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Archive for the ‘Florida Man’ Category

40

FM(40)

Rupert drives his forest green 1970 Cadillac DeVille convertible down the Tamiami Trail, heading south. He doesn’t put the top down too often, as he still hasn’t gotten used to the intensity of the sun down here—he doesn’t imagine he ever will—though he is sporting a pair of vintage knock-off Ray Buns. He finally got his sunglasses. But, there was no way he could refuse to return and help out Jesus, who’d done so much to help him through all of that mess. Going back to “normal” wasn’t an option—not after the Florida experience alone, not to mention adding the reality of Crack Planet, the ótrúlegt vá, the Sprungians. It’s pretty hard to come back from that.

Rupert never went to Crack Planet, and he figured he would someday. Despite understanding that he no longer suffered from anxiety—an impossibility if one had partaken in ótrúlegt vá, which he had—changing his thoughts about it proved to be harder than one might, well, think. His preceived anxiety has improved a lot, but it’s not perfect. It might never be perfect. Changing one’s perception or expectation of one’s reality is harder than kicking any drug, though similar in many ways. But he works on it, pushes his limits, retraining his brain to move past old thought patterns and expanding his comfort zone.

It’s work, but it helps that he changed his shitty attitude. He had to accept that living one’s life according to a belief in the inevitable incursion of social entropy on every aspect of one’s existence makes one blind to all the ways it’s not inevitable. And that’s stressful.

Upon reflection, Rupert finds it interesting that, with all the time, effort, and money spent on fighting drug addiction, no one utilizes nearly as many resources addressing the average person’s addiciton to their own shitty thoughts, and yet here he was. But he keeps focused. In fact, it’s safe to say that he and Leenda have become born again negentropists—while obviously accepting the fact of entropy in its various forms in the universe, they choose, in their lives, to hope and strive for some personal order out of that raging chaos.

Rupert drives and wonders whatever became of Bucket.

As for himself, his life has changed a lot. He turns the massive, green auto-eyesore off of Tamiami, pulling into the Osprey School’s Visitor Center’s parking lot. The sun beats down. The air is thick and hot.

He waits, thinking.

Yeah, he thinks he’s made the right decision. He’s doing some good in the world, and not only by making himself a more worthwhile human being on a one-on-one basis—he’s still a professional.

No longer an entropolgist, he and Jesus are Senior Sales Executives at JesRupe (Pronunced: Hay-Sroop) Industries, and also a Senior Sales Consultant to individual national JesRupe franchises, which means a little travel now and then. Neither he, nor Jesus, act as representatives any longer. No more hot, sweaty days behind the FFG for them—they most often conduct business via smartphone from the white, sandy beaches of Siesta Key, tanning their already-brown asses, and occasionally ogling scanitly-clothed passersby. Hey, it’s a living.

But that’s not all. Rupert spends at least half of his weekly work hours doing hard research, as he is on remote faculty at Crack Planet’s ­­Gôddärd Anteé University in their Sun and Crack subdivision, under the umbrella of their Ótrúlegt Vá Studies department. He’s not nearly as well-versed as his Sprungian colleagues, but he’s got the advantage of working in the field—together, they are working to answer some questions, make some advances, make the universe a better place.

What gives ótrúlegt vá its instant rehab properties, despite its being almost molecularly identical to Earth crack? Almost. Unfortunately, the additional unidentifiable molecule involved only rasies more questions than it answers. Perhaps they need to be looking a little more to the left.

Sunlight arrives to Earth as low entropy, high energy light waves, and leaves the Earth’s atmosphere as high entropy, low energy infrared radiation. Is there something notable about Crack Planet’s atmosphere? Is there some force related to the planet itself, like a specialized gravitational pull? Whatever the case, when Earth jettison’s its high entropic, low energy infrared radiation into space, it travels—is pulled?—straight to Crack Planet. How? Why? No one knows exactly. Or vaguely, to be honest. But specialists believe it has something to do with the sun.

Ótrúlegt vá isn’t man-, or Sprungian-, made, like Earth crack—it is mined from the ground. For millions, if not billions, or trillions, of years, this “mineral” has absorbed the Earth’s high entropic, low energy infrared radiation and, over time, like coal creates diamonds, this crack transforms into a low entropic, high energy lightwave. That’s right—ótrúlegt vá is not a solid substance, but a wave, and it glows like the sun at high noon. It is also self-igniting, but that’s a phenonemon for another department. All of this occurs naturally, unlike filthy Earth crack, which is manufactured by humans and means that it must, by default, bring disaster and ruin.

Not so with ótrúlegt vá, this solar offspring—the stuff of gods.

So, Florida—the Sunshine State: Why is it so batshit insane? No one can say for sure, but Rupert has his own little theories. Regular Earth peoples might compare Rupert’s Florida transformation with the coal/diamond scenario, but Rupert understands it was more akin to the ótrúlegt vá scenario.

Rupert arrived in Florida a highly entropic, low energy person. Over the course of his stay, under immense social and professional pressure, he trasmutated from that to a high energy, low entropic individual. See, Florida Men and Women are, by nature, high entropy, low energy. They live unaware of their entropic state, leading them, by larger cultural standards, to not give a shit about much of anything, but their low energy—emotional, physicological, physical—leads them to widespread and chronic drug abuse. What the rest of the nation perceives is a state full of crazy people just getting crazier by the day, but for someone like Rupert, who arrived embodying an unrecognized form of the Floridian Condition—his exposure to the Florida sun, compounded by his interpersonal activities, actually caused the mutation, and instead of becoming more dysfunctional, he became more functional by his own perception and standards. Society, though, would see him as just another Florida Man calling 911 because he hadn’t received his tax returns. Geographical context is, apparently, not important.

So, what about the Sunshine State? This Florida sun, apparently so different from the sunshine falling throughout the rest of the country, the rest of the world . . . well, here is another of Rupert’s theories: It’s not just Florida. But, there are reasons why Florida has its international reputation as a massive outdoor asylum. The first being that the state of Florida has some of the United States’ most unfettered open-record laws (ironically, also called “Sunshine Laws”), which means journalists looking for a wacky scoop on a slow-news day can pilfer through the public record and out the wildest shit the state’s residents have to offer from ther criminal lives. However, some states’ open-record laws are equally permissive, so . . . why Florida?

This is where Rupert thinks the real meat of the matter lies: Everyone goes to Florida—and what do they go for? The weather. The sunshine! Like California, its native-to-transplant ratio is pretty skewed, but California’s open-record laws are more stringent, so while there are people living in both states from all over the country—hell, all over the world—it’s Florida’s general diversity that most frequently gets showcased in the newspapers and online.

The crazy is everywhere, and perhaps, Florida gets more than its fair share of loons, not by nature at this point, but by reputation and self perpetuation. It’s widely known as a haven for nutters—why wouldn’t they flock to this mecca?

Of course, these are all just theories—theories about ótrúlegt vá, about Crack Planet, about Florida, and its ever-scorching, madmen-making sun—which Rupert doesn’t really discuss with his peers. For now. He does discuss it with Leenda, and Jesus, and even Stanley, who’s taken the Dean’s position at GAU, and he agrees that it has merit and is worth pursuing. So, that’s what Rupert does in his spare time.

He’s never been happier or more fullfilled emotionally, socially, or professionally. How is any of this even possible?

* * *

“Oh my God, put the top up, are you crazy?”

Leenda dumps her things into the back seat. Rupert smiles at her, gets out, and they both pull the convertible’s top up and secure it.

“You’re going to burn us both to a crisp,” she says after they get in, then leans over and kisses his cheek, like she does. Although not thrilled with the idea of returning to, and living in, any part of Florida, Leenda had said to Rupert: “I cannot live without you.”

She said those very words.

