Predator

He considered himself no different from any other animal that finds joy in toying with its prey before delivering it unto Death. He used only the weapons nature gave him, and he didn’t always eat what he killed. He considered most of it practice, a honing of skills and body.

He watched an episode of Blue Planet that showed a pod of killer whales stalking a blue whale and its pup, taunting the mother, nipping at the babe. When the pup was exhausted, they toyed with the mother until she could no longer defend her offspring. The orcas circled and jabbed, like a pack of boxers, and when they finally separated mother and child, they killed the pup but ate only its cheek meat – the choicest cut, so to speak. After the orcas left, the mother whale swam around the pup for hours, nudging it.

The unspoken questions were obvious. Were the orcas evil? Did the blue whale love her pup?  He knew that such questions had no meaning in nature. He wondered where humans got off thinking they were evil or just or loving. Just because they believed they had souls, because they thought themselves civilized with advanced language skills, they were somehow better and accountable to someone’s notion of moral standards. Ants were civilized, and they sure as hell didn’t have ethics. Mounds often went to war with one another. Yes, he knew it was bullshit.

When he killed, it was because it was in his nature because he was of nature and not bound by a fabricated sense of right and wrong. When he killed his own kind, it was no different than the male dolphin, orangutan, or lion that slaughtered his competitors’ offspring and mated with as many females as possible to increase the odds of leaving a significant genetic footprint amongst the species.  What he did was normal, and those who said differently were kidding themselves.

Tutor

Sitting on the concrete bench in front of the building, I smoked between classes.  I liked the spot, a kind of perch atop the wide stairs that overlooked sidewalks, flowerbeds, oaks planted after the campus burned during the Civil War, and the crosswalk.  Despite a flashing neon yellow sign that read, “Stop for pedestrians,” someone got hit there every semester.  Stupid kids, driving like stupid kids, and hitting other stupid kids like they were squirrels.

I hogged the bench.  I had my feet up, my knees tucked up to my chest.  I liked sitting that way – the way they made us hunker during tornado drills or actual tornados when I was in elementary school.  With my right arm wrapped around my knees, I clasped my left arm just above the elbow.  With methodical timing, I bent my elbow, took a drag, and straightened my arm.  Then, I watched as the smoke wafted out of my gaping mouth or streamed from my nostrils.  I’m a dragon, I thought childishly and smiled at myself.

“Hey,” someone called to me.

Like a Viewmaster, I blinked to switch from what I thought to the real world.  I looked two steps down to find the guy-in-the-Pantera-T-shirt.  He always wore one with faded, black jeans, black Chuck Taylor’s, and three wallet chains.  This day, he wasn’t wearing his dog collar bracelet or armor ring.

“What’s up?” I asked.

He tossed his backpack at the base of the bench and took out his pack of cigarettes.  Since he meant to sit, and I felt polite, I swiveled, letting my feet drop, and sat on the bench normally.  He patted himself, and knowing what he sought, I offered him my lighter, keeping my hand out as a reminder for him to return it.  He did and sat beside me.

“How’re you doing in this class?”  He waved his cigarette at the building.

Simultaneously, we turned our heads and blew smoke over the azaleas instead of in each other’s faces while never breaking eye contact.  I rubbed my cigarette under the bench to put it out, not minding when bits of hot tobacco stung my hand, and set the butt on the bench between us.

“Good,” I said in answer to his question.

“I thought so.  Could you maybe help me?  I mean, I can pay you, some.”

“Yeah, I’m real busy.”  After a glance at my watch, I knew I had time for one more, so I bent sideways to fish out a smoke from the front pocket of my backpack.  Pantera bumped my arm and offered me one of his.

When I took it, he said, “Yeah, I figured, but look, I’m serious.  I have to pass this class.”

I lit the cigarette and took a drag, exhaled and took another, making him stew just a bit.  “How about Saturday?  There isn’t a game.”

He winced.  “I can’t do it then.  My friends and I…we build rockets.”

My eyebrows darted up at that.  “Really?  Like fifth grade science class?”

“Well, not dinky ones.”

“You build rockets,” I mused and thought of the little engines that looked like rolls of coins with tampon strings.  “Do they have parachutes?”

He laughed and looked off into the bushes.  “Yeah, and one weekend, a buddy of mine had his dad down and he helped us make napalm.”

I choked.  “That’s just…not normal.”  Then, I laughed because anyone who spoke to me for more than five minutes knew I wasn’t normal.  “Yeah, okay Pantera-Napalm-Guy.  When are you free?”

We made plans to meet at the library on Thursday afternoon, and when he finished his smoke, I said I’d meet him in class.  I sat a bit longer, wondering how much money the University spent on grounds upkeep.  The azaleas were quite beautiful, cotton candy pink.

When I stood, my bottom was numb from sitting for so long on that hard, concrete bench.  Nintendo butt, my brother called it, like Nintendo thumb.  Except now, there was Sega thumb, X-Box thumb, and Playstation thumb.  I wondered if anyone had ever used a Playstation dual-shock controller as a vibrator.

I pinched my cigarette just above the filter and rolled it between my fingers.  When the hot rock fell out, I scrubbed it across the concrete with my boot and flicked the unburned tobacco free.  I always left that little bit because I hated the taste of burnt filter.

After buying a coffee from the street vendor, I pitched my butts into the trash and headed back in the building to class.

Happy Pawn 1: The Microwave

Jeanette sighed as she put the hamster into the microwave.  She was great at handling kids, but she wasn’t good with pets.  She warned Kevin of this, but he insisted she was the only person he trusted enough to hamster-sit.  Poor Mr. Nibbles never had a chance.

