Brown Jenkins is intended to be a serial, with each episode accompanied by music to be played while the story is read.
Each episode will consist of a short story or vignette in tune with the major theme. The episodes will post every Sunday night until the tale is complete.
Once all is said and done, a book/cd package will be put together,with a few extra goodies. The cover will feature the artwork at left, by John Donald Carlucci.
Ready? Here we go—
Today’s episode is entitled Blue and Brown (the song is at Blue and Brown)
He didn’t have much success as “One-Eye” Jenkins, so he ditched the eyepatch and started appearing as “Badfinger” Jenkins.
This caused people to request “Baby Blue”, and “Day After Day”, neither of which he cared to play.
Giving up wasn’t in his vocabulary, so Nathaniel Jonathon Jenkins, Jr. resolved to find a crossroads and then visit there on the night of the full moon.
He got what he asked for, too.
And then some.
Just before midnight on the night of October 24, 2014, Nat drove his rickety old Buick to a spot he’d found, where not only the roads but the railroad tracks crossed, and sat in the car, chain-smoking, biting his nails, and strumming his old Stratocaster.
He was parked just off the right shoulder, on a little berm above the main highway. The rail bridge trestles were to his left and the baleful moon to his right.
There wasn’t much traffic. Two coyotes and a javelin trotted by, and later a cable tv van cruised by.
Nat began to doubt the wisdom of his actions, white-knuckling the steering wheel and letting his cigarettes burn out in the ashtray.
A passing crow croaked its derision.
The wind picked up a little, felt warmer.
The train tracks began to crackle and then erupted into brilliant green flame. They melted in the fire into odd little loops, folding back on themselves and seeming to disappear and reappear.
The tracks settled down, and were unchanged except for the smoke wafting from them, smelling heavily of ozone.
Nat rubbed his eyes, pinched himself, stretched. He was pretty sure that he had been awake the whole time. He bent to play a bit more.
“Say,” said a voice. “That’s a good–sounding guitar. Do you mind if I play?”
The speaker moved into a shaft of moonlight. “You can call me Crispin,” he said, throwing back his hood to reveal saturnine features and a neat black goatee. “Or Will,” he chuckled.
Nat could hear hundreds of little claws skittering around in the darkness, and could see dozens of little eyes gleaming hungrily.
“I suppose that would be okay,” Nat said. He handed over the instrument.
The stranger strummed a chord, then another, and a third. He grinned.
“It’s out of tune,” he said. “I’ll just fix that.”
Nat had his own private tuning, but he didn’t let on. He didn’t see the point. Quite clearly, this was the moment.
The stranger twisted the pegs and listened some, then twisted them some more, seemingly at random.
The crow made another series of remarks.
“Yes, that’s right,” the stranger said, tuning one string just a touch higher.
“Here you go,” he said, offering the Strat back to Nat. “Try it now.”
It wasn’t charged with electricity or anything obvious. The guitar sure sounded good though. Even unplugged.
The stranger faded away while Nat was playing.
“Very good,” said the voice of Peter Lorre from the passenger seat. “You play beautifully.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Nat. “But who are you?”
“I? I am your guitar technician.”
Nat closed in on the car and saw that a medium-sized muskrat was sitting there, eating something that gleamed redly.
The “muskrat” turned to him, disclosing a human and decidedly ugly face. It threw the gnawed bone into the darkness and displayed its wizened little hands. “These are clever, no?”
Nat didn’t faint right there and then. He was afraid the creature would eat him.
He may have been right. There’s no way to know. In some alternate realities, he probably did faint, and was eaten. Alternity is like that.
“S-s-s-s,” the creature hissed. “Let’s go.”
Nat had been thinking furiously, trying to work out how he could possibly pull this off.
“Do you like sleep in a coffin or something?” He ventured.
“Hhhhheeee. No. I sleep curled up at the foot of your bed. I hide when other people are around. Or I’ll be somewhere else. Don’t worry about me. I have my…ways.”
“What if I don’t agree.”
