TUG by Douglas Ogurek 
“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” 
– Luke 15:24
I was taking a shit when Pullins walked in. He just stood on the other side of my stall door, and did that damn peekaboo whistle. I’d just started, and he did it the whole time. 
When I came out, he tore off a piece of duct tape. “Poom. For a little guy, you got some mean, mean shit.” He was taping a “Friends and Family” flyer to the wall. “What’s with the cardigan, Mr. Rogers?” 
I pretended my pen was a pipe. “Mental giant.” 
The flyer showed him, benching a million pounds. “No, Rungers. I’ll call you Mr. Rungers.” 
I sprayed. “I got power. Power.” 
He yawned and played with his weight lifting wrist straps. “I need you to order two new Rhino benches. Get them here by Friday. I don’t want them next week. I want them Friday. No exceptions. And make sure they got black padding, Mr. Rungers.” 
I’m going to get the bastard back, for all the shit he’s given me. Like this afternoon. I was telling our receptionist Eviana—she’s Pullins’ girlfriend—about this rabbits’ nest I saw in the field next to our lot. Pullins came in and yawned. “Bunnies. That should be your mascot, Mr. Rungers. A bunny on a cardigan. The bunnies. Poom.” 
“Rabbits can outrun rhinos.” 
He stared at his Rhino shirt, then stretched his slab of a neck. “Hey, power man. Evi, you know this guy’s got power?” 
He won’t know it, but he’ll soon be immortalized on the cover of the winter issue of Drawn by Darkness. Everyone who reads about the dickhead protagonist in my story, “The Tribulation of Whistler,” will be reading about Pullins. 
I had my lunch in the park today. There’s a guy who lives next to it. He lives right on the other side of some bushes. He keeps a pit bull in a cage. He came out there, took the thing out of its cage, and then just kept whaling it across the face. The bastard. 
The Tribulation of Whistler
Len Oster
Box in the Valley—Photography/Video Release Form
I hereby grant Beltrik Entertainment Corporation unrestricted permission to use photos and/or video footage taken of me or in which I may be included with others as part of the Box in the Valley haunted house experience, and to publish or air the same in whole or in part, in any and all media now or hereafter known, and for any purpose whatsoever for illustrations, promotion, art, editorial, advertising and trade, or any other purpose whatsoever, and to use my name therewith if Beltrik Corporation so chooses.
I have read the foregoing and fully understand the contents thereof. This release shall be binding upon me and my heirs, legal representatives, and assigns.
Signature: Jonathan Whistler s 
Printed name: Jonathan Whistler s
Address: 22 Armstrong Lane s
City/state: Chicago, Illinois s
To: loster@getnet.com 
From: mtowart@drawnbydark.com 
Subject: The Tribulation of Whistler
Hi Lenny, 
Whistler sounds interesting. If you get me your story by late summer, I’ll make it a feature story in our winter “vengeance” issue. I’ll even have our artist use it for inspiration for the cover image. Whistler on the cover, all freaked out. I do need your story by October 1 at the absolute latest. 
Michael Towart, Editor
Drawn by Dark
Whistler’s hands were freezing. He exited the restroom, then started back toward the waiting area. The voice of that oddball Curtis stopped him. “It didn’t seem to be the most pressing issue.” 
Another voice. “It’s pressing. It’s real fucking pressing.”
The blue rivulets that curled within the floor’s concrete glowed coldly. 
The unknown voice continued. “I don’t want light blue.”
“Periwinkle.” The man laughed. “Periwinkle feels cheap. I want quality. I don’t want the typical haunted house shit. What would you expect? Orange, or black? Orange is cheap, and I don’t want black. Do they even have black? Red? No. Oh, red. Boo. Blood, red is like blood. Too obvious, gimmicky. You want the last colour they’d expect. Not this cheap shit. Maybe like a brown. No, brown’s the colour of shit. Listen: you take a shit, you wash your hands... and that’s part of it. But copper, there you go. Fucking copper, or bronze. They have bronze liquid soap? Something that ties to all the sage and natural stuff out there? Fucking beautiful.”
This was supposed to be one of the most frightening haunted house experiences in the nation, and this guy was talking about liquid soap?
The setting of “Tribulation” is important. First, Whistler and the other two guinea pigs are waiting to go into this massive concrete structure (i.e., the Box in the Valley). But all the activity takes place in the waiting area connected to the box. This waiting area is all sparse and contemporary, with glowing blue walls and these winding glowing blue rivulets in the floor. Big windows display a sage carpeted desert that leads to mountains. 
Today, the pit bull owner opened the cage. The dog wagged its tail and jumped up on him. He smacked it in the face, then went into his house. Ten minutes later, he came out with an iron. When the dog jumped up, he shoved it into her stomach. She squealed and fell on her back. I could smell it. It’s too much. I have to do something. 
