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Authors: Alan Spencer

Coin-Operated Machines

BOOK: Coin-Operated Machines
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Alan Spencer








Piedmont Cemetery was located on the outskirts of Blue Hills, Virginia.  The area was picturesque, though sadly the calming backdrop view of the Appalachian Valley did nothing for Andrea Stone's current mental state.  What could distract her from the reality of her husband being two months dead? Visiting Mickey's grave had been a weekly tradition since his burial.  The visits gave Andrea enough solace and stability to keep on working as a dental assistant and raising their eight year old daughter alone.  The single mother somehow remained strong.  Despite her wherewithal, Andrea wasn't prepared to hear Mickey's voice again. 

Leave the cemetery/leave before it happens/run for your life/it isn't too late/you won't survive if you don't escape/Andrea, you must run!

couldn't dismiss the words, nor could she react to them.  The warnings made no sense.  She was alone in a cemetery.  What did she have to run from?  Who was here that could possibly harm her?

The wi
nd carried nothing for a short period of time, as if the words didn't happen at all.  The occurrence was so random and unexplainable.  What was Mickey really trying to tell her, or was she hearing things?  Was independent, strong-willed Andrea finally losing herself to her grief?
The feeling of unease didn't leave her body.  Her deep down instincts told her to be afraid and for good reason.  Seconds later, the ground rumbled.  The turf over the graves, including Mickey's, detonated.  Grass clods and dirt sprayed the air. Pockets of gas erupted from the holes, hundreds of high-pressure
of air shredding the earth.  So powerful the plumes of air, headstones shattered.  Slab shrapnel rained down.  Andrea had to duck and cover after taking a small sliver of marble to the head.  Blood oozed down her scalp.  The pain forced her into survival mode.  The broken up ground revealed dozens of exposed caskets six feet down. 

was speaking on the air again.  "
It's too late/it's much too late, my love/you should've ran away when you had the chance.

She was dizzy from the blow to the head
.  Andrea couldn't trust what she was hearing anymore.  No time to react, a whoosh of air beneath her feet knocked her helplessly onto the ground.  The rocking earth threatened to tip her over into one of the exposed coffins. 

The dirt explosions
doubled.  Every grave was under attack.  Andrea couldn't see through the veil of exploding dirt and raining headstone chunks.  Then the deathly smell arrived in force.  The thick yellowish fog enshrouding the cemetery contained hints of rotting flesh, wafts of infection, and pungent gangrene tangs. She choked on the offal odors.  All around her the yellow air grew hotter. 

Voices not her husband's
beckoned from everywhere: "
The dead are back/the dead are here/the dead have returned/the dead are alive/celebrate their resurrection/you die we live/you die we live/you die we live/the fun is only beginning/play our games, won't you?

of thousands of haunting voices boomed loud enough to rip the limbs off of trees and break both of her ear drums.  Deafened, she lost her equilibrium, and subsequently, her footing.  Stepping wrong and twisting her ankle, Andrea tipped over and tumbled headfirst into her husband's open grave.  The casket, nor his corpse, would break her fall.  Boiling black oil burbled up from the grave's hole.  The boiling black oil was thicker than tar.  Andrea dissolved the instant she touched the wicked brew. 

deranged voice soon joined the throngs of the dead. 

The oils spi
tting up from the casket holes spilled all across the cemetery acres.  The molten tide burned up the grass and caught fire to the trees.  Moving forward, it filled up the cemetery house.  So hot the flow, the glass in the windows melted.  The very foundation crumbled upon itself until the entire structure vanished.  With nothing left to burn, the black oil seeped back into the earth.  It moved underground in a forward direction, slowly working its way deeper into the town of Blue Hills. 






Nine Days after Piedmont Cemetery Melted


Brock Richards, the seasoned talent scout, asked his next tryout to begin their act. After Mr. Stewart lit the torch in his hand, the flaming ball produced a reek of gasoline.  He raised the torch, posing to dip it into his mouth.  Before he did, the hick finally explained his talent. 