“I tear you into pieces and eat the pieces, and shred your spirit. No one will ever dream you again,” it said, in the voice of Peter Lorre contemplating a crime.
Not sure what the creature meant by that, but unwilling to seem, well, unwilling, Nat shut up and drove.
He eyed the creature from time to time, especially when they passed under the traffic lights.
A more unkempt beast was hard to think of. His passenger had large hairy human feet and hands and face on the body of a beaver or muskrat, and was as big as a medium-sized child.
It smelled like carrion and worse, and spent most of the time giggling softly to itself.
Sometimes it would sit and regard Nat, picking its nose with one long-taloned forefinger or scratching at its hide.
“What do I call you?” Nat asked.
“I am called Brown Jenkin.”
“Hey, my name is Jenkins. What a coincidence.”
“There are no coincidences,” the creature, Brown Jenkin, observed in the voice of Peter Lorre committing a crime. “Your name is Brown now, too.”
“This isn’t really going the way I thought it would,” sighed Nat.
“Just hang on for the ride,” Brown Jenkin remarked.
“But I’m driving,” Nat said, grinning, starting to get into it.
“That’s probably an illusion too.”
“I should just put an apostrophe between the en and the ess,” said Nat, “You’re really not going away, are you?”
“I’m afraid not. I’m real.”
“I bet you have a lot of bad habits.”
“All of them,” said the creature, and grinned hugely, showing rows and rows of yellow and green snaggled teeth. Its mouth kept expanding, hypnotically, until Nat thought he’d fall into it.
He stopped the car. “This is where I, where we, live,” he said, but the creature was already out of the car and heading up the drainpipe. A piece of pipe broke off.
Brown Jenkin dug its claws into the brick and continued on up to his balcony, pulled open the patio door, went inside.
By the time Nat got upstairs and unlocked the door, it had eaten all of the meat in the refrigerator and left the bloody Styrofoam trays on the kitchen floor while it eyed his cat.
The cat eyed it right back.
“You don’t get to eat the cat,” Nat said. “And it gets to stay.”
Jenkin glared at the feline, who was washing its paws nonchalantly. He looked at Nat and snarled.
“Do I look like fucking ALF to you?”
“I have to have some rights,” said Nat reasonably. “I insist.”
“You have the right to remain stupid,” grumbled Brown Jenkin, turning on the tv.
“And you don’t have the right to act like royalty in my house,” replied Nat.
The hair stood up on Jenkin’s back, and he turned to face Nat.
“Act like royalty? Act like fucking royalty? I AM ROYALTY! I AM THE RAT KING!” Brown Jenkin screeched. “I am not to be spoken to in this way,” he continued in a more modulated tone. “You forget your place.”
“What, that you’ll kill me and eat me if I don’t do as you please? Get serious. You would have already done it. There’s something you need me for, so I’m not going to kiss your ring or your furry ass. Speaking of which, you smell like ass. When’s the last time water touched your body?”
Jenkin glared murderously. “I am the emissary of the Crawling Chaos, and I have the power of a plenipotentiary. I don’t need to listen to this.”
“Then don’t. And take a bath, will you?”
Brown Jenkin, still all puffed up, exited through the open window.
“Don’t bring it home with you,” Nat called. “Wow.”
The window was on the second floor.
“I thought you could only do that in cartoons.”
He shook his head.
“Man, I got brass ones.”
The Devil With My Face
Soundtrack:The Devil With My Face
The doorbell rang. It wasn’t the first nor the last time that day. Nat answered.
It was his neighbor.
“Morning, Nate,” he said. “I hate to bother you, but have you seen my cat? He’s been gone for a couple of days. I’m worried about him.
“Did you hear the raccoons in the dumpster last night? Big ones–I could have sworn I heard them TALKING…”
“Seriously?” Nat hadn’t heard them. He wouldn’t have heard Disaster Area at full volume. He had been drinking to forget his problem.
“Really. They threw half of the dumpster out onto the Sawyers’ lawn.”
Nat rolled his eyes. “Did Art Sawyer try to shoot them?”
