PAGING Frank Sayer, come to the communication center immediately. Paging Frank Sayer . . . A thin, metallic, sing-song voice crackled on a network of cheap army surplus loud speakers. The voice became more and more distorted as it echoed down the narrow institutional halls of Environmental Defense International. It penetrated every square-nonprofit-inch of the sprawling maze of offices that was once a sporting goods warehouse in Trenton, New Jersey.
The disembodied pager found its elusive pagee in the shabby EDI cafeteria at the back of the building-next to the copier supply room. Frank Sayer rooted around his leafy lunch and hoped the disembodied caller would go away. As Director of Field Operations for the world renowned environmental group, he was a veteran of countless bogus emergencies. The middle aged administrator was stocky and energetic. His wiry black hair was just gray enough to give it the appearance of a steel scouring pad. It complemented his abrasive manner perfectly.
He never felt comfortable in adult clothes. Sayer resented the EDI board's
mandate that he start
dressing his age for the sake of credibility. He also resented the fact that the organization he started in
faded 501 s and hiking boots had become a corporation that functioned inside the system. His flesh
crawled inside his institutional blue suit. When his name blared a third time, he dropped a fork full of
Chinese chicken salad on his recycled paper plate and thrust his arms above his head in unconditional
surrender. He yelled back at the invisible voice, "Okay, okay! I hear you! I can't even eat my damn
lunch in peace anymore!"
He buttoned his wrinkled suit coat and began the long walk to the small communications room at the
other end of the hall. Sayer elbowed his way through the doorway and barked, "Okay Collin, this
better be good. What have you got?" The frustrated radio operator pushed his headphones tighter
against his ears. He scribbled frantically on a note pad next to his microphone and motioned for
everyone to be quiet.
The cramped radio room was packed with an odd assortment of curious EDI staff members. A call was
coming in from their Antarctic research team. It was the first communication from the remote science
station in a long time. The two quirky scientists hadn't checked in or filed a single report in six months.
The room fell silent as he pleaded with the frantic, distorted voice on the other end of the satellite
"Earthwatch One, do you read me? Earthwatch One! Come in, Earthwatch One!" Collin threw his head
phones down in frustration and yelled, "Damn, I had 'em for a minute, then I lost 'em!" Frank Sayer
was anxious, "Well, did you get anything at all?" Collin picked up the small green pad and replied, "I
got something, but it doesn't make any sense." He ripped the top sheet off the pad and read the cryptic
message out loud, "I hate myself. . . I hate myself." The puzzled radio operator waved the note in the
air, "That's all, folks."
Sayer grabbed the note from Collin's hand and barked, "What the hell is this supposed to mean?" Collin
shrugged his shoulders, "I don't know. He just kept saying "I hate myself" over and over. It sounded
like Ben Eaton to me. He seemed pretty whacked out. He was breathing really heavy and moaning like
he was hurt or something." Sayer shook his head, "I don't like the sound of this. Something's rotten in
the ice box and I'm going to wind up eating it before this is over. This whole Antarctic project has
been a pain in the ass from the beginning."
A well scrubbed volunteer elbowed her way through the crowd toward Sayer. She was indignant. Her
face flushed at her boss's negative comment. It was Neva Dunette, a sharp, attractive graduate student
from Columbia University. She looked young for her age, but she was serious and professional. Thick
reddish-brown hair framed her tan oval face. Her well defined features were expressive and
determined. She was small, physical, spirited and asserted herself when it was necessary. Neva admired
Frank Sayer, he was a pioneer in environmental protection, but his flip comments pissed her off. She
was a true believer in Earthwatch One.
Her enthusiasm for the global pollution monitoring station in Antarctica bordered on fanaticism. She
was devoting her entire summer break from Columbia to the well publicized project. She snapped at
Sayer, "Those men are risking their lives to do something really important. You could at least be
supportive!" Sayer remembered what it felt like to feel committed to something.
He was one of the first to link CFC's with the depletion of the Earth's ozone layer. He smiled and lowered his voice, "Chill OUt, Neva; you've been reading too many of our own press releases. EDI's involved in a lot of important projects. Earthwatch One is just window dressing. Our PR and marketing boys came up with the idea to boost donations and get us on Nightline. All the media hype gave the fund raising committee a hard on, and now I'm stuck with it. It's too expensive and too risky."
Neva's voice began to shake, "People have a right to know what's happening to the environment. Eaton and Hardy are gathering critical scientific data down there-information that'll make people want to do something."<
Sayer opened a window and pointed outside, "Take a look. You don't have to go to the South Pole tosee that we're living in a garbage can. People will do something when they have to wear a body-condom just to walk to the mail box. You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind
A defiant Neva rolled her eyes, "Spare me the Dylan references, Frank. People need hard facts. You just don't give a shit anymore." Sayer was getting hot, "Let me give you some hard facts. I've got two high-tech prima donnas with three and a half million dollars worth of EDI lab equipment in their hot little hands. They're eleven thousand miles away at the bottom of the damn world, doing God knowswhat with it. Then, after not hearing from those fucking hot dogs for six months, Eaton gets the urgeto reach out and touch someone. So he just calls to let us know that he hates himself. You know their reputation . . . that underwater habitat thing, Project Pacifica? The only time the OceanographicInstitute heard from those bastards in eighteen months was when Hardy ran out of his damn chocolate cupcakes. He and Laurel only turn on their communication gear when they want something. They don't like anyone looking over their shoulder while they work. The way I see it, they're the ones who don't give a shit!"
"What about the radiation readings Hardy found? They were off the scale." Neva rifled through her folder for the figures.
Sayer rubbed his forehead, "That was six months ago. We asked for more data, but we never heard back from those snowflakes. I don't see why you always make excuses for those idiots. I see you
hanging around the communications room waiting for those assholes to report in. You're like ateenager waiting for the phone to ring o'n a Saturday night."
Neva frowned and snapped, "Somebody around here has to be supportive. How do you know that Eaton
and Hardy don't have a perfectly good reason for not calling in?" "All I know is that those guys are not going to blow this project-not now! I'm probably going to have to go down there and drag their buttsback here myself. Since you're so damn interested in this project, I might just drag your supportive ass down there with me."
Neva was quick to take him up on his threat. She grabbed his arm, "Great idea! You won't regrettaking me with you, Mr. Sayer. You know me, I'm a team player. I've always wanted to do field work. You can count on me." Sayer backed up, "Okay, okay, if you're crazy enough to want to freeze your tits off, be my guest. If we haven't gotten through to those pinheads by Friday, we'll leave next week."
Neva beamed, "I'll pack -just in case," and ran back to her office.
Sayer shook his head and crumpled the note. It tumbled from his hand as he slowly walked down the long, cavernous hallway, never noticing that most of the staff had long since vacated the radio room. Halfway to the cafeteria he yelled back to the radio operator, "Collin, keep trying. And if you get through, tell those jerk-offs that if I have to go down there to drag their asses back here, they'll be digging core samples in Love Canal with their bare hands."
Sayer walked to the cafeteria and plopped down on a beige metal folding chair. He surveyed his droopy salad and jabbed a white plastic fork into a wilted little bale of brownish bean sprouts. He leered down at his room temperature produce, "I hate myself-what kind of message is that?" He vented his frustration on the shriveled salad and chomped away with a vengeance. The staff members and volunteers who crowded the small dining area quietly ate their lunch and tried not to look at him.
Suddenly, Sayer shot out of his chair like a screaming bottle-rocket on the Fourth of July. He knocked over the round institutional table. The half-eaten salad catapulted across the room. An agonizing wail cut through the muffled lunch chatter as he spit out a glob of gruesome greens. The masticated mulch was soaked with blood. It dribbled from his mouth and dripped down his chin. He thrust his tongue out as far as it would go.
Everyone in the room gasped. A long, slender, white spike jutted out from the tender tissue on the top of his twitching tongue. It was a prong from his plastic fork. The splintered shard had wedged itself deep in the meaty mass of muscle, veins and nerves. The throbbing wound bled profusely.
