“You want it, Pressie, don’t you?” Allyson giggled. “Open wider…just a bit wider. There, that’s it.”
Allyson ripped off a raw, sticky scab on her right forearm. Balling it up, she flicked it towards Preston with her thumb and index finger. Leaping into the air with as much grace as a dog catching a Frisbee, Preston opened his mouth, gulping it down.
Allyson clapped enthusiastically. “Pressie caught the ballie-wallie. Good boy, Pressie!”
Holding hands, they continued their Sunday stroll through the park. Allyson walked much slower than usual because most of Ol’ Skellie’s skin, ligaments, and muscles were gone, save for a few patches here and there. In order to move forward at all, Allyson was forced to use the propulsion method Preston devised, stepping with her right leg, then drag-hopping Ol’ Skellie behind her.
“The band playing today on the Green is nice,” she said.
Preston stopped abruptly. “Haven’t I taught you anything about the musical arts, Allyson? That this band was even invited to “Jazz in the Park” is a sheer travesty. The ontcolophone is sharp, and the flumbaritone is flat.” Preston’s purple shirt transformed to black, just like his eyes. “And I thought I was dating a Picker with class. A Pickerof the Highest Order. The rarest of the rare.”
Allyson tore at her nonexistent cuticles until the nail beds bled rivers of blood. “You’re right, of course, Pres, you’re always right.”
For a few moments, they walked in silence up the orange path.
“Your earwigs are ‘specially cute today, Pres,” she offered hopefully.
Preston’s shirt turned purple again. “I’d say the same to you, if I hadn’t bitten both of yours off!” He laughed heartily. Leaning down, he moved his long, black hair to the side, exposing his right, double-jointed earlobe. “You may continue your adulation fest, Ally-Wallie.”
Allyson removed her teeth, preparing to nibble on Preston’s four earlobes, when something hard hit Ol’ Skellie on the spot where his calf was once attached. Although there were few, if any, nerve endings left in Ol’ Skellie, Allyson could still feel certain vibrations - and this one hurt badly. Looking down, she saw a yellow rubber ball lodged between her metatarsal bones. Nearby, stood an UnmarkedOne with large blue eyes.
Replacing her teeth in her gums, Allyson dislodged the ball from her leg. “My lovely girl, is this yours?”
The child nodded. Allyson smiled, giving her the toy.
“Look, Pres, doesn’t she have the most gorgeous blue eyes and the prettiest blonde hair you have ever seen?”
Preston put on his spectacles, examining the child from head to toe. “Actually, she’s quite ordinary, if you ask me. Just look at that creamy skin. Not a mark on her. Obviously, a poor, disadvantaged UnmarkedOne. Not a Picker. And, thus, unlike you my sweet, bound for a life of mediocrity.”
Allyson frowned with her absent eyebrows. “I don’t like the Castes. They’re not fair.”
“Well, my dear, like them or not, the Castes are an integral part of our society. For centuries, they have kept order and harmony in our culture. But enough of politics that you cannot possibly comprehend. Let us leave this pathetic little UnmarkedOne behind and continue on our walk.” He looked up. “What a lovely maroon-colored sky, today.”
Allyson sliced her palm open with a pair of golden scissors - a birthday gift from Preston - and let the blood drip into the blue soil. A golden chrysanthemum burst forth from the earth, which Allyson handed to the child.
“For you my precious Unmarked girl.”
At this, Preston yanked Allyson up by her brittle tufts of hair, glaring into her remaining eyeball. “What in the world did you do that for, Allyson?”
“I…I didn’t mean anything, Pres, really. She was just so cute and…”
Preston pulled her closer to his face. “She was just so cute,” he mocked in a singsong voice. “You know your gifts are strictly reserved for Pickreceivers like me. I could have your wounds healed for this, you know. And then you could join your precious little milky-skinned child in the Unmarked housing projects.”
“Please - please don’t. I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
Preston shook Allyson so hard, that her last eyelash fell out, spinning to the ground like a jungoldian tree seedling. “Sorry isn’t good enough, Al. That ugly smoothed skinned brat is worthy of your gifts. That hideous Ziguanasaur, Cockeyed, is worthy of your gifts. But apparently, Preston is not. What does Preston get instead? Scraps from the table.” As he huffed in anger, one of Allyson’s finger joints blew out of his nose. “I hate scraps.”
“That’s not true, Preston. You know how much I worship you. Haven’t I proven how much I love you?”