“I’m a fire eater, you see." 

Before the flame enters his mouth, a leak out of the metal head starts a liquid-fire spill.  Before Mr. Stewart’s rented tux is set aflame, Brock raced over to the wall, ripped the fire extinguisher from its post, and doused the tryout in foam.  After the commotion subsides, and everybody's deemed unharmed, Mr. Stewart leaves the room in shame.

Brock writes on his Steno notebook
as the man's leaving:
Never leave home—or host an open try-out—without a fire extinguisher handy.

Anna Belle Young stands before Brock and his co-judge sheepishly, her arms tucked behind her back.  She’s twelve years old, and her mother has dressed her in a pink dress and pig tails, though the pigtails are crooked, and it looks as if she’d just taken a shower, her hair damp.  Brock looks on at the child with sympathy—and sympathy gains a ticket to the finals if the contestant can pull off something half-interesting and competent—and waits for her to showcase her talent. 

“Ms. Young, what do you have for us today, sweetie?”  Brock’s quest
ion elicits a knowing smile from the girl's lips.  She replies in a sing-song voice, “My name is Anna Belle Young, and I’m nine years old.  I go to school at Mill Creek Elementary.  My talent, you can hear it, and you sure can smell it.  Here goes!"

Moments pass, and Brock catches a whiff. 
"Whoa, okay now! That's all we need.  Thank you very much for coming in, Ms. Young.  The door is right behind you."

The hasty chicken scratch on
Brock's notebook reads:
I never believed farting between every word when you talk was a talent.  What on Earth does that mother feed her child?

Mr. Roy Hanover
is up next.  Brock watches him strut into Ralston, Kansas’s, Community Center Banquet Hall Conference Room with hair shining of fresh pomade and adorned in his best suit with an oversized red bow tie.  The man opens his black carry case to introduce Reggie, the jive-talking short order cook.

Brock writes in resignation:
Didn’t Mr. Hanover read the sign?  No ventriloquist acts.

The next act
came and went in under thirty seconds.  Brock raises and lowers his jaw to check if his hearing has been damaged.  His hand aches, but he keeps writing in his trusty notebook anyway.
No, Debra Franklin, you don’t sound like the love child of Cindy Lauper. 

After the next act,
Tommy Wiseman, the unit producer, is on his hands and knees wiping up spots of blood from the tiles.  He scowls at Brock, then bursts out laughing, “'Damn yokels'—that’s what our show should be called from now on."

Brock's final verdict
on the Damn Yokels act:
As fun as it is watching you punch your friend in the mouth, and as hilarious and amusing it is to watch you bust out his false teeth tooth-by-tooth, I’m afraid it’s not suitable for a show designed for family viewing. 

Another contestant later,
Brock wets his tongue with the tip of his pen before writing:
No, Mr. Brundage, peeing for two minutes straight into a Gatorade cooler isn’t a talent, it's called having an infection

Brock completed
writing his notes, cringing on the inside after enduring the six hours of open tryouts for the nationally televised show called “America’s Got Flair." 

His fellow judge, Ryan Wilson, patted
Brock's back in consolation.  “Well, America Sucks Balls, and the biggest cock sucker is...?”

“The guy who could pee
like a champion.  And did you see him carry that cooler out with him?  What the hell does he do with the piss?  Does he save it for later?"

“Start a lemonade stand.  Fresh
ly squeezed.” 

I bet the sign would be spelled with a backwards 'L'.  Man, we get some serious weirdoes when we visit the fucking Midwest."

gathered up his notes and shoved them into his brown leather briefcase.  He rubbed the fatigue from his eyes, stood up and stretched, and then checked his watch.  It was nine at night.  They’d concluded their Midwest tour and their search for new talent this season.  Two months from now, the contestants chosen for the finals would be flown out to Las Vegas for recorded try outs, and then the competition would be televised and drawn out for network ratings and commercial time.  In the background, the unit producer and a few interns from CBS packed up the show, and with few words, the traveling operation was dismantled. 

