*Shell Shocked

Written by Alex Gyftogiannis --- Arty by J. D. Wiley

You ever notice how old people smell different? Of course you do. You might remember hugs and kisses from your grandma or sitting on pappy’s lap as he bounced you up and down, and they had that weird scent you wouldn’t smell anywhere else. It wasn’t a bad scent really, if anything it was kinda comforting. But it was very distinguishable. Good memories, right? Wrong.

That “old person smell” is what the Gnashers smell like all the time. Except they’re not wearing granny’s perfume. No, they’re usually caked in muck of some sort, a rare infusion of feces, cheese puff dust, and diet Dr. Pibber. It’s as pleasant as it sounds. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they’re ugly as fuck. They look like Nosferatu’s half-shaven dick with an STD. You might be getting the impression that I’m not too fond of these things, and you’d be right, but there’s more. They’re assholes too.

They lie and steal compulsively. They always keep you waiting. They don’t know when to shut the fuck up. They love movie and television trivia. Okay, that one is kinda cool sometimes, but still way too excessive. I could go on all day about what’s wrong with them, but in lieu of that, I will present to you firsthand evidence. Just wait.

My partner Isaiah and I were working odd jobs as usual and that night in particular our assignment was to oversee a transaction between the Scales and the Gnashers. The Scales were a criminal organization run by some lady named The Gorgon, and my understanding was that her name was more literal than figurative. She liked to use regular humans as her errand boys because they could go places that most praeterhumans, AKA non-human entities, could not. The logic was sound on paper, until we met the guy she sent: Carlo.

Carlo was fresh muscle for the Scales, and apparently he’d only recently been let in on the big secret that supernatural beings exist and operate among us. Few people were entrusted with this knowledge, and those who were had to sign “The Covenant” acknowledging the various rules and responsibilities that came with it. Violation meant punishment, usually severe. But I can barely remember any details since I only skimmed the shit. For a meathead like Carlo to get to where he is, he must’ve kissed the right ass. Maybe he used tongue. I dunno.

Either way, I don’t think he was at all prepared for what was about to go down, considering he came to this deal dressed like every goon ever in an action movie. Grey jacket with a black turtleneck, sunglasses at night, a holstered uzi, and hair tied back into a greasy ponytail. I half-expected Steven Seagal to show up and pretzel-lock the shit out of him.

“I don’t have all night, Jace. Where’s your guy?” Carlo asked, fiddling with the latches on his briefcase.

“He’s on his way,” I replied. Because that’s what you say. The fuck if I knew where Sneedle was. The rat bastard was always late.

“Is that true?” Carlo turned to Isaiah, because fuck me.

“Absolutely.” Isaiah nodded, though he had no clue either. My man.

We all spent a few more minutes in pensive silence, just staring at each other on a rooftop, in the middle of a New York winter, waiting for Sneedle.

Carlo tapped his foot, his patience running thin, and glanced at his watch for the millionth time. Just as it looked like he was about to flip his shit, we heard clanging and clattering from the nearby air conditioning vent. The noise continued until a vent cover popped off and out came Sneedle, lugging a stuffed backpack.

“Eyyyyy, how’s it goin’, boys?” The little scumbag waltzed by without a care in the world, and I immediately caught a whiff of him. Old people, feces, corn chips, and… Ugh. Root beer. I felt bad for the people in their apartments having to smell that combination wafting through their vents.

Sneedle pulled out a bottle of diet root beer and took a long swig.

“Root beer and chips, huh?” I stared at the patchy-haired rat-dwarf.

“Yeah, tastes like that leprechaun cereal when you mix ‘em.” Sneedle laughed. “It’s hella good.”

Carlo’s eyes bulged and he took a step back. “What the fuck is that thing?” A common and expected reaction to seeing a Gnasher for the first time.

I pointed at Sneedle. “That’s our guy.”

Carlo slid his shades down, mouth agape. “Your guy? That’s no fuckin’ guy. It looks like a bald gerbil with herpes.”

