Mandatory Fun

My last year in the Army was not a pleasant one. I'd never gotten on well with my unit to begin with, but with the big Force Reduction coming down the pipe, everyone was more keyed up than normal, which is saying something. Around that same time, my marriage started to disintegrate, which eventually led to my wife leaving me about halfway through. Needless to say, my final few months were a special brand of hell, made all the worse by the fact that my best friend got out about a year before I ultimately did.

I'd met Kevin years earlier, in Iraq. We bonded over our love of morbid shit and were closer even than me and my wife were. I worked in the motor pool and he worked in supply, so we didn't see much of each other during the day, but at night, I'd head over to his barracks room, we'd drive over to the Class Six for all the liquor his paycheck could buy and riff on bad horror movies long into the night, before I finally sobered up enough to drive home. My wife hated that I spent so much time with him, mostly because Kevin always lavished lunches and cheap DVDs on me, when my own pay was barely enough to buy ramen noodles for the two of us to eat. I guess it might have been better if Kevin had bought lunch for her, as well, from time to time, but he didn't see it that way. He needed me to drive him around, so he payed me back by buying me stuff. That suited him, and if my wife had a problem she could go to hell for all he cared. I liked that. I mean, maybe I shouldn't have sided against my wife, but she was being a bit unreasonable. She could have gotten a job, but instead she spent her time trying to get a soldier to side against another soldier, which is a lose-lose situation. Espirit de corps, and all that.

Anyway, once we got back from our most recent deployment, it was time for Kevin to start getting out, and for his last few months, he wasn't at work, much. Since I had to drive him around, anyway, I exploited that, getting out of work to help him get around post to clear everything, or sneaking off to his room during the day to smoke and watch anime on Xbox Live with him. Our company was so disorganized when we got back that they scarcely noticed I was missing. However, as good as we had it at the time, there were certain things that clearing didn't get you out of, what we used to call Mandatory Fun. These were things that the company did to show the world that our unit was just the best of friends and life was a bowl of cherries! Who we were supposed to be showing this to always confused me, since the only people who were there for these events were us and sometimes our families, and we all knew better. As the year went on, and the DUIs began to build up, as they inevitably did on our post, we all had to go to the standard “Don't Drink And Drive” classes on Saturdays. Ordinarily, we would have only had to go to these classes once a year, but with three DUIs in my platoon alone, yeah, that wasn't going to happen.

Kevin hated going to these things more than I did, which is saying something, because we always had to watch the exact same videos that the army had made to try to shame us into being better people and doing more push-ups. After all, the Army can't go five seconds without suggesting you do more push-ups. What always galled us about these videos was that the Army always, without fail, hired the worse damned actors they could find. These guys were worse actors than the ones the Army hired to do radio ads, if you can believe that! We weren't the only ones who thought so. “Where do they get these guys?” everyone around us was constantly murmuring. Kevin and I knew; they'd been given the job because of their ranks, not talent. So, what could we do? We'd riff the shit out of them, of course.

After three Saturdays in a row, it came time for the annual “Don't Kill Yourself” class. Same basic premise, only the videos were about how you have so much to live for, and were so awful that they almost gave you a stomach ache. I distinctly remember feeling like I'd eaten something with too much butter by the time the hooting and commenting began. Since everyone was doing it, this time, Kevin just sat back and enjoyed himself.

“God, can you imagine how bad this would be if they got someone from our squad in this?” he finally said, at last. I assumed he meant his own squad over in supply. They were some greasy characters.

“Yeah,” I said, “that would backfire horribly!” I put on my best comedy voice, “Hi, my name's Sgt. Evans, and I like little boys! Everybody's glad I'm dead!”

We laughed, free from fear of reprisal on account of Sgt. Evans had long since left our company. Still, after a moment, he stopped, and stared down at his feet, deep in thought. Figuring it was best to leave him alone, I finished out the rest of the class making loud and obnoxious comments alongside everyone else, and once it was over, I asked him if he wanted to change out of our uniforms and catch a matinee in town? On him, of course.

“Nah,” he said, “I have to go talk to Garcia about something.” SPC Garcia was a big wheel over in supply, and if the supply people were people who could get you anything, then Garcia was the guy who could get you anything. I took the hint, and spent the rest of the day with my wife. I continued to drive him around, same as always, but other than that, I didn't see much of Kevin for the next few days.

