“Wop-bop-a-lubop, a wop bam boom,
In most ways, Steve “Don’t Call Me Steve-O” Duke was a normal, healthy (if a trifle imaginative) ten-year-old boy.
If he was perhaps a bit ungainly and awkward, if he had the world’s worst bowl-shaped haircut (thanks to his beauty school dropout Aunt Faye– the evil, kid-hating, chain-smoking harridan), and even if he did have glasses the lenses of which were exactly comparable in thickness and diameter to the bottoms of Coke bottles, he was not yet old enough to take these facts as positive proof that he was, in fact, a circus geek–despite the best efforts of the popular kids at the good ol’ playground at good ol’ Andrew Jackson Elementary in good ol’ Derry, Maine. These roaming and beautiful predators, the elite squadron of the Derry under-twelve jet set, rivaled OJ’s dream team in their evidentiary zest, regarding the many perceived failings of Steve as both a classmate and human being.
“Way to lose the game for us, Steve-O, you big dork,” he heard on Monday.
“Nice shoes, dickhead,” was Tuesday’s chart-topper, which had the added b-side of a Dutch rub for luck.
“Stop LOOKING at me, you big freak!” said a pig-tailed destroyer of worlds.
Thursday was early-release day for state-ordered vaccinations, so the best anyone could manage under the time constraint was, “Hey, there, Jethro Bodeeeeeeene,” with an inexplicable emphasis on the final syllable, like the last words of a suicide jumper.
But on Friday, Hayden Willits made up for it by kicking the holy living crap out of him for not giving over his lunch money fast enough.
Still, Steve had his pleasures, few and secret though they might be. There was television, there were books, and most beloved of all…there were comics. So it was impossible for Steve to be too worried about his day today. He wasn’t bothered by the prospect of another hideous day with his old bat of a teacher, his cruel and obnoxious classmates–he didn’t even care about Hayden Willits.
Because today was Tuesday. And that meant new comics.
* * * * *
He was eating Red Raspberry Zingers, a cereal he didn’t enjoy at all, and by strategic placement of his chair, he was able to watch the television in the family room at the same time. The Sharp Cereal Professor was on, tasting a spoonful of the same blood-red sludge he himself was sampling this very morning. “Nope, nothing wrong here,” said the smiling actor.
Because Steve had a spot of the flu, and because the red dye in the cereal was tainted, he vomited explosively on his mother’s butter and slate-patterned Formica breakfast table, and it looked for all the world as if he had literally puked his guts out.
“Sorry, mom,” said Steven, going back to the bowl of similarly-colored sugar, corn and chemical soup.
“That’s all right, dear,” said his mother, still pretty, but a bit worn looking after the suspicious deaths of eight husbands in what Steven had been assured were unrelated chainsaw accidents.
“Mom, can I have my allowance? It’s Tuesday,” which was unnecessary information to add, but he wasn’t thinking about financial tactics. He was thinking of Dinkin’s Derry Drugs, and the ancient spinner rack full of Marvel and DC treasures.
He vomited again.
“Of course, dear. You finish up and lock the door after you, all right? I’m late for work. And on the way to school, I want you to be careful. Don’t ride in any classic cars, don’t go near the pet semetary, don’t go in any antique or curio stores, don’t talk to any clowns, don’t look at any balloons, don’t go to the haunted house on the hill, or the completely different haunted house right next to the first one, don’t go to any high school proms, don’t get stranded on an island, don’t go by the old abandoned hotel, avoid any giant laundry-folding machines, don’t eat any pies with blood in them, don’t play with any novelty monkeys, don’t swim in the lake, don’t go into the restrooms at school, keep away from circuses and gazebos and cornfields and lawnmowers and prisons, don’t go to any filling stations if no one appears to be driving any of the trucks, and take a jacket. It looks like it could sprinkle.”
“Okay, Mom!” said a happy Steve, imagining the bounty of reading enjoyment to come later if he survived the day in Derry.
Then he vomited again and left, forgetting his jacket.
* * * * *
Miss Bridget didn’t look the least bit like Bridget Bardot. In fact, she looked like the ass end of a geriatric camel with the trots, but Steve wasn’t in charge of who he got for a teacher.
She was harsh and cruel, with a keen sense of each child’s secret shame, and a devastating willingness to bring up that exact thing in front of the whole class for the smallest infraction. When the formerly vivacious Patricia Creed spoke out of turn, Miss Bridget railed at her at length on the lack of willpower as evidenced by Patricia’s chronic bedwetting.
Patricia never raised her hand these days.
Miss Bridget had exactly one eccentricity: The end of her pointer had a plastic Green Goblin head on the very tip. No one knows how, or why, but it was spooky. Bet you’re spooked right now, huh? Brrrrrr. Green Goblin head!
Anyway, Miss Bridget felt that cruelty was a dish best served to everyone, and she was in rare form that day. “Class, as a special treat, I’m giving you an creative writing assignment. Something very special…”
The entire class groaned.