An amazingly long, slimy drip of blood and saliva spanned the distance between his chin and the dull beige linoleum floor. Sayer lisped frantically, "Oh thit! Thomebody help me, pleath!" His pathetic call for help went unanswered. His staff and co-workers just sat there staring at their wounded colleague. Ifhe'd been an aquatic fowl covered with crude oil, they would have come to his assistance immediately. But he wasn't- instead Sayer danced around the room in agony. When it became clear that no one was going to help, he ripped out the jagged spike himself.
A fountain of blood spurted from the hideous hole. He screamed. The vascular force of his chronically elevated blood pressure squirted a stream of hot, red fluid on several slow-moving, unsympathetic< bystanders at the next table. The rest scrambled for cover as a sticky, scarlet shower of plasma rained down on their food and splattered in their faces.
A well dressed society matron, who volunteered to stuff envelopes twice a week, was overcome by the carnage. She had just finished eating a cucumber, mushroom and guacamole sandwich, a fudge brownie and a pineapple protein smoothy. She wasted no time hurling her entire lunch on the chairman of the fund raising committee. He flicked some of the rancid regurgitation from his stinging eyes and stood motionless with his arms in the air-afraid to touch himself or his surroundings. A scattered pile of white papers on the cluttered tabletop absorbed most of the wet, runny slime.
What remained on his neck and chest was a chunky, pungent sludge. Pulpy clumps of pale chartreuse cucumber jutted up like gooey islands in a lumpy lake of frothing phlegm and fudge. The handsome fund-raiser looked dazed and disoriented as a brown wad of runny mush dripped from his right ear. It must have once been some of the whole wheat bread from her sandwich. Flaccid leaves of oily Romaine lettuce clung to his nose and chin like a hideous second skin. His hair was a matted mass of leafy compost and sour smelling digestive juices.
Ironically, a single mushroom had survived its perilous round trip. The remarkably well-preserved toadstool was welded to his forehead by a gluey glob of partially digested brownie. Sayer stumbled backwards to the rear wall of the cafeteria as several EDI staffers began to gag uncontrollably. When they witnessed the mortified woman's violent upheaval, they spontaneously blew chow with such force that Sayer had to dodge an airborne volley of vegetables. A vile chain reaction of retching engulfed the room.
In a matter of moments, the spotless institutional lunchroom was transformed into a nauseating vomitorium. A young, athletic, college intern entered the lunchroom unaware. He immediately did a belly-flop in the putrid pond of rising puke and hydroplaned into a group of his fleeing associates. As they flew in all directions and floundered in the sickening slime, Sayer tried to wrap his tongue in an off white, biodegradable paper napkin. It turned bright red instantly and dissolved within seconds. He sidestepped cautiously across the slippery floor to the cafeteria door, paused at the threshold, looked over his shoulder and lisped, "Thankth a lot ath holeth."
Antarctica, six months earlier...
A vicious Antarctic wind ripped down the immense south polar ice dome in a murderous frenzy. It slashed across the vast frozen desert like an icy razor. Curtis Hardy turned his huge broad back towardthe savage assault. His massive rolls of fat were a constant burden in the warm northern latitudes. But they proved to be a blessing in the frozen wilderness at the bottom of the world.
Curtis was more than fat. He was enormous. If he'd been a wrestler instead of a physicist, his name would have been Humongous Hardy.
This mountain of a man tipped the scales at over four hundred pounds and measured six feet four inches tall in his stocking feet. His extra tonnage was evenly distributed over a massive armature of muscle and bone. Fat was excellent insulation in the freezing polar wind. Unfortunately for Curtis, it never worked that way back home in the land of the weight-conscious. Hardy was always the one to go out on the ice. His partner, Ben Eaton, couldn't last two minutes in the sixty degree below zero temperature.
The wires in his computer had more insulation than he did. Eaton was as skinny as Hardy was fat. His orthodox vegetarian diet was free of fat-and so was he. Everything about him was painfully thin; from his thin red hair to his thin bony toes. The lab at Earthwatch One was a much more hospitable working environment.
Ben Eaton ran core samples through the mass spectrometer in comfort while Hardy battled the elements alone on the treacherous ice. That wasn't unusual for Curtis Hardy. He'd become accustomed to being left out in the cold-alone with his fat. Hard science was Hardy's vocation, but conducting scientific experiments in Antarctica was harder than he bargained for. He had to work in minus 50° temperatures, dressed in cumbersome dothing, while playing nursemaid to temperamental instruments that got cold and cranky outside the cozy lab. He'd been on the ice for an hour and fifteen minutes, an hour longer than an average person could survive.
He was double checking an unusually high radiation reading that he discovered the day before. The radiation specialists back at EDI flipped when they read his report. They wanted more data. The readings seemed to be coming from a cylindrical structure half way between Earthwatch One and an abandoned polar station at McMurdo Sound. The mysterious black silhouette in the distance looked like trouble. According to the Geiger counter it was definitely hot; the doser he got to the ominous structure, the higher the reading. There was no way to judge its exact size or distance. His field glasses were useless. They fogged up when they got anywhere near his hot face.
The suspicious shape seemed to hover in the seamless expanse of white-on-white. The ice was white. The sky was white. Everything was white except the mysterious black shape and the red warning light on his Geiger counter. It flashed like a cop car on a Saturday night. Hardy stopped. Then a light flashed in Hardy's suspicious brain. The damn thing was probably one of those portable nuclear reactors that were popular with the super-powers in the early sixties. There must have been a horrible accident or a meltdown to account for the unbelievably high radiation readings. Hardy crammed his fat ass in the cluttered cab of his lumbering, rusted-out Spryte.
The mammoth snow vehicle coughed and belched noxious fumes as its tired engine gasped for air. The worn-out mountain of machinery groaned and lurched toward Earthwatch One. Hardy couldn't wait to tell Eaton about the nuke and eat lunch-or was it dinner time. Actually it may have been breakfast. He never knew for sure anymore. It was summer in Antarctica. Since the Vernal Equinox it was sunny twenty-four hours a day. Never warm, just sunny. His lethargic Spryte rumbled slowly across the mile deep ice sheet.
A vile petroleum stench permeated the uncomfortable cabin, but at least it was dry and warm. Curtis could almost taste the cream filled chocolate cupcakes that waited for him back at the lab. There were a dozen cases of them left in the store room. When they ran out-he ran out. After twenty minutes of treading ice, he was almost home. Earthwatch One wasn't much to look at. But it looked like home in the middle of the desolate Antarctic desert. Especially since it was the only thing visible in the lifeless, white wasteland. As he neared his prefabricated habitat, he saw an unfamiliar snow vehicle heading straight for him. Its high pitched whine, sounding like a powerful jet engine, echoed in the distance.
Whatever it was-was moving fast. It screamed toward him with a blue flame shooting out the back. A plume of crushed ice fanned out behind it twenty feet in the air. When it was almost on top of him, it slowed down and skidded sideways to a stop. Two uniformed men jumped out. In Antarctica, any time two guys wore the same color Goretex parka-it was a uniform. Curtis waved-they didn't.
The next thing he knew, he was eating glass. A volley of bullets ripped through the windshield of his Spryte. He dove for the floor, but didn't make it that far. He only managed to wedge himself between the dash and the seat, so he ducked his head and covered his eyes. It was enough. He heard more gunfire-machine-gun fire-and lots of it. The matched pair played a nine millimeter duet on their Uzis-vivo fortissimo. Curtis didn't like the tune. It was too fast and too loud. He covered his ears and waited for their performance to be over. The deadly duo played everything they knew, then packed up and went home. Curtis squeezed back in his seat and peered out the shattered rear window.
The mysterious snow-Ferrari was almost out of sight. It raced toward McMurdo Sound. He'd never seen anything move that fast through the ice and snow. It certainly wasn't an EDI vehicle. It was much too high performance for any foundation budget. It was definitely government issue. But which government? There were plenty of frozen flags buried beneath the unforgiving ice to choose from. The wind changed direction. A strong odor of gasoline and kerosene seared his nostrils and stung his eyes-MO-GAS! He tried to open the bullet riddled door.
