Frankie’s Day Out

If Frankie could have known what awaited him that fateful Saturday morning, he never would have bought that twelve-pack of Mr Crim’s.

But he didn’t know, so instead here he was, standing on the sidewalk outside the building of the apartment he shared with his best-bud Dan, swaying lightly back and forth like the human equivalent of one of those inflatable punching clowns, guts swirling like they were made of wet sand.

‘Now you remember everything I told you?’ said Dan, hefting a suitcase into the trunk of his battered old Accord with a grunt.

Frankie nodded. ‘Yeah, yeah. Take out the trash. No going in your room. I got it.’

‘And?’

Frankie blinked. He was very confused. He wondered if he was drunker than he thought he was—which was possible. It’s hard to ever know exactly what level of drunk you are when you’re wasted practically all of the time.

And…

No adventures. Are we clear?’

‘Oh.’

‘And no putting any army men down the garbage disposal. We can’t afford to call a plumber out again.’

Not even deserters?’ said Frankie. But how would he make an example to the other men?

‘I’m serious, Frankie. I’m trusting you here. Abby and I need this, okay? Things have been…’ he searched for the right word, ‘tense since her dad—well, you know. Okay?’

Frankie groaned.

Although Dan was his best friend, the guy could be an uptight douche sometimes—which had always perplexed Frankie, because from where Frankie was standing, Dan pretty much had it made. He had a car. An apartment. A girlfriend who fought all of his battles for him, because she was more or less three-fifths ninja. From where Frankie was standing, Dan was living the American Dream.

‘Look, I got it, okay?’ he said. ‘Now would you just relax already? Besides, you’re only going to be gone for a couple days. What’s the worst that could happen?’

Dan stared at Frankie wordlessly a moment, but didn’t comment—no doubt because he knew Frankie was right.

Just then, Abby come shuffling out of the apartment building, bags in each hand and propped under both armpits like some kind of bag-themed monster.

‘Okay. I think that’s everything.’ She tossed the bags into the trunk, not grunting even a little, before turning to Dan. ‘Ready?

He nodded. ‘Ready.’

She turned to Frankie, shot him the wink and the gun. ‘Laters, big guy.’

Frankie watched them climb inside Dan’s Accord and drive away, the happy couple, off for a romantic weekend away, just the two of them.

He nodded to himself.

Two days. Two days to do whatever I want. What could possibly go wrong?

He belched and went back inside.

*

Much to Frankie’s surprise, it was a lot harder finding something with which to entertain himself than he’d initially expected.

First, he’d tried playing Call of Duty—which had admittedly been fun, for a while. That was, until the connection had started lagging, and young-sounding children over headset had started calling him “noob”—which had angered Frankie terribly, because Frankie was not a noob, and it was wrong for anyone to suggest that he was.

He’d tried watching TV, but it was mostly just re-runs and game-shows, and he knew the only people who watched those were old folks and cat ladies who had already given up on life, and so didn’t really mind that what they were watching was the literal equivalent of eye-AIDS. He’d even tried slinging water balloons off the roof using one of Abby’s bras like he’d seen some other guys do on TV this one time, but it was a lot harder in real life, especially when you don’t have any water balloons, and it wasn’t really the same without Dan, anyway.

Nothing he tried made him satisfied.

So now here he was, several hours later, lying on Dan and Abby’s bed, dressed in one of Dan’s old work suits and eating a bag of crunched-up nachos through a paper funnel (composed solely of Dan’s birth certificate) he had purposely hand-crafted days ago, specifically for this very task.

Tossing the bag of nachos aside, Frankie pushed himself up and slowly dragged himself over to the mirror.

He looked himself over.

Ooh, look at me. My name’s Dan, and I like to be all overdramatic and stuff.

He tried to force a laugh, but he couldn’t. It wasn’t so much the nothing to do that bothered him. Really, it was what Dan had said to him earlier, shortly before heading off on his little weekend lovemaking-session.

I’m trusting you here.

Frankie scoffed. Yeah—like he couldn’t be trusted; didn’t Dan know Frankie was the very image of a responsible adult? Hadn’t he himself been the recipient of the benefit of Frankie’s sheer responsible-ness countless numbers of times before? It was just so bogus.

He caught a sudden glimpse of Dan and Abby’s bed in the mirror over his shoulder, all the crumbs and empty beer cans strewn across it.

Okay, so maybe not that responsible—but at least I took out the trash.

As he was contemplating just how very responsible he was, from somewhere inside the living room, there was a sound.

Frankie frowned.

