I’m Your Wil Wheaton

@eva

We all stand around for a moment, basking in the awkward.

Beta says, “If anyone needs me, I’ll be on my server.” He waves goodbye and uploads.

More awkward ensues.

Mini motions for Jan to follow him over to the TV, and just like that, they’re playing a game of Splatoon—as if nothing untoward whatsoever has transpired in the last twenty-four hours.

“Why am I not surprised by the décor, Mr. Smole?” Thrill-Kill asks, appreciating the various features of Theo’s room (or possibly looking for a cigarette).

“I…don’t…know?” Theo shifts away from her, comes up to me, totally tries to pretend he’s not checking me out. He holds up Jan’s phone. “Well, I guess you should be getting home.”

“Yeah,” I reply, suddenly self-conscious. Like, is he checking me out simply because I’m in my underwear, or is there some pimple or blemish that I should be made aware of? “Uh, thanks for saving me and all.”

“It was no big deal.”

“It kind of was.”

“Yeah.”

I hem.

He haws.

“Just so you know,” I say, “down in the dungeon, the holding hands, that was just—”

“Of course. And the loving you thing, that was just—”

“You thought we were going to die.”

“Exactly.”

“Yep. Same here. Not that the only way I’d ever hold hands with you is if I thought we were going to die, but…you know what I mean?”

“Totally. I’m your Wil Wheaton.” Theo smiles nervously, still holding up Jan’s phone, still not sending me home.

“Wil Wheaton?”

“Yeah, like in that Members of the Board song where Peter Template sings, ‘You are my Wil Wheaton, my hero, my idol, my very first crush, but this can never be, you’re just a painting, and I’m just the brush.’”

“Why doesn’t it surprise me that you listen to a band called Members of the Board, with a singer whose name is Peter Template?”

“It’s not his real name. Each member has a stage name that goes along with the starched shirt-and-tie image of the band—kind of like how Kiss does the makeup thing. Or how Asia Afrodesia always performs naked.”

I’m almost afraid to ask, and yet I can’t resist: “What are the other members’ names?”

“Richard Chart, Stephen Guide, Lee Motif, and Andy Diagram every now and then when he isn’t working with James.”

“You would listen to a band like that. But wouldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t I be your Wil Wheaton?”

Theo blushes. “Oh, yeah. I guess.”

“So, are we cool?”

“We’re cool.”

I point at Jan’s phone. “Goodnight, Theo.”

He sends me home.

@theo

Eva has a point: it does make more sense that she’s my Wil Wheaton, and not the other way around.

That kind of sucks.

Still, Mini smirks up at me. “She so wants you.”

“Shut up,” I tell him, and face Thrill-Kill. “Should I call you an Uber or something?”

“That would be much appreciated, Mr. Smole.”

I use Jan’s phone to request a ride, then open the bedroom door a crack and peek out into the quiet dark. I beckon for Thrill-Kill to follow me, through the hallway, down the stairs, and out the front door. I imagine this is what it’s like when teenage boys sneak their girlfriends home at night—except Thrill-Kill’s not a teenager, and she’s definitely not my girlfriend.

Outside, we stand side by and wait in silence, staring off into our respective distances, she the stars, me down the street. Then:

“What’s with the dungeon and the slaves and the giant block of demon-cheese?” I blurt out.

Thrill-Kill raises an eyebrow.

I wait expectantly.

“If you must know, it was a piece of cheese I let sit too long in my refrigerator.”

“That doesn’t explain why it’s living in your dungeon—or why you have a dungeon at all, for that matter.”

“Some people can’t bear killing the spider they find in their pantry, and so they carry it outside instead. Live and let live. My own philosophy happens to extend to aged cheeses.”

“What about your ex-husbands?”

Thrill-Kill shrugs. “They had it coming.”

“And so you keep them locked up in your dungeon?”

“The poor bastards discovered Bloodcoin. It’s the closest thing on God’s green Earth to free money—if you can facilitate and put up with the misery of mining it. We were all good friends, once. I’m not the type to burn my bridges. I re-married, and had no problem with the men in my life mingling. Then one of them gets altcoin fever, and suddenly they’re out in the backyard digging out their own dungeon and saving shit in buckets. They’ve turned a simple investment into, well, what you saw under my garden shed. They’ve made a fortune through their own suffrage, but it’s not enough. They won’t give it up until it’s a bull market again. They can’t. Not now, not when cryptocurrency is on the brink of the mainstream. That’s the gimmick—it’s always another year or two off. It’s always been a few years away from exploding, and it always will be.” She sighs, wipes a single, unexpected tear from her cheek. “I haven’t imprisoned my ex-husbands. They’ve imprisoned themselves.”

I nod semi-knowingly. “Dark times.”

Thrill-Kill’s ride pulls up in front of us.

“Come by my office tomorrow,” she says, “and I’ll reimburse you.” She stoops slightly, whispers, “Just so we’re clear, if you tell anyone what you saw in my garden shed, I’ll make your life a living hell. Got it, sweetie?” She pats me on the butt—you know, just like any other everyday, ordinary guidance counselor would—and gets into the car.

I watch it pull away, then, brushing the residue of old-lady palm from my bottom, I go back up to my room, where Mini and Jan are watching the news. Well, they’ve got the news on, but neither is paying any attention. Rather, Mini’s staring intently at Jan as Jan stares intently at me.

“What’s the matter?” I ask.

“My apartment’s back,” Jan replies.

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

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Gotenesque

@ernie

…and we’re back in Theo’s New Age lounge. Goodbye, Tommy Carlton; hello, Goten-as-a-geek—aka, Theo’s original skin. Beta, Janny Boy, and Thrill-Kill are back in their everyday, ordinary skins as well. Bug Eyes is her usual jockette underwear model self.