“I resent that.” Sneedle folded his arms. “I’m not that hairless.”

Isaiah sighed. “Forget about that. Why are you late this time?”

Sneedle starting shifting about, avoiding eye contact. “Well, you know how it is… Me and the boys got caught up in a Star Trek marathon.” What did I tell you? Assholes.

“Which series?” Isaiah asked.

“The best one, of course.” Sneedle took another sip of root beer.

“Next Generation.” I nodded. “Understandable. Data’s my boy.”

Sneedle looked offended. “No way. It’s all about Voyager.” This opinion alone should’ve been enough to confirm that him and his whole kind were beyond sympathy or compassion.

Isaiah nodded. “I do love Voyager. Seven of Nine is a bad bitch.”

I shook my head. “You guys are out of your mind. It’s Kirk, Picard, or bust. Maybe Sisko. After he grew the goatee. But that’s it.”

Sneedle turned to Isaiah. “Well lookie who can’t handle opinions different from their own.” Isaiah chuckled. It wasn’t a god damn opinion. Everybody knew Voyager sucked.

Carlo’s was still trying to process things from the looks of it. I wasn’t sure if he was having an embolism or something.

Sneedle eyed Carlo with suspicion. “What’s your problem? You don’t like Star Trek or something?”

“Me?” Carlo snapped out of it.

“Yeah, you, meatball.”

Carlo didn’t appreciate that. “As a matter of fact, I don’t. That shit is for nerds.”

“Oh, and you’re so cool, right?” Sneedle marched right up to Carlo and pointed the soda bottle at his chest. “Is that why you dress like the bad guy from Karate Kid 3?” Holy shit, he did.

Carlo was having none of it. He slapped the soda bottle right out Sneedle’s hand. “Look, you little shit, I’m here to do business and you kept us waiting a half hour. Show me the goods or I’ll toss you off this god damn building for wasting my time.”

“Well excuse me.” Sneedle made a dramatic show of being taken aback. “Some of us have lives outside of illicit inter-species roof transactions.” Not something I ever thought I’d hear, never mind be a part of.

“He’s right. Let’s just get down to business.” Isaiah patted Sneedle on the shoulder, soon realizing his mistake. I handed him a tiny bottle of hand sanitizer from my jacket pocket.

“Nah, fuck that,” Sneedle insisted, “Now he owes me a root beer.”

“I’m getting pretty sick of this shit.” Carlo started to reach for his uzi.

Sneedle lifted his shirt just enough to flash a glimpse of the .357 magnum residing in his trousers. “You wanna go, pal?”

“Jesus. What’s with all these midget mother fuckers over-compensating with big guns?” Carlo turned to me and Isaiah. “Are you two going to do anything about this?”

We kinda just looked at each other and shrugged. Our boss had sent us here to oversee the transaction and sorta mediate things, but truth be told, maintaining stability wasn’t really our strong suit.

Carlo was furious and turned back to Sneedle. “Listen, you Count Orlok-looking mother fucker, you’ve got about ten seconds before I shove that .357 in your mouth, and this python,” he grabbed his crotch, “up your ass.” Ew. Come on.

“That’s gross.” I shivered in disgust.

“Totally uncalled for,” Isaiah replied.

“It’s a figure of speech. You assholes know what I mean.” Carlo was losing it, and fast.

In the blink of an eye, Sneedle drew his pistol and aimed it square at Carlo’s forehead.

You could tell Carlo had been in this situation before. “Do it and watch what happens. My boss will have your whole race floating at the bottom of the East River by week’s end.”

Sneedle giggled and spun the gun on his finger before shoving it back in his pants. “I was just foolin’ about.”

Carlo fumed and went for his uzi again but Isaiah stopped him before he could do anything unwise. Not that I disagreed with the notion of busting a cap, or twelve, into Sneedle.

Sneedle sighed at Carlo. “You’re supposed to say ‘I wasn’t’ after I say that.”

The rat bastard was quoting Tombstone. “Maybe he ain’t your huckleberry.” I shrugged. 