The lock was jammed. He tried the other-jammed. Curtis dove for the empty windshield frame. It was big and wide. He was bigger and wider. His enormous belly wedged tight halfway through the unyielding steel frame. Luckily, his legs were long arid incredibly strong from dragging around all his excess baggage. He planted his feet on either side of the rear window and pushed as hard as he could. The desperate physicist applied several laws of physics simultaneously and popped through the opening. The sudden expenditure of kinetic energy gave him tremendous forward momentum.
He sailed across the hood of the Spryte and became airborne. After a dozen or so feet of low earth orbit, gravity prevailed and his tremendous belly touched down on the ice with a dull splat. The sudden impact forced the air from his lungs, but didn't slow him down much. He slid like a huge hockey puck for another twenty feet, spun around a few times and came to a stop. His arms and legs spread out in all directions.
He gasped for breath and pushed himself up on his hands and knees. Struggling to his feet, Hardy looked back at his bulletridden vehicle with a puzzled and indignant expression on his face-(the way people look down at the sidewalk after theytrip.) A widening pool of mo-gas spread out under the wounded steel behemoth. Then . . . it blew up. Not all at once-first it burst into flames. Then a red and yellow fire ball erupted from the fuels-tank and lifted the scorched, sheetmetal skinned beast several feet in the air. A thunderous blast spun Curtis around as the iron chassis of the mindless brute spewed its mechanical guts.
Thick black smoke billowed from every ruptured orifice. The doors blew out the sides and the hood blew straight up. The explosion was slow-like in the movies. Either his brain was working faster or time had slowed down. It seemed to take forever for the hood to stop spinning in the air and return to earth. When it finally did, it landed upright in a drift of snow like a bright orange sheet-metal tombstone. Curtis stood there dazed. His arms hung limp at his sides. The oily, ebony smoke scribbled meaningless graffiti across the cold white sky. Curtis was just beginning to comprehend what had happened, when another explosion rocked him from behind. This one didn't happen slowly.
It was fast and loud and bigger-much bigger. When he whipped around, the concussion knocked the wind out of him like a sucker punch to the gut. He gasped a breathless "NO!" The wind blew the word back in his face. In a heartbeat, debris from Earthwatch One rained down on him. There was no fire-just smoke. The force of the explosion snuffed out the flames at the moment of combustion. All that remained of the compound was smoking rubble.
Curtis threw the full weight of his massive body at the glacial wall of wind and plodded toward the smoldering wreckage. Each breath stabbed his lungs like a frozen knife. any had perished on the ice only a few feet from food and shelter. It took all his strength to lift his huge legs. But his throbbing pillars of bone and meat slowly closed the gap one agonizing step at a time. When he reached the devastated compound he was exhausted. Earthwatch One was a tangled maze of twisted metal and expensive lunk. An electron microscope hung, intact, from a jumble of wires and crumpled metal shelving. It looked like a high-tech spider in a web of trashed technology. The lab was completely destroyed.
The store room's roof, and one wall, had completely blown away. Most of the food supplies had been incinerated. Charred provisions and shattered equipment littered the ice for fifty yards around the demolished science station. Curtis surveyed the damage in disbelief. The condition of the living quarters would determine his chances for survival. If they were intact, he would live. If they were damaged, even slightly, he would die.
They were below the surface of the ice, so there was a chance they had survived the blast. He stumbled to the narrow, crudely chiseled stairs and descended ten feet in the ancient ice. Curtis lifted a mangled storage drum out of the icy stairwell and discovered that the living quarters were still intact. He pulled the heavy insulated door open. It was dark and smokey inside. Ben Eaton was coughing in the corner.
The explosion had rearranged the furniture. Curtis cleared a haphazard path through the obstacle course of personal belongings to his friend. Ben was dazed, but he was still in one piece. Curtis lifted his light, wiry body and gently lowered him onto a wood and canvas chair. Curtis threw back the hood of his parka, "Are you all right? Everything on the surface is trashed!" Ben nodded then mumbled, "What the fuck happened up there?" Curtis told him what little he knew, then made his way to the door, "I'm going top-side to see what I can salvage. Take it easy Ben. I'll try to turn the juice backon."
Curtis squeezed his partner's shoulder for reassurance and went outside. He checked the generator. It was in good shape. After a few minutes of minor tinkering, the power came back on. Fortunately, the huge fuel tanks were buried deep beneath the ice and survived the blast. The situation at Earthwatch One looked a little better. Curtis rummaged through the store room for food and medical supplies. He was relieved to find seventeen boxes of food that were still intact. Unfortunately, they were all dehydrated tofu.
The gastronomic ramifications of his grim discovery were devastating to the junk-food epicurean. He whimpered and continued searching the wreckage. After poking around the debris for half an hour, he found what was left of a radio. Then something caught his eye. Behind a shattered computer monitor, something shiny and brown glinted in the harsh polar sunlight. His heart raced. Could it possibly be . . . ? It was. Curtis lunged at the monitor and pushed it aside.
A twin pack of cream filled chocolate cupcakes was nestled in a drift of smoking debris. Curtis lifted his treasure to his frostbitten lips, blew the dust off and kissed it. He looked up into the stark white sky and cried, "Thank you, Lord!" He slipped them in his pocket and hauled the salvaged goods back to the sleeping quarters. Ben had recovered enough to straighten the tiny room. He helped Curtis with the boxes and together they pushed the thick metal door closed behind them. Ben took a quick mental inventory of the supplies and sighed with relief. He broke open the boxes of food one by one and squealed in delight, "Look at this, TOFU! We have enough high quality vegetable protein to last for months."
Curtis muttered sarcastically, "Yea, that's great, Ben. I've always wanted to go on a bean curd and water diet." Ben rubbed his hands together gleefully and said, "Come on, Curtis, it'll be good for you. You'll be eating healthy for a change. Relax, I'll make dinner. Besides, you can afford to lose a few lousy pounds." Curtis smirked and replied, "I could lose a few lousy pounds if I threw your bony ass outside. No tofu for me tonight, thanks." He removed the cupcakes from his pocket with a flourish, sniffed them and sighed, "Ah, sweet ambrosia!" Ben moaned, "I can't believe you. Those things are full of empty calories and preservatives."
"They just may preserve my sanity while I watch you eat that pasty bean slime." Curtis peeled back the clear plastic wrapper and removed a moist cupcake. Ben boiled some water on the hot plate and added a handful of small white cubes. Curtis waited politely while Ben poured bubbling water in a coffee cup and plopped the quivering gelatinous blobs on a small plate. Curtis said, "You're not going to drink that scummy water you cooked that slop in, are you?" Ben was indignant, "I certainly am. The water contains vital nutrients that were lost when I cooked the tofu."
Then he took a sip of the hot cloudy water. Curtis winced and turned his attention to the deep brown object of his desire. As an appetizer, he licked off the white frosting squiggle that rested gently on a smooth layer of velvety fudge. Below, the dark moist cake yielded to his ardent advances. Then suddenly, it revealed the sweet, creamy secrets of its soft, hidden center. An explosion of delicate flavors and subtle textures rewarded the tip of his eager tongue. One greedy bite led to another until the first precious cupcake had vanished. He ravaged the last cupcake in a frenzy of chocolate lust. Ben quietly slurped his steaming tofu like a pious monk. Ben broke the silence, "Are any of the other science stations close enough to walk to?" Curtis licked the two circular chocolate remnants on the slick white cardboard packaging and said, "No."
"I didn't think so," Ben stared into the milky residue on his empty plate. Curtis mindlessly folded the crinkly, clear plastic cupcake wrapper, "We're safe right where we are for now. I just hope those guys I ran into out on the ice don't pay us another surprise visit. Whoever's signing their paychecks had a nuke go critical and now they want to keep it quiet. If we don't lie low, we'll wind up sleeping with the penguins." Ben nodded adding, "Guess we'll just have to sit this one out here till EDI comes looking for us. I'll try to get them on the radio."
He fiddled with the broken jumble of wires and circuits for over an hour. "We definitely can't receive, but I'm pretty sure we can send. There's no way to tell for sure if we're getting through." After trying to send a message for several hours they fell asleep. Their quarters were heated, but it was still painfully cold. Their fur parkas and insulated pants kept them from freezing. The two marooned scientists slept long, but not very well. Curtis thrashed around and dreamed of food. Two cupcakes weren't even a snack for him. His usual fare consisted of: two medium rare steaks, a whole fried chicken, several baked potatoes, a loaf of white bread with real butter, half a dozen cream filled chocolate cupcakes, or a whole Boston cream pie, and a six-pack of diet cola.