Most importantly, I’m no longer a fucking elephant. I mean, what the hell? Skinning the fat kid as an elephant? The European kid as a Russian jewel thief? Meanwhile, Theo gets to prance around as the privileged white boy? That’s some seriously prejudiced SMN shit there.

“How does it feel to be back in your default skin?” Jan asks him.

Theo takes an uncertain step forward. “It’s like handling classic Mario in Super Mario Maker versus actual classic Mario on the NES. Familiar, but different.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask. “Joey was the exact same size as you, just not in color.”

“He was smaller.”

“Maybe in the wardrobe department.”

“Dude, he was ten. I’m twelve.”

“Whatever.” I shake my head. “At least we don’t have to put up with you running around showing off your precious little scrumptulatum everywhere you go.”

“My what?”

“The smooth patch of skin between your ballsack and your butthole.”

(Thrill-Kill raises an eyebrow. It’s hard to tell if she’s disturbed or impressed.)

“You mean the taint?” Mini asks.

“Taint is street talk. Scrumptulatum is the scientific term.”

Theo does the Asian-eyes thing at me. “Go home, Ernie.”

“Thank me first,” I tell him.

“What for?”

“Saving your life.”

“You just happened to be standing around in the right place at the right time for me to fall onto your back—”

“Thereby saving your life.”

“Passively.”

“Does it matter? The fact that you’re standing here alive and are able to argue about it proves my point.”

Eva rolls her eyes, nudges Theo in the side. “Oh, just thank him before he throws a fit.”

“Fine. Thank you.”

Huh. Not as satisfying as I’d hoped. “Say it like you mean it.”

“I meant it.”

“Say it as a complete sentence.”

“‘Thank you’ is a complete sentence.”

“Say it as a more complete sentence.”

Theo frowns, looks at Beta.

Beta shrugs. “A well-composed sentence is a friend to everyone, little dude.”

Looking at me again, Theo sighs and says, “Thank you for saving my life, Tantor.” He takes Jan’s phone, taps the “send home” button.

But not before I flick him off.

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Someone Dies in This Episode

@theo

Okay. There’s a giant elephant standing beside me. Would I be totally out of line if I ditched my friends this very instant and Tommy Carltoned my way up the nearest tree?

The elephant snorts mightily.

Stamps its foot.

Farts.

I pause, primed to make my escape, arms pumped, one leg held firmly flexed in the air. “Ernie?” I squeak.

The elephant nods its head.

Quickly, I lower my leg, pretend to be working out a cramp.

“Uh…why is Ernie an elephant?” Jan asks, jaw dropped.

Beta says something in chimpanzee.

“Uh, because he’s…big?” I reply.

Another snort from Ernie.

“No, what I mean is, the SMN server probably matched us up with available skins—Ernie as Tantor due to his bulk, Jan as Rokov due to his being European, Beta as Cheeta because…um…dunno.”

Eva checks herself out. “What Tarzan character was a girl in her underwear?”

“There was no major girl character in Tarzan’s Savage Fury,” comes a familiar, diminutive voice. “So, you kept your default skin.”

I crane my neck. Fortunately, this time, the server has delivered us on the ground below Tarzan’s suspiciously-up-scale-for-something-he-supposedly-built-himself treehouse—and not stuffed haphazardly inside. Mini is hastily making his way down the ladder.

“Why not Jane, then?” Eva asks.

“Thrill-Kill’s already Jane.”

I shrug. “Plus she’s a woman, you’re a girl.”

Eva glowers at me.

“What?”

“Dude.” Hopping onto my shoulder, Mini whispers into my ear, “First, nice to see you again. Second, never call a preteen girl a girl to her face.”

“But she is a girl,” I whisper back.

“That’s the problem.”

“How come?”

“Political correctness. The obvious is obvious, but can only be stated out loud if you’re able to satisfy an ever-growing list of prerequisites. Id est, you’d have to be an empowered, non-white, lesbian, single mother, atheist female bodybuilder who lives in the projects in order to call a girl a girl to her face and not offend or under-represent some key demographic.”

“Where did you come up with that?”

“Hours and hours of network TV.”

Eva frowns, folds her arms. “What are you two whispering about?”

I brush Mini away. “I have no clue.” Turning to Beta: “So, all we have to do now is download back home, and I’m good?”

Beta nods, sets down his messenger bag, takes out his laptop. He starts to type something in a command terminal—

“Wait,” I say.

—stops, his chimp fingers poised above the keyboard.

“We can’t leave her behind.”

Eva looks incredulous. “Who, Thrailkill?”

“Yeah. I broke her phone. Without it, she’s kind of stranded here.”

“Is that such a bad thing? I mean, she keeps living cheese and crypto-creeps in a dungeon beneath her garden shed, Theo. Someone like that doesn’t necessarily need any favors from us or anyone else.”

True that. But I’m not so bold or brave that I’m comfortable stranding another human being on an SMN server—even if that someone is Thrill-Kill.

“Give me a sec,” I sigh, and climb the treehouse ladder, alighting on the deck above, padding over to the nearest window, peering inside—

—oh, my fuck.

There’s Lex Barker, and there’s Dorothy Hart, in bed together and banging out the black and white skin flick that may or may not be hidden away in some dusty RKO vault somewhere.

I recede from the window, sliding down onto the deck with my back against the wall, my knees tucked against my chest. On the one hand, ew. On the other, my loincloth has tented slightly between my legs. So conflicted right now.

I cover my ears, try to think about test scores.

A few minutes go by. Eventually, the sounds of nookie subside, and I get to my feet, approach the window again. Thrill-Kill’s still in bed with Tarzan, though now they’re church-naked—the blanket tucked up to their armpits—and sharing a post-coital Marlboro.

I clear my throat. “Um…hello?”

Thrill-Kill sends me a heavy-lidded stare. “Joey, dear, what have I told you about waiting your turn?”