He remembers those words exactly, because he had looked her straight in the eyes for longer than he thought he’d ever looked anyone in the eyes. He’d been looking for something—some hint of a lie. Some exaggeration. A sign of hyperbole.

He’d found none. A moment of negentropy—in seconds, his Universe collapsed with hers and they birthed a new, fetal plane of existence, a cluster of buzzing, vibrating atoms—that was love.

As they pull out of the parking lot and back onto the Tamiami Trail, from the nearby Spanish Point jungles rises a solitary monkey screech, splitting the heat of the day. It fades into the distance streching out between it and them, and together, here under the blazing sun, none of them gives a shit.

 

The End.

 

Yes, it’s the end, but Florida Man Fridays continue, and will until the first week of March — I guess I had more citations than I thought. 

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Kevin James Loibl

Kevin James Loibl

This one just flat-out isn’t funny.

Kevin James Loibl—raised by a violent, abusive mother who eventually died of an aspirin overdose (possibly purposefully, at his urging), then lived with his father’s violent girlfriend, dropped out of college due to a World of Warcraft obsession, had to be maneuvered around departments at work due to severely bad social skills, became infatuated with a celebrity to the extent that he believed them to be soul mates, lost 50 pounds, got LASIK surgery, got his teeth whitened and hair implants, and converted to Christianity to impress her—was somehow able to procure two handguns, one of which he used to shoot Christina Grimmie the times, and the other to shoot himself in the head.

Chuck, Elizabeth; Gemma DiCasimirro; Molly Roecker; Jillian Sederholm. “Gunman Who Killed ‘The Voice’ Singer Christina Gimmie Had Two Weapons, Ammo, Knife: Police.” NBC News. NBC Universal, Inc. June 11, 2016.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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39.2

FM(39.2)

Mr. Anteé continues: “What the Junkies here don’t know is that smoking Crack Planet crack is a very different experience than smoking Earth crack. Crack Planet crack, or as we Sprungians call it, ótrúlegt vá, provides a feeling of deep calm and ease.”

“We?” Rupert interrupts.               “Sprungians, natives of Crack Planet.”               “Aliens,” Leenda adds.               “We don’t really prefer that term,” Mr. Anteé makes a face as if he’s been squirt in the eye with a grapefruit—Rupert finds this all very ironic. “But back to the ótrúlegt vá. It boosts your self-esteem, but not only that, it is accompanied by the mild, pleasant forgetting of anything terrible that might have happened to you to have caused your esteem problems in the first place. Not the events, but the psychological impact and emotional repercussions.”                “That’s very specific,” Leenda says.               “We have scientists, too.” Mr. Anteé replies. “We don’t spend all of our time mutilating your cattle and probing your asses. To be accurate, it’s less a forgetting than an accelerated aid to processing and, well . . .                “ . . . just not giving a shit,” says Rupert. “A little like being on crack, or the drug of your choice, here, except without all the drawbacks.”               “Yes.” Mr. Anteé smiles. “It gets rid of the major emotional factors that lead to drug addiction. And the kicker is, if you’re addicted to Earth meth, or crack, or what-have-you, smoking ótrúlegt vá will cure you—the effect is immediate and permanent. Earth drugs no longer fuck you up. There is no such thing as withdrawal or a relapse on Crack Planet. Simply doesn’t exist—in fact, we have no words in our language to describe those states of being.”

“Does anyone ever come back from Crack Planet? I mean, besides you?” Leenda asks.

“Well, I was born there,” he answers. “I’m a native Sprungian, but yes, lots of people come back. In fact, you know a few.”

“Angel.” Rupert says, nodding.

“There’s one. Who else fits the bill?” Mr. Anteé asks.

Rupert thinks for a minute. “Not Jesus . . . ”

“Bingo.”

“No shit.”

“Yes shit.”

Rupert laughs and Leenda feels a little better about smiling at all of this.

“Anyone else?” Mr. Anteé asks once more.

Rupert thinks again, but shakes his head. There were so many crackpot chuckleheads down there—could be anyone.

“Not Bucket . . . ?” The one nutbag in Florida who, despite his clear insanity, actually planted a seed of thought in his mind that had helped in his time of need.

“Lord, no,” Anteé laughed. “Bucket is straight-up Earth-grown crazy.”

Rupert and Leenda both sat silently, thinking.

“Well, of course there’s my brother,” Mr. Anteé says, gesturing to the aloe plant.

Rupert and Leenda notice that there is a name painted across the front of the pot: Lëslié Gôddärd Anteé.

“Its name is Lez-lee,” Rupert says with a laugh, not at the name, but that it had a name all this time.

“He. Well, it’s pronounced ‘LeeSlay.’ LeeSlay Goodahrd Anteeay.”

“Is that Icelandic?” Leenda asks.

“No, Sprungian.”

“Hmm.”

“Wait,” Rupert interrupts. “What about the story Jesus told me? Embalming fluid . . . ”

Anteé laughs. “He couldn’t very well tell you the truth.”

No, Rupert supposes he couldn’t, and only in Florida would ‘embalming fluid-engorged talking plant-monster’ be more plausible than ‘Crack Planet Alien named Leeslay’.

“So . . . not a gift from Derek Peterson.”

The room went quiet, the discomfort palpable.

Finally: “We don’t speak of Derek Peterson.” Anteé gazed out the window for a moment.

Rupert thought he felt colder than a second ago.

Anteé continued: “Yes, we come in all sorts of shapes and sizes on Crack Planet. On earth, something about my earth crack addiction made it impossible for him to be near me without losing strength. Scientists here still haven’t quite figured that out. But! One man came here, unaddicted to anything, which we’d never seen before. His parents were addicts; his siblings were addicts. He wanted to make a difference, so on and so forth—”

“Then one day, my sister . . . ” A voice behind Rupert and Leenda startled them. The door had opened quietly and they catch Angel smiling and closing it behind her as she left.

Standing before them is Stanley—missing Stanley! They’re both about to get up, but he gestures for them to keep their seats. He walks around and leans against the desk next to Mr. Anteé.

Rupert and Leenda are too stunned to say anything.

“ . . . my sister was a meth-addled idiot, Rupert, as you well know. She bought a Golden Ticket to Crack Planet, but she loved me so much, she gave it to me for Christmas last year because she’d spent any gift money she’d had on meth. She was an idiot, but she had a big heart . . . ”

“When she wasn’t fucked up,” Mr. Anteé added.

“Exactly.” Stanley smiled.

“Man, was she fucked up.”

“Indeed.” Stanley laughs. “Anyway . . . she’s super high, so I take the thing, and it’s . . . ”

“Balsa wood and gold paint,” Rupert guessed.

Stanley nods. “But that night, Mr. Anteé came to me and took me to Crack Planet.”

“Boy was that embarrassing . . . like, one of my first times collecting someone.”

“So, he takes me to Crack Planet, and I’m like, really? And there’s aliens . . . ”

Mr. Anteé makes jazz hands at Rupert and Leenda, like, me!

“ . . . but there’s also this population of happy, healthy, drug-recovered earthlings doing their thing.”

“When you’re not fucked up, you can integrate pretty well,” Mr. Anteé chimes in.

“See, after you come and get well, you have a choice to stay or go back to earth . . . ” Stanley begins to explain.

“We have a very progressive immigration policy there.”

“Well, most of them stayed, because, well, Crack Planet’s pretty sweet. So, I thought, there must be a way to save all the drug addicts on earth. I worked with some people there, including our esteemed Mr. Anteé (who bows) and created a larger, more sustainable system by which to bring addicts from earth to Crack Planet to cure them, and either adopt them into the program doing the work here on earth, or keep them there, depending on their skill set, to do related work there.”

“This isn’t like that D.E.A.T.H. program, is it . . . ?” Rupert asks.

“Oh no,” Stanley assures him. “Pyrdewy is a cocktooth and he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison for pretending to help people in real need just to get his hands on some of that Obama federal long green.”

