by Robert H. Prestridge
part 1 of 2
Her day was already shot. One client, Oomoopha-R’n, had complained that her match didn’t have the exact number of testicles that she had requested. (For whatever reason, her match just had to have eleven testicles.)
Another client, Joi-EEE, had said that her/his match was perfect, except for his eating her mother/father’s living room sofa for dessert after a hearty dinner. (Her mother/father expected the service to pay for a new sofa, of course.)
And yet another client, Banger Heloise Hellacious 314Y, had loved her match — a neo-Elf who gardened in the morning, tended bar in the afternoon, and fought in Muay Thai tournaments at night — but now wanted another neo-Elf exactly like her initial match so that she could have a twin set.
Jane McCormick leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and attempted to will a drill-bit migraine away. Phosphenes danced on the back of her eyelids like the flashing of neon lights on the nighttime New Las Vegas Strip. How she wanted the day to be over. How she wanted to get home, take an overly long hot shower, and then drink half a bottle of twenty-year-or-so-old Maker’s Mark. How she wished at that moment that she had never started an intergalactic dating service.
And how she wished she could find someone for herself. “Physician, heal thyself,” she said.
She heard a beep, which indicated that someone was entering the outer office. McCormick opened her eyes and scanthought a quick note to Marko, McCormick’s receptionist. The door dilated, the scanthought having reached Marko too late.
A peevish-looking man, five feet tall, if that, entered McCormick’s office. Without being asked, he sat down in one of the three empty plush chairs in front of her desk.
The office door cinched shut like a pupil exposed to extremely bright light. The man frowned. McCormick leaned forward.
“You’ve got to help me,” the man said. “I don’t have much time.”
“You do know that this is a dating service, don’t you?” McCormick said. “If you need medical help, the hospital is around the corner. If you’re in physical danger, we can scanthought the Peace Troops—”
“No, no, don’t do that,” the man said. “You don’t understand. I must find my perfect match by midnight.” He gulped. “Or else.”
Now McCormick frowned. “Or else? Or else what?”
“Or else,” the man said, and he made a cutting motion across his throat with an index finger.
“Right.” McCormick leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Why would you need to find the love of your life this very night — or else? And who are you?”
The man’s face flushed, either from anger or embarrassment, McCormick unsure which. He stood and leaned over the desk, extending his right hand. She shook it. It felt cold and slimy, like an oyster just taken from the ocean.
“Melvin Dalrymple,” he said, taking his seat, feigning a smile. He took off his hat, revealing a freshly shaved head that gleamed in the light of McCormick’s office. “I—”
“I’m Jane McCormick, by the way,” she said. “Just in case you were wondering.”
“Sorry. Pleasure to meet you, Ms. McCormick, considering.” He wiped his brow with a translucent handkerchief, which he released and allowed to float back into a pocket of his suit coat. “As you can see, I’m very nervous.”
You don’t have to tell me you’re very nervous. “Would you like something to drink? Perhaps a soothing herbal tea—”
“No, no, I’d rather talk about finding my perfect match,” he said, twisting his hat in his hands. “You see, it really is a life-or-death situation. NoNo says that I must.”
He blinked. “Why yes, NoNo.” A pause. “Haven’t you seen the news?”
McCormick exhaled and uncrossed her arms. She wondered if Phillips was playing another one of his practical jokes. A few of them had, indeed, been humorous, like the time he had filled her swimming pool with a gelatinous substance, which a pack of Oringians had devoured in less than five minutes.
This, however, was not humorous. And this, in fact, was becoming more and more irritating.
“Look,” McCormick said, “if Phillips put you up to this, you might as well stop now. I’ve got a migraine, see, and I just want to go home—”
“This is no joke, Ms. McCormick.”
And now she saw that he wasn’t joking and that he wasn’t part of some elaborate hoax that Phillips had concocted. Melvin Dalrymple, if that was his real name, was a terrified man.
McCormick stood, went to the mini-bar at the side of the office, and told the mini-tender that she’d pour the drinks herself.
After she was done pouring the drinks, she handed Dalrymple a Maker’s Mark. He downed it.
“Thank you,” he said. “I feel much better.”
McCormick rested her shoulder near a window. She looked down at the heavy congestion of New Las Vegas. Her breath steamed the glass.