Oh, dear God, what’s that supposed to mean? “Mrs. Thrailkill, it’s me, Theo.”

“Why, young Mr. Smole. How good of you to check in on me.” She smiles, takes a drag from her cigarette, lowers the blanket ever so slightly.

Oh. Dear. God.

Tarzan, meanwhile, has gotten out of bed and, hanging full dong, is now striding toward me with a disapproving expression on his face. “How long Joey watch?”

“I, er, wasn’t watching anything. I just came to—”

“Tarzan not put on show!”

Geez—he never hated on Joey in the movies! Why is he such a bully now?

Ungawa!

My jungle boy reflexes fail me as he darts through the treehouse door, whips around and grabs me by the neck, lifting me off the floorboards. Grasping his arms for leverage, I swing my legs up and kick him firmly in the crotch. Virtual bots may not have actual genitalia, but luckily this one’s been programmed to react appropriately. Tarzan winces, doubles over, loses his footing—and suddenly I’m falling backward, the two of us going over the edge of the deck, the jungle canopy whirling above me. I scrunch my eyes shut, my life (a series of identical classroom scenes) flashing before my eyes. Mini’s voice sounds in my head: “Huh, so this is how we die. Who’d have thunk?” Followed by, “You should’ve grabbed Eva’s butt when you kissed her. Dumbass.” Then—

thwump!

I hit something hard yet soft…and smelly. I should be dead, the life battered out of me. Instead, I’ve toppled onto Ernie’s back.

Tarzan isn’t as lucky. He slams face-down into the ground beside us with a loud thud! that raises a small mushroom cloud of dust and detritus.

One of his legs is bent into an uppercase Z.

Jan shakes his head. “What’s with all the death today?”

I slide off of Ernie, pay Tarzan’s meat a nervous glance as back up the treehouse ladder I go—for the last friggin’ time, I hope.

Thrill-Kill, dressed again, is waiting on the deck. “Sorry about that. He’s at times a tad territorial.”

With teeth gritted and fists clenched, I glower at Thrill-Kill and say, “My friends and I are downloading off the server. Are you coming or not?”

“My, the impetuousness of youth.”

“Not to be a jerk or anything, but I just narrowly escaped a demogorgonzola and certain death at the hands of your girlhood crush. I’m a little numb right now.”

Thrill-Kill gestures toward the ladder. “Very well, Mr. Smole. Lead the way.”

She follows me down; we join the others on the jungle floor, where a large beetle is now poking around Tarzan’s upturned ass.

“Everyone good?” I ask.

Eva, Jan, and Mini nod. Ernie, too.

Beta holds up his laptop, hits the “send home” button.

I cross my fingers behind my back.

No offense, Joey Martin, but I do not want to be you for the rest of my life.

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Once Upon a Demogorgonzola

@theo

Wow. My Joey Martin skin’s got some crazy acrobatics installed. I mean, Mom brings me to her gym several times a week, but that’s all straightforward cardio and weights. As far as I know, I can’t perform a cartwheel, handspring, or wall-jump to save my life—but that’s exactly what I’m doing as I gymnastic away from the crazed ex-husband chasing me. I dodge between stalagmites, hop over gears, scramble effortlessly onto the lip of that darkened tunnel at the back of the dungeon. Turning around, I brandish my dagger, legs planted firmly, hair and loincloth whipping in an unexplained wind. With a conviction of mind and body that would’ve made the ape man himself proud, I shout, “Ungawa!

Surprisingly, the dude chasing me has stopped below, his mouth open, his eyes wide. He starts backing off.

Huh. This Tarzan stuff really works.

In fact, it’s not just my dude who’s suddenly looking thunderstruck. Everyone’s stopped in their tracks, faces frozen into various configurations of awe and terror—

Something ominous shifts from inside the tunnel.

—oh, wait. It’s not me they’re looking at.

It’s what’s behind me.

I glance over my shoulder. Emerging from the shadows is a twenty-foot-tall, two-headed reptilian monster with tentacles for arms and a body made of…smelly gorgonzola cheese?

“Theo, look out!” Eva cries.

I want to freeze. I want to cast aside my stupid toy knife and curl up on the ground with my hands over my ears, my eyes scrunched shut. These are the evolutionary survival instincts passed down from my parents and encoded in my DNA (go figure)—but a split second before enacting them, Rush’s “Face Up” starts playing in my head, and a calm detachment floods over me. I’m not sure how or why. Maybe it’s a feature of my skin, or maybe it’s my CBT training kicking in during a moment of need. All I know is that suddenly I’m animated once again, darting out of the way of the demogorgonzola’s tentacles as it tries to swipe at me. I leap from the tunnel lip and run over to where Eva’s tied up, am somehow able to cut through her bonds with my dagger. Freed, she falls awkwardly into my arms, gives me the biggest hug I’ve ever gotten from a girl who’s not Mom—and before I can overthink it, I pull back just enough to plant a big, fat one right on her lips. Then, letting her go, I hoist my dagger above my head in triumph as Alex Lifeson’s frenetic guitar solo kicks in. I feel just like Link from The Legend of Zelda whenever he’s just found a piece of the Triforce.

I’ve paused the friggin’ dungeon.

During this momentary reprieve, Ernie looks up from where he’s been blubbering on the floor and locks his eyes with my crotch. “Dude.”

“Huh?” I ask.

“Your loincloth just flew off.”

I glance down at myself.

I really, really need a better special move.

(Un-pause.)

The demogorgonzola resumes its path toward us, busting through both rock and wood as if either were no more substantial than cardboard. The husbands are now fleeing for their lives. Well, all but the youngest, who makes a half-hearted attempt at grabbing Eva. She’s ready for him, though, and uses his momentum to perform this ridiculously effective over-the-shoulder throw, depositing him right into the tentacles of the demogorgonzola. His screams are bloodcurdling and brief, quickly replaced by the sound of bones crunching, sinew snapping.