Preston dropped Allyson like a sack of potatoes. Stomping over to the child, he grabbed the chrysanthemum out of her hand and stuffed it in his mouth. Then, standing over Allyson, he chewed it excruciatingly slowly, before gulping it down. Bursting into tears, the little girl ran away, causing Preston to erupt into a fit of hysterical laughter, yellow flower petals still stuck to his red lips. “That’s right, poor, deprived Unmarked One. Go back to the Unmarked Projects and live off the government’s Unmarked welfare checks. HAH, HAH, HAH!”
After helping Allyson up and re-positioning Ol’ Skellie in the drag-hop position, they continued their walk through the park. Preston, however, refused to hold what was left of Allyson’s hand, walking briskly up the path, his back towards her.
“Come on, Preston. I said I was sorry. Ol’ Skellie and I can hardly keep up. Please! What do I have to do to make you forgive me?”
Preston turned around, facing Allyson’s half-face.
“I don’t like what’s been happening between us, Al. Lately, you have been spending most of your time and gifts on charity cases like that Unmarkedgarbage.”
“That’s not true, Preston.” Allyson pointed at Ol’ Skellie. “Few Pickers would have done this for their Pickreceivers, you know. Few would have even been capable of doing so.”
Preston snorted. “Ol’ Skellie was not even cut from the golden scissors I honored you with for your birthday. Rather, you chose to create him with the Swiss army knife those trashy, lower Caste friends of yours gave you. You show more deference to them than you do me, a high-ranking Pickreceiver Senator.”
“If you are talking about Blair and Julie, they’re nice people.”
“Nice people? Nice people?” As Preston shook his head, a part of Allyson’s kidney shot out of his left ear. “How can you be so naïve, Al? Blair and Julie didn’t ask you to chop off your index finger because they are ‘nice’ people. They want to feed off your pain and eat your body like vampires. I should have them arrested for Unlawfully Taking Flesh Advantage of a True Picker and the partner of a Senator.”
Allyson hung her head. “I just want some friends, Pres.”
Preston snapped her head up, almost cracking her C-4 vertebrae in half. “I’ll tell you when you can have friends, Allyson. And they certainly won’t be flesh scum like Blair and Julie. Unfortunately, however, Blair and Julie are the least of our problems these days. That hideous Ziguanasaur you have swimming in our bath gets more attention - and more of your tissue - than Blair, Julie, and me - combined!”
“But, Preston, I’ve had Cockeyed since I was seven. You know how much he means to me.”
“Humph. Means more to you than me it seems. Just like everyone else.”
“That’s not true.”
“Oh, really? ‘Cockeyed needs Allyson’s blood. Cockeyed needs some of Allyson’s bone shards to munch on. Cockeyed needs a piece of Allyson’s liver.’ Good Planets, Allyson. Cockeyed is eating us out of your body. Soon there will be nothing left for me, if that scaly, slimy monster has its way.”
“I only give him little bits of myself, Preston. Ziguanasaurs can’t survive without Pickermeat.”
“Allyson, you know very well that Picker Substitute Flakes will do just fine for Ziguanasaurs. Keeps them just as healthy as real Pickermeat.”
“Studies have shown that’s not true, Preston.”
Preston crossed his arms, turning his back on her again.
“I’m not talking to you anymore Allyson. You are insolent and rude. Perhaps I should find another Picker who worships me as I deserve to be worshipped. There are plenty who would love to take your place. Of course, your powers of mutilation are one-of-a kind, but I suppose I could use my contacts in the Senate to find a Picker almost as exceptional as you.”
“I have something for my big, baby Pressie-Wessie that I know he’ll like,” whispered Allyson in Preston’s double ear canals. “Come on, Pressie, be a good baby boy - Allyson has a present for woo.”
Preston slowly turned around, still with his arms crossed defensively across his chest.
Retrieving the golden scissors from her pocket, Allyson gouged the outline of two hearts on her only cheek.
“From my hearts to yours, Pres.”
The stern corners of Preston’s mouth began to quiver ever so slightly. And, although he pursed his thin lips harder than ever, he soon broke out into a wide smile. Opening his mouth, he traced the outline of Allyson’s cheek hearts with his blue-ringed worm tongue, greedily slurping up the blood.
“Come here you,” he said, gathering Allyson in his arms. “You know I can never stay mad at you for very long.” He gazed lovingly into her one remaining eyeball. “Just please promise not to disobey me again.”
“I promise, Pressie,” said Allyson. “I really, really promise this time.”
Arm in arm they walked over the Sweetheart Bridge, stopping for a minute to admire the raw, ulcerated wounds on Allyson’s face and arms. Some were grossly infected, spurting pus as Preston fondly squeezed them. Together they poked at the injured tissue with a fork left over from their picnic, digging out pebbles and other debris embedded in the wet, oozing mass.