At the centre of one of the waiting room’s three glowing blue walls was a dark opening. Whistler’s hands felt frozen.
The woman, whose clothes fit like trash bags, gripped the first of the three seats. “I’ll go first.” The top of the seats attached to a roller coaster like rail that led through the opening.
There was a scent in there. Confident.
At the centre of the room, the know it all Marine investigated a beaker filled with bubbling green liquid. Then he flicked one of the red metal rabbits perched on metal poles. “Cold hands, boss?”
“A little.”
“Know what that means? That means fear.”
“No, it’s the sink in there. Soom, that water’s cold.” Someday, the braggart would work at a carwash. He’d wash and wax Whistler’s Vlark.
The woman touched one of the walls. “Sheh, my hands are all hot. It’s all hot in here.” Huge earrings. Lipstick the colour of overripe tomatoes. She was what happened when a horny truck driver, a dumb waitress, and lots of cheap beer mixed. 
Sergeant Braggart took off his sweatshirt. His tank top showed arms that weren’t so much muscular as bulky. “I was in Australia this one time? On this back road in the middle of nowhere. And there’s these jackrabbits, just all over.”
Trash Bags interrupted. “He have the heat on?”
“My girlfriend’s swerving all over.”
“... tell him to crank up the damn AC or something.”
“I go, ‘Let me drive.’ I got in there and just floored it. Thump thump thump the whole way just thump thump thump.” 
Trash Bags opened an operable window at the base of the one glass wall, which displayed the shrub covered desert, and in the distance, a mountain range. “Wow, you’re a real fuckin’ hero. Can I feel your muscle?”
Sergeant Braggart smirked at Whistler. “What’s with Supergirl over here?” 
She pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Of course. “Lookit. See that mountain? I could climb that bastard. Easy. I climbed mountains twice that high.”
Sergeant Braggart started bragging about a huge mountain that he’d climbed. Some mountain that made the one out there look like an ant hill. 
The glass wall showed part of the massive concrete structure to which the opening in the other wall led. Why would this Beltrik plop a haunted house in the middle of New Mexico? And why would he choose these two nothings to join Whistler as the first to experience it? Not very business savvy. 
Whistler would have called one of his underlings now. Delegated some tasks. But that weirdo Curtis confiscated his phone, and everything in his pockets. Said it was part of the experience. Whistler addressed Trash Bags. “Hey, did you go to college?”
“Maybe you can tell me then? How can a person with a college education do that?”
Smoke streamed from the lips. Rotten tomatoes were easy to crush. “Sheh, you better fuckin’ watch it, Mr. Vlark. Beltrik said I could.”
Whistler was surprised that this lowlife, who’d likely spent most of her car time in the backseats of Chevys and Fords, recognized the symbol on his shirt.
Braggart put his hand in the green liquid. “Beltrik? You talked to him?”
She laughed out smoke. “What’re you doin’? What if that shit’s acid or something? Melt your hand right off.”
“Like them things will melt your lungs? Where’s Beltrik? You saw him? Or are we gonna have to deal with that Sally the whole day?”
The “Sally” was Curtis. 
Whistler tried to see farther into the opening, but he couldn’t make out a thing. He wanted to blow into his hands, or put them in his pockets. 
It smelled like his Keras cologne. Two hundred and fifty bucks for that stuff. But he wasn’t wearing it.
I took her. I got the pit bull. I waited until that son of a bitch was gone. There’s a big iron mark on her stomach. She’s wild, out of control. Strong. Eighty pounds of muscle. I have to finish “Tribulation.” It’s going to be tough. 
I have to take this bitch to training. She’s out of control. I took her running this morning. After about a half hour, she went nuts. Like she wanted to play. Kept jumping up on me, grabbing my sleeve. She ripped it. Second time that’s happened. We got back to the house, and she was ready to play. So the 45 minute run was like a warm up for her. 
She got into more stuff, and I showed up for work ten minutes late. As soon as I walked in, I heard the peekaboo whistle. “Sorry,” I said. “I had a little issue.” 
“Issue? I don’t understand issue. What does issue mean?” Pullins twirled the wrist wraps and rolled his eyes at Eviana, who once returned a cat because it purred too much. “What are you, slow?” 
“I got a new dog. She’s... a little hard to handle.” 
“Oh. You’re dating?” 
“She’s a pit bull. She’s powerful. All muscle. No fat.” Unlike Pullins.
Pullins jerked a wrist strap. “Maybe you should fight her.” 
“Only weaklings fight dogs.” 
He grabbed one of the hundred pound dumbbells. “I need you to grab one of these. Help me take these to the weight room.” 
I could barely lift it. The bastard smiled. “You get that equipment yet?” 
“It’s coming tomorrow.” 
“I need that equipment.” 
