Thursday, January 23, 2020

1/23/20

Slug
By David Castlewitz


The woman who came into the shop was just another slug-induced daydream, Owen Fedderer thought. She was too beautiful to be real. She couldn't be interested in talking to him. Customers came in for radio repairs or to buy a new floor model or a do-it-yourself crystal radio kit; but they never lingered to talk about politics, or muse on the economy, or assess the rumblings of war on the other side of the Atlantic. Unlike his father, who'd established the repair shop when radios were a novelty for hobbyists, Owen lacked the art of repartee. No flashing smile. No inviting demeanor.

He lived with his shortcomings, content after 43 years of life to being the geeky middle-aged man behind the counter, just as he'd been an oddball when he was in school. He had his comic books, his paperback novels, and the radio dramas he looked forward to at the end of each day. They defined his life. Anything added by that slug his dad kept in a glass aquarium in the basement came as a bonus.

For years, Owen never gave his dad's strange pet much notice. He seldom stopped to look at the aquarium on the waist-high shelf dad built. He never had much interest in watching feeding time, when his father dropped two or three white mice near the slimy gray creature sitting on a bed of moss.

But, after dad died, Owen took responsibility for his father's pet. He continued to feed it. He monitored the mouse population kept in several cages in the basement, making sure the moms didn't eat their young so there was always a goodly supply of food for the slug.

As Dad had intimated before going into the hospital for the heart surgery that would kill him, the slug rewarded whoever fed it. It offered stirring stories of grand adventure, visions of great battles between space-faring warships, and stunning heroines. When such daydreams came to Owen's mind, he was certain these were slug-induced.

He shouldn't be ogling females anyway, Owen thought. Mom often chastised him for staring at people, especially girls, and he often worried that her spirit remained in the shop, ready to pounce on him with a wooden ruler if he didn't behave.

The slinky brunette looked like she'd been peeled from a page of a comic book. Silk dress and small hoop earrings, along with high heels and pointed toe shoes defined her as unusual for the neighborhood. Her husky voice matched the rest of her to the point that Owen felt the sting of his mother's ruler on his butt.

In his imagination, Dad looked on from the workbench in a corner, next to the toilet with its lopsided black-on-white "WC" sign.

The woman browsed the bulky radios sitting on the floor beneath a shelf of cathedral styled models. All of the radios were much the same, with a handful of tubes, waxy capacitors, crumbly resistors, and nests of beefy wire on the inside, with dials and station indicators outside.

"Is Crenshen here?" the woman whispered, her sweet voice stretching from where she stood at the shelf of radios. Suddenly, the slinky lady stepped behind the counter. Owen tried to stop her. Customers weren't allowed back there.

They especially couldn't open the door to the basement.

He reached for her arm, amazed that she felt so warm and real. She couldn't be a product of any daydream.

"You can't go down there, Miss!"'

"Crenshen's down there."

"Nothing's down there," Owen lied, but he thought of the slug – Crenshen? – and suspected his odd visitor of reading his thoughts.

"Hmmm," she said, smiling. She had an aristocratic face, her nose not too long, chin not too pointed. For a second, Owen thought he'd seen her in a comic book about Lady Star, a black-clad beauty who rescued lost orphans in dire need of a hero.

Owen followed the lady down the rickety steps into the basement. When she walked towards the cages housing the mice destined to be the slug's future meals, Owen pulled on the string that worked the overhead lamp, a naked bulb at the end of cloth covered wires.

"Crenshen," the woman said to the slug.

"Don't touch him," Owen pleaded. "Don't hurt him."

"Her," the woman said. "I've been looking all over for her. For years. All over and forever." She pushed aside the screen set across the top of the glass-and-metal aquarium, the one that Dad said protected the slug from rats and cats.

"He – she – is my pet. My dad's. And mine. Now."

The woman snorted. "Is that what you think?" A haughty voice. Condescending. She sounded so much like the Lady Star of Owen's imagination that he started to doubt her reality.

"Stop it," he said, embarrassed by how forcefully he spoke. Mom would've never put up with that kind of talk from him. Why was he the villain in this piece? "I'm the hero," he croaked.

"Then you should be protecting Crenshen."

The slug smiled. Owen had never seen its teeth – her teeth – though he suspected it – she – had them. How else did she – it – chew those white mice?

"I am. Protecting. Her."

The brunette tilted her head to one side. She looked strong and capable, much as Lady Star would in any comic book page. Then she turned, marched up the cellar stairs and into the store. Owen chased after her, arriving as she exited the store and joined the pedestrian traffic outside.

"Would you like Lady Star to come back?" the slug asked in Owen's mind.

Owen looked out through the window at the passersby. He'd enjoyed the daydream. He hoped the slug would send him more. Perhaps he'd turn them into something that would make his fortune. Stories for comic books, perhaps.

That idea brought a smile to his soft round face. The future looked very bright. He had the slug to thank for that.


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.


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