Product Placement

by Chuck Wendig

The glass of the vending machine was cool against Donnie’s head. He stood like that for a few minutes, eyes half-shut. He considered going to sleep. Dumb, given that his motel room was about ten feet to his right. But the glass of the machine was about as comfortable as the bed in there, so it was give-or-take.

“Breakfast,” he reminded himself, and focused his eyes on the treats inside the box.

His bleary gaze scanned over the options. Captain’s Wafer crackers? Probably a good idea given the pulsing hangover that lived in his brain and gut, but the idea of dry carbs just wasn’t doing it for him. Pretzels? Meh. He’d rather eat a handful of sand.

Wait. Oh yeah, there it was. Chocolate.

Damn yeah.

A yellow wrapper caught his attention. Top right corner of the machine.

Flix Bar.

He’d never had one. Never heard of one, actually.

Blinking, he popped his quarters into the slot, and punched the code. The metal coil uncoiled, sending the bar plummeting to the bottom with a bang.

<*>

Donnie watched the farm report – well, the farm report was on, but who really watches the farm report? – and examined the Flix Bar.

Yellow wrapper, as noted. “Flix Bar” written in blue letters bordered by pink. A little green thing, some kind of alien by the look of it, held up a pair of delighted jazz-hands next to the logo. Big smile, too, on that alien. Purple teeth grinning.

He tore the bar open.

Inside, a dark chocolate brick.

He smelled it. Strong cocoa smell. Or cacao. Or whatever.

Using his front teeth like a rabbit, he bit the end off the candy bar. The taste of honey hit his tongue. Some kind of sweet syrup – not quite caramel, definitely not nougat – connected with the roof of his mouth and he had to lick it off.

“Oh, man,” he mumbled through the sweetness, “that’s good.”

The texture was just right, too. Soft chocolate, wet honey-goo, crunchy flake wafer. He picked a gobbet of candy from a back molar, savoring it, then glanced at the alarm clock next to the bed. Donnie had to move a half-empty bottle of tequila and a pair of dirty socks to see it.

“Ah, crap.”

He was going to be late for work. Again.

<*>

That didn’t stop him from grabbing two more Flix Bars from the machine on the way out, of course.

<*>

Bob Horkin, with his smashed-flat nose and puckered butthole eyes, came over and dropped a stack of pink forms in front of Donnie.

“Late again,” Horkin said, sniffing, snorting, gloating.

Donnie rubbed his temples with his thumbs. His head throbbed.

“Mm,” he answered, squinting.

“Tie one on last night?”

Donnie mustered a nod.

“How long’s it been now?” Horkin asked.

“How’s long’s it been since what, Bob?”

“C’mon, Donnie. Since Tracy left you.”

“Week. And one day. Thanks for your sensitivity, by the way.”

Horkin shrugged. “You really knock her up? That why she left?”

“Bug off, Horkin.”

“You gonna get those forms filled out today?”

Donnie gritted his teeth. The guy’s voice was like sandpaper on his frontal lobe. “Didn’t I just say to bug off? Bug off. Shoo.”

“Gimme one of those Flix Bars, and I’ll leave.”

Next to the mountain of pink forms, and only a few inches from the leaning tower of blue forms, sat the two Flix Bars he’d purchased earlier.

“You like Flix Bars?” Donnie asked.

“Always have.”

“Then, no, you can’t have one. Go away.”

Horkin made some exhalation of disgust – a pfah! sound – and marched off. Donnie didn’t need him as a friend. Denying that man pleasure was the only measure of satisfaction he could muster. To bring up Tracy? Low. His heart hurt just thinking about her. Like someone had tied a boat anchor to it, and the weight was dragging it into his guts. He didn’t deserve this. Maybe he deserved the hangover, sure. But not the heartache.

“One of those candy bars for me, man?”

Donnie looked behind him, found Tabor bringing the mail cart with the one squeaky, epileptic wheel. Tabor was huge, hunkered over that cart like Godzilla playing pinball. The fact that the cart was painted white and Tabor was about the darkest shade of black outside of a midnight sky during a lunar eclipse, it only enhanced the visual.

“As a matter of fact,” Donnie said, “it is.” And it was, too, no lie. He tossed a Flix Bar back, and Tabor caught it in the palm of one tennis racket hand.

Tabor pulled up an empty chair.