“Tomorrow. I told them no exceptions.” 
He grabbed the other dumbbell. “Nice shoes, Mr. Rungers.” 
“Didn’t have time to change them.” They were my Z Peaks. Bright red. The best running shoes you can buy. 
“Aren’t they a little cotton candy?” 
I did order the machines. I had to get red though, because black would take an extra week. Hey, he said he needed them the next week. No exceptions. 
My story’s gonna slay that fucker. And this bitch won’t stop me. I’ll take her to the shelter if I have to.
Whistler stood before the opening and made sure the others couldn’t see him rubbing his hands. Inside, the wall and the seating track curved to the right, into darkness. 
There was a tinkling, and Curtis, head tilted, walked with perfect posture into the waiting area. The fool’s cap looked ridiculous enough. Add the glasses, the tie, and the buttoned up cardigan, and it was absurd. “My bold venturers, I’d like to thank you all for your patience. Mr. Beltrik will be with us momentaneously.” The blue of his cardigan almost matched that of the walls. He addressed Sergeant Braggart. “Ah, I see you’ve discovered our rabbits. Have you any pets of your own, Private Leswit?”
Braggart rolled his shoulders. “Leftwich. It’s Leftwich. Lance Corporal Leftwich.”
“My sincerest apologies, my brave venturer. I have two dogs myself. They’re such companionable creatures. Wouldn’t you concur? I also volunteer at a shelter.”
Whistler interrupted. “Where’s Beltrik? Are we starting soon?”
Curtis tilted his head and, for the fourth time that day, applied ChapStick. “Mr. Whistler, if you’ll just bear with me...”
“With the rabbits and that green stuff? This whole thing’s a little bit lollipop for me.”
“I imagine he’ll be here within a matter of minutes.” 
“I’m not looking for imagination. I’m looking for reality. Reality? Are you familiar with reality?”
Trash Bags snorted and slapped her baggy pants. 
Curtis pointed the lip balm at her. “The reality of the situation, my intrepid venturers, is that Mr. Beltrik will be here shortly.”
The floor’s blue coils seemed to make Whistler’s hands colder. “He will. Okay, good. Because, you know, you took my phone, boy. And I’ve got people I need to stay in touch with.” 
Curtis capped the ChapStick, then tilted back his head. “Perhaps you’re a dog owner as well, Mr. Whistler?”
“I have a pet pterodactyl. It eats dogs.”
Corporal Braggart punched his palm. “And I got one of them T. rexes. Just big ass teeth and all that. And it eats fools.”
“You may find it surprising that in Shakespearean plays—” 
Braggart interrupted. “Nice sweater.”
Curtis stretched his neck and pulled the knot on his tie. “Now if they’re treated appropriately, appropriateleee... dogs can be exemplary companions. Catch my drift?”
“Sheh, you trying to say you wanna marry a dog or something?” Trash Bags’ tomato lips tilted. 
“Hey, let up, Supergirl.” Braggart took a wide stance and raised his square chin at Curtis. “You ever go night mowing, boss? You know what night mowing is?” 
Trash Bags flapped her shirt. “Jesus. We’ve been in here for like twenty minutes.”
“Night mowing’s when you go into the woods with your buddies...”
“And screw each other?” 
“Let up, girl, and I’ll take you to Home Depot. You can hang out with your lezzie friends.”
“Oh, tough guy. I’m a big man. Look at me. I’m a big man.” 
“You go into the woods, right? With your night vision? And your BB gun?”
“Sheh, Beltrik getting a BJ in there or what?”
“... and gah gah gah just blow away anything that moves in there gah gah. Rodents bats dogs I don’t give a shit just gah gah gah.”
Again Curtis took out the ChapStick. “That seems to be a rather...” He stretched his neck. Behind him, the rabbits glimmered. 
Whistler put his hands in his pockets. “Come on. Are we going to get this started or what? Beltrik... what kind of guy? I’m a potential investor here.”
The green liquid continued to bubble, and Curtis pressed his lips together while, almost imperceptibly, his head quivered. “Very well, my courageous venturers. I suppose I’ll get you strapped in as we await Mr. Beltrik.”
This bitch—I mean that literally—is going to drive me nuts. I named her Rope; one of the first things she destroyed was my DVD of Hitchcock’s Rope. She’s ruined three shirts, two pairs of pants. 
Last night? She got into five things. While I was flossing. She bit me and it punctured the skin. I sit down to write and bam! She’s right there. She wants to play all the time. It’s like raising a damn kid. A kid with jaws. I’m thinking about taking this bitch to the shelter. 
When she bit me, she was playing, going for my sleeve. 
Whistler’s hands ached and his body seemed to vibrate. The gap in the wall and that scent—stronger now, like cough medicine—made it worse. 