He knew it was possible he was just hearing things. Maybe he’d left the window open—or the TV on, perhaps. Maybe it was the rats again. It was the most logical conclusion.

Of course, Frankie also knew that strange things had a way of happening around this part of town, and so the possibility of it being some monster sent here to maim/kill/molest him wasn’t totally out of the question, either.

Which was a good thing, as it would turn out, because, stepping into the living room moments later, he saw that that was indeed exactly what it was.

It was standing in the center of the living room. Some man-shaped thing. Dark. Substance-less. Like exhaust fumes someone had for some reason—and utilizing methods Frankie was unfamiliar with—forged into the rough shape of a man. Easily eight-feet tall, causing it to have to hunch to avoid bumping its head on the living room ceiling. Gangly arms hung from formless shoulders, reaching all the way down to its spindly, bird-like legs. The stench of mid-afternoon traffic flooded the air, noxious and heady and awful.

Frankie did not hesitate.

Frowning furiously, he bounded forward, and, utilizing all of the courage at his disposal, cried, ‘Dick! You’re spilling my beer!

The Smoke Monster looked down to where Frankie was angrily gesticulating and saw that he was indeed spilling Frankie’s beer, the can of Mr Crim’s now tipped-over and leaking its insides all over the coffee table before him. Oddly, it did not look overly concerned by this fact.

Frankie knew he was dealing with one sick sonofabitch.

You mother—!

The Smoke Monster pounced forward, gangly arms searching out Frankie’s neck before up and lifting him off his feet.

Frankie suddenly found it very hard to breathe.

Kingslayer! hissed the Smoke Monster—only that wasn’t quite right, because the thing didn’t even have a mouth, let alone a tongue. He must have been sending the thought directly to Frankie’s brain using some form of telepathic transference. Of course.

Frankie blinked.

Wait—did he just say Kingslayer? Ooh, he must think I’m Dan

He tried to tell the Smoke Monster this, but couldn’t because of the smoke-fingers currently closing off his windpipe. As luck would have it however, he didn’t need to, because the creature answered anyway.

Not Kingslayer…?

So Frankie was telepathic, too. To be honest, he’d suspected as much.

He furrowed his brow and focused his thoughts.

No—ass. You’ve got the wrong person. Now put me down. You owe me a beer.

The Smoke Monster pulled Frankie’s face towards it.

WHERE. IS. KINGSLAYER?!

Frankie stared defiantly back at it. He knew most people would be peeing in their pants right about now. But he also knew he was not like most people—and not just because of how astonishingly good-looking he was. In all honesty, there was a large part of Frankie that suspected he might even be part-superhero—although his powers had still yet to present themselves. He was okay with this, though. A late-blooming superhero was still a superhero. He just hoped it was laser-eyes.

WHAT?

Frankie realized the Smoke Monster was still reading his thoughts. He had lost the element of surprise.

Crap-salad.

Pinching his eyes shut tight, Frankie concentrated, tried to quiet his mind. He knew if the Smoke Monster were to find out Dan and Abby were staying at the Starlight Grand Motel, room 11A, it would go after them. And he couldn’t allow that to happen. No matter what the outcome here was, he could not let—

His eyes snapped open.

Oh, wait…

The Smoke Monster released Frankie, dropping him to the floor, where he landed with a thud on his perfect, chiseled ass. It turned on its heels and sprung towards the open window. Before fleeing, however, it turned back. And though it didn’t have a mouth, Frankie got the impression the thing was smirking.

Acting fast, Frankie leapt to his feet, yelled, ‘Laser eyes!’ at the top of his voice, before remembering his powers still hadn’t bloomed yet, and so that didn’t work.

The creature jumped.

Frankie raced to the window, reaching it just in time to witness the Smoke Monster making its escape, its formless body bounding up the alleyway away from the apartment building in long, gangly strides.

And Frankie knew exactly where it was the smoky bastard was headed.

Adrenaline kicked in.

He couldn’t allow the Smoke Monster to reach Dan and Abby—and not only because he was technically responsible for sending the creature to them in the first place. Really, it was because of Dan. Frankie knew Dan did not cope well in these sorts of situations. Whilst he loved Dan to bits, there was no getting around the fact the guy was simply not cut out for monster-slaying. It was the sole reason Frankie had decided to move in with Dan in the first place, the reason he had given up his adult independence—to look out for him (even though, admittedly, that had been before all the “monster business”—but whatever). Frankie knew Dan was incapable of surviving on his own, and thus he protected him, allowed him to provide Frankie with a place to live so that he’d always be close-by, should anything monstrous or life-threatening appear. In very many ways, Dan was like his sidekick. The Robin to his Batman. Dan was his responsibility.