“How you holding up, brother?” he asked.

“Yeah, let’s not talk about that.”

The big dude’s lips formed a surprised ‘o.’

“What?” Donnie asked.

“It’s your breath, man. You don’t need to tell me how you’re doing, because your breath tell the whole damn story. Smells like someone poured tequila on a dead possum and shoved it in your mouth to pickle for a couple days, maybe weeks.”

“I drank some.”

“Some?”

“Most. All. Just eat your Flix Bar.”

Tabor crumpled the wrapper, shot it at a wastebasket and missed. Shrugging, he bit his candy bar in half. It formed a swollen lump in his cheek as he chewed.

“Like it?” Donnie said. “I figured you might wanna try one.”

“Try one? I love these things.”

“Oh, you had one before? This was my first.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Yeah, right what? I’ve never had a Flix Bar before.”

“Who hasn’t had a Flix Bar? That’s like someone saying they’ve never had a can of Coke or a Big Mac. You living in a cave in Afghanistan or something?”

“Shut up, I’ve never even seen one of these before.”

Tabor pitched the second half of the Flix Bar into his maw and chomped away. He waved a dismissive hand at Donnie. “Whatever, man. You’re still drunk, that’s what I’m hearing you say.” He stood up, swung the chair back under an empty cubicle desk. “Never had a Flix Bar before, my ass. I’ll see you later, Donnie. Stay sane, brother.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”

“Fine. Uh-huh.”

<*>

It was a curious thing, how alcohol cured a hangover. It’d be like if getting punched in the face a second time helped the pain of the first.

He couldn’t do tequila, though, so tonight it was cheap wine. Tasted like fake strawberry. Came in a box. Perfect.

“I’m going to rot my teeth out of my head,” he said to himself as he unwrapped another Flix Bar.

He started to crumple the wrapper, but then uncrumpled it.

On the back, he read: “Made by Perigree!”

Never heard of them, either. Must be a new company, he figured.

As he licked smears of chocolate from the corners of his mouth and the flats of his front teeth, Donnie thought about Tracy. It was hard not to, which was what the wine was for – to smother those thoughts beneath pillows (of rock salt and sackcloth). Drowning was probably the better metaphor, but Donnie didn’t much care.

He wondered aloud what she was going to name the kid.

“Boy or a girl?” he asked nobody. Appropriately, nobody answered.

Stupid kid. Stupid Tracy, wanting to have a kid.

“I’m not stupid.” He licked his lips and reached for the remote. “I’m smart.”

<*>

The fruity wine, now half-empty, was starting to gross Donnie out. The sweet candy treats – four Flix Bars by this point, he was going to have the worst case of acne – weren’t helping. He wanted something salty. Maybe pretzels, even though, you know, blah, yuck. Instead, he just sat propped up against the headboard of the bed, flicking through channels, feeling queasy.

Buzzing past a channel, he caught a glimpse of something.

Green alien. Purple teeth.

Waggling jazz-hands.

He flicked back.

“—proud to announce the 50th Anniversary Flix Bar! Inside every special edition Flix Bar is a secret code! Text message the code to this number –“

Sure enough, a number flashed on the screen below the dancing alien.

“—and Flixy the Moon Alien might call you back to tell you you’re a winner!”

“What do I win?” Donnie asked the television. Being half-drunk and three-quarters queasy, he believed that the television could probably hear him. He was not disappointed. The screen erupted in colors. The alien put a few new moves into his dancing: a little disco spice, a dash of Travolta, a pinch of roller rink panache. It made Donnie dizzy just watching it.

“You win a lifetime supply of Flix Bars!”

“Ugh.” His stomach roiled at the thought.

Wait.

The 50th Anniversary?

“I call bullshit!” Donnie stammered.

No way this stupid candy bar had been around for fifty years. It couldn’t have been around for five years, much less fifty.

“Screw you, Flixy! Moon Alien bastard!”

Donnie pitched the remote at the television. It caught the corner, and spun upwards in an erratic mid-air pirouette. It hit the wall and exploded into many pieces.

“Serves you right, remote control.”

Sometime soon after, Donnie found himself in the bathroom, throwing up.

Sometime soon after that, Donnie passed out in the tub.

<*>

His head was ringing.

No. Wait. Phone.

A phone was ringing.

