Top 5 awesomest things on my desk

There are actually tons of awesome things. The desk itself is awesome (being that’s it’s an old secretary number, small and compact, with a door that opens to become desk space). The envelopes and stamps are awesome (because they show how prepared I am), but there are five things more awesome than everything else. That makes them the awesomest things.

photo 1 (2)1. Steve Austin

Found at a recent auction at the Goodwill in Salinas, Steve is my best friend and desk monitor. The happy child somewhere in my skull remembers playing with him back when television shows were found on television sets, at a specific time, once a week (as opposed to every episode all at once). Steve guards my stuff with his bionic badassery and represents something I can’t put my finger on. My childhood maybe. And his little eye hole is awesome. Crazy awesome.

04b1f-photo2b22. Moleskin love

Moleskin notebooks aren’t the cheapest notebooks in the world, but they feel super. While I spend (a little) more wisely on most things, I still pop for new Moleskins when I run out. But used smartly, these suckers last six months or more. My current one, shaped to the curve of my left buttock, is full of shopping lists, collection lists, to do notes, and a few interesting thoughts, but mostly it reminds me to pay my car insurance and buy milk, which is why I never leave home without first putting it into my back pocket. The soft black cardboard cover feels like silk to the touch. Try it. It really is awesome.

baa33-photo2b22b23. The Reading Journal

Mantula likes this one too. It’s got a book light in it, magnetic book marks, and the journal itself, which carries a running list of every book I’ve read since owning the journal. I’ve had it about five years now and still haven’t filled it. When I’m feeling really ambitious, usually after a week off work, I might actually write out my thoughts on a particular book within it’s pages. Usually I only write a line. But look at the journal (actually the box that holds all the journal crap). It’s awesome. Does it really matter how well it’s used?

2ed3e-photo2b42b24. Magic

A fake thumb and a fake lighter. The thumb is capable of so much, but mostly for making small cloth squares disappear. It’s a tool to be used when you want to make other people think you’re cool. The lighter, amazingly, serves the opposite purpose of most lighters. Instead of fire, it shoots out water. It’s just that awesome. It’s insanely magical.

8e181-photo2b52b25. Old dictionary

I still use the 1926 edition of “Webster’s Handy-Service Dictionary of the English Language” self-pronouncing edition because it stinks like an old book. And like my Moleskin, the cover (probably made from human flesh) feels smooth to the touch. In its pages are words like “henceforth” and “remonstrate,” while words like “selfie” and “blog” are nowhere. I don’t really have a problem with blog (obviously) – or selfie really. But I do at the same time. It’s weird. The dictionary doesn’t have a definition for awesome, which is a bummer because it is.

MANTULA Part Twenty-Nine: The Death of ManQuail Part Two

MANTgraveyard-1

I hauled Glenn back to my crappy little apartment with two of my legs clenched gently around his limp neck. He didn’t struggle, come to life and flap around, or otherwise express any indignation at being pulled through the dirt. I couldn’t leave him there on the side of the road next to a trash can. He’d probably get munched up by a wild animal or found in the morning and chucked in the trash. I couldn’t let that happen. So I brought him back home with one thought circulating like hot lava in my head. Mooney, that nasty prick, would pay.

Who knows how long it took me to get him there under the cover of darkness. I don’t remember much of it, but I know I set him on the couch and rested his head on one of the pillows I liked to lay my human head on, back before all this nastiness happened to me. Not just to me, I told myself, but to a lot of people who didn’t deserve to have this curse thrust into their miserable lives. Some of us, like Glenn, were better off because of it perhaps. He’d been cured of his meth addiction for a time. But look at him now.

I got on the computer and starting looking for Mooney. I found he’d emailed Glenn to let him know he’d stuck his order in a crevice by the ice cream shop, the usual drop spot, and to let him know he got it. He also said he’d expect payment within the week – a favor for an old friend. It didn’t take me long to find his address online. He didn’t bother to hide it. One look at his Facebook and I had it memorized. Next I mapped the best route there. Within twenty minutes of returning with ManQuail I was off, alone and determined, to see my friend’s dealer. My tarantula body didn’t tire like my human body did, though I confess I wasn’t altogether there mentally. After visiting Diana’s house and learning the story of her witchy grandmother, then finding out ManQuail had already started the curse “decontamination” project, which brought his addiction crawling back to him like a slutty relationship begging forgiveness; it had been a long day.

Kip Mooney would probably be asleep when I got there. At least that’s what I figured. He lived in an apartment complex about ten blocks from my own. Using side streets and the cover of what was by now late at night (I had no idea of the time), I made it there in about 20 minutes. He lived in an apartment at the back of the complex, on the ground level, with a small enclosed area next to his front door – sort of a patio area where a washer and dryer could also be found tucked against the far wall. The place looked dark, though a number of nearby apartments were still lit, shining a pale lemon glow on the sliding door that opened to Kip’s patio. I scrambled up and over the stucco wall and heard music coming from inside, followed by light female laughter. It seemed Mooney was still up. And he had company no less. Letting my boiling anger lead me, I crept toward the sliding door and pulled it aside, just a smidge, not enough to be noticed, but enough for me to get in. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle” belted from his iPod speakers. I might have appreciated his affection for Nirvana had he been any other man. But this was the dick who nearly raped Diana Sturgis and doped out my dead best friend. I knew what my son would want me to do, what he’d want Mantula to do, and I wasted no time in doing it.

I smirked. “Here I come, Dope-man.”

There were two girls in the dark apartment when I entered. Both were dark-skinned, black-haired Latinas; their prettiness obscured by black eyeliner and red lipstick. They were topless, stuffing wads of bills into the elastic bands of their hot pink panties. Behind them stood Kip Mooney, also shirtless, and buttoning up his Levis. Sweat covered his thin upper torso. His face, on the other hand, looked scoured and handsome – the perfect lumbersexual asshat. He slid his black eyeglasses onto his face, patted each of the girls on their young, bubbly asses, then saw me.

