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Sumiko Saulson – A Birthday Present
Disaster – Sinkholes
Location – Bowling Alley/ Pool Hall Bar
Helpful Item – Cue Stick
Disability – Lost Glasses
The Birthday Present
By Sumiko Saulson
The high, thin whine of easy-listening music slid into the room through the high-mounted ancient speakers of Sheckley’s Rock and Bowl, adding to the creepy jaundiced ambiance of the place provided courtesy of it’s filthy, yellowed neon lights. It was a bowling alley and pool house, and I was pretty sure that it hadn’t been rocking since the 1950s. It smelled like stale corndogs, damp drywall with molds growing somewhere deep in it’s innards, and the occasional loaded diaper that the visitors on family day casually tossed into one of the beige bodied and red-lidded plastic trash bins in the bowling area instead of in the bathroom where they belonged.
I was sitting in the corner seat, smashed between my aunt and my mother, waiting for my turn. Squishing my toes up and down in the stiff-soled, tacky tri-toned rented bowling shoes, I silently contemplated the various fungi that were undoubtedly living within. I wondered whether or not my black cotton business socks would provide a thick enough barrier to prevent the athlete’s foot fungus from creeping forth and latching onto the sensitive skin in between my toes? The medicated powder I’d liberally doused the innards with before slipping on the hot and sweaty size sevens probably wasn’t enough. I was busy contemplating the animated mushrooms from my old Super Mario Brother’s video game dancing around in my shoe when my mom jabbed me in the shoulder with her long, sharp fingernail.
“Ouch!” I cried out.
“Don’t be such a baby,” my mom said between loud smacks of her sugar free chewing gum. She always seemed to use the nail file to rub each fingernail into an evil inverted v-shape, as if she were expecting to engage in a catfight to the death momentarily. “Your turn, Minnie,” she said sourly. The muscles under her foundation-caked face twitched angrily. I jumped up and moved for the ball, eager to avoid an untimely slap to the face by the maternal claws of doom.
Mom was a pretty fifty-eight year old woman under her too-thick Maybelline, and when I was a little thing everyone said I looked just like her. Well, I wasn’t a little thing anymore. Now, I was an acne-covered, overweight teenager with hot-comb burned overly straightened hay hair and coke-bottle glasses. My brother and sisters were grown now, and I was the last one left in the home… maybe that’s why mom was making such a big deal about my sweet-sixteen party. I don’t think she truly understood my age, that I was nearly a woman now. I wanted to do something cool for my birthday, like go to a concert, but no, instead I had to be stuck down here on Family Discount Bowling Night with a bunch of families with their funky rug rats howling in the background.
I felt a migraine coming on.
Mama had invited everyone up here to Sheckley’s Rock and Bowl, “everyone” being my twenty-two year old brother Joe, my twenty-four year old twin sisters Alicia and Felicia, and my oldest sister Angelyne, who was twenty-eight and had a nine year old daughter, Tammyline, my mother’s first and only grandchild. The other girls were from momma’s first marriage to Darnel, a serviceman who died in the war. Little Joe was the son of her second husband, Big Joe, a much older man who died of a heart attack before I was born. Big Joe was my daddy, too… on paper, but by now I was old enough know better. No pregnancy lasted fourteen months, at least no human one. One thing was for sure: no one was expecting me, what with momma being over forty and daddy being under dirt on the day I was born.
The whole lot of siblings, aunties, uncles and cousins began a round of distracting applause as I stood up and brushed the popcorn off of my hand-me-down Applebottom jeans. My momma might be skinny, like I used to be back when she gave me the nickname “Minnie” after that Austin Powers sidekick mini-me, because I was supposed to be a mini her, but I wasn’t anymore, and neither were my aunts. We weren’t mini anything. As I stood, I inhaled the deep aroma of stale popcorn, body odor, and sewage-tainted trashcan water that was the perfume of Sheckley’s Rock & Bowl.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Gary, the boy from my P.E. class who always tried to talk to me. “You sure run fast for a girl your size,” she remembered him saying last Tuesday, as he made steady eye contact my cleavage squished below the XXL school issue gym tank v-neck. It turned out he worked at Sheckley’s concession stand. He was staring right at my booty as I walked towards the ball rack. I didn’t really like him, but I liked the attention, and I admit that I was swishing my butt a little as I walked over to select my favorite bubble-gum colored bowling ball, the one with the sparkles in it.