Next, Preston picked up Ol’ Skellie by the kneecap, moving him up and down like a ventriloquist’s puppet. “I’m Ol’ Skellie and I LUUUUV Allyson,” he said in an extra deep, death-like voice. Allyson laughed, flinging her strands of flesh into his arms. “I love you too, Pressie.”
“I have a surprise for you, Al,” announced Preston on their way up sixteenth street towards their Penthouse.
Allyson jumped up and down as best she could. “Oh, Preston, I can hardly wait. Will I like it?”
“That’s a silly question, Allyson. You know I have impeccable taste.”
Allyson stopped jumping. “You’re right, Preston. How could I say such a stupid thing?”
“No, worries, Al. I forgive your insolence. Now close your eye.”
Preston opened the front door, leading Allyson by the hand through the grand foyer, the great room, and into the master bathroom. “Open your eye, Allyson.”
Allyson’s fleshless jawbone dropped open.
“Here, my dear,” he said pointing to the whirlpool bath, “is your surprise. You love it, no doubt?”
“Preston…there is a bunch of…of….”
“Not a bunch, Allyson. A Google. There is a Google of Suckupuses in our whirlpool bath.”
Allyson rushed to the side of the tub, scanning it from end to front. “But, Preston, I don’t see Cockeyed anywhere.”
A grunt-like sigh emerged from the back of Preston’s throats. “Well, of course you don’t, Allyson. The Suckupuses ate him. That’s what they do.” He patted her exposed scapula. “Don’t worry, Al, Cockeyed didn’t feel a thing. But if you want a memento…” he reached into his pocket, retrieving a purplish-green, scaly tail and handing it to her. “Here you go. Why don’t you preserve it in formaldehyde? Something to remember him by. I will at least permit you that.”
Allyson held Cockeye’s damp, ragged tail to her cheek. “So my surprise is that you filled our tub with Suckupuses and let them eat Cockeyed,” she said softly.
Preston clasped his hands behind his back, holding his index finger up in a professorial manner. “Did you know that Suckupuses are amongst the most intelligent of the swimming exoskeleton species on our planet? They actually care for their fry. Moreover, unlike that freeloading, puce-colored monstrosity you had swimming in our bath, Suckupuses do not consume Pickers without giving anything back. So thoughtful are they, that they will only eat small parts of you - just enough to sustain themselves - saving the best pieces for me. See that altar at the far end of the tub? Out of respect for me, they will deposit my portions of you there.” He smiled broadly. “So you see, my sweet, now we have a pet that benefits us both. A truly symbiotic relationship at last, wouldn’t you agree?”
Suddenly, Ol’ Skellie began to tremble ever so slightly. A buzzing sensation, like a Beewhiz colony descending from the second moon at harvest time.
“But there’s even more, Al,” said Preston, his dark eyes shining with excitement. “I also bought you a book about Suckupuses.” Placing his spectacles on his razor-thin nose, he flipped the first page open. “From the genus ‘Suckupus Aeropalis.’ They hail from the Jerunder Moon. Very, very rare. And extraordinarily expensive. I’ll expect you to shower them with the same care and love as you did that plebeian Ziguanasaur gargoyle.”
Now Ol’ Skellie shuddered so violently that it was difficult for Allyson to hear Preston’s extended speech on the merits of Suckupuses over the sound of her toe bones banging on the tiled floor. As if Ol’ Skellie was a horn on a battlefield calling the troops to action, all Allyson’s exposed bones followed suit, clattering and rattling like never before. Next, her wounds began to scream, a high, shrill noise that only she could hear. From her remaining eye, rolled round, ruby tears that acted like a magnifying glass, making Preston look engorged and misshapen, like an artist’s failed rendition of an Edvard Munch painting.
“Ah,” said Preston. “That’s what I like to see. Tears of joy from your lovely, disfigured face, and shivers of wonder from your broken bones.” He clasped his hands together. “I knew you would love my gift. I just knew it!”
“I do love my gift, Preston. I do, indeed. So much so that I want you to stand in front of the tub,” said Allyson. “I want to admire your handsomeness as you gaze at our gorgeous new Suckupuses. I’m going to take a photo of you with my eye - for I want to preserve this image in my memory forever.”
“Why, Allyson. What a lovely notion,” said Preston moving directly in front of the tub, smoothing his suit pockets and straightening his tie. “Sometimes, it occurs to me that you might not be as tasteless as I think you are. Particularly, when you have insights such as this. Take many photos, while I continue to read. The images you produce of me will most certainly be published in the Daily Picker, no doubt garnering me more favor with the Pickreceiver sympathizers than ever before.”