Eva’s eyes threaten to pop out of their sockets. “Oh, my Gawd, I didn’t mean for that to—”

“Come on!” I shout, and grab her by the hand, hustle her over to where Jan’s helping Ernie up.

“How did you do that?” he asks Eva, looking impressed.

“I am a wrestler,” she replies.

Vertical again, Ernie immediately starts huffing toward the stairwell entrance.

The remaining husbands have beaten him to it, however, and are now working together to lower some kind of wrought iron gate.

“Don’t you dare!” Ernie screams at them.

The rest of us also run for the stairwell—but it’s too late. By the time we reach the entrance, the gate has been completely lowered, the husbands watching intently from the other side.

Ernie claws uselessly at the metal bars. “Bastards! Crypto-cocks! Let me out! I’m fat and unhealthy! I’ll give your cheese-pet indigestion! Take the others! They’re all lean meat, especially the Czech!”

Eva punches him in the shoulder. “Seriously, Ernie?”

I turn and face the interior of the dungeon, my back and butt pressing against the cold metal of the gate. Beyond a vague self-consciousness about my nakedness, I can honestly say I don’t give a shit that I lost my loincloth, because the demogorgonzola is just about finished eating the youngest husband, and it’s got its eyes set on dessert.

Aka, us.

“I don’t want to die!” Ernie crumples to his knees and starts bawling.

Eva looks me in the eye, takes my hand, squeezes. “We’re not going to die…are we?”

I want to tell her something reassuring, something meaningful— “I love you.”

She lets go of my hand. “What?”

Just then Jan’s phone rings. He takes it out, checks the caller ID. “It’s Beta.”

Help us, Beta!!” Ernie wails.

Jan puts the phone to his ear. “Yeah? Uh-huh.” To me: “He says he’s got access to Thrill-Kill’s server, but he’s not sure if shutting it down will end the program, or you and the program.”

I swallow. “End me?”

“He says he wants you to re-enter the server, then exit gracefully.”

“What, like with a fucking pirouette?” Ernie asks, wobbling to his feet. He tries to grab the phone. “Get us out of here, Beastmaster!”

“Basically, not by accident,” Jan clarifies.

The demogorgonzola is closing in.

“Okay, fine, let’s do it!” I blurt. “Upload us now!”

“He says to upload us now,” Jan explains to Beta.

“Yes—now! Right now!”

“Beta wants to know if you’re absolutely sure—”

“Yes! I’m sure! Now, now!

I grab onto the others.

They grab onto me.

Jan holds up his phone.

Waits.

Lowers his head and bites his lip as the demogorgonzola, now within tentacle’s reach, lunges at us—

—we upload.

The dungeon winks out of existence.

Is replaced by the black-and-white jungle set of RKO lore.

I let go of the others, several things becoming immediately apparent: I’m still Joey Martin (my loincloth has reset itself, thankfully), Eva’s still in her undies—but Jan and Beta have been skinned as Rokov and Cheeta, respectively. Ernie…he’s MIA.

“What happened to His Fatness?” Jan asks after a beat.

That’s when the enormous elephant standing behind us stamps its foot and swears under its breath.

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

The Five Husbands of Boca Linda Lore

@eva

I think it’s fair to say my knights in shining armor, as it were, have left a lot to be desired. For that brief instant they first appear in the stairwell entrance, I’m thanking God they’ve come to my rescue—then Ernie screams and pushes Theo forward as he tries to run away, instead bumping into Jan, who, caught off guard, loses his footing. Theo grabs onto both Ernie and Jan for support; the momentum of Ernie’s fat causes a snowball effect, which results in a tangled cluster of boys tumbling out of the stairwell and into the dungeon proper. If that’s what you call it.

Yeah.

A lot to be desired.

The cave dudes, who’d been talking to each other in hushed tones, now stop and gawk in the direction of the stairwell entrance.

“Who are you?” one of them asks.

Theo, the obligatory little Cub Scout he is, lifts his head and immediately answers, “I’m Theo. This is—”

“No real names!” Ernie exclaims from the bottom of the boy-pile.

The cave dude narrows his eyes. “Why are you in black and white?”

“I believe monochrome is the correct nomenclature,” another cave dude says.

The first caver shakes his head. “Don’t start.”

Theo untangles himself from Ernie and Jan. “Who are you guys?”

“We are…the damned,” says another of the cavers. “The forgotten. The discarded—”

The first caver rolls his eyes. “He’s being overly-dramatic. We’re cryptokeepers.”

“Crypto miners. Now who’s being dramatic?”

Standing, the boys exchange confused glances.

Ernie clears his throat. “Did y’all used to bang Thrill-Kill?”

“Is that what Rebbecca’s calling herself these days?” asks the second caver.

“That’s what I call her,” Ernie replies proudly.

“Charming. To answer your question, yeah, we all did our time with Rebbecca.”

Jan nods knowingly. “You’re her five husbands.”

Ex-husbands.”

Theo glances around the dungeon. “What did you do to end up down here?”

The cavers—or husbands, I should say—take turns answering:

“Botched dinner plans.”

“Cheated on her.”

“Didn’t make enough money.”

“Too clingy.”

“Refractory period was too long.”

I rattle my chains. “Um, could we reminisce some other time? Damsel in distress here!”

Ernie waves his hand dismissively. “In a sec, Bug Eyes.” Facing the husbands again: “So, she just keeps you locked up as her prisoners?”

“Women hold grudges, bro,” says the youngest husband.

The first smiles stoically. “It’s not an altogether unbearable existence. It may not be ideal, but maintaining Rebbecca’s SuperMegaNet server and helping to power her Bloodcoin mining rig, there’s at least satisfaction in knowing we’re part of something greater.”

“Bloodcoin?” the boys ask in unison.