Somehow, he managed to crawl out of the tub and slug himself to the nightstand by the bed. The alarm clock told him it was just past two in the morning.

He answered the phone.

“Guh,” he said.

“Donnie.”

“Tracy,” he said, surprised. His mouth turned to cotton. He felt suddenly very awake, very sober. “How’d you –?”

“Find you? Tabor gave me the motel name.”

“Oh.” She sounded like she’d been crying. “Have you been crying?”

She sniffed. “I did it.”

“What? Did what?”

“I had an abortion.”

Silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds.

“Well, that’s good, right?” he asked, finally.

She didn’t say anything. Just another sniff.

“Now we can get back together,” he said. It was true. Wasn’t it? Couldn’t they? No baby to drag them down? No sudden pressure to get married, raise a litter?

She said nothing. Nada. Just her, breathing. Just transmissible grief.

“Babe –“ he tried.

“It’s over,” she said. “We’re done. I just wanted – I just needed you to know.”

“Trace –“

Click.

He tried calling her back.

Went straight to voicemail.

“Guh,” he said, and curled up in a ball.

<*>

At work, everything hurt. The fluorescent light pried open his eyes like a demon with hands of white fire. The demon tore open his eyelids and kicked him in the pupil repeatedly. His mouth tasted of brine-soaked gym socks. His lips were dry like balsa wood.

Everyone was looking at him. Eyes peered over cubicle walls. Whispers and murmurs drifted around; he caught his name, periodically.

Even Horkin seemed suddenly sensitive.

The pig-faced jerk brought by another ream of forms to add to the still-existing pile resting on Donnie’s desk.

His beady stare drifted up and down Donnie, then he laughed, all nervous-like.

“You probably don’t need these, right now,” Horkin said. He picked the forms back up.

“Your voice sounds like hammers,” Donnie said.

“I’ll bring these back later,” Bob said, retreating.

Sometime later, Tabor came up behind him, rested one of those hamhock hands on Donnie’s shoulders (though in his defense, it was as gentle a touch as Donnie had felt, almost as if Donnie would break into little fragments if he wasn’t handled with the uttermost gingerness).

“Lunch time, man,” Tabor said.

“Not hungry,” Donnie managed.

“I think we need to go out somewhere. Right now.”

“Can’t. Work to do.” Not that he was doing it. Stupid work.

“Donnie?”

“Tabor.”

“You know you’re wearing sweatpants? And a robe? No shirt?”

It was news to him. He looked down. Sure enough, gray pair of sweatpants (with a few chocolate stains on the thighs, thankfully upfront and not behind him), ratty hotel robe, and – whoops – no shirt. Sweat beaded in his meager chest hairs.

“Huh,” Donnie said. “Uh-oh.”

<*>

It was a gray day outside, bleak and bleary and with clouds that looked like hairballs bobbing across the steely expanse. Tabor drove – a hatchback Honda far too small for his hulking musculature – and Donnie sat in the passenger side, lying against the seatbelt strap, moaning.

Tabor wanted to talk. He was friends with both Donnie and Tracy, he said. Wanted to help everybody.

“Then help us get back together,” Donnie said.

“Don’t work like that, dude. Abortion’s some rough stuff.”

“So she told you.”

Tabor paused. “Yeah. She told me.”

“She regrets it,” Donnie said. “I heard it in her voice.”

“Do you regret it?”

“No.” Lie. Big lie. Gigantor lie with crushing feet. “Yes. I don’t know.”

“I’m hungry,” Tabor said.

“Super. I’m sitting here, my head feeling like a rotten pumpkin filled with bees, and I’m pouring my heart out – in a conversation you started, by the by – and now you don’t care and just want to eat.” Donnie closed his eyes and breathed loudly. “Fee Fie Fo Fum, Tabor smells the blood of an English-mun.”

Tabor rolled his eyes. “Man, don’t be that way. Listen, you want to keep talking, then we need to eat. It’s lunch time. I got blood sugar issues.”

“Fine. Fine.”

“Where you wanna go?”

“Not hungry. Don’t care.”

Tabor waved a hand. “You gotta eat something. When’s the last time you ate?”

“Last night. Flix bars and boxed wine.”

“Oh, you a health nut, now.”

“Don’t mock me.”

Tabor started rattling off restaurants – local joints, chain places, fast food.