Jeanette pressed the reheat button followed by the preset selection for pizza.  The turntable began its slow spin, and the magnetron hummed.  “All right, you blob of fuzz,” she muttered.

After only two seconds, the hamster’s back legs began to twitch.  By the time the microwave dinged to signal the “food” was ready, the hamster was back on his feet with his tiny nose wiggling.  Jeanette opened the door and removed Mr. Nibbles.

“There.”  She ran her thumb down the rodent’s back.  “No one has to know you were dead but me.”

Jeanette slipped Mr. Nibbles into his cage.  As she watched, the hamster stretched his neck up and suckled at the water bottle.  “Does death make you thirsty?” she asked of him.  “Hmm, maybe it’s the radiation.”

Jeanette moved the cage to the sliver of mattress that passed for her dorm room bed.  Three more hours.  If Mr. Nibbles could make it that long, Kevin’s parents would come get him, and she would be in the clear.

Jeanette sat next to the cage and smirked at the LG microwave.  She agreed that life was good, but maybe the company took their slogan a little too seriously.  Of course, Jeanette didn’t believe that anyone else had a microwave that could reanimate the dead when set to reheat pizza.  So many people ate pizza and reheated pizza that she surely would’ve heard about it by now or at least seen it posted on Facebook. No, Jeanette was certain that she was the only person who owned such a microwave.

The first time she selected reheat pizza and the anchovies gasped, flipped, and flopped right there on the cheese, she puked in her tiny wastebasket and then ran to Happy Pawn.  The old guy who owned the place listened to her ravings with a bland look on his face.  Once she ran out of steam, he said, “All sales are final.  It’s your microwave now.  If there’s something wrong with it, it’s your problem.”  At his shrewd look, Jeanette swallowed down the bile in her throat and asked, “Well, uh, do you have the owner’s manual?”  He did not.

Until fate decided it was time for Mr. Nibbles to go to Hamster Heaven, Jeanette had avoided the reheat pizza setting.  She wrinkled her nose, thinking she used the microwave to nuke a frozen burrito only an hour before using it to resurrect Kevin’s furry friend.  Well, she sanitized it.

The microwave wasn’t the only thing Jeanette purchased from Happy Pawn, but as far as she knew, her portable radio and mini-fridge didn’t have super powers.  They were normal, crappy hand-me-downs.  And that old man…it was almost as if he knew the microwave wasn’t just a microwave.  Jeanette went back to the shop several times, but any time she brought up the microwave, he reminded her of store policy and then ignored her.

Jeanette watched Mr. Nibbles climb onto his wheel and begin a brisk workout.  “Don’t over-do it,” she warned.  “I don’t want to have to put you back in there.”

While she waited for Kevin’s parents to come and reclaim the hamster, Jeanette sat at her desk and reviewed her notes for a History exam.  What kind of professor gives a test the Monday after spring break? thought Jeanette.  The asshole kind, that’s who.

An hour later, Adrian returned, clothes and hair in the usual disarray, more make-up under her eyes than on them.  “Have a good weekend?” Jeanette teased her roommate.

Adrian grumbled something unintelligible and then said, “Can I have something?”

Jeanette waved a hand at the mini-fridge.  “Sure, if you think you can hold anything down.”

Adrian jerked open the fridge, rifled around inside it, and came away with half of a steak sandwich.

“I guess you feel like challenging yourself,” Jeanette said.

Adrian put the sandwich in the microwave and punched a few buttons.  While the sandwich heated, she flopped onto her bed and began the arduous task of removing her boots.  When the microwave dinged, she dragged herself over to it, opened the door, and screamed.

The sandwich belched chunks of white American cheese, green peppers, and reanimated beef.  Adrian screamed again, tripped over her own feet, and sat down hard.

Jeanette swiveled in her chair in time to watch Adrian backpedal away from the microwave.  “Ah hell.  You used ‘reheat pizza.’”

Jeanette stood, intending to put the poor sandwich out of its misery, but Adrian’s adrenaline made her act faster.  She scrambled up from the floor, kicked the microwave door shut, and snatched the machine from the rickety TV cabinet Jeanette used as a pantry.  A wild yank pulled the plug free from the outlet, and with two more steps, Adrian hurled the microwave and its contents out their fourth floor window.

“Holy crap!”  Jeanette dropped her book and hurried over to join Adrian.  “My microwave.”

The girls stood at the window and looked down on the wreckage of plastic and metal.  The sandwich, having been cushioned inside the microwave, survived the fall and now made a last ditch effort to escape.  Adrian gripped Jeanette’s arm as the steak crawled out of the bun and across the concrete sidewalk.

“It’s…it’s alive,” Adrian said.

“Yeah.”

“What should we—”

Abruptly, Adrian stopped speaking, for a crow chose that moment to swoop down and deliver a deathblow to the steak.  The bird cawed twice, skewered some of the meat, and flew up into the oak tree just outside the girls’ window.  It tilted its head and then pecked at its kill.

Adrian groaned.  “I’m going to be sick.”

“Yeah,” Jeanette agreed.

****

The girls did not speak of the microwave or the sandwich.  The next year, they moved to different dorms and got new roommates.  Eventually, Jeanette went back to Happy Pawn and got another crappy hand-me-down microwave – one that barely heated food, much less reanimated it.  The old man never asked what happened to the other microwave, and she never mentioned it to him again.

The year after that, Mr. Nibbles died of old age.