A wad of cash rained to the carpet from his hands. His mouth opened in shock. “God, it’s you. The tarantula!”

 (CONTINUED BELOW)
Doug gets his revenge on Kip Mooney.

I ran for him, letting red rage blind me. I know the girls screamed hysterically. I know Nirvana continued to lament Seattle’s death by popularity. Otherwise, I saw only a flurry of hairy legs, all eight, rain hurt on that punk. I only had to point them in the right direction and they took it from there. Blood sprayed the air. Mooney cried out numerous times. He might have landed a blow on me, but I barely noticed. Practicing with the wife beater downstairs made kicking this guy’s ass a cakewalk. He had the looks, but no fighting style. At some point during the melee, I bounced off a wall, careened into the little prick drug dealer and knocked him into a cupboard. Little baggies of meth spilled everywhere around him. Stumbling, swinging his arms blindly, Mooney stepped all over them. I doubt he even noticed. The women beat a path out the front door, yelling in Spanish like crazy, and I figured it was time to get out of there before I killed the guy. He deserved no less, but I wasn’t sure I was prepared to live with it. I know my son wouldn’t approve.

I dashed out the way I came in, Nirvana still blaring behind me, and disappeared into the dark night. A few minutes later I heard sirens. I waited in the bushes for a while until I saw two squad cars pull up to the complex, splashing blue and red lights over the outside walls of the apartments. I wondered what the police would make of all the meth in Mooney’s pad.

The rage began to dissipate as I made my way back home. I wasn’t sure what to do with Glenn’s body. Should I bury him? Should I find a way to take him back home to his parents’ place in Camp Verde? ManQuail would probably like that. He felt bad about what he’d done to them. I figured I could get him there, maybe bury him on the property, without them even knowing about it. As it turned out, I wouldn’t have to figure out how to get to Camp Verde.

Something happened while I was away. The door to my apartment was open. All the lights were on and I could see movement inside. Cautiously, I made my way up the stairs and peeked around the corner. There were two people inside my crappy little apartment, one a teenage girl by the looks of it, and the other an older man with round spectacles, quite old-fashioned, perched on the bridge of his nose. The girl carried the body of ManQuail in her arms. The man watched her, a concerned look on his face, and that’s when I recognized him. He knew I was there too. He pivoted around the girl and looked right at me, his face a grim mask of annoyance.

“I see you’ve finally decided to grace us with your presence,” said Saint Maximilian Kolbe.

MANTULA Part Twenty-Eight: The Death of ManQuail part one

My mood could have been a hell of a lot better.

It was better, in fact, before reading those emails between Kip Mooney and Glenn. It was all my fault. Not the curse of course. That was thanks to the wormy witch, but meeting up with ManQuail, letting him help me out, bringing him out here to Cottonwood from Sedona. That was all me. Had I left him alone he would have been a happy little quail with only a slight recollection that he was once a totally messed up sack of humanity. But I brought his humanity out of him. Because the curse didn’t work on me the way it worked on others. Just being around me brought him back the memories of the former meth fiend he once was.

It was on me to bring him back from this, to keep him out of trouble. Only keeping an addict from his addiction isn’t the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. It’s probably the hardest thing. When people talked about meth cities in Arizona, they almost always talked about Cottonwood. Prescott probably came in a close second. These weren’t boasting rights by a long shot.

I didn’t know much about meth except never to get wrapped up in it. Not everyone managed to keep it out of their bodies, however, for whatever reasons they had. My life taught me enough not to judge others whose paths were their own. But this is a “reward” drug we’re talking about, the dopamine orgy, exploding with euphoric jam, which makes getting off pretty hard. I knew enough about it to know getting on it meant you probably wouldn’t get off.

What makes it even nastier, as we all know, is how paranoid, and just plain mental, methers get after a while. Chemical nastiness attacks the mouth, making an apocalyptic tongue-scape dentists have nightmares about, and folks start tearing apart their own flesh to rid themselves of the “bugs” that burrow under their skin. It’s just nasty shit.

With luck I’d head ManQuail off at the pass and get to him before it was too late. I made good use of my human-sized abilities, mixed with my eight legs, to bound over fences and charge down the sides streets as fast as possible, maybe not as fast as a quail with a jones, but fast enough. The rain let up a little, which helped me stick to the streets and not get bogged down in puddles. I could see the traffic on State Route 89A ahead of me, flashes of headlights and tail lights shot past like warp drives on space ships. The ice cream shop sat on the other side, which meant I’d have to cross the busy roadway. I felt pretty confident I’d get to him before he’d get a chance to partake in the drug.

When a gap presented itself, I made my break for it. With luck, all anyone would see was a small blob running across the road. If anyone did see it, they’d probably think I was a rat or something, definitely not a tarantula. Then again, thanks to Kip Mooney’s news stories, it could be people were on the lookout for a wild-acting tarantula in this part of town. I ducked under a bush upon making it safely across the street just to be sure no one saw me and got curious. I could see the neon glow of an ice cream cone a block away. Setting off for my destination, I looked around in every dark crevice I came across for Glenn, but didn’t see him. The closer I got the more frantic I became. There was no sign of a twitchy little quail anywhere.

When I’d finally made it outside the business, and climbed atop of a concrete wall that offered a good view inside, I scanned inside. I didn’t really expect ManQuail and Mooney to be doing their business inside the place, next to moms and daughters and cub scout troops, but you never know. There wasn’t anyone in there, save an old man sitting alone in the corner, and two pimply-faced teenagers inside. I took my search to the parking lot outside. There was no sign of Kip’s Subaru in the parking lot. I started to think I was too late, or possibly too early, when I happened to glance across the street. That’s when I saw a second ice cream place, packed with young families, directly opposite the one I once took my son to. I was looking around like an idiot at the wrong place.

