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BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
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Chapter 6

 

TOMORROW MORNING, SEVEN HOURS LATER:

 

When Judd's eyes start to open, it's for the second time since he went to sleep last night. He woke up once already (remember?) and saw purple furries with tentacles, swirling orange eyes, and mouths like green croissants. He ran past squirming walls and heard the chocolate Lab Sphinx singing opera. Then the furry that sounded like his Mom wrapped its tentacles around him...

(Which isn't as much fun as it sounds!)

...and Judd passed out.

(If that wasn't a textbook case of information overload, I don't know what is.)

So now, finally, he's coming around again after fainting. But it's a rough reentry. Seeing...

(And hearing and smelling!)

...the things he did was a shock to the system. He literally couldn't process it all, so he simply shut down.

(Not me, though, I can handle
anything
, why do you think they call me
Killdigit
?)

Fainting is a defense mechanism, and Judd's sanity needed defending, so
voila
. But the big question now is, has the nap prepared him to deal with his weird environment? Did the down time boost his insanity resistance?

(Or did he just avoid the problem and skip off to a dreamland in which everyone and everything was nice and normal again?)

(Hold on to your hamsters! We're about to find out.)

When he blinks his eyes open, he finds himself staring at a very familiar ceiling--the ceiling of his bedroom. The swirling ridges of plaster above his bed are the same as always.

Judd feel instant relief that there's no purple furry hanging from the ceiling like the last time. Jacking himself up on his elbows, he looks around the room and feels even more relieved. Everything is just the way it should be. Nothing's out of place.

The walls are layered with posters of hot girls, sports stars, and cars. The desk is swimming with clutter--candy wrappers, energy drink cans, game controllers, phone. Trophies crowd the top of the dresser, gleaming in the morning sunlight. The same dresser drawers are half-open, exactly the way he left them when he fell asleep last night.

All is well, from the looks of it. Maybe that whole scene with the furries and crawling walls and singing dog was just a dream. That would explain it, all right. It sure
seemed
like a crazy dream, didn't it?

Judd sits up and swings his legs over the side of the bed. He shakes his head hard to clear the cobwebs, then stretches and yawns.

Thank God.
That freaked-out nightmare had felt so
real
, but that's just the way dreams are sometimes.

But what had brought it on? He'd had a perfect day from start to finish yesterday. Not exactly fertile ground for nightmare visions.

He hadn't eaten anything that disagreed with him, just his favorite homemade lasagna with bacon and extra mushrooms, which never gave him a bad reaction.

Is it possible he was feeling the pressure from the impending state championship game? Not a chance! He eats pressure for
breakfast
.

(Just like Killdigit!)

Whatever the cause, at least it seems like he'd snapped back out of it. Bye-bye nightmare.

Judd gets up from the bed and walks to the door. He stands there a moment before looking out, half-afraid he'll see the same squirming walls. Then he laughs, pulls the door open, and peeks into the hall.

No squirming
. The walls beyond the doorway are perfectly normal--just good old lifeless white plaster just sitting there. Time for a nice big sigh of relief, everybody.

Judd grins, feeling sheepish that he was ever worried at all. Of
course
the craziness was a dream; what
else
could it have been?

Just then, he hears the ringtone on his phone--a snatch of hardcore rap--and he jumps to grab it. Because that particular ringtone means he's getting a call from super-hot you-know-who.

He touches the screen to take the call and slaps the phone to his ear. "Kaela?"

The voice on the other end isn't hers. "Good mooning, looover boy-ee." It's deep, double-bass deep, with a drawn-out, strung-out drawl. "Missss me-uh?"

Judd frowns and snaps the phone from his ear. He double-checks the name and number on the screen, guessing there's been a mix-up, guessing someone dialed a wrong number that somehow triggered Kaela's ringtone.

But according to the phone, he's guessing wrong. The letters of her name couldn't be more clear and correct. The digits...

(Did somebody say "digits?")

...of her number appear to be perfect. So he moves on to Likely Possibility Number Two.

He puts the phone back up to his ear. "Good one, Kaela. Very funny."

(A joke! That's it! Gotta be a joke!)

"Is it Talk Like a Weird Old Guy Day or something?" He chuckles. "Did you get some kind of new voice-altering app on your phone?"

"Heeeyy!" The voice on the line sounds insulted. "Don't you-uh
liiiike
muh vooyiss, hoooneey?"

"Sure I do." Judd laughs again. "Now how about talking in your
real
voice again?"

The line explodes with screaming. "This-uh
yiiisss
muh ree-yul voyisss!"