“Fast food,” Donnie said. He needed some grease to hold his body together.

“Where?”

“Burger King. I think I want Burger King.”

“The hell is Burger King?”

“What?”

“You deaf?” Tabor enunciated every word: “What. Is. Burger. King?”

Donnie felt his pulse quicken. He didn’t need this kind of nonsense. His head was fragile already, a Faberge egg held together with spit and masking tape. Tabor, his best friend – and without Tracy, his only friend – was turning against him, toying with his tender brainmeats.

“Shut up!” Donnie barked. “You damn well know what a, a, a Burger King is! It’s the place! Where the – the King of Burgers lives! Golden crown? Kind of a gay beard? Big smile? The BK Broiler? Jesus!” He pounded the dashboard with the flat of his hand to enunciate how little he wished to be messed with right now.

“You need to settle down, man. I seriously don’t know what you’re talking about, I am not making this up. Tell me. Is there a Burger King nearby?”

Teeth clenched. He was thisclose to screeching like an attacking raptor and pouncing on Tabor with beak and talon (or at least unbrushed teeth and sweaty palms). He sucked in a deep breath. “Burger King. Corner of Redstone and Spring Market. By the entrance ramp to the bypass.”

Tabor frowned. Waited. “Oooookay.”

“Okay what? What’s the frown for?”

“That’s not a Burger King.”

“It’s not a – well, then, what is it?”

“Man, that’s the Burrito Hut.”

<*>

“The Burrito Hut,” Donnie read the sign.

It’s what the sign said. A slim burrito arch – the giant tortilla dripping fake hot sauce, beans, meat chunks, and for some goddamn reason the giant tortilla had big googly eyes – framed the words.

It wasn’t new, either. The Hut looked weathered. Its purple walls were fading, pocked; someone had sprayed graffiti on the back dumpster. Place was busy, though. Cars lined up in the drive-thru. Parking lot at least half full, and through the glare on the outside window Donnie could see people agglomerating at the counter.

“This used to be a Burger King,” Donnie said. “Like, yesterday.”

Tabor blinked. Eyes narrowed to concerned slits.

“It’s been here forever, you say?” Donnie asked.

Tabor nodded. “Yeah, dude. I eat here all the time. Their Shimmy-Chimi is pretty much the best damn thing since cable television.”

“And you love Flix Bars.”

“You know it.”

“And you’ve never heard of a Burger King.”

Tabor held up his hands like a Vegas dealer, slapped them together as if to show that he wasn’t cheating. “Never, not once.”

“I gotta go,” Donnie said, suddenly.

“I gotta eat,” Tabor countered.

Abruptly, Donnie left the idling car and ran. Somewhere behind him, Tabor’s voice called after him, but it was lost, forgotten. He didn’t know where he was running, or even why, but there was the distinct feeling that something was both chasing him, and he was chasing something.

<*>

That night, Donnie found himself back at the motel room. His legs burned and itched from all the running. He hadn’t stopped running since he took off out of Tabor’s car, which was easily six hours ago. His robe was soaked with sweat. His sweat pants were soaked with sweat, too, though arguably that was their purpose, you know, hence the name.

He looked in the mirror of the bathroom, barely recognized himself.

Bloodshot eyes. Gaunt face. Mouth frozen in a slightly-horrified rictus.

He was seeing things, too. All during the run, he felt a presence behind him. His peripheral vision caught sight of something, too, like a shape running alongside of him, watching him from behind hedgerows and trashcans. The shadow wasn’t a big thing, no larger than a dog or a dwarf. A midget, maybe. Maybe he was being chased by a midget. A ninja midget. Shit. That didn’t make any sense.

His stomach growled.

“Shut up,” he told it.

He considered going back and filling his gut with more booze. A bottle of whiskey sat atop the television. He decided it would be a bad idea. A profoundly bad idea. He did it anyway.

Lips on bottle, hot Irish fire charbroiling his esophagus.

He pulled away from the bottle such a sucking foomp, and set it back atop the TV.

Then he noticed.

Jack Kenny Whiskey. Blue Label, it said.

Donnie blinked.

There was no such thing as Jack Kenny Whiskey.

And yet, here it was. He’d just had some. It wasn’t far from a trashcan filled with Flix Bar wrappers, and Flix Bar didn’t exist, either. And Burrito Hut, about five miles away. Goddamn Burrito Hut.