Curtis woke up hungry. Not toast and orange juice hungry-mean hungry. After all, he was eating for two- himself and the two hundred pounds of fat that lived inside him. While Ben slept, he went out on the ice and searched the compound for any remnant from his provisions. He sifted through the rubble and turned over every piece of debris- nothing-not even a crumb.
There was a gnawing ache in his stomach that was unlike anything he felt before. In the back of his mind, he always thought that the reason he ate so much was that he was hungry. But the desperate emptiness he now felt was different. It actually hurt. Less than twenty-four hours had passed since he gorged himself last. He knew the pain was only going to get worse. When he returned, he was nearly in a panic. Ben made it worse. He said, "Hey Curtis, look at this!" and switched on the small color TV with a cordless remote, "The satellite dish is still working."
He roamed aimlessly through the channels. Curtis yelled, "Stop! Hold it right there, damn it!" A cooking segment on a morning talk show was in progress. The tiny screen was filled with a tender wedge of browned beef fillet. It ascended slowly from a deep iron pot filled with boiling butter. The tempting tidbit sizzled on a long silver fork. "Do you know what that is?" Curtis moaned in delight and anguish.
The vigilant vegetarian sneered and answered, "Yea, that looks like dead animal flesh impaled on a sharp metal skewer. It seems to have been boiled in what appears to be pure cholesterol." The crazed omnivore ignored his friend and answered his own question, "That's Boeuf Fondu Bourguignonne, my friend. That's real food you're looking at there."
"All I see is a heart attack on a stick." Ben started boiling water to rehydrate his tofu breakfast. "When you eat meat, you're eating pure death. The fear the cow felt when it was slaughtered winds up in the meat. It's full of adrenaline. They pump the animal full of steroids, antibiotics, appetite stimulants and whatever else they can think of to increase their profits."
Curtis wasn't listening. He sat mesmerized as the lovely actress/model who hosted the show raised the delectable morsel to her lips. She crooned, "Oh, it smells sooo good," as she puckered and blew on the steaming fillet.
Curtis egged her on, "Go ahead, baby. Do it. Pop the whole thing in your mouth. Open up. Don't tease me. Do it now!"
The willowy blond cocked her head, lowered the fork and coyly said, "I really shouldn't. I have to watch my figure-or no one else will." The audience laughed. "Maybe our weatherman could help me out here." More laughs. The camera cut to the big friendly guy. He shook his head and patted his bulging belly. The audience was in stitches. "Why do people on TV always pretend like they never eat anything," Curtis whined in frustration. The chef looked like a French race car driver in a tall white hat. He said, "No, no, no, mademoiselle. You must taste eet. Jus one leetle bite." By the sound of their applause, it was obvious that the audience agreed with the handsome cook.
Curtis scooted closer to the screen. His enthusiasm had returned, "That's right, buddy, make her eat it!" She glanced shyly off camera, took the tiniest bird-bite imaginable and exclaimed, as if her mouth was actually full, "Ummm, that's de-licious!" Curtis jumped to his feet-insane with hunger. He dawed at the fat on his gnawing gut and roared, "You anorexic bitch, eat the fucking meat! They're only paying you two million dollars a year to do this shit. You could at least eat the fucking meat!"
Ben quickly grabbed the remote from Curtis' hand. Click-cartoons-a cat chased a canary with a meat cleaver. Click-a commercial-golden brown fried chicken in a bucket. Click, click, click-the medical channel-close-ups of a gall bladder operation. He left it there and shook Curtis, "Snap out of it! It's not like we don't have any food. You'll feel much better after you've eaten some nice warm tofu."
Ben dipped a large aluminum spoon into the pot of boiling soy-sludge and scooped out several plump, soggy white cubes. He plopped them down on a plate and handed them to Curtis, who whimpered and stared at them in horror as the limp lumps quivered in a pool of hot milky water. The hollow stabbing pain in the center of his stomach was unbearable. The Boeuf Fondu Bourguignonne on TV had only intensified his urge to sink his teeth into something firm and meaty. A seething stew of digestive juices percolated in his gurgling gut. In desperation, he picked up one of the wretched things and took a bite. It didn't taste bad. In fact, it didn't taste like anything at all. But the consistency was awful. A shiver went down his spine as the slimy paste mushed around in his mouth.
He closed his eyes and swallowed. He shuddered as the slippery lump slithered down his throat. Then mercifully, it was gone. He decided that it would be less disgusting if he swallowed them whole. So he gulped the horrible cubes down one by one. In a matter of moments it was over. The pain in his stomach began to ease, then disappeared. His hunger had subsided, but he was far from satisfied. Ben kept his mouth shut. But when he saw the bilious expression on his friend's face, he couldn't stifle a-laugh. It came out as a wheezy, high-pitched squeal.
Curtis went into orbit, "You self-satisfied son of a bitch! I'd like to see the look on your face if my chocolate cupcakes and frozen steaks were the only food that survived the blast." He threw a pillow at his friend so hard that it knocked him on his butt. They both laughed hysterically. Ben stuck the pillow under his shirt and did an impersonation of Curtis eating tofu.
They laughed until it hurt. Ben put his head between his knees and tried to catch his breath, "Let's watch some TV." They watched a game show, an old episode of Leave it to Beaver some rock videos and a couple of hours of assorted soap operas. Then it was time for lunch. Ben cooked the tofu and Curtis ate it. This time the quivering cubes went down a
little easier. After lunch-more TV. They watched a real life courtroom drama, an early black and white episode of Gilligan's Island, and a glitzy game show.
The tofu went down easier still-then more TV. They flipped around between three afternoon talk shows and speculated if the guests were ringers. They decided that it didn't really matter because the shows were just a chatty form of wrestling. The topic that held their interest was Frigid Men and the Women Who Love Them. After that, they caught the last few minutes of a beach volleyball championship on the sports channel.
Then it was time for dinner-more tofu-more TV. They stopped on a premium channel halfway through the remake of The Thing. The movie made them both nervous so they switched to the religious channel and watched a hypnotic preacher with a beard show home movies while he smoked a cigar. When they got tired of that, they turned to a comedy club show, then a public television pledge break, then the all news channel until they slipped into unconsciousness. The next few days were the same as the first, tofu, TV, tofu, TV, tofu-then more TV.
As the days passed, Curtis found it easier to eat the sordid soybean curds. They were still revolting, but he just didn't care about food much anymore. By the sixth week he didn't care about food at all. He ate to live-nothing more. Eventually even the doughnut commercials didn't make him hungry. The nonstop television routine added a strange structure to their monotonous existence. It became their job-their reason for being. The days passed so quickly that they couldn't find time to radio for help more than once or twice a month.
The television even provided them with romance. Curtis had a crush on a shapely female body builder who came on the sports channel every morning. She was big and blond and beautiful. Her tan body rippled with muscles in all the right places. Whenever she bent over to pick up her free weights Curtis would pant, "Look at those glutes, Ben. I'm in love. You're looking at the mother of my children." He even went so far as to join in during the aerobic exercises- After awhile, Curtis' bddy began to change. He was actually beginning to lose some weight.
He was still big, but he lost at least a hundred pounds by the third month. Once during a particularly strenuous workout, Curtis' girlfriend worked up a healthy sweat. Her tan, athletic body glistened in the mottled sunshine that filtered through the lush tropical palm trees in her warm, exotic exercise venue. Wet Lycra and firm young flesh was too much for Ben. Curtis caught him whacking-off in the corner.
Curtis was furious, "She's mine, you pervert. She'd never fall for a skinny weasel like you!"
"Take it easy, I was looking at her assistant," Ben sheepishly stopped pounding his pecker and zipped his pants.
"You better not get any ideas!" Curtis changed the channel just in case. After dinner, Ben had a standing date with a newswoman. She recapped the major events of the day every thirty minutes. Curtis couldn't see the attraction. She was a handsome, authoritative woman, with curly hair that changed color every few weeks. But she certainly didn't warrant the sad puppy whimpers and obsessive attention that Ben lavished on her.
