Monday, May 23, 2016

it isn't only crocodiles that cry, part 13: is it worth it?

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 roy dismas

part thirteen of thirteen

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous episode, click here

the rodeo chicken sandwich finally came.

johnny bit into it.

al watched him.

watch him bite into it, watch him as he chewed his mouthful.

watched him swallow the mouthful.

“how is it”?” al asked.

“good, real good.” johnny took another, slightly smaller bite. some grease and special sauce ran down his chin.

“but is it worth it?”

johnny finished chewing and took a sip of coffee. “you tell me. you paid for it. for which i thank you.”

“i meant,” al said. “is it worth everything? is it worth everything you are - is it worth worth what you are going to do?”

“i don’t know you are talking about, pal. do you know yourself what you are talking about?”

“let me amend that,” al sneered. “is it worth what you are supposed to do?”

johnny laughed, a little nervously. “now i really don’t know what you are talking about.”

“no? you think i can’t read you, johnny? i can read a cheap punk like you like a gideon bible on the longest, coldest night in a motel in montana.”

“and what do you read, exactly?” johnny shifted the sandwich in its paper wrapper so he could take another big bite.

“that you hired on to kill somebody. but you don’t have the guts to do it.”

johnny stopped mid-bite. “you - you’ve been following me.” he put the sandwich down and stared at al. “you’ve been following me all this time. why? why? who put you up to it?”

“i haven’t been following you. i haven’t thought about you in years - until i walked into this place tonight.”

“then you are just - just guessing. ha, ha! just guessing.”

“i never guess, johnnny. i know.” al ripped a sugar packet open and dumped the sugar into his coffee.

“you know, huh?”

“i know what it’s like to be you, johnny. to be lost and alone and a gutless punk in the black riptide of the galactic night. with the stars looking down and laughing in your watery eyes. and i know what your problem is.”

“which is what?”

“that your pappy didn’t beat you nearly enough - even though he beat you every night.”

“my pappy?” johnny managed a little laugh, and took another sip of coffee.

“sure, back on the farm. you are a farm boy, aren’t you?”

“uh - not that i remember.”

“sure you do. you remember when it all went wrong - when your pappy sold the farm. it’s hard on a boy, isn’t it, when the farm gets sold, and your dog gets eaten by a bear, and your girl - the one you thought was your girl - runs away with a razor strop salesman…”

then it came back to johnny… looking up from pitching hay to see junior running through the rain with buddy yapping at his heels, shouting through the wind…

“pa sold the farm! pa sold the farm! pa sold the fucking farm!”

and then pa running off with miss laura lee from the church choir…

and johnny and junior and buddy trying to hitch to denver… and the truck driver who wouldn’t let them take buddy… and the railroad men…

except … except that it never happened… it was just a movie… a movie that professor sturdworth showed him and the others in the laboratory…

the underground laboratory ten thousand miles below the surface of the earth…

professor sturdworth… and nurse mackintosh… and nosco the night man… where were they now?

all those lifetimes ago… all those wars ago… the fear and the hunger… the salt and sugar blowing through the galaxies like a million spiders’ eyes… and the snow blows the poles down across the prairie and the wires crackle in the wind.. red sparks flying over the bones of a billion jackrabbits…

the end