Rod Serling might have said: Presenting for your consideration one Mr. Harrison Banes, an overweight and lonely postal worker. By any normal measure, an unremarkable young man. However, there are other measures. For you see, Mr. Harrison Banes happens to boast more than a nodding acquaintance with … The Twilight Zone.
Scene One (the time – 1970s, the place – California)
Harrison Banes prepares to leave for work. He stuffs his lunch into grocery bags. Shaved and combed, he takes one last look in the mirror. Uneasy, frightened, this is the night he’s been dreading. He does not want to face it. Or maybe he does. Six of one, half dozen of the other. Let’s leave it there. Moving to the door of the messy one room studio apartment, he pats his pocket to feel for his keys. He grips his lunch grocery bags, flips off the light switch with his elbow, and exits the, let’s face it, crummy dump.
A hot night, true. Sweat cascades, drenching his shirt. Harrison Banes sits rigid, his ridiculous bulk wedged into his VW bug. Harrison is fat, hugely obese, and at this moment, when the terror of believing something bad awful will happen to him in the wee hours of the morning as he works stuffing mail into post office boxes, he tries to bury fear with comforting thoughts of food. He reruns the dinner memory of chomping on an extra large La Barbara’s chewy cheese and meatball pizza, his mouth glistening with grease, a rivulet running down his neck and congealing. A stripe of congealed fat? Whoa, but yes. Pleasures are found where they’re found. He invades one of his lunch grocery bags, digs out a carton of powdered donuts, tears open the box and devours the donuts. Moaning mouth breather. I’ll not pull punches. He wipes his mouth across the back of his hairy ham of an arm. Yes, a big, fat slob. Too, too true. He rumbles a low long belly-shaking belch. Hunched over the wheel, Harrison Banes feels safe momentarily in food heaven, his favorite place to be. He drives to work. The three airplane tire inner tubes of fat looped around his middle squeeze together when he bends to retrieve his lunch grocery bags from the floor of his car, now parked in its usual post office space. He opens the door, struggles free, and enters the building. He leaves the grocery bags in the breakroom. They won’t fit into his puny cube of a locker. Dark thoughts fill his head. Doom. Gloom. And yet, ever beneath, the curiosity. He looks up to find himself standing in front of the time clock. He withdraws his card from its slot and punches in on the click of midnight.
Several months earlier, Harrison spends his first night on the job. The graveyard shift supervisor, wearing a top hat and tinted granny glasses, introduces him to Manny Gonzalez, who is moving to days and whose duties Harrison will be inheriting. Harrison watches the guy sitting in front of a case full of cubbyholes and holding a bunch of letters in his left hand and flicking them with amazing speed and accuracy into the holes with his right hand.
“You throw letters in here first, then take ’em to the boxes. Saves you walkin’ all around, dealin’ ’em out one at a time. Boxes get a lotta mail have their own space in the case here. Space gets twenty-thirty letters, put ’em in the box. ‘Stead of twenty-thirty trips, one trip. Why don’t you start workin’ those flats?”
“Flats. Flat, like letters, but bigger. Like manila envelopes and such. We throw ’em in that case. Why don’t you start on those?”
The first letter arrives on July 8th. Harrison picks it up on his second walk around to the distribution clerks and the machines. He dumps the mail into the waist-high basin of his case back in the box section, perches his massive bulk on the stool, grabs a handful of mail and starts throwing. The machines grow quieter, and everything around him fades as Harrison stares at the black envelope he holds in his hand. Box 3053, but no stamp. This goes to postage dew clinging to sunrise grass, green. Harrison, sitting in the tree above the blue, and yes, babbling brook, stretches his wings, first left, then right. He stretches his legs, first left, then right. He fluffs out all of his feathers, shudders and smooths them back down. He chirps, sings. He is hungry. He flutters to the grass below and stands quietly, his head cocked to one side, listening intently. He pecks quickly at the dark moist earth under the grass and brings up a worm. He eats it. He feels nothing short of lovely.
“Did you happen to notice throwing a letter in a black envelope last night?” Harrison asks all the distribution clerks. They say no and ask why. “The damnedest thing,” he mumbles, “just the damnedest thing.” And walks away.
His coworkers are friendly to him, and he is cordial in return, but they do talk about him on their breaks. “There are some strange folk working nights,” one says. And you’re one of them, thinks another. “Banes is a good worker, but pretty far out there. What do you think about that black letter thing? Do you think he’s doing drugs or something?” “He’s doing more pizza than drugs. Did you see what he did to the 4th of July buffet? God, can he eat.”
Harrison asks Ross, day crew and in charge of the box section, about 3053. He wants to know about the guy who rented the box. Oh, Harrison knows the name. He went right over to the files and looked up the information after his first funny experience. EL DIABLO ENTERPRISES. What the hell? El Diablo Enterprises, my ass!
“Business purposes, I remember. A few weeks back. Just a normal looking fellow. Business suit. Conservative.”
“Do you know when he picks up his mail?”
“Nope. He doesn’t seem to get much mail.”
“He’s had some.”
“Yeah. Last night.”
Thirteen days pass, and nothing strange happens. Harrison’s routine returns to its usual monotony. He sleeps all day, wakes up at six, goes out for burgers or pizza or both, comes home to eat ice cream and watch television.