And so, downing the last of his beers, he threw on a jacket and set off after the Smoke Monster.

*

Frankie ran for a whole ten minutes before finally spotting the bastard—in a narrow side-street, a couple blocks away from where he had initially given chase.

As luck would have it, it was a street Frankie knew well.

Neon signs. Hanging paper-lights. Stools filled with trinkets and other items of unmistakably Asian origin. Banners hung from wall to wall, too many to count—and all in poorly formed English. Laundromats fucking everywhere.

Frankie suppressed a laugh; through the universal law of foot-chases, it would appear he had found himself in Chinatown.

Terrified onlookers cried out in surprise and alarm as the man-shaped Smoke Monster barreled past them, ridiculous legs spastic-kicking out in front of it as it ran—a tactic that seemed to be working pretty well, judging by the people diving heedlessly out of its way.

Not hesitating for an instant, Frankie gave chase, pushing slanty-eyed bystanders to the sides in reckless abandon, even though they weren’t in his way, because that’s just what you did when engaged in a foot-chase—seriously, it’s the law.

The Smoke Monster knocked over a stool.

Frankie hurdled it.

It pushed an old man holding a walker to the ground, who cried out in pain as his hip shattered like expensive china.

Frankie hurdled him, too.

Then, as if by magic, he suddenly found himself on Fifty-third.

Panting hard, he looked around. No sign of the gangly smoke-fucker.

He whipped his head left and right, eyes scanning road and sidewalk alike. Still no sign. Like the thing had just vanished right into thin air, or something—which was not out of the question, Frankie knew, what given all the other weird shit he’d seen, though it would have been pretty freaking annoying.

Then—

A flash of something dark, a little ways up the road to his left.

Frankie spun in that direction, turning just in time to witness the Smoke Monster reach into a car—what looked like a Chevrolet—and pull out its driver, before tossing said driver to the curb.

It placed itself into the driver’s seat and promptly sped away, leaving the Chevrolet’s driver lying there shell-shocked and staring, it still evidently not having dawned on the guy he’d just gotten car-jacked by a smoke monster.

Frankie watched the car speed off, cursing.

The bastard was getting away. Soon, he’d be gone. This was no time to stand around with his thumb up his ass. He had to do something.

Not knowing what else to do, he ran after it, figuring if he pushed himself maybe his latent superpowers would kick in, and he could Flash-run his way—

Something blue and ugly took him off his feet.

He felt himself go up, then down.

When he’d stopped being a slave to momentum, he glanced to the side, surprised to find himself now face to face with what looked to be the front grill of a Toyota Prius.

This confused Frankie very much.

Then, as he lay there contemplating the Prius’ license plate, the entire left side of him screaming from the impact, a face appeared above him.

It was just a silhouette from this angle, but from the way the hair billowed down towards him, he had the feeling it was the face of a woman.

My heavens! Are you all right?’ the face said.

There was a moment where Frankie thought what he was looking at was an angel—which would have made sense, he thought, seeing as how he’d just gotten run-over and all, though he wasn’t ready to be a ghost yet, regardless of how cool Patrick Swayze made it seem.

Then his eyes adjusted, and he saw all the nasty crow’s feet, all the deep, unruly lines in her cheeks and forehead—all that awful, looping neck-skin.

This was no angel, Frankie knew. He did not know much in life, but he knew angels did not look like this—like old fruit left to dry in the sun, before getting kicked roughly into the shape of one. In every movie he’d ever seen, angels were beautiful, graceful creatures, or Nicholas Cage.

But not this.

The thing-that-was-not-an angel reached down and slowly helped him to his feet.

It was some old woman, Frankie saw now. Short. Hair as blue as the cardigan she wore—which, suffice it to say, was very blue indeed. A chain of beads hung low from her neck, drawing the eye to her ample, drooping bosom. She was like the very definition of what a grandma should look like. Frankie wondered if she had any cookies on her.

Are you hurt?’ she said. Behind her granny-glasses, her eyes were very wide.

Frankie tried to answer, but couldn’t. His head felt scrambled. He became aware he was swaying. ‘Smoke… Monster…’ he managed.

The old woman was silent for a moment, then frowned. ‘I’d better call an ambulance...

‘Wait—no. I’m fine. I just need to—’ His eyes settled on the Prius idling behind her, it’s empty driver’s seat. ‘I need your car!’