Finally, on the night he cleared the barracks, I picked him up and brought him to my apartment, where he'd be staying for the rest of the time it took him to final out, which ended up being a little over a week. That first night, as we celebrated his impending freedom with cigars and inhuman amounts of alcohol, he had this look on his face, a distinctly satisfied look that I'd never really seen on him, before. I chalked it up to being out of the barracks, and, indeed, his upcoming civilian life suited him. That last week was a total blast; we made a point to visit every shop that the Post Commander had banned soldiers from visiting, mostly just places that sold Spice back when it was still legal. My wife absolutely hated this arrangement, since it was even more time I was spending away from her. Whenever Kevin was outdoors, we'd argue about it and she'd storm off frustrated, after I'd told her for the 87th time that Kevin and I had been to war together and she just didn't understand. After a while she stopped bringing it up, and soon enough came the day that I drove Kevin to the airport and he flew back to the West Coast.

In our apartment, there were four rooms: a bedroom, a living room/kitchen, a spare room, and a room set aside for a washer and dryer for people who had those. Since we didn't, the laundry room was delegated for storage, and that was where Kevin had left behind a lot of his old gear and stuff he didn't want to carry on the plane. With him gone, the light went out of our home. We were fighting almost non-stop, and a few weeks later, she packed her bags and left, taking the dogs with her. I don't remember much of the next few months. I was drinking heavily and when I wasn't doing that I was horribly depressed. I started going to Mental Health, but only because it got me out of work.

When my wife left, JAG informed me that I had to give her half of my paycheck. I was barely scraping by, before, but now I was in full-on homeless person mode. I was stealing food from the USO, I taxied people around for gas money, and when my car finally died, I resorted to hitchhiking to work and lifting the spare change out of the cup-holders when the drivers weren't looking. I was discussing this with my therapist at Mental Health, who pointed out that since Kevin had left so much gear at my apartment, and I didn't need any of it, why didn't I get someone to give me a ride and pawn it all at the Army Surplus store just outside the gate? I made some excuse and eventually went back to work.

Someone in a different company in our battalion tried to kill herself, so we all got dragged in for another one of those stupid classes. I sat there, barely listening to the video, until, at a certain line of dialogue, I remembered what Kevin always said in response. And, just like a light-switch had been flipped, I felt like my old self, again. I joined in the hooting and hollering with everyone else and felt normal, for once. When I got home, I looked through Kevin's old crap, looking for stuff to sell.

Once I moved all his gear out of the laundry room, I started looking through his stuff, which took up two black trunks. In the first was a bunch of books and movies, mostly stuff about serial killers, Nazis, Italian cannibal films. Nothing surprising, really. Kevin and I were into that kind of stuff, we thought it was funny. I held up his old copy of Cannibal Holocaust and felt a warm, fuzzy feeling, before I made a mental note to lock all that stuff up before some NCO came poking around for a Health and Welfare. They never did when I was living in there, but better safe than sorry. In the other trunk, nothing quite so interesting, mostly clothes, sketch pads and the like. If any of it would have fit me, I might have taken more of an interest. I dragged the trunk into the living room and dumped it all on the floor, hoping that Kevin might have left behind a pack of cigarettes, unlikely, I know, but other than that other crap there was only a CD wallet.

I flipped through it, but there wasn't anything I wanted in it. If there was one thing I disagreed with Kevin about, it was online gaming, and the wallet was full of discarded games that had seen better days. Only one caught my eye, a homemade disk with a title written in marker. Some kind of of video software.

“So, that's what you got from Garcia?” I said to myself.

I wasn't really a computer person, for all the time I spent on my laptop, but I figured I might get into making YouTube videos one of these days, so I pulled it out, only to see that there was a second disk behind it. A DVD-R, with Kevin's unmistakable handwriting spelling out FUCK YOU PRODUCTIONS in crooked letters on top. No idea what it might be, I popped the other disk in my computer. No dice. Didn't know if it was because it was pirated or what, but it wouldn't run. Took it out and chucked it in the trash. No sense keeping pirated software around if I couldn't even use it, was there?

I took the DVD-R and put it in, and when it started playing, the screen went black and words in red font began scrolling up like in Star Wars. My phone rang and I paused it, and after that I shrunk the window down to check my email, and got sucked into a bunch of other online stuff before finally going to bed. I'd completely forgotten about the video by then.

It wasn't until the following evening that I saw it, after I'd sat down to watch Blackadder and remembered that there was already a disk in the drive. I reopened the window and watched the red text on the black screen:

Every time we go to one of these stupid fucking classes, I wonder about some of the sons of bitches who should kill themselves. These are their stories...

The black screen faded and it turned out that Kevin had gotten a hold of the Don't Kill Yourself video! It started off same as always, but when the first terrible actor popped up on screen, it had a different face, the face of one of our coworkers. It was a crude Photoshopping job, literally just a picture of someone's face superimposed onto the actor's head like some kind of censor bar. I got a huge chuckle out of it, especially when the actor started talking and the picture split in two and sort of mouthed along, like the Canadians on South Park. A second actor, again with the face of a co-worker, a female this time, came out, and when the two began talking to each other, the audio track popped out and was replaced with a scratchy sound. I couldn't place it at first, but soon recognized it as the sound a computer mic makes when you're moving it around. I'd heard it on Skype a million times. Eventually, it stopped and Kevin's voice piped in with new dialogue.