Brock and Ryan
exited the community center with two local security officers at their sides.  They were each dead ringers for Don Knotts.  Their hands were comically arched over their guns ready to shoot themselves in the foot.  One of the officers tried to enquire if his farting daughter had made it into finals. 

Brock had to lie. 
“They’re all under serious consideration.  Everybody's got a fair shot." 

Once they made it safely to their
vehicle, the two cops said goodnight. Brock drove their Winnebago straight out of Ralston, Kansas, and twenty-five miles later, they hit the nearest watering hole off exit 90A.  The place was called The Cactus Gulp.  The bar had a country western feel, though in actuality, it was a ramshackle piss stop with the occasional dying cactus on display and a jukebox that exclusively played down-and-out country music. 

said to Ryan as they searched for a place to sit, “I’d say this was the armpit of the universe, but I think it’s more accurately the sweaty area between your leg and crotch part of the universe.”

“Je-sus,” Ryan
whistled, turning his eyes over the downtrodden folks in the bar who eyed them back sternly.  “Maybe this is the wrong place for a drink.”

"Nah.  Give it a shot.  If things go bad, we
book it out of here."

sat down at the bar.  The bar maid was friendly.  She wore boots with spurs, a red plaid t-shirt, and tight blue jeans.  Her dirty blonde hair was styled in a pony tail with a blue ribbon holding it all together.  “How you folks doin’?  After a day of round up, you two sure look plenty bushy-eyed.  Well, I’ll rope ya back in.  What can I get to parch those dry throat of yers?"

“I have something that'll parch your throat, honey
,” an old man belted out from four seats down.  He gripped his oversized belt buckle with one hand and tipped back a brown bottle into his mouth with the other.  “Shucks, I’d do it for ya anytime, sweetie honey.  Just come over her and get on all fours.  Howdy howdy!"

“Go stick it in a cow’s
ass, Bill."  Then flipping him off, she added, "

She turned back to her new customers,
her scowl going soft.  Brock could spot a fake hick/country impersonation, and this woman crafted it well.  “You’re not really a cowpoke gal, are you?”

“No, but my boss insists I act the part.  I think it’s some kinky fantasy he’s got
in his head.  I’m between semesters at Kansas University.  I’m just making ends meet.  My parents live a few miles from this place.  I save money on rent by living at home.”  With that personal nugget disclosed, she asked, “What ya have tonight,

Ryan scanned the rows of hard liquor, noting the choices were lacking in anything
better than middle to bottom shelf.  Ryan asked if she had any imported beer. 

Nothing descent except our local brew, Cactus Juice Ale.”

“He’ll have a Ca
ctus Juice Ale,” Brock said.  “This guy loves local brews.”

Ryan huffed at Brock.  “
Okay, I'm a good sport.  I'll try it, but this guy wants a soda, minus the hair of the dog.”

The woman turned her head to the side.  “So a soda, right?”

Brock smiled.  “Yes, just a soda.  I don’t drink.”

“Then what are you doin’ here?”

“I like the,” Brock paused, watching a young man put two quarters into the mechanical bull in the corner, but before finishing the transaction, he stumbled onto the floor and lost his change, “ambiance of the place.”

"One beer and a soda.  No

The woman
shuffled to the bar to fulfill their orders.
Brock appreciated Ryan supporting his sobriety.  He was two years sober, what was also the length of his tenure as a judge on “America’s Got Flair.”  Alcohol wasn’t his only vice.  Cocaine was his other demon. 

forced Brock from his thoughts.  “You okay? I’m worried about you.  I know what that face means.”

Brock t
hanked the bar maid for his soda.  She went right back to work.               

“What face?”

