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Author Topic: 25 Cents  (Read 7221 times)

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on: 01:22:06 AM 02/05/13
Life is precious. Death is cheap. Just 25 cents, in fact.

When I turned sixteen, it was time to get out of the house. Not in a sad, homeless, staring at happy families through frost-covered windows way, though. It was just a necessity that I spend the majority of my days doing something - anything - other than rotting on the sofa and playing on the computer.

I had dropped out of high school due in no small part to the roving bands of redneck bullies who doled out violence toward anyone different in any way. Having moved down from the North, I fell squarely into that category.

It only takes a few unchecked incidents of being shoved around or put in sleeper holds before your parents become startlingly "okay" with leaving the public education system.

So. Getting out of the house. It had been a few weeks and I my eternal presense coupled with a few missed showers had caused repeated insistance that I find some sort of gainful employment or at least a productive hobby. Since a "productive" hobby sounded a lot like a job with no paycheck, I opted for the former.

As it turned out, there weren't many businesses looking to hire some dumbass drop-out with long hair and the shadow of an erratic non-beard.

All the indoor work, like data entry or answering phones, was completely monopolized by the ladies. I must've walked into ten or twenty different offices only to be greeted with startled glances from a crowd of females. (Half of them pregnant.) They clearly didn't appreciate the "Circle of Estrogen" being broken, and no matter how fast I typed or how well-versed I was in the software, there was never a call back.

One woman even had me re-take a number keying test because she was sure the program had glitched. When I repeated the same speed, did better actually, she just shook her head and muttered, "Wow." It's not that I'm exceptional, just that she had probably interviewed a lot of computer novices.

But even then, no call back.

Conversely, "Man's Work" didn't go very well either. I didn't know how to skin anything, nor could I get the hang of heavy machinery, so even the jobs I DID get ended after a week or so. I rendered SO many things completely inoperable that I think I probably ended up costing these guys more than I helped them earn.

Even the "anyone can do it" world fast food was a distaster. I dropped whole trays of chicken when I got burned through the mitts. I got electrocuted by a deep frier when its screen went out and co-workers urged me to "jiggle the wire".

The whole endeavor of finding work was just this complex, implausible farce.

I gave it a serious shot... tried my ASS off... so I hope I don't garner too many disappointed clucks when I say I eventually stopped putting in any effort. I lied to my parents pretty much every day of the week, telling them I was still on the job hunt when I'd actually hang at the theater or down at the boardwalk.

It got to the point where people at Seaside Jubilee, a little bumpkin carnival on said boardwalk, started calling me by name.

"Hey!" the Dart Booth guy would call out, "Stay away! You have enough stuffed animals for a guy with no girlfriend!"

(The trick is to arc your throw so the dart comes down on the balloon.)

"Big man!" the Guess-Your-Weight dude would grab my stomach, "Aw, shit son. All that funnel cake is covering up those abs! You gotta cut that shit out!"

The Guess-Your-Weight dude was a towering mass of ugly who had played Basketball at my school the previous year. If he wanted to grab your stomach and call you fat, you just let it happen.

The only reason he was working there and not playing ball somewhere was a minor incident involving another student and a tire iron. His future was pretty much destroyed for the sake of proeticting the reputation of a girl he probably hadn't seen since he was handcuffed.

The only person there I'd never met was the "Dance-Fu" guy. Dance-Fu was this small, open-air booth with a video camera inside. The idea was that you could get a short DVD of your hot dance moves. Blaring house music would pump from the obnoxious cube as the poor sap who tended to it would just dance and try to entice customers in.

I had a special mix of pity and hatred for this guy. He was the textbook dweeb, thick glasses, slight frame, curly black hair that seemed like it desperately aspired to one day blossom into an afro. As the music played, as the exhausted, wild-eyed geek danced, I made up my own lyrics to the looping theme.


That was the whole song, because that's exactly how long the clip of music was. It just looped over and over again.

I eventually wised up a bit and asked if there were any job openings at Seaside Jubilee. I'd tried it at the theater first, but they wanted me to either cut my hair or wear a hairnet since they were hiring for the concessions stand. I declined based on the idea I'd probably get fired, anyway.

Luckily, they were hiring at Jubilee. Unluckily, my job... pitching "your face on a hat" to random passersby... was within earshot of that damned Dance-Fu machine. Over the next several nights working there, I was sure I would have to quit in order to spare my sanity.

If the music had changed at all, just once in a while, it wouldn't have bothered me.

It's difficult to say if I was relieved or ecstatic when the booth went missing one evening. It had been in a corner toward the back of the place, near this long pier with a seafood stand built right onto it. Then, it just wasn't there. Neither was its sweaty little hype man.

"Hey!" I gestured for Raphiel to come over. He had hired me and, as far as I could tell, he ran the majority of the place. If he wasn't the owner, he was at least a manager.