Curtis pressed a button. The three seats turned until they faced the glass wall. Trash Bags rushed to the first seat like it was a carnival beer garden.
Curtis touched her arm. “In you go.”
She yanked it back. “I’m fine.”
“This is your last and final opportunity to back out.”
The fool would have to go before Whistler invested in the Box in the Valley. “Oh, last and final? Soom, I’m thankful and grateful that you warned us.”
Curtis extended his neck and tilted his head. His bells tingled. “Now, my valiant venturers, I assure you: our actors and actresses will not touch you, so we would be greatly appreciative if you refrained from touching them.”
Trash Bags pulled Curtis’s tie from his cardigan. “Hey Curtis, how many chicks you fuck?”
Curtis looked at the ceiling, and his hands taloned. He tucked in the tie. “Neither the time nor the place for such inquiries.” He pulled down a restraint and clasped her hands to the chair arms. Then he gestured toward the other seats. “And gentlemen, if you please.”
A strand of Curtis’s hair curled in front of his glasses as he secured Whistler into the third seat. He emitted a waxy scent, and the wrist clamps made Whistler’s hands even colder. 
Curtis pulled out a partition between each of the seats. Whistler could no longer see Braggart or Trash Bags, or the gap that led to the Box in the Valley. Just one glacial blue wall, the red rabbits, the green liquid, the desert, and the floor, which threatened like some arctic wasteland with thousands of interlacing icy rivers. 
Trash Bags’ voice: “Lookit. There there. A coyote. There’s a coyote right out there.” 
Whistler only saw shrubs. 
Curtis’s glasses reflected blue. “We get those quite often. Now, my bold venturers, when the latches release you, we encourage you to get out and explore. You may stay together, or—”
“Sheh, I ain’t staying together.”
A holler came from outside. A man—he had a rifle—stumbled over some of the shrubs. “Ya fucker.” He shot. Whistler felt the reverberation in his chest.
Curtis scurried to the window. “No. Don’t. Please don’t do that.”
The man wore sloppy clothes, and what hair he had left was tousled. “Where’s my soap, Curt? Bronze, I want bronze or copper or something.” He ran out of view. There was another shot. 
Whistler broke the silence. “Who the hell is that?”
Curtis stretched his neck. “That is the esteemed Hugh Beltrik.”
A minute later, Beltrik, cigarette in mouth, strode into to the waiting area. He ignored Whistler and the others and looked toward the gap behind the seats. “There’s a silver Vlark out there. Why would you get silver?”
Whistler spent fifty six thousand on that thing. 
Beltrik used his hands to frame the gap. “This is great. Isn’t this fuckin’ great?”
“The Vlark? That’s mine. I’m Jon Whistler.”
“It’s silver. Not sure why you would get silver.”
“Soom, the 100 LB? It’s a superior piece of machinery. The 100 LB.”
“Silver’s kind of predictable.”
Who was this guy, with his stained shirt and his juvenile interior colour scheme, to criticize Whistler’s tastes?
Braggart: “What kinda gun ya got there, boss? A Remy?”
“Huh? Ah I don’t know. Some scoundrel gave it to me. Guy’s a total scoundrel. I missed that coyote.” 
Trash Bags: “I could have hit that. That coyote?”
Beltrik chuckled smoke and his eyes passed over Whistler. Sneaky eyes. 
Braggart: “What’s with all the mad scientist stuff, boss man? That green stuff there?”
“I don’t know what it means. I just like it.” 
This slob was nothing like the shrewd Beltrik portrayed in Lucrative Leaders. Still, he’d made millions through frightening people. 
“I’m Jon Whistler. I’d shake your hand if I could.”
Beltrik leaned back and spurted smoke. “It’s green. It bubbles. It’s fuckin’ cool. Does it have to have a meaning?”
“CEO of Whistler and Ryan? We’re potential investors?” 
Trash Bags: “Damn, Mr. Money Man. Will you buy me a pony?”
Curtis gripped one of the poles that displayed the rabbits and held the fingers of his other hand inside his cardigan.
Beltrik swiped his phone. “What day is it?”
Whistler wiggled his fingers to get the blood flowing. “The 100 LB. Silver. What’s with silver? Why not silver?”
“Aw this fuckin’ asshole. God... Curt, did you send those things to Paul? The a-hole.”
Whistler’s Vlark cost him fifty six thousand bucks. What did this Beltrik drive? Some clown car?
Beltrik exhaled smoke before the glass wall. He pulled a thread at the bottom of his shirt. How could he wear short sleeves with the room that cold? “You look at all the horror movies, it’s all the same shit: night time, monsters, concrete urban settings, sparse dark urban settings, or some dungeon space, something all torn to shit and dark. But this?” He swept his arm. “Lookit this here.” 
The Vlark was elegant. The Vlark was prestigious. The Vlark was Whistler.