“Hey, you bastard, why haven't you killed yourself, yet?”

“Oh, I'm not enough of a man for that. I'd rather hide my insecurities by going to the gym all the time and talking about how many push-ups I can do!”

“Wow! You're a worthless piece of shit! You should stick a shotgun in your mouth!”

The video cut to web-cam footage of Kevin sticking the barrel of a Super Soaker in his mouth and squirting water. It fell out of his mouth like drool and he groaned, melodramatically, “Oh, if only I'd been brave enough to suck a real cock when I was alive, I wouldn't have had to give myself a big metal cum-shot! No wonder I killed myself, I fucking suck!”

The video cut back, but I couldn't hear what they were saying, I was laughing so hard. There were about a dozen scenarios in every class we had, but I only saw about four of them, that night. Over the course of the next two, there were more pictures of people we didn't like, and it kept cutting to Kevin doing various lewd things with knives and sex toys, saying the most awful, blasphemous things about people in our company. I guess you had to be there, but I had the impression that Kevin had made this for me, and the whole thing was definitely our sort of humor. Couldn't have put this online, they'd have locked him away. Before the fourth story, it cut to Kevin wearing a blonde wig. I had to pause the video and catch my breath. I knew from the hair that he was going to do a bit about our commander, Captain H, and with all the dirt that, well, everyone in the company had on her, this was fixing to be priceless!

I pushed play and almost lost it when I saw him hold up a DVD of Shaft, which was the nickname for our First Sergeant. He started ranting, repeating an infamous jag Captain H had done when we were flying into our last deployment. She'd spent the entire trip, from America to Germany to Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan, talking shit about everyone in our company, and I mean everyone, in graphic detail. “Such and Such is a fat-ass! He could really make something of himself if he wasn't so fucking lazy! So and So is whore! Had to get her out of jail one night because so many guys were trying to fuck her they got into a fight! Etc.” As Kevin went on, he stood up and started air-humping the DVD. With this, he punctuated every other sentence with a deep “Yes ma'am” the way he actually did during the real incident. I had to stop the video again. Turning that embarrassing incident into a pseudo-porno and shoving it into, let's face it, a rant about how these people should kill themselves? I had to run to the bathroom, I was so close to pissing myself.

Once I could stomach watching more, the next scenario was censored entirely by people from my squad that I'd complained to him about. There wasn't any new dialogue recorded, just the original shitty acting, but I didn't mind. Kevin had blown his comedic wad and it would be a real trick to top himself. Right before the vignette concluded, the screen cut to black and a text scroll appeared, simply saying, “One year later.”

After that? Nothing. DVD started skipping and the video froze. Oh well. I pulled it out and found an empty movie case to store it in. Then, thinking about how I was sure to vomit if I laughed anymore, I put Blackadder back and went to bed, smiling.

For a couple days afterward I tried to watch it again, but the way my video player worked it always went back to where the DVD had stopped the last time, and since where it had stopped was frozen, it didn't do me any good, especially since there wasn't a menu I could exit to. I tried stopping it and going back to the beginning, but that was no good, either. I tried opening it with VLC, but the disk didn't trigger any kind of Open windows, so I couldn't figure out how to do that. After it became too frustrating, I set it in its case on my shelf and swore it would be the first thing I watched whenever I got a proper DVD player.

That would be a long way off, though. For the rest of my time in the army, I was broker than ever, and my phone kept dying for reasons I couldn't be sure of. It was getting harder and harder to get rides, and because it took so long to walk anywhere, for a while I'd get home and just fall asleep. Then, when I woke up in the morning, my phone would be dead, and I'd only get about half an hour to try to charge it before going to PT, and get about 30 missed call notices when I didn't even remember the phone ringing. I sat down and checked the numbers once; none of my NCOs, no one in my squad and none of my creditors. Most of them were probably just wrong numbers, since very few of them called twice, but there were a few repeats. I never called them back because I was afraid I might have owed money to someone I didn't even know about yet, or worse, people my wife knew were trying to harass me. So, it went on like that until I finally got my walking papers.

