Special thanks to TERRY MINTON for supplying some of this week’s .gif images!
Episode 2: Hair Today, Dog Gone Tomorrow
Hello there, dear reader! Dr. Jackson O’Brien here. Noted Astro-taxidermist, celebrated Fermentationologist, and award-winning Neologism Manufacturer. I’m currently serving as a freelance detective into matters of the potentially transmundane.
Before I begin to inform you of the results of my newest case, I thought I would further update concerned readers out there about the condition of my colleague, Jane Woodardson. You will recall that Jane had run afoul of a pack of dinosaurs that had been driven to reckless traffic maneuvers in the town of Serendipity Commons by “the device”: a dubious artifice created by The Man in the Paisley Scarf.
You will no doubt be pleased to know that Jane is not only out of the hospital, but she and the dinosaurs have made good on their intent to form a book club, which also serves as a literacy course for the prehistoric creatures, who prior to this arrangement not only lacked the ability to read but were in fact terrified by books in general. Once Jane managed to get past their natural inclination to adopt territorial threat displays whenever a book was presented things ran much more smoothly. I’ve since sent their club an autographed copy of my latest book, to which I am told they only destroyed thirty-five percent of. This is a monumental indication of progress, and I wish Jane the very best.
But on to the case, dear friends, for the chase was well and truly afoot! With my failure to bring the events of Serendipity Commons to an amicable close—and due to the fact that the majority of the town no longer exists—I was hard pressed to find any follow-up clues to track down The Man in the Paisley Scarf, or his underhanded two-smiles lackey. I must admit that I was dismayed. I spent a week in solitude consuming large quantities of store-brand gelato and the wisdom of outdated fishing periodicals.
It was at that low point when I received an email by way of Les Fraicpays, emeritus, who was a fan of my work. He instructed me to come with all due haste to Chance Valley, where he informed me that a strange plague was gripping the town. By way of evidence, the email included a link to a clip from a locally-run commercial advertising a new energy drink that was gaining popularity there.
The tagline for the performance-enhancing beverage was simply “Surrender”, which felt more at home in one of those over-produced faux-European cologne commercials than it did here. My interest was instantly piqued, as even I could see that the hairpiece worn by the actor was a breed with the entirely wrong temperament to serve as a toupee. I flew out at once.
The airport at Chance Valley, surprisingly, was empty. Perhaps it was a preventative measure, as Les had referred to the malady as a plague. Was it truly viral in nature? If so, why was the flight allowed to land at all? Come to think of it, the plane was suspiciously empty as well. I had not noticed at the time, flush as I was with the good fortune to get an additional packet of honey-roasted peanuts. Avarice blinds us all, it would appear.
There were no plastic-suited hazmat crews to welcome me, which lead me to believe that a conclusive quarantine had not been established. My next thought concerning the malady was that perhaps Les was merely being poetic in his description, rather than actually asking me to perform the functions of the Center for Disease Control. Which, incidentally, though I do attend their yearly charity “Pin the Tail Fiber on the Viral Genome” and “Mystery Injection BBQ” events, I am not an official member.
Les no doubt would have realized this, which meant I had been invited out because this problem was linked to previous cases. Said hunch was confirmed upon exiting their airport, where three women who introduced themselves as members of the Chance Valley Council approached me.
Their pleasing matching outfits notwithstanding, their method of conversing made communication somewhat staggered, as they had a bare fraction of a second when their heads whipped around to the apex of their tumbling to get out a word.
“Welcome! To! Chance! Valley! We’re! So! Happy! You! Arrived! To! Help! Us!” they managed to get out in staccato unison.
“Um, yes, well,” I answered. “Les Fraicpays called for me. Can you tell me more about the nature of the issue? I understand if you don’t wish to roll-over on anyone, but-”
Upon mention of rolling over, I witnessed the brief, rotating flash of their eyes going wide.
“Not!” screamed the first.
“You!” wailed the second.
“Too!” finished the third.
The three dropped prone to the ground, and began to roll away with enough speed to keep pace with the traffic, and quickly vanished from view. Disturbed by their reaction, I decided to hit the streets in an attempt to gauge just how prevalent, and potentially disastrous, this issue was. Before long, I could hear a distant clamor. It sounded like a cacophony of raised voices and . . . barking? As I watched, a handful of citizens, all in various states of undress and performing what appeared to be simple tricks while casting furtive glances about, made their way in a pack up the street. I followed at a safe distance.
