Grand Ghoulish (I-I)
Or, Two Types of People
Far from the comforting warmth of daylight,
in a world cloaked in shadow,
our darkest and most primal fears fester,
waiting for the chance to consume us whole
as we lay awake, forever unable to sleep,
here in the midnight hour.
PulpBusters is a presentation of Pocket Theater of the Absurd! Original tales of the weird and strange from the mind and madness of “Amoral Crackpot” Steve Arviso.
I-I. TWO TYPES OF PEOPLE
A SMALL ART GALLERY. A MAN, HAROLD, STARES AT A CLOCK HUNG ON THE WALL BETWEEN A PAIR OF PHOTOS OF A STICKY MOTEL ROOM. BRENNIFER, A PINK FAUX HAWK IN HORNED-RIMMED GLASSES AND A PANTSUIT, WORKS THE DOOR. A PALTRY SCATTERING OF LOOKIE-LOOS COME AND GO.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) There are precisely two types of people in this world.
The first are those daring few showcasing tasteful erotic photography on the walls of a small art gallery situated in the sort of affluent coastal California "community" where everyone drives the latest model luxury vehicle, grows their own pot, and insists on charging their rocks by moonlight. For the sake of legalities, the name of this particular town escapes me at the moment...
Meanwhile, the other sort aren't complete idiots.
And as a man we'll call “Harold” stood there in a mostly empty art gallery, staring up at a clock hung between a pair of before-and-after photos of a sticky motel room, he took solace in the fact that while his idiocy was on full display, at least nobody was around to witness it.
BRENNIFER APPROACHES HAROLD.
BRENNIFER: (THUNDERING LILT) Harold?
HAROLD TURNS TO BRENNIFER, STARTS TO SCREAM SOMETHING ABOUT PHONY CAPITALIST ELITES SUCKING ON THE TEAT OF ARTISTIC INTEGRITY, THEN DOESN’T.
HAROLD: Hey, Brennifer.
BRENNIFER: You okay?
HAROLD: (LIES POORLY) Yeah. I think so.
BRENNIFER LOOKS ABOUT THE EMPTY GALLERY, THEN BACK TO HAROLD.
BRENNIFER: Wow. Really?
HAROLD TAKES IN BRENNIFER.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold looked at Brennifer for a moment, wondering if the dead-eyed woman across from him sold either scented oils or pills when she wasn't failing to sell other people's artwork for money. “Pills,” he thought. “Definitely pills.”
HAROLD: Have we sold anything yet?
BRENNIFER: (SHAKES HEAD) No. But if it helps any, I've curated worse showings than this.
BRENNIFER: No. This is probably the worst.
HAROLD CONSIDERS THIS.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) Harold considered this, then briefly imagined himself running through the gallery's glass storefront and cackling his way down Main Street until finally succumbing to blood loss.
HAROLD CONSIDERS THIS AS WELL.
HAROLD: Thanks, Brennifer...
BRENNIFER: You're welcome.
HAROLD: I didn't finish.
HAROLD: (SHAKES HEAD) No. I was going to say, “Thanks, Brennifer... (ANGRY, PETTY PAUSE) ...for stomping on the shattered remains of my hopes and dreams.”
HAROLD TURNS BACK TO THE CLOCK.
HAROLD: (SIGHS) It's fine. I didn't want to have to carry home what little self-respect I had left.
BRENNIFER RETURNS TO THE DOOR AND LOOKIE-LOOS.
THE CLOCK BEGINS TO SPIN AWAY, INDICATING SOME SEMBLANCE OF THE PASSAGE OF TIME. LOOKIE-LOOS COME, LOOKIE-LOOS GO. HAROLD DOESN’T MOVE FROM HIS SPOT.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) The hours didn't slip away so much as they shuffled by, fell over, cried that they'd fallen and can't get back up, waited a moment, and then slowly got back to their feet before finally getting on with it.
During this time, Harold decided his feet hurt and got a chair.
HAROLD STEPS AWAY, RETURNS WITH A CHAIR. HE SITS AWKWARDLY ATOP THE CHAIR FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS SCENE FOR SOME REASON LOST EVEN TO HIM.