Right before I cleared housing, I took all of Kevin's old junk and shoved it in the storage lockers in the building's basement. I'd only just learned they existed the day before, and since I wanted to carry only the essentials back to my parents' house, I'd check all my unwanted crap in the basement and let the Army throw it away. Only seemed fair. I took the DVD-R out of the case on the shelf and pulled out the Tupperware container of DVDs from under the couch. I wanted to find a proper case for it, and since there were so many loose DVDs leftover from their cases falling into the crap my wife's dogs used to leave on the carpet, logic dictated that there had to be at least one free case from the opposite happening. Well, there wasn't, but there were three cases that had had their plastic covers chewed off my the little brutes, leaving the unimpressive black plastic exposed. I picked one at random and shoved it in.

It wasn't so great moving back in with my parents, who bombarded me with questions constantly, about everything, at first, but it quickly boiled down to when was I moving out and when would my divorce be final? They offered to pay for it, but I'd be damned if I was going to get even further in debt before I even found another job. I mean, I wasn't in such a hurry to find one, but can you blame me? I deserved to take it easy for a while. I thought so, anyway.

It was a couple months later when I finally got my stuff out of storage and I dug the DVD-R back out to pop into my dad's brand spanking new five disk DVD player! I laughed so hard at all the same jokes I loved before, and tittered at all the jokes I knew were coming, that by the time it froze in the same spot as before, my parents politely, but firmly, asked me not to watch it at night anymore. I guess I was keeping them awake. So, there was that, but while I was still so happy to have what I had, it still bugged me that I couldn't see the rest of whatever Kevin had made, since he'd worked so hard on it. I put it back in its case, and it occurred to me that Kevin had never told me he was working on this, and may not have ever intended for me to see it. Sure, he'd left it at my house, but with everything it was buried under, he might not have even known it was there.

A week later, after fighting temptation, I waited for my parents to go to work and popped it in again. Same old, same old, maybe it was a little less funny after seeing it so many times, but I still enjoyed it, and when it got to the part where it froze, I stopped the DVD and got up to take it out of the player, but along the way I dropped the remote, and somehow, whatever button it landed on got it playing again and actually got it to move past the “One year later” caption. The video played yet another of those stupid vignettes, this time with Kevin and Garcia's faces over the actors.

“Oh, Garcia, I'm so glad you gave me this fancy editing program! Almost makes up for the fact that you're a total douche!”

“Duhhhhh...” he replied to himself. I smiled, but it was obvious that Kevin had run out of steam by this point.

“Duhhhh, gee, it sure would suck if I died in a car crash!” Garcia's picture switched to a different one of him, with a shit-eating grin. The video skipped a few frames and switched to the montage of wrecked cars from the drunk driving class.

“These people,” Kevin narrated, “would never know the simple joys of watching Cannibal Holocaust, or Dark Night Of The Scarecrow, for they were too busy blowing each other on the way to the gym, and crashed into rednecks! Nothing important was lost!”

With that, the video froze again.

For a while, afterward, I lost interest in watching the DVD. Lost interest in movies altogether, really. It must have been a month that I spent my nights, sitting out on the back porch, smoking cigars and staring up at the sky. Wasn't the most interesting thing I could have done, but it was something I did all the time when I was deployed, and maybe I was feeling a little nostalgic. I'd just sit out and listen to the cars come by off the nearest highway exit before boring myself to sleep.

One such night, I was drifting off, when I heard tires screeching off in the distance. Poor sucker, I thought, waiting for the sound of the crash. It didn't come, but the sound of a speeding car grew louder louder as it came down my street. The brakes screeched again and there was a thud I couldn't identify at first until a split-second later when instinct kicked in and I dove to the other side of the porch as the car crashed through the fence, just missed where I had been sitting and collided with the wall of the house!

Within a few hours, the cops had dragged the drunk out of the wreck and the insurance company had swooped in to assess the damage. My family and I packed our bags and left for a motel, and after a good, stiff drink, I was ready to lie down again when a thought occurred to me. “One year later,” it had said. Hadn't it been about a year before that I'd found the disk? Or, was it a year before the video unfroze? I poured myself another drink, but I didn't need it. I dismissed both thoughts outright. The idea was ridiculous, even if the dates coincidentally matched up; Kevin couldn't have predicted a a car hitting my house. He wasn't psychic, he wasn't into any kind of occult crap, and believe me, I would have known. Besides, he couldn't have known that I'd find the DVD, he probably didn't even know he'd left it at my apartment. Besides, if it was a year before it happened, or a year before it started working, it had definitely been a year since he'd made the silly thing, and no accidents had happened to me or him in the interim. Still, I drank the drink, anyway, and went to bed. Right before I passed out, a second notion hit me, “What about Garcia?”