One night Curtis just came right out and asked, " I don't get it, Ben. With all the beautiful women on television- why her? "
"Why her? I'll tell you why her! Look at those lips."
"What about them? They look like ordinary lips to me."
"Those are no ordinary lips! Are you blind? See how full and pouty they are? Each word they speak is a kiss." Curtis was sorry he asked.
Ben jumped up and yelled, "Did you see that?" He moaned, "Ooooh, just look at that," and slapped his cheeks.
"I didn't see anything."
"Watch dosely. There! Right there!"
Curtis did see something, but it was subtle. At the end of each sentence, the corner of her mouth turned up ever so slightly. It was a cross between a cynical sneer and a faint smile. The crotch of Ben's pants bulged skyward like a pup tent. He leered at the TV and sighed, "She drives me wild when she does that thing with her mouth."
He started to sweat, "She knows more than she's telling, Curtis. She knows everything. All about me and the way I feel about her. She's looking at me right now." Ben pulled his pants down and began to twitch. "She likes what she sees, Curtis. Look at her. She's smiling at me." Ben started to shake. A telephone company commercial came on and he collapsed into a blubbering pile of frustration. His right leg twitched and thumped out a series of staccato beats.
Perhaps it was a strange mating signal that only his satellite news-goddess could understand. Or maybe Ben was one news break over the line. Curtis helped him to his cot, pulled a heavy wool blanket over him and whispered, "That's enough TV for you, little man. Tomorrow's another day."
Curtis found the remote and did something he hadn't done in a long time. He turned the TV off Then he eased onto his cot, folded his arms tight against his chest and stared at the ceiling. The slumber party was over. He could feel it in his bones. The room seemed suddenly small. The TV had been on twenty-four hours a day for over four months. When he turned the damn thing off, it was as if he'd bricked up his only window on the outside world. The room was only nine feet wide by twelve feet long. But now it felt smaller-much smaller-more like a prefabricated coffin with all the amenities. He became aware of his breathing.
The air felt thick and heavy. It pressed down on his chest. He couldn't take a deep breath, so he bit off small bite-sized chunks of air and gulped them into his gasping lungs. Then he felt it-the silence. He never noticed it before. Now, he couldn't imagine how something so monstrous could have stayed hidden for so long? The dense invisible force made him feel numb and hollow. A mindless, absorbent stillness enveloped the room. It sucked the sound out of his ears. Not even an empty echo remained. The silence had been there all along-waiting-patient. The way death waits patiently for that one little slip-up, that one wrong turn-that one last heart beat.
Curtis wanted to scream, but he was afraid. What if he screamed and no sound came out? What if the silence ripped the scream from his throat and devoured it before it reached his ears? His hands felt inert. When he tried move his fingers, they felt like they belonged to someone else-someone dead. The lights began to flicker off. Once, twice-then total darkness. Curtis stiffened in terror. The hungry void that surrounded him swallowed the sum total of all that he was.
The room, his body, Ben-everything vanished in its vast empty belly. It felt like the lid to his coffin had slammed shut. Only his thoughts remained, and they were even darker than the nothingness that consumed him. A suffocating panic squeezed him from all directions. An ominous sense of spiritual dread slashed him like the savage polar wind. It was cold and silent and dead. The force of its frozen darkness blew out the gentle flame that burned in the center of his being. Everything that was bright and warm was gone. All that remained was the cold, silent darkness-and the fear. He lay paralyzed for an eternity of heartbeats. Curtis had never been afraid of the dark, or even death.
The terror he felt went far beyond the fear of simple oblivion. He sensed that if he froze in this barren wasteland at the bottom of the world, he might have to endure a conscious awareness of the unyielding silence for a billion years. Or at least until the ice melted. He had only experienced the ghastly void for a few minutes and it was already unbearable. He envied the dead in their lush green cemeteries.
At least their bones enjoyed the attention of worms. No life form of any kind would assist in his decomposition. He'd simply freeze solid in the sterile ice and remain unchanged until the sun went super nova and incinerated the entire solar system. Curtis couldn't wait that long to be warm again. Something tepid and wet slowly crept down his temple. Then he heard a tiny sound. It was the faint drum beat of a single tear dropping on his taught canvas cot.
Nothing ever sounded so sweet. The lights flickered on. Once, twice-then a harsh fluorescent glare filled the room. Curtis knew exactly what he had to do. There was only one thing noisy enough keep the silence away for good. He moved one leg, then the other. The dense compression of the room made it almost impossible for him to continue. He inched his way to the remote in the middle of the floor and clicked it on. A tiny white speck in the center of the TV screen exploded into a cheerful rectangle of vivid color. Crackling fragments of sound raced through a maze of circuits to catch up with the with the emerging picture. The shopping channel filled the flickering screen.
A little boy ran through a meadow of tall grass and wild flowers. He was only painted glaze on a porcelain collector's plate, but he had everything Curtis wanted. He wore tattered overalls with paisley patches, a blue and yellow striped shirt and black high-top sneakers. A gentle summer breeze tossed his sandy blond hair as he flew a bright red kite. A golden eagle was stenciled across the taught tissue paper. The kite's long, knotted, dishrag tail curved lazily in a water color sky. Comfy white clouds drifted slowly in the warm, clean air.
Curtis could breathe again. The silence retreated to its hiding place. Everything was the same as before. Except for one thing-now he knew what would happen if he ever turned the l V off again. A melodic feminine voice described the limited edition plate in amazing detail. The camera zoomed in to capture every cheerful brush stroke. It seemed impossible that anyone could have so much to say about anything. Curtis didn't mind. He would have gladly ordered a plate if he had a phone. The orders rolled in and the voice droned on. Curtis fell asleep. He dreamed of warm, lazy afternoons and soaring kites. But somewhere beyond the wild flower meadows, the hideous silence waited for him to turn off the TV. At six a.m. a fast talking pitch-man started hawking a fake diamond ring.
Curtis opened his eyes and watched the cubic zirconium bauble slowly rotate on its clear Lucite base. He felt cold. He hadn't shaken the icy feeling of dread that crept into his bones the night before. Ben had been awake for quite awhile. He silently boiled a pot of water as Curtis stretched and walked toward him. Ben seemed detached as he stared down at the rolling bubbles.
Curtis broke the silence, "Well, what's for breakfast today?"
"We're not having breakfast today, or lunch, or dinner." Ben didn't laugh or even smile. "
There's no more tofu, Curtis. We ate the last of it for dinner."
"What? Why didn't you tell me we were running low?"
"What good would that have done?"
"We could have rationed it out or something."
"It doesn't matter. Nobody's coming for us. Haven't you figured that out yet? We've been here for four and a half months." Curtis ran to the boxes to see for himself. They were empty. Not even one crumbly curd was left.
Ben handed him a cup of plain boiled water, "Sip this. It might help. Have you ever gone on a fast?"
"No. Have you?"
"Yea, lots of times."
"Usually a day or two. One time I fasted for two weeks. It was very purifying."
"You're so skinny I don't see how you could go that long."
"I got pretty weak toward the end, but I felt really good. It cleaned my whole system out. You just have to drink a lot of water and take it easy."
"How long do you think we can last?"
Ben set his cup down and looked at the ceiling, "I can't say for sure. I don't have much body fat. I could last a month, maybe more. You've still got a lot of fat left, you'll last much longer. At least until the fat's all gone."
Curtis channel-surfed mindlessly. He didn't watch anything, he just zapped one show after another. He went right past his girlfriend without even saying hello. The idea of not having anything to eat didn't bother him. He lost the desire for food months ago. It was the idea of slow death that made him feel numb. Knowing was the hard part. Knowing that life would slip away, little by little, day by day.
Knowing that Ben would starve first and he'd have to watch. Knowing that he'd be alone when the silence came back for him-this time for good. He flipped through the channels faster and pressed the button harder as if somehow the remote could change his fate. After several hours of zombie-zapping, Ben took the remote away from Curtis and flipped to a soap opera.