“Really?” I call out, rattling my chains again. “These creeps live in a dungeon and are totally cool chaining little girls to old furniture, and it’s the Bloodcoin part that interests you most?”

Like I’m not even here, the second husband explains, “It’s a cryptocurrency based on a human suffrage algorithm.”

Another husband spreads his filthy arms. “We’re the algorithm.”

Kámo,” Jan says, “that’s got to be the weirdest altcoin I’ve ever heard of.”

“It’s not that weird. I mean, when you buy Bitcoin, all you’re getting is a tally of electricity used. Bloodcoin being based on human suffrage is no more outrageous than Blowcoin being based on blowjobs, or Schmidtcoin being based on how many webcomic followers Hubert Schmidt has on Smack Jeeves.”

Ernie blinks, a small puff of smoke rising above his head. “There’s a cryptocurrency based on blowjobs?”

“If it exists, there’s a cryptocurrency based on it.”

While Ernie and Jan ponder the implications of this, Theo pays me a worried glance.

I glare at him, nod beckoningly, try with all my might to scream telepathically, Save me already!

He steps forward awkwardly. “Well, it was nice meeting you and all, but it’s late, and we should be going. Um…can we have our friend back?”

My hero.

The first husband sighs, shakes his head apologetically. “If it were up to me, sure. If it were up to me.”

By now, three of the husbands have sneaked up behind the boys, and at the first husband’s command, they pounce. Ernie goes down like a bag of wet garbage. Jan wrestles valiantly with his would-be captor, neither of them managing to get a firm grasp on one other. Theo, however, manages to sprint out of the way, giving chase with surprising agility.

“Wait a minute!” Ernie exclaims. “I thought we were cool! All in this together—part of something greater!”

“Oh, we’re cool with you,” the second husband replies, “but the demogorgonzola…”

“The demo what?” I exclaim.

“Our suffrage is a byproduct of our maintenance efforts. Real suffrage comes from sacrifice—in this case, the four of you to the demogorgonzola. So much Bloodcoin.”

“I’m a sacrifice?” Chains rattling, limbs thrashing, and so forth. “Have you all gone nuts? Who in this day and age performs human sacrifice?”

Something rustles ominously from inside an adjoining tunnel—

“Behold!” the first husband proclaims. “The demogorgonzola!”

—and oh, my God, there’s an enormous, vaguely-reptilian-shaped chunk of smelly gorgonzola cheese thwumping its way into our chamber, bringing its putrid stench along with it.

W.

T.

F.

Buy me a cookieBuy me a cookie!

Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Descending

@jan

Ernie’s eyes go wide. “That’s stupid. How would you know what’s down there?”

“We’ll find out in a sec, won’t we?” Theo replies.

Ernie’s eyes go wider. “You’re going down there?”

“If that’s where Eva is, then yeah, we’re going down there.”

“So we can get bound and gagged, too? No thanks, jungle butt!”

“Dumbass, how could she scream if she were gagged?”

“That could’ve been a moan!”

“It was clearly a scream.”

“Moan!”

“Scream.”

“You know what I mean!” Ernie faces Beta and throws his hands in the air. “You’re the adult here! Shouldn’t you be the one descending into hell on our behalf?”

“Hey, I’m just the hacker,” Beta responds, and continues messing with Thrill-Kill’s laptop.

“Says the ripped barbarian dude who only moments ago downloaded into Theo’s bedroom holding Sand Dragon!”

“I can hack, or I can slash, but not both simultaneously.” Beta nods at Theo. “It’s your call, little dude.”

I watch Theo. He looks bolder and braver in black and white than I imagine he would in color, but the expression on his face is one-hundred-percent, Somebody please stop me!

Sighing after a moment, he nods and says, “You deal with the server. I’ll go find Eva.”

“Good for you,” Ernie says, patting Theo on the shoulder and backing away from the stairwell entrance. “I’m sure Bug Eyes will appreciate the effort.”

Theo’s new expression: Yeah. Effort. That’s what’s urging my bowels to evacuate themselves.

“I’ll go with you,” I offer, and step forward, taking Ernie’s place. The whole situation kind of concerns me, but, then, I’m part digital now. There’s less of me to have to worry about. That means less fear, I suppose.

Holding out my phone for light, we descend the stairwell.

A quarter of the way down, Ernie comes huffing up behind us. “Hey, wait up, jerks!”

Theo stops, scowls over his shoulder. “What changed your mind, fat-ass?”

“Me and Beta couldn’t agree what song to play while we waited.”

We continue downward. The icky smell lingers. At first I’d assumed it was the poop buckets in the shed, but the deeper we go, the worse the smell gets. Voices echo, chains rattle; the walls have turned from brick to ancient, half-crumbled blocks packed between giant, molding pillars. It’s all very Frazetta. One last twist, and we arrive at an arched doorway that opens into a large cave—like, an actual cave, with stalactites and everything. Between the stalactites are a number of large wooden gear things.

And there’s Eva—tied to an old wardrobe and looking real uncomfortable as five filthy, loinclothed men of varying age and complexion (who can only be the Five Husbands of Boca Linda Lore) stand conversing nearby.

Buj moze,” I murmur, crouching off to one side along with Theo and Ernie. “These must be Thrill-Kill’s five husbands!”

“No way,” Theo says. “Our high school guidance counselor does not have a dungeon beneath her garden shed.”

Except, of course, we’re looking right at it—a dank, subterranean chamber filled with pure WTF.

“All right, brainiacs,” Ernie says. “What now?”

“They haven’t seen us yet,” I point out. “Maybe we could catch them by surprise—”

Ernie farts.

Loud and long.

It echoes off the dungeon walls.

Five very concerned-looking ex-husbands turn their heads and look up at us.

I hate Ernie’s bowels.

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Midnight in the Garden Shed

@theo

“Seriously. Hard-boiled is a good look for you.”

