Zappy’s Magic Shop in downtown Berlin, Wyoming smelled of glee and trickery when Steel Brandenburg III first walked in during his lunchbreak on a Wednesday.
An old man with a moustache the color of smog and twirled oddly on the ends looked up and smiled brightly. His antique head was speckled and oddly shaped and he was bald except for a few wispy golden-brown strands fluttering about untamed. “Hello!” he greeted him. “Welcome to Zappy’s.”
Steel looked around the colorful and whimsical shop. It was warm, yet creepy. “Hi. I’ve never been here before. It’s strange but wonderful.”
The old man, the owner, that being Geppetto Zappy himself, came out from behind the counter and walked happily toward him with exuberant and open arms. He wore green corduroy pants with suspenders and a white shirt, one that was a bit too large for his small frame and somewhat wrinkled. “So, what can I help you with today, young man? Are you interested in performing some magic?”
“I’m not much for magic,” Steel said. “But would you have any of that trick gum that turns a person’s mouth a different color?”
The old man happily clapped his hands together and grinned. “Yes, yes, yes! I do have trick gum, the best in town.” He paused to consider what he had said and stuck a crooked finger in the air. “Make that the best and only trick gum in town.” He motioned to Steel to follow him. “This way. I will show you.”
Geppetto Zappy returned to his space behind the counter and gingerly retrieved three packs of trick gum from a display case and laid them out. “These are my best ones,” he said, and he leaned forward and spoke quietly even though he didn’t need to because the shop was otherwise empty. “What color were you looking to paint these bastards’ mouths with? Huh?”
Steel looked over the selection seriously and then put a finger on one of the packs. “What about this one?”
“Ah, yes,” the old man said. “This one will make them turn yellow, and it tastes just like mustard.” He chuckled. “Who wants gum that tastes like mustard? Not me. Do you like mustard?”
“No,” Steel answered. “Is it spicy mustard?”
“I think it’s more like the tangy yellow mustard,” he explained. “You know, like at the cheap burger places with the clown and that creepy king.”
Steel pointed to another pack. “And that one?”
“Ah, this one is green and tastes like grass fertilized with cow manure. Isn’t that disgusting? I wouldn’t want that in my mouth.”
“Yes, rightfully so… And that one?”
“Right. Excellent choice. This is my bestseller of all time. It will cover their deceitful lips and tongue and teeth with the blackest of black, midnight black, black hole black… And, it burns with the taste of pepper.”
Steel thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. They all seem intriguing.”
Geppetto Zappy looked up into Steel’s worrisome face. “Perhaps I can help you decide. What is… How do I say it… Your motivation for pranking?”
“Yes, yes. Why do you want to give someone a piece of trick gum? Hmm?”
Steel considered the old man’s question, then quickly answered. “Revenge.”
Geppetto Zappy grinned with a good fever in him. “Oh. Revenge. That my young friend is the very best kind of trickery… Is it for your wife?”
“I’m not married.”
Steel shifted uncomfortably from the thought of it. “I don’t have a girlfriend either. I don’t have anyone.”
Geppetto Zappy suddenly felt bad for Steel and wanted to help him out somehow. “I tell you what. You seem like a good person who wants to do nothing but right some wrongs. I support that. I will always support that. So, here’s what I’m going to do. If you buy two, I’ll let you have the third for nothing.”
Steel looked at him and smiled. “Yes. I’ll do it. I’ll take all three.”
“Wonderful! Wonderful!” the old man exclaimed. “I’m very happy for you!” He rang up the sale, bagged the packs of gum and handed it across the counter to Steel. “Now, you make sure to come back and tell me how it all went. Okay? I love stories of revenge.”
Steel turned at the door and looked back at him, suddenly feeling a bit sad to leave the old man there by himself. He liked him. “Thanks. I will.”
Steel walked into the office of the Berlin (Wyoming) Daily Times like Tony Manero strutting down a street in Brooklyn carrying cans of paint, Staying Alive by the Bee Gees playing in the darkest depths of his mind.
Plump Carrie Gould noticed him because it was so unusual for Steel to look so confident and happy. Her strained heart skipped a beat. “My, my,” she said as he passed in front of her desk. “Someone is in a good mood.”
Steel suddenly stopped and turned to look at her. “What was that you said?”
He never cared for Carrie Gould because she was nauseatingly peppy and talked about Jesus and the Bible a lot and always trying to get people to come with her to church on Sunday, but then would turn around and hatefully gossip about those same people behind their backs.