Judd scowls. Frankly, the joke is getting kind of weird. This isn't like Kaela at all. "I'm sorry. Maybe we have a bad connection." He lowers the phone to cut off the call. "Let me just..."

Suddenly, he hears heavy footsteps approaching quickly from behind. He spins just in time to see it stomping toward him.

The
eye
. That's what he locks in on first--that one giant
eye
. It's as big as a
basketball
, with a rotating red iris and throbbing spinach-green veins.

(
Red iris
?
Green veins
?)

It belongs to a seven-foot-tall
cyclops
. And the cyclops is
charging
, allowing Judd scant seconds to take in the rest of its bulk.

Flashes of detail leap out at him: shaggy black hair, rings of jagged teeth, clumps of shivering white barnacles. Three-fingered hands reaching out, studded with jagged black nails.

(Oh my God oh my God oh my)

Heart thundering, Judd drops the phone and goes brain-dead...

(Snap out of it, Judd!)

...stumbling back until he falls against the desk, knocking cans and game controllers to the floor as the cyclops
grabs
him by the shoulders...

(
Raagh!
I try to fight back, to give this thing a taste of
Killdigit
power...)

...and shakes him like a psycho kid with a new baby brother...

(...but I'm a
pinky finger
! I could scratch this thing's
eye
but
good
if Judd would just raise me up there...but he's too shell-shocked to call in the Killdigit Marines!)

...and then the creatures spits some kind of gray goo all over Judd's face, one steaming blob after another, and it
stinks
like cigarette butts. Every time it spits, it makes a sound like, "Jih-yug! Jih-yuggg!"

And Judd's just shamelessly screaming, little girl screaming, he's
losing
it
big time.

"Jih-yug! Jih-yuggg!" The cyclops keeps shaking him and spewing goo in his face. The whole time, that huge eye keeps him fixed in its unblinking gaze. "Jih-yuggg!"

With a burst of adrenaline, Judd wrenches his left arm free and flings it up to block the stinking spray. That puts me right where I wanna be, where I can finally do some damage.

The next time the cyclops lunges forward with a mouthful of goo...

(Come and get it!)

...now that Judd has his left arm up, I'm right in its path...

(Kowabunga!)

...so I
flick
myself so I'm sticking straight out when the eye hurtles toward me. I
jab
that basketball-sized orb smack in the pupil...

(Take
that
, you one-eyes weirdo!)

...but it's
rubbery
so I don't punch through...

(Wait...
what
?!)

...and instead, I
stove
myself but good!

(Which
sucks
! Ow ow ow ow ow!)

But at least I had an impact! The cyclops lurches back, howling its lungs out...

(Or whatever it howls with...)

...going "Hur-muh! Hur-muh!" and clutching its giant eye with both three-fingered hands.

"Yeah!" I'm in pain, but I am
not
depriving myself of a victory cry. "How ya like me
now
, cyclops?"

"Jih-yug! Hur-muh!" The creature staggers back, wagging its skull like it's in pain. It trips over one of Judd's basketball shoes and comes down hard, collapsing on the floor.

At that point, the way to the door is finally clear. "Run, Judd!" I don't hesitate to say it. "Run!"

But before Judd can get his bearings and sprint out of there, something else enters the room. The way to the door...

(What
is
that freakin' thing??)

...is no longer clear.

"Greetings, dearest and most pride-inducing son-child-being." The voice is high-pitched and delicate, like that of a talking baby doll. Each syllable is pronounced with exquisite care. "What has she done
this
time?"

The voice comes from what looks like a bundle of barbed wire strung with chunks of bloody meat. It stands four feet tall, and the wire is constantly twisting. As Judd watches, it slides and screws around, bringing three ragged red chunks to the top of its body.

Together, the chunks form the features of a
face
.

(Okay, now that is just...)

One chunk has a big eye with the lid shut. The chunk below it has a nose, and the chunk at the bottom has...

(...
messed up
.)

...a
sphincter
, a puckered-up
sphincter
, but it's in the right place for a mouth, so it must be...

(Even for a day in the life of a talking pinstriped pinky, this is seriously
weird
.)

The eyelid opens, revealing an eyeball with four irises (each a different color--red, yellow, silver, pink) and four pupils (each a different shape--round, square, triangular, octagonal), and then the sphincter mouth flexes open and shut, open and shut, open and shut, as it
talk
s
.

"Poor, poor Molly." A strand of barbed wire slithers out and touches the blubbering cyclops' brawny arm. "You just want more
kisses
from your
son
, don't you?"

