Copyright (c) 2015 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
Oreo’s yowling woke Tim; the unearthly noise came from the kitchen. Tim staggered to his feet and clutched the back of the tattered sofa for support. His torn ear throbbed and his neck was swelling … had he been poisoned? The cereal box, with SERVINGS printed on the front, lay on its side. There was no sign of the tiny demon-like creatures.
He stumbled into the kitchen and saw Oreo's black and white hair spiked from her arched back. As he approached, the usually docile cat hunched low, emitted deep warning growls, and then hissed at a closed cabinet door under the sink. Tim tried to shake away the buzzing in his ears and his headache. If this was a nightmare it was time to wake up.
Aspirin would help with the headache, and Tim found some on a shelf next to blood-smeared Band-Aids, a few rubber-bands, a wrist rocket and two leaking flashlight batteries. When his trembling hands yanked off the child-resistant cap, all three of the pills inside dropped and rolled across the floor. #%& Damn it! One tablet rolled under the refrigerator, another into the open air duct. The third spun like a top for an obscene amount of time before plopping smack in front of the under-sink cabinet. Tim was on his knees reaching for the pill when the cabinet door opened. Three Servings pushed an upright can of Raid Flying Insect Killer toward him while another of the tiny demons crouched on top. Tim read the price tag on the can $4.19 just before the stinging spray blinded his eyes.
Valeen Jardine was putting mascara on her eyelashes when racket blasted from the apartment below. It sounded like a fight. Someone was getting murdered and whatever slammed into the wall made her hair-dryer fall into the sink. Good thing it wasn’t full of water. She stomped repeatedly on the floor and finally got on her knees and leaned close to the heat vent. “Knock off the crap,” she yelled. “Or I’ll come down there and knock you off!”
Valeen hadn’t been in a fight since ninth-grade. She’d caught her best friend Marylyn McKinney, a member of her cheerleading squad, kissing Brad Hines under the football field bleachers. The Cloverdale Stallions were being ridden hard by the Butte Bobcats. She’d left Brad’s going-steady ring on until after she gave Marylyn a bloody nose and left a long-gash across her left cheek-bone. Even now, the memory of Brad Hines’ smile when he’d raised his hands in the air and insisted that he and the Marylyn were only fooling-around still made her furious. He’d been a blast to be with. She’d thrown the too-large, five-dollar, crush-ring that had made her finger turn green at him … and missed.
Valeen stomped on the floor again when a crash like breaking glass came from below. “Good Lord! Don’t some people ever grow up?” She hadn’t been near such a fight since her own marriage broke up. The guy in the downstairs apartment was cute, but it sounded like he was mating with a female gorilla.
Tim rolled across the floor blind, with at least three of the creatures biting his face. His sprawling legs kicked out a leg from a wobbly stand. The black and white TV crashed to the floor and exploded like a smoke-bomb. The picture tube shattered on a concrete block he’d been using as a bookcase. At least I won’t have to beat on the side to stop the picture from rolling Tim thought. He wiped tears from his eyes and yanked off an imp tangled in his hair.
Oreo ran past, with a Serving in her mouth, chased by three others who brandished kitchen utensils while muttering squeaky gibberish. Tim smashed his Serving on the floor. Tiny arms and legs wiggled in a tangled pile of flesh like a crushed spider. He thought he heard a girl’s voice yelling from upstairs.
The refrigerator was rolling away from the kitchen wall. Impossible! Tim couldn’t even move it alone … unbelievable strength! Then he saw the cords. Nylon strings from the apartment drapes had been tied together and wrapped around the top of the freezer compartment. A half-dozen of the tiny monsters used it as a block and tackle tow-line to pull over the appliance. They were guided by another Serving, a larger creature with red demon-like eyes, as it swung on the cat-clock pendulum.
The almost one-of-a-kind Frostman 419 hit the floor and bounced, coming to rest on its side with the door sprung open. Leftover spaghetti, rancid cottage cheese and a half-gallon of milk sprayed across the vinyl floor. Eight of the tiny demons waded through the goo like thirsty cattle. Tim’s eyes were clearing, but still hurt. “Damn you little Devils,” he screamed slapping the floor with a broom. Oreo hissed and went flying past his legs. A Serving danced in the corner between an open box of Blue Diamond matches and a rusty can of Cover Girl hair-spray. A lit match waved in the air like a torch. Betty Boom Boom Jagger had been a one-night-stand, but bits of her lustful façade still littered the apartment. Tim knew the creatures were crawling up the inside of his pants like bugs. He did his own tango of terror as he raced toward the bathroom. There was no shower, just a cast-iron tub covered with rust-stained porcelain. Tim turned on the water and danced-off his pants. Two Servings were already biting into his legs. Blood turned the water red as Tim leaped into the tub, spilling toiletries from the plastic surround shelves and breaking open a bottle of Cinnamon-Buns bubble-bath.