“So what’s this all about, Mr. Dalrymple? Start from the beginning, please. And speak slowly because I want to make sure that I understand everything that you’re saying to me.”
She sipped her drink. In the window she saw a reflection of Melvin Dalrymple, who placed his empty glass on her desk and cleared his throat.
* * *
If anything, it was just another ordinary day among a string of ordinary days that would go on until he, Melvin Dalrymple, died in his golden years.
For whatever reason, he’d been unable to sleep well, and had gotten up around four, his normal time being at five (“Promptly at five,” Dalrymple emphasized to McCormick.) Mother, of course, was still asleep, having stayed out all night at the 24-hour bingo parlor down the street, as she was accustomed to doing each Thursday. Dalrymple, dutiful son that he was, checked up on her before eating a hearty breakfast that she had prepared for him the previous afternoon.
After finishing his breakfast, he brushed his teeth, shaved, showered, and dressed, in that order. Gathering his belongings — his jank and his lunch — he left the condominium he shared with Mother and walked to the far corner to wait for the sprinter that would take him to Shelton, Ferguson, Fenwick, & Garcia, a Big Five Accounting Firm in which Dalrymple had earned the title of Chief Actuary.
He was waiting at the stop with a Red Dwarf (“Of course, Ms. McCormick, I don’t mean Red Dwarf in its astronomical sense—”, “I understand that, Mr. Dalrymple. I know what a Red Dwarf is.” Love your blue eyes. “Please continue.”), another human, and a purple Urucknik when NoNo appeared.
All four of them — the Red Dwarf, the other human, Dalrymple, and the purple Urucknik — gasped.
Of course they gasped because they had never seen anything like NoNo.
No one and no thing could ever have seen a thing like NoNo, let alone imagine it.
The Red Dwarf was so terrified that he screamed and lumbered off, heavy footsteps causing the newly paved street to rumble. The human — a man who had exchanged small pleasantries with Dalrymple during their morning commute into the heart of New Las Vegas, and who, from what Dalrymple knew, worked as a floorman at one of the posh casinos — fainted.
Before the purple Urucknik could do or say anything, a horrendous appendage — something like a nine-foot-long tongue with the scale pattern of an anaconda — shot out of one of NoNo’s maws and grabbed the purple Urucknik, which squealed in terror. The appendage jerked the purple Urucknik up. NoNo chewed heartily, making loud smacking noises like utility bulbs popped underfoot.
Dalrymple’s jaw dropped, as did his jank, his lunch, and control over his bladder. He looked down, noticing a stain that was growing larger in size on his black pants, and felt a hot stream flowing down his leg and into his sock.
NoNo — he would learn its name in a few moments — smacked rubbery things that looked like ancient monster truck tires fashioned into lips. The creature’s numerous iridescent eyes gleamed.
“Yummy yummy yum,” NoNo said, bouncing. “Me NoNo and me likey likey like. You. A lot.”
NoNo belched. Or farted, Dalrymple unsure which. The smell, something like a cross between the sickly-sweet odor at the bottom of a garbage can and spoiled cabbage, almost caused Dalrymple to vomit.
“Who are you?” he said, stuttering, backing away. “What are you? And what do you want?”
The beast sprang at Dalrymple. “Me NoNo. Me likey likey like. You. A lot.”
Dalrymple yelped and attempted to turn and run away, but one of NoNo’s tentacles — Dalrymple wasn’t quite sure if he could even call it that — grabbed a leg, spun him around, and then hung him upside-down.
“You likey likey like. Me?” NoNo said.
Dalrymple heaved that morning’s eggs, Cardusian bacon, and decaffeinated coffee. NoNo placed him gently on the ground, right-side up.
“Me so sorry sorry sorry, so sorry,” NoNo said. It, whatever it was, looked as if it had the start of tears in its numerous iridescent eyes. “NoNo no want to hurty hurt hurt. You.”
A slimy tentacle removed Dalrymple’s hat. Another tentacle patted Dalrymple’s head, as if he, Dalrymple, were a newly acquired pet.
“Therey therey there,” NoNo said, putting the hat back in place. “You goody goody good. Now.”
Dalrymple knew that if he attempted to run away, NoNo would come after him. He decided to play along, and when the chance came, get away from the thing.
The actuary feigned a grin, dusted the arms of his dark suit jacket, and picked up his lunch and jank.