From atop his uneven, wholly uncomfortable chair that creaked and clattered every single time he shuffled his weight, Harold's attention alternated between the clock on the wall and the scattered handful of disinterested locals and disinterested, broke tourists drifting in and out of the gallery.
AN OLDER, PLEASANT MAN WITH A ROMANIAN ACCENT APPROACHES, SPEAKS WITH HAROLD, POINTS TO A PHOTOGRAPH ON THE WALL.
NONE OF THIS REGISTERS WITH HAROLD.
MAN GIVES UP, RETURNS TO HIS PLEASANT, SQUATTISH WIFE.
MAN: I would love to buy that photograph, but that angry little man looked like he needed it more.
MAN AND WIFE EXIT IN ODDLY SINCERE DISAPPOINTMENT.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) This continued for much of the afternoon...
A SMALL, WRINKLY POTATO OF A WOMAN WITH A GREEN VISOR AND BAD HIGHLIGHTS SPEAKS WITH BRENNIFER.
...until a wrinkly potato of a woman with a green visor and bad highlights in her hair asked Brennifer why the lady hadn't put her phone away and asked the shaggy homeless man in the back to leave.
POTATO HUFFS, LEAVES.
BRENNIFER APPROACHES HAROLD.
BRENNIFER: You need to leave.
HAROLD: What, leave? Why? This is my show.
BRENNIFER: You're depressing everyone away.
HAROLD: (SCOFFS) “Depressing everyone away”? (GESTURES) There's nobody here, Brennifer!
HAROLD’S EYES MEET THOSE OF A CONCERNED COUPLE IN MATCHING SHIRTS.
A SILENCE. THEN...
CONCERNED COUPLE SLOWLY, QUIETLY BACK OUT THE DOOR WITHOUT ANY SUDDEN MOVEMENTS.
(TO BRENNIFER) Okay. Maybe you have a point.
SOPHIA, A CHARMING, MATURE WOMAN IN A SILK SUNDRESS, ENTERS.
SOPHIA: Excuse me.
HAROLD AND BRENNIFER TURN TO SOPHIA.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) She was a cool forty poured into a silk sundress. Dark curls kissed the bare, tanned skin of her shoulders. And only the faint hint of laugh lines appearing about a pair of bedroom eyes as a devilish smile—
BRENNIFER: (SQUAWKS) Can I help you, Ma'am?
HAROLD SHOOS BRENNIFER AWAY WITH A WAVE OF HIS HAND, BUT WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A LOOK HER WAY.
HAROLD: Go vlog in the street, or something, will ya?
BRENNIFER CONSIDERS THIS, PRETENDS TO CARE, THINKS BETTER OF IT, THEN FLOATS AWAY AND OUT THE DOOR.
SOPHIA: Is she going to be okay?
HAROLD: (SHRUGS) How can I help you, Ms...
AN UNCOMFORTABLE SILENCE.
SOPHIA EVENTUALLY PUTS TWO-AND-TWO TOGETHER, EXTENDS HER HAND.
HAROLD LOOKS AT, EVENTUALLY TAKES SOPHIA’S HAND.
HAROLD: How can I help you, Ms. Sophia?
SOPHIA LOOKS AT HER HAND, BACK TO HAROLD, THEN... WITHDRAWS HER HAND.
SOPHIA: Aren't you the janitor?
HAROLD: What? No, I'm the photographer.
SOPHIA: Wait. Really?
HAROLD GESTURES TO THE MANY PHOTOGRAPHS HANGING ON THE WALL, BUT SPECIFICALLY TO THE REASONABLY SIZED SIGN BY THE DOOR WITH BOTH HAROLD'S NAME AND FACE PRINTED ON IT.
These are all...
SOPHIA: I'm so sorry... (SNEAKS A LOOK AT THE SIGN BY THE DOOR) ...Harold.
HAROLD: Did you actually think I was the janitor?
SOPHIA: I mean, you dress so... (GESTURES AT ALL OF HIM)
HAROLD: (SIGHS, SHAKES HEAD) No, I totally get it.