Through the bathroom’s open door, Tim watched Oreo spinning on the couch, flipping end-over-end trying to douse the flames that engulfed her. Three Servings advanced toward the terrified twisting cat, holding broken shards of glass from the television as fragments of upholstery stuffing floated in the air like snow.
The water was rising above his knees and Tim felt the biting demons lessen their grip. The creatures were strong and inventive but they didn’t mix with water. Tim submerged both legs; then when two tried to surface, he held them under the water. They thrashed in his grip and sunk needle sharp teeth into his fingers but he held fast. He waited for at least a minute after the last movement to pull first one and then another from the bathtub. Tim left the water running and laid the bodies on the counter next to the sink. Oreo had one for sure and this made three he’d killed. His neck and face were swelling. Four down and … what was it the box said …12 Servings? … Eight to go!
Three of the creatures were flying a model airplane Tim had built when he was ten hanging by fishing-line from the living room light fixture. One of the Servings balanced near the tail-wing of the plastic B52 Bomber and dropped lit matches into Tim’s hair as he walked below the swinging aircraft. The Raid insect killer they sprayed in his face earlier must have been flammable. He was on fire. Tim couldn’t go back into the bathroom because the air force from hell blocked his way. He ran in circles like a candle on a record player turntable before he picked up the half empty carton of 2% and poured it over his head. “This means War!” he screamed as milk dripped off his face.
Tim still had Black-Cat firecrackers from the last Fourth of July and matches from the Blue Diamond box littered the floor. He grabbed the wrist rocket from the junk shelf, lit a fuse and took careful aim. The firecracker blasted in the air about a foot from the swinging model but the Servings capering on the wings squealed. Oreo brushed against his legs as she cowered behind him on the floor. The next shot blasted off the tail fin and part of the rear wing. He’d spent a month gluing the parts together. One Serving straddled the plane’s fuselage and used a straw from an empty McDonalds’ Slurpee-cup to shoot him with lit matches. A lucky match landed on the firecrackers and ignited the entire string just as Oreo streaked past with four demons biting her back. The hapless cat tangled the blasting firecrackers around her tail.
Oreo ran into the kitchen halfway up one wall and down the other as tiny explosions of gunpowder sent bits of demon flesh and feline fur flying. She slid through the spilt milk and cottage cheese and broke a lamp as she ran in circles ripping and blasting the couch and drapes to shreds.
Tim grabbed the two leaking flashlight batteries. The can-opener spun in the kitchen but there wasn’t time to investigate. His first throw missed, but the second was a direct hit and sent the World War II model crashing into a wall and then spiraling to the floor. One Serving lay dead next to a dented battery; the other two limped toward the open heat register. Tim heard a splash and watched as Oreo thrashed in the overflowing bathtub. He lunged for the opening in the floor at the same time as the monsters did. He had a firm grip on one, but the other creature bit his finger and dived into the heat register. Tim plunged his arm into the filthy heating duct and fished it out. It had been trying to claw through ten years’ worth of lint, beer cans, cigarette butts and marbleized tuna-fish sandwich crusts. Sometimes it paid to be a slob.
Tim pounded both demons into the vinyl floor. A shower of sparks erupted from the counter-top above him. The last Serving was heating a ten-inch long butcher-knife inside the operating microwave while it held the door-closed safety button down with one clawed hand. Electrical current, like a tiny arc-welder, heated the knife red hot and put a razor sharp edge on the deadly sword. The tiny imp danced to the edge of the counter holding the weapon high above its head. A soup can, open at both ends, was secured to its body with rubber-bands like a tiny suit of armor. The Serving jumped to the floor with a clank. A tidal wave of foam rolled from the bathroom behind it. Tim retreated into the living room. Both he and Oreo were without weapons as the largest of the creatures, the one with large, red demon-like eyes, stalked toward them.
Valeen had put up with enough. Not only was the fight in the apartment below causing things to fall off her shelves but now she also smelled smoke. There was no way she was going to work and lose all her possessions in a fire. She’d lost everything when her ex-husband Larry had chosen money over marriage. The rat hadn’t come home from a poker game and she found out he’d cleaned out their joint bank account. She sighed, just when things were going great something unexpected had happened.
Valeen stormed out of her apartment and clomped down the stairs in high heels. The door to apartment 419 opened just as she raised her hand to knock. Clouds of acrid smoke billowed out followed by Tim Fowler and a mangy cat too ragged to be a stray. Tim raised his arms to protect his face when he saw her raised fist. “What the hell is going on down here?” Valeen demanded.
She looked past him into the ravaged apartment. A beat-to-hell couch that looked like it came from the city dump and a matching recliner were in flames. Puffs of torn upholstery-padding floated in the air. At least an inch of water covered the floor and a tidal wave of advancing soap-suds clung to broken lamps, an overturned bookcase and a crushed and battered television set spraying a shower of sparks. The overturned cereal box on the kitchen table made her gasp.
