the Pandora Dilemma. Chapter 1 – unedited
MONDAY, OCTOBER 15TH
Dustin practically stood from his bed. He hadn’t noticed how many times he had struck the snooze button but he could assume it was fifteen too many. Confusing images of a woman and some train ran along the edge of his consciousness. They coalesced into what he could see as memories but they were so damn slippery. As soon as he thought he had a grasp on them they popped past the boundary and were gone. By the time he turned the shower head off and grabbed his towel they had swirled down the drain with the rest of last night’s cast-off.
All except a few special moments.
He remembered he’d been at the bar. To clarify, he’d been at six bars but once he’d been to one, he was usually so drunk that he didn’t know which is which. It had been sunday, which he would always argue was still a party day, and he was out for his last hurrah before the dullness of the week could be forced down on him. He had found it in the arms and between the thighs of some pretty little nameless creature he’d picked up. He couldn’t even see her face anymore but that didn’t matter much. She didn’t leave her phone number. In fact, she booked it out of there before he woke up. He thought he could safely assume she wasn’t interested in him for boyfriend material.
“I’ve got to stop drinking.”
His foot nearly slipped on the silk black panties she left behind on his floor. A flash of the woman and what they had done went off in his head. He gave a quick smile to himself before buttoning his pants and making his way through his house, gathering his things.
He walked into his kitchen, a small hole kept hidden in his slightly larger hole of an apartment. He saw the mess; the bottles and puddles of booze, the flattened and dried grapes, the odd used condom hanging haphazardly out of the trashcan. His stomach twisted into his gut like a fork twirling spaghetti noodles. Great memories often become disgusting current events. That’s the cursed blessing of spontaneity. He decided against a home cooked breakfast, opting for some kind of ‘Mc’ prefixed snack instead.
He couldn’t stand traffic. He didn’t live in a great big city or anything but even the smaller towns could have their own hazards. He craned his neck into the close-to-biting air of the mid-autumn breeze. Lord knows why he always kept his window open.
There was an accident. Great. Dustin just sat back letting the wind hit his face. It gave him the illusion of movement. Then again, and this always made him laugh in the oddest way, his whole life had that same illusion. He settled down. There was no use in getting worked up over being held back from a job he didn’t want and a life he didn’t like. He’d just sit there and let the flow take him. Damn the traffic, he thought, this is a lake and I’m just going to keep floating.
Three or so minutes later, his canoe hit a rock in the shape of his cell phone.
“No, I’m sitting here stuck in this goddamn traffic…”
His boss was a prick.
As a matter of fact, every boss he had ever worked for could be categorized as a prick. He assumed every boss everyone worked for could be called a prick. So generally, when talking about him, he just called him ‘my prick’. This caused the rare eavesdropper some discomfort every now and again when they overhead his digression on how he nearly punched his prick in his face.
He was given the usual bull. ‘Get in here as soon as you can or it’s your job, Dawes!’ That was the last line in a four minute speech that everyone knows, some by heart. All you have to do is replace the last name and it’s someone else’s life.
“How can I get in there? Do you want me to fly? Do I have some kind of magical power now?”
“Don’t be a wise-acre. Just get to your unit and get on your route!”
Dustin sat in his car with the phone to his ear for almost a minute before he realized there was no one on the line anymore. Damn cellphones.
Of course he’d been chewed out. Of course shit hit the fan. But it always had and it always just fell back into place as shit normally did. His prick really wasn’t such a bad guy. Years of dealing with the concerns of middle management had distanced him from the concerns of real people and it showed. Hard. Results were what was important. That wasn’t really unrealistic but there had to be some kind of trade off and those blue collar workers who found themselves right above the shit-kickers and the fridge-lifters always seemed to forget that.
Dustin had gotten his bitching, his van, and set out on his menial way within five minutes of reaching the station. He laughed to himself. That was actually quicker than he would have made it without the negative citation.