Eventually Curtis got back into the routine and the hours passed quickly until they both fell asleep. The next day started off as usual, but in the middle of Gilligan's Island, Curtis started feeling strange. A monkey in a space suit landed on the island in an old Mercury capsule. The precocious primate thought Gilligan was his mother. Everyone was kissing the chimp's ass because he was the the only one who knew which button turned on the rescue beacon in the antique spacecraft.
The Professor made a baby bottle out of bamboo and filled it with coconut milk. At the point where Mr. and Mrs. Howell insisted that they were the monkey's grandparents, Curtis broke out m a cold sweat. He was ashen and started to shake, "Ben, my head feels like it's going to burst."
"That's normal. It's just the poisons flushing out of your system."
"All the poisons that you've worked so hard to accumulate over the years. With what you eat, there must be a toxic waste dump inside your body. The pesticides, preservatives and pollution collect in your fat. The fast is flushing them out. They're just taking one last crack at you on the way out. Drink more water. It'll only last for a couple of days."
Curtis crawled to his cot and stayed there for almost two weeks. Ben brought him water every hour. He was too weak to make it to the chemical toilet so he pissed in a bottle. The first few days, he vomited green mucus and blew slimy yellow diarrhea out his ass. When that stopped, he just drifted in and out of sleep for days at a time. He finally opened his eyes on the twelfth day and he felt great. His body felt different. The weakness had passed. Now he felt strong and centered. A warm glow burned in the center of his belly. It replaced any feeling of emptiness. His heart beat slow and strong. His whole body buzzed with a tingling energy. A profound feeling of lightness lifted his spirits. He never felt better in his entire life His brain was clear, his thoughts were positive.
He was confident and serene. Curtis bounded out of bed to tell Ben the good news. Ben was still asleep. His breathing was shallow and labored. Ben didn't look so good. He'd always been skinny, but in a healthy Now he just looked frail. He lay there with his mouth gaping open.
The unwholesome purpose of the unfamiliar bottles and boxes was a mystery to Curtis. But he wascertain of one thing-he wasn't going to like it much. In the center of the sinister arrangement was a foreboding orthopedic saw. Its sharp, serrated teeth had an appetite for living flesh-and so did Eaton.
Curtis began to sweat. The blood thirsty maniac mumbled to himself, "I'll show you, Mr. Meat. You and your animal protein and your junk food. You like meat? I'll show you meat!"
Curtis screamed an thrashed from side to side on his urine soaked cot. He was helpless, totally vulnerable to his rabid partner's ghastly whims and appetites. Eaton ripped open one of the packages and removed alarge hypodermic. He rummaged through his supplies, found a bottle of morphine and filled the syringe.
Curtis begged, "Please don't! Put that down. Let me go, please!"
Eaton yelled, "I want meat and I want it NOW!"
Curtis braced himself and waited for the bite of the cold, sharp needle and the horror that would surely follow. Since only his head and feet were exposed, he wondered where the needle would land. Eaton sat
down near the head of the cot. It was now clear that he'd have to take it in the face, or maybe in the neck. His anus was so tight that his butt muscles cramped in a painful spasm.
Curtis looked directly into his tormentor's crazy eyes. He was as ready as any sane man could be to die at the hands of a deranged cannibal. But instead of jabbing the needle into Curtis, Eaton pulled up the sleeve of his tattered parka. Curtis watched in disbelief as Eaton plunged the hypodermic deep into raised, blue vein in his own withered arm. The powerful opiate raced to Eaton's tortured brain as he slowly flexed his gangly biceps. Then a warm wave of ecstasy washed away the pain from every convolution in his squirming cortex.
He threw his head back and sighed. Curtis was stunned, "What the hell did you do that for?"
In a low woozy voice, Eaton answered, "Courage." "You chicken shit son .of a bitch. Do you mean to tell me that you need to get stoned before you have the guts to butcher me?"
The drug made Eaton somewhat lucid, "I'm not going to butcher you, Curtis. I'd never eat your tainted meat. Your meat is poison-too many preservatives and toxins. I have my own meat. Pure meat. Sweet meat."
With that, Eaton ripped his right pant-leg up the middle and peeled it back. Tufts of white, fluffy insulation framed his cadaverous leg. It looked painfully naked in the unnatural light of the flickering television screen. He seized a rubber tourniquet and wrapped it around his emaciated leg-just bellow his bulbous knee. Then he thrust his leg out straight and cinched the tourniquet tight. Eaton grabbed the orthopedic saw and rested the razor sharp blade across the top of his bony shin. In the hands of a healer, the precision cutting tool would have been an instrument of mercy. In the hands of a maniac, it was the doorway to hell.
Eaton took a deep breath and began to saw at an awkward angle. As he ripped the blade back and forth, he howled and yelped like an injured dog. Perspiration poured from his forehead and ran down his chin. It mingled with the crimson puddle that grew larger with every agonizing stroke. Blood spattered on the walls and ceiling with each downward thrust.
Grizzly globs of gore pelted Curtis as he lay helpless, weeping on his cot. He watched in horror as Eaton persisted in his gruesome task. He screamed for him to stop, but his frantic pleas were drowned out when Eaton suddenly started humming the theme to the Dick Van Dyke Show. It was loud and out of tune, but it kept time to the cadence of the blade. Half way through, the bloody saw jammed in his dense shin. Eaton stopped and raised his leg enough to take the pressure off the deep, narrow gash. One long, slow backward stroke got him back on track. The wet grinding squeal of surgical steel on brittle bone reverberated in Curtis' spinal cord. He shivered with each rip of the cruel blade. Eaton had almost cut clean through when an uncooperative flap of skin at the back of his calf made him stop.
He grimaced and wrestled a delicate scalpel from its sterile paper sheath. A few quick slashes and the twitching leg was detached. It rolled over and plopped into the gruesome pond of bloody gristle-cold and slippery like a dead fish. Eaton collapsed-pale and exhausted. He panted like a sick animal until he caught his breath. Acting more on some crude instinct than a conscious sense of purpose, he tucked his lifeless leg under his arm and scooted backwards to the corner of the room.
He propped his hunger ravished carcass against the wall and positioned his repellent prize in front of him. He hovered over it like a predator guarding its kill. Curtis watched his crippled friend indisbelief. A feeling of profound pity replaced the utter terror he felt only moments earlier. Ben glared at Curtis. The wild man snarled as he nibbled pulpy little strips of raw flesh from the mangled stump. Curtis stared at the loathsome slab of meat and gristle and shook his head. The horrifying consequences of slow starvation that lay before him weren't nearly as hideous as one pathetic realization. His
desperate friend's mutilated appendage was still wearing its thick wool sock and leather snow boot. Ifonly Eaton had removed them, Curtis may have been able to forget.
Now, he'd never be able to watch someone tap their foot to a tune or kick a football without thinking about Eaton's butchered leg. Was it even a leg any longer? It couldn't be used to take a walk in the park or bounce a baby. Now, it was just meat. Curtis wondered where the meat left off and his friend began. At what point did the sum total of all the meaty parts add up to something more than sirloin? If he was sitting in a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village sipping espresso, the answer would come easily. In his frozen prison at the bottom of the world, he didn't have a due.
Eaton dragged his severed leg to his lap. Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out the scalpel. He gouged out thick hairy chunks of pink, pulpy flesh and stuffed them into his greedy mouth. It was painful to watch him gnaw on the meaty hunks, but Curtis was afraid to look away from the grotesquefeeding frenzy. There was no telling what his inhuman friend might do next. Eaton paused occasionally to dislodge clumps of coarse hair that stuck in his throat. He hawked them up like a cat with a hairball.
After devouring more than half of his gruesome calf muscle, he pushed his ghastly meal away and grabbed the radio. The pathetic glutton jabbered away for several minutes, then burped. It was a wet, rumbling burp that rose from deep inside his churning abdomen. His face turned white. Blood rushed to his stomach in a vain attempt to digest the loathsome feast. It was no use. Too many weeks had passed since he'd eaten anything-let alone rich, raw meat. One gurgling belch led to another. Eaton's back stiffened, his head jutted forward, his jaw dropped-then it all came up.