“The drowning fish look.”

did his best not to think too deeply on the comment.  The trick to keeping his nose clean and his liver functioning was staying busy.  This job kept him occupied year round, except for the upcoming two months, and those were the hardest to stay sober and out of trouble. Ryan would return to his wife and kids, a life, and all Brock had was debt and a lonely apartment that reeked of starting over.  And that was starting over for a man who was fifty-two years old. 

Brock res
trained the tears.  “I’m worried, is all.  I’ve got two months to myself.  Idle hands, you know?”

Ryan sipped his Cactus Juice
Ale.  His face scrunched up like a dead California raisin.  “This beer tastes like camel cunt.  Sorry, as you were saying?"

“I’m scared that I’m going to start drinking again, or worse.”

“I know you're scared.  It’s something you never get over.”  Ryan’s face became one of understanding, and in the dim lighting, he suddenly looked much older than his thirty-nine years.  “I remember your father. I worked with Gene for almost three years before he passed away.  I was only a behind-the-scenes guy at the time.  Your father was the face, the host, the personality of TV in the seventies and eighties.  He was the man.  Gene was on five game shows, two different late-night talk shows, and he hosted The Academy Awards like three times.  That man was on-top of the world.  You couldn't best him."

"Yeah," Brock
sighed.  "He was on top of everything, and then he just dies of a stroke two weeks after his seventieth birthday.  He was a good man, but he had vices.  I learned it all from him."

You're doing better than your father, no offense, Brock.  You're taking care of yourself.  You're learning from your mistakes.  You're not like your father at all."

“I wish I never inherited any of that money or that
damn mansion off Sunset Boulevard."  A scowl burned Brock's face. “Angel and I split my dad's money between us.  We lived the high life for almost nine years in that Goddamn mansion.  My sister and I forgot everything.  We just partied.  I hardly remember a Goddamn thing that happened when we lived there.  The accountants handled the bills, and we just snorted and drank our way into debt.  Pretty much ten years gone like that.

“Gene would be ashame
d of me, ruining his good name like I did.  And Angel, I haven’t been in touch with her since our finances collapsed.  My sister's out of my life completely.  I’d have to hire a private investigator to find her.  What kind of a brother am I?  I supported her habit.  I’m her big-brother, and I let it happen.  I might struggle with kicking the habit, but Angel, God be with her, I don’t know how strong she is.  And now I’m going to be alone for two months with all this shit to think about.  I’ve got you and this bar tonight, sure, and when we pack it up tomorrow morning after we check out of our hotel, that’s it.  It’s me, myself, and I, and I’m so tempted to go back to that old life because that’s all there is.  But I can’t.  I’ll die if I do. I just know it.  I’ll go out like my dad did.

Listen, before you say anything else, Ryan, I know I'm only famous because of Gene.  I’m a joke.  I'm washed up.  This talent show gig is a paying job, and it’s distracted me from my problems, but I’m still a joke.  The son of Gene Richards.  There are eighteen books and four movies based on the man’s life and three women claiming to have his love-child, and now, I’m feeding off of that.  I'm a bottom feeder.  A washed up future reality star loser.  The people out there relish failures and fuck-ups like me.  Hey world, you thought Gene Richards was messed up, well, watch his equally fucked-up son host a talent show, and oh, he’s trying to clean up.  That’s cute and everything, but we’re really watching him to see how long it will take for his train to derail, and when it does, the pubic will eat it the fuck up."

Ryan decided the Cactus Juice Ale wasn’
t so bad after all and drank up.  “Forget all of that nonsense.  Who gives a shit if people think you’re a joke?  Does anybody take any of these jokers on TV seriously?  Once our moment in time is up, we’re somebody’s punch line, somebody’s TV movie, and like you said, you’re only useful as long as you’re entertaining.  But you have a life, Brock. You might have to look between the cracks and see what’s fallen in there and see what you still want that's down there, but you’ll find something good, I promise you.  But only if you keep looking."             

BOOK: Coin-Operated Machines
4.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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