The old woman blinked. ‘I’m sorry?‘

But Frankie was already climbing inside.

He buckled up, went to stomp the clutch, then frowned when his foot found only air instead.

It was then that the obvious dawned.

It was an automatic.

Gross!

Meanwhile, Fake-Angel hovered by the open door, her face wrecked by age. ‘What are you—that’s my car!’

Frankie grabbed the wheel—

He missed.

He reached for it a second time—

Missed again.

Again, this confused Frankie for a long while. He must have messed up his depth perception when he head-butted the Prius, or something. Balls.

From beside him, the old lady—who Frankie was pretty sure now was not an angel, despite what she claimed—continued to hover.

She pointed a finger at him. ‘You—you can’t just—!’

Frankie turned to her. ‘Look, you’ve been through something traumatic. You’re in shock—I get it. But unless you help me right now, the Smoke Monster is going to gatecrash Dan and Abby’s romantic weekend together, and it’s gong to be all my fault. Do you understand?’

That confused look again.

Frankie shook his head.

Goddamn old people…

‘Help—how?’ said the old lady. ‘What are you talking about?

‘My depth perception’s shot. I’m going to need you to drive.’

‘You need me to—what?’

Goddamn it, woman, we’re in the middle of a car chase here! Now are you going to drive or not?

‘But I can’t just—’

Before she could finish, Frankie suddenly threw himself out of the door and onto the asphalt.

My legs!’ he cried, even though they were totally fine. He writhed around on the ground, flailing with his arms and slapping at the useless lumps of meat that had until very recently been his thighs. ‘Look at them—they’re dead! You paralyzed me!’ He looked up at her, face contorted in grief and confusion. ‘Why did you paralyze me, lady?

A crowd had formed around them now, watching silently as Frankie relayed to them—in as loud a volume as he could muster—exactly how the bad lady had crippled him for life.

How will I ever get that football scholarship now?’ he screamed.

The old lady looked around, horrified. She clutched at her bead-chain. ‘But… you just—!’

My track days!’ continued Frankie. ‘My track days are over!’ He cripple-crawled himself over to one of the men gawking at the events currently unfolding and clutched at his pant-leg. ‘Oh, sweet mother of irony!

The old lady cast another nervous glance around her, before finally bending low. ‘If I help you, will you please stop?!

Frankie quit howling and looked back at her. ‘Is that a yes?’

‘Well—’

Great! I call shotgun!’

He bounded to his feet and immediately made for the Prius, whistling as he walked, not crippled in the slightest.

He wrangled the seatbelt into its clasp and smiled.

All right. Here I come, you smoky bastard. Just you watch. Uncle Frankie’s coming for you.

*

Her name was Gertrude, but her friends called her Gertie—this the old lady informed Frankie as they continued on with their pursuit of the elusive Smoke Monster. She’d been on her way to her grandson Jimmy’s eighth birthday party. He liked video games. He was very good.

From his place in the passenger seat, Frankie suddenly turned to her. ‘Will you please stop talking? This is a car chase. Show some respect.’

Gertie flapped a hand in front of her face. ‘I’m sorry, it’s just—I’m nervous. I get chatty when I’m nervous. I mean this has all just happened so fast.’ She shook her head. ‘Lord, what am I doing? I should be getting you to the hospital…’

‘You’re a terrible person, Gertie,’ Frankie agreed. He pointed at the road. ‘Now would you speed up already? We’re gonna lose him.’

‘Lose who? Besides, I’m going as fast as I can.’

‘Oh, don’t be ridiculous.’ He cast a quick glance over at the rev-counter. ‘Wait—really?’

But Gertie wasn’t listening. The shock had taken her. ‘I mean I should be there by now—they’re probably wondering where I am!’

Frankie pushed his head out of the window. He could still see the Chevrolet—even if only just. There was still time. They could still do this.

He pulled his head back in again.

‘Okay, now listen up, Gertie, cause there’s some shit you need to know, and I don’t have time to be gentle with you. I’m gonna have to give you the crash-course. Understand?’

Gertie tightened her hands around the wheel, her face still ravaged by time.

Frankie nodded. ‘Okay, great.’ He turned to face her fully, seatbelt straining. ‘So you know how the world is all sunshine and rainbows, right? Well—it’s not. Monsters exist. And aliens—demons, too, probably. Pretty much everything you’ve ever heard or read about is real.’

Even ghosts?’ said Gertie.

Frankie scoffed. ‘Well of course not ghosts—what are you, retarded?’

