Skullcandy

The pen looked sturdy enough to pierce the goofy bastard’s skull, Max thought. It was one of those thick, black jobs with the gold accents that you screwed apart when you ran out of ink. It took cartridges. His dad had given him a pen like that once.

His dad had told him that it was an ‘astronaut’ pen, and that it could write upside down. Max didn’t know why an astronaut would need a pen. He had seen pictures and videos of the shuttle cockpit, and the place was lousy with computers. Why write with a pen if you had a computer? A personal letter, maybe? Was there mail in space? Max thought not. He doubted the USPS had included ‘meteor showers’ in their ‘rain, snow, sleet, or hail’ shuck and jive. Max had a vision of an astronaut sliding open a window in the space shuttle, (He didn’t think the windows on the space shuttle opened, but made an exception for this scenario) and just tossing out a letter. The letter was addressed and stamped, and fluttered away toward Earth. Max didn’t know if the letter would actually need a stamp in that situation, and who was to say the USA would be delivering the space mail anyway? Weren’t there Russians up there, too? What if–

“Did you hear what I said, Venton?” The goofy bastard asked.

“Sir?” Max said, shocked out of his daydream.

“That’s what I thought.” the goofy bastard said, shaking his head. Goofy’s name was Aadros Wilheimand. He was the 3rd shift floor supervisor. Aadros had been giving Max the proverbial business when Max had focused on the gold cap of the pen in his pocket and just kind of…zoned out.

“I’m sorry, what was it?”

“I said, it’s fucking dangerous!” Aadros yelled, slapping the clipboard on the  back end of Max’s forklift for emphasis. Max jumped.

“Dangerous? W-W-What?” Max stammered.

Aadros took the bottom of the clipboard and ran it up Max’s chest, getting behind the earbuds that were hanging from a cord Max had threaded through his collar. With a flick of his thick wrist, Aadros sent the buds flying in front of Max’s face.

“The headphones!” The big man shouted. “The god damn headphones! You can’t drive a lift with fucking headphones in your ears! It’s against OSHA regs, not to mention stupid.”

Max thought Aadros was the stupid one. He had a roach climbing up his left arm right now, and he didn’t even know it. And that thing with the headphones and the clipboard? What the hell was that? Those buds had cost him thirty bucks at Wally-World, and while that might not mean shit to a floor super like Aadros, it was…

“Almost all the guys wear earplugs.” Max said. It was out of his mouth so fast he couldn’t believe he said it.

“Earplugs Max, earplugs. Not fucking headphones. You can still hear with earplugs in. That noise you’ve got blasting through those things…” He lifted one of the little speakers off of Max’s chest and put it close to his own ear. He used his left hand, and the cockroach on his arm seemed unperturbed by the movement. It just adjusted and kept on truckin’ up Aadros’ arm, its carapace catching the light and turning it into an oil-sheen spectacle. Aadros made a face, an ugly mug that showed exactly what he thought of Max’s music. “You can’t hear nothin’. Head’s all full of screamin’ an’ shit. Sounds like someone’s bein’ murdered.”

Max looked at the pen again. He thought that he could see his face reflected in the gold there. He looked at the roach and felt sick.

“Aren’t you…?” Max asked, pointing to Aadros’ arm.

The big man looked, but the roach had scuttled around to the other side, and he didn’t see it. “Aren’t I what?” He asked, flapping his arms. Max couldn’t see if the roach flew off or not. There were…

“Aren’t you going to do anything about the noise?” He asked. He was trying not to look the floor super in the face, trying to look at the ceiling, but that was only a little better.

“The machines are loud Max. You know that. Also, earplugs! That’s what they’re for! To plug your ears?”

Max smirked and took a step back. he was getting aggravated, and he knew it. But, Aadros was screwing with him, right? Had to be. He had to know that the earplugs didn’t do anything for those noises. Cut right through the cheap Chinese pieces of trash like a laser through a mirror. Fuck. No, that’s not right, He meant…

Aadros’  heel came down, and there it was again.

Max belched. It tasted like old pennies and bad cheese. He held his hands out in front of him, his palms facing the big man.

That. That. I mean, I’m not so much worried about them–whatever. I know that times are tough. It’s probably not your call. Times are tough for me too, I get it. But that sound…” Max smiled and shook his head. there was no humor in it.

“Uh-huh.” Aadros said. And there was no humor in that, either. “You know, I’ve been getting complaints. Not just about the headphones.”

“I’ve got eyes don’t I? They don’t let you drive a lift without you being able to see, do they? ”

“Max, people have been saying that sometimes you just sit on the lift and stare at the floor, sometimes for fifteen minutes. I can’t have that. I’ve got shit that needs moved, I can’t…”

He kept talking, but just then Cheryl pulled the pallet jack behind him, and all Max could hear was the sound, like small wet bones snapping, like abbesses popping through callused skin under pressure. Under the wheels, with her feet keeping time.

The roach had made its way to Aadros’ collar. It started to crawl up his neck.

The sound was fading now, but it was the same. Always the same. Under the wheels of his lift, all night long.

Aadros was still talking, and it was funny. It was a funny ol’ thing that he could have a roach crawling right over his left ear like that, and not even bother to brush it off. It was funny how the noise didn’t keep Aadros awake when he was supposed to be sleeping, or fill his dreams with its all-encompassing wall of idiot sound.

Or maybe it wasn’t.

Maybe it wasn’t funny at all.

Max grabbed Aadros’ shirt with his left hand and pulled the big man towards him. He plucked the pen from the manager’s pocket and followed through with the motion until his arm was fully extended. He plunged the pen into Aadros’ skull, impaling the roach as he went.

Blood and yellow fluid leaked from around the pen. The supervisor convulsed, fell, hit the floor, crushing the undulating carpet of bugs as he crashed down. He shuddered, feet jittering, and the sound was like underwater maracas.

“Do you hear it now?” Max asked.

Cheryl turned and saw Aadros on the floor, shaking. She began to scream.

More noise. Max thought. He inserted his earbuds.

He thought of his father.

The roaches were everywhere. Covering the floor, climbing the walls. Sometimes, they fell from the ceiling.

He was standing on the lawn, standing where his father had told him to stand.

Once, he saw a particularly fat, shiny, roach get caught in Janice’s hair. Janice worked in shipping.

His father, running around the house, screaming. The blue kerosene can held high.

Janice never noticed. Max had walked away.

His father, screaming, “I’ve got you now, you sons of bitches!” Screaming about the locusts.

Aadros’ foot still twitched, still caused death beneath it. Max was glad he had his headphones in.

Max had never seen a locust. Never a one.

Max walked to the back of the lift and unbuckled the propane tank. He twisted the valve to ‘off’, then used his box cutter to sever the gas line.

The house had looked like a jack-o-lantern as it burned.

Max pulled out his Zippo and lit it in front of the severed end of the hose. He turned on the gas. Flame shot out of the end. Blue and pure.

Max walked. The hose was starting to melt, but that was okay. He didn’t mind. He began to sing.

Sometimes, a song was the best thing.

One Response to “Skullcandy”

  1. I lived in an apartment like that in Richmond, VA. Good story — yer Mom.

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