I walked up to the bowling alley with my pretty pink bowling ball shining like the best oversized rubber bouncing ball ever, the hot overhead bowling alley lights gleaming reflectively from the glitter embedded inside. I imagined myself walking in slow motion, hair bouncing and curves flashing in the spotlight like a plus sized beauty queen, a model, maybe Queen Latifah. I was really feeling myself when I tossed that ball on the aisle…
Maybe that’s why I was so horrified when I heard the loud “carrack!” sound.
I reached around with both my hands, grabbing my backside, feeling around for what must have been a rip in the seat of my pants, but I couldn’t feel anything. My face burned hot with embarrassment. A strange aroma of swampy water and sulfur filled the air. If it wasn’t a tear, maybe I’d farted?
It was just then that the bottom of the aisles began to crack and twist. My ball bounced hard up and down as the lane writhed like a snake. A crack down the center of it began to expand, until suddenly a sinkhole dropped open right in the middle of it. My ball rolled forward undeterred until it dropped, suddenly, into the ground. Two equal sized holes opened up in the adjoining lanes, and it looked like a pool ball falling into the center pocket of the table as it when sliding down into the hole. Smoke rolled out of the holes like a thick, putrid, stinking fog. That’s when the screaming started.
Sinkholes were opening up all over Sheckley’s. The elderly lady the next lane over was just standing there with her fingers still in her bowling ball hole, purple polyester pantsuit flapping in the reeking breeze when a hole opened up right under her feet, and she dropped down into the ground. Was it my imagination, or had the stinking steam emissions belching forth from the pit melted the flesh off her contorted face in the moments just prior to her sudden sinking?
I was still staring at the puddle of pink and purple putrescence that used to be Alice Worthington of the Little Old Ladies Bowling League when my aunt Janice came barreling past me with such force that when she knocked into my arm, it sent me spinning, and my glasses flew off my face in the general direction of the terrible pit of stench. My eyes are very bad, without my glasses I am so nearsighted that I am legally blind, and a sense of sinking dread came over me, as I determined that I was totally screwed.
Everything went into soft-focus all of the sudden, like a really cheesy romantic film, only one that was loaded with carnage and death. I could hear the mothers with their hordes of infants screaming in and wailing in unison. Fear seemed to be the equalizer for all ages and genders, because one man’s scream blended in with the howling of his infant in perfect, hellish harmony. As blind as I was, I could still see the sinkhole that my ball had fallen into stretching and expanding, so that it joined with the two on either side of it and stretched across three lanes. I was sure it was big enough to swallow a car by now. I turned around and ran for the door.
I couldn’t see very well, but that wasn’t going to stop me. I just kept racing forward in the general direction of the mass of bodies that was flooding towards the door. I was about to pass the bathroom when a weird, scaly hand grabbed my arm.
“Stop, Damiana,” the commanding voice uttered.
I blinked rapidly. Damiana was my name, but no one called me Damiana. Everyone called me Minnie. My mom tried to make out like Minnie was an appropriate way to shorten my name… Damiana, Miana, Minnie, but we all knew that it was the mini-me thing.
“I am your father,” it announced, and the tone of voice was not even remotely reassuring. I looked on in horror as a sinkhole appeared before me – right in front of the door – and swallowed up the crowed of neighbors, strangers, and relatives who were busily shoving and jostling towards the exit. They fell like dominoes into this latest opening, and I stood there feeling my jaw drop, helplessly aghast at this latest happening. My favorite aunt Meredith was clutching at the edge of the abyss before me, her shrill screams echoing against the roof of the bowling alley. I watch in horror as the acidic fog escaped the pit and melted the flesh off of her grasping knuckles. Liquefied meat and skin slid off the bones and sinew, and soon only a skeletal hand remained, identifiable only by her distinctive turquoise birthstone ring. I felt hot tears gushing from my eyes as I stood there, frozen.