The cyclops nods its shaggy head. "Jih-yug! Luh-ruv!"

(These things think Judd is their
son
?? Did another Judd used to live here, and if so, did he look like
Judd
Judd? If he did, then where the fudge did he
go
when
we
got here??)

At this point, Judd feels like his head is about to explode. It is
not
a familiar feeling for someone who's always so in control and totally cool.

"Your mother says she loves you, Judd." That's what the talking sphincter-mouth says next. "She's going to
prove
it, aren't you, honey?" The tangle of barbed wire and meat pats the cyclops on one of its clusters of barnacles.

"Luh-ruv!" The cyclops reaches up, puts its hands on either side of its head, and squeezes. "Mah-gah luh-ruv Jih-yug!" The head compresses like a dog's rubber chew toy, and the big eye pops right out, leaving a gaping cavity oozing bright red slime.

The eye lands upside-down in the creature's lap, jiggling like a gelatin mold. Then the cyclops reaches into the open cavity in its head...

(Is this
sick
or
what
??)

...and pulls out a pulsating gray brain.

"Mah-gah luh-ruv shoo-hooo!" The cyclops holds the brain out toward Judd, inviting him to take it.

(The brain is dripping red slime. Green veins dangle behind it, connecting it to the inside of the cyclops' head cavity.)

Judd's eyes are wide as galaxies as he gapes at the bizarre scene. He makes a weird gurgling sound in the back of his throat.

I think he might be about to faint again. And why the hell wouldn't he?

"Mah-gah lur-ruv shoo-hoo, Jih-yug!"

Because now he knows, with sickening certainty, that he's back in the dream or the madness or whatever it is. He never did escape.

And whatever's coming next, it
can't
be good.

 

*****

 

Chapter 7

 

ONE HOUR LATER:

 

Judd's afraid to open his eyes.

(Wouldn't
you
be??)

He passed out about an hour ago after a little bout of exploding-head-itis. Five minutes ago, he finally came around, but he can't bring himself to open his eyes, because...

(Let's not mince words here.)

...because he's scared
spitless
of what he might
see
.

(
Capiche?
)

He hasn't heard the warped voice of the twisted cyclops, but that doesn't mean it isn't still lurking around. Likewise, the meat-and-barbed-wire thing hasn't spoken since Judd woke, but maybe it's standing right over him, waiting for his eyes to pop open.

At least, that's what Judd's afraid of right now. Luckily for him, ol' Killdigit's on the case. I've already taken the lay of the land...

(Don't
ask
me how I see without
eyes
, that's none of your
beeswax
.)

...and I can put his fears to rest. "Judd?" I pipe up from where I'm hanging, which is off the side of the bed with the rest of his left hand. "Hey, Judd. Yoo hoo!"

He doesn't make a sound or move a muscle. This kid, usually so cool and in control, is
terrified
.

I raise my voice to make sure I'm getting through to him. "It's okay, Judd. You can open your eyes now. Trust me."

He's been lying on his back, and now he rolls over and curls up on his side. I guess he just wants to shut out the world.

But that ain't happenin'. The shutting out part, that is. Because when he rolls over, he brings me with him. Instead of hanging off the side of the bed, I'm right in front of his face.

"Dude!" I say it as loud as I can. "Are you gonna
open
your
eyes
, or am I gonna have to
jab
them open?"

Slowly, his left eye flutters a little ways open. The first thing he sees is
me
, sticking up in front of his nose with my deep blue pinstripes over a pale blue skin tone.

"You need to
listen
to me, man!" As I often do, I bend and unbend at the first and second knuckle when I talk. "I got your six, buddy, but that won't do no good if you never
pay attention
to me."

He opens both eyes halfway and stares at me, brow creased in a high intensity frown. Hasn't he ever seen a talking
finger
before?

"So are we on the same
page
here?" I stick straight out at him for emphasis. "Do you
catch
my
drift
?"

Suddenly, his eyes snap shut again. "Now I
know
I've lost my mind."

I sigh and slump, hooking myself over the next finger in the hand, which is bent toward the palm. "C'mon, dude. You're not crazy."

"I'm talking to my
finger
," he says. "My finger's
talking
back
. And that isn't even the
craziest
part of this day."

"I guess it depends on your point of view." I shrug, which consists of a little flick of my tip to one side.

"None of this is happening." He rolls his head back and forth. "It's just a bad dream."