Rupert must finally concede that ‘long green’ is not only a legitimate term, but also a good one.

“Jesus chose to return to Earth and go about doing the work of saving souls.”

“How ironic.”

“The study I had been working on wasn’t to observe the work habits of Methheads. Pyrdewy, that shitfuck, got his hands on it and used it to cover his bullshit crimes. My original study was to infiltrate the community and see how the tickets were being sold, thus creating a larger, better-connected, but still secret system of getting addicts to Crack Planet, which you did on your own. As a matter of fact, the changes you made with Fulva’s operation upped our intake by a significant margin. Good job.”

Leenda kisses Rupert’s cheek and he smiles, blushes a little.

“So, Fulva’s system wasn’t yours?”

“Nope. We have no idea how the word got out. We’ve heard the name ‘Stevie,’ but that’s all we know,” Anteé says. “We’re working on it.”

“Unfortunately,” Stanley continues, “I needed to run operations on Crack Planet, so I faked my disappearance, blah, blah, blah. In my place, I sent Mr. Anteé down to keep an eye on things . . . ” Stanley elbows Mr. Anteé who smiles and hangs his head.

“Here’s something we didn’t know then, but we know now,” Mr. Anteé explains. “Crack Planet ex-pats have a very different reaction to Crack Planet crack. While it cures you of your addictions and mega-boosts your self-confidence, for us, it’s a non-addictive stimulant. Kind of like your caffeine. Pretty harmless, makes you feel a little more awake, gets you off to work. Well, I’d been down here for a while—became fascinated with your Native American history—you know, those folks really got fucked—”

Everyone nods.

“Anyway, I thought I’d give Earth crack a shot—I was feeling a little sluggish one morning. Such the wrong thing to do. Turns out, if a Sprungian like me smokes Earth crack, I go absolutely batshit, moon-howling, punch-your-mama-and-maybe-even-your-mama’s-mama insane. And I did. Hence all that . . . emotional and mental instability. Sorry about that. Also, for the record, I had no experience whatsoever with explosives of any kind. I don’t know what a G4 detonator is. We’re all lucky to be alive.”

Rupert shifts in his chair and sort of waves it off, like, hey, no problem. Leenda smiles wide, perhaps too wide.

“Plus,” Mr. Anteé adds, “Lëslié—who had been sent to Earth to collect me, but somehow ended up in Fulva’s bathroom—got a contact high in the cavern and just blew right up—allergic reaction. We had no idea. Nothing a little antihistamine couldn’t take care of.”

Lëslié waves a tentacle.

“So,” Stanley says. “Getting down to business, here’s what we’d like to propose. You can either go on about your business like nothing happened . . . ”

They all have a good, long laugh at that.

“Or, you can return to Florida and continue to help Jesus with his work selling Golden Tickets and helping the insane Junkies of the Sunshine State become real, functional people with a purpose.”

“Can’t I just go to Crack Planet, smoke the ótrúlegt vá, be cured of all of my esteem and social anxiety issues, and live happily every after among the peace-loving Sprungians.”

Mr. Anteé and Stanley look at one another.

“You already have,” Stanley says.

Rupert doesn’t get it.

“Rupert.” Stanley is half-laughing. “What do you think Jesus gave you to smoke when the shit hit the fan?”

“But, my anxiety . . . ” Rupert protests. “The meth . . . ”

The office door opens behind them and Angel pops her head in. “Told you,” she says to Rupert. “Second time you smoked crack.” Then she disappears again and the door closes.

Goddamn her.

“Placebo,” Mr. Anteé explains. “Afterward, you convinced yourself you still had anxiety, and so you did.”

“And,” Stanley adds, “you convinced yourself you were high in all those subsequent drug binges, so you were.”

“I thought you were a little too easy to deal with,” Leenda says.

Once again, Bucket—the straight-up Earth-grown crazy person—was right. You are what you think you are.

“And that explains why rehab was such a cake walk.”

It’s quiet for a moment. Rupert and Leenda look at each other.

“Well. I guess we need to have a talk,” he says to her.

Leenda frowns.

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39.1

FM(39.1)

Seven Months Later. Washington DC.

Rupert walks out of the DC Forest Park Piney Branch Rehab Center carrying his duffle bag. He scans the parking lot and sees Leenda get out of her red 2016 Hypersonic Prius. He thinks of the 70s time warp of Florida and is glad to be home.

Rehab hadn’t been nearly as difficult as Rupert had expected, and in fact, his withdrawal symptoms were so mild, the staff suspected he had faked his addiction and had him tested. Lo, his system was loaded with illicit drugs and he stayed the entire length of the program, doing a lot of gardening and art therapy.

Leenda runs to him and jumps into his arms as they wrap around her waist, lifting her off the ground. She covers his face with kisses and he’s laughing. And then:

“Ow, my boobs.”

And he puts her down. She grabs his hand and smiles up at him.

“Come on. Let’s go.”

* * *

As they drive, Rupert’s pocket vibrates. It takes him a moment to react, as he’s still not used to having a cell phone. It’s a text. He struggles with the buttons for a minute, still learning what does what, and then turns the music in the car down.

“Anteé?” He checks to see if Leenda might know who this is.

“Oh, yeah,” she says. “Mr. Anteé. Pyrdewy’s replacement. We haven’t met yet, but I’ve heard good things.”

After the shit went down and the D.E.A.T.H. work program was revealed to have been simply one of a number of ways for Pyrdewy to get his hands on some of that Obama federal long green—there was a huge national scandal, revealing about thirty other Federal Government rip-off schemes Pyrdewy had operating all over the country under the banner of the Spliphsonian. The whole thing was just a cover—the file he’d given Rupert had been complete bullshit. He had expected Rupert to catch onto the scheme and simply go along with it, write up an equally bullshit academic analysis to save his job, and that’d be that. Pyrdewy apparently thought Rupert was smarter than he was, as the expectation was just a few steps beyond what Rupert was going to put together. Pyrdewy was fired and is awaiting trial, which Rupert and Leenda plan on attending, for the sheer amusement of it. He’s expected to go away for a very long time. And he learned a valuable lesson: If you don’t want the stupid thing you’re doing to end up on the national news, don’t do it in Florida.

“So, what does it say?” Leenda asks.

“He . . . she?”

“He.”

“He is insisting that I come by the museum. Like, right now.”

They exchange a worried look. Rupert had lost his entropologist job there, what with his meth addiction and bumming around seedy areas of Sarasota for a bit after the incident. Leenda retained hers because she was merely an innocent bystander and was supposed to be down there anyway. She worked on the Spanish Point burial mound—the focus of which had changed—and took care of Rupert at his worst as they lived in a room at the Regency Courtyard Royal-Clarion Inn. His worst was the trade-off for his best—living reasonably anxiety-free—which Leenda had accepted. That said, she had noticed that Rupert whacked out on Smack wasn’t much different than his normal behavior, despite how utterly fucked up he insisted he was.

She was happy, though, when she bailed him out of jail that night after being locked in an unlocked closet for most of an evening and he announced he was going to get clean, and they would return to DC. His behavior would be unchanged, but surely having that shit in your system was not a good thing in the long run.

And sure, Junkies say they’re getting clean all the time, but Rupert didn’t lie to Leenda, and he hasn’t yet.

“The last time I got called in there, bad shit ensued,” Rupert said, shifting in his seat.

“Yes, but . . . it brought us together,” Leenda points out, trying to keep him optimistic.

Rupert produces a weak smile and squeezes her hand.

“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Leenda continues. “It’s not Pyrdewy. Maybe Anteé wants to consult with you on some entropic business.”

“Maybe,” Rupert says, “but I still don’t want to work there anymore. I’m done with entropy.”

Leenda shrugs.