‘But you just said—’

Never mind what I said!’ he snapped. ‘You need to wise-up, wrinkle-tits. Because the second we get level with what’s up there, you’re gonna see some shit. Shit that’s gonna turn your brain to fucking ground beef. And it’s imperative you don’t freak out, okay? Seriously—I’m counting on you here, Gertie.’

Gertie took a deep breath to steady herself, then nodded. ‘Okay.’

‘Atta girl.’

Finally, they caught up with the Chevrolet.

Gertie looked out the window.

Her eyes widened.

WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!

‘Relax—it’s just a Smoke Monster,’ said Frankie—although, to be fair, he thought that much should have been obvious. ‘Just be cool.’

BUT IT’S—?!

‘Don’t freak out. Just calm down. Remember your training, Gertie.’

IS IT FLIPPING ME OFF?!

What? No, why would it be—?’ He looked back towards the Chevrolet to find that the Smoke Monster was indeed flipping them the bird.

He sighed. ‘Okay, yes, it’s flipping you off. But don’t worry about that right now. Just get us close. I’m gonna try and jump it.’ He unfastened his seat belt, momentarily forgetting he was not a professional stuntman. ‘On three, ready? One. Two—’

The Prius jerked wildly to the right as Gertie suddenly passed out over the wheel, droopy tits flapping all over the steering column.

The sudden movement set them spinning, the world outside the windshield whipping round right before Frankie’s eyes like how it does on those spinning teacup rides they always seem to have at the fair, only that nobody goes on.

It seemed to go on for a very long time, but was probably only seconds.

They eventually came to a stop less than a foot from the central reservation, their arrival there marked by a succession of angry, righteous horn-blares.

When he was sure he wasn’t about to become involved in yet another car-related accident, Frankie glanced up, lifting his head just in time to witness the Smoke Monster-piloted Chevrolet quickly disappearing from view, watching as it’s back end vanished, swallowed up by the traffic.

He slumped back in his seat, the tangy stench of burning rubber rich in his nostrils.

He watched cars whizzing past in his periphery.

He let out a breath.

Balls.

*

Frankie pulled his head back inside the Chevrolet and let out a long groan.

It was forty minutes later. They’d followed along the interstate towards Atlantic City, but had yet to see any sign of the Chevrolet or its driver—not that Frankie was expecting to, of course. Frankie was no fool. He knew they had lost him forever. And yet despite this, he saw no other course of action than to simply follow along in the vain hope they might somehow miraculously catch up with the guy, whereupon Frankie would then go Hiroshima-style on the smoky bastard’s dick and balls—providing, of course, the guy even had any.

For what felt like the gazillionth time, he snatched his cell from his pocket and tried to reach Dan and Abby. But of course, they had their phones off, the two of them having taken steps to ensure that no one and nothing interrupt their freaky weekend sex-adventure—which was pretty irresponsible of them, if you asked Frankie. But then, he guessed it was unfair of him to expect everybody to be as totally responsible and mature as he was.

With a heavy sigh, he slipped the phone back into his pocket.

He shook his head.

Goddamnit, Dan. Where are you when I need you?

‘That your friend?’

Frankie looked around to find Gertie staring at him. ‘What?

Your friend,’ said Gertie. ‘Dan, right? You said his name earlier, too. Is that who you’re trying to save?’

Frankie folded his arms and turned his gaze back towards the window. Whilst he wasn’t the ball of hot fury he’d been forty minutes ago, he still hadn’t forgiven Gertie for freaking out on him earlier. He would need some time. ‘Uh-huh.’

Huh. Must be some friend if you’re willing to go risk your life like this to rescue him.’

Frankie nodded. ‘Of course. We’re best friends.’

‘So how did the two of you meet?’

Frankie shot her a look. ‘Seriously? You want to do this now?

‘Sure—why not? Besides, it’ll give me something else to think about other than that… thing we just saw.’ She shuddered suddenly, neck-skin flapping all over the place like a bed sheet caught in the wind.

Frankie let out a long breath. He supposed they did still have a long way to go before they got to Atlantic City.

So he told her about Dan, how they met—at kindergarten, after he had come to Dan’s recue after one of the bigger boys had pushed him down. About how he had always looked out for the guy, even on the occasions Dan really hadn’t wanted him to. He told her about Abby and the whole “Phony” situation, which, best as he could make out, was still ongoing. He wasn’t really sure on that one.

When he was finished, Gertie let out a long whistle. ‘Wow. You must be a really good friend, giving up your life to watch out for your buddy like that.’ She huffed. ‘I just hope he appreciates it…’

Frankie snapped his head around to look at her. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?!