Beltrik kept pulling the thread. “We got these freaky floor lights. We got these huge fucking windows. It’s just wide open. Soap’s not so great, huh Curt? And this over here? A concrete box in the middle of a wide open fucking desert? What the hell is in there? I bet you want to know. I love that shit.”
Braggart said, “One time me and my buddies went to see The Long Cord, and I got this cheese? With the nachos?”
Trash Bags butted in. “Sheh, I seen The Long Cord and Scalpel Night and...” 
“... there’s a couple queers in front of us...” 
“Curt, goddamn it, Curt.” Beltrik gave up on the thread, let it hang to his knees. “There’s a big ass smudge on the glass here.”
Curtis gripped the rabbit pole. His hand was red. 
Beltrik used his shirt to clean the window. “Forget The Long Cord and that shit. All that pop out shit. Cupboards slamming and shit popping out at you and that. Boo! I’m not talking about that torture chamber shit either.”
Whistler bent his torso. Try to obscure the Vlark logo. “But those make the money.”
“Prostitution makes money. Crack makes money.” Beltrik leaned back and expelled smoke flourishingly. “Immersive. I want fucking immersive.”
“What’s with the rabbits over there, boss? You hunt rabbits or something?”
Beltrik shrugged. “They’re rabbits, and they’re red. Red metal. What the fuck are they doing here? I don’t know. But you’ll remember them. A fully immersed experience. I want to convey quality. I mean everything here. Even the soap, Curt.”
Curtis’s head quivered, and the ChapStick came out. “I assure you, Hugh. I will remedy—”
“That colour? That fucking light blue?” Beltrik scanned the three of them. “What did you think of that?”
Trash Bags: “It’s soap. Who cares?”
“That’s not fuckin’ quality. That’s cheap. I want to replace it with a copper colour. Something you don’t see a lot. Copper, or bronze. Something like that. This is immersive. Curt, do one more seat check.”
Curtis, holding the ChapStick between his fingers, shook the restraints on Whistler’s seat. He dropped the tube. Whistler felt it tap his shoe.
Curtis squatted. “Mr. Whistler, allow me to apologize. There’s a vestige of ChapStick on your shoe.”
“Vestige? I don’t understand vestige. What do you mean vestige? You’ll get a clean cloth.”
“I will clean it immediately.” He extracted a wipe from his pocket, waved it flamboyantly.
“I don’t want clean. I want spotless.”
“Perhaps you’d like some chocolate truffles for your troubles? A warm hand towel, perhaps?”
Beltrik unleashed another smoke spectacle. “Silver, that thing’s silver.” He froze and looked out the window. “There’s that bastard. Bastard.” He bellowed and ran out of the waiting area.
Curtis rubbed Whistler’s shoe. “Curious. I have a pair quite similar to these. Got them at Shoes for a Shoestring? Around fifty dollars, I believe?”
Impossible. Those were Keeps Executive Series, and Whistler paid four hundred bucks for them. And it wasn’t at that lollipop Shoes for a Shoestring store. “Boy, dropping that stuff? Pretty foolish.”
Curtis popped up, then flicked one of his bells. “You might be surprised to learn, Mr. Whistler, that in Shakespearean plays, fools are often the wisest characters.”
The benches came in, blaring in red. 
Pullins jerked his wrist straps. “You went to college, right?” 
“What’s your degree in? Stupid?” 
“Actually, English literature.”
“I don’t want red. I want black.”
“Wouldn’t that degree more likely be in stupidity?” 
Pullins leered at a guy whose ripped arms made Pullins’ look like stuffed sacks. “Black, black. I said black.” 
“I would’ve had to wait another two weeks.”
“What’s this red? I don’t want red. Not this cotton candy red shit.”
I’ve never seen red cotton candy. “You said a Friday delivery.”
“Friday delivery? What do you mean Friday delivery?”
“Friday. No exceptions.” 
The ripped guy scoped his triceps in the mirror. Pullins, watching, scrunched his face. “I never said that.” 
Pullins strode to Eviana. He stood behind her, then grabbed the arms of her chair. He growled and lifted her and she squeaked. 
For the rest of the day, Pullins sat in his glass enclosed office and stared at me. I went to get a drink? He was watching. I checked out the rabbits. Bam. He was watching. I’m going to fuck him up in my story. The best thing is, he won’t even know it. 
Five minutes and three gunshots later, Beltrik returned. He hoisted a bloody coyote head and did a powwow dance. “HI yi yi yi yi yi HI yi yi yi yi.”
Braggart joined the chant and made gunshot noises.
Curtis pulled his tie knot, then stretched his neck. “Hugh, please. This is hardly—”
“Ah Curt, ya prude.” Beltrik set down the head, then looked through the circles he made with thumbs and index fingers. He mimicked Curtis. “Bold venturers, this is hardly the time nor the place. I love my dog, and I volunteer at the shelter. Do you have dogs perhaps? My bold venturers?” He laughed, and smoke spurted through his nostrils.