“Well, let’s get it out of the way so we can go home,” she says. “I went to the Consolation Zone yesterday.” Leenda winks at Rupert.

Rupert is happy the Consolation Zone has locations across the country. They have the best deals on the highest quality products.

“By the way,” Leenda says, smiling. “Did I ever tell you what Pyrdewy means?”

“No. I’m sure I’d have remembered.”

“It’s a from a medieval phrase, ‘to play the Pyrdewy.’ It means ‘to fuck.’”

They both sit in contemplative silence—considering how Pyrdewy had certainly fucked himself—for the remainder of the drive.

* * *

Rupert and Leenda come out of the Mall exit of the Metrorail and walk. When they cross Madison Drive and head up 12thStreet, Rupert can’t keep his eyes off the building. He hasn’t been in it . . . or near it . . . since he left for Florida so long ago.

They round the corner on Constitution Ave and walk up the steps. Rupert’s chest tightens and he can’t pinpoint why. Nothing particularly terrible happened to him here. But as they come through the entrance, it hits him. The foyer is massive, cavernous, and the whole experience that took place beneath Spanish Point comes back to him, but instead of there being a massive freakazoid aloe plant-monster, there’s a giant elephant display.

He stops short, his hand going to his chest as if that can stop his heart from racing.

“It’s okay, Rupert. It’s only the museum.”

Leenda slips her arm around his waist and coaxes him forward, past the elephant, through the visitors milling about, into a hallway and to an elevator. After some deep breathing on the way up, they get off on the carpeted floor of the administrative area of the museum.

They knock on an office door and a young woman opens it. Still-fading scars cover her face, and her hair is black and shoulder length. Rupert stares at her for a moment.

“Angel.”

Leenda looks at him. “You know her?”

“Desk clerk at the Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet.”

Angel smiles and nods, then, her smile falters a little.

“You also saw me take a dump in a mop bucket,” Angel says.

Leenda looks incredulously at Rupert, who gives the same look to Angel.

“High school janitorial closet . . . ” Rupert clarifies.

Leenda nods.

“This is also. . . ” Rupert begins, but can’t finish.

“Shit Pail.” Leenda says flatly.

“I thought we’d be in there for days . . . wait, what?” Angel asks.

“You were only in there for a few hours,” Leenda parries.

Angel shrugs. “I was high as balls. Also, full disclosure: I had you bugged and tracked everywhere you went in Florida. The whole story you told me in the closet—I already knew it all. Sorry about that. But come in. Let me take you to the boss.”

“ . . . what?” Rupert protests, but they are ushered through another door and into an office with a wonderful view of, well, the Department of Justice. The office itself—Pyrdewy’s former office—has been restored to its former antique-y, musty, old time glory. A man stands with his back to them, looking out the window. As Angel leaves, he says: “Thank you, Angel.”

“Mr. Anty,” Rupert says.

“An-tee-ay.” The man turns around, smiling.

Both Rupert and Leenda gasp, frightened for a moment. Mr. Anteé is none other than Efunibi, cleaned up, wearing a very smart suit, and no longer the leathery, wrinkled, psychotic freakshow he was down in Florida. He also has a British accent, which Rupert would not have expected and feels it’s a bit of a swing too far to the other end of the spectrum—not offensive to one’s morality, but to one’s sense of place in the world.

However, Rupert is comforted by this, but then he remembers how Efunibi had left the scene and he’s on guard again. Mr. Anteé walks around and leans against his desk, on which Rupert now notices a black-thorned aloe plant in a decorative pot that he swears waved at him when they first came in. Rupert pulls Leenda close to him.

“No need for that, Rupert. But I’ve definitely got some ‘splainin to do.” Anteé slips into a Desi Arnaz, which, while still offensive to those who don’t know who that is, is still better than Tonto.

Mr. Anteé goes on to explain that, yes, everything that happened in Florida actually happened, and he apologizes for his sudden, and rather shocking departure, but he didn’t want to smash to bits on the cavern floor.

“Fine,” Rupert said, his arms still around Leenda, who isn’t arguing.

“Both of you, please, sit.” Mr. Anteé says. “It’s a long story. Coffee? Tea?”

“No.” Both Rupert and Leenda say together.

“Okay . . . ” Mr. Anteé says, takes a deep breath, and begins: “Crack Planet? Crack Planet is real. It is made entirely of crack cocaine and yes, it’s free. Free to anyone who wants it.”

“Bye,” Rupert says and starts to get up, Leenda right behind him.

Mr. Anteé puts his hands out. “Come on, hear me out.”

The pair look at him, more irritated now than concerned for their safety. Leenda sits down slowly. Rupert follows.

“No joke,” Rupert says to Mr. Anteé. “I’m not into this shit anymore.”

“I understand, just hear me out.”

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38

FM(38)

Shit Pail drops another still-burning cigarette butt between her thighs and into the shit pail. At this point, Rupert might have lost his sense of smell, it having been seared from his nostrils.

“So, wait,” she says, shifting and closing her legs to keep the residual smoke from escaping until the butt finally goes out. “The cops showed up? How’d they get there so quick, I mean, inside the cave?”

“Well,” Rupert explains. “Who can tell why they even answered Joe’s ass-dialed 911 call? But I did find out later that there is a serviceable entrance down into the caverns through the Osprey School’s Visitor Center gift shop.”

“No way.”

“Way. Been there for years, apparently. I suspect the clerk there had something to do with it, but I have no idea, and frankly, I’ve kind of had enough of that craziness.”

“Now you just get high,” she says.

“Yep.”

“Well, how did you and Leenda get out of there?”

“Paddle-squid I left on the bank at Webb’s Cove, unscathed by the speedboat crash that killed Osceola and that poor, violated ostrich. Worked a lot better with two people. Took it under Cock’s Footbridge, past the Guptill House and the pioneer boatyard, and kept going north past the Bird Keys and into Little Sarasota Bay. We docked at someone’s personal boat launch on Siesta Key and then walked down Midnight Pass about three miles . . . ”

“That’s an awful lot of traveling for a pedal boat and walking,” Shit Pail interrupts.

“We had a lot to talk about.” Rupert smiles. “Did you know that there is a point about three inches above the ankle, on the inside of the leg, that when electrically stimulated can bring a woman to orgasm?”

Shit Pail looks at Rupert. “No. I did not know that.”

“Well,” Rupert squirms a little uncomfortably. “Now you do.”

Shit Pail nods and rolls her eyes.

“Anyway, once we got to where the resorts are, Leenda called us a cab and we went back to . . . ”

“The Royal Courtyard Econo-Regency Chalet,” Shit Pail said, enthusiastic.

“Actually, we got a room over at the Regency Courtyard Royal-Clarion Inn.”

“Ha! Yeah, I guess you didn’t need to see that Angel chick again,” Shit Pail says, smiling.

“You got that right.”

“So, then what happened?” she asks, still smiling.

Rupert opens his mouth and then shuts it.

“None of your business.” He pauses, then says: “I did see in the paper that a large group of despondent Tweakers had descended upon a ritzy retirement home that night and terrorized the wealthy retirees.”

“Is that related?” Shit Pail asks.

“Might be. I don’t know. It was pretty weird, though.”

“Says the guy saved by a mutant-big aloe plant.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah,” she says, eyeballing him through squinting lids. “That’s all, um . . . pretty unbelievable. And I’m high as tits.”

“I know.” Rupert sighed. “To be honest, I’m not quite sure it all happened. Maybe some of it, but not all of it. Probably.”

“How’s the anxiety now?”

“Fine, when I’m high. And I’m usually pretty high.”

“Since you smoked that crack . . . ”

“Meth,” Rupert corrects.

“Crack,” Shit Pail counters.

“It was meth.”

“Okay.”

Shit Pail nods. Rupert nods with her.