"Hey yourself." He called over, gesturing for ME to come to HIM. He was shorter than me, but you could tell he was muscular under the leather jacket and douchey scarf he always wore. The guy was a slime if ever I'd seen one.

"You got rid of that horrible dance thing." I pointed to where it had once stood as I begrudgingly approached him.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. This is pretty fucked up."

"What is?"

"The booth was all smashed and shit. Saul did it."


"Yeah, SAUL."

Immediately after I asked, it dawned on me that he was referring to the perpetually dancing dweeb.

"Well, he did you a favor. I hope you didn't fire him!"

We both laughed.

"Nah, he took a walk off the pier. Little fucker couldn't just kill his sorry ass, he had to cost me a few thousand bucks first."

Raphiel laughed, but this time I didn't join him. Before I could ask anything else, or even think of WHAT to ask, or if I wanted ask anything at all, Raphiel turned away from me and started calling out a string of profanities.

Turning to the target of his ire, I saw a couple mooks wheeling a large metal cube across the boardwalk. These guys, who looked like Raphiel's deformed clones, somehow managed to get this thing on a rolling palette. Just from the way they were rolling the thing, almost tipping it over onto themselves, I could tell there was not a brain between them.

"Put it over there, where the Dance-Shit went," he banged the side of the thing with his fist before thoughtfully adding, "Faggots."

Did I mention I didn't like Raphiel?

Once Raphiels 2 and 3 rolled the object into its new home, I could easily tell what the thing was. It had a heavy red curtain covering a small entrance, a coin slot, and another horizontal slot just beneath.

It was a photo booth.

Of course, there were other clues, such as the giant camera painted on it and a vibrant purple-and-red logo which read "PHOTO-A-GO-GO".

Beside the curtained doorway, neon pink lettering bold declared "An excuse to kiss your honey for very little money!"

The coin slot read "25 Cents".

The paint on the thing was peeling off a bit, exposing some rust. Scratches in its surface looked old, made with car keys by obnoxious teens who were probably in their fifties by now... maybe older.

"What the fuck, right?" Raphiel walked back to me, dusting his hands as if he had actually done any sort of manual labor. Behind him, the other two started haphazardly rocking the thing off of its palette.

"I think it's cool," I replied, "Twenty-five cents. Can't beat that."

I wasn't lying. I really did think it was cool. I have a thing for old signs and stuff like that. For the longest time, an old parking meter was the pride of my bedroom museum.

"Where'd you get it?" I added.

"Storage. I found it a while back," Raphiel seemed like he didn't actually want credit for unearthing the thing, "I was looking for something else, some parts, and there it was stuffed behind everything else in the fucking place."

Raphiel waved me away dismissively and let out a grunt. He then headed over to the photo booth again, pulled the curtain aside, and got in. As he did so, I could see the worn, cracked cherry-red seat inside.

"How's this work?" He pulled the curtain closed again.

The two mooks stood outside the booth until Raphiel urged them to put a quarter in and berated them for their stupidity. One of them obliged, and the booth played a shlocky prerecorded voice.

"SMILE FOR THE CAMERA!" the voice boomed.

"Yeah, fuck you." Raphiel replied.

There was a flash inside the booth.

"MAKE A FUNNY FACE!" the voice demanded.

"No." Raphiel chuckled.


"NOW MAKE ANOTHER!" the voice almost seemed irate, like a parent telling their child that we don't pull kitty's tail.

"Now shut the fuck up." Came the answer.


"KISS YOUR HONEY! the voice returned to its jovial, saccrine demeanor.

"Kiss my ass!"

Flash. Raphiel slipped back out of the booth and waited expectantly by the horizontal slot. It was at this moment that I realized there was no way there was any film in there, and if there WAS it wouldn't still be viable after however long the booth had been gathering dust.

"Shit. We need film. What kind of film does thing take?" Raphiel and his goons were at a loss, "Ahhh, shit. Okay, well that was a lot of work for nothing!"

The three of them walked off, leaving the photo booth behind. I watched them walk off, looked to the booth, and again studied the backs of their identical leather jackets.

They didn't seen intent on removing the thing or even making an "out of order" sign. Saving customers from losing a quarter didn't seem high on their priority list. Then again, it wasn't on mine either. If I was still just a customer, I would've hand-written "BROKEN" right on the thing in black marker. However, I now had a job to think about. Even if it was a crappy one.

Yes, costing Raphiel a single shiny quarter probably would've gotten me into hot water.

I watched from my kiosk as random people would walk up to the photo booth, study it, and discuss going in. If I didn't have a customer to deal with, I would shout over to toward the booth and let people know it wasn't working. These folks would thank me and go on their way.

If I was tangled up in trying to make a sale, however, those folks were on their own. I watched an old man take that disappointing trip into the booth... then an older married couple... then a group of three teenagers. Two girls and one guy, which made it seem like he could stand a little bad luck.