I ignore Ernie, yank off my fedora and suit jacket, undo my bow-tie as I stride purposefully toward my laptop. I’m not usually the hacking and entering type—but, then, these aren’t usual times. I’ve been doomed to live out my days in black-and-white; my best (and only) friends are an Asian barbarian-geek, a virtual weight-lifting jock, an undies jockette in distress, and the human equivalent of cake. My subconscious has taken on plush form. My laptop is a moaning, grunting monument to banging.

No, these are not usual times.

Beta hefts his messenger bag and steps beside me, puts his hand on my shoulder. Jan, too. In solidarity we glare at Ernie, watching and waiting as he fusses with an overstuffed backpack I’m assuming he brought from home.

“Ernie, what are you doing?” I ask impatiently.

“Packing!” he barks back.

“Packing what?”

“Supplies! Munitions!” He makes a face, struggles mightily to fasten the pack to his back, though he just can’t seem to get it to cooperate due to an excess of arm fat, poorly-adjusted straps, and the fact that it’s too crammed with the likes of which only God can fathom. After several failed attempts at putting it on, he simply picks the backpack up with both arms and waddles over to where we’re standing. “Stupid thing’s broken or something.”

I nod, only vaguely agreeing, and, making sure Jan’s got his phone with him (I’d use mine for the return trip, but, well, you know), I hit the send button on my laptop. Looking like the DVD cover of some cheesy eighties sci-fi romp, we upload en masse

…into darkness.

Smelly darkness.

Ernie lurches beside me. “Dude, it’s pitch-black in here—I can’t see anything!”

“That’s exactly what Eva said before she screamed,” Jan points out.

“Dude,” Beta grunts.

“Yeah?”

“Save the horror movie commentary for after we’ve come and gone.”

“I’m just saying.”

Jan launches the flashlight app on his phone, holds it over his head. It looks like we’re in some kind of garden shed. Everything’s cluttered and cobwebbed: gardening tools, lumber, paint cans, several dead Christmas trees. A procession of large wooden buckets lines one wall. I pray to God they’re not filled with what they smell like they’re filled with.

Blech!” Ernie chokes, having immediately wandered over to one of the buckets and peered inside. “Check out the poop buckets!”

Yep—that’s what those are. Instinctively I reach to cover my mouth and nose with my shirt—only to find that I’m shirtless. And pants-free. In fact, I’m black and white and back in the default Joey Martin loincloth and dagger combo. Also, there’s ink on my chest. Someone’s written “good at bed” in giant, sloppy letters. “When did this happen?”

Ernie smirks. “When you were being good at bed.” He walks over to me, tries to flick one of my nipples. “Are you going to go full jungle boy every time you upload or download somewhere?”

Shooing him away, I look at Beta expectantly.

“It would appear,” Beta answers, thoughtful, “that in addition to being persistent, your skin is also resetting to defaults for some reason.”

“Because…?”

“I’m not sure. It may be a session bug. Or just bad programming.”

I unsheathe my fake dagger, testing the blunt tip with my finger. “Wonderful. Just…wonderful.”

“Hey, there’s a reason SuperMegaNet is still in beta.”

Ernie moves over to another bucket, sniffs, scowls. “Ugh. This one’s even worse.”

“So, where’s Eva?” Jan asks.

“Not sure, but the server’s right there.” Beta points at a crusty-looking ThinkPad propped on an overturned orange crate. It’s got an external hard drive hooked up to it, as well as a power adapter that’s been jury-rigged to get its juice from a car battery sitting adjacent.

“Wow,” Ernie says. “That’s some ElectroBOOM-caliber shit right there.”

Beta kneels in front of the ThinkPad, opens his messenger bag, taking out his own laptop and a USB thumb drive.

I stand beside him, fidgeting over myself, and only partially understanding what he’s doing. PHP is as far as I’ve ever gotten with regard to programming, and even then I’ve never used it to hack into anything. I suppose it’s a little late to ask if this can be traced back to me—or any of us. My parents have been reasonably sane about everything up to this point, but what if hacking my guidance counselor’s SMN server is the straw that breaks the camel’s back? What if they take away my computer, my phone? What if I get grounded? What if they finally start parenting me?

Where the heck is Eva?

“Hey,” Beta whispers.

“Huh?” I whisper back.

“Don’t sweat the skin thing.”

“I’m not.” Which is true enough.

“It could’ve been a Donald Trump skin. Or Aughra from The Dark Crystal.”

Ew.

“Instead you’re Joey Fucking Martin. Own and operate that shit. You’re a bad-ass orphan whose parents got eaten by lions, but you survived to help Tarzan restore relations with the Wazuri tribe. You’re a superhero, really.”

“Except I don’t have any superpowers.”

“Superpowers are overrated. Batman didn’t have shit but for his vast fortune and fancy toys, and he’s a superhero.”

“Really? You’re going to compare a jungle orphan with nothing but a loincloth and a prop dagger to the Dark Knight?”

Beta sighs. “Joey rescues Tarzan from the lion pit at the end of Tarzan’s Savage Fury, right?”

“I guess.”

“There you go.”

Something occurs to me. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because no one ever felt better about themselves by thinking negatively.”

“Are you saying there’s a chance I might not get my original skin back?”

“Anything’s possible,” Beta says, not entirely able to keep the worry out of his voice. “I just think you need to be…optimistic. Own what you’ve got, bloom where you’re planted, and all that.”

OMG. He’s totally trying to tell me, in his own obscure way, that I’m not getting my original skin back! “You realize that’s like me persuading you to go unskinned when you’re actual, but that it’s okay, because your wheelchair would make you kind of like Professor Xavier.”

“You’re a hurtful little fucker sometimes, you know that?” Beta shakes his head. “But because I’m a nice guy, I’m still going to mention that as Joey Martin you no longer need your custom contacts.”

