People who willingly have soul patches should never be trusted.
That is one of the basic truths of existence that my experiences have taught me; don’t eat after brushing, never order from Papa John’s, and most importantly, no fucking soul patches. That was the thought repeatedly streaming through my head like a 3 AM infomercial as I stood in the Vice Principal’s office.
As I’m sure you have figured out, the Vice Principal has a soul patch.
His office looked like the wet dream of a man who reads The Family Circus on a daily basis. Knick-Knacks hanging next to a novelty mounted fish that probably sang if you pressed a button, volumes of reading materials like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens that adults read to understand their teenaged offspring as if everyone between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are all part of a collective hive mind, and topped off with a poster of a milky white cat hanging from a tree with an oh-so-clever caption saying “Hang In There!”
This office was like the physical manifestation of the word impotent.
I prefer a simpler method of fashion statements. And by simple, I mean the charcoal hoodie that I’ve been wearing on a near daily basis since Freshman year, stained with god knows how many remnants of Cheetos and discarded droplets of Mayonnaise. I’m a Hellman’s man; Miracle Whip makes me sad. I ran a hand through my dirty blonde hair, which naturally points upward. Everyone accuses me of using hair gel to get it like that, but gel would destroy the kitten-esque softness that it naturally maintains. There’s no way in Hell I’d let a handful of glorified bacon grease take my head-blanket away from me.
My eyes found themselves wandering over to Ralph. The fluorescent light glistened off his adeptly conditioned auburn hair, contrasted with perfection against his pale complexion. Eyes as dark a brown as the bottom of a Tijuana toilet during Spring Break laid dormant, unfeeling, like the glint of a stained-glass church window. A lily white T-Shirt with the name BOWIE imprinted across the front hugged his ruggedly sculpted torso.
He smelled like apples. I like the smell of apples.
Ralph’s face was frozen in the same portrait of unadulterated apathy that he has worn for the past 18 years, and yet I could still make out faint scribblings of pure disdain for the monument to 1970s Brady Bunch wholesomeness that was this office.
The Vice Principal took a loud swig from his flask before speaking, “Okay, boys, here’s the deal. You probably think I called you in here to discuss last week’s…incident.”
I scoffed, “C’mon, chief. It was a minor infraction at best.”
The VP and Ralph threw me looks as if I had just defecated on the antique rug beneath my feet.
VP spoke first, after a silence too uncomfortable for my liking, “Billy. A member of the faculty was murdered in cold blood, and you two went off playing Batman on your own investigation instead of doing the sensible thing and, you know, calling the police.”
I shrugged, “True. But we did solve the murder, did we not?”
Ralph monotonously chimed in, “You slapped the suspect to death and left the body in the rec room.” He said this with perfect detachment, as if he was reading aloud the mundane exploits of some 16th century hootenanny in our World History class.
I turned, indignant, to Ralph, “Well excuse me, Schooly McCool, for laying down the cold hand of Justice.”
The VP lit a cigarette, which was all kinds of illegal on school grounds.
His voice strained, as if he got no sleep and started the day with decaf, “I didn’t bring you two in here to discuss how…murder-y your last case got. I called you in because we need your help.”
Ralph said, “Did someone go Number 2 in the Biology Wing urinal again?”
The VP shot back irritably, “As much as it pains me to say this, I wish. During his rounds last night, the janitor stumbled upon a corpse in the dumpster behind the cafeteria. Given that, despite his eccentricities, he’s a human being gifted with a rational sense of good judgement, he actually alerted the police. Because that’s what smart people do.”
I felt the sudden urge to urinate.
As he talked, I realized he bore an uncanny resemblance to Steve Guttenberg, “The police think it’s an open-and-shut case; probably homeless, since he wasn’t in our student database and was also, y’know, found in a dumpster. But let’s just say I’ve ripped my nipples on enough Band-Aids to know a cold-blooded murder when I see one.”
Ralph politely raised a finger, “What does that even mean?”
VP ignored this valid inquiry, “I want you two to get to the bottom of this. You’re loose cannons, but you get the job done.”