Everyone else with a punk-assed absentee father was frustrated because daddy wouldn’t send child support checks and the kids were in hand-me downs, but not me. No, that wasn’t bad enough for me. Me, I had to have a dad who would melt aunt Meredith like an ice cream cone in a microwave. Who wants a daddy like that?
At last, the screams subsided.
“Let me go!” I yelled, jerking my body ineffectually against the iron grip of the claw. I began kicking against the thing’s knee, but it didn’t do any good. I felt its steely hand begin to forcibly turn me to face it. I twisted my body the other way, but it did no good. Soon, I was looking through bleary eyes at the fuzzy face of what appeared to be a lion’s face with curved antlers.
It starred deeply into my eyes and whispered, “see…”
Suddenly, I was able to see perfectly, as if I had on the world’s best pair of lightweight contact lenses. Why on why did I have to start seeing perfectly when there was nothing to look at except for this horrible mess? Everywhere, I saw the fleshy molten body meats pulsating at the edges of the sinkholes like the bowling alley had just turned into the nastiest pockmarked face you could possibly imagine. Bodily fluids were flying out of the holes like pus from a really nasty zit. I couldn’t help myself. I vomited all over my so-called father.
“All of this will be yours,” he shouted, gesturing with his free hand at the bowling alley wasteland. Now that I could see better, his crinkled face looked less like a cat, and more like some kind of hairless pug dog with twisting horns that looked like that one time when Grandma Louise decided to stop clipping her finger and toenails and they grew out and got all twisted and bent. It really looked like crap, man, her hands and feet were a hot mess, but no one could tell her anything… all brittle and yellowed and broken. This guy’s horns were that skuzzy.
“I don’t want it,” I spat back at him. “You can keep your hell bowling alley.”
That’s when I spotted it. In a corner, untouched by the many sinkholes, there was Goofy Gary from my physical education class, that guy who kept trying to keep up with me when Mr. Fields had us running circles around the track. He was standing on a pool table, trying to avoid the horrible flesh-eating fart juicy smoke.
He grabbed a pool cue off the nearby wall and looked at me and cried out, “Here Minnie! Catch!” I reached up in the air and grabbed the stick. With all of my might, I slammed it through that demon’s big orange cat eye. A horrible stew of blood and pus-like yellow crud came sliding down the pool cue as I forced the stick through his skull and watched it pop out the back of his head.
“Nooooooo!!!!” It screamed as it dropped my body and fell to the floor. As the life oozed from its body, my lousy eyesight began to return. Whatever magic trick it used to improve my vision was fading along with its life. The sinkholes began to shrink, and suck the fog back into the ground with them.
I suppose it was all over. But nothing would ever, ever be the same.
As Gary and I limped out of the bowling alley, we saw the evidence that disaster that had happened not just in the bowling alley. It was all around us. Partially devoured cars protruded from the ground out of spots where the sinkholes used to be.
Gary turned to look at me. It was a serious look, a deep look.
“Let me help you,” he said. “You have a little something on your face.”
I smiled a little. He had something in his hands. He looked so cute as he unfolded my glasses and grinned sheepishly as he slid them across my nose.
“Thank you,” I said. Goofy Gary was kind of cute when you took a good look at him. Especially right now, when he was looking so shy and sweet.
“Wait a minute,” I said, snapping my fingers. “I forgot something.”
That was when Gary’s head exploded. I guess I shouldn’t have snapped my fingers just then… when I looked at my hand, where the nasty yellow eye go had touched it, it was kind of bubbling and writhing where the fluids were sinking deep into my flesh. My eyes began to grow bleary, and once again I couldn’t see. I thought it was because I was crying at first, but I was wrong. Finally, I understood that it was my glasses that were making my vision blur – I didn’t need them anymore.
I took them in my hand, and flung them on the ground.
It seemed that my birth father had a present to give me for my sweet sixteen, and he was going to give it to me whether I wanted it or not, no matter what. I looked around at all of the carnage and blood, which was all that remained of my past and the family I knew, and I began to sob in earnest.
I didn’t know what the future held. I didn’t even know who I really was. I only knew one thing… that party really sucked.
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