The last people into the booth that night were two of the foreign girls who worked the boardwalk. They were from Eastern Europe as far as I could tell, and I wasn't exactly sure what they were there for. All they would do is blow bubbles and talk to patrons. Sometimes, on rare occasion, they'd ask for someone to buy them something or win them a prize.

I guess they were just there to grease the wheels and keep the young men interested in all the attractions. Still, I couldn't help wondering if ol' Raph kept them around for himself. I could picture him making awkward, brutish moves on them under the pier.

They had to be younger than me, maybe thirteen, fifteen at the most, but I figured that might not be a problem for Raphiel.

I was busily emblazoning the image of a vacant, snotty-nosed toddler onto a baseball cap of questionable quality when I heard a scream. Then another. Then an entire chior of mismatched, startled shrieks.

I quickly shoved the shitty hat into the hands of the Granny who'd ordered it and followed the echoing ruckus to its source. A group of patrons had gathered at the end of the pier and were gawking over the edge. As I arrived to join them, I saw what the commotion had been about.

In the churning, black water was what looked to be the silhouette of a drowned corpse. The pier lights were reflected in the dark surface of the ocean, but the motion of the waves caused a flickering strobe effect that made it difficult to focus on the form.

A few able-bodied men jumped into what must've been absolutely freezing water and quickly moved to the body.

When they reached it, however, the men held up what turned out to just be a jacked... and scarf. The scarf was bundled together as if it had been wrapped around a neck, and had thus appeared to be a head.

Before they even returned to shore, I recognized the items. They had belonged to Raphiel who had either stripped them off in the heat of passion with an Eastern European girl, or...

No, it didn't seem likely that he'd fallen in. The guy was an idiot, but he lived and worked by the sea and didn't seem the type to flop over a railing or attempt a moonlit swim.

As the hubub died down and people returned to their seafood and games, I walked back to the accursed custom hat stand. I took my time, got a pretzel, talked to a few people... I was in no hurry to get back to work.

When I finally did seat myself on the fart-infused barstool that waited for me back at the kiosk, something immediately caught my eye.

The photo booth had finally spat out a thin, glossy strip of images.

Looking for interesting reason to leave my post again, I strolled over to the booth and yanked the photo strip from its slot. There were four photos of Raphiel, just like anyone would have expected.

However, I noticed some interesting details that caused concern.

The booth spat out a second strip. The old man. Then a third, and fourth, and then the final strip issued forth like the booth was spitefully spitting at me.

Each strip of photos featured the different people I had seen enter the booth, but each also displayed the disturbing imagery I had noted in Raphiel's photos.

I had no idea where the old man, the married couple, or the three teenages were at that point, but I knew the two bubble-blowing girls would still be on the boardwalk somewhere.

I set off running.

I shoved customers aside if they blocked my way, even if they seemed like they'd be able to chase me down and kick my ass. I blew off everyone who asked me what was wrong, and anyone who worked at the park got the same hurried, near-breathless request.

"Have you seen the foreign girls? God, tell me! Have you?!"

The only positive response came from the Guess-Your-Weight guy, who had just seen them pass. He pointed in a general direction, and I was off like a shot. I didn't even slow down when he called after me. "Yo, what's wrong, son? What's wrong?"

I caught sight of the girls as I reached the main office. The two of them were facing away from me, probably walking off to find Raphiel. I called after them, but since I didn't know their names, all I could shout was "Girls! Hey, Girls!"

They didn't turn around. They had no reason to think I was talking to them. They rounded a corner mere moments before I caught up with them.

As I turned the corner after them, I looked down at the wooden floor.

Lying there in the dirt and grime were two skirts... two blouses... two pairs of shoes, socks, bras, panties, purses, and even the butterfly clips that had been in their hair. Within the split second nobody was looking at them, the had completely disappeared. It was as if they physically ceased to exist.

I knelt at the pile of purfumed cloth... suddenly fell to my knees, honestly... and scattered the photo strips across the ground.

Each group of photos were mostly the same, even if the people IN them changed.

First image. "LOOK AT THE CAMERA!" Every face turned toward the camera, blank expression, wide eyes. Sitting completely straight.

Second image. "MAKE A FUNNY FACE!" Every face screaming, mouths painfully wide, exposing teeth, gums, a full view down the throat.

Third image. "NOW MAKE ANOTHER!" Every face blistering, peeling, a vision of what it must look like to roast in Hell itself.

Fourth image. Final image. Every face bloodied, tattered, but once again expressionless...

Sitting in the booth with them... all of them... an inhuman thing with raw, pink flesh... its great, sucking mouth gaping near the heads of all the subjects. Toothless, shapeless, bottomless, with a sheath of nearly translucent skin retracting all around it.

If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.

suffering inc.

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on: 12:00:05 AM 07/05/14
how lovely! i love you're description of the hell beast!
« Last Edit: 12:02:46 AM 07/05/14 by suffering inc. »