by ED TEJA
The Gruesome Twosome by Gareth Williams | Flickr
Surprise and Menace met in a bar in Oakland. Immediately they sized each other up, neither liking what they saw. They snarled and postured for about 1450 words before Menace spiked Surprises' drink. After four or five spiked drinks, heroic Surprise fell heroically unconscious on the dirty floor.
A short scene break later, Surprise woke up and found himself chained up in the hold of a ship with a ringtailed monkey, named Eloise. “Morning,” she said.
“Those rings!” Surprise shouted. “They are fake.”
“This is fiction,” Eloise said.
Surprise grabbed the startled monkey’s tail and examined the fake rings. “They are encrypted.”
Eloise nodded. “Skipping ahead you’ll learn the truth,” she said.
“This is a short story,” Surprise said. “Cut to the chase.”
“They are encrypted and hold the secret to the coming Filipina invasion of Half Moon Bay. This ship we are on is headed out to sea to meet them.”
That, he decided, explained why the ship was so very clean.
Surprise twisted Eloise's tail, in a surprise twist, and she confessed. “I’m taking this ringtailed message to the ringleader, Ringa Lea Tale.”
“But why would you do this? You seem like a fine monkey,” Surprise said.
“The evil Menace is holding my family hostage.”
Seeing her distress, Surprise convinced her to tattoo the message on his neck. With that done, she could leave, and he would deliver the message.
Over the course of the next 1500 words, Surprise was delighted to find the ringleader of the Filipinas was a beautiful and delicate mercenary of Russian and Ethiopian descent. She couldn't read, however, and had expected the monkey to tell her the message. If the plot was foiled, then Eloise's family would be in deep shit and so would they. The evil Menace still remotely controlled the ship and was expecting the Filipinas to attack on schedule, right after they finished cleaning his Airbnb in Sausalito.
Approaching shore and the conclusion, Surprise, who had been released by the kindly cleaning ladies, found that there were far too many mysteries and theories running through his brain for one man to handle. If he didn't clear his head before he confronted Menace, he had no chance of defeating him. As he broke into tears at the thought of failure, an overweight Filipina who had developed a crush on him, took him in her arms and consoled him, telling him a story (a short, not exceeding 250 words, but essential flashback) about her grandfather's best friend, who had been a samurai.
"Before he went into battle, he always drank a glass of bleach, to purify himself," she said, holding out an inviting glass. "It made him brave and protected him from COVID, but be careful."
"It will give you the runs."
Surprise choked down the vile drink, fortifying himself with the knowledge that, like Super Chicken's Super Sauce, it would give him the edge he needed to defeat Menace, clean his insides, and possibly ease the pain in his neck that came from having gotten it in the neck three times in a single short story.
Ready now, he jumped onto the dock, even before the ship had been tied up, striding toward his meeting with Destiny (Menaces' nickname). Before he reached the end of the dock, he was jumped by three large longshoremen, enraged that his actions violated the recent union contract that required the ship to hire dockworkers to carry all passengers ashore.
Chastened, Surprise gave them permission to beat him mercilessly.
Then, his scores settled, and back on the right side of goodness once again, having done his penance, and only slightly mangled by experience, he headed to meet Menace at the only address he had — a McDonald's restaurant near the port. As he approached, he saw Menace, menacing him. They faced each other, glaring, lips trembling.
Surprise reached for his Swiss Army knife, but before he could open it, they were both run over by a Convey for Freedom headed north to protest the lack of banned books in a public library in Weed, California.
The convoy finally arrived in Weed at dusk and, as one of the drivers hosed Menace and Surprise off his truck's grill, another scouted around and learned they were too late.
“The library burned down two hours ago,” he said, “due to climate change, arson, and underfunding.” The distraught protester pointed to a pile of charred paper and plastic. “Only a few books survived,” he protested. “And not a single audiobook.”
The driver threw his hose down in disgust and picked up one of the books. "We could have had a damned good time reading all these books." He flipped to the last page of the charred volume in his hand and read: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"
Ed Teja is a lifelong writer and denizen of the margins of the world. A former magazine editor, musician, and Caribbean boat bum, he writes stories about the people he meets and places he goes—stories that reach deep into the odd corners of the world that often disappear into the margins, and tell of the amazing, often strange, people that inhabit those places. Learn more at www.edteja.com or on twitter: http://twitter.com/ETeja