She had a big round head beneath that blonde bob, fat cheeks, thin lips with no color, a squashed and oily nose and barely any neck. Her clothes strained to breathe daily because she was so large… And she smelled bad. Steel figured it was because she couldn’t reach certain areas of her body with soap. He laughed inside when he thought about how Dr. Now from My 600-Pound Life would certainly chastise her for poor hygiene when he stepped through the door of the exam room. “Hello, how you all doing? What is the problem with the hygiene? I can tell from here you’re not washing yourself.”
His demeanor frightened her a bit and that made her sad, too. She had a little bit of a crush on him, feelings she only revealed to her dirty diary back home. “I… I just said it seems like you’re in a good mood today. Are you in a good mood today?”
He faked a smile at her. “In some ways I am, but in other ways I’m not. You know how it goes… Life and all its ups and downs. I’m sure you know all about ups and downs.”
“Well, sure. Like you say… Don’t we all,” she nervously replied. “But then I put my faith in the Lord, and I feel so much better about everything… Are you a man of faith by any chance?” she asked with hope.
“Me? No. I mean, maybe when I was younger, but the world has taught me something altogether different.” Steel glanced around at the mostly empty office in order to derail the subject of organized – rather disorganized – religion. Everyone else was still out on their lunch break or attending appointments with clients or doing interviews. “It gets quiet in here when no one’s around. Don’t you get lonely?”
Carrie Gould obesely chuckled. “Oh, my yes it does. But I don’t mind. I like the quiet… And I’m never completely lonely. Not when Jesus walks beside me.”
“Right,” Steel replied. “Hey, would you like a stick of gum?”
Carrie Gould brightened. To her, gum was food and she loved food, any kind of food. “That would be wonderful.”
“Great,” Steel said with a grin, and he opened the bag from Zappy’s and pulled out one of the packs he had bought. “All right. It’s fresh, never opened. I’ll let you have the first piece.”
Carrie Gould was flattered, and her eyes widened, and she giggled like a schoolgirl. Steel undid the pack, pulled out a piece and handed it to her. “Here you go. Enjoy.” He walked off through an opening and back to the area that housed the small editorial department of post-office-aluminum painted cinderblock and small windows that were selfish with the sunlight.
A few moments after he sat down at his desk, he heard an agonizing scream and Carrie Gould came bounding into the room, nearly stumbling at the step down. Her mouth was open like a dog panting, and it was all stained in a deep sickly yellow color. Tears were coming out of her eyes and dripping down her chubby face.
“What is this!?” she whined, feverishly waving a hand at her mouth. “It’s so disgusting!”
Steel laughed out loud and pointed at her. “Got you! It’s mustard gum!”
“Mustard gum! I hate mustard!” she howled.
“Well, that makes it extra special then,” Steel said with another big laugh.
“You bastard!” Carrie Gould cried out, and then she started gagging and she ran off to the women’s room like a stampeding elephant.
Steel couldn’t help but follow her and then he stood outside the bathroom door listening to her gag and spit and groan. He lightly tapped a knuckle against the door. “Carrie… Are you okay in there?”
“Leave me alone!” she yelled. “What a horrible thing to do to someone.” She continued to choke and spew.
“It was just a joke,” Steel said through the door. “Don’t you have a sense of humor?” He heard the water come on at the sink and the sounds of vigorous rubbing and splashing and spitting. Then he heard crying. But he didn’t really care. The door suddenly opened and there stood Carrie Gould with a very sour look on her face, tears in her eyes and with a mouth still showing the remnants of the yellow.
“I don’t think it was very funny at all,” she said, her mood low and crushed. “Why would you do something like that to me? I’ve never done anything to you. Not ever. I’ve always been kind to you.”
Steel gave her a sickened look. “I see right through you, Carrie. I see who you really are. I’m a highly intuitive genius and you don’t fool me one bit. You give off bad vibes. You’re not a good person. You hide behind that Bible and preaching and act like you’re some wonderful human being but in reality you’re nothing but a fat sack of shit.”
Carrie Gould was horribly shocked by his hateful words, her yellow mouth gaped in disbelief as her heart slowly tore in two. She cowered at first, but then righted her self-pride like an overturned tugboat rights itself in the water, and she thrust a shaking pointer finger toward his face, angry like a freshly steamed dumpling. “You’re not going to get away with this. I’m going to report this incident to Mr. Creep. He already doesn’t like you and this is going to be the last straw for him… And hopefully for you. But even so, I’ll be praying for you, Steel.” She stomped off to her desk, snatched up her purse and coat and walked out the front door of the office and disappeared into the ringing palladium sun.
TO BE CONTINUED
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