 (CONTINUED BELOW)
The death of ManQuail part one.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I charged into the road and dove right into traffic. This time I found myself dodging the giant behemoths. A cattle truck roared right over my back, shaking my ugly little body like an earthquake, and barely avoided getting squished by a the front tires of a Prius right after. Weaving and dodging kept me from being a pancake, but it took more time to cross this time. I’d already wasted so much of it looking in the wrong place that I began to worry. After making it across the street, I found a clump of old newspaper in the gutter, stuck in a storm drain by the curb, and hid there for a moment to get my bearings. This side of 89A offered very little when it came to hiding spots. When I figured the coast was clear, I crawled up and over, then made my way to the parking area on the side of the fifties style ice cream chain. That’s when I heard a giggle in my head. It sounded far away at first, but I was able to hone in on it pretty quick. I could tell I was too late.

A half block up the road, a black shape stumbled and fell into an old metal trash can. The shape was small, just the size of a small bird that rarely flew. It’s stumbling gait indicated a stoned bird that rarely flew. I ran toward him and could hear the giggling turn to rambling sentences. I passed a baggy of white crystalline powder nearby, what remained of his meth, and kept going. When I got there, Glenn lay on his side against the trash. His feathered breast rose up and down feverishly. His eyes were wide open, nearly bugging out of his skull.

I put one of my legs on his shoulder. “Glenn, it’s me. I’m here. What the hell were you thinking?”

The panting increased as he looked at me, but his eyes seemed to shrink in his skull, then widen again, with every breath he took.

“What are you talking about, man?” he replied. “I’ve never felt better.”

With that, he stopped breathing altogether. I could feel his chest deflate with my leg on it. ManQuail was gone.

Notes on MANTULA: an unedited, raw story

‘MANTULA: have some discord’ is scheduled for

publication some time in 2015.

While the MANTULA story has been plotted for some time, I didn’t know where the tale would lead when I began writing it last year. Since starting Doug’s journey, I’ve moved from Sedona Arizona, and my job as reporter with Prescott’s daily newspaper, to my birth territory in California’s Monterey Peninsula and a wonderful new job at the local natural history museum. This change in circumstance may show in the pages of the story, but the story itself continues.

What many don’t realize is that MANTULA is an effort in free-form writing. It’s an urban fantasy, full of curses and situations beyond the realm of mortal men. Every drop in the bucket creates a great sea, furthering the story, from the comics to the news articles (the memes not so much, but they’re awesome); each make a link in the literary chain. It’s an unedited, raw story, posted online as each part is written. For MANTULA, I edit once as I write, then it’s thrown online. Further editing will be found, including rewrites, prior to self-publishing the final, finished novella.

For me it’s been an exercise in bare story-telling, in producing a story anyone can read, free of charge, in a writing environment where the emphasis seems misplaced. The story itself, the fun and excitement of imagination, seems lost in a world of marketing, sales, and Twitter followers. For this project at least, my hope is to do something where those cares are erased and unnecessary. MANTULA is for me, for my family, and for fun.

Besides asking my son to contribute to the story via drawn images, the spark of creativity has also been stimulated in our shared MANTULA projects, such as the creation of YouTube videos featuring our spidery main character. It’s been a fun year of creation so far, and will undoubtedly continue when MANTULA is a project of the past.

That’s if I leave him alone.

MANTULA Part Twenty-Seven: Getting some

Gagged on pop culture, polluted by

depression, comes Mantula!

A special fiction series!

I thought I’d be a bad ass like I was with the downstairs neighbor, but it ended up a little differently this time. For one thing, Sturgis has some bad ass qualities going on all by herself. Turns out Mantula’s help wasn’t needed.

Pushing open the window just enough to allow me to slip inside, I dropped silently into a dark bedroom and quickly made my way to the hallway where we’d seen the ghost of Jacki Sturgis, Diana’s gnarly witch of a grandmother, only an hour or so earlier. I kept my stick legs crossed (in my head anyway) that she wouldn’t make another appearance any time soon. Her creepiness still made me shiver like a little schoolgirl. Plus I wanted to get in quietly, not being chased by a worm-ridden corpse that could vanish into thin air.

By the time I made it into the hallway, thankfully without the appearance of any ghost, I realized Diana had things well in hand. Keeping to the corner of the entryway into her living room, I could see Kip Mooney sprawled on the ground, clutching his balls and writhing in pain. Diana stood over him, her hands on her hips, looking beautiful in her red dress. I retreated back and made my way into the kitchen unseen. I had visions of Edvard Munch’s painting Woman in a Red Dress in my head for some reason, only the red dress in the painting left a lot more to the imagination than Diana’s dress, which was fine with me. Like that painting though, she had a calm look about her, but anyone in that room could feel the fierceness pouring from her soul.

“Jesus, Diana! What did you do that for?” Mooney cried. His voice sounded a bit higher than before. Not surprising. She didn’t seem like a woman to take lightly.

(CONTINUED BELOW)

Doug gets his legs on a steak knife.

“I told you. No one paws me,” she replied. “You need to get the hell out of here.”

He panted, trying to speak through the pain. “But what about working together? The tarantula and the quail.”

“I really don’t want to lay eyes on you again, Mr. Mooney.”