I blink, a ginormous mental tidal wave washing over me with such force that it ruffles my hair. I hadn’t thought about it at all, but apparently Tommy Carlton had 20/20 vision—or, at least, whoever designed his skin made sure it was sporting 20/20. That actually kind of makes up for having to lose three-quarters of my clothes every time I download somewhere. Not that I plan on staying like this any longer than I have to.

“Hey, guys!” Jan whispers loudly from the back of the shed. “Come look at this!”

I carefully pick my way to where Jan’s moved aside a giant plywood panel—revealing an arched doorway opening into a stone spiral stairwell that leads downward.

“What do you think is down there?” I ask.

Jan shrugs. “Where do most stone spiral stairwells lead?”

Before I can entertain my darkest fears, Ernie huffs beside me, tries unsuccessfully to keep one of the outer pockets of his backpack from rupturing—which it does, suddenly and without warning. Projectile supplies go flying all over.

“Cheap JanSport!” he exclaims, and sets down the pack, drops to his knees. “Shine the light down here, Czech!”

“Oh, Ernie.” Squatting, I feel around the floor, helping to pick up his…grenades and duct tape? “You brought grenades and duct tape?”

“Yeah—candy grenades.” Ernie holds one of the grenades up to the light, revealing that it’s filled with M&M’s.

“Oh.” Thank God. “And Fruit Roll-Ups?”

“No, that’s duct tape—just in case we need to bind and gag Thrill-Kill before throwing her off a cliff or something.”

I hand him his quote-unquote supplies. “Okay, someone who packs candy and duct tape as the only items in their survival pack should not be making decisions on whether or not it’s appropriate to throw a human being off a cliff.”

Ernie glares at me. “Shouldn’t you be doing lines of coke while providing sexual release for latently homosexual movie executives, or whatever it is you child actor types do when you’re not dimpling in front of a camera for chump change?”

“Listen, gas giant, if you make one more crack about my skin—”

The distant sound of chains rattling.

A girl screaming.

Both echoing up the stairwell.

“Huh,” I murmur, swallowing hard.

“Huh what?” Ernie asks, having deftly shifted his bulk behind me for protection.

“It just hit me. This isn’t a garden shed.”

Jan raises an eyebrow. “It’s not?”

I shake my head. “It’s the entry to a dungeon.”

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Noirly

@theo

It’s a weird thing being twelve. You’re old enough to know that the boogeyman isn’t real, but young enough that he still scares the crap out of you. My parents are my boogeyman and boogeywoman. I know they’re the hands-off types, I know that whatever trouble I’m in, it’s not going to result in anything more serious than an expression of concern regarding my recent activities. But I’m still scared of them. Let me put it this way: you know when you and your friends are out skateboarding, and one of you breaks their leg trying to grind a shopping cart or something, and the bone’s all sticking through the skin, and you know better, but you run away with everyone else instead of keeping your friend company until their parents and/or an ambulance arrives? You’re not being insensitive or a dick or anything. You’re afraid of the figurative boogeyman that the situation has become. You’re not the one who’s actually hurt, you’re not in trouble—you’re afraid of getting in trouble. You’re afraid that if your parents find out you were with your friend when he broke his leg, they’ll somehow blame you for it, or forbid you from skateboarding altogether. Logic therefore dictates that if you’re not present when the authorities show up, you can’t be held responsible for anything to do with the accident, right?

Eva’s become another one of my boogeymen. Boogeygirl. Whatever. The point is, my first instinct should’ve been to jump head-first after her the moment Ernie tapped the “visit” button. Instead, I argued with Ernie about money and honey buns, and am now on my way to have a chat with my parents—because while I’m certainly worried about Eva’s well being, I’m more worried my parents will break from a decade and change of parental minimalism by grounding me. I’m more afraid of getting in trouble.

Preteen priorities.

I take a deep breath and walk into the kitchen.

Mom and Dad are seated at the far end of the dinner table.

One of the few useful things to come out of my sessions with Dr. Freud (erstwhile known as Dr. Chandelier) is fake-facing—avoiding eye contact in stressful social interactions by staring at a point slightly between, above, or below a person’s eyes during conversation. Over time, my brain has gradually upgraded the technique, which is why everything now switches to black and white. Suddenly I’m Tommy Carlton doing that film noir flick he never did. In this case, I’m a kid version of Dick Powell’s character from Johnny O’Clock. Because Johnny was always cool, calm, and collected, right down to his fedora and bow-tie, and if there’s anything I need to be right now, it’s cool, calm, and collected.

My parents don’t seem to notice the change (Dad’s Lee J. Cobb, Mom Ellen Drew).

“Fancy meeting you here,” Dad says.

I stroll up to the table, head tilted forward so that the brim of my hat casts a bad-ass shadow across my face. “You snap your finger and I come running, is that it?”

Mom gestures at one of the chairs. “Sit down, Johnny.”

Wait—did she just call me Johnny?

“Don’t make this harder than it has to be,” Dad adds.

I sit. “Am I in trouble?”

“You tell me.”

“How about you talk while I listen.”

Dad seems amused by my boldness. “You know, your record’s clean as a preacher’s sheets. There’s nothing on it. A little thing with the eyes when you were a kid. Otherwise spotless.”

“I’m a good boy. I make my bed.”

“So says your record.” Dad waits.

I wait back.

“You know,” he continues, undoing his belt and setting it on the tabletop, “I read somewhere that any information obtained via the third degree is legally inadmissible in a court of law.”

“It’s nice to know you can read.”

Dad considers his belt.

“Here’s the deal, toots,” Mom says, and puts a restraining hand on Dad’s arm. “You keep your nose clean, mind your p’s and q’s, maintain those high test scores, and in exchange we provide a certain leniency with regard to your personal life. We’ve held up our end of the bargain, haven’t we, Johnny?”

I shrug. “I can’t complain.”