“So, uh, you still with Leenda? Whatever happened with her?”

Rupert breaks into a huge smile, the biggest smile Shit Pail’s seen on his face all night.

“Leenda loves me.”

“Even like this?”

“Fucked up? Yep.” His smile becomes comically bigger. “She loves me no matter what.”

Shit Pail nods and looks at Rupert for a moment.

“You know what?” she says.

Rupert looks at her expectantly.

“You should get clean.”

He breaks the eye contact and looks down, thinking. Then finally:

“Yeah. I should.” He looks at Shit Pail. “I will.”

“Because you love her, too, and even if she puts up with this shit, she shouldn’t have to.” Shit Pail’s smile would be pretty if she had any decent teeth left. She passes the remainder of the blunt to Rupert. “But for right now, here’s to one last burn.”

He takes and hits it, thinking of Leenda.

As he exhales, they hear the sound of heavy footsteps moving toward them, and then, like in the caverns, a police radio. Then, a knock on the door.

Shit Pail tries to jump up and Rupert averts his eyes, but her pants have been down around her ankles for so long, she’s forgotten them. She almost takes a header, but not only manages to stay upright, but also to get her pants most of the way up while yelling: “Yes! We’re in here! Help!” And then muttering to Rupert, “it’s about goddamn time.”

The doorknob to the closet turns without any fuss and the door swings open, revealing the half-amused/half-disgusted face of one of Sarasota’s finest. He recoils at the smell and disappears, but his face is replaced by another, who grimaces and says:

“It’s unlocked, idiots.”

Then, from behind him: “You’re under arrest for trespassing.”

“Idiots.”

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UnderwearThief

There’s a black market on just about everything, but this makes a certain amount of sense—women’s lingerie is just too damned expensive. Daniel Espinosa and his juvenile co-culprit saw their opportunity and they took it—on three separate occasions. They stole 850 pairs of underwear—over $15,000 worth—in November and December of 2013. Espinosa was a recent high school graduate, lived with his parents, and had no money in the bank, so we can presume these were not for personal use.

NBC Miami. “Man Stole 850 Pairs of Underwear from Victoria’s Secret: Authorities.” NBC Miami. NBC Universal, Inc. January 16, 2014.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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37

FM(37)

In the distance, echoing through the chamber and tunnel behind them, they heard what sounded like the footsteps of certainly more than a few of people.

For a minute, Rupert thought it could be Tommy and Bucket, or Merideth and Joe—he felt afraid this wasn’t over yet, not so much for himself, but for poor Leenda, who’d been through so much she’d had no clue about. He felt guilty for not having told her about everything, warned her a long time ago. But, how could he have? How would any normal, sane person react to this? It was more than would fit on a single postcard, and besides, he couldn’t have risked chasing her off completely then, and his heart broke now, knowing this couldn’t end well.

They then heard police radios, which wasn’t much better. They had to move, now.

Leaving Bill’s crumpled, but still breathing form, the three of them ran back through the now-wrecked lab chamber and scrambled up the cemetery access. When Rupert and Leenda got outside and into the fresh night air, they saw Jesus was no longer following.

Rupert made to keep going, but Leenda grabbed his hand.

“We can’t leave . . . that guy,” she said. “Whoever that guy is.”

“We can,” Rupert replied. “He’s a big boy.”

It sounded as if there were cops all over the paths of Spanish Point, and when they heard footsteps running down the trail toward them, Rupert pulled them both through the thick bushes of the cemetery and behind Mary’s Chapel.

They stood there in silence, Rupert’s hand settled on Leenda’s back, but he then realized this and removed it. It was dark, though the moon cast a few flecks of silver over them through the trees, landing softly across their features, but Rupert wouldn’t look at her. Soon, the sound of the police became part of the background noise of the place, blending in with the songs of the insects and the night birds. All Rupert could hear was Leenda’s breathing.

“Rupert,” she whispered. “Do you love me?”

Rupert’s chest seized, full of fear, and he stuttered out something incoherent. He feared he was having a stroke. Leenda stood on her tiptoes and moved close to his ear.

“I have loved you since I first saw you,” she said. “When you came into the museum to apply for the janitor’s job. I can’t tell you why.”

He felt his face flush red and was glad she couldn’t see it. His knees felt weak. He thought only he, Stanley, and Pyrdewy had known about that—the janitor’s application.

“Which I didn’t get because I’m not qualified,” he whispered.

“Rupert, you got a better job, doing what you love, doing what you’re so good at.”

“Wait,” Rupert had to backtrack. “You loved me?”

“Love. Present. I love you now,” she answered. “I thought you knew.” She lowered herself back down, feet flat against the mossy ground. She sounded disappointed.

Rupert couldn’t absorb any of this, though he tried. Everything between his brain and his heart stopped and wouldn’t budge for anything. This is a stroke.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were building a giant meth super lab under the mound?”

“How did you know?”

“That whacked-out white fake-Indian guy told me.”

“Which . . . ?” he began, but remembered she’d never met Osceola. He hung his head. “I wasn’t in my right mind,” he finally said. “There’s something about this place. Something that makes you crazy. I thought I was doing it for you, for us. I thought there was an us. I thought I was better than I am. I just didn’t give a shit—”

“Exactly,” she said. She stretched up again and kissed him. “And that’s amazing. And I’ve never wanted you to be anything but exactly who and what you are. And sometimes . . . often . . . it’s right not to give a shit. Like when you apply for a janitor’s position when you’re not even qualified for that.”

He had closed his eyes at the kiss, but then opened them and looked directly at her for the first time.

“What did I say to you?”

“What?”

“On the phone? I really have no idea . . . ”

Leenda laughed. “Well, it was pretty disjointed—like stream of consciousness—but brief. Something about your taxes and how you might need bail money; the possibility of writing your prison memoirs—something about a Derek Peterson; something about getting married, naked, on the back of a giant alligator. And it sounded like an alarm clock kept going off. Then you just kept saying my name over and over, except you stressed the ‘ee’ like Leeeeeeenda. And, actually, it sounded like you were jerking off, which was flattering in a weird way, but then I’d hear a kind of zapping noise as the alarm went off, and you’d scream. It happened, like, three times. I tried to talk to you, but I’m not sure you knew you were still on the phone. Then the line went dead.”

Rupert was pretty sure death by humiliation was a thing and he was experiencing it now. He wished more than anything that the alarm-clock-turned-electro-stimulation-device had killed him.

“Don’t be embarrassed.” Leenda smiled. “I didn’t know what to make of it at first, and I just assumed the negative—I was pretty angry—but I thought about it and had it pretty well figured out by the time I got your completely psycho-creepy postcard. Also kind of flattering. But, seriously, absolutely creepy. You shouldn’t do that.”

Rupert sighed deeply and covered his eyes, trying to rub the mortification out of them.

She laughed again. “You know, everyone has their shameful little secrets. Nasty Habits—that was an Oingo Boingo song, right?—things they struggle with . . . ”

“What’s your struggle?” he asked.

“I find it difficult to find a sexual partner willing to experiment with electro-stimulation.”

They looked at each other in silence for a moment, and then embraced for a long, unforgettable, cinematic kiss—which was interrupted by movement in a nearby bush. A scrambling sound, too small to be the police, or Jesus.

Abruptly, Steve Perry came flying out of nowhere, used Rupert’s head as a launch point, and landed several feet away in the Pioneer Cemetery.

“Motherfu—”

But Steve Perry cut Rupert off with a triumphant screech, ripped off his electric-blue monkey vest, screeched again for emphasis, then scrambled over the headstones and disappeared into the jungles of Spanish Point.

Another sigh from Rupert. “Good luck, you disgusting little shit.”

One last, fading screech and all was quiet.

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35

FM(35:36)

As Joe got about halfway through the opening he’d created in what he hoped was the final blockage, the cave tunnel rumbled, and the rubble shifted enough to pin him where he was, but not crush him.