He heaved every morbid mouthful of partially digested muscle. Carnage spewed from his gaping mouth as his frail body convulsed. When the eruption subsided, Eaton was covered with bubbling globs of gore. He stared at the sinister suet in his lap and began to sob. With a violent sideways twist, he dumped his repulsive regurgitation on the floor. Something shiny glistened in the chunky pool of blood and puke-the scalpel. He fished it out and clinched it between his teeth. Then he slithered toward Curtis like a hideous maimed lizard.
When he reached the cot, he pulled himself on top of Curtis. He jerked the scalpel under Curtis' chin. His helpless prey recoiled the inch or two his bonds permitted. Eaton straddled his writhing prisoner, then leered and whispered, "I'm sorry." Curtis shut his eyes and whimpered-grateful for an end to the torture. He heard the scalpel swish past his ear, then a dull slicing sound and a series of loud pops. The taught nylon cord yielded to the scalpel's keen cutting edge.
It fell in curly white piles on either side of his cot. Curtis opened his eyes in time to see Ben awkwardly creep back to his bloody corner. Curtis took a deep breath, stretched and sat-up slowly. He was stiff, but free. He glanced over at Ben. His pitiful friend clutched the tourniquet around his stump with one hand and juggled the remote with the other. He zapped through the channels until he found the news and stopped. There was his girlfriend, she was reporting a story about a woman who was seriously burned when she microwaved a raw egg and it blew up in her face. At the end of the story the corner of the enigmatic newswoman's mouth raised ever so slightly.
Ben smiled and said, "I love you, darling." He turned to Curtis and said, "Good-bye ol' buddy- I can'tgo on like this any more. He tightened his grip on the rubber tourniquet.
Curtis yelled, "NO!" Ben ripped the tourniquet off his mutilated stump. A fountain of blood gushed with incredible force. He lost consciousness instantly as his blood pressure dropped to zero. Curtis jumped to his feet and tried to run
to Ben, but his legs crumpled under him.
They were numb and weak from lack of circulation. He collapsed in the slippery pond of hemoglobin and horror that pooled over the entire floor. He dragged himself through the muck to Ben's blood soaked cot. There was nothing he could do. Ben was gone. Only the meat remained. Ben's girlfriend fiddled with some papers, said good night and did that thing with her mouth. Curtis watched her closely. She did seem to know more than she was telling. Maybe she knew where Ben had gone. Curtis looked down at the twisted corpse on the cot. It was obvious where the meat was. There was a lot do for the next few days. Curtis kept busy and tried not to think about Ben.
He cleaned the grizzly living quarters, but didn't go near Ben's body. A heavy canvas tarp, tossed over his friend's twisted remains, substituted for a proper burial. The body wouldn't decompose any time soon. there weren't enough bacteria in the room to rot a dead penguin. Even though it was heated, the room was still as cold as a walk-in freezer. The temperature outside had fallen drastically in the past few months. Now it stayed pitch black Outside twenty-four hours a day. Curtis always wore his heavy insulated clothing and never ventured outside. He cranked up the TV volume to drown out the constant din of the homicidal polar wind. Every day he had to turn it up a little louder. Curtis' viewing habits began to change. He had a major revelation as he watched an international ice skating competition- He
was transfixed by the grace and agility of the beautiful female skaters.
The allure of their powerful, yet feminine bodies held his undivided attention. But the longer he watched, the colder he became. After twenty minutes, he began to shiver. Then it hit him. He realized that there were basically three kinds of TV shows: cold shows, warm shows and neutral shows. Shows like Bay Watch, Hawaii Five-O, Miami Vice, Magnum, ~I., and old beach movies were warm shows. Northern Exposure, St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, winter sports and Bergman movies were all cold shows.
Game shows, talk shows and the news were neutral. He decided to watch only warm shows with a smattering of the neutral shows now and then. Luckily his girlfriend had a warm show. The sweaty work-outs on the beach were just what he needed. He joined in the exercises every morning and even improvised a crude set of weights. They were made from a sawed off mop handle and some heavy reference books-The Professor from Gilligan's Island would have been proud. He felt stronger and lighter with each passing day. His heavy survival Clothing felt looser, but it was too cold to take them off to check his progress. He zapped through the channels, stopped at the all news network and turned on the hot-plate to boil a cup of water.
Then he went into the closet-sized bathroom and screwed in the bare bulb that dangled over head. He looked in the mirror. Two startling eyes peered back at him through a thick mass of hair and grime. He looked like the Wolfman. The kettle whistled frantically. Instead of pouring the boiling water in his crusty cup, he emptied the whole pot into a deep ceramic bowl. He found some soap and a razor and went to work.
The hot water felt good on his cold face and hands. First he washed his long greasy black hair and tied it back in a ponytail. Then he scrubbed, lathered and shaved his face. The transformation was astounding. He turned his head from side to side in disbelief and gawked at the face in the mirror, "Well who the hell are you?" The guy in the mirror mouthed his words, but it wasn't him.
It wasn't Curtis Hardy, the hulking, too tall blimp who never went out on dates. It wasn't the same Curtis Hardy who always smiled when some asshole made a crack about his weight. And it definitely wasn't Curtis "Lardy" Hardy who got the shit kicked out of him in grammar school and was always the last one picked for any team sport. The guy in the mirror had to be some big star who just happened to be doing a film on location in Antarctica and wandered in by mistake. Or maybe he was a lover boy from Beverly Hills named Chip or Chad, who drove a sports car and drilled buffed-out models.
It couldn't be Curtis Hardy-but it was. The only features he could recognize were his eyes. Actually, only the irises stayed the same. They were still blue. His puffy bags were gone and so were his fleshy lids. Something seemed different about his nose. It used to look too small, sandwiched between the massive mounds of fat on his cheeks. Now, the fat was gone and his nose was just the right size.
Curtis was amazed to see that he had cheekbones-he never saw them before. They were high and angular. Then he noticed that he had only one chin instead of three. It was strong and broad and looked like it could take a punch. Even his ears seemed different. They used to look stuck-on-like Mr. Potato Head ears. Now they were integrated into his facial architecture by his well defined jaw line and muscular neck. He ran his hands over the contour of his new face. Then he slapped it to make sure it was real. It stung and turned red.
Curtis laughed and turned out the light. He sat on his cot and watched the news-anchor recap the events of the day. The newsman glanced up from his notes, looked Curtis right in the eye and said, "Next up, a live report from the Earthwatch One rescue expedition in Christchurch, New Zealand." Curtis jumped off his cot and ran to the TV. The reporter cut to a commercial. Curtis coaxed, "Come on, come on," as an aging rock star sang about his ice cold beer. Then a woman's face filled the tiny screen.
A pink, fur lined, Patagonia parka hood framed her familiar features. It was Ben's girlfriend. A large microphone shook in her gloved hand. Her voice quivered from the cold, "I'm coming to you live from Christ Church, New Zealand a thousand miles north of the frozen continent of Antarctica. For some, it's the last frontier, a land of frigid beauty and adventure. For others, it's an icy grave. Over the years, hundreds of explorers and scientists have sacrificed their lives in the search for knowledge. We are here today to witness the rescue of two brave environmental scientists, Dr. Benjamin Eaton and Dr. Curtis Hardy.
They have not been heard from for six months. I have with me, Frank Sayer, Field Director o fEnvironmental Defense International and leader of the Earthwatch One rescue expedition. Mr. Sayer,what are the chances that these men are still alive?" The camera cut to Sayer, who looked like a cross between Admiral Byrd and an aging hippie Eskimo. He was stiff and self-conscious.
Neva looked around the room, "Do you have any soap and a washcloth or something?"
"There's some soap in the bathroom. I don't think we have any washcloths."
Neva picked up a large natural sponge from a galvanized bucket, "This'll do."
She came back with the soap. When the water began to bobble, she poured it into the bucket. "This is
too hot. I'll cool it off"
Curtis lifted his head and cautioned, "Don't cool it off too much. Water doesn't stay hot very long
She laughed and took off her lavender parka. Underneath, she was wearing an old gray sweatshirt with the Columbia University insignia on the front. The old fashioned emblem took on an unexpected graphic appeal as it rose and fell over the contours of her high, firm breasts. She pushed up her sleeves and unzipped her heavy insulated pants.