‘Oh—nothing. I’m just saying, if one of my friends had done all that for me, I’d be very appreciative.’

‘Dan appreciates me,’ said Frankie—although, even as he said it, his mind was immediately drawn back to the little conversation he and Dan had had, shortly before he and Abby taken off for Atlantic City.

I’m trusting you here.

Frankie frowned.

But that didn’t mean Dan didn’t appreciate him—did it? They were bros. Best-bros. So what if Dan never said how much he appreciated all the things Frankie did for him? He knew Dan wasn’t good at showing emotion. He was kind of autistic that way.

But that didn’t mean he didn’t feel it, that he wasn’t grateful.

Did it…?

‘And I CERTAINLY wouldn’t have gone on vacation and not invited you,’ Gertie went on. ‘And after all you’ve done for him? That’s just cruel.’

Frankie turned his gaze once more towards the window, scowling. ‘Shut up. This conversation’s over.’ He thought for a moment. ‘And this car smells like cats.’

Gertie frowned. ‘Well you don’t have to get all bristly—’

Before she could finish, Frankie suddenly leaned forward. ‘Gertie—look!

She turned her gaze in the direction he was pointing, to a small, nondescript gas station, sitting by the roadside to their right—more specifically, to the compact, sliver-coloured thing sitting stationary under its awning.

The Chevrolet!

It was idling at a pump, its driver’s door open. Gas leaked down its side in torrents, dripping down from the hose poking out of its tank like blood from the side of a speared-bull.

No sign of the Smoke Monster, though.

Frankie stared through the windshield at it. He knew it was a long shot the Chevrolet he was looking at was his Chevrolet. Plenty other cars out there matched that description, after all. But for whatever reason, he had the sneaking suspicion that it was.

He thrust a finger at it. ‘Quick—go!

Gertie took the turn-off at once, bringing the Prius round in a wide arc before hammering the brakes and jerking them to a stop moments later beside the Chevrolet.

Frankie climbed out of the car and immediately stiff-legged his way around to the Chevrolet’s front, legs still numb from the drive.

He peeked inside.

Nobody there.

‘It’s empty in here, too!’ said Gertie, who Frankie saw now had also left the car, was standing with her face pressed against the station’s glass front, hands clasped either side of her head.

What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ he said.

She waved him off. ‘Oh, hush. I’ll be fine—besides, I want to help.’

Actually, I was more worried about you giving away our position, but whatever…

He stepped around to the gas station’s side, gas vapours clogging his nose and making him giddy, where he spotted a large, rusted garage-door, resting partially open. A collection of various car parts lay stacked one atop the other off to its side, the dust and cobwebs covering them making them look like they hadn’t moved in a very long time. The low rumble of a working engine floated out from inside, deep and ominous.

Not hesitating for an instant, Frankie ducked low and let himself inside.

Straight away, his eyes took in several things—the first of which being the large, shit-brown Oldsmobile, sitting on jacks in the center of the room. Its headlights were on, the chassis shaking gently as its engine worked. A license plate on the front read VAGBUSTER 1.

The second thing he noticed was the man in scuffed jeans and a dirty-white tee, standing across the room from him, looking to be desperately trying to fuse himself into the wall behind him. Some thick-set guy, hands like hams, neck like that of a Mexican wrestler’s.

Their eyes met.

Dirty Mexican raised a trembling finger to his lips.

Sh-sh-shush!

He cast his gaze back down to the rear of the Oldsmobile.

It was then, stepping around the car’s side, that Frankie saw what it was the guy was talking about.

Smoke Monster!

It was bent down low, its back to Frankie, face pressed to the Oldsmobile’s exhaust like he was trying to perform oral sex on it—only Frankie knew instinctively that wasn’t what it was doing.

Look at it. It’s sucking up the fumes. It must need them to stay alive…

The Smoke Monster suddenly became aware that it was being watched.

It launched itself to its feet, striking out with its gangly arm and sending Frankie flying across the garage.

He landed on a work counter, his head cracking against the wall behind him and sending a flurry of different tools and objects crashing down on top of him.

Before he could even make a move to recover himself, Smoke Monster was on him.

It took Frankie by the throat again, once more lifting him off his feet. It began to breathe into his mouth.

Frankie had never been molested by a smoke monster before, but it was even worse than he imagined. Toxic fumes flooded his lungs, set his chest on fire. He became distantly aware he was getting poisoned to death, and felt righteous anger flood through him, because, seriously, what a lame way to go.