I sprang to the kitchen counter at that point with an idea. Near the kitchen sink I came across a small steak knife, which made my idea even easier. I didn’t have to look for a knife drawer. Scooping it up, I made my way to the kitchen window and jumped outside into the rain. I may not have been able to deck the bastard myself, but I wanted a little something I could call my own. So I made my way to his car, leaping the lakes of chocolate milk with ease. By the time I got onto his hood and dropped to the other side of his Outback, I could hear voices from Diana’s front door. It took a few seconds, but I got that steak knife jammed into the front driver’s side tire quite nicely. For a little tarantula with the strength of a human, it was easier than you might think, though still a little challenging. Will power probably had a lot to do with my success. Air hissed from the slit when I yanked the knife free. Footsteps splashed in the mud nearby, so I made my way under the car as Kip came to the passenger door. By the time he got the car started, I was already into the yard again. He drove off into the downpour, not realizing he’d have a flat by the time he reached his house.

I watched him leave, then made my way to Diana’s front door. She stood at the threshold when I turned around, staring at the steak knife in my legs.

“Tell me you didn’t stick that in his tire?” she asked.

I dropped the steak knife at her feet.

Diana sighed, her chest heaving under the soft fabric of her dress. “You know I don’t need anyone’s help when it comes to situations like that? I can take care of myself.”

I turned to leave, not regretting what I did in the least, when Diana called out to me. I turned around to stare at her once again. Heavy rain pelted me.

“I can take care of myself as I said, but I appreciate you looking out for me. See you soon, Doug.”

At that point, I could have skipped home. Instead I took my time, thinking about life and curses and everything in between. At my size it was easy to find shelter from the storm and I wanted a little time to contemplate things before getting back to my crappy little apartment.

By the time I bounced into the window, I found that Glenn had been a busy bee. Somehow he managed to get a half dozen saucers from the cupboard and filled them with vinegar to absorb the negative energies of the curse. He wasn’t wasting any time. As I made my way to the closest saucer I could see a film of black oil on the top. Curse goo? Who knows. What I could tell was that even I, who wasn’t affected the same as everyone else, felt light-headed, and possibly (I know this sounds weird) bigger. It was as if my spider-body were growing larger.

“Glenn? Are you up?” I got no answer and went looking in his room. He wasn’t there. I went to the computer, my new routine I suppose, to see if there was anything new from Kolbe. I found ManQuail’s email on my screen. He’d gotten into his Gmail while I was gone. I wasn’t trying to be snoopy, but a certain email caught my eye – an email from Kip Mooney of all people. Curious, I opened it.

“Give me about an hour it,” it read. “I got a flat tire. Got to fix it. Glad to hear from you, man. I thought you were dead in a ditch somewhere this whole time. Meet me at the ice cream place on 89A.”

MANTULA Part Twenty-Six: Peeping Doug

There’s something of a peeping Tom in all of us.

Humans are inclined to know what others of our kind are up to. We pay attention to trends, which are just indicators for us to know what we should be buying, how we should dress, what cell phones we should save up for – all based on what others humans are buying. The rich, the famous, those we know and are jealous of, the cool and the hip, we want to know what they’re up to. We want to know what they’re wearing, what they’re listening to on their iPods, what type of iPod they’re using for that matter, whether it’s their phone or whatever. The allure of cold cash consumerism is the best example I can think of to justify the weirdly erotic feeling we humans get from spying on others. Leave the curtains open at night and be sure someone will look inside as they drive by. Those who say they don’t do it are just fooling themselves. That’s not to say we’re all looking to see something filthy and nasty, though it’s not far from the truth, but we look just because we can. We look to see what our neighbors are up to. We look to see if our lives are better than theirs. Usually there’s no comparison. Theirs is better. They’re doing something more fun, with cooler things, and with better looking people than I’ve ever done. Especially lately.

The idea we all do it, that peeping is simply a part of the human condition, similar to taking a dump or yawning when tired, helped me sneak around the outside of Diana’s house that evening. I found a clump of rose bushes in the front yard and scaled through the interior, avoiding thorns, until a relatively dry spot presented itself. There I settled down, thankful the monsoon couldn’t reach me for the time being, and waited for the arrival of the reporter Kip Mooney. ManQuail had probably made it back to our crappy little apartment by now, I figured, and was settling in for the evening nice and warm. I’d have to pay the bills soon or we’d lose the place, not to mention having the electricity turned off, but I could do it all online, which helped. Mailing bills, for a tarantula, isn’t that easy. I could do it any time I wanted, which freed me up to be a peeping tom when the need arose.

I’m not sure what I was hoping to see, or what I was hoping not to see, but I felt pretty damn sure I was doing the right thing. Getting back to my crappy little apartment would be a breeze. For a tarantula like me, who retained the strength of a human, I could be back there in ten minutes. On top of that, I could fight off whatever predators happened to cross my path. And speaking of predators…

An older model Subaru Outback pulled up to the sidewalk outside of the Sturgis home. In the gloom, I couldn’t make out the color, probably gray, but I could tell the thing had seen better days. Mooney popped from the driver’s side, slammed the door closed, and made his way around the front of the vehicle quickly so not to get soaked before seeing Diana. A pang of jealousy gripped me.

The reporter had the hipster look going on full tilt. He certainly didn’t look like a meth dealer. A short haircut, slicked back with expensive vintage hair gel no doubt, and a full beard complemented a muscular physique adorned in tight black jeans and a fitted red and green flannel shirt. To top off the ensemble, he wore black rimmed glasses – Mooney basically killed the pseudo lumberjack-intellectual look, or slaughtered the Harry Potter-grunge-Amish fusion idea, depending on one’s outlook. I found it a bit too metrosexual for my tastes, but maybe Diana would like it. I had no idea her tastes after all. Tarantulas weren’t likely on the list, that I knew. A date with an arachnid, no matter how well spoken, would be met with no small measure of reluctance I was sure.

Diana opened the door for him wearing a red dress that made my heart go aflutter. I wasn’t the kind of guy to get so weird about a woman that I forgot myself, but that’s exactly what happened when I saw her. I forgot about my tarantula body, that I wanted to be dead, about everything really, but just for a moment. She filled my everything. Her serious, but elegant features, dark hair and curvy body. Everything looked perfect, I suddenly wanted to leap from the rose bush and knock that bastard Mooney unconscious. But what would that gain me? What would any of it gain me actually?