SOPHIA: Poor. You dress like a poor--
HAROLD: Yeah. I got it.
SHE LOOKS AT HIM, “DID YOU, THOUGH?”
SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE. BRENNIFER IS NEARLY RUN DOWN IN THE STREET BY A PASSING BIKE MESSENGER WHILE COMPLAINING ABOUT HER CRUMMY DAY AT WORK TO STRANGERS ON THE INTERNET. SHE SHOUTS AND SWEARS AND STORMS OFF.
EVERYONE LOOKS AND FROWNS UPON THIS.
HAROLD: So... Sophia. Did you see something you like?
SOPHIA: Actually, I wanted to inquire about a possible private session.
SOPHIA TURNS TOWARD A PHOTOGRAPH OF A NAKED WOMAN WISTFULLY LOOKING OUT ACROSS SANTIAGO CANYON AT SUNSET, SIGHS.
HAROLD: (BLINKS) Okay.
SOPHIA DRIFTS FROM ONE IMAGE TO THE NEXT, PAUSING DRAMATICALLY AS NECESSARY AS SHE SHARES SOME EMOTIONALLY CHARGED STORY ABOUT HER FADING BEAUTY AND THE MEN WHO ONCE PAINTED IMAGES OF HER.
HAROLD - AND THUS, US - TUNES IN AND OUT.
SOPHIA PAUSES JUST LONG ENOUGH, HAROLD ASSUMES SHE’S FINISHED.
HAROLD: I would love to photograph you, Sophia. But, why me?
SOPHIA: (CONSIDERS THIS) Do you believe in fate, Harold?
HAROLD: (DOESN’T CONSIDER THIS AT ALL) No, not really.
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) And then for the sake of dramatic conflict, it was at this time that Sophia's previously unmentioned husband appeared.
OLIVER, A MENACINGLY ATTRACTIVE, ATTRACTIVELY MENACING MAN, ENTERS.
He was a square jaw in khaki shorts. A head of luscious, perfectly coiffed hair wearing socks with sandals. Broad shoulders and meaty arms with a tiny wristwatch. Not since Charlton Heston descended from that mountain top in his finest robe and slippers has a chiseled work of divine art commanded the attention of all those in attendance.
OLIVER APPROACHES SOPHIA AND HAROLD.
So it didn't surprise Harold that, even from atop his chair, he was but a boy, in both stature and dress, to the animated slab of beef before him. And all he could think to say was–
HAROLD: (FAWNS) Is that a tailored polo shirt?
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) It was.
HAROLD REACHES FOR, BUT DOESN’T QUITE TOUCH THE BEEFY MAN’S ARMS WITHOUT PERMISSION.
SOPHIA: Harold. This is my husband, Oliver.
HAROLD CATCHES, STOPS HIMSELF.
OLIVER EXTENDS A HAND TO HAROLD LIKE A GREEK GOD REACHING OUT TO A CHIMP.
OLIVER: Doctor, actually.
HAROLD, THE CHIMP THAT HE IS, LOOKS AT, EVENTUALLY TAKES, SHAKES OLIVER’S HAND.
HAROLD: Of course you are.
OLIVER: Excuse me?
NARRATOR: (VOICE-OVER) But before Harold could even begin to consider constructing a lie to hide this strange and confusing mix of fear, insecurity, and pure animal attraction...
HAROLD SLOWLY, YET QUICKLY REALIZES OLIVER IS CRUSHING HIS HAND.
...he realized that what can only be described as Oliver's massive paw was crushing his teeny-tiny baby-man hand.
HAROLD ATTEMPTS, FAILS TO NOT CURL UP IN PAIN AND AGONY.
And as the bones and joints of his teeny-tiny baby-man hands bent and popped in ways they never evolved to do, Harold recalled a date with a petite Vietnamese woman at a Japanese seafood restaurant.
HAROLD ESCAPES INTO HIS THOUGHTS.
He couldn't remember the woman's name, or even why this scenario occurred in the first place. But he did remember the way he struggled to crack the shell of a crab with the big metal cracker they'd given him. He also remembered the way he felt uncomfortable watching his date rip and tear crab leg after lobster claw with her bare hands.