Ralph piped up, “No offense, but we normally investigate crap like stolen lunch money. Students sitting on photo copiers and printing pictures of their butts. Mundane stuff like that. Murder isn’t exactly our forte.”
The VP glared, “You mean, besides that other murder that you illegally investigated, which we literally just talked about?”
Ralph replied, “That was different. That was personal. I don’t think this will be–”
I slammed my fists onto the VP’s desk with the vigor of a ramaging hippo left alone during mating season. The VP’s eyes widened; I think he was under the impression that I was going to hit him. Ralph’s eyes flashed a dancing glint of surprise, which, by his standards, is about the same as soiling his briefs.
I flashed a wide grin, “We’re on the case, chief! This nefarious fiend will soon taste the sting of our moist, sweaty justice.”
Ralph rested his face in his palm, “Billy, I swear to god, that’s not going to be your new catch phrase.”
I shot back, “It’s been decided, Macchio.” I grabbed his hand and practically bounced out of the office.
There’s something sinister about freshly waxed floors the day after a murder.
It’s difficult to put into words, but I imagine it’s similar to the feeling an employee at the Watergate Hotel had when they used a paper shredder the morning after the break-in. Innocent enough, but given the macabre happenings that transpired the night before, even the most mundane act of janitorial cleanliness reeked of suspicion.
Ralph and I were following a trail of breadcrumbs to pin down the Janitor. No, literally, the man leaves a trail of breadcrumbs everywhere he goes. I asked him about it once, but he simply shrugged and said “Ghosts,” as if it were as obvious a question as “Hey, what’s 2+2?” or “Hey, what’s better, Short Circuit or Short Circuit 2?”
The answer is clearly Short Circuit 2.
The Janitor was a curious man. At first glance he looked young, maybe 28 at the oldest. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Donald Glover if Donald Glover had a mustache.
I like mustaches. They’re inherently hilarious, and more heartwarming than soul patches.
The Janitor will often pop up whenever you need him, but don’t quite know it yet. Like when you drop a banana peel on the floor unknowingly, or when an underclassmen vomits in the hallway because they just learned about anal tearing in health class and you’re about to step in it. One time I spilled taco grease on my hoodie and felt a light breeze. I turned around and discovered that he took my hoodie off without me noticing and started scrubbing it with OxiClean.
The Janitor was a curious man.
We found him on the roof, playing a harmonica. The tune sounded familiar, something distantly recognizable that tugged at the edges of my memory like a reflection hidden in the ripples of pond water.
It was the theme song from Space Jam.
I spoke up first, “Excuse me, Mister…Janitor?”
He ceased playing that beautiful tune, “I swear to God, if someone left a dookie in the Bio Wing urinal again–”
I interjected, “No no no, it’s not that. Although you never know, it is Flu season. But we’re here about…erm, Ralph, help me out. What’s a nice way of saying murder?”
Ralph spoke up, “We’re here about the murder.”
Ralph always had a poet’s grasp on the English language.
The Janitor lit a cigar, “Oh, Dumpster Bait. What about him?”
I rubbed my stomach because talking makes me hungry, “The 5-0 dismissed the case, but the VP thinks there’s something suspicious about it.”
The Janitor blew out a puff of thick grey smoke, “Really? He thinks there’s something suspicious about a human corpse in a public high school’s dumpster?”
Ralph spoke again, “Yeah. Imagine that.”
I chimed in, “You were the one who found the body. Did you see anything suspicious? Like a lone figure in Victorian garbs slinking into the shadows?”
The Janitor gave me a quizzical stare, “If you’re asking me if I saw Jack The Ripper, the answer’s no.”
Damn. One of these days.
He continued, “But I did see a few shifty folks wearing trench coats. They shuffled off toward the gymnasium by the time I got to the dumpster.”
Ralph said, “People who wear trench coats are generally up to no good. That’s, like, the universal sign of being up to no good.”
For a man as eerily emotionless as Ralph, he sure was adept at observing human behavior.
The Janitor took a long puff from his cigar, “You boys be careful out there. Nameless bodies found in dumpsters spell out nothing but trouble. And the sketchy tall kid is right; people don’t wear trench coats if they don’t got something to hide. Storm’s brewin’ off in the distance. Keep your wits, and don’t wander headlong into it.”