Curtis’s face reddened. His head trembled and the bells tingled.
Blood dripped from the coyote head. The odour of Beltrik’s smoke and that cough medicine scent congealed.
Beltrik tossed the head behind the seats. “Did you see this shit he got? This fuckin’ soap? Hold on.” He walked to the bathroom.
Curtis looked at the ceiling. The veins beneath his chin showed. “I apologize for this behaviour. He acts as if this soap issue is the end of the world.”
“I smoked a few Ky-yoats. Gah gah gah.” Braggart, with his backwoods pronunciation. Surely his car wasn’t silver.
“Lookit this shit.” Beltrik, fountaining smoke, moved the dispenser of the light blue soap in a masturbatory motion. He also held a pair of dishwashing gloves of the same colour. “This shit’s not quality. I want—” He slipped on coyote blood and almost fell. 
Curtis’s nostrils widened. “We nearly reaped what we’ve sewn.” 
Beltrik used the gloves to smack Curtis across the face. Curtis’s glasses fell. Beltrik flung the gloves at Curtis’s face. “Then fucking clean it.”
Curtis’s bells tingled as he picked up his glasses and the gloves. The ventilation kicked in. They must have had it on way too low. No wonder Whistler’s hands felt like ice. “All right, can we stop with the lollipop stuff? Can we get going with this?”
“I’ll be right back, investor.” Beltrik narrowed his eyes, then leaned back and erupted smoke. “The investor with the silver Vlark.”
“Sheh, maybe Mr. Investor can invest in a pony for me.”
Beltrik, ignoring Trash Bags’ white trash comment, pretended to balance on a tightrope as he made his way back to the corridor. Did he treat all potential investors with this much contempt? Whistler should have brought his SUV. It was burnt umber. Close to bronze.
Curtis put on the gloves, then pulled out one of the red rabbit poles.
“Hey boss, be careful. Supergirl here might want her gloves back.”
Curtis, clutching the pole and walking magisterially, followed Beltrik.
Trash Bags snorted. “Them gloves are yours, Mr. Army.”
“Army?” Braggart laughed. “Shit no, sister. Army means ‘Ain’t ready for the Marines yet.’ I’m a Marine.”
“And you probably wear an apron too.”
“... another cancer stick...”
A shout from the corridor, then clinking. 
Curtis dragged Beltrik across the floor, into the waiting area. 
Beltrik held the back of his head. “Curt, Curt, hold on a second Curt. What the fuck, Curt?”
Curtis crouched, then brought the hand soap nozzle to Beltrik’s mouth. “Open, please.”
“That stuff, cheap. That stuff what did you get that stuff for?”
“Open, I said. And down it goes.” Curtis pumped the soap. Beltrik gagged and kicked. 
Trash Bags’ voice, frantic. “His head. What? His head is he bleeding?”
There was thumping next to Whistler. Braggart exhaled. “Boss, what’s going on boss? You better let up there.” 
Curtis stood and used his index finger to rub his bottom lip. “You want to build these grand haunted houses, and nothing stops Hugh Beltrik, does it? So down come the trees.”
Beltrik spit out soap. His head was bleeding. “These...”
“Adieux, Mr. Fox.”
“These... cheap.”
“My sincerest apologies, Mrs. Owl.”
Curtis dragged Beltrik across coyote blood to the left of the seats, near Trash Bags. Whistler could only see Beltrik’s legs. 
Curtis stepped back into view, then raised his chin and titled his head. 
Trash Bags’ voice raised. “What the fuck? You hit him? You hit him on his head.”
Curtis walked toward Beltrik and stepped out of Whistler’s view. There was a grunt and a crack. The seats shook and Trash Bags screamed. Beltrik’s feet squeaked against the blue coils. 
Curtis stumbled back into view, then tucked a loose strand of hair back into his fool’s cap. Trash Bags screamed and Braggart roared, “What? What?” 
Curtis, his lips glistening, smirked at the three of them, then moved toward Beltrik again. Trash Bags screamed. 
“B. Inferior. B-B-B.” Curtis, his penny loafers tracking blood over the blue coils, backed into view.
Trash Bags spoke first. “Oh my god, shit. Oh my god what’s wrong with you? He stomped his head. He stomped on his head.”
They say people with dogs live seven years longer. Fuck that! 
I tried working on my story while walking. She wouldn’t have it. She kept trying to eat my notebook. If she wants something under the couch, she moves the couch. She jumps up on the table. She jumps up on the car. 
If I do take her to the shelter, whoever gets her probably won’t be able to handle her; they’ll bring her back or worse. 