I began to doubt why I was there, hiding in a stupid rose bush, while Mooney entered Diana’s home, and would probably enter her in no time flat.

The rain poured around me. Drops fell on my hairy body as I faced the dark monsoon, staring blankly into the storm. The storm brought a soothing quality into the evening, despite the damp chill. Random flashes of jagged, dangerous lightning lit the darkening sky. Throughout the neighborhood gutters gurgled and slurped. Water ran rampant down the street and muddied the yards. They were quickly turning into oversized lakes the color of chocolate milk.

 (CONTINUED BELOW)
Doug begins to question what he wants in life.

I’m not sure how long I stared into the storm, paralyzed by my own sense of nothingness, embarrassed that I was concerned, and falling for, a woman I barely knew, and one who’s grandmother was to blame for my mess. It wasn’t that long ago I sat alone and sick in my crappy little apartment. Did I want that back? Did I want to shun the world? Part of me did. There was another part of me, however, that wanted to know more about Diana, that wanted to help those that, for whatever reason, could no longer care for themselves. Many were like me, I figured, able to care for themselves, but without any desire to. There were many out there whop suffered from the curse of Grandma Sturgis. They were unaware a cure could be found. I was that cure. An ugly, spider of a man that would make women and men, like Diana and Mooney, run screaming in the opposite direction.

As if to illustrate my point, a muffled scream pierced through the monsoon, jarring me back to reality. It ended as soon as it came, but I had no doubt it came from within the Sturgis home. I scrambled out of the rose bush and made my way to the closest window. As I got to the window sill, I heard muffled voices inside.

“Diana, please. Dressed like that, inviting me over for dinner, what else should I expect? I just hate formalities. I’m a newsman. I want to get right down to business.”

“No one paws me like that, Kip. Who do you think you are?”

“I’m Kip Mooney.”

“Please, put your shirt back on.”

“Why don’t you take your dress off. You’ll be glad you did.”

Diana’s voice began to sound a little nervous. I started pushing the window open. “You need to get the hell out of here.”

“Make me,” Mooney said.

She wouldn’t have to make him. I would.

MANTULA Part Twenty-Five: Halfway There

How does a person cure themselves of a curse? That was the question that lingered on my mind. There had to be a way to reverse it. If there was a way to make it happen, which was painfully and obviously possible, then fixing it was also possible.

I felt like that poor sap Howard Carter who discovered King Tut’s tomb and suffered the wrath of the Egyptian pharaohs. Or maybe I’d end up like Lon Chaney Jr. in “The Wolfman,” cursed to die trapped in a horrific body, dead before he got to get naked with the gypsy girl.

“You wouldn’t happen to know why I would be unchanged? Or of anything your grandmother might have said that could be used to reverse the curse?” I typed.

Diana leaned forward to read my note on the screen. She’d been doing it so much her breasts were now dangerously close to spilling over the top of her wet towel. Not that I minded. I doubt Glenn would be bummed to get another peek at the beautiful CEO either. Being a tarantula, she wouldn’t be able to catch me looking, so I did. Her skin looked smooth and unblemished, not to mention warm and inviting, curvy in all the right places. And her face, as she read the two sentences and sat back, was soft and glowing. I could picture her across from me at a dinner table, perhaps over a bottle of the house red at some high-priced hipster restaurant. Only I couldn’t be a tarantula for that to happen. And really? Did I really want that to happen whether I was a spider or not?

“That’s something I would ask those two saints she cursed in the first place. You are all just pawns to frustrate them. No offense, Doug. No offense, Glenn.”

It may have been designed for them, I thought, but it’s us who got screwed. And why was I unchanged? I wasn’t addicted to anything that I know of. Depressed. Sure. But not addicted to anything.

“There’s nothing that can be done, that I can do, to fix this?” I wrote.

“I’ve thought about this for a while. All I can think of are the basics, the simple stuff you would find in any old Google search. Do you have white vinegar wherever it is your staying? If not I have some here. You should bathe in it. Leave some around you. It soaks up negative energy, which is what curses are made of.”

Glenn chimed in. “That’s a new one on me.”

I agreed. “Not heard of it either, but it’s worth a shot. I have some back at the apartment. Not sure what in the hell vinegar has to do with curses, but Diana seems pretty convinced it can help.”

Diana leaned forward, narrowing her gaze at me, as if she hoped to discern my beady black eyes from the rest of my hairy, ugly body. I let my eyes wander to her round chest again.

“There’s one more thing. A big part of all this has to do with my grandmother and her pain. Her soul went into death unhappy. That’s what we’re facing. Her spirit needs to be put to rest, only I’m not sure how to do that,” Diana said. “Here’s what I suggest. Talk to your saint friends and get them to help. If they’re worth their salt as saints, they should know how to put a soul to rest.”

That was a big if, I thought. But it was worth a shot. I could see the news made Glenn pretty excited. We were well on our way to figuring this out. I started typing on Diana’s keyboard.

“They’re not our friends. We never asked for this to happen to us.”

After reading my note, Diana sighed and got to her feet. “Listen, as nice as it’s been having you over I have company coming over and can’t talk now. Can you guys come back some time? I’ll be home tomorrow after six. How about you talk to your saints, tell them what we’ve discussed, and see what they have to say?”

I went back to the keyboard, not happy to be getting the boot. After everything we’d just talked about, the ghost of her grandmother in the hallway, she still wanted to keep her date? “Don’t tell anyone about us. Don’t share this information with anyone. Do we have a deal?” I typed.