We thanked the Janitor for his time and left him be, where he could resume his melancholy rendition of the Space Jam theme. The words flooded my mind as the sound of his harmonica edged away into the distance.
Come on and slam
And welcome to the jam
I sent Ralph on dumpster duty. We could cover more ground if we employed the Scooby Doo tactic of investigation, and I’ll be damned if I have to sort through discarded homework and used condoms and empty boxes simply labeled “Mystery Meat”. The gym sounded much more promising, and less prone to potential STDs.
I’m not sure what I expected to find in the alley behind the gymnasium. A sinister gang of murderous basketball players would be a plus. Not every day you get to catch the Harlem Globetrotters in the act of murder. Maybe we could settle our differences in a high-stakes basketball match?
No. The Globetrotters are too pure of heart to be capable of murder. And I still refuse to rule out Jack The Ripper as a potential suspect.
A dense layer of fog rolled into the alley, the kind that would normally be accompanied by melodramatic piano music. I felt cold, the kind of cold you feel when you get out of a lukewarm shower on a mid-December morning, only this time accompanied by the universal sensation of Oh Dear God I Need To Pee. And underneath all of this, beneath the fear and the cold and the wet spot slowly forming in my pants, lay the shivering suspicion that I was being watched.
This was because I was actually being watched.
Five figures stood in a circle, surrounding me. They all wore the same shabby trench coat, like the ones you’d see on homeless Vietnam veterans or suspects on 10 PM re-runs of To Catch A Predator. Their faces, while humanoid in nature, were gaunt and peeling, as if they were just decrepit gray rubber pulled over a human skull that was put together by someone with only a vague concept of what a human being is supposed to look like. They were the kind of people you would probably notice if they surrounded you like some twisted Open Circle therapy group.
A sharp blast of pain mated with the back of my head.
The bastards hit me with a tire iron.
I saw stars, and then there was Nothing.
So let’s say you’re in Outer Space.
You’re surrounded by a sea of stars and nebulas spattered like droplets of multi-colored paint against a pitch black canvas. No wind. No weight. Just you, and the infinite Nothing.
Then imagine you have to pee like a racehorse.
So the stars get wider, and the black between the stars gets edged out into infinity until there is nothing but white.
White, and cold.
Let’s say you were never in space.
Let’s say you were in a snow-covered Canadian tundra, buck-ass nude.
You don’t know why you thought it was space. Maybe it took a while for your eyes to adjust to all the white, and you saw the outer limits of the cosmos instead. Maybe you took too many hallucinogens a few hours ago and they just wore off.
Maybe you have a pretty bad drug problem.
But it doesn’t matter now because you’re cold, you’re naked, and you have to urinate. So you pee in the snow. Maybe while you’re relieving yourself, you decide to write out your name in cursive. No, that’s too obvious.
You draw a dragon with your own urine.
Let’s say you have less-than-stellar art skills and your dragon ends up looking like a person. A person made of concentrated liquids released through urethral expulsion. Maybe the person looks like you.
My god. That pee-person is gorgeous.
But the person moves; the urine shifts its form in the snow, growing a bulbous abdomen and a head the size of a small tennis ball. Eight spiny, decrepit legs extend out from its abdomen.
Maybe it wasn’t emerging from the snow at all.
Maybe it was emerging from your stomach.
Maybe you want to wake up now.
Maybe I want to wake up now.
I woke with a jolt.
Too much of a jolt. I didn’t take into account the seismic earthquake pounding in my head that tends to happen when you get knocked unconscious with a tire iron.
Really regretting waking with a jolt right about now.
The smell of old basketballs filled my nostrils. Every slight squeak of my orange sneakers against the waxed floor sent echoes reverberating through the room. All the lights were off, save for one solitary flood light glaring down on me.
Gymnasium. These malevolent bastards took me to the gymnasium.
A familiar monotonous voice echoed beside me, “Billy?”
My head perked up, “Ralph! Bro hug!”
A sharp pain shot through my arms as they struggled against the ropes binding them.