When they'd finished repairing the damage to the house, and we'd settled back in, I contacted some people from my unit on Facebook. No dice. Garcia had gotten out not long after I did, and none of his friends were in my platoon. I wrote that off as a dead end and forgot about it. When I got up the next morning, I figured that, since I'd been thinking about him so much, lately, I should give Kevin a call. Strangely, my phone was dead, again, with a missed call notice from just after I'd gone to bed. I didn't remember it ringing. Still, the house phone worked just fine and I shot the shit with Kevin for hours, like he was there in the room with me. Before I hung up, though, I said, “Hey, you hear anything about Garcia?”

“Which one? There's like, a million of them around here.”

“The one from SSA, jackass.”

“Oh, him. Nah, haven't heard anything from him. Didn't he get out?”

“That's what I heard.”

“Well, I've got no idea what he might be up to. Not something I've ever needed to care about.”

“Heh, I hear that.”

Someone called to him on his end, and he had to excuse himself, but he promised to stay in touch. As I hung up, I wondered if I should have mentioned the disk, but, it was Kevin. If he wanted it back, he would have brought it up. I went to see if my phone was finished charging, more missed call notices. I took it off the charger to check my voice-mail and the damn thing died again.

“Worthless piece of shit...”

I called him a couple times over the next few weeks. We never talked about anything important, and I never said anything about the disk. I complained about my phone once or twice, but all he could suggest that I just get a new one. I couldn't argue with him on that, but I felt it was a matter of principle. Silly, I know, but I'd started misplacing things, lately, and while I did find them, I always knew where my phone was. I mentioned this to him, but he just laughed and said I was being an idiot.

I got another one of those missed calls later that same day. Fed up, I dialed my wife and chewed her out. She kicked in, herself, and for about an hour we went at it like a pack of dogs. Finally, I threw the phone against the wall, but I wasn't as mad as I should have been. At least I'd done something proactive, which is more than I could say for anything else I'd been doing since...well, since she'd left. I sighed, picked the phone back up and bit the bullet. I called my mom and asked to borrow the money to pay for a divorce lawyer.

Which, of course, meant I would have to get a job, and I found some minimum wage shit work at the local grocery store. It was alright, even if I did end up spending way too much of my money replacing small things that kept disappearing. I swear, I must have bought at least three sets of tweezers of the next couple of months, which doesn't sound like a lot, I know, but how do you lose tweezers? I know they're small, but they're also shiny and metal. They couldn't possibly just blend into the carpet or whatever. Anyway, that plus my phone and having to put up with the admittedly minor humiliation of working in food service did not mix well with my impending divorce. You could forgive me for being just a little on edge.

With all this, I wasn't even bothering with my phone. I'd leave it in my bedroom for days without even looking at it; well, I always thought I'd left it in my bedroom, but sometimes I'd find it somewhere else. The day I finally started taking it with me to work again, I got about eight missed calls that I didn't feel ringing in my pocket. Typical. The time finally came for the last round of paperwork to be mailed into the court, taking all the money I'd made in the last week or so with it, so that night I mixed myself a drink and plopped down onto the couch, only to get stabbed in the ass by the most recent set of tweezers I'd just bought. That was it! I got up and dug out the DVD, again. I needed something to cheer me up.

It did, for a while, though I noticed the picture quality wasn't as good as the last few times I'd seen it. I didn't know if a DVD could fade like videotape could, but I reasoned that this was homemade, and already knew it was defective, so it didn't seem impossible. Still, I was worried about whether it would keep working, so I looked around online until I found a free DVD ripper program. Once the video with Garcia had ended, I took the DVD out and popped it into my laptop and started ripping it. It would take about an hour, so I went out on the porch again for a smoke. I thought about Garcia, and that awful business with the accident. That had been an awful coincidence, hadn't it? Downright spooky. I tried not to dwell on it so much, because the last time I'd gotten some awfully stupid thoughts, but I just couldn't ignore it. It was a feeling that burrowed into my brain, like a chigger. I used to get the same feeling in Afghanistan whenever there was a dust storm, and through the windows of our guard truck we could almost see the shape of someone walking towards us, but whenever we'd rotate the searchlight around, there was no one there. In Iraq, we were often warned that we should never let the desert get to us, because it could start playing tricks on your mind. Afghanistan wasn't really a desert, at least not where we were, but it did that, sometimes. You couldn't let it get to you, but you were only human...

I heard tires screeching in the distance.

“Oh, no,” I gasped, “not again!”

I waited until the sound got closer and then hurled myself over the railing, smashing my cigar into the damp grass and getting the ash all over my face. The sound came towards the house...and then kept going in the opposite direction as the car sped right down the road. All that for nothing. I picked myself up, no easy task once it finally hit me just how hard I'd landed. Once I'd gotten back to the living room, I could have sworn I heard Kevin laughing at me. I went to my computer, the video had started playing, then froze again.

Well, the video seemed to have uploaded, so that was something.