“He did. Caught sight of one, too. Said it laughed at him, scaled the tree, and was gone. Funny thing-he said the one that laughed wasn’t a ringtail.”
“Socrates died eventually,” mused Nat.
“Never mind. I was just woolgathering. I’ll keep an eye out for Marmalade.”
The perp was sitting on the couch eating cheetos and wiping his paws on the fabric.
“Jenkin,” Nat said. “We have a problem.”
The beast looked up slowly, deliberately. “Excuse me?” It said.
“We have a problem,” Nat repeated. “You need to stop eating the neighbor’s pets.”
“You have a problem,” came the answer. “I only promised not to eat your pet. Well, sort of. You told me not to eat him, as you wanted some say in things.”
“You’re looking more and more like ALF to me.”
Jenkin pulled at his nose, scrabbled at the top of his head, pulled. His proboscis got longer, he developed a topknot. “Take it easy, Willy,” he said, and remolded his face.
Nat blinked at his twin.
“That isn’t funny.”
“Isn’t meant to be. I can be anyone I like. What you see is only three dimensions of me. I have others.”
“Do you smell any better in those other dimensions?” Jenkin had put his normal face back on. “Really. You smell like ass dipped in dumpster.”
“So, what? You have buyer’s remorse now? You want to renege?”
“I’m past that. I’ve been reading up on you. Google is my friend.”
“The only one,” came the reply from Jenkin, who bared his teeth. “So what did the old spiderweb have to say about me?”
“You don’t look much like a mongoose. Was your name Gef at some point?”
“Pure fiction. Nor do I know anyone named Gilman.”
“How do you feel about redheads?”
“Love them, properly cooked.” He clapped his paws. “Keziah was real. She’s been banished though. Mazurewicz too.”
“Tell me more.”
“Sorry, you’ll have to wait for my memoirs. I tuned your acoustic.”
Nat went into the bathroom, turned on the tub tap.
Jenkin was gone by the time he got back to the living room.
Nat filled the washtub, left it in the middle of the kitchen. He took the acoustic guitar from its stand and played for a while. “Rat King,” he said. “Extra dimensions. Hmm. I need to go to the library.
“How much of what he says can be believed?”
“None of it,” said Jenkin, sitting on the kitchen windowsill. “And all of it.”
“You’re not helping.”
I’m not supposed to. I’m your guitar tech, and that’s it. The man in black gave me my assignment.”
“Who’s the man in black?”
“He’s dead,” Nat said reasonably. “And the Elder Gods, the Great Old Ones, they’re not real. They’re just fiction, dreamed up by a lonely guy with too many brains and too much time on his hands.”
“Maybe. And maybe only in this dimension. You know so little.”
“And you know everything, right?” Nat grinned.
Jenkin had another bag of Cheetos and had turned on the tv. He was watching wrestling.
“I suppose that’s not fixed in some dimensions,” Nat said. Jenkin ignored him, wiping his paws on the fabric. Nat got a little closer.
Jenkin, rapt in the drama, didn’t seem to notice. Nat crept a step closer.
“Don’t put your hands on me,” said Jenkin. “You’ll regret it. And you won’t be able to play with stumps.”
Nat ignored this, grabbed the creature, and heaved him toward the washbasin in one continuous motion.
Within seconds, the apartment was filled with steam, and there were shreds of aluminum everywhere.
“Watch out for shrapnel,” called Jenkin. He threw a plate at Nat’s head.
Nat ducked, and the plate buried itself in the ceiling.
Jenkin was dripping wet. The water ran from his fur and puddled on the floor. Steam rose from his fur as well, and the vapor drifted out the kitchen window,
“You smell much better,” Nat said, throwing him the mop. “And you’re learning.”
He ducked as the mop became a spear.
“I’m going out,” he said. “Clean up your mess.”
“I don’t know what I expected,” Nat said, “but this isn’t it.” He kicked the door closed and set the bags of groceries down.
Jenkin just looked at him.
The apartment was spotless. There was no sign that there had been any water, no holes in the ceiling and walls, and the washtub was empty and sitting in the middle of the living room.