He struggled, wriggling every way he could to find some space, but there was nothing. Merideth yelled at him in the darkness from behind. Lucky for Joe, she had already thrown her Rolling Pin of Death through the hole, and with the flashlight in his hand—the only part of him still mobile—he looked at it lying on the ground in front of him. If she’d still had it, his legs would have been mincemeat by now.

Joe thanked whomever or whatever that he hadn’t been crushed and wasn’t being beaten right now, but he was immobilized from his shoulders to his thighs. He wasn’t uncomfortable and thought it conceivable to take a nap. Joe was pretty beat. If he was lucky, the pile would shift again and kill him in his sleep.

But Merideth pinched his calves, hard, and he was persuaded to squirm a little more, if only to escape her boney, long-nailed fingers. As he did, he could hear the distinct sound of his phone dialing someone, and then after a moment, he heard:

“911. What’s your emergency?”

Joe had accidentally butt-dialed 911 a number of years ago—it was while he and his mother made meth in another trailer, in another mobile home park. That didn’t go so well. This, though, could go better. He hoped.

“Joe, what the fuck was that?”

Joe didn’t move, said nothing.

“Joe?”

“Nothing, mom.”

“Hello? This is 911 dispatch. What is your emergency?”

“Goddamn it, Joe!”

Joe wished the rest of the cave would collapse altogether and crush them both.

36

Rupert stumbled half-blind over the giant tentacle and through the hole; the tentacle withdrew behind him. Jesus stood there—not having ventured too far in—with his cell phone out for light, looking stunned.

The chamber they’d entered was preposterously large. Rupert pulled a flashlight from his cross-body bag, though his mind grew hazy, and investigated. A few pairs of massive stalagmites and stalactites almost reached each other from top to bottom around the perimeter, but the center of the ceiling looked like packed earth. There couldn’t have been much earth between the ceiling of the cavern and the ground surface above—and the nearly-sheer walls made it unreachable. There was no way out.

In the very center of the cavern floor, dwarfed by the space around it, was a huge pile of what looked to be Native American remains—and quite a few of them, broken and mixed up with various relics. Rupert pointed the flashlight up to the earthen ceiling above the pile, and though the beam just barely reached—a few roots hung down, bones and artifacts jumbled among them.

The lab hadn’t been located under Leenda’s mound—this cavern was—and Native Americans had been depositing their dead here for centuries, not knowing they had fallen down into this chamber. Or maybe they did know. He had no idea.

Some of the stalactites that had formed here over thousands of years had been knocked to the floor and lay in massive, broken heaps. Rupert imagined the power of those falls and of them breaking apart—his thoughts jumped immediately to Leenda. This was how he’d felt when he’d heard her last message—a seismic heartbreak of geologic proportion.

The comparative light coloring where the breaks occurred made the events look rather recent.

The earthquake. Rupert looked to the Plant with No Name, whom he could now see the enormous scale of—it took up most of the cavern floor—and it seemed to shrug. Oops.

Leenda. He wanted to look at his watch, but felt lightheaded and his thoughts scattered. He looked all around and found artifacts everywhere, all over the floor of the cavern and presumably under the gigantic aloe. He wondered how they’d have gotten all over the place as they should, in theory, all be concentrated in and around the pile, when a crash came from the neighboring lab chamber they’d just vacated.

“Jesus,” Rupert said, somewhat drunkenly. “Bill looked pretty unstable in there.” As he said this, the crashing continued and became louder and more consistent—Bill was destroying the lab and screaming something about Derek Peterson and MeeMaw, and demanding to know what had happened to his Whackin’ Dick.

“I don’t know if we can go back that way,” Rupert finished, his thoughts boomeranging more erratically than his lagging mouth could keep up with.

As Jesus looked about to respond, he was cut off by Efunibi’s Tonto voice, echoing through the chamber, soaring over the background of Bill’s destruction.

“Kemo Sabe!”

Rupert ran the beam of his flashlight around and then up in the direction of the voice. It was, indeed, Efunibi, and worse, he had Leenda, gagged and terrified. Rupert’s heart leapt around inside his chest, panicking. But also . . .

She came! She actually showed up!

They stood on a small ledge not much wider or longer than an average bookshelf. Efunibi had deteriorated—he was pallid, but still wrinkled, like bleached leather. Most of his hair had fallen out, except for one ratty braid with a few equally ratty feathers that stuck out in all directions. His jacket had lost much of its fringe. All of his teeth appeared to be missing.

Desperate, Rupert looked around but there was nothing that could be of any use, and he grew foggier, his thoughts less coherent, from whatever the Plant with No Name had doused him with. Again. He saw nothing with which to fight Efunibi and no way to get to them anyway. And Efunibi rambled on about something, which made it difficult for Rupert to think.

“Efunibi come,” he went on, “heap big long time ago. Don’t even know how heap. Efunibi eternal. But him heap tired and want to go home. Holy Nagai Nagayoshi betray Efunibi. Efunibi have no purpose.”

Rupert was quickly losing his ability to rationalize anything, but he turned to the Plant with No Name, meaning to ask it what to do, could it help him get to Leenda? But the oversized aloe plant pulsated slower and slower—it seemed weakened and unable to do much. It might have been dying.

Rupert glimpsed Jesus in his peripheral running to some far area of the chamber. His friend picked something up, examined it for a second, and then yelled to Rupert:

“Hey, ese! Catch!”

Jesus threw something and despite feeling sloth-like, Rupert’s reflexes were quicker than he’d expected and he caught the object. It was an ancient Native American pipe, an exact match to the one from the PBS documentary so long ago from his childhood. The anxiety that memory had always produced welled inside Rupert—he waited for his lungs to shut down, his throat to constrict, for the pistachio and crème to flood his brain, the foul smell of a cheese fondu to fill his nostrils. The plaid.

But nothing came. The feeling simply dissipated, and as it did, everything around him went quiet. Everything but the whimpering pleas of Leenda against the gag and her struggle against Efunibi.

Rupert took a deep breath and reached into his shorts pocket for a lighter. He didn’t have one. He never carried one and he didn’t know why he checked.

“Hey!” Jesus yelled from near the Plant with No Name. He tossed Rupert a lighter, who, again, caught it with surprising agility. He brought the pipe to his mouth, feeling natural despite never having smoked anything in his life, and lit up, inhaling deep whatever was packed inside—some sort of magical plant, hundreds of years old, maybe meant for a marriage ceremony, or for war, or for a funeral—any of these purposes were appropriate here.

He exhaled more smoke than he thought a pair of human lungs could have taken in, and in a few seconds, the chamber brightened and the flashlight became superfluous.

Rupert saw one of the aloe tentacles move slowly, feebly, toward the side of the chamber, beneath the tiny ledge that held aloft Leenda and Efunibi, who was still lamenting something of which no one had any idea. Now, though, he attempted one of his ritualistic dances, still hanging on to Leenda’s arm. Her eyes grew wide with fear as she was pulled this way and that, her center of gravity shifting back and forth, afraid she wouldn’t be able to keep up, or that it would finally be too much for the ledge, and they would both plunge to their gruesome, splattery deaths.

When Rupert saw Leenda’s eyes, the strength of a thousand men surged through him, and not only that, a thousand men his size. He followed the path the tentacle indicated and found in the mystery illumination that a number of shallow and precariously-placed ledges ran all over up the walls of the chamber.

Rupert began to climb.

At first, Efunibi didn’t see, he was so wrapped up in his dance. But as Rupert closed the distance between them, Efunibi noticed, stopped dancing, and pulled Leenda closer to him.

