacity with ravenous fans who’d scrapped and saved all year to witness the spectacle that was known as Trucks ‘N Guts ‘N Stuff. TGS was a lot like the Harlem Globetrotters or professional wrestling, only the violence was real, and people died on a nightly basis.
The fans had their favorites. There was Marv Molotov, who was notorious for throwing Molotov cocktails or cherry bombs at his enemies. There was the Excess Express, a traveling troupe of ravers who rode in a futuristic looking car that glowed in the dark and played trance music. Their vehicle’s offensive maneuver was to enable a strobe effect on their headlights that would disorient the other drivers they went up against. These were crowd favorites, but none eclipsed the unbridled might of Pussyripper.
There wasn’t much biographical information available concerning Pussy Ripper or its driver, Gus Gloom. What people knew, what they recognized and respected about Pussy Ripper was the fact that it was 30 feet high, which significantly dwarfed the standard 10 foot variety. Every year, people gathered to plunk down their hard earned money for the pleasure of watching Pussy Ripper flatten eighteen wheelers the way the normal trucks flattened cars. That was just a warm up. It was when the trucks went head to head in vehicular combat that the people came unglued from their seats.
It took something like this to bring the Caulfield family together, young Hatebreed thought to himself as he waited in line at the concession stand for a slice of pizza. He’d been there since intermission, and worried about missing the main event: Pussy Ripper vs. Marv Molotov, for the first time ever. Everyone could see the dream bubble of the confrontation hover listlessly above his head, the promise of things to come.
Hatebreed was a living cartoon. This sometimes unnerved people from interacting with him. Friends thought it was great but some liked to put him through the usual cartoon hijinks to which his body was accustomed. They’d flatten him with a rolling pin or confuse him with black holes painted onto the wall. He was used to it.
“Fuck off, looney toon,” shouted a boy his age as he cut in front of him. Before Hatebreed could respond, an announcement burst over the intercom saying that the intermission was about to end.
As Hatebreed hurried back to his seat, a tinny voice came over the PA system. It was the announcer, Gary Goodvibe. Someone in the audience had foam hands made to represent his enormous floppy ears.
“And now, without any further interruptions, our feature presentation of the evening.”
The revving of engines could be heard from the entrance hall. Generic synth-metal piped up through the PA. The chants were unmistakable. ‘Puss-y-Rip-per!’ Everyone in the rows ahead stood from their seats. Hatebreed had to stand on his chair to see the pit below.
“Oh, he’s coming! But first, let’s get to know his opponent. Weighing in at 10,000 pounds with a titanium frame and a customized flamethrower, he’s known by his colleagues as ‘the Short Fuse’. When he boards an airplane, the TSA inspects him to make sure he IS carrying explosives! He is the challenger for the TGS World Championship, Marv Molotov!”
Molotov’s truck was nice, but his story wasn’t the kind that inspired any kind of grassroots, underdog feeling. The silence that followed was so loud that it pierced the air like feedback.
“And his opponent, with the combined weight of 15 monolithic structures and tall enough to run over Lady Liberty. He’s not here to give marriage advice! He doesn’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice. Don’t call it a truck, it’s a high performance fuck! It’s death row on wheels and the happiness machine that kills! The undefeated and reigning Trucks ‘N Guts ‘N Stuff Champion of the World…”
Gary paused to let the chants envelop him.
“I give you Pussy Ripper!” He shouted until his voice went shrill, swinging his arm towards the entryway to signal the champ’s arrival. Hatebreed knew this spiel all too well. Gary was going to say that the truck’s too big to fit, then Pussy Ripper would burrow up out of the pit like he always did. Hatebreed wasn’t disappointed. As the monster truck made its way to the surface, it kicked up dirt clouds so big they were dirt mushroom clouds. Marv Molotov circled back around to get in close. It was like a hornet buzzing in the face of a lion. Pussy Ripper rammed into a flattened car at the end of the row of flattened cars, upending it like a seesaw as it impacted Molotov’s rear. Molotov turned up the heat with his flamethrower, napalm-like projectiles making beautiful brimstone sparks as they sought to melt Pussy Ripper’s titanium armor. Pussy Ripper shook it off, picking up speed at over 100 miles per hour.
What the ripper had in sheer size and brawn, Molotov made up for in stealth and agility. Molotov’s flaming assault continued until the ripper’s driver, Gus Gloom, activated a new feature: fire proof shields. Molotov was clearly thrown off his game by this response, but it didn’t stop him from making a beeline straight for the passenger side door of his opponent. It all happened so fast, like lightning striking a window. One moment, Marv Molotov was driving recklessly toward his target and the next, he was ricocheting off a barricade. A sizzling storm of sparks, hydraulics, glass and sheet metal danced and convulsed through the air. The 20,000 people in attendance simultaneously lost and found religion. Maybe in the aftermath they would learn the secret of life and death, an ancient touchstone forgotten to all men. Or maybe it was just their disbelief that Marv Molotov was revving up for another charge at the heart of darkness before him. The two drivers waited at opposite sides of the arena, measuring the distance and mileage it would take to remove the other from this world.
Molotov’s flamethrower was on standby mode. Pussy Ripper’s burrowing jaws of death chomped through the air. Each driver dared the other to make the first move. It was Molotov who acted. His entire driver’s side was caved in, the door hanging by a hinge. Blood hung in syrupy rivulets against the cracked glass of the windshield. More of it dotted his forehead and jaw like war paint. He may have been headed for oblivion, but he was damn sure going to take the other son of a bitch with him. Then, in a final reversal, Molotov dodged the oncoming Goliath. He had psyched out the champion, and now he was on his rear! No one likes a tailgater, especially Gus Gloom, so he put on his brakes and let the dumb son go sidewinding up and over the truckbed, taking a nosedive on the armored frame. In the time Hatebreed managed a blink, Marv Molotov had become debris.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” announced Gary Goodvibe, “here is your winner, and still the TGS Champion of the World, Pussy Ripper!”
Hatebreed wiped away fresh tears with his coat sleeve. Cartoon tears were messier than human tears. His dad pulled him in for a hug.
“What’s wrong, buddy?”
“This is the best Christmas ever!”
Jeremy Maddux is Co-Editor of Surreal Grotesque magazine. He has several projects forthcoming, including his first attempt at a Bizarro novella and the second Surreal Grotesque anthology, entitled Vertigo Schisms. He used to date an ex con and worked backstage for a professional wrestling organization.