He tried to thrash out with his feet, but couldn’t. All of a sudden, they were very heavy. He felt his eyelids wanting to close.

No! Don’t give up! It can’t end like this!

His eyes closed—

There was a sudden flash and a crackle.

Frankie fell to the ground, hitting the garage’s cold cement-floor like a sack full of hammers and sending a jolt of agony shooting up his ass-bone, snapping him back to consciousness.

He glanced up—

He gasped.

Gertie?!

She was standing between him and the Smoke Monster, a little black object in her hand that at first glance Frankie took to be a remote.

Then it crackled again, and he realized suddenly what it was he was looking at.

He tried to speak, but coughed instead. ‘Gertie, what are you—?’

It’s okay!’ she said, still with her back to him, taser still flashing away in her hands. ‘I’m helping!

‘No, I mean—you’ve had that thing the whole time?’

‘Yeah—so?’

So why the hell didn’t you say anything?!

‘Why does it matter if I didn’t—?’

The Smoke Monster suddenly made a break for it.

Hey!

‘Quick—get him!’ cried Frankie.

They chased it out through the gas station, knocking over all kinds of shit as they continued on with their pursuit. Frankie threw himself over the counter, ass gliding expertly across it, and felt a pang of sadness knowing that Dan was not there to witness just how fucking cool he was being right now.

They bounded out through the main doors, stepping out just in time to witness the bastard once more zooming away, the Chevrolet headed for the interstate, the Smoke Monster once again giving them the finger.

HA-HA! SUCK IT, LOSERS! it shouted back at them with its telepathy voice. That cocky bastard.

Frankie let his hands fall angrily to his sides. ‘Well, this is just great. Seriously—nice going, Gertie.’

Gertie frowned. ‘Me? But I saved you!

‘Saved me? Please. I had that guy exactly where I wanted him before you interrupted and ruined it all.’

Lucky thing for him, too…

There was a moment’s awkward silence.

‘So what now?’ said Gertie. She still had the taser in her hand, a look on her face like she was wondering what to electrocute next. That randy bitch. ‘Now what do we do?’

Frankie glared at her. ‘What now—we go after him, of course!

He rolled his eyes.

Jesus, it’s like she doesn’t even want to save Dan…

‘Oh—right!’ She waddled hurriedly back to the Prius, making all kinds of body parts jiggle, and a fresh wave of revulsion-fueled vomit shoot up into the back of Frankie’s throat.

He made to join her, then paused when, from the corner of his eye, he spotted something lying on the ground beside where the Chevrolet had sat. Some small, blocky something.

On a whim, he doubled-back to look at it.

He turned it over in his hands.

Hmm. Must have fallen out of the Chevrolet when ol’ douche-face had first pulled over.

For reasons he could not explain, he reached around and tucked it awkwardly into the back waistband of his pants.

He climbed back into the Prius, the two of them speeding away moments later.

*

They reached Atlantic City a little before dusk, pulling off the highway onto streets filled with fancy buildings and dazzling lights. Frankie kept an eye out for the Chevrolet as they drove, as well as for any signs pertaining to the Starlight Grand Motel. He saw none, however.

It only added to his frustration.

Hell, it was bad enough he couldn’t reach Dan on the phone to warn him about the Smoke Monster currently on its way to hatefully rape-murder him to death. Now he couldn’t even find the damn place.

To make matters worse, there must have been a parade on or something, as there seemed to be—to Frankie’s eye, at least—an awful lot of people in the road. Every once in a while he and Gertie would have to pull up and wait for the people (girls, mostly) to dance-walk their way past, and whilst Frankie could appreciate how inappropriate their clothing (or lack thereof) was, he knew this was not the time for any funny business. And last he checked, jaywalking was still a thing. It was infuriating.

They eventually found the place coming off the main boardwalk—a little U-shaped building by a line of fake palms, a flickering neon sign above its door and a dozen or so cars parked haphazardly in its lot—one of which Frankie recognized instantly to be Dan’s shitty old Accord.

Frankie pointed through the windshield. ‘Quick, Gertie! Over there!

She pulled the Prius round into the lot, wheels screeching with the sudden stress—

Frankie gasped in surprise as the compact, silver Chevrolet suddenly cut them off.

It flew past them and pulled to a shrieking halt in the center of the Starlight’s lot, the wheels barely having stopped before the driver’s door flew open, and a dark, spindly leg emerged—followed shortly after by the walking douche that was Smoke Monster himself.

Frankie stared through the windshield, sudden realization rooting his butt to the seat.