"Dude. If you don't chill, you're gonna give yourself a stroke." I lean down and tap his palm to get his attention. "Now listen. If you're worried about that one-eyed wonder, you can relax. She's long gone. Same goes for the barbed wire thingamajig."

Judd stops rolling his head. "So everything's back to normal?"

"
Better
than normal, man. I promise." I stroke his palm comfortingly. "Go ahead and take a look."

His eyelids flicker a third of the way open, then snap shut. "Those things...didn't
do
anything to me while I was passed out,
did
they?"

"No way, bro. Now open up and see for yourself!" With that, I dive down and dig my nail into the flesh of his palm. I dig it in hard enough to hurt.

Hard enough also to make him open his eyes. "Oww!" Both lids spring up like window blinds, revealing the sparkling bright baby blues underneath.

(Now
that's
a dazzling blue hue. Remind you of anyone?)

"What the heck did you do
that
for?" Even as he says it, I duck down out of the way. Obstructing the view is the last thing I want to do.

Dude needs to get a load of what I already know is there.

Which he does. As his eyes catch sight of what's behind me, he lowers his hand...

(With me attached...)

...and stares...

(That isn't the right word, it's more like)

...make that
gapes
at the scene.

"I thought you said..." His voice trails off, then trails back in. "You said it was back to
normal
."

"
Better
than normal. That's what I said."

"But I don't..." He trails off again. "This doesn't..."

I laugh to myself. "Shut up, Judd. Shut up and enjoy."

He listens to me for a change.

(We're making progress!)

I knew he would dig this. Streamers of wispy cloud swirl above and around him, looking close enough to touch...

(...because they
are
...)

...each one tinted a different pastel shade of pink, yellow, blue, orange, green. As they drift past, they flow and entwine, changing color and shape, direction and speed.

Between and beyond them all, the air is suffused with gently rippling golden light, like the glow of a perfect summer sunset. The light shimmers with ghostly rainbow patches that fade from view as soon as you fix your gaze on them.

All of it--cloud streamers, golden glow, rainbow patches--moves to what sounds like the music of stringed instruments...

(...but isn't...)

...a keening, sighing symphony that rises and falls and shuttles and weaves in a multitude of complimentary patterns all at once.

(And the smell, don't forget the smell of)

Cotton bedsheets fresh off the clothesline.
That's what it smells like. Sheets freshly dried by a soft Spring breeze, still warm from the sweet Spring sun.

"What is all this?" Judd's voice is quiet as he lies there, gaping. "Where am I?"

"Why, you're home, of course." That isn't me talking...but the voice is beyond familiar. "Where else would you
be
, son?"

Judd turns his head toward the voice of his dad. What he sees is
shocking
...

(Wait for it...)

...in a
good
way. In a compared-to-the-
last
-version-of-his-dad way. No barbed wire and meat creature
this
time, thank the gods of insanity.

This time, Dad takes the form of a fluffy, floating chain of white puffballs. Each ball is the size of a grapefruit and swaddled in gently waving snow white threads over undulating albino skin. They look like they would be amazingly soft to the touch, so soft I feel an incredibly strong urge to touch them right now.

(Okay, so that's one of my "things," but what do you
expect
from a
finger
? Touching is what we
do
.)

"How are you feeling, Judd?" Dad drifts over from the doorway...

(which looks like it's made of glittery pink velvet)

...and as he floats across the room, his entire body slowly rotates, except for the puffball that makes up his head. His eyes--two little black dots in the middle of his face--stare straight at Judd. He doesn't seem to notice anything unusual about Judd--like, say, the fact that he isn't made of fluffy, white puffballs. For whatever reason, it's the same reaction Judd got in the other two bizarro realms: the locals see him as perfectly normal and fitting in fine, even though Judd couldn't be more different from their freak show physiologies.

"I'm okay." Judd's tone is guarded. He's glad the monsters are gone, but he's still firmly in Crazyland.

(What if Mr. Fluffy suddenly changes from "Aw, cute!" to "chest-bursting devil critter?" What then??)

"Do you feel up to going to school today?" Dad stops in front of Judd and cocks his head-puff to one side. Meanwhile, the other five puffs of his body roll down to form a long tail, giving the impression that he's standing.

"Not really." Judd musters a smile and shakes his head. "I think I might have the flu or something."

"'Flu?'" Dad sounds totally clueless. "Is that some new slang you kids have come up with?"

Judd frowns. "Slang for what?"

"I don't know. Cilia-tosis?" Dad wriggles the threads on his head. "The common
hot
?"

"Is that like the common
cold
?"