HAROLD SNAPS BACK TO HIS PAINFUL REALITY, TAPS OUT.
HAROLD: (PAINED SQUIRMING) My hand...
OLIVER SLOWLY, YET SLOWLY REALIZES THE CHIMP IS ATTEMPTING TO COMMUNICATE SOMETHING.
(PAINED SQUIRMING) You're crushing my hand...
OLIVER RELEASES WHAT REMAINS OF HAROLD'S HAND.
SOPHIA: Oliver's an experimental surgeon.
HAROLD: (NURSES HAND) Experimental? What, like ripping people open with his bare hands?
OLIVER STARES DEEP INTO HAROLD’S SOUL.
OLIVER: What have you heard about my bear hands?
HAROLD: (TO SOPHIA) Is he serious?
OLIVER: (TO SOPHIA) Sweetie?
HAROLD & SOPHIA: Yes, Darling?
OLIVER: Why are you introducing me to the janitor?
HAROLD: Do I really dress that bad?
SOPHIA: He's a photographer, Oliver.
OLIVER: Always good to have a hobby, I suppose. But why are we speaking with the help?
SOPHIA: No. This is his show. These are his photographs on the wall.
OLIVER LOOKS ABOUT, MILDLY UNIMPRESSED.
HAROLD: My face is on the poster, man.
OLIVER: How quaint.
HAROLD: Thank you?
OLIVER: Bit gratuitous. though. All these pictures of naked people and their wobbly bits. Don't people share this sort of thing on the internet for free these days?
HAROLD: It's okay. He's not wrong.
SOPHIA: (ROLLS EYES) Yes. Well. I want to book Harold's services for a private session.
OLIVER: Is that right?
HAROLD: (SHRUGS) Yeah, I don't get it either.
OLIVER: You want to take private, erotic photographs my wife?
OLIVER: Possibly in some state of undress.
OLIVER: And you want to be paid to do such a thing?
HAROLD: Also yes.
BRENNIFER: (TO ALL) Anyone own the latest model luxury vehicle parked in the handicap spot across the street?
OLIVER: Yes. Why?
BRENNIFER: Because they're towing it, Dude.
OLIVER: (GROANS) Not again. (TO HAROLD) Okay. Look. Henry?
HAROLD & SOPHIA: Harold.
OLIVER: Don't correct a man when he's giving you a job, Henry.
HAROLD: Yes, Sir.
OLIVER: I think it's a wonderful idea to have a total stranger take erotic photos of my naked wife.
HAROLD: I mean, when you put it that way...
OLIVER: I did.
HAROLD: Right. Well. Let me get you a business card, and–
OLIVER SHAKES HEAD, SLAPS HAROLD’S HAND AWAY FROM HIS OWN POCKET.
OLIVER: No. Nope. No business cards.
HAROLD: What the hell?
OLIVER WIPES HIS HANDS CLEAN ON THE BACK OF SOPHIA'S DRESS.
OLIVER: I don't do business cards.
HAROLD: (PUZZLES THIS) What?
OLIVER DISMISSES THIS WITH A WAVE OF HIS HAND, MUTTERS SOMETHING ABOUT POOR PEOPLE, THEN TAKES SOPHIA BY THE WRIST.
OLIVER: Don't worry about it, Hank. We'll find you.
HAROLD ATTEMPTS TO CORRECT OLIVER, BUT OLIVER AND SOPHIA ARE SOMEHOW ALREADY OUT THE DOOR.
HAROLD: (TO NOBODY) Did he threaten me? Cuz that sounded like he was threatening me, maybe.
BRENNIFER SPEAKS, WATCHES FROM THE DOORWAY.
BRENNIFER: A little. But if it helps any, they totally towed his car away. He's super pissed.
HAROLD JOINS HER.
HAROLD: (SMILES) Yeah. That does kinda help.
To be continued…
The chill of night brings with it a still darkness,
brings with it an alluring promise of peace.
Till the light of day warms your cold bones,
may your eyes never rest,
and may those little slices of death never come.
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