I’m exhausted. She keeps me up at night. I’m only halfway through my story. I need to finish it. 
There was a red bucket by the rabbits’ nest today. It was filled with water, and the floating corpses of the rabbits. I confronted Pullins. He yanked his wrist straps. “Hey, the bucket’s red. And red’s powerful. Like you said.”
Whistler, heart thumping, stared at the tattered bottoms of Beltrik’s pants, and that string from his shirt. He felt a strong urge to urinate.
Curtis applied ChapStick. “I apologize for any...” 
Trash Bags whimpered. “You killed him, you killed him you...”
Curtis touched his tie. “Young lady, when’s the last time you said, ‘I’m sorry?’”
“He’s dead you killed him.”
“I’d like you to say you’re sorry.”
“You killed him.”
Curtis stepped closer to Trash Bags. The partition blocked Whistler’s view. There was a rip and Trash Bags screamed. Then a snap. “Please, please just put that away... I’m sorry just please put it...” 
“And off they come.”
Braggart shook the seats. “What’s he got? What are you doing?” 
“I’m sorry no I’m sorry no no. What are you... god, god.” Trash Bags whimpered.
Whistler tried to free his hands, but only managed to hurt his wrists. The blue coils glowed indifferently, and some urine slipped out. 
While Trash Bags screamed, Curtis backed into view. He leaned back and placed something on his glasses. Then he danced, jester like. Nipples. They were nipples. Trash Bags’ nipples on his glasses.
This bitch is too much. I don’t have time to deal with this shit. Then I see her in her crate, the way her tail hammers against it when she sees me. And when I let her out, the way she flops onto her back. She twists and grunts when I rub her thighs and pet her around the iron mark. 
Trash Bags sobbed and her nipples stuck on Curtis’s glasses. Whistler’s body felt slushy. The seats shook and Curtis’s bells jingled. “Alpha. I’m the alpha. I am the alpha male.”
A small stain marked Whistler’s pants. Curtis wouldn’t see it, but would he smell it? Would the others smell it?
The seats shook and squeaked. Braggart roared, “Let me out, boy.”
“I thought I was ‘boss.’”
“I’m a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.” 
Curtis, still tilting back his head, pointed Beltrik’s rifle at Braggart. “Yes, a U.S. Marine. You’ve made that abundantly clear. It’s rather humorous, isn’t it? Aren’t Marines supposed to epitomize the Western notion of heroism? Quiet and persevering and all that good stuff?”
“I’m a Marine, and if I get out of here...”
“Yet every Marine I’ve ever met devotes so much of his time to talking. It’s rather womanly, if you think about it.”
“Womanly? You’re fucking womanly with that lipstick, ya fag.”
Curtis approached Whistler and pulled off the nipples. “Peekaboo.” He threw the nipples on the floor, then used Whistler’s shirt to wipe his glasses. “Mr. Whistler, despite your overwhelming arrogance, you seem to be somewhat intelligent. Do you catch my drift about his nonstop talking?” 
Blood stained the Vlark logo on Whistler’s shirt. He nodded. “I don’t understand... “
“Bragging about, for instance, ‘night mowing.’ Shooting at anything that moves? Let’s give it a try, shall we?” Curtis pointed the gun downward. “Bang it goes.” It exploded. Whistler couldn’t stop himself from shrieking. Trash Bags sobbed. 
Braggart growled, breathed heavily. “My foot. My fucking foot you fucking...” The seats shook. Blood spattered the bottoms of Whistler’s pants, and the urine stain expanded slightly. He smelled a trace of it.
A pool of Beltrik’s blood had crept into view. Served him right for bashing Whistler’s colour selection. Beltrik and his tawdry clothing.
Curtis studied a line of blood on the blue gloves. Blood and mucus blurred his glasses. He raised one eyebrow, and addressed Braggart. “You bear a striking resemblance to this fellow who adopted a dog from the shelter.”
“My foot. I’m a U.S. Marine.”
“He put a dog down.”
“I’m a Marine. I protect this country.”
“Because it barked too much, down it went.”
Trash Bags squealed. Her nipples lay among the blue coils. Whistler should have sent one of his subordinates. 
Curtis pointed the rifle at Braggart. It swayed it as if it was a conductor’s baton. “And I see you’re a member of the Manberg Heights Hunting Club.”
“How do you—”
“Let’s resume our game of night mowing.”
“I’m a Marine. I’m a Marine. I’m a fuckin’—”
The gun exploded.
“My hand my hand my fucking hand.”
“Ah, your shooting hand? Your night mowing hand?”
Braggart roared and the seats shook and clattered.
Whistler shifted to try to conceal the stain. “Curtis, can we just please back up from this? Just for a minute?”
Curtis extended his bottom jaw and smiled slightly. “Mr. Whistler, the courageous venturer. Where is your pterodactyl, Mr. Whistler?” 