Chair. These malevolent bastards tied me to a chair. In the goddamn gymnasium.
I sighed, “Okay, no bro hug. They caught you too?”
Ralph responded, “Yep. They were waiting for me in the dumpster.”
I flavored my voice with a sprinkle of sympathy, “They got you with the tire iron?”
Ralph looked up, “No. Chloroform.”
Our attackers seemed to be incredibly inconsistent. If you have chloroform, logic dictates that you use it for both parties. A tire iron? That’s a safety hazard and an angrily worded lawsuit waiting to happen.
Five trenchcoated figures shambled into the flood light.
Time for me to work my Zabka magic.
“We got you right where we want you!” I said with confidence that was, in retrospect, severely misplaced, “You are under arrest for the murder of Dumpster Boy.”
The figures stood there, ten dead eyes staring at us without seeing.
“Erm,” I stammered, “Okay, technically a citizen’s arrest, but an arrest nonetheless.”
They continued to stare.
Sufficed to say, I was beginning to get a serious case of Weirded The Fuck Out.
I shot out one more attempt at diplomacy, “Look, large shambley murder men, if we’re going to go through the whole Silent Imposing Kidnapper routine, can you at least give my friend and I something to keep us busy? Yahtzee, perhaps?”
One of the kidnappers opened their mouth wide, detaching their jaw like a snake about to go to town on one big bastard of a mouse, and let out a howl. The pitch was jarring, like some ungodly, inhuman love child of baritone and soprano. The sound filled every corner of the gym, sneaking its way into every crevice and orifice, making my pants grow tight and my ears bleed.
I shouted over the howl, “Okay, we get it! Not a Yahtzee fan!”
The second kidnapper joined in. Then the third. Fourth. Fifth.
It was turning into the most disturbing acappella warm-up I had ever seen. As they howled, they shook, and as they shook, they came undone. Their skin peeled like old paint on a humid 80 degree afternoon, their forms melting and contorting into some nightmarish performance of Cirque Du Soleil. Chests split apart as bulbous abdomens the size of large bean bag chairs emerged from within. Vibrantly crimson blood splattered across my face as eight spiny, decrepit legs shot out from their sides.
I suddenly felt the urge to urinate.
They stood before us, five grotesque spiders, the size of Ralph and I.
There is no word in the English language for the feeling one gets in a situation like this. Besides maybe a handful of curse words, but only if they are yelled at a high volume and in rapid succession of one another.
Just when I was getting used to the sheer ridiculous size of these bastards, one of them spoke.
Billy Zabka of the Humans, its voice flowed like Willy Wonka’s chocolate river.
This fellow could have an amazing career in radio broadcast with a voice like that. Too bad most radio stations have a strict No Giant Murder Spider policy.
I answered tepidly, “…That is me. What can I do for you, Mister…erm, Spider?”
Another answered in a similar chocolatey richness, We want to put our babies in you.
For a moment I forgot how to speak.
A different spider spoke up, Our tactless friend Maurice is right, despite his lack of etiquette. We want you to bear our offspring, Billy Zabka of the Humans.
When I regained my grasp on the English language, all I could muster was,“Um. No?”
Ralph chose this moment to speak up, “I’m just going to address the elephant in the room here; why do you want to make my friend pregnant with tiny spider children?”
A fourth spider answered, Because our race lies teetering on the brink of extinction, Ralph Macchio of the Humans. We were driven from Mars by the Skeleton People of Beetlegeuse.
A fifth spider chimed in, Bastard skeletons.
All five grumbled in agreement.
I piped up, “You’re from Mars?”
A spider answered, We were from Mars. The crimson soil was once rich with the egg sacks of our people. The orange skies glared bright upon the monuments of our civilization.
The spider called Maurice added, Then The Skeletons drove us out of our land to use it for harnessing clean energy and promoting gender equality.
Spider #3 grumbled, Bastard skeletons.
The rest murmured in agreement.
Ralph said, “That actually sounds like a great time.”
It really did.
Maurice replied irritably, Their parties are overrated. And as a result, our species rests on the final steps toward the Infinite Nothing. The five you see, are the Five That Remain.