"No idea." Dad sighs. His body puffballs separate and drift up to form a ring around his head-puff. "Whatever you have, you'd better get plenty of rest. You need to be ready for the big
bubble-wrangling
tournament this weekend."

"Bubble-wrangling?" Judd looks like he's listening to ancient Aramaic...
backwards
.

(At least some demented
cyclops
isn't trying to force a
brain
on him!)

"Don't worry." Dad's eyes roll all the way around his head and come back together where they started. "We know you'll lose the state championship and make us all proud."

"You want me to
lose
it?" Again with the confusion. Come on, Judd.

(You'd think the dude would've gotten the
hang
of this by now!)

"We'll love you no matter
what
you do," says Dad, and then the ring of body-puffs orbiting his head glides over and encircles
Judd's
head. Judd looks like he's half in a panic, but before he can swat 'em away or something, the puffs all zip in at once and give him a
squeeze
. They make a squeaking noise when they do it, and change color from white to pale pastel purple.

(Pretty sure Dad just gave his boy a big
hug
, puffball style!)

Then, the puffs unsqueeze, change from pastel purple to white, and sail back over to Dad's head, where they reconnect in a single fluffy chain.

"Rest up, un-champ." As Dad says it, his head rotates while his body remains still. "If you need anything, give me a holler."

"I will." Judd smiles weakly.

(Hard to believe whopping toothy grins are his trademark outside of Looney World.)

"Thanks for everything, Dad."

Just then, Dad's head stops turning, and he sheds a sprinkling of white threads from his puffballs. The threads spin slowly as they drift down through layers of wispy cloud. "Now look what you made me do." Dad sheds a few more threads. "You made me
cry
."

(So now we've seen hugging and crying. I wonder what these things do when they're
mad
.)

"Sorry, Dad," says Judd.

"No worries. They're tears of joy, of course." With that, his chain of puffballs backs away from us toward the door. "I'll see you for supper, Sport. I'm making your favorite, muffin-free muffins."

(Huh? What about lasagna with bacon and extra mushrooms?)

Judd just smiles. "Sounds great, Dad. See you then."

Suddenly, Dad pauses in his retreat. "Aren't you going to
get
that?"

Judd frowns. "Get what?"

Dad's threads all quiver at once. "The
phone
. Can't you
smell
it?"

"I, uh...what?" Judd's stumped.

Time for me to intervene, I think. Don't know if Mr. Fluffy will hear my voice, and I guess it doesn't matter. "Take a
whiff
, bro! Stop and smell the
phone
."

Judd throws me a weird look, like he forgot I can talk...

(And do anything
else
I feel like!)

(Okay, anything that doesn't require me to
detach
from my
ride
. Meaning the dude.)

...and then he does what he's told and inhales. After which he just shrugs like he doesn't get it.

"Another
whiff
, dude!" That's what I tell him. "Don't be shy!"

"Try again, son," says Dad. "You can't smell it between
rings
, remember?"

So Judd inhales again, and this time his expression changes. His eyes widen and his eyebrows rise. "Lilacs?" He breathes in once more and nods. "I smell lilacs."

"Of course you do. It's that
girlfriend
of yours. It's her
smell-tone.
" Dad finishes backing out through the doorway. "I'll leave you two alone. Maybe she'll make you feel better."

As soon as Dad slips out of the room, the door frame expands, extending its pink velvet substance to cover the opening. A second later, a glittery pink velvet door has grown and solidified, sealing off the bedroom.

"So." I poke Judd's palm to get his attention. "Are you going to
get
that?"

Judd sniffs the air again and looks in the direction from which the smell seems to be coming--the far corner, where his desk used to be. Instead of a desk, the space is occupied by what looks like a pile of string. It's as if someone took a huge ball of the stuff--big as a person, maybe--and unwound it, letting it fall into one big tangled heap.

"So the phone's over there?" Judd points at the pile of string. "Is it down
in
there somewhere?"

"Maybe the phone
is
the pile." I poke him again. "Go find out!"

Judd gets up from the bed...and keeps going! He's like an astronaut, drifting through low gravity...

(Taking me with him!)

...heading straight for the ceiling after that one little push off the bed.

"Yaahh!" Judd flails, trying to grab hold of something to stop his ascent, but all that does is make him spin around.

(And make
me
dizzy from all the flapping!)

At least the spinning stops when he hits the ceiling. And surprise! The collision ain't so bad after all! Though the ceiling looked solid from down below, it's actually a highly padded surface.

BOOK: A Pinstriped Finger's My Only Friend
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