Tim was speechless. The petite girl was pretty, even if she did want to kill him. All he could manage was to point to the center of the floor where a tiny hairy creature holding a glowing butcher-knife rose to its feet. “Servings,” Valeen gasped. She wasted no time removing her shoe and throwing it like a ninth- inning relief pitcher at the tiny demon. “These are my best shoes, you had better be worth it,” she said. The pitch was dead center and the last of the creatures from the cereal box writhed on the floor. The hot butcher-knife, which had been knocked from its extended claws, hissed in the surging foam.
Valeen removed the other metal and buckle red fashion pump and waded through the suds that smelled like cinnamon with her bare feet. She dispatched the creature with three blows. “Is this the last one? Did you get them all?” she asked. Tim had thought he was dreaming. Now he realized his nightmare was real. “I think so,” he stammered. He tried to remember … the box said twelve Servings.
“Better be sure,” Valeen told him. “If just one gets away … no elmas for you.”
“Elmas?” Tim wasn’t sure he understood the word. He was thinking about how pretty his upstairs neighbor was, even if she did have a terribly cute temper.
“I’ll show you.” Valeen said. Tim waded after her into the war-zone ravaged apartment as they collected tiny demon bodies from the battle zone. “Servings are a type of Turkish cookie,” she said as she waded around the overturned refrigerator. She laid the tiny bodies in a row on the counter top. “Not your regular Keebler Elves either. God! Don’t you ever clean this place up? I only count eleven. Where’s the last one?”
“I’ll find it.” Tim was stricken by one of Cupids arrows and thought her eyes looked like morning sky … reflected on a mountain-meadow-pond filled with tranquil water.
“Er, I remember Oreo had one in her mouth,” Tim muttered. He searched through the wreckage and found the last imp body on a clump of dripping dishtowels floating behind the overturned bicycle.
“An enterprising Turkish baker named Basak, made the first batches of Servings from a special grain that only grows in a desert region of Erzurum.” Valeen said. She gave Tim a stern look as if he might be ready to call her a liar. “The young businessman thought of them as a kind of gingerbread cookie that children would eat instead of breakfast cereal. He was said to have bought the grain from an old Cadı, a witch woman who traveled the countryside in a painted wagon like a gypsy. Basak didn’t realize his baked goods were enchanted until the first cases were already shipped. By that time, it was impossible to retrieve every order. Somehow a few of the boxes found their way to America.”
“You seem to know a lot about these evil creatures.” Tim looked at her with adoring suspicion.
Valeen giggled. Tim thought her laughter sounded like music. “I’m not a bad person, even if I was ready to kick your ass. I needed to find out all about these things.” She reached out and flipped his nose with her finger. “If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my life, it’s that there is a bit of good in everything. Probably even in you, Tim Fowler. Do you have any salt?”
Tim looked through his mostly bare shelves. He found a cracked glass shaker with a few grains of salt as Valeen continued. “Basak forgot to use this spicy mineral in his Serving recipe and that’s why the creatures come alive.” She sprinkled salt over each tiny body. Instantly the forms began to shrivel. Moments later, the Servings all looked like dry pretzel-sticks lined in a row.
“This is the good … in the bad,” Valeen said. She took one of the dry sticks and snapped it in half with her fingers. A large gemstone rolled across the counter-top. Valeen picked it up. “This is an elma, an almost flawless diamond with a unique amber color. I’m not a jeweler but I’ll bet this must be between four and five carats!” She looked at Tim and grinned. “I’d say for all twelve, you’re looking at upwards of six million dollars.”
“Did you say six million?” Tim’s legs felt weak.
“At least that,” Valeen could see Tim’s wet cell-phone smoking in the corner. “Why don’t you turn the damn water off in your tub and you can use the phone in my apartment to call in permanently sick at that creepy clown barf-bag where you work.”
“How did you know I worked at McDonalds? And how come you know so much about these monsters?” Tim couldn’t take his eyes off Valeen, even as he waded into the bathroom.
“My ex-husband and I bought a box of Servings just before we were divorced,” Valeen said. “We had a tremendous battle with them just like you did. After we discovered the fortune hidden inside the creatures by accident, my rat husband decided being a millionaire was best enjoyed as a single man with no wife. He vanished, probably to someplace in South America and took all the diamonds with him.”
“Money can’t buy a guy like me love,” Tim assured her trying to make himself look taller.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Valeen told him.
Tim parked his Maserati Quattroporte next to a rusty Volkswagen Beetle in a Gas ‘n Grub parking-lot on their way to Las Vegas. Southern Utah was hot in July and this was the first convenience store they’d seen since Cedar City. Tim was getting two bottles of mineral water from the stores’ ice cooler when Valeen pointed to a cereal box at the end of a cluttered shelf. “Servings!” Tim gasped. “You cannot be serious…”
“Why not?” Valeen said as she picked up the box. “We can’t spend all of our time in bed at the Palazzo.” She blew off the dust on the old package. A faded-sticker read $1.79 on the box top. “And twenty million dollars won’t last forever – not for a fun-loving, world-traveling, married couple like us.”
“My darling, you're probably right; as always,” Tim said with a smile.