Curtis felt his heart race as she wiggled out of them. She had a well-worn pair of Levi's on underneath. The loose fitting denim could not conceal the gentle curves of her well rounded hips. A beaded Indian belt snaked through the loops and squeezed her tiny waist tight. Neva tossed back her soft reddish-brown hair and dropped the soap and sponge into the bucket.
The steaming water sloshed from side to side as she slowly walked toward Curtis. She looked like she was going to wash her car on a sunny summer afternoon. Curtis tensed as she set the bucket down and knelt beside him. Neva was nervous. She fumbled with the zipper of Curtis' gamy brown parka. It was jammed tight under his chin. A sideways tug got it back on track. As she slowly pulled it down, steam rose from the widening V-shaped gap. Her face flushed as the bulky coat fell open. She hadn't expected to find such a well sculptured body inside.
Curtis' chest was a broad expanse of well defined muscle. His stomach was taught and flat. His skin glistened with perspiration. She continued to peel back the dingy parka and removed his heavy padded pants. A metamorphosis had taken place. Curtis emerged from his crusty cocoon. When he had put on the heavy nylon chrysalis six months earlier, he was a bloated, human larva. Now he was magnificent His body was perfect. As he rose from the cot, Neva stood up and stepped back. Her eyes wandered across the rugged landscape of his fantastic physique.
She explored every rolling hill and hidden valley. There was so much to see. Neva had never seen a man, her own age, naked before. Her body reacted before she had a chance to think or speak. A sudden fire burned below her navel and radiated down her thighs. Muscles she never knew she had contracted deep inside her.
Curtis folded his powerful arms across his huge chest. He shivered and said, "If you're going to sponge me off- do it. I'm freezing." Neva jerked and looked away, "Yea, right. Of course. I'm sorry." She reached down in the bucket and grabbed the sponge, then squeezed out some of the steamy water and lathered it with soap.
Curtis turned around. She ran the sponge across the broad expanse of his strong shoulders. The hot, soapy water cascaded in steaming sheets down his rippling back. It tumbled down the tight crevice of his muscular butt like a waterfall, then trickled over his sturdy legs and splashed on the cold gray .
Curtis raised his arms above his head. Neva scrubbed sensuously and wished that she was the sponge. He turned around and faced Neva. She plunged the sponge Into the hot water, held it over his head and squeezed it out. It poured down all six feet four inches of his hard body. She scrubbed the front of him with increasing fervor. His male equipment had retreated from the cold. It was riding high . But as the warm water spilled over his cool tool, it dripped and began to swell. Neva had never witnessed that particular anatomical Phenomenon before. She wanted to see more so she brushed it with the side of her soapy arm and scrubbed all around the area of her interest.
Each time she did, it dropped lower and swelled more. Curtis inched his legs apart to make room for his growing manhood. He looked down at Neva. As she leaned forward, the loose neck of her baggy sweatshirt swooped down and revealed her soft white breasts. He never realized a woman's nipples could get so long. His heart pounded and his cock throbbed as it rose and stiffened. Neva dropped the sponge and ran her slender fingers over its swollen tip and down its long, thick shaft. It bobbed up and down as her fingers neared the hilt. She wanted to grab it and she did. Neva was startled by its length and girth as it throbbed in her hand. It was hard, but smooth as velvet to the touch.
She reached down and cupped his warm orbs in the palm of her other hand. They were heavy and tight. She squeezed gently-Curtis moaned. An urgent emptiness ached inside her. Neva quickly unfastened her belt buckle and pulled her pants down without bothering to unzip them. They tumbled around her ankles. Her practical, white cotton panties weren't absorbent enough to contain the hot lusty juice that ran down her smooth inner thighs. Delicate white wisps of condensation rose from the moistheat that radiated from the aching center of her desire. Neva threw her arms around Curtis' strong neck and straddled one of his hard bulging thighs. She pressed her pubic bone deep into his muscular leg.
He felt the eager pressure of her hot, wet feminine anatomy. It slid up and down easily on his well lubricated quadriceps. Curtis wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. Neva moaned and rode his massive thigh as if it were a wild stallion. The door suddenly burst open. Sayer and the newswoman rushed in and slammed it closed behind them. Neva was in another world. She just kept moaning and humping.
Curtis smiled at his unexpected guests and shrugged with his eyes. They stood there speechless, then Sayer yelled, "Neva Dinette thtop that right now! For Chritht thake, I told you to ciean him up, not rub him raw with your cunt. He's a thick man!" Neva screamed and whipped around. When she saw her boss and the newswoman, she bolted for the bathroom. She only waddled a few steps, with her pants around her ankles, before she fell down.
Curtis helped her to her feet. As she wiggled into her pants, Curtis said, "It's really my fault, Sayer. I
got carried away."
Neva was mortified. She covered her face and began to sob. Sayer softened, "Thtop crying. Everybody doeth it. We all get hot panth thome timeth. Let'th get the hell out of here before the weather changeth." Sayer handed Curtis some fresh survival clothes. The newswoman sat on the tarp covered mound of gore on the cot in the corner. She planted her tight, shapely butt down hard, there was a squishy crunching sound. She wiggled several times to get comfortable and started scribbling notes on a long yellow pad. Curtis tied his hood and zipped his parka.
Neva had regained her composure and looked at the map with Sayer. Curtis finished lacing his boots and said, "Okay, I'm ready. Let's get out of here." Sayer gestured at the TV, "Aren't you going to turn that damn thing off?" Curtis felt a chill go up his spine, "I'd rather not, if you don't mind." Everyone turned their attention to the tiny television.
Alex Trebeck informed three tense contestants that it was time for FinalJeopardy and they could wager all or part of their winnings. The business-like host said, "Our final category is-Greek mythology. He glanced at the card in his hand, "The answer is: the Greek god who charmed the beasts with his song."
Neva looked at Curtis. He shook his head and smiled. Sayer blurted out, "ORPHEUTH!"
Curtis corrected him, " Who is Orpheus?"
Sayer was annoyed, "He'th the guy with the fucking harp!"
Curtis laughed, "I just meant that you must answer in the form of a question."
Sayer looked confused. The news woman added, "He's right, Frank; Alex is a real stickler about that."
Curtis nodded, "Yea, and Art Flemming was even tougher. I've seen him practically rip a contestant's head off for not answering in the form of a correct question."
Sayer looked at them like they were both insane and exploded, "Who the fuck careth! Here'th your final jeopardy question: They all frothe to death in Antarctica because they were too fucking thtupid to leave."
Neva raised her hand, " Who is us?"
Sayer crooned, "Thath right-us. Oh, that remindth me, Hardy. Where ith Eaton? I athume he'th dead, but he mutht have died rethently. Collin Farr got a radio methage from him a couple of weekth ago. Did you bury hith body in the thnow?"
Curtis shook his head, "No." "Well then, where the hell ith he?"
The newswoman stopped writing and looked at Curtis. Curtis pointed to where she was sitting, "He's over there, on the cot-under the tarp."
The newswoman jumped to her feet, grabbed her butt and screamed, "HOLY SHIT!" She stuck her ass out and whipped her head around to see if any cadaver goo got on her well-rounded cheeks.
Curtis tried to reassure her, "Don't worry, ma'am. Believe me, Ben wouldn't mind."
He searched for the right words and added, "He admired your work as a journalist-immensely. You were his favorite newsperson."
She didn't hear a word he said. The frantic newswoman just kept swatting her butt with her yellow pad-even though nothing was there. Curtis walked over and pulled the tarp off the putrid pile in the corner. The rescue party gagged and choked. Ben stared up at them with dry, sightless eyes. His jaw gaped open. Clotted blood and gore caked his ghastly mouth. His partially devoured leg rested sideways across his sunken chest. The newswoman stared at the monstrous corpse, then looked at Curtis. She did that funny little thing with her mouth and hurried off to find her cameraman.
Neva's eyes darted back and forth between Ben's half eaten leg and his twisted mouth. Then she groaned and smacked her forehead in sudden recognition. Neva turned to Sayer and gasped, "That radio message that Eaton sent-he wasn't saying 'I hate myself.' He was saying I ATE MYSELF'.
Copyright R P Cabeen
Cover Page Index