“Well he’s no daisy, that’s for sure.” Sneedle nodded.  

Carlo shook Isaiah off him and composed himself. “Can we just end this? I need to get off this roof and away from that god damn rodent.”

Isaiah and I glared at Sneedle.

“Alright, alright. I’m sorry. Let’s do it. By all means, you go first.” Sneedle performed a small bow.

Carlo grunted as he undid the briefcase latches. He opened the case revealing two rows of fifty-dollar bills. “Fifty-thousand as agreed upon. Now your turn.”

That’s when things went south. Sneedle unzipped the pack and opened it wide, triggering a dye pack that exploded right in Carlo’s face. Thank god he was wearing sunglasses. At night. What a douchebag. Shades or not, an incendiary device had just sprayed hot red ink all over him and there was no way that could be pleasant. Carlo screamed and stumbled backward. So far back that he slipped off the roof. Yep. Ol’ Carlo was dangling from the edge, one hand hanging on for dear life, the other gripping that cash-filled case tight.

Sneedle ran over and grabbed onto the briefcase, attempting to wrench it from Carlo’s mits while kicking him in the face. Isaiah and I just stood there in shock and watched. Even if we wanted to help the guy, Sneedle was well-armed and crazy enough to use it. I wasn’t about to catch a bullet for some mafioso wannabe.

“You’re fucking dead, you rat bastard!” Carlo shouted, between blows to the face, clinging to the edge, and the case, with everything he had.

Sneedle leaned in. “Death comes for us all, Carlo, but something much worse comes for you. For when you die, it will be—” Sneedle stomped on Carlo’s hand, causing him to lose his grip on the edge and the case. “—without honor.”

Isaiah gave me his best “oh shit” look as we watched Carlo vanish over the side. We ran over just in time to see Carlo not ten feet below us on the fire escape, laying flat on his back.

Sneedle turned to us and laughed. “You didn’t think I was gonna kill the guy, did ya?”

Down below, Carlo stood up, his red-covered face seething with rage. “I swear to Christ if I ever see you again…”

“Eat a dick, Carlo!” Sneedle vigorously flashed his middle finger and then took off, disappearing back down the vent with the briefcase. Carlo had a conniption fit, pounding his feet and fists on the fire escape. It took a moment for all this to sink in.

“Damn.” Isaiah rubbed his head in disbelief. “Sneedle was channeling Master Splinter on that one.”

“Yeah. The O.G. TMNT movie, that was some next-level shit right there.”

“The fuck are you guys talking about?” Carlo removed his shades, displaying two tan rings on his ink-covered, badly burnt face.

I looked at Isaiah and back at Carlo. “Seriously? Master Splinter, man.”

“What? Is that like those amphibians?”

Isaiah and I exchanged disappointed looks.

Carlo screamed out of frustration. “Never mind. Fuck the both of you. Your asses are going down for this. Tell your employer he’s fucked too.” Carlo ran down the fire escape to go tattle to his boss.

“Aw, don’t be like that.”

Carlo stopped and pointed up at the two of us. “The Gorgon doesn’t forget or forgive. You’ll find out soon.”

Isaiah turned to me. “I’m starting to think we screwed up somewhere along the line.”

“You’re probably right,” I replied. “But Carlo did kinda need to eat a dick.”

“You ain’t wrong.” Isaiah shrugged.

So yeah, we were in a tough spot, but then when weren’t we? Par for the course in our line of work. And didn’t I tell you Gnashers were assholes? I bet you didn’t believe me. You probably thought ‘Oh, they don’t seem so bad. They like tv shows and recite funny quotes!’ But that’s just the surface. Usually things that smell rotten are rotten throughout, and that was definitely true for Sneedle and his kind. I mean who the fuck likes Voyager? And Isaiah doesn’t count. His favorite Indiana Jones movie is the fourth one with the aliens.

“That was some ordeal.” I checked the time on my phone. “You hungry?”

“Sure, what you got in mind?”

“Pizza?”

“Alright. But this time I pick the place. Deal?”

“Cowabunga, dude.”

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