On July 22nd, there is a great surge of mail for no particular reason, and Harrison, alone in the box section, works in a sweating frenzy, trying to keep up with the staggering volume of letters. He is throwing so fast that his eyes barely have time to register on the scrawled white 3053 on the dark gray envelope before he is settling sleepily down in front of the fireplace after standing at the window and looking out onto the moonlit, frozen landscape, tall pines black shadows against the night and cold blue snow. He licks his paws and purrs, stares into the fire with his amber eyes. The yellow-red flames seem somehow cruel.
What the hell is going on? Harrison Banes checks box 3053 every night before he does anything else. There is never anything in there but junk – dear occupant stuff. And each Monday midnight when Harrison returns to work from his weekend off, the box is empty. Someone is cleaning out the junk. What happens to the letters? Harrison doesn’t know. He only knows that when he comes down out of the trance or sleep or whatever it is, he finds himself sitting on the stool peacefully, hands resting, right on left, atop his great globe of belly. And no letter. Not on the floor, in the trough or in the box.
When you are a fat guy, you worry a lot. Or maybe you don’t. But Harrison does. He worries about Mandrake Schwartzkraft, whose sharp spiky signature in red ink coils at the bottom of the file card for box 3053, El Diablo Enterprises. Mandrake Schwarzkopf, sure. Tell me another one. He takes the card out often, looking for something he hadn’t seen the previous dozens of times he’d examined it. But it is always the same. The address? He’d jumped on that right away first thing. Find the address, go out there and – and what? The address is a vacant lot, a gap between two duplexes in a seedy part of town.
Two letters, and now Harrison waits for a third. Some kind of a drug? LSD? What does he know about hallucinogens? Nothing. He’s never even smoked pot. But then, after all, what the hell is it hurting? It is scary to think about, but it isn’t so bad. In fact, Harrison begins to try to think more about peaceful, quiet natural scenes. But he can’t do it well, being a suburban city boy, and that frustrates him and makes him want another letter even more. And more.
He gets it on the fifth day of August. A gray envelope melts in his hand, and he licks off the honey. He had many bee stings, but the honey-eating orgy had been worth it. He moves heavily through the thicket and plunges into the hot sulfurous pool. His ageing bones feel the healing waters massage. He goes limp and lets out a long groan of contentment. What’s that? The roar of the younger grizzly. This is his place now. Banes has to pull himself from the pool and leave before the strong one finds him there.
“That fat guy, Banes, has changed,” they said. “He was kinda friendly when he first came on. Now he hardly says a word to anybody.” “Guys who are alone like that are sometimes very moody. I know. I had an uncle like that.” “Who cares about your uncle? I’ll take Banes any day over Sarge. At least Banes works. In my book, Sarge is the one who might come in here shootin’ one day. I’ll tell you one thing for sure about Sarge. He’s got the hippie scared.”
Two weeks later, on August 19th, he sees a sickly 3053 scrawled on the letter, which is light gray. And bitter cold. His ribs stand out, and he walks stiff-legged, panting with his red tongue lolling. His mate and the pups are dead, shot. Only he is left. And he knows it won’t be long before they get him, too. They are on his trail. He can hear them. He coughs blood on the snow and staggers crazily. His foot finds a hidden rabbit hole. His leg snaps. He howls in pain.
And so Harrison Banes does not want to go to work on the night of September 2nd. Or maybe he does. He senses it will be there. Two weeks. Every two weeks like clockwork the letters appear. He has done his calculations. It will be there. He might be counting on it. He puts his timecard back in its slot. He walks down the aisle and nods mute greetings to Bertie and Marge. The mail from the 11:30 truck is there to be cut and readied for distribution. He does it. Now he has to face the box section. He picks up the mail from the cases and the machines with a blank I-might-as-well-get-it-done-because-why-not expression on his face. He sets the tray of mail down at his case and adjusts the stool. He sits down and picks up the letter in a snow white envelope of fog through which he peers, trying to see ahead and keep his balance on the precarious rocky cliffs. He decides not to move until the mist rises, and so stands secure on his graceful, well-formed black hooves. His silky white beard captures moisture and sways in the gentle breeze. Harrison Banes shakes his head and bleats, his horns nicking the face of the cliff. The mist clears, and the mountain lion on the ledge above launches into the crisp morning air.
“Didn’t anybody work on the goddam boxes last night?” rages Ross at the supervisor. “Where’s Banes?”
“He was here at the start. But when he didn’t come over to help on the 1:30 truck, I went over to check it out. I figure he got sick and went home, but he never told a damn soul. What a hassle. I called his pad. No answer. I took a look, and his car is still out there. The vibes are bad, man. I don’t know what the story is.”
“I don’t either. And another thing – why does it smell like a goddam hospital over there?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m coming to that. I sent Marge over to catch up, but she said she wouldn’t work with that stench, and she was right. It stunk! So I sent Sid to deal with it when he came in this morning, and he deodorized the place.”
“Stench? From what?”
“I’m not positive, man, but you know, it freaked me. Bad scene flashback. You ever smell a goat that’s been dead a little too long?”
Bio: Steve Shilstone is an elderly benign hippie lite loon with a middle grade fantasy series of ebooks, The Bekka Chronicles, available from http://www.wildchildpublishing.com http://bekkaofthorns.com http://dochortonsloondiary.com