I arrived at the town square, where a large crowd had gathered. It was here that the quality of the “plague” revealed itself to me starkly. Those afflicted each presented one of two distinct symptoms. Firstly, there was the spectacle of simple tasks. Some were rolling on the ground in place. Others were offering their hands, palm down, and begging those around them to shake their appendages. Still more were simply begging; supplicating themselves for some unspoken reward.
The second, and to my mind more striking symptom that was presented in some of the victims was that those afflicted with the other malady had been completely transformed into dogs. Here, a fluffy Pomeranian draped with pearls struggled with a fetching evening dress. There, a Husky in a power-tie was turning circles to make a bed out of its rumpled suit. There, in the midst of the fracas, was an elderly man attempting to salvage the oncoming canine catastrophe.
“Fire with water! Yang with yin! We will stem the dire doggie disaster!” he yelled while hurling a calico kitten into the waiting hands of one of the begging victims. I can not say if his plan was successful, as the kitten tumbled through the fingers of said person, who was left with a blank look of confusion before they resumed their ongoing trick. I believe they might have yelled something to the effect of needing validation that they were, in fact, a “good boy”. It was hard to suss out the subtext over the crowd.
Very soon, the square was rife with addled humans, disheveled dogs, and shell-shocked kittens wandering about, with a discount Rasputin holding court over the throng. I took stock of myself. My pulse was slightly elevated, but otherwise fine. No cold sweats of hot flashes that I could detect. More importantly, I did not feel the desire to perform any trick or lick my own genitals, which I took as a positive sign that this affliction was not catching. How then, did these people come to this state?
It was at this point, brave reader, that I felt a tug upon the hem of my tailored slacks. (This episode brought to you by Taylor’s Tales of Tailoring Tails. “Taylor’s: When the tale is told tomorrow of your tailored tail, they’ll ask, but Taylor’s never tells!”) I looked down to see a pit-bull gently gripping the hem with his mouth, as to get my attention. My suspicion was validated when it looked up at me, and spoke.
“Are you Dr. Jackson O’Brien, perchance?”
For my part, I could not tell you if I was more astonished by the hound’s capacity for speech, or its marvelous diction. I mutely nodded by way of response, still enthralled by the turn of events.
“Good. My name is Dr. Terrance Staffordshire. I am a physicist, and I believe I can help you help us. If you will kindly follow me.” His ears perked up at that moment, and both of us had to quickly step aside as a new mutation of the affliction rocketed in from the park beyond the town square, zipped between us, and gave chase to some of the kittens.
“I see that the effects have entered an unstable stage,” Terrance said, concerned. “Nothing for it but to press on. This way, please.” He turned, trotted a few paces away to lift his leg and mark a nearby wall, and then continued on out of the square. I followed, smiling in spite of myself. His demeanor and candor was refreshingly pleasant.
“I must say,” I admitted, “Your genial personality is surprising, given what I’ve heard of the breed.”
“It’s understandable,” he replied over his shoulder. “Physicists always get an unfair reputation. Just this way, if you’d be so kind.”
We turned a corner. As we walked, I asked the good doctor if he had heard of the man who contacted me about this case, Les Fraicpays. The doctor had indeed heard of him. Moreover, he admitted, Les was part and parcel responsible for their current predicament.
Les had arrived two weeks earlier, presenting the research group at Chance Valley Polytechnic Institute with a rare sample of as of then uncatalogued isotopes. The scientists, ever curious, had not verified Les’ background before they began experimentation. Merely a day later, the first symptoms began presenting, and the effects of whatever Les had delivered spread across the town soon after.
Terrance lead us to a motel just on the outskirts of town. I had the uneasy feeling that our progress was being watched, but I could find no overt signs of being followed. Time was of the essence, and so I opened the room that the doctor dutifully pointed out with his snout.
“I left the isotopes here on the off-chance that their proximity was the cause of the malady,” Terrence explained. “I’m afraid I’ve not been able to learn more than-”
Once more, his ears perked. I was momentarily sure we were about to have another visit from the speeding disembodied basset hound head, with half a second later, I heard the noise as well. It was tinny at first, and heavy with bass.