Spider #4 picked up, Unless you comply. Your name is legend across the galaxy, Billy Zabka of the Humans, for reasons you cannot begin to comprehend.
Spider #5 spoke, Only your loins are sturdy enough to bear the fruit of our offspring. Our one disappointment is how predictably easy it was to ensnare you. The murder of a nameless nobody, and you came running like a hungry dog to a pile of raw meat. You even brought your friend as a bonus; his blood will make excellent lubricant.
The other Four echoed in unison, Excellent lubricant!
A flash of panic danced across Ralph’s eyes, “I want it to be known that I do not consent to this.”
I stammered, “And… just let me make sure I’m following this. You decided to use, what I assume to be, the last of your resources to travel to Earth. Then, you murdered a man in cold blood to get my attention, when really all you require to do that is to offer me a free screening of Three Men And A Baby.”
Ralph chose this moment to add, “You think he’s joking, but he’s really not.”
I continued, “You dumb bastards. Did you really think that William Balthazar Zabka, the world’s greatest under-age detective, would fall prey to a trap this easily? I wanted to get caught! And now I’ve heard all I need to hear.”
A silence far too long and uncomfortable for my liking rolled in. I began to suspect that, perhaps, I should have had an actual escape plan in place before busting out my triumphant monologue.
Ralph leaned over, “Was something supposed to happen just now?”
I whispered back, “I was kinda hoping someone would miraculously come in, deus ex machina style, and save us at the last second.”
Ralph nodded, “You’re an idiot, Billy.”
Maurice intervened, Enough stalling! Prepare your sturdy abdomen for the Life Eggs of a dying race.
The Spiders From Mars approached, their pincers salivating with lust. I leaned back and closed my eyes, reluctantly awaiting to be fertilized with tiny arachnid babies who will grow up to have smooth voices with the richness of dark chocolate. I wondered if Martian Murder Spiders were required to pay child support, because I’ll be damned if I have to put these eight-legged beauties through school all by myself.
My eyes bolted open as a loud crash rang out from the other end of the gymnasium. The doors were kicked open by a shadowed, imposing figure wielding what looked to be some sort of flamethrower. As the figure stepped out into the floodlight, his sharp cheekbones and brilliant dark skin and warm mustache were illuminated.
The Janitor always shows up when you need him, but don’t quite know it yet.
His weapon, which I confused for a flamethrower at first, was a long pipe connected via tube to a gargantuan box strapped to his back.
Spider #2 looked back, What is the meaning of this? What are you doing here?
The Janitor grinned, “Just taking out the trash.”
That was the most badass thing I had ever heard.
The Janitor pulled a trigger on the bottom of his device and proceeded to spray pesticide all over the Spiders. They writhed and contorted as it burned like acid through their exoskeletons, the smell of boiling guts filling every inch of the gym. The sound of their collective screeching was like a million forks and knives scraping against the most ludicrously large porcelain plate in existence.
The Spiders were reduced to a seeping pile of cartilage and sinew on the freshly waxed gym floor.
I was not pregnant with millions of arachnids that I would have to raise on my own.
Ralph’s blood was not used for lubricant, however excellent it would be.
The Vice Principal took a long swig of whiskey from his flask. I was beginning to suspect he was an alcoholic.
I wiped my hands triumphantly, “Well, gang, looks like we solved another mystery!”
Ralph and the VP looked at me with indescribable disdain.
The VP spoke, “I am still so confused.”
I replied, “Hey, we took care of the murderers, right?”
The VP shot back, “You mean The Janitor took care of the murderers. By basically committing genocide.”
Ralph shrugged, “I’m just glad my blood was never used to make excellent lubricant.”
I echoed, “Excellent lubricant.”
Ralph pointed at me sternly, “Don’t.”
The VP rubbed his eyes, “Ugh… I’m not even sure what the hell we learned from all this.”
I raised my finger with confidence, “We learned that anything can be accomplished with the power of friendship and collaboration, sir.”
The VP glared, “Get out of my office, Zabka.”
But where were the spiders?
As the flies tried to break our balls?