That’s where he’d go. Burrito Hut.

“But I just came from there,” Donnie explained to himself.

Didn’t matter. Here, he couldn’t ask any questions of a pile of Flix Bar wrappers or a neck-empty bottle of so-called Jack Kenny Whiskey. At Burrito Hut, though, he could get to the bottom of things. He could ask some questions. Find what they did with Burger King. Was it drugs? In the water supply? A conspiracy was afoot.

He took a few quick deep breaths, slapped his legs to get the blood moving, then broke into another crazy marathoner run out the door, back to Burrito Hut.

<*>

Public drunkenness, they called it.

Which wasn’t fair, not really. Donnie wasn’t drunk. Any of the lingering buzz from the not-really-real Jack Kenny Whiskey had long since faded when he ran through the front doors of the Burrito Hut.

The bars of the holding cell were surprisingly warm. The whole place, with its cement walls painted banana-colored, and its metal toilet, was actually pretty damn humid. Moisture glistened on the walls. When they threw him in here, alone, the one lady cop told him that the air conditioning was busted.

He took a deep breath. What he’d seen in the Burrito Hut, what he’d glimpsed –

Everything seemed normal, at first. Late lunchers, lining up at the counter. A pair of Hispanics in front of him, and in front of them, a little girl in a side-sprouting pony-tail with her mother busily thumbing numbers into her Blackberry (probably text messaging Flixy the Moon Alien, Donnie thought at the time, a thought that would later become alarming relevant). Manning the single-register counter was a rubicund, fat-cheeked teen with a purple paper hat.

Donnie didn’t know what he was expecting. He had no script. He felt sick inside. The fast food joint had felt constraining, like it was closing in on him.

He got to the counter, and let fly.

What he said, he didn’t precisely remember. Something about Flix Bars. Something about conspiracies. Maybe even something about Tracy. The smell that drifted from the kitchen was a mix of sharp spices and potted meat, a tangy (too tangy, really, to be appetizing) conglomeration of the two.

In mid-rant, that’s when he’d seen it.

Behind some kind of massive pressure-cooker – some stainless steel thing with a line of dried refried beans crusted to its side – Donnie saw movement.

It was a shimmering shape, unreal, a specter. Like those blurry shots of Bigfoot or any lake monster, the details were imperfect, almost incomprehensible. A swath of green flashed against a half-moon slice of purple. Movement like fly-wings buzzing, too fast, too strange. And then it was gone again, blinking out of existence. The cooker continued to bubble and steam.

Donnie freaked.

By his recollection, he did a lot of wild gesticulating.

Maaaaybe some yelling.

Not impossible that he said something about aliens, and then spit on the register.

Mistakes were made.

Worst of all, he hadn’t noticed the police officer that had come in soon after he did and was waiting two people behind him.

And now, here. Jail. Holding cell. Shit.

<*>

His one phone call, made to Tracy.

It was probably a mistake. He should’ve called Tabor. But while it was irrational, it felt like Tabor was part of whatever was happening. Tabor loved Flix Bars. Tabor couldn’t get enough of Burrito Hut. Tabor probably bathed in a swimming pool filled with warm Jack Kenny Whiskey.

Donnie asked Tracy to post bail.

“I don’t know, Donnie. It’s a lot of money.”

“You only need part of it. You could sell my old Monkees LPs. They’re worth something. The comic books, too. Even the toys! I’ve got a lot of toys.”

“I can’t see you right now, Donnie.”

“Tracy, please, I’m in jail.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Desperate gambit time. “I love you.”

“I know,” she said.

“That’s it? You know?”

“I have to go.”

“But – wait! Tell Tabor! He’ll help! Send Tabor!”

It was too late. She’d already hung up.

Behind the sound of the dial tone, Donnie thought he heard a baby crying.

And then they were pulling him away from the phone, and the sound was gone.

<*>

Things got weird around midnight.