A loud clatter erupted off in the other end of the room! I jumped. Making my way over, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, at first. There was spot on the wall where some paint had come off, and some loose wires next to it. One of the Surround Sound speakers had fallen off. I couldn't find it on the floor, anywhere. It was only when I turned to sit back down that my big toe rammed into the speaker. I paused, knowing for certain that that speaker hadn't been there a second ago. I picked it up and placed it on one of the end tables, before making a beeline for the kitchen. I reached in for the nearest soda, trying to ignore the pain from hitting the ground. I took one sip and gagged. Diet soda.

“Great...” I mumbled, setting it down on the counter. I looked in vain, but that was all we had. “That's just great...” I snatched the can and went back to my computer, wondering if I could finally get the damn video to play all the way. “When the hell did they start drinking diet soda, anyway?”

Well, my night had been thoroughly shot to shit. I brought the video up and dragged the cursor back until I saw something I recognized. I could at least use a laugh before bed.

The footage showed a husband watching TV at three A.M. with a blank expression on his face, while his wife begged him to come to bed and screeched about how much he'd changed since he got back from Iraq. Something didn't add up about it, but then I realized that this video was actually from a PTSD class they'd made us take. I did a quick mental inventory and thanked Christ that there weren't more of those stupid classes that had had videos. “Death By Powerpoint” was bad enough. The footage ran unmolested until just before it would have shown the guy having awful flashback, then it froze, turned black and white, and a heartbeat kicked in on the soundtrack.

“This is Walter,” Kevin's crackling voice intoned, “what his wife doesn't realize is that while he was in Iraq he was adopted by a pack of wolves, who raised him as their own. Now, he seeks to return to his pack, but they will shun him, because his smell has been tainted by the touch of human hands. Now, there is only one way to earn his way back amongst his wolf brethren: wife-kebabs!”

The video switched back the the car wreck footage from before.

“But all was not well, for Walter never quite got around to rejoining the pack. Instead, he took a shit minimum wage job and wrote god-awful poetry about wolves on his blog. The wolves never acknowledged his absence, again.”

It wasn't as funny as what had happened earlier in the film, but it was enough to make me smile. The video started skipping around again and froze up. I closed my computer and shook my head. On top of everything else that night, I'd seen once and for all that the video was hopelessly corrupted and I'd never see the end of it. Still, that was that. Maybe, if I really felt I had to, I could call Kevin and just ask him how it ended.

I settled in for bed a little later and chuckled. “Wish I'd thought of making wife-kebabs. Save me the trouble of a divorce...”

When I woke up the next morning, the screen on my phone had gone completely white. Not knowing what I was supposed to do, I tapped a button, and the screen returned to normal for a fraction of a second, before going white again. Still, it listed several missed calls, so at least it was working normally. I trudged downstairs, needing my morning caffeine so badly that even diet soda would have been good enough. Only, when I opened the fridge, there was just the normal soda we always bought. It didn't hit me until I closed the door; when I opened it a second time, the soda was diet, again. I looked at the can in my hand. It was the same one I'd grabbed. I opened it and had a sip. It was still the regular soda, just like it said on the label. Though, if this was some sort of prank, that would be the ideal twist. I opened the door a third time, the soda was the same as what I was drinking. Without much sincerity, I chalked it up to not being awake, yet.

Whatever was making my phone light up the way it did was a horrible strain on the battery. It had been fully charged the night before, but died within an hour of waking up. I recharged it, and and it lasted about as long before shutting off, again. I was used to my phone being a piece of crap, but this was a new low. My battery couldn't have lost power faster if it had a hole in it...

As for what happened over the next few days, well, I can't say that I noticed it at the time, but the next few days didn't really seem to happen. I mean, obviously, they did, but damn if I could tell you anything about them. It's like I just blinked and it was three days later. I stumbled down the the stairs, checking my phone for messages, which I didn't have because my phone was dead, again. Before I even got to the fridge, I stubbed my toe on something, which turned out to be a book laying on the floor. I picked it up, “Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels.”

I'd given that to Kevin, ages ago. What was it doing here?

The room suddenly looked a lot darker. I looked out the window and saw that it was nighttime. I could have sworn it was earlier in the day. I went to my phone to check the time, but, of course, it was still dead. I shook myself, trying to get a grip, before figuring I needed to sit down. I dropped the book on the kitchen table, and plopped in front of my computer in the next room, thinking I might watch the video again when my phone rang. The hell?

It was Kevin.

“So, weirdest thing,” he said, “I got sideswiped by a guy on cough syrup.”

“Dude, really? That sucks.”

“Yeah, so I'm in the hospital. It sucks because the nurses won't let me watch The Human Centipede on the big TV.”

“Huh. Can't imagine why the medical community would frown on that sort of thing.”

