The daily grind grounds Pete to the ground, like the meat he grinds to make the daily meatball grinder, the star of The Carnery, his eatery and meat shop. Day in, day out, Pete is like the meat he first pounds with his mallet. His routine is not much different from how his father described his own time at the cannery back in the day. Nor the stories his grandfather told him way back when he was a carney. Hard work is stamped in his DNA. As Pete pounds away at the meat, he thinks how Connor, his son, seems to be enjoying the fruits of his labor. Pete sent Connor to the best schools and drummed into his head the idea of seizing every opportunity he sees. As a high-powered Wall Streeter, Connor is today a true carnivore.
Awakened by a full bladder, Lola scrambles out of bed when she realizes her alarm clock didn’t go off. She has a meeting to facilitate at the federal building and not much time to spend showering off her sleepiness. After barely toweling herself dry, Lola grabs what she thought was a pair of underwear but sees now it’s a pair of tights. Immediately, she pulls out a skirt suit and a blouse from her closet and puts them on. She then dons the pair of tights. As she takes a step, she feels the garter of her tights slip. Thinking quickly, Lola cinches a leather belt around her skirt to help hold up her tights. Proud of her simple solution, Lola dashes out.
As soon as Lola reached her building, she goes inside and is alarmed to find a line of people of starting to form. Then she remembers the security to enter the upper floors uses X-ray machines like those found at the airport. Soon it is her turn. Hurriedly, she places her purse, jacket, and briefcase in the bin on a carousel. She then walks between the sensor poles, which beeps.
“You have to take off your belt, ma’am,” the security officer extends his hand out to take the belt from her.
Conscious only of the time, Lola unbuckles her belt and gives it to the security staff.
As she steps forward, Lola is aghast at how quickly her tight schedule and loose tights lead to her downfall—right down to her ankles. No X-ray machines required.
Elwood groans from an oncoming headache caused by the sound of a jackhammer, compounded by the whining of a circular saw. Still feeling the effects from last night’s party, he barely catches his breath as he staggers into his office building. As he approaches his desk, he is met with his favorite framed photo smashed on the floor. Memories of when he took it and framed it flash through his mind, followed with stabs of anger. He carefully picks up the big pieces of broken glass and throws them in the waste basket.
Still feeling upset, he almost wants to cry. Elwood surmises his hypersensitivity must be a holdover from getting smashed the night before. Overcome with claustrophobia, he steps outside to get some air and go for a walk. The destroyed picture in his mind distracts him from noticing a huge concrete block suspended above by a rope that starts to unravel. Before any warning can be made, the block breaks free and smashes Elwood to the ground.
The meeting adjourned and the people started getting up to leave the Boardroom. As Sarah rounded the table, heading toward the door, she saw the CEO, who had just gotten up from the table, walk toward her.
“What do you think of the new way to approach our target market?” The CEO asked as he neared her. Sarah walked back toward the table as he moved in closer, extending his right arm. At first anticipating a handshake, which never appeared, as Sarah drew closer to the CEO she then figured he intended to hug her. Not really knowing what to do and hoping to avoid any personal display of office emotion, she reached out first to deflect his extended arm, wrapping her left arm around the CEO’s waist in the process. Then she lightly patted his back. Suddenly she saw from her peripheral vision that he had been reaching over to push the chair that was near her back under the table. So much for the hug.
Subtly stepping back from the CEO, Sarah enthusiastically voiced her thoughts about the meeting. Then she asked some questions, hoping he would fail to notice, or forget, that she had nearly embraced him. Toward finishing their brief conversation, Sarah reiterated her excitement about the business strategic changes, as she subconsciously weighed the importance of making some changes of her own–like being more aware of her blind spots.
“Ya got a big mouth on ya is yer problem, Eddie. How many people ya ate? Ya gotta pace yerself or we’ll get caught. I gotta do somethin’.” Royal, Eddie’s best friend glares at his shack mate, who is moaning at every chew.
Eyelids half closed, Eddie is too preoccupied savoring the last of his ill-gotten meat. There’s nothing like a good summer barbecued shoulder. Granted, it took him a few hours to wrestle it out of his prey who outweighed him by 65 pounds, but he triumphed, making him especially proud of his latest kill.
“I just looove tourist season,” Eddie mumbles, trying to keep in food from spilling out of his mouth.
With pressed lips, Royal saunters off to get his leather sewing kit. As he approaches his friend from behind, he says, “Sorry, buddy; this is fer yer own good.” Royal takes a swing at the back of Eddie’s head with a big sock filled with heavy rubber balls.
With Eddie stunned, he quickly proceeds to sew his friend’s mouth. As he almost finishes, Eddie’s lids flutter open. Eyes looking panicked, Eddie grunts, “Mmmph . . .”