“Listen. Beltrik, he’s a, kind of a crude—”
“Anything that moves.” The gun exploded toward Braggart. 
Trash Bags whimpered and the vents clicked. 
The seats did not move. 
I can’t concentrate. I can’t fucking concentrate. She’s destroyed my Z Peaks. I’m two thirds of the way there with the story. If I don’t take her back, I can’t finish in time.
The cough medicine scent and those nipples, lying there like demotions, nauseated Whistler. A squeak escaped his throat. 
Curtis leaned on a red rabbit and stared at the bubbling green liquid. He pretended his ChapStick was a cigarette. Blood speckled the blue cardigan and gloves. 
Whistler pictured exhaust stained snow lining a city street, and his bladder felt stuffed with cold quarters. “I don’t know what Beltrik’s deal is. Treating animals like that.”
Obliviously Curtis approached him. Whistler shifted. Try to hide the stain. Trash Bags emitted a series of blubbering pleas. Typical of her gender. 
Curtis leaned toward Whistler, then mimicked one of Beltrik’s theatrical exhalations and released the scents of wax and cherry. “What compels you to wear a shirt like that, my bold arrogant venturer?”
To Whistler, the Vlark logo had always looked like a sceptre, or a key. Now it looked more like a lollipop. “Vlark? It’s a good car.”
“Let’s not be foolish, Mr. Whistler. I don’t think you purchased that car because you like that car.”
“It’s a good car.”
Trash Bags screamed, “This is my body. My body.”
Curtis pointed at Whistler’s stain, then put two fingers on his shiny lips and chuckled. “You bought that car, Mr. Whistler, because you wanted others to see it. You wanted them to draw conclusions about you. Catch my drift?”
Whistler’s cold hands shook and the glowing blue floor coils and walls stirred his queasiness. 
Curtis thrust up his ChapStick. “Powerful...”
“It’s high performance...”
“Its ranking, rating, it’s got a high rating...”
“Sophisticated and classy. All that good stuff?”
“But it’s high performance and its rating...”
Residue from Trash Bags’ nipples still clung to Curtis’s glasses. “What if nobody could see your car?”
The blue pulsated in Whistler’s bladder and stomach and chest. Even in his thighs. He couldn’t keep his voice from quavering. “Vlark, it’s a Vlark.”
“What if it was just you?”
Trash Bags squealed. “This is my body, you fucker. Not yours.”
“You seem to have quite an affinity for this, young lady.” Curtis removed his tie, then stepped toward her and out of view. The bells jangled. “Why did you take it back?”
“What?” said Trash Bags. “Take it back? Take what back?”
“That cat. You give off the impression that you could scale any mountain, swim any sea, yet here you are. Young lady’s not so strong now, is she?” He stepped out of view. “And on it goes.”
“No. Don’t. Please.” She wheezed and the seats shook. 
The bells tinkled and Curtis grunted. “Probably purred too much. Is that it? You purr too much, so back you go.”
Did Curtis know about Zeus? About Whistler putting him down? Five thousand bucks, but the thing kept shitting in the condo. The wheezing and the blue lodged in Whistler’s hands. The mountains stomped on his bladder. He lost control of it. 
The wheezing stopped. The ventilation played with the string hanging from Beltrik’s shirt. Whistler broke into sobs. 
Curtis, his lips shimmering, promenaded toward him. 
“I don’t need a Vlark.”
Curtis took a picture of the stain. “Throughout the world this will circulate.”
“I don’t need a Vlark.”
“What happened to the intrepid venturer?”
“I was joking. Pictures, you don’t have to take pictures. Please don’t take pictures.”
Curtis backed out of the room. “To the news channels it goes. To everyone it goes. Look at the bold venturer. Look at the all-powerful Jonathan Whistler.”
The blue of the coils and the wall, and of the sky. The green liquid, the red rabbits. Whistler’s body felt like cotton candy.
The bells rang and Curtis reappeared. One of his blue gloved hands twirled a cord above his head. The cord led to an iron.
As Curtis approached, 
To: mtowart@drawnbydark.com 
From: loster@getnet.com 
Subject: The Tribulation of Whistler
Dear Mike, 
Regrettably, I’m not going to make your October 1 deadline for “The Tribulation of Whistler.” I’m really sorry if this screws things up for your issue. 
I have a new dog, a pit bull. She’s not a sit-by-your-feet, cuddle-in-your-lap kind of dog (most of the time). She’s more like a jump-for-the-ball and sprint-back-and-forth-like-a-maniac kind of dog. Nevertheless, I’m starting to get her under control, but it will take some time before I’m fully there. 

With her and work and running, I just can’t finish the story by your deadline. Again, I apologize. Perhaps we can work something out for the next issue?
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