Donnie was half-asleep on the cot in the cell’s corner, trying to shut out the light (the cops informed him that the lights never shut off, not even at night). He was caught in the throes of half-dreams to go with his half-sleep. Shadows of Tracy visited him, but every time she went to talk he heard a baby squalling somewhere and her words were lost. Something about how it was too late, too late, if only. Tabor the Giant came along with his squeaky white cart, except he was easily twice his normal size, and in these partial dreams he kept picking Donnie up and shoving him in the cart, murmuring something about a “mail call.” Sometimes, Donnie felt the taste of a Flix Bar in his mouth, or the burn of Jack Kenny Whiskey down his throat, or the sickly sweet scent of Grade-E-but-Edible Tex-Mex fiesta meat from the diabolical Burrito Hut. Other sensations visited him, too, ones he couldn’t explain: the nasal tang of an unknown perfume, tinny electro-pop music like which he’d never heard, the mysterious taste of a falafel (he was certain it was a falafel, though he’d never eaten, or frankly seen, a falafel before).

And then he saw them.

Moon Aliens, like Flixy.

Seven of them.

Except they weren’t cartoons – he caught a glimpse of pinched reptilian flesh, and white fangs stained with grape-colored smears – and they came at him, hands reaching, stubby fingers wagging in the humid jail cell heat, and they shimmered as if seen behind a gauzy haze of heat rising off a blistering highway–

And Donnie wondered when this dream would move on and give way toward something even stranger.

But the dream did not move on.

Green hands that smelled of metal and chocolate covered his face.

He tried to cry out.

The lights went out.

And that’s when things got really weird.

<*>

Lights coruscated all around him. Each flash felt like it cut straight to his cerebral cortex, burning an image into his brain.

He saw flying babies zip past him. Cherubic grins. Fat faces. Curious hands reaching for him as they zoomed by.

His guts felt like taffy.

And it felt like someone was trying to pull that gut-taffy out of his body through his mouth, ears, and anus.

Then – a pop sound, preceded by a faint sucking noise, like the one Donnie’s lips made when he pried them free of the Jack Kenny bottle.

All was dark, at least for a little while.

<*>

“Some people do not react well to change.”

Donnie lurched upright. His head swam, vision dipped.

The room was long, narrow, with walls of steel and a faint blue light suffused throughout. At the margins of the room, Donnie saw several of the Moon Aliens shuffling back and forth, grunting like piglets with slop in their mouths and noses. The Flixies chattered back and forth, sometimes clacking their empurpled teeth.

At the far end of the room – the end Donnie sat facing – was a pull-down screen. At the other end of the room blinked the winking eye of a projector.

Projected on the screen was an image Donnie couldn’t quite parse.

It seemed to be a generic gray and black 9-Volt battery with a pair of googly eyes, like the ones glued to a cheap arts-and-crafts doll. The fake eyes looked this way, and that.

“I’m on drugs,” Donnie whispered.

“You’re not on drugs,” the battery said. He knew the battery said it because with each word – each syllable, really – the battery pulsed with white light.

“You’re a battery.”

“I am merely an image you would understand. Were I to show you my true form, your human mind would explode into a thousand personalities and leave you wailing in a pile of your own fetid mess.”
Gently, Donnie stood.

“I’ve lost my mind,” he said.

“You’ve not lost your mind,” the battery asserted.

The Flixies chuffed and snorted in what might have been agreement.

One of them casually ate what appeared to be a chimichanga. Another displayed its beckoning jazz hands.

“That’s a chimichanga,” Donnie said, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” the battery confirmed.

The room was silent for a little while, except for the snorfling breathing of the two dozen or so Flixies shifting from one stubby green foot to another.

Swallowing hard, Donnie said: “A little help here? If I’m not high, and I’m not crazy, then –?”

“As I said, some people do not react well to change. These people – like you — are the ones who cannot properly compute the dimensional shifts.”

“Dimensional shifts.”

“Yes,” the battery said. “The subtle alterations to the fabric of your reality are performed through delicate dimensional shifts. Ninety-nine percent of people accept these changes without thought or concern.”

“And I’m part of the one percent?”

“Yes.”

Silence again as Donnie regarded the googly-eyed battery. The battery may have regarded him in return, but it was hard to tell, what with the googly-eyes and all.

Suddenly, Donnie snapped his fingers. “Flix Bars! I bet they’re part of the subtle alterations of dimensional, you know, whatever. Right?”

“Yes. Flix Bars, Burrito Hut, Jack Kenny Whiskey, Ganymede Electronics, Vaginex Creams, Lung Sui-Wu Cookery Sets, Cowboy Tom’s Microwave Falaf –“

“Okay, okay, you can stop. All those products are now in our dimension? And they weren’t before?”