Rupert felt around above him for other areas of purchase, scarcely able to keep his own large form on the ledge he’d landed on. There was nothing—nothing else to climb to, to get him closer to Leenda. He looked down, which one should never do, and realized he had entered what one pioneering rocket scientist of the 1920s referred to as “extreme altitudes.” He also saw that Bill had apparently finished demolishing the lab, had made it through the hole—undeterred by the attendance of a mammoth, sentient aloe plant—and was presently attacking Jesus with the broken dildo.

Jesus didn’t seem too troubled by it, which was reassuring.

Rupert looked up again, trying to maintain his balance, and studied the ledge the two stood on. It appeared to be too small for two people, but Leenda was closest to the wall—a lucky break. Efunibi glared down at him. Rupert braced himself for some sort of reaction, which arrived in the form of a ludicrous screech—like an inadequate, but enthusiastic imitation of an eagle—which even caused Leenda to pause her distress mode to glance at him like, what the fuck was that?

Without thinking, Rupert sprung into action, shrugging his cross-body bag from his neck and shoulder and adjusting its strap to its longest capacity. He then swung the cross-body bag up, and Leenda looked down at him, petrified, but with the same look of, what the fuck? Except it now referred to his idiotic strategy, of which he was also dubious. But there was no time.

Rupert tried several times, swinging his cross-body bag up over his head, and when it finally hooked over a crag in the ledge, he braced himself against the wall as best he could and pulled with everything he had—the strength of a thousand six-foot-ten-inch, 235-pound men—two-hundred thirty-five thousand pounds of power, or so he imagined with an equal amount of force. Bucket’s voice sounded in his head: It is all created by electrical impulses running through your nervous system. Which are, of course, generated by your mind. Your thoughts. In a fraction of a second, Rupert visualized the entire scene, start to finish, ending with Leenda safe in his arms—he willed the success of this stupid, reckless endeavor, honing his thoughts with laser-like accuracy.

“Bucket! Don’t fail me, you nasty, twisted bastard!”

A great crack echoed throughout the chamber and the ledge gave way, plummeting both Efunibi and Leenda toward the rocky, artifact-strewn floor below.

Rupert let go of the strap and reached out in time to catch Leenda by the wrist, which he then grabbed with both hands. This dislocated her shoulder and she screamed through the gag. The ledge wasn’t big enough for the two of them—and Rupert already counted as two people—so he pulled her close and held her tight. She moaned in pain, feet dangling.

As he watched his mentor-turned-nemesis fall, shitty-eagle screeching all the way, Efunibi began to glow—not pink, like the Whackin’ Dick, but a warm golden glow and grew brighter as he neared the floor. Seconds from impact, Efunibi’s now-radiant form made a lightning-fast U-turn upward and, turning into a white-hot bright spherical light, shot up through the center of the ceiling, through the burial mound, laughing, and without displacing a grain of soil.

He was gone.

It was quiet now, and the mysterious illumination of the chamber has disappeared. It was pitch black once more.

Then, a light.

A flashlight. Jesus pointed it up at them, confirming they were still there, and then around himself to show that he’d incapacitated Bill and now sat on him. Bill looked to be unconscious. Then the beam went back up to Rupert and Leenda.

“Holy shit, did you see that?” Jesus shouted up to them.

Rupert could barely hold the two of them in place, Leenda’s feet hung over the edge of the ledge. He was afraid it wouldn’t take their weight much longer.

“Um . . . Jesus,” Rupert called down. “I . . . I can’t get us down.”

As the words came from his mouth, Rupert saw a huge green and black aloe tentacle emerging from below, out of the darkness. It slowly, gingerly wrapped itself around both Leenda and Rupert, squeezed enough to hold them, then gently brought them to ground level.

The tentacle released them and Leenda sank to the ground, her knees too weak from the whole experience to stand, and from the pain in her shoulder. Jesus ran over to her.

Before she could decide whether to not she should trust this complete stranger after what had just happened, with expert torque, he snapped her humerus back into its socket. She screamed one last time, and then Jesus advised: “You’ll want to ice that later.”

Rupert had sat down next to her, but at least a foot away. If she was angry with him before, she must hate him now. In the dark, he focused his eyes on the dirt floor beneath his feet and said nothing. No one said anything for a few minutes. In the eerie silence, they recovered to the greatest extent that one could from such a bizarre, harrowing encounter in such a short period of time.

Then, the darkness of the chamber began to retreat again. Rupert looked behind him at the Plant with No Name. It glowed a faint green light, which became stronger with each pulse of the plant. Soon, as it grew brighter and brighter, its tentacles began to writhe, slowly at first, but gaining strength and a certain wildness. They all got up and moved away, Jesus dragging Bill’s limp body with him.

Now the plant began to shrink, smaller and smaller, but as it did, its glow grew stronger and stronger. The chamber lit up once again, like green daylight, and the plant worked to resume its normal size. As it did, Rupert looked around the cavern and thought something had changed, but before he could place it, the Plant with No Name grew so small, it winked into a little ball and shot up through the bottom of the burial mound, exactly as Efunibi had.

Again, it was dark and quiet.

“Well.” Jesus said after a moment. “That was some crazy-ass shit.”

Rupert flicked the flashlight on again and walked around the chamber a little, looking all over it, trying to place the change he thought he’d seen. Then it was obvious.

There were no Native American artifacts. No relics. No bones, nor sharks’ teeth. Rupert stood surrounded by the largest, filthiest collection of drug paraphernalia anyone’s ever seen in the lives. This place was a drug den for Junkies, and looked like it had been for a very long time. Jumbled up with Florida Fried Gator bags and other myriad take-away cartons, empty drink cups and plastic utensils, were needles, foil, empty lighters, broken pipes, and bent, blackened spoons. There were enough pipe fragments to have sent Rupert into a coma-inducing seizure—but he felt nothing. He felt calm and was amazed by it. He celebrated in his head for a moment, until he whipped around and caught Jesus in the light’s beam.

“What the hell did I smoke?”

Jesus shrugged and smiled.

 

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33

FM(33:34)

By now, the McEejits had worked their way through three of the four cave-ins, Merideth bitching and swearing the entire way. Some of the holes Joe had pulled in or knocked through hadn’t been as easy or effective as the first.

Joe helped his mother through yet another hole and she flailed the Rolling Pin of Death around as she struggled, catching Joe here and there. He bled all over by now, but she didn’t care.

“Serves you right with this stupid fuckin’ idea,” she said, out of breath.

She fell out onto the cave floor with an abruptly-curtailed “Fuck!” and Joe helped her to her feet.

“Asshole,” she said. “Help me over to the wall, I need a minute or two. Catch my breath.”

“Sorry—” Joe assisted her to where she wanted to be and was about to apologize for the fortieth time when Merideth shhhhed him . . . they heard voices.

“Did you . . . ?” Merideth began. “Did you hear that someone’s about to get DPed? Is someone about to be double penetrated in this cave?”

“Double-penetrated?” Joe shrugged. It seemed unlikely, but any answer would likely get him smacked again.

“What the fuck?” she said. She moved to get going again, but stopped, closed her eyes, and shook her head. “No, I need a minute. Go ahead and see if there’s anymore of this shit to get through.”

Joe took the flashlight and walked ahead, leaving his mother wheezing in the pitch black of the cave. He thought to leave her there altogether and just go back the way they came, but he saw that the cave tunnel turned into a Y-shape, the passage off to the right narrower than the left, an offshoot of the main system.

Curious, Joe turned down the right passage and after a short way he saw what looked like a poorly-installed door—like a cheap bathroom door for the home, thin and hollow, with a simple twist lock. He put his ear to the door, but didn’t hear much, so he tried it—it was unlocked. Behind the door was a manmade, dug-out room full of twenty or thirty withdrawing Meth- and Crackheads. The smell suggested that it may as well have been full of Efunibi’s carcass lab shrines—their appearance was also not far off. None said anything, but stood slowly and staggered past him out the door and down the passage into the darkness, like a horde of non-flesh-eating zombies who simply wanted their fix.