“I’m not even going to ask,” Nat continued. “But I don’t understand the steam.”
“I told you. What you can see is only what you can see. There’s more of me than you perceive. I’m not what you think.”
“I think you’re a sarcastic rat-boy with some real strange connections. I’m surprised that I’m not freaking out that you exist, let alone that you’ve decided to room with me.”
“I am too.” Jenkin uttered a high-pitched snicker, meaner-sounding than a titter.
“Yeah. Whom the Gods would destroy and all that. I get it. But if I were crazy in the first place, that wouldn’t be operative, would it?”
“Depends. But you’re doing well. I ate your neighbor.
“Your neighbor, the guy with the bald spot and the bad sports jacket. He saw me. I had to kill him. Nowhere else to put him.”
“That’s not good. I can’t allow you to go around killing people.”
“You can’t stop me.”
“There has to be some way. I can find it.”
“Good luck. So when are you going to get a job?”
“I just did. I made a couple of calls while I was out. I assume you can tune the twelve-string?”
“In my sleep.”
“Do you have to come with me when I go?”
“Yes. I have to retune the guitar if it falls out of tune.”
“Fuck. With my luck, you’ll kill the promoter before he pays me.”
“Chance you’ll have to take,” said Jenkin, turning on the tv. “Did you get Cheetos?”
“Yeah,” said Nat sourly. He threw the plastic bag of cheese puffs to the beast and proceeded to stow away the rest of the groceries.
He fixed himself a liverwurst and onion sandwich and opened a beer, eating standing up.
“How can you eat that?”
“I love it. My favorite.”
“Gross,” said Jenkin, channel-surfing.
“Put on the baseball,” said Nat. “I like baseball. Did anyone see you kill and eat Bill?”
“Yes. There was a guy in the alley. I killed him too. Cut him to ribbons and threw the bits in the canal.”
“Why didn’t you eat him? Or why didn’t you throw Bill in the canal too?”
“Not enough room. I didn’t like Bill’s coat. It offended me.”
“Me too, but not that much.”
“I’m sensitive,” mused Brown Jenkin, retracting and extruding his claws. “Can we watch Wolverine?”
“Feh,”spat the beast.
“Stop killing people. And pets. Please.”
“I can’t promise that. But you’ll never be attached to anything. Nobody will believe the story. I’ve seen this movie before.”
“This is the worst–written script EVER,” remarked Nat, entering the living room. He set his beer down on the coffee table. “Seriously. Nobody would believe any of it. I’m finding it hard to believe, myself.”
Brown Jenkin regarded him solemnly. “That’s what happens. Did you expect no catch to things when you requested infernal intervention?”
“I expected my soul to be forfeit.”
“No such thing. Sorry you had different expectations. This is real. I AM AS FUCKING REAL AS THE ZIT ON YOUR NOSE.”
“Right. And I still need to work for my fame and fortune. Why don’t you just go away? I was doing perfectly badly all by myself.”
“I like you,” said Jenkin, wearing a huge toothy grin. He needed dental work.
Nat sat quietly, glowering, sucking on his beer. After a bit he got up and fetched another.
Jenkin fell asleep. He snored enthusiastically.
Nat drank, and thought his thoughts. His expression grew wiser and wiser. The corners of his mouth twitched a little and then broke into a smirk.
“You still smell like ass,” he said to the sleeping figure. He drained his beer and exited the apartment, walking a trifle unsteadily down the stairs and into the city.
He made various stops, buying a couple of bags full of choice items, Cheetos and rat poison prominent among them. There was a package of nets of various sizes, a collapsible dog kennel, several spray bottles, a gallon bottle of vinegar, and several plug-in room deodorizers. He stopped in the computer store and bought a cheap wireless webcam.
Returning, he whistled a little tune.
The sleeper had awakened, leaving his mess behind him. Nat cleared away the Cheetos bags and the gnawed remnants of an arboreal animal and unpacked his things.
The dog cage, once it assembled (with much swearing and several side-alleys), was placed next to the living room couch, on the side further away from the front window. The door was propped open, and he shoved it back under the end table, far enough so that it didn’t show unless you were on that end and looking for something on the floor.