“Yes, but not just your dimension. We established a product roll-out covering four hundred Earth-based dimensions, as pioneered by the Perigree Corporation, which is owned by the Jimza Conglomerate, which is owned by the Meiner-Schiften People, which is owned by –“

“All right!” Donnie barked. “This is a little much for me to handle.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Why are these products now in our dimension?”

“Money. More dimensions means more sales. More sales, higher stock.”

“I’d like to just go home, now,” Donnie said, and it was true. He didn’t feel well. He was dressed in a robe in some alien ship or dimensional box, and he really didn’t belong here. He said as much to the battery.

“No,” the battery pulsed. “I’m afraid we have to destroy you.”

“But –!”

“What we’re doing goes against the Quantum Code as established by Earth Seven in the Year of the Dragon, 1976. We cannot have you blowing the whistle.”

Movement to his left and right. The Flixies shuffled cautiously toward him, purple-smear teeth glowing weirdly in the bluish light. Some of them held knives that could’ve doubled as Satanic gynecological equipment.

“But – why? Why did you even bother to bring me here?”

“All sentient creatures deserve knowledge.”

“But by telling me this, that means you have to kill me!”

“Yes. Knowledge has its price.”

The Flixies pounced. Hands grabbed at him and dragged him down. Teeth clacked and chomped at one another; some kind of mad language. He saw the glint of a blade moving toward his heart.

“Wait!” he cried. “Let’s make a deal! Please!

The Flixies stopped, as if hearing an unspoken cue.

“You can offer us nothing,” the battery declared.

“No,” Donnie stammered, “but you can offer me something.”

“I do not understand.”

“If you grant me a favor, then you’ve got me on the hook. Suddenly, I’m in your pocket! I won’t tell anybody anything if I’m in your pocket! That way, you don’t have to destroy me! Killing me is probably illegal, too, right? Some, uh, Quantum Code violation?”

The battery seemed to think about this.

The googly-eyes narrowed.

“Yes. It is a violation.”

“It can be a mutual pact. A deal. I’ll keep quiet. Just help me with one thing.”

“Tell me this thing,” the battery demanded.

So Donnie told him.

<*>

The baby cried. The sound was joyous.

Slick with goo and red as a sliced beet, the little tow-head wriggled and sobbed and clenched his corn-sized toes.

Tracy looked spent, utterly so, but her face was beaming nevertheless. A nurse swabbed sweat from her glistening brow. Outside the window of the hospital room, Tabor’s big shape and shadow could be seen dutifully pacing, the task of a good friend.

The presence of his new son was going to be a big change. It’d require real responsibility. Donnie knew he was wearing the Big Boy Pants – the Daddy Pants – now, and that nothing would ever be the same.

But he was ready for the change.

The talking battery be damned.

Of course, the deal had some complications. Tracy had already had an abortion in this dimension, the battery explained. The baby was gone. To comply with Donnie’s request, they had to pluck another Tracy – the most similar Tracy they could find – from another Earth and, well, trade the two of them. It was fine. The battery told him that neither Tracy would know. Both would be happy in both continuums, whatever a ‘continuum’ was.

The nurse gave Tracy the baby. The doctor handed off the umbilicus.

Once in Tracy’s embrace, their son stopped crying and seemed to settle into a kind of happy gurgling.

Donnie leaned in and stroked her brow.

“What do you want to name him?” he asked Tracy.

She thought about it for a moment as a single happy tear rolled down her cheek.

“Flixy,” she said, finally.

Donnie started to laugh, it was funny, though uncomfortable-funny, but then he saw a faint shimmer around his new son, and the pink babyflesh became for a moment a strange hue of Iguana green, and he saw a flash of purple teeth reaching for Tracy’s breast beneath the sheet. Then the shimmer extended upwards to Tracy, too, and he saw her smeared teeth and green skin as she smiled.

Then it was gone. The haze dissipated, and his wife and son were back again.

A little voice in his head told him to run, run. Break into a hard run and never come back.

But he suppressed it.

“I like change,” he croaked. He shuddered. “Change is good.”

At least they gave him that lifetime supply of Flix Bars.

Drawing a deep breath, he reached toward Tracy and their new son, Flixy.

© Chuck Wendig 2009

 
Back to top