He was too late. He had taken too long getting here, and now his best bud in the whole world would be slowly sodomized to death by what was effectively just air pollution.

He shook his head.

No way. Not on my watch.

Not giving himself time to consider what it was he was doing, Frankie bounded out of the car and gave chase, boots slapping the asphalt in frantic rhythm.

The Smoke Monster in response turned on its heels and began spastic-running towards Dan’s room, its body barely visible in the dim light.

Frankie reached into the back waistband of his pants, to the item he’d found lying on the ground whilst outside the gas station they’d detoured to earlier.

The Dirt Devil fired up with a whir.

Frankie pointed it in Smoke Monsters direction, not really sure if it’d work, but not knowing what else to do—and, honestly, it wasn’t like it was the worst plan he’d ever had.

Frankie thrust out with the Dirt Devil.

Come on, damnit!

He jabbed the handheld vacuum cleaner into the place he assumed Smoke Monster’s heart to be, right as the two of them came crashing through the motel room’s flimsy wooden door.

There was a frantic suctioning sound.

When Frankie collected himself, Smoke Monster was gone.

He looked down at the Dirt Devil in his hands, amazed.

Huh. Well would you look at that.

‘Frankie?!’

Frankie glanced up to find a squinty-eyed Dan glaring down at him. ‘Oh. Hey, Dan.’ He was standing in his underwear, a look of confused anger on his face.

‘Don’t “hey Dan” me—what the hell are you doing here?’ He let his gaze wander down to Frankie’s body. ‘And is that my suit?

Frankie looked to where he was gesturing. ‘Oh—this? Ha. Funny story, actually. See, there was this Smoke Monster, and I—’

From over Dan’s shoulder, Abby suddenly appeared, bed sheet clutched tightly to her chest. ‘Dan? What is it? Are we under attack?’ She saw Frankie lying there on the carpet and her brow furrowed. ‘Frankie…?’

‘Hey, Abby.’ He turned his attention back to Dan. ‘Look, I can explain, okay? It wasn’t me. It was the smoke monster. He—’

Dan raised his hands. ‘Save it, Frankie. I don’t want to hear it. It’s always the same with you. You just couldn’t give us two days to ourselves, could you?’

Frankie stared. He knew Dan didn’t mean what he was saying. He’d had a nasty surprise, and so wasn’t in his right mind. That was all. Totally logical he would react this way—even if he was being a total dick. Frankie decided he would be the bigger man.

Eat a dick, Dan!’ he cried.

Okay, so maybe not that much of a bigger man.

He caught himself. ‘I mean, uh—you’re right. That’s my bad.’

Sudden skeptical look from Dan and Abby.

Dan frowned. ‘We… are?’

‘Ha. Yeah. Guess I just got a little jealous of you guys’ alone time. I’ll get out of your hair now.’ He made his way towards the door.

‘Frankie—’

‘It’s cool. I’ll see you guys at home.’

He let himself out without another word, leaving the two of them staring dumbfounded after him.

Then he went to get some pie.

*

‘He said what?’ said Gertie.

It was half an hour later. They were sitting in a diner at a rest stop just off the main highway; a quaint little place, with baseball-themed memorabilia hanging off of every available wall. Couple of hula-girl bobble heads on the counter, for reasons that escaped Frankie. Rich aroma of coffee in the air.

Frankie nodded. ‘Uh-huh.’ He shoveled a fork-load of pie into his mouth.

‘I just can’t believe it!’ Gertie went on. ‘And after you saved his life, too!’

Frankie shrugged. It was something he’d thought about a lot during the drive over here. And whilst he knew he should have felt angry, what considering he’d just saved their lives and all, truth was, Dan kind of had a point. ‘It’s cool. I guess I can be kind of a burden sometimes.’

A sexy burden…

‘Well, I for one am just glad it’s over,’ said Gertie. She pulled the taser from her purse again and looked at it. ‘Although, I would have liked to have used this just one more time.’ She jabbed at the air with it like a jouster going in for the kill.

Frankie stopped eating his pie a moment and looked at her. ‘You know something, Gertie? You’re all right—a little wrinkly, maybe. But all right.’

She scoffed. ‘You’re not so bad yourself.’ She made to take a piece of his pie, but he snatched the plate away.

‘Don’t touch my pie,’ he said.

She laughed. ‘Aw, come one. Just one bite—!’

‘Seriously, Gertie. I will fuck you up.’

‘Just a little sliver? Pretty please?

He thought about it for a moment, then when he could see she wasn’t going to give up, he sighed. ‘Oh, all right.’

 

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