The nets were so positioned that they would fall and engulf anything that came in one of the windows. Pull open the sash, and down came the net.
The room deodorizers were deployed, one in each room of the apartment, two in the bathroom.
He carefully injected the contens of a bottle of powdered rat poison into a bag of Cheetos and shook it until it was invisible.
The vinegar and spray bottles were for another project.
Nat sat on the end of the couch, away from the window, and practiced turning and heaving in one motion, throwing a pillow into the cage. When he was able to do that four times in a row, he stopped.
The pillow went back in the bedroom. When he was on his way back, Nat smelled that his quarry was approaching, that particular Brown Jenkin miasma of body odor, dead flesh, compost, and corruption.
He crossed and sat where he had been sitting.
At once he saw his error. The nets were all on the windows.
Jenkin came in the front door, dragging a cat by the tail. Several chunks had been bitten out of it already. It was not quite dead yet, as it was mewling a protest, but it was too far gone to fight back.
“No,” Nat said. “Give me the cat.”
Jenkin tittered sardonically and swung the cat by the tail, up to his mouth. He bit down, a gout of fresh blood oozing onto the hall carpet. The cat’s tongue stuck out like the business end of a New Year’s noisemaker. The light went out behind its eyes.
“Jesus,” breathed Nat.
“Better than that,” said the beast. “The King of Rats.”
Into the room stepped a tall pearshaped man with a balding head and spectacularly thick eyebrows, wearing a discolored brown suit.
“I like this place,” he said, looking around, leaning on his cane. This individual actually darkened the air around him slightly, giving him a sort of aura. “It has certain…charms. A kitsch. Yes.”
Nat stood, his weight on the balls of his feet. “Who are you, and why are you here?”
The figure chuckled. “I had been told you were an intelligent sort. No evidence of that, no indeed. I am the King of Rats. She (indicating a woman that had just entered) is the Queen. We have come to introduce ourselves. Our friend Jenkin speaks highly of you.”
“You can turn right around and let the doorknob hit you on the ass,” Nat said. “You’re not welcome here.”
“Ah, but I shan’t. Whether welcome or no, here is where I intend to be at this time. And, as I own the building now, I cannot be induced to vacate the premises by any officers of the law.”
“Well, I guess you have me then. So, speak your piece.”
“Brown Jenkin tells me that you want to renege on your agreement. That you no longer wish his company, or the gift.”
“This is quite true. The gift isn’t anything at all, near as I can tell, and Jenkin’s a horrible roommate. And he smells.”
The figure smiled. “Yes, he does. As in the joke about the goat with no nose, he smells terrible. No joke about that. Well, then, sir, the question is, what do we get in return for your end?”
“I had always been of the opinion that a soul was the offering. It isn’t like you people, and I use the term loosely, had me sign a contract or anything.” Nat shrugged.
The woman, a redhead in unkempt hippie garb, hissed.
“Now, Keziah, that doesn’t help our cause,” the man in brown said. “Well, Mister Jenkins, we have a problem, it seems.
“Souls don’t really exist, per se. There is a bit of consciousness, a random blot of energy, that remains, and it isn’t of much use to us. Just a single string of the great harp of life.”
Jenkin bit into the cat’s stomach and stretched out the entrails. “Anyone for tennis?” He said, bits of offal falling out of his mouth.
“We need you alive, I’m afraid,” continued the man in brown. “Or at least part of you. Your head.”
“Go find Alfredo Garcia,” said Nat, opening the vinegar bottle, which he then proceeded to swing about, spraying everyone with acrid liquid. He got everyone in the face, where he had been aiming, and that gave him the opening he’d need.
Nat beat feet out of the apartment. He didn’t think that the trio would show themselves in public.
A stakeout was inevitable, though. And that didn’t bode well for him. Evil things were afoot, bad vibrations in the great harp of life.
Brown Jenkins part four
Nat had to think fast. But necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and he invented something.