Tightening her towel, Diana nodded and made her way to the front door. “I don’t know many people in Cottonwood to talk to anyway. Don’t worry. I’m not sure how you guys got in here, but how about you leave through the front door this time?”

 (CONTINUED BELOW)
Doug and Glenn learn a thing or two about vinegar.

I hesitated at the keyboard. It would only take a moment to tell her about the reporter for the Sedona Daily Reader. If she really wanted to help us, then I should tell her about him, about how he used to be Glenn’s dealer. I wanted to tell her not to trust him, but she stopped me before I could get my leg over the keyboard.

“Please, that’s enough for one night, alright? No more typing. The door’s right here, guys.”

Glenn fluttered at the edge of the coffee table. “I think we’ve overstayed our welcome. Are you ready to hit the rain again.”

Without another word, I popped onto ManQuail’s back and we trotted to the door. Diana watched us leave peacefully. An odd smirk passed her face as we went by. “I still can’t believe this is all happening.” She muttered to herself.

She quietly shut the door behind us, leaving Glenn and I in the rain once again.

“I don’t know about you, man,” Glenn laughed. “But I will be glad when monsoon season is over!”

“Hold on a second, Glenn.” I bounced off his back near the concrete landing at Diana’s front door. “Why don’t you go on back? I can make my own way back this time.”

“What? In this weather? Doug…”

I interrupted him. “I really need a little time to be by myself.” When he started to talk again, I held up a leg to stop him. “Really. I need some time to think.”

MANTULA Part Twenty-Four: Jacki Sturgis and the Pain

Jacki Sturgis was never a particularly imaginative woman, her granddaughter explained. She went to Catholic school as a child in Monterey, California, and married into an Italian fishing family at eighteen-years-old. She was a tiny woman, not even five-feet in height, and skinny as a rail. While most of her Polish family members came off bulky and stout, she couldn’t put on a pound to save her life. She was also a fierce little thing and not someone to cross.

“She outlived two husbands, my mom, and every one of her sisters,” Diana Sturgis told us. “Her life was simple and rather meaningless, but she made the most of it by surviving everyone.”

“It’s like I always say. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” Glenn chimed in.

I sighed. “You know she can’t hear you, right?”

“There wasn’t anything real remarkable about her, which is mean to admit about your own grandmother I know, but it’s true. She watched television, but had no real favorite shows. She liked the old television show channel, the one that shows Gunsmoke and Bonanza all the time, but would really watch anything put in front of her. To be honest, I’m not sure what my grandfather saw in her. I suppose she was an attractive little thing, so that must be it.

“Jacki had two children, my uncle and my mom. My mom died ten years ago thanks

to a drunk driver in San Jose. My uncle is at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean thanks to a heart attack or something that caused him to fall off the edge of a fishing boat. They never found his body. My grandfather died in the 90s from a bad case of the flu. Being a chain smoker, he wasn’t prepared for how ill prepared his lungs were for a bad virus.

Doug and Glenn learn of the curse.

“Smoking was a big thing in our family. I’m the only one who doesn’t smoke actually. My grandmother was a chain smoker like my grandfather, so it came as no surprise that she got diagnosed with cancer around 2009 when she was in her seventies. At that time she was already well into her fixation on Catholic saints, especially Junipero Serra. When he was beatified in 1988, she was there looking on, near his grave site at the Carmel Mission. She started praying to them, but didn’t seem so crazy about it until her diagnosis. At that time she turned her attention to Saint Kolbe, patron saint of addictions, and asked him to clear her heart and soul of all desire to smoke. She even had a coin with his face on it. She clung to that thing every day. Of course when her prayers went unanswered she fell into a severe depression. She would tell me about her disappointment in him when we talked on the phone. I wasn’t surprised her addiction to smoking didn’t clear up. Her anger about took me back, however. She was always a strong woman, very black and white, but even she knew how fickle faith could be. At least I thought so. It could be the older she got the more she wanted to believe in a higher power. Maybe she thought she deserved a little help after living such an ordinary life. In either event, she began to spend every minute of her time researching saints. That’s when things got pretty weird.

“My grandmother started reading a lot of metaphysical books that held saints came back to the land of the living when they died. To become a saint, she told me once, meant immortality. She read a ton of books on the subjects, while undergoing chemo treatments, and became convinced she could reach a living, breathing Catholic Saint.”

I couldn’t help but agree. “She wasn’t that far off the mark, was she, Glenn?”

“It sounds like Kolbe never answered any of her emails though,” ManQuail replied.

“When she got in touch with some of the authors of these books, she learned that most hold the saints lived in Sedona. Something to do with vortexes, magnetic energies, and metaphysical power – all of which manifest themselves in red rock country – if you believe that sort of thing. Right now, telling all of this two a quail and a big spider, I’m inclined to believe in damn near anything.”

I typed on her laptop, allowing Diana a moment to read the question.

“How does the curse factor into all of this?” I asked.

“I’m getting to that… uh…”

“Doug,” I reminded her. It hurt a little she didn’t remember my name the first time around.

 (CONTINUED BELOW)
Jacki Sturgis burned images of Kolbe.

“Her craziness about the saints really got the best of her, Doug. She up and moved out here in order to find the saints herself. She had money, so getting a little place in Cottonwood wasn’t an issue for her. In fact, she stills own the family home on Spaghetti Hill in Monterey, or I do I suppose, since she left everything to me. I moved from San Francisco here with her when her health deteriorated. I was able to move my business without losing any contracts, so it wasn’t difficult. She tried so hard to find Kolbe, and was so convinced he lived in Sedona, that she was devastated when nothing changed in her life. She grew despondent and eventually started praying to other saints, including Dymphna, who she said is the patron saint of the mentally ill. Again nothing. No response. No help. She got in a bad way.

