Friday, June 6, 2014

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 6: the fernwoods at home

original story by horace p sternwall

originally appeared in the may-june 1945 through the jan-feb 1946 issues of throat grabbing tales

adapted for the 21st-century by chuck leary and roger "peg leg" wilson

illustrated by konrad kraus and danny delacroix

part six of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here

there was nothing good on television.

mr fernwood was restless.

he got up and looked out the window.

he looked five stories down into an alley.

there was nothing good down there either.

he started pacing around the room, swinging his scrawny arms back and forth across his chest.

"what the fuck are you doing?" mrs fernwood asked him without taking her eyes off the tube.

"i'm restless. i can't help it."

"help it. sit down and watch the tv, that's what it's here for."

"there's nothing good on."

"how do you know if you don't sit down and watch it? just sit down - unless you'd rather go out and try to make some money."

"it's too hot out."

"not as hot as it was."

"it's still hot. i'm not as young as i used to be."

"don't fucking start. just sit down."

with a sigh, mr fernwood sat down on a tiny couch beside the only window. if he leaned back against the wall he had to swivel his head around to see the screen.

mrs fernwood was sitting in a big broken-down easy chair just a few feet in front of the tv. she was smoking unfiltered cigarettes and an overflowing old fashioned glass ashtray rested precariously on one arm of the chair.

"what is this shit anyway?" mr fernwood asked.

"it's a show, what did you think it was?"

"i mean i've been watching this and i can't figure out what it's supposed to be."

"it's a show."

"but what kind of show? is it a news show, a comedy, a reality show, is it like the history channel, or american idol or what? are they selling stuff like shopping channel? i can't figure it out."

"i don't know, just watch it."

"are you changing the channels? so fast i can't even tell?"

mrs fernwood laughed. "i could be, but i'm not. i'm just watching this. ha ha ha, that was funny."

"what was funny? i must have missed it."

"the fat guy with the glasses just got disrespected by the impersonator with the big wig. they're gone now,"

"now this lady is selling something."


"back in the old days, you knew what kind of a show you were watching. the news was the news, bonanza was bonanza, the dean martin show was the dean martin show, like that."

"it's a show you can just shut your fucking mouth and watch, o k?"

"i wish i had some money so i could go buy some dope."

"go out and make some fucking money, big shot."

"i don't have any energy."

"you were preaching the word to that punk detective the other night. about having to be tough and taking pride in your work and how the younger generation didn't have what it took."

"i'm not the younger generation."

"you got that right." mrs fernwood had not taken her eyes off the screen throughout the whole conversation.

"speaking of our friend the detective, was it really such a great idea to promise him ten whole dollars to just to bump off doreen?"

"doreen said bad things about me. about both of us actually but you're such a sorry sack of shit you don't care. but i care. doreen has to die."

"yes, but for ten dollars?"

"ten dollars? actually eight dollars." for the first time mrs fernwood looked away from the screen. "but you didn't think we were actually going to pay him, did you?"


mrs fernwood laughed. "the great light dawns. sometimes i wonder about you, i really do." she turned back to the television.

mr fernwood sighed. he looked down at the floor. "still, i wish i had some money. i wish i could do anything except just sit here."

"i told you, don't start."

"you're always so negative. you didn't always used to be this way."

"don't - start."

"remember the old days, when i was frodo and you were blue star?"

"fuck you! what did i tell you! what did i tell you about talking about that shit! " mrs fernwood suddenly jumped up, somehow not knocking over the ashtray on the arm of the chair. "where's my ugly stick? it's been too long since i gave you a good whupping!"

mr fernwood watched her head for the closet and pull open the door. was she serious?

he decided not to find out. he slipped out the door to the hallway.

mr fernwood stopped a moment outside the door. he could hear mrs fernwood still shouting inside. it sounded like she might be breaking things - not that there was much to break. she wouldn't break the television.

the elevator was broken as usual, so he started down the dark stairwell.

maybe bunny or bobo would be sitting outside, and one of them would give him some dope - just a little teensy bit - on credit.

his credit should be good, but there was so little trust in the world these days. it was a shame.

he was in luck - bunny was sitting on the front steps, in his usual uniform of plain white t-shirt and baggy khaki shorts.

"philip, my brother, just the man i want to see."

"oh?" mr fernwood did not sit down beside bunny - who did not leave much room - but leaned against the iron stair rail and looked down the dark street. it looked deserted.

"how'd you like to be my pig?"

"your pig?"

"ha, ha, not what you're thinking. my guinea pig. how'd you like to test something out for me?"

"maybe. test what?"

"it's some new shit ernie the slime gave me. it's from africa or india or some place."

"bakersfield maybe?"

"who knows? anyway it's supposed to be really strong - might be the best thing you ever tried, or it might kill you, you know?"

"that wouldn't be nice."

"life is a gamble."

"i thought it was a struggle."

"it's a bit of both. do you want to try it or not?"

"but what is it - is it coke, heroin or what? do you smoke it?"

"it's just dope."

mr fernwood sighed. he supposed it was just dope like a tv show was just a show. not like the old days when a tv show was a sitcom or a western or the news, and dope was grass or acid or cocaine and not just "dope".

"do you shoot it?" he asked bunny. "i don't have any works."

bunny shrugged. "i suppose you could shoot it, but you might be better off snorting it or just licking it. it is used in very small doses. here, let me show you." bunny took a tiny glassine envelope out of his pocket and gave it to mr fernwood.

"it looks empty."

"no, there's a few grains in there. but it's powerful stuff, that's all you need."

mr fernwood held the envelope right up to his eyes in the dim light from the single bulb in the lobby behind him. he could make out a few grayish-white specks.

"so you want to try it?"

"i don't know - what will i owe you?"

"nothing, knucklehead! i'm just giving it to you to try it out."

"that's what i thought, i just wanted to make sure. all right, i'll try it. but - uh - i don't want to go back upstairs. the - uh - old lady is kind of in a bad mood."

"i understand. well, you don't want to try it sitting here. tell you what, why you go over to sis's place. just around the corner."

"i know where sis lives."

"cool. i'll give her a call, tell her you're coming." bunny took his phone out of his pocket.

"all right then." mr fernwood put the dope in his pocket and went down the stairs past bunny and headed for the corner.

"good luck!" bunny called after him.

mr fernwood waved without looking back. he wondered how much luck he would need.

did this stuff even have a name?

maybe it was nothing, and would have no effect at all.

maybe it would bring back the old days, when he was frodo and mrs fernwood was blue star…

part 7 : blue star and frodo in the valley of the shadow

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