Joe wondered how long they’d been in here—it was hard to tell because they were usually so thin to begin with. He followed them out, not thinking too much of it—surely they’d find their way through the openings he’d made and to freedom. So, he turned up the left in the Y and found another cave in.

“Damn,” he said to himself. Then he found a big stone that jutted out enough and sat down. He was pretty tired. This had been a bad idea, but that wasn’t entirely his fault. He didn’t watch the news.

After a few minutes, he had almost dozed off, so he got up, stretched, took a deep breath, and headed back down to retrieve his mother, when his mother yowled in what sounded like both fear and anger.

The Tweakers. Joe ran.

As he arrived with the sole light source, he found his mother wide-eyed standing like a barbarian with her Rolling Pin of Death locked in her fists before her—it was pretty bloody. On the floor lay a few Tweakers who were probably better off having been put out of their misery. The rest, some injured, felt their way around the pile of rubble. One was already climbing through the opening.

Joe wished he could lead the poor buggers out to safety, but—

“Who the fuck are these people, Joe?” Merideth screeched.

“It’s okay, mom. They’re just some Geekers I found locked up down a passage. Well, not locked. . . . They’re going to migrate out and into the community.”

Merideth was still pretty frazzled.

“Well,” she said, panting. “Is there anymore shit to get through?”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Damn it!”

“But it’s got to be the last. I mean, we heard voices, right?”

She grabbed the flashlight from Joe. “We heard something. Come on. We gotta be close.” Joe followed.

34

Fulva—wide-eyed and veins popping—had lost her shit altogether and chased Rupert around the lab again, this time swinging her Derek Peterson flail, screaming about DPing everyone, and occasionally having a go at him with the weapon. Jesus tried his best to stop her, but the vacillating Peterson flail was too much of a deterrent. The fact was, it was highly unlikely that she could kill anyone with it, but if she caught someone with a corner—there looked to be a couple of hardcovers in the book stack—that could be pretty painful, so no one wanted to make contact. Also, if she managed to knock anyone out with it, the presence of MeeMaw’s double-ended Whackin’ Dick made the threats of DPing a little too feasible for anyone’s sense of comfort, so Rupert kept running and avoiding, and Jesus kept looking for a way to incapacitate Fulva.

But she handled the Peterson flail like a warrior—a thin, croaking, Little Girl yoga-pants-wearing, bloody, pink-haired warrior. Bill had begun to come back to life, the whacks of the dildo perhaps getting too much for even his catatonic state to ignore. He covered his head and rolled around under the lab table, seeking to dodge MeeMaw’s ghostly dildo wrath while Fulva hoarse-screamed at him to help her—neither of these things could have been very stimulating to Bill’s self-esteem.

And then, the entire cavern started to shake, building into what felt like an earthquake, but if Rupert’s memory of the Virginia show cave tour served, earthquakes wouldn’t translate with as much strength, if at all, this far underground. Besides, Florida wasn’t known for its earthquakes. Other off-putting things, yes, but not earthquakes. As everything rumbled and wobbled, everyone became—somehow—more confused than they had already been, overloading their systems and halting their festival of flail-swinging and dildo-whacking. Then the first stalactite hit the ground, breaking into pieces, and then another larger one, then several small ones.

Everyone screamed and ran, this time seeking shelter from the falling, stony death from above. While Fulva dove under the flimsy and collapsible table with Bill—which perhaps wasn’t the greatest idea—Rupert and Jesus fled to the perimeter and pushed empty barrels out of the way to press their backs to the walls. Through the falling stalactites and accumulating debris in the air, it was difficult for Rupert to see what went on and where everyone was. But he heard a cry and moved along the wall, kicking each barrel out of the way as he did, so he could at least see what he’d be dealing with next. Three final barrels away, he could see that a large hole had been knocked through from the other side of the cavern wall.

Rupert didn’t even know there was another side.

Before he had a moment to consider what it could be, a massive aloe-like tentacle flopped through and squirmed forward into the lab area, searching. In an instant, he recognized the black ridges and knew it was the Plant with No Name, but now it was immense—Rupert wondered if someone had slipped it some more embalming fluid. Instinctively, Rupert knew the giant aloe plant meant him no harm. The rumbling stopped, the pointy death rocks stopped falling, and the throbbing tentacle lay there.

Silence descended over the cavern and everything settled. Jesus found Rupert near the tentacle and looked at him. Then, as if both remembering at the same time, they swung around to the interior of the lab, looking through the dusty haze in the air for Fulva. Or Bill. Or even MeeMaw.

But there was nothing. Looking around, Rupert saw that a large stalactite had fallen directly onto the double-sided pink dildo, no longer glowing, and had split it in two.

That must have been the scream, Rupert thought. MeeMaw was nowhere to be seen and he breathed a small sigh of relief, if not for himself, then for the sake of the poor, long-suffering Bildo.

Then a noise did catch their attention—a strange whimpering and what sounded like paper ripping. Exchanging another look that determined the need to investigate, Rupert and Jesus searched under tables until they found Bill. And Fulva.

They had not been crushed by falling stalactite. Fulva looked to have had her face smashed in with a smaller stalactite, but not from having fallen from overhead. Bill still grasped it in his hand like a club, mumbling and crying, and his face was covered with fresh, non-ostrich blood spatter. With his free hand, he tore pages out of Derek Peterson’s Bareback Militia, crumpled them up, and shoved them into what was left of Fulva’s mouth, utilizing the pointy end of the stalactite to push them down her throat.

Somewhere in Bill’s incoherent blathering, Rupert made out something about “who’s getting DPed now?”

“Whoa,” Jesus said quietly. “That’s bleak.”

“Yeah,” Rupert replied. “Wasn’t expecting that.”

“I was, sort of, but not in this context.”

“It’s . . . a bit much, eh?” Rupert said.

“Overkill,” Jesus responded. “Unnecessarily gruesome.”

“I guess it makes some sense.”

With that, they backed away, back toward the pulsating tentacle—its end curled and uncurled, as if beckoning them.

“We don’t know what happened to everyone else,” Rupert said. “I mean, Bananas and Bucket were sinking in a country club pond. Last I saw Joe and Merideth, Joe was non-responsive, and she was . . . ” He stopped, deciding it best not to reveal that he might have murdered an old woman with a kid’s bike, not even to Jesus. “Um, they could still be on the way.”

“Truth.”

“I think we need to get through this hole here,” Rupert said.

Jesus looked at him.

“Seriously, I don’t think the plant will attack. It’s been pretty non-aggressive since I’ve known it. Kind of an asshole and perhaps emotionally abusive, but definitely not physically aggressive.”

Jesus took a deep breath and moved toward the hole and tentacle.

“I gotta get my bag and papers,” Rupert said. “Be right behind you.”

Jesus replied something that sounded affirmative and then disappeared through the hole. Rupert stuffed all of his lab notes and blueprints into his cross-body bag, and as he slung the strap over his shoulder and approached the hole, the giant tentacle released a gas right into his face.

“Come on . . . ” Rupert wheezed.

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vending machine

Unnamed Florida Man had to be rescued from a vending machine at Alpha Packaging company in Jacksonville. “Authorities”—presumably the Jacksonville Fire & Rescue spokesman—would not provide additional information as to how the man became “entangled,” how he was rescued, nor the extent of his injuries. Of course, the imagination soars. That said, this is really the best part of the story: “A person at Alpha Packaging picked up the phone and hung up without providing any additional information.” Fair enough, Alpha Packaging.

Action News – Jacksonville. “Florida Man Rescued from Vending Machine.”ActionNewsJax. Cox Media Group. August 22, 2014.

Read Florida Man: Battle of the Five Meth Labs: A Love Story here.

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