“I was busy setting up Flight Services at the time, so it took a week or two for me to notice how ill she’d become. She hid it from me mostly. But one day she collapsed, just dropped, here in the living room after making dinner. Within half a week she was on hospice care. Nurses came in daily, I stayed home for the most part, and while I sat with her, she would tell me of her disappointment. Often, I’d hear her mumbling something she said came from her Polish ancestry, something called ‘spoiling,’ which is essentially putting a curse on someone. In her case, she cursed both Dymphna and Kolbe to be beset with those they could not help – people who suffered like her. She burned tokens with their likenesses, spit as she said their name, and chanted a nursery rhyme she learned from her mother, my great grandmother, long ago.

“Bugs and birds.

Reptiles and rodents.

Despicable. Deplorable.

All hated moments.

Bugs. birds.

Will never quit.

Reptiles. Rodents.

They die in the pit.

“Somehow that turned into all of this. Doug, I can’t tell you how she did it exactly. I’m not even sure I believe all of it, but look at you two. Look at what’s happened. Somehow it’s all true. It wasn’t long after she died I started to see her ghost here at the house. She’s always horrible looking, cackling like a monster, but she’s my grandmother. I knew she didn’t want to do me harm. Half the time I didn’t even believe what my eyes were showing. I thought I was losing it. Instead of being terrified I started talking to her, hoping she would go to heaven, or become ‘at rest,’ but she keeps showing up.”

ManQuail chirped excitedly. “That’s what the ghost was whispering when she was coming after us!”

“Bug and birds, like you and I. Reptiles and rodents, if we’re suffering from addiction, must suffer from depression, all of them,” I said. “But the question is, how do we fix this?” I started typing again for Diana’s benefit and asked that very same question.

She read the question and, after a moment, shrugged.

“Hell if I know.”

MANTULA Part Twenty-Three: The Sturgis Connection

Mant-23

It’s always easier to offer advice when one is not in the situation. Removed, distanced; the issues are easier to solve in a logical manner. I’ve often watched movies and thought, “why didn’t he simply call the cops?” Horror films are a great case in point. “Just run away. Don’t stop to look behind you. Keep running. And don’t just run into the deserted building next door, run the hell away from that county.”

I would have pegged myself as a smarter person in a dire situation. The sort who would make the right call. But I froze instead. When the wormy green witch made her way down the hall, I said nothing. ManQuail must have been in as much shock as me. He didn’t run away. He didn’t yell in terror. We both just stood there in shock like a couple of dumbasses.

And she knew we were there. She crept so slowly down the hall. Her black eyes, face crawling with worms, stared right at us. I could almost picture the Wicked Witch of the West in that hallway, only this one didn’t wear the black clothing and pointed hat. She was naked and crawling in filth and decay. Even her spirit emanated a stench of dead fish. Nor did she carry a wooden broom around with her like the character Margaret Hamilton made famous back in 1939. When I was a kid, the Wicked Witch gave me nightmares. This thing heading toward us today, however, made me never want to sleep again.

What could a spirit do to harm us? That question began to bubble in my head. I’d seen enough movies as a kid in the 80’s to know they could do quite a bit. Mentally, they could toss ManQuail around like a softball while I hung on for deal life to his feathered back, smashing us both against the wall. They can bleed a psychic sense from their ephemeral bodies that creates dread and fear. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what this wormy witch had going on. I could do nothing but watch her approach.

Only it didn’t last that long. When the door to the bathroom swung open, the ghastly apparition wasn’t yet close enough to touch us, but very nearly. We could hear her cackling laugh as if she were whispering into our ears. That all changed when Diana Sturgis, wearing nothing but a towel, stepped into the dark hallway.

“Grandma? Get out of here!” The CEO of Flight Services shouted. She waved her arms in front of her, fearless of the spirit before her. Her towel loosened around her breasts, threatening to slip off, and I found my eyes had averted from the witch to a much more pleasant sight. Odd how the allure of a beautiful woman can shake even the terrors of the dead. “I need space, Grandma. I can’t deal with this!” The towel didn’t fall, unfortunately. She tucked it back into place as she stepped further toward the ghost. Her grandmother, as nasty and repulsive as she was, faded silently and sullenly into nothingness.

“Thank God,” ManQuail sighed, finally talking. “She’s gone.”

(CONTINUED BELOW)

Mantula has visions of Margaret Hamilton, AKA

The Wicked Witch of the West, in his spidery head.

That’s when Diana noticed the two of us. I wasn’t sure if she would burst into screams or chase after us at the sight. Instead, she stuck one slender leg out like a hitchhiker trying to get a ride. It glistened from the candlelight. Beads of water trickled down her inner thigh.

“You two. I should have known that was why she appeared today. See something you like?”

Shaking the dregs of fear from my system, I bounced from ManQuail and landed somewhere between Diana and my companion. A flash of white lightning lit the place up for a split second. Glenn warned me to be careful as I approached the woman. She looked at me quizzically. Who knew what went though her head? Were I in her shoes, or towel, I’d be wondering what the hell a tarantula would possibly be doing back in my house. I held up one of my long legs and waved it around slowly, signaling to her that I needed something. She watched my leg twirl for a moment or two. A look of disbelief nestled firmly over her eyes. I kept at it until she spoke.

“Do you understand what I am saying?” she asked.

I stopped twirling. Instead I bobbed my leg up and down, mimicking a nod as best I could. Concern creased her brows then. She took a deep breath.

“Did you… were you once a person? Both of you?”

Now I knew for certain she knew a thing or two about our predicament. I bobbed my leg up and down once again. ManQuail moved closer behind me.

“She knows, man! She knows who we are!” Glenn shouted excitedly.

Diana Sturgis put her hands on her hips defiantly. “Both of you are probably men? I would guess as much seeing as how you watched me the other day. Or maybe you’re women into women?”