“Tell me, then, what’s with the bad business lately?”

“Business is good. Business is great—”

“I’m not talking about the Web racket.”

“Spell it out, then.”

“Johnny, we heard what happened to you at school today.”

All right, then.

“Is there anything you want to say on the matter?”

“Only that I had nothing to do with it,” I reply.

“They say you were prowling around the boys’ bathroom.”

Uh… “Come now. Prowl is such a specific word.”

“But that is what you were doing—”

Dad cuts Mom off with an annoyed wave of his hand. “Enough with the side-stepping. How did you meet the Asian barbarian?”

“How does anyone meet an Asian barbarian?” I look away as nonchalantly as possible.

“Listen real good, Johnny. It’s getting hot up in that pad of yours. Too many unfamiliar faces, too much rattling around.”

I clasp my hands. “I do my chores, take my showers, turn in my homework on time, don’t I?”

“You’re getting a little too cozy for my taste.”

“I play by the book and you know it.”

“Yeah? What’s with the dame in the undies?”

“She’s all right. Just a little out of her element. I’m taking care of it.”

“And the others?”

“Academic collaborators. I’ll get them all ironed out, just like I always have.”

Dad looks at Mom.

“With everything that’s been going on,” Mom says after a moment, “maybe you should lay off the fair-weather friends and fancy apps for a while.”

“Mom—”

Johnny—”

“First, these—” I take off my hat and ruffle my hair. “—aren’t my wares. That shrink at school slapped them on me unprovoked. Second, do you really want to put the squeeze on me now? Because if you’re worried about me getting into trouble when I didn’t have a reason to rebel, can you imagine the kind of parenting you’re going to have to muster if I do have a reason to rebel?”

Mom and Dad exchange uncomfortable glances. There’s some kind of look in my eye that’s given them reason for pause—or they’re trying to figure out my punishment. Or maybe none of the above. Maybe this is all about pretense, so that ten years from now I can’t blame them for not having tried.

Dad puts his belt back on. “Go on. Get out of here.”

I continue to stare him down for a moment longer before getting to my feet, putting my hat back on. Nodding at Mom, I turn and walk away. As soon as I’m out of the kitchen and out of sight, I bolt up the staircase and back into my bedroom.

Beta and Jan raise their eyebrows.

“Huh,” Ernie says. “You look good in clothes.”

Johnny is not amused.

Buy me a cookieBuy me a cookie!

Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon

Four Characters in Search of an Exit

@theo

“Dude, you killed Eva!” I exclaim.

“Don’t be so excitable, little man-feast,” Ernie says. “She probably just broke a fake nail or something.”

Jan looks up. “Eva’s nails are fake?”

“Of course not!” I retrieve Ernie’s clothes from various spots around the room and hand them to him forcefully. “Get dressed.”

“Why?” he asks.

“You’re coming with me to save Eva.”

Genuine confusion. “Why me?”

“Because if I’m breaking and entering—”

Hacking and entering,” Beta corrects.

“—so are you. And you owe Eva one. And…just get dressed!”

Ernie takes his clothes. “Bug Eyes can look after herself.”

I glare at him. “That’s what she was doing right now—screaming hysterically while looking after herself. Really.”

“She’s a jockette. If anything, that makes her more qualified to download into strange darknesses and unknown insinuations—”

I don’t have time for this. “I’ll pay you fifty bucks if you come with me.”

Ernie puts on a proud air. “Your money doesn’t affect me, rich white boy.”

“I’ll pay you in honey buns, then.”

“Fuck you! Are you being serious or just making fun of my fatness?”

“Both.”

“Whatever. Twenty boxes of honey buns, and you’ve got a deal.”

My jaw drops. “Jesus Christ, Ernie—twenty boxes?”

“Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.”

Twenty boxes?

“Take it or leave it.”

Beta and Jan watch me expectantly.

I fold my arms. “What are you going to do with twenty boxes of honey buns?”

“I think that’s fairly obvious,” Ernie replies.

“I’ll get you a couple of boxes, but an entire bakery’s worth—”

“Now there’s an idea.”

“Ernie, I’m not negotiating with your stomachs.”

He drops his clothes, waves his hand at my torso. “Then live out the remainder of your days as an undead child actor from the blah ages. I can’t wait to see your grandparents’ reaction to that skimpy little loincloth of yours. Oh, and the kids at school are going to love those darling blond locks—”

“Fine. Twenty boxes of honey buns.”

“And fifty bucks.”

“Fifty bucks or twenty boxes of honey buns.”

“Both. Final offer.”

“You know what? Never mind. I’ll go alone.”

Ernie’s smug smile falters, ala Austin Pendleton in My Cousin Vinny during the Mr. Tipton reading glasses revelation scene. “Okay, twenty boxes of honey buns it is, and I work for free.”

Crap—my shoes are still on Thrill-Kill’s server. “Too late, fat shit. The deal’s off.”

“Eighteen boxes.”

“Go home, Ernie.”

“Fifteen boxes. They can even be those shitty Mrs. Freshley’s instead of Little Debbie—”

“I’ll go with you,” Jan offers.

“Dude,” I say, “you’ve already dealt with enough. You don’t have to clean up Ernie’s messes, too.”

“I’ve been cooped up here all day. I want to go.”

“Okay, guys. Ten boxes. Final, final offer—”

The bedroom door opens.

Dad’s back, and he looks to have recovered from his inner-ear fire. Motioning for me to follow him, he says, “Theo, we need to talk.”

And I need to rescue the girl of my dreams from certain doom in the hopes that just maybe she’ll fall madly in love with me. “Okay, but can it wait a few?”

Dad shakes his head. “Now.” He closes the door.

“Ooh,” Ernie coos, putting his hand on my shoulder. “You’re in trouble, junior.”

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Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness:

Dookie, a shitty horror novel by Jesse Gordon