He never claimed to be a great worker. On the contrary, Dustin was always so defensive of his behavior mostly because he knew he was always a rat ass hair’s width from being fired. The best way to get socked in the mouth was to go up and tell him you found one of his bags laying on the side of the road… He’d slam you alright but then he’d go out and look for it.
Today, though, things were going relatively alright. No horrible dogs. No snotty kids with slingshots or paintball guns. Nothing but poor old Mrs. Hubert. Poor old, gross, touchy-feely Mrs. Hubert.
He shivered as he pulled up to her drive. What in the hell had she ordered this time? Some ridiculously useless piece of infomer-crap, he’d wager. He sometimes got the feeling that she’d buy these things just to have the short lived company of some unsuspecting delivery boy. He thought that ten years ago and with each creepy and quasi-molesting encounter it just seemed to get more and more likely.
As he walked up to her door he had to muse to himself that he didn’t hate her. He didn’t even really mind her. Hell, from the pictures he’d seen from her door — assuming they were of her — fifty or so years ago he might have went ahead and delivered the package she really wanted. At least then he’d have something to write to the nudie mags about.
Her doorbell was a vanity number. It chimed some tune like you’d hear Carmen Miranda singing in an old movie. This hag was from a different world. One of snuff films and feathered fan dances. Alright, Dusty, brace yourself for–
And there she was, the withered old crone in a long ruby red robe and matching cigarette holder.
“Oh! It’s you.”
Exaggerated and poorly acted.
Yep, Dustin knew it, whatever was in the box in his hands didn’t matter much. She bought it more for the interaction with him. She eyed him up one way and down the other. Her overly plump lips curved at the end. He saw the incredible effort they were making under her botched plastic surgery and started swallowing back the disgust.
“You’ve brought me my new radio blender, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Sign here.”
“Silly boy, I know just where to put it. Just let me get something to write with.”
She turned ever so slightly to get a pen from the table near her door. She angled herself so that whatever amount of cleavage she had, the parts that weren’t deflated and hanging listlessly, would threaten to spill out.
Oh dear god, please be wearing something under the robe. Please be wearing something under that goddamn robe!
Dustin’s hand went into his pocket and in a flash of a second he was brandishing an uncapped pen dangerously close to her face.
“Here you go.”
Botox didn’t give way for many emotions but she could display dismay quite well. She took the pen from his hand with an inaudible huff and signed her name. Her fingers grazed his wrist in the not-so-subtle way. To say ‘graze’ is understating really but it’s not something everyone feels; being groped on bare skin by hands that feel so leathery they could be the wings of a large bat.
He smiled while everything under his skin convulsed. Somewhere in the back of his mind that sweet young girl he had in his bed last night did a horrible transformation. She shrunk and hunched. Her lips grew and the skin on her eyes drew back until she was squinting unnaturally. He tried to keep things out of his head, like the fact that every hot piece of ass eventually turned into a cold bag. But with that cracked, dry, clammy hand caressing his skin… He shuddered and his mental defenses fell.
Dustin blinked, stepping back and holding in a heave. In that moment he felt something more than dislike. He couldn’t even raise his eyes to her. Barely hearing whatever the hell she was mumbling, he left.
He didn’t turn to see if she was watching him walk down the path. He didn’t wiggle or jiggle or play to her aging desires. Not today. Something in him churned. He wouldn’t have been too surprised had an alien popped out of his chest.
He stumbled to his still open door and pulled himself into the vehicle. He couldn’t place it. His feeling of disgust was too… disgusting, too strong and too intense. He began to sweat through his shirt all the way into the driver’s seat of his beat-up postal van.
Can’t breathe, Christ! I can’t breathe!
Everything spun and shook at the same time. He was in some ridiculous carnival ride gone wrong. He turned to make sure the cargo was still secure.
Of course it was secure. Nothing was happening! At least nothing in the real world. He grabbed the steering wheel. It was like an anchor to him, something to keep him steady as his mind shook to shit.
His own dark eyes met him in the mirror, somehow safe from the tremors. They were constantly still almond shapes surrounded by the blurriness of movement.
Shit! What did I take last night?
Squeezing his eyes shut he held on for dear life.