I needed something to write with, so I motioned for her to follow, and wandered into the rest of the dark house.

I noticed a glowing screen on the glass coffee table in her living room, near the spot where she’d nearly killed me with the painting of her grandma. She’d long since cleaned up after that episode, but I could still feel the presence of the painting in the room, thanks in a large part to her grandma’s ghost. I ran to the computer with speed not normally attributed to arachnids and settled in front of the laptop.

Her email was up. I saw she’d just responded to an email from Kip Mooney, the reporter. I took a moment to glance at the reply.

“Looking forward to seeing you tonight. Bring the wine!” She wrote only a couple of sentences, but the words stirred a well of jealousy in me. I looked over at the woman as she set herself on the couch. ManQuail approached the area furtively, as if not entirely trusting the woman not to burst into violence. I opened a new email and started typing. I very nearly asked her about Mooney, whether she knew he was a drug dealer, but decided to stick to the business at hand.

“My name is Doug. The quail is Glenn. We were both turned into what you see now. Can you help us?”

Diana leaned in to read the email, a look of shock crossing over her face. “Oh my God, it’s true. I suspected, I really did. She was so serious! But I was never, could never, believe it actually happened!”

“We’ve been seeing visions of that ghost and connected her to you,” I continued to type. “Somehow this is connected to a couple of Catholic saints…”

“Dymphna and Kolbe,” Sturgis finished. “Patron saints of addiction and depression, right? Are they real?”

I bobbed my leg again, which was faster than typing. “What do you know?” I asked her.

Diana gulped, nervous. “I know plenty, but I just never believed it one hundred percent. How could I? It wasn’t until I saw you on the drone footage that something clicked. I started to really wonder whether or not it was really happening.”

“What is?” I persisted.

“The curse,” Diana said. “My grandma cursed them. She put a curse on Dymphna and Kolbe when she died last year.”

“A curse?” ManQuail asked in my head.

A curse. That’s just wonderful.

MANTULA Part Twenty-Two: No Grandma No

Large raindroMant-22ps splattered all around us as we searched for a way back inside the home of Diana Sturgis. I began to feel a slight chill the longer we remained outside, not that the weather affected me much. But any creature, if you keep it outside long enough, will start to feel the effects of the elements. Even tarantulas. ManQuail, however, seemed even sturdier than me. He didn’t bitch at all. It could be I provided a decent break from the rain on his back. Or the little black flop atop his head helped keep moisture at bay.

“There,” he whispered, as if worried Diana would overhear our mental conversation. “I see a window cracked open over there. She must be letting some of the cooler air circulate in the house like we do.”

I looked up, eyeballing the entrance. Sure enough, it wouldn’t be a problem at all for us to get inside. I hoped we would get away undetected for a few minutes, just long enough for me to figure out a way to communicate with the woman somehow. With luck I’d find a pen and writing pad, or even a computer that I could type a quick note with.

It hadn’t been that long since we snuck a ride from Sedona to Cottonwood with the woman, then got carried into her home in time to watch her take her clothes off, so she might be a little pissed about that still. Nonetheless, she was also very curious about me, and I about her, so I kept my fingers crossed there wouldn’t be an attack.

“Let’s get in there,” I said to Glenn. “As soon as we’re inside, head for cover.”

(STORY CONTINUED BELOW)

Doug and Glenn sneak into a Cottonwood home.

ManQuail sprang from the mud surrounding the property and darted into the home. As we flew I glanced about as best I could to see if we were going to drop in her lap. Not that I would have minded that, but it wouldn’t make introductions easy. Luckily we landed right in the middle of her bathroom.

Upon touching down, Glenn darted to the cracked-open door and hid us in the shadows. Beneath the window I saw a claw-foot, deep bathtub full of steaming hot water and bubble bath. Lit candles were visible on a small table nearby. Obvisouly Diana Sturgis was about to take a nice relaxing bath. We were about to ruin that for her just like we ruined her day the last time. Another inch or two off on his landing, I realized, and ManQuail and I would have been dunked in that tub.

We stayed put for a moment, making sure the coast was clear, before finding better cover. I heard no footsteps or any sounds whatsoever. Glenn inched out slightly and we found ourselves peering down a dark hallway. By the glow of the candles in the bathroom, we snuck along the wall until it opened into what appeared to be a guest bedroom. Seeing no one inside, we crept in. Just as did so, I heard footsteps in the hallway. Humming, Diana Sturgis made her way toward the bathroom wearing a blue plaid robe and carrying a mug of tea. Her humming continued into the candle-lit room. A moment later we heard the door close.

ManQuail breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s perfect. She’ll in there for a while. That gives us time to look around!”

“Let’s just find something to write with. We’ll leave her a note and find a place to hide until we know she’ll talk to us,” I said. “If she goes nuts, we’ll have to get the hell out of here fast.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

ManQuail back into the hallway, but stopped in mid-turn. He sucked in his breath, his body trembling suddenly. I turned to see what had brought us to a halt. The image at the end of the hallway jarred me. It was the old hag, dripping with worms and covered in green skin and olive-colored scabs. Maggots and filth dripped from her body as she swaggered toward us.

The woman held her arms out as if she hoped to catch us in a bear hug. “It’s her,” ManQuail panted. I could hear the panic in his voice. I was on the verge of an attack myself. Little worms and other bugs fell from her extended finger tips. They vanished before they hit the carpet. The old woman glowed as she staggered forward. It was a dull light, greenish in hue, but it lit the dark hallway just enough to make out her dark hollow eyes and the craggy slit of her puckered mouth.

She hissed and she ambled in our direction. “Bugs and birds. Reptiles and rodents. Despicable. Deplorable. All hated moments.”

I prayed she would fall over into a pile of dust, vanish into thin air; something. But she didn’t. The witchy kept coming at us.

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