“Oops, I forgot to ask if ya had any last words,” Royal mumbles, feeling a little guilty as he locks the stitches.
Tucked somewhere near Santa Cruz, but not well-known to locals or tourists, is an expanse of beach dotted with patches of shrubbery and occasional palm trees. Perhaps because the generous acreage is private property, deeded to an obscure trust, few have ventured into the area. Jim Stanger was an exception to this rule.
A few degrees of connections were all it took for Jim to temporarily rent for the summer the California beachfront bungalow that sat by itself under the sun. With no roommates to deal with nor anyone else in the vicinity, he felt he could finally settle down and write his Great American Novel—a longtime ambition he is determined to realize during his summer break.
After a week of succumbing to the lull of the ocean sound whooshing against the sand, he begins each day drinking copious cups of coffee. For every gulp, he taps on his laptop keyboard, aiming to fill several pages per day of whatever inanity comes out. In time, he finds himself being able to string together a coherent story, easily starting from where he left off the prior day. Eventually, he starts to feel wrapped up in the dream world he’s created.
One day, as he finishes a rather involved passage, he glances up, looking out to the horizon to give his eyes a break. A fleshy bit of color swimming in the ocean catches his attention. He squints to better focus his eyes but whatever it is soon disappears from his sight line. For some reason, he feels spooked since he hasn’t mingled with a single soul for a month now. He’s stocked up for three months’ worth of food so he wouldn’t distract himself with runs to Trader Joe’s. He goes back to work again.
The next day, a different rhythmic sound from the ocean interrupts his usual engrossed state. Something about the pattern of the splashing is different from the regular lapping on the shores he’s become accustomed to. He looks out to the ocean and is rattled to see the same fleshy swimmer he saw yesterday, except today it seems a little closer.
In the following days, Jim gets progressively alarmed as he notices that the swimmer gets closer and is staying longer in his sight line. He starts to notice the ribs etched on its chest, although he can’t really tell whether the swimmer is swimming on its back or front. But, the closer it gets, he’s seeing features he’s never seen before on any person. He can’t tell if it’s human, even though the fleshy tone looks familiar.
One morning he wakes up sweating, partially because all the windows are closed and because he’s afraid of what’s been approaching the beach. He decides to pack up and go back to his hometown in Kansas City. His attention is shot; he can’t write anymore.
Weeks later, ensconced in the comfort of his armchair, Jim is watching the morning news and sees a piece about a sea lion festival very close to where he was staying in California. The few images he sees looks similar to what he thinks he saw. He guffaws and suddenly feels like a buffoon for hightailing from such an innocuous creature. With lifted spirits, he decides to go hiking to the state park and come back later to write, feeling revived and inspired.
As Jim finishes his hike, he sees the beautiful view of the lake. From the corner of his eye, he sees a movement in the still lake. Swimming a few feet away is another fleshy looking creature. It’s just like California. But it looks nothing like a sea lion.
Charlie thinks he is doing his boss a favor when he mentions the sound of scurrying feet above their paneled ceiling.
“I don’t like that. Reminds me of what Johnson, that guy two doors down from us told me last month. He was eating his lunch and suddenly this monster rodent lands in his soup. He lucked out that his bowl of hot liquid got that disease monger good. Ugh.” His boss shivers and continues, “I want you to put some traps up there now. Go to that hardware store a block from us. They should have something appropriate there.”
“Why can’t Ernie do it? He’s the Facilities guy.” Charlie looks around as if Ernie would appear.
“I’ll give you three reasons why . . . first, he’ll take weeks to get to it . . . he’s always got a more serious problem to deal with. Second, he’s afraid of heights so he won’t climb a ladder. That will add even more weeks because he’s going to have to find help; and third, he’s out sick today, so who knows when he’s coming back.”
Charlie regrets speaking up and catching guff from his boss again. As he walks inside the hardware store, he asks the guy behind the counter for help and buys a few mouse traps.
When Charlie returns to the office, his boss tells him he doesn’t want the details. “Just take care of the problem,” he commands.
Charlie places the ladder right under the area where he’s been hearing the muffled sounds. While holding a plastic bag that contains the traps and other supplies, he climbs the ladder and carefully pokes out a tile from the dropped ceiling. He sets the tile aside, along with his bag, inside the plenum space. He uses the flashlight on his smart phone to scan the surface. He can’t see anything over a foot from where he is, although the smell reminds him of sweaty socks.
As he reaches to place the traps in different parts of the ceiling, he hears a scuffling. From where he is, the sound seems heavier than the light scrabbling of mice. The hairs on the back of his neck stand out. His breathing is strained. As he prepares to scramble out of the area, he sees a large rat with red-rimmed eyes suddenly appear before him.
Lo and behold, the rat speaks, “Shh. I’m just bunking here for the week so I don’t have to take guff from my boss. You feel me?”