“Your assignment is; you will take a germ of a story, something that would fit nicely as, say, a half-hour episode of the Twilight Zone, and you will pad it out to no less than a thousand pages. This assignment is to be completed before the weekend. Feel free to add dozens of vague and meaningless subplots, and hundreds of inconsequential characters,” finished the old woman.
“Hot DOG!” squealed young Steven, who suddenly had this great idea for a series of novels about a guy going to his mailbox.
* * * * *
But Miss Bridget wasn’t as understanding as his mother, and demanded that Steve go to the restroom down the hallway, to ‘clean that blood-red vomit’ from his shirt.
“Wish I’d brought my jacket,” thought Steve, as he retched into the drinking fountain.
* * * * *
Steve strained to think of a great name for his new mailbox thriller. “‘THE MAILING.’ No, no. ‘CARDS FROM ATLANTIS.’ ‘THE ‘BOXING.’ ‘OCCUPANT.’ ‘SOMETIMES THEY DELIVER CATALOGS.’ ”SALEM’S GAS BILL.’ ‘THE LITTLE RED FLAG REDEMPTION.’ ‘CHILDREN OF THE CHAIN LETTER.’ ” Nothing seemed quite right.
Before he could enter the BOYS room (with the little pictogram of a pants-wearing stick figure with a perfectly-round head, clearly indicating BOYS not GIRLS), he was met by the school’s janitor, Wally. Wally was black, and therefore had magic powers. He was rumored to be one hundred and eighty years old, and he loved acid rock. “Jesus jumped up Christ! You don’ wan’ go in there, boy. That all I’m sayin’. Jesus wept A bucket full of Thunderbird! POWERFUL evil in tha’ place– A boy go in there, he don’ always come out. An’ sometimes, sometimes I find…stains. Evil stains.”
Steve swallowed hard. “Bl…blood stains?”
Wally laughed. “No, mostly piss stains. Whyn’t you boys learn how to god damn aim? Jesus jumped up Christ in A sidecar eatin’ graham crackers and deviled eggs on his way to the Super-Bowl!”
* * * * *
Steve, who had forgotten two pieces of his mother’s sage advice, sat on the toilet in the bathroom. It was a FLAGG PORCELAIN THRONE, the workhorse of the Maine schoolhouse restroom industry. There had been a scandal about a worker, a man named Pete Stillson, who had gotten his head caught in the flushing mechanism of the six-foot F.P.T. prototype. He drowned, screaming ineffectually as the blue-tinted TI-DEE-BOWL-contaminated water filled his lungs. Steven shivered as he sat waiting for the cereal to unleash it’s crimson fury from the other end. To take his mind off of his troubles, he did what he always did. He searched for new and filthy graffiti.
“For a good time, call Margaret White”
He snorted. This was hardly salacious enough to keep his interest. But when he looked again, the words seemed to have changed.
“.I. ..E.E., ..E”
He couldn’t quite make it out. He looked closer at the letters.
“.I. S.EVE., ..E”
And the words darkened as he watched in horror.
“DIE STEVEN, DIE”
All thought of his beloved comics, his teacher, his school and his mother disappeared. He clawed at the toilet paper dispenser, trying not to scream, trying not to vomit, thinking of nothing but the cleansing release of the rough, industrial grade tissue. But as the paper un-spooled, like the intestines of a hanged and disemboweled man, onto the filthy bathroom floor, Steven became aware of writing…there were words on the paper. A personal message to him, only to him. He knew who it was from before he finished unraveling the roll in panic.
“DIE, HATE, DIE, STEVEN, DIE
And when Steve felt the wet slap of a bloated, toilet-cleanser-stained hand on his shoulder, he knew who it belonged to before he turned, pants still around his ankles, to look.
“Hello, Steve. Came to use the toilet, eh? Guess you never thought that it might be someone’s gravestone, eh, Steve-O?” said the man standing, impossibly large, in the small space behind the toilet…the man with the blue, dripping skin, the ruined, water-logged eyes, and the shape of a toilet plunger clearly imbedded on his grinning face. Steve could make out the permanent backwards impression of the words TI-DEE-BOWL on the man’s slimy forehead.
“Goodbye, Steve-O,” said the creature with the horrible smile. ” Remember to wipe! Ha ha ha! REMEMBER TO WIPE! BE SURE TO WIPE, STEVE-O! HA HA HA HA HA!”
* * * * *
The weary detective with the bad suit and the notepad didn’t look at Wally as he spoke…”So you say the kid went in, but he never came out?”
“Jesus Jivin’ Christ Wearin’ Hikin’ Boots In The Rain With a Duck Tattoo! I TOL’ you tha’ already!”
“Huh. Well, he’s prolly playin’ hookey somewheres. He’ll wander in when he gets hungry enough.”
“That what you really think, Mr. Police Man? Off th’ record?”
The detective pondered. “No, that wouldn’t be very spooky. The toilet prolly ate him.”
“Now THA’s SPOOKY,” agreed the janitor, continuing to sweep, singing a Judas Priest song to himself.
“Brrr! I feel a chill just thinking about it,” said the detective.
“Because of the tension an’ suspense, I bet.”
“You GOT it, brother!” laughed the detective, who then got hit by a haunted, I don’t know, tractor, I guess.