“Oh no . . .” sighed Terrance. “Not again.”
The sound grew louder, a strident chorus of males could be heard harmonizing. “What again?” I asked, straining to understand the oncoming vibrations. “What’s happening?”
“You must understand!” he cried over the still-increasing sound. “The last time we attempted to neutralize the effects, we were assailed by this sonic anomaly! Hurry!” He scampered into the room, tearing around the bed and sliding into a nearby footstool.
“But what-” I began, but then the noise had arrived in full, and I could at last make out the triumphant cries of the spectral male choir. Terrance was furiously digging beneath the bed as the music flooded into the room.
“BEELZEBUB HAS A DEVIL PUT ASIDE FOR ME!”
“Almost got it!” roared Terrance.
“Here! Come quickly!”
I raced around the bed just as the first bass drum hit shattered the air. Terrance was overcome by the auditory onslaught, and was seemingly unable to control his actions as he was reduced to violently headbanging even as he desperately pointed at the packet he had retrieved from beneath the motel bed.
“There! There! There! You must take it! I can not stop myself, and I have no thumbs!” he cried.
I could feel the power of the music begin to subvert my motor reflexes, and my head began to bob in rhythm. There was no time to lose! I snatched up the bag, and fled outside, pursued by the exultant voice of a phantom Freddie Mercury admonishing me for believing I could simply adore him and leave him to his inexorable fate!
I turned around, desperate to find anything that might stem the tide. My neck muscles screamed in protest, and my bobbing grew more percussive with each step I took.
“CAN’T DO THIS TO ME BAYBAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYY!”
Then I saw it! Nestled in the main office of the motel was an honest-to-goodness older model of refrigerator! I hurtled at the monolith of archaic cooling technology. Gleaming trim-
“JUST GOTTA GET OUT!”
Cornflower blue paint, and-
“JUST GOTTA GET RIGHT OUTTA-”
Lead lining. I hurled the bag inside, slammed the door shut, and collapsed at the base of the monument to mid-century consumerism. The music ended at that instant, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Alas, dear reader, that relief was short lived. As I lay upon that checkered floor, I could see through the open office door out into the parking lot, and the woods beyond. Motion caught my eye, and I spied a figure watching me with an appreciative smile.
He held aloft what appeared to be a small cloth bag, which he then whipped with an underhanded toss into the parking lot. It landed with the sound of brittle ice. He lifted his pipes, gently blew out the last notes of the song that had nearly possessed me, and cantered away into the brush line.
Curious, I strode into the lot, and retrieved the bag. I untied its drawstring, and upended the contents onto the asphalt. Scrabble tiles plinked happily across the space before me. As I examined them, I realized that the tiles spelled out the name Les Fraicpays. Then, a dawning realization struck me, and I methodically rearranged both name and surname, to reveal the true horror of the day:
The Man in the Paisley Scarf. He had struck again, with great effect, and it was clear that his lieutenants were growing both in number and potentially mythological affiliation. He had brought me here. Why? To bear witness? To gloat? To see me unable to resist the radio-friendly rock of Queen? I could not divine the fell purpose of his mind. Perhaps that was the point: that he was beyond me.
I, Dr. Jackson O’Brien, refused to believe that. I returned to the motel room to find my compatriot, Terrance, returned to human form, nude, and trying to hide said nudity behind the complimentary room bible. He thanked me profusely for my actions and quick thinking, and I in turn thanked him for his assumed modesty.
I could not smile, however, which was quickly picked up by Terrance. “Why so dour?” He asked. “No doubt the rest of our town will return to normal soon if it hasn’t already. Surely this is a victory?”
I shook my head, casting a glance outside to the trees beyond. “A skirmish, good sir. One of many to come in a war, it seems.” I turned to depart.
“Where will you go from here?” He called after me.
I smiled back at him, and said, “To gather the troops, naturally.”
Through the efforts of the cured townsfolk, I was put upon the first flight out. This case was closed, but it was now clear that there was a larger machine at work. Cases within a grand case. Case Prime. And I would solve it!
With that, noble reader, I wish you a fine day, smart fashion choices, and the company of friends in your future.
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