“I know, right? If anything, it would be educational. If nothing else, it taught me to never go to the dentist.”

“Fucking hell, man. That's fucked up!” I laughed.

“Yeah, I gotta go in for another x-ray. They said nothing broke, but there's this weird bulge that they think is a bunch of fluid gathering or something. Just thought I'd let you know.”

There was a loud clatter on his end and my phone went dead, again. Rubbing my eyes, I booted up the video and skipped ahead towards the last bit that would play. Looking at the footage of wrecked cars, I mused that Kevin and I were having the worst luck with the damn things, lately.

“But all was not well, for Walter never quite got around to rejoining the pack. Instead, he took a shit minimum wage job and wrote god-awful poetry about wolves on his blog. The wolves never acknowledged his absence, again.” His voice sounded even more sarcastic, the second time I heard it. Maybe that was just me, though. I braced myself for the annoyance of the video freezing, again, but instead it cut back to Kevin sitting in his room. Huh, maybe it was finally gonna play the rest of it?

He chuckled, paternally, which was weird for him, “Oh, that Walter...”

He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket. “Hold on. Gonna see if I get any damn reception in here. Fucking brick walls...”

He dialed a number and held the phone to his ear.

“Hey, it's me. So, weirdest thing, I got sideswiped by a guy on cough syrup. Yeah, so I'm in the hospital. It sucks because the nurses won't let me watch The Human Centipede on the big TV. I know, right? If anything, it would be educational. If nothing else, it taught me to never go to the dentist. Yeah, I gotta go in for another x-ray. They said nothing broke, but there's this weird bulge that they think is a bunch of fluid gathering or something. Just thought I'd let you know.” With that, he picked up a book from his desk and threw it against the wall. There was a loud bang next to me as something hit the floor, hard!

“Final Entries 1945: The Diaries of Joseph Goebbels.”

Picking it up, I looked back at the screen. Kevin was looking right at me.

“Neat trick, huh?” He said.

I froze. His eyes never blinked, never looked away. I shifted to one side, his head turned to follow me.

I threw my hand over my mouth to stifle a scream.

“Nothing personal, dude,” he smiled. “It just is what it is.”

He tapped something on his keyboard, and the video stopped playing. Stopped playing because the video player program closed itself! I felt woozy. A sudden heaviness had formed in my stomach, like I'd eaten the world's greasiest burrito, and as it churned I started sweating worse than if I was doing cocaine. I was so wired, the edge of vision started to blur as the color looked like it was draining out of the room. I was in so much pain I banged my fist against the table just to feel something else, only to recoil when it broke my skin. A single drop of blood dripped through the scrape, which in turned turned dark like everything else.

I could feel my skin all over my body contract, like it was being pulled tighter from behind. I put my hand on my stomach to brace it, it felt rock solid. I stumbled to my feet and walked into the kitchen, steadying myself against the fridge. A sensation like a kick to the back of the head hit me, and without knowing what I was doing, I threw open the door open and shoveled the first bit of food I saw into my mouth, and then the next and so on until I had a kaleidoscope of food stains down the front of my shirt. I sank to the floor as my stomach tossed and turned, swirling everything around until the very center of the solid mass that used to be my skin cracked and softened, leaving my torso feeling like a CD.

I gagged. I could feel my heart being pressed against my chest, and as I kept gagging my lungs felt like they were being squeezed by a rising round mass in my throat, a bulge forming in my neck like a frog's. My jaw distended like a snake and a solid, circular object hacked out of my mouth, lubricated by a surge of black bile, which hit the kitchen floor with a plop. My breath came in harsh bursts that scratched my throat like the air had teeth. I mustered enough energy to smash it against the floor. The pieces dissolved into the black muck. I felt the same kick to the back of my head as before, but with no more food to eat, I reached out, like a zombie and shoveled the bile back into my mouth. The process began, again. I don't remember much after that.

When I came to, the floor looked clean enough to eat off of. I would have flailed around, trying to make sense of it, but I had no energy. I fought my way upright and plopped down at the kitchen table. I guessed my parents had probably gone to work and suspected I'd passed out drunk on the floor. I didn't care. I lit the first of several cigars and spent the whole day just sitting there, staring at nothing. I never found the DVD-R.

The calls stopped coming to my phone, but it kept crapping out, anyway. I had terrible headaches, like someone was beating a war drum inside me. I lost interest in eating, and when I did eat, the food had no flavor. I'd muse about the back room at work where we had to store moldy bread before discarding it, and when I felt sarcastic, I'd muse that I'd be willing to lick it just to feel something. Work was about the only reason I bothered to leave the house. People all just looked like wooden dolls to me, with the paint chipping around the edges.