“I’m going back,” he said. “I’m gonna turn it all back around.”
He ran back down the block and got his car. His guitar was already in the back seat.
The biggest question was—how would he spend the time?
He needed somewhere to hole up for about eight hours, until nightfall, where Mazurewicz and Keziah Mason and above all Brown fucking Jenkin wouldn’t find him, if they chose to follow.
Remembering the effect of water on Jenkin’s hide, he elected to head down to the canal and stay near the shore.
Parking the car in the forest preserve lot, he sat on a picnic table bench, mournfully picking, waiting for the sun to go down, ignoring the Frisbee throwers and sprinkler dancers and the noxious odor from the port-a-potties.
Occasionally someone would approach, and stand listening for a while, or sit at the bench, but he didn’t communicate except with his fingers and his grimace, and they would leave after a while.
A small hot breeze stirred the leaves, spreading the fecal aroma over the area, and clearing his vicinity of people.
That suited him just fine. He played on.
He stopped long enough to go to the liquor store and buy a pint bottle of Old Overcoat, which he nuzzled at frequent intervals until the sun began its journey into night.
It began to get a little chilly. He hadn’t brought a jacket, and the booze didn’t help.
He ignored that like he ignored the little voices buzzing around in his head.
He bought another bottle, a larger one, and set out for the double crossroad.
Just in case it mattered, when he got there, he parked on the other side of the road, away from the railroad tracks. He sat and picked and grimaced, and didn’t open the new bottle.
From time to time, he thought he heard an evil titter in the underbrush, but the culprit never made an appearance.
About ten, he put the guitar away in its case, stowed it in the back, and leaned back in the driver’s seat for a quick power nap.
Something like a spidey sense woke him at ten before twelve, by the dash clock. He started the car to charge the battery, turned the radio on low.
Two for Tuesday. They were playing Cream. He sat through “Born Under a Bad Sign,” moaning along with the music, and waited for what he knew was inevitable.
Sure enough, at six minutes to twelve, here it came.
Clapton sang Robert Johnson’s tune as if he had lived it, played it like he owned it, joined by Bruce and Baker at the height of their powers.
A minute in, Nat was playing along.
A minute later, the visitor came.
“You sound a little out-of-sorts, partner,” he said, in his baritone-with-buzzing-bees. “I thought we had covered that already? And where, may I ask, is your furry friend?”
“My furry friend? I thought he was your creature,” Nat protested.
“No. He is a free agent. I did not summon him,” the man in black said slowly. “He came of his own accord.”
Nat digested this. “He’s my problem,” he said simply. “And he is claiming to be your representative.”
The black man in black whistled softly.
“And what? You ask what of me?”
“If you didn’t call him, can you make him go away?”
“I could. If I wished to. I could banish him, give him something else to do. I could remove your gift as well. Is this your wish? And what would I get in return for these services?”
“I suppose my soul is out of the question?”
“Hmm.” The black man in black laughed sardonically. “Yes. I have no need for such ephemera. I do from time to time require physical service. Men, women, to do my bidding, perform certain tasks…would that be something that interested you? To keep your gift, rid yourself of your personal demon, and perhaps rise in my estimation? Would you learn more than most people are comfortable learning?”
“I suspect I already have…”
“You have a point. But there is much, much more. My agents undergo what you might call a “crash course,” or hypnopaedia. At some point, your appearance might change. I cannot say how, or when.”
“But Brown Jenkin will no longer follow me, or haunt my days and nights…”
“I can promise that. And will. Verbal contract only. Handshake agreement, between reasoning gentlemen.”
Nat considered. “Why should I believe you? That you’ll deliver on your end of this promise?”
“I have no reason to lie. Few get a second chance-I came here twice, for you.”
“Then I’ll be your Daniel Webster.”
“I am not the Fallen. But I understand your parallel. Very well, let it be so. Go home, Nathaniel Jenkins. Sleep, perchance to dream, and perhaps things will be clearer to you tomorrow. Farewell…”
And he melted away, into the darkness.
Nat drove away, thinking still that he heard a tittering in the distance.