“Pleasure to meet you,” he said, stammering, hoping that he didn’t show fright, and hoping that NoNo wouldn’t think that he was mocking its speech patterns. “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like Paris Hilton III?”
NoNo belched. Or farted, Dalrymple unsure which. An odor like ripened cheese and three-day-old chili filled the air.
Dalrymple cleared his throat, feeling nauseated, but not vomiting because he had nothing left to vomit.
“You’re a man’s woman, I think,” Dalrymple said. “Unfortunately, you see, there’s another woman in my life. Ah, that’s it. Yes. I’m taken, you see. So, anyway, my sprinter’s going to be here shortly and when it does, I’m getting in and going off to work.” And then contacting the authorities right away, whatever you are.
Tears cascaded from NoNo’s numerous iridescent eyes, flowing past blebs that oozed puss looking like frog’s innards and puddling around Dalrymple’s feet.
“Noey noey no no no,” NoNo said, shaking what looked like its head. “Noey noey no no no. Can’t. Be.”
The man who had fainted sat up groggily, rubbed his eyes, took a look at NoNo, gasped, and fainted again.
Dalrymple cleared his throat and attempted a chuckle, which came out more as a cackle.
“Unfortunately, it’s true,” Dalrymple said, moving a foot, hearing it and feeling it squish in NoNo’s tears. “I’m a happily married man with several children to support. I’m sure you understand. Ah, here’s my ride.”
A silver sprinter rounded the corner. Dalrymple waived at is driver, whose eyes widened in obvious terror.
The silver sprinter turned and sped down another street. Dalrymple’s gut ached.
“Takey takey take. You.” NoNo wrapped tentacles around Dalrymple and picked him up. “Wherever you goey goey go. Now.”
NoNo’s numerous maws seemed to be smiling. Dalrymple didn’t know what else to do but give the thing the address of, and directions to, Shelton, Ferguson, Fenwick, & Garcia.
NoNo made its way through the streets of New Las Vegas with Dalrymple in its slimy grip. Sprinters darted down side streets and Peace Troops whirly-whirls appeared overhead. A woman who was pushing a pram looked up when NoNo’s shadow overcame her. The woman shrieked, grabbed her baby, and ran off down a street, babbling inanities.
NoNo arrived at Shelton, Ferguson, Fenwick, & Garcia with Dalrymple still in its grasp. Dalrymple yelled when Peace Troops fired titanium netting, barely missing him and NoNo. He continued to yell when NoNo boarded an elevator, continued to yell when NoNo made its way through the employee cafeteria (eating a whole row of puddings, other desserts, and the BlooWotNik serving them), and continued to yell when NoNo deposited him gently into the chair behind his desk. His larynx now felt so sore that he could barely gulp the air that he so desperately needed.
NoNo removed his hat, patted his head, and retreated to a corner of the office, iridescent eyes goo-goo-googly for Dalrymple.
NoNo belched. Or farted, Dalrymple unsure which. An odor like rotten eggs and an early morning marsh filled the small office.
Dalrymple felt his face turn green, and his eyes crossed as he swooned.
“Worky work work,” NoNo said.
Dalrymple tried to stop the room from spinning. “Right. Worky work work.”
Through his office window, Dalrymple saw, and heard, whirly-whirls circling the building. A Peace Troops officer spoke, demanding that NoNo release its hostage. Hobbes, Dalrymple’s senior manager, poked his head into the office, gasped, and retreated outside the doorway.
“It’s true,” the manager said. “The thing has taken you hostage.”
“I wouldn’t come in here, Mr. Hobbes,” Dalrymple said, keeping his eyes and feigned smile on NoNo.
“It escaped this morning from New Alien Observation,” Hobbes said. “They say there’s nothing as hideous as it.”
NoNo’s iridescent eyes were becoming slits. Dalrymple sensed that that the creature was becoming extremely angry.
“Get out of here, Hobbes, if you know what’s good for you—”
“They say that it’s the legendary Yuioriore, a beast that falls in love with one thing, and one thing only, forever after ever,” said Hobbes, his voice sibilant like air quickly leaking from a tire. “You’ve got to get away from it, Dalrymple, as soon as you can or else it’s going to love you to death—”
Copyright © 2011 by Robert H. Prestridge