“Good idea, Pres. You read, and I’ll take photos.”
“Hmmm, how fascinating,” said Preston. “This paragraph says that “...surgical creatures are the Suckupus species, producing, without exception.....” Preston never saw Ol’ Skellie sneak up behind him. Nor did he notice Ol’ Skellie jerk upwards like a robot’s leg, pushing him into the tub, where he landed with a loud splash.
“A-L-L-Y-S-O-N! WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? HELP ME OUT OF HERE IMMEDIATELY!”
“No,” said Allyson.
“WHAT? AS YOUR PICKPARTNER AND A MEMBER OF THE SENATE, I ORDER YOU TO GET ME OUT OF THIS TUB?”
Allyson crossed her half-eaten hands over each other, watching the Suckupuses quietly gather at Preston’s feet in military-like formation, the largest and fiercest one with the sharpest teeth at the front of the inverted V. “You're not the only one who knows a thing or two about Suckupuses, Pressie-Wessie. While Suckupuses won’t hurt Pickers, everyone else is on the menu.” Her partly chewed off lips curled up into a knowing smirk.
Preston attempted to pull himself up, but the tub was coated by a special Suckupus nutrient-rich lubricant, and he slipped back down into the water like a limp piece of string.
“Give them back to me, and I’ll let you out, Preston,” said Allyson. “MAKE ME WHOLE.”
Preston, his spectacles crooked on his nose, his hair matted to his head like a helmet, stared condemningly at her. “NEVER. You relinquished your flesh freely. I never forced you. In fact you enjoyed it, you Picker slut. I know you did, bitch. And now, according to the law, you are mine forever - flesh and soul!”
Allyson looked at the Suckupus alpha male. A skinny black forked tongue circled his drooling, cavernous mouth. “Oh, I doubt that, Preston. I doubt that very much.”
Allyson glanced once more at the alpha male. For a moment, the Suckupus’ vertical pupil met that of the female Picker’s round one. And, in that sliver of a second, a silent agreement was signed, sealed, and delivered. Afterwards, like a Roman legion, the entire Suckupus Google descended on Preston….
At first, the water bubbled like hot springs - droplets spurting and vibrating like geothoermally heated groundwater from the planet’s crust - little dancing, frothy sprites, until the water exploded upwards like a chocolate fountain at a wedding. Except there was no chocolate here. And no band to play drunken love songs. Only blood. A blood-colored volcano, erupting with hot ligament magma and tendon-filled lava.
From Preston came no screams. No tortured cries. Only one, virtually indistinguishable gurgle-gag from underneath the churning red water. And, for a millisecond of a second, a desperate arm extended upwards, holding the book on Suckupuses. Allyson quickly grabbed the ravaged tome, and opened it. “You didn’t quite finish reading your last sentence, Preston. What’s that? Suckupus got your tongue? Here, let me help you. Ah, yes, here is the pertinent paragraph: ‘Surgical creatures are the Suckupus species, producing, without exception, surgical results.’ Hmm. I would agree with that Preston, wouldn’t you?” she said, as his arm was pulled back down into the merlot melee, crunched, munched and ripped from its socket, where it was summarily digested.
After a few more minutes, Allyson’s missing eye popped out of the apex of the explosive water, like a cork out of a champagne bottle. Catching it mid-air, Allyson placed it back in its socket. This was followed by a steady stream of other bodily parts: bones, cartilage, muscles, organ sections, huge quantities of blonde hair, and yards of intestines, all of which Allyson carefully replaced in or on her body. And then, like dozens of flying capes, her missing skin regurgitated from the effervescent, bloody tower of tissue. Although some of it had already been partially digested in Preston’s stomach, Allyson used Skin Renew to glue what was left back onto her muscles. Finally, last, but not least, Allyson lovingly attended to Ol’ Skellie, meticulously replacing his muscles, cartilage, and nerve endings, lastly stretching his skin over her leg like a long sock, until it was functional once again.
Spitting in the palm of her hand, Allyson created another chrysanthemum which she placed behind her ear. Finally, she dared look at her reflection in the mirror. Creamy skin. Like butter silk from grecius worms, two eyes as blue as azure diamonds from the mines of the Calvania Ocean, and hair so shiny, it blazed like the Reatoria suns at the second winter solstice. After admiring herself for some time, Allyson turned to leave. But before closing the door on her way out, she paused for a moment, walking over to the tub and addressing the spectacle-wearing skull floating in the flesh-chunked waters.
“Yes, Preston,” said Allyson, “I like my present very much. How about you?”
|< Prev||Next >|