I tried to relax. I'd start watching movies and then quit twenty minutes in. I just couldn't take waiting for reality to glitch out again. I was waiting for the day when Coke would suddenly be Pepsi, or Back To The Future would be C.H.U.D. II: Bud The C.H.U.D., so I would at least KNOW that something bad was gonna happen!

After about four or five days of this, I woke up to find a missed call on my phone. It was Kevin. I didn't feel like listening to the message, so I dragged a razor across my face and went to work, fixing for another day of going through the motions. My boss was about the most boring woman alive on the best of days, and today wasn't one of those. I honestly almost fell asleep listening to her drone on and on and on.

In the back of my mind, I heard tires screeching in the distance.

I jerked myself into concentration and tried to figure where the sound was coming from. I couldn't see any cars coming into the parking lot through the window, but I knew something ominous was coming. Then, I looked again and saw a frowning woman walking up to the door. It was my wife.

“Got a divorce notice in the mail, finally,” she spat. “Where the hell did YOU ever get money for a lawyer?”

“You know, actually, it's the greatest scam! You see, I abandoned my husband, and then the army said he has to give me half his paycheck!”

“Please, you can't even call yourself a husband. Those guys on Fireproof? THOSE are husbands!”

Oh, God, she was starting on Fireproof again. “That's pretty,” I said, “you should set it to music.”

The conversation continued to go nowhere, only with the added fun of seeming to drag on for eternity, like we were trying to run in molasses. I went to scratch my neck when I saw a convertible screaming up the parking lot towards the building! Instinctively, I pushed my wife out of the way and turned to run but tripped over my foot. Sensing that the end was near, I curled into a ball. I heard the tires screech as the driver tried too late to turn out of it. The car smashed into the stone half-wall underneath the window. The driver was thrown over his windshield and through the window. He collided in midair with her and knocked her head against the concrete floor, killing her instantly. I could hardly tell what was happening as police and emergency vehicles flooded the store, but over the furor I thought I heard someone tell me that it looked like she'd turned back to try to save me.

Somehow, I wound up back home, again, sitting in front of my computer and trying to make sense out of everything. In-between fighting back tears, I absentmindedly opened my Facebook account. Someone had linked me a newspaper article: Garcia was dead. I slammed my laptop shut. I felt a strong urge for a familiar voice. I dug out my phone to try to call Kevin, when I remembered he'd left me a voice-mail.

“Hey, Dude, I need to talk to you. Call me back,” was all he'd said.

I threw the phone against the wall and sprawled out on my side. For the first time in days, I didn't care about whatever unknowable evil I'd stumbled onto, and just felt so awful about how shitty I'd been to her, and all the awful things I'd said to her today and when we were together. I cried and cried, and eventually fell asleep.

There was a noise, and though my head felt like a tin can after a rhino had sat on it, I dragged myself up and saw my phone on the floor across the room. It was on speaker-phone, and I could hear the sound it made when I was calling someone. I stumbled over and picked it up just as Kevin answered at the other end.

I couldn't focus on what he said, at first. He'd heard on the news what had happened and wanted to know if I was alright, though I must have been if I was calling him, he supposed, and though I assumed everything bad that was happening was in some way his fault, his voice was just so comforting. I remembered all the things we'd seen and done in the desert, and decided that, well, he was still Kevin, whatever he'd gotten himself into. After he'd hung up, I dug out the DVD-R. Way I saw it, the worst had already happened, and I needed something, anything that could make me feel better. I popped into the DVD player and plopped down on the couch. It all came back, and I nearly turned blue with all the sick laughter I coughed up at the imagined deaths of all the people Kevin and I didn't like, even though some of them were actually dead.

All the hiccups were there, but the damn thing played until it's conclusion well enough, until the very end when the screen went fuzzy and the footage was replaced with what looked like an old security camera. It was blurry, but I could just make out a date at the bottom. It was about a week after he'd gotten out and flown home. I could see the front of a yellow, boring looking house with a thick oak door, a medium sized package sitting on the doorstep. The doorbell rang, seemingly by itself, and Kevin answered it. He spotted the package and picked it up. The way the box rattled, there couldn't have been very much in it.

“Huh. Wonder what he sent me?” he mumbled to himself after reading the label.

The screen went black. It went on for over a minute before the awful sounds blared out of the speakers. Loud thuds and the sounds of cars crashing, and screaming and the sickening sounds of liquids hitting the floor! The video faded back in, and there was a blood-stained cell phone sitting on the floor. It activated itself and dialed a number, switching it to speaker-phone. I could hear my voice-mail message play, and then, in his voice:

“Hey, Dude, I need to talk to you. Call me back.”

Written by Mr. Mendo
Content is available under CC BY-SA