Contained within are nine stories featuring bizarre beasties, mythological mutants, and overall "irregular creatures" — including flying cats, mermaids, Bigfoot, giant chickens, and mystic hobo hermaphrodites.
Features 45,000 words of horror, fantasy, science-fiction and humor.
The collection features the following nine tales:
DOG-MAN AND CAT-BIRD (A FLYING CAT STORY)
A RADIOACTIVE MONKEY
MISTER MHU'S PUSSY SHOW
LETHE AND MNEMOSYNE
BEWARE OF OWNER
DO-OVERS AND TAKE-BACKS
Wendig is a Campbell nominated author whose BLACKBIRDS series has become nothing short of a phenomenon. This collection of short stories is both weird and beautiful, weaving tails of winged cats, alternate dimensions, and trips down the rabbit hole of insanity. Readers who have read Chuck’s blog will be pleased to know that he also walks the walk. – Martin Kee
"Product Placement - You wouldn't think a candy bar could have inter-dimensional ramifications, but buying a "Flix Bar" is exactly the thing that starts Donnie's trip into a bizarre world where product placement takes on a whole new meaning. Oh, and you'll never look a 9-volt battery quite the same way again."–Elizabeth A. White, Savannah Morning News
"The Auction - My second favorite of the collection. This one truly takes you down the rabbit hole to a place where anything you can imagine – and quite a bit you couldn't possibly- is up for auction at a mysterious once a year gathering. Young Benjamin finds himself there in the company of his father, a veteran of the gathering whose job it is to procure items for his boss. As young boys are want to do, however, Benjamin wanders off, and finds himself in the company of a pseudo holy man on a mission of ill intent, Bigfoot, a woebegone mermaid, and a mischievous telepathic creature that gives Benjamin an unforgettable lesson in trust and independent thinking. Very Clive Barker-esque."–Elizabeth A. White, Savannah Morning News
"This Guy - 'Every day, I catch him before he makes it to the China Skillet… I drag him into the alleyway, and I beat him with a tire iron. Sometimes, I stab him with a kitchen knife. I do this every day. I think it's starting to affect me.' A peek into a man's descent into insanity, this one can be described as Groundhog Day gone murderously, insanely awry."–
"Mister Mhu's Pussy Show - By now, it's clear that Wendig can write. He's funny, old school while still being hip, and he does an excellent job pulling readers into his stories. Mister Mhu's Pussy Show is a great example of the kind of thing I normally wouldn't be into that surprised the hell out of me. Wendig's descriptions in this one drop the reader into the underbelly of Bangkok. It's not a pleasant story, but even if it's not your thing, you have to step back and be impressed by the writing. Damn fine stuff!"–Christopher Gronlund, THE JUGGLING WRITER
"The Auction - From comments on Wendig's blog and reading other reviews, this seems to be a second favorite story in the collection. It's kind of like what would happen if Wendig channeled Ray Bradbury, Clive Barker, and Terry Gilliam. It's a story about a father who takes his son to an auction where some of the strangest things imaginable can be had. Wanna buy a Sasquatch? Check! That kind of thing. Benjamin's father brings him to a strange auction. Dad tells Benjamin to stay close as he makes a phone call. Dad talks and talks and talks...Benjamin does what I would have done: he wanders off. He finds a mermaid for sale. Tie it all together with a huckster holy man and chaos, and you've got yourself a mighty fine read!"–Christopher Gronlund, THE JUGGLING WRITER
"Beware of Owner - Solicitors beware; some people aren't content simply slamming the door in your face! Some rough stuff, and a perfect example of a writer giving the reader just enough to make things even worse in our minds."–Christopher Gronlund, THE JUGGLING WRITER
The glass of the vending machine was cool against Donnie's head. He stood like that for a few minutes, eyes half-shut. He considered going to sleep. Dumb, given that his motel room was about ten feet to his right. But the glass of the machine was about as comfortable as the bed in there, so it was give-or-take.
"Breakfast," he reminded himself, and focused his eyes on the treats inside the box.
His bleary gaze scanned over the options. Captain's Wafer crackers? Probably a good idea given the pulsing hangover that lived in his brain and gut, but the idea of dry carbs just wasn't doing it for him. Pretzels? Meh. He'd rather eat a handful of sand.
Wait. Oh yeah, there it was. Chocolate.
A yellow wrapper caught his attention. Top right corner of the machine.
He'd never had one. Never heard of one, actually.
Blinking, he popped his quarters into the slot, and punched the code. The metal coil uncoiled, sending the bar plummeting to the bottom with a bang.
Donnie watched the farm report — well, the farm report was on, but who really watches the farm report? — and examined the Flix Bar.
Yellow wrapper, as noted. "Flix Bar" written in blue letters bordered by pink. A little green thing, some kind of alien by the look of it, held up a pair of delighted jazz-hands next to the logo. Big smile, too, on that alien. Purple teeth grinning.
He tore the bar open.
Inside, a dark chocolate brick.
He smelled it. Strong cocoa smell. Or cacao. Or whatever.
Using his front teeth like a rabbit, he bit the end off the candy bar. The taste of honey hit his tongue. Some kind of sweet syrup — not quite caramel, definitely not nougat — connected with the roof of his mouth and he had to lick it off.
"Oh, man," he mumbled through the sweetness, "that's good."
The texture was just right, too. Soft chocolate, wet honey-goo, crunchy flake wafer. He picked a gobbet of candy from a back molar, savoring it, then glanced at the alarm clock next to the bed. Donnie had to move a half-empty bottle of tequila and a pair of dirty socks to see it.
He was going to be late for work. Again.
That didn't stop him from grabbing two more Flix Bars from the machine on the way out, of course.
Bob Horkin, with his smashed-flat nose and puckered butthole eyes, came over and dropped a stack of pink forms in front of Donnie.
"Late again," Horkin said, sniffing, snorting, gloating.
Donnie rubbed his temples with his thumbs. His head throbbed.
"Mm," he answered, squinting.
"Tie one on last night?"
Donnie mustered a nod.
"How long's it been now?" Horkin asked.
"How's long's it been since what, Bob?"
"C'mon, Donnie. Since Tracy left you."
"Week. And one day. Thanks for your sensitivity, by the way."
Horkin shrugged. "You really knock her up? That why she left?"
"Bug off, Horkin."
"You gonna get those forms filled out today?"
Donnie gritted his teeth. The guy's voice was like sandpaper on his frontal lobe. "Didn't I just say to bug off? Bug off. Shoo."
"Gimme one of those Flix Bars, and I'll leave."
Next to the mountain of pink forms, and only a few inches from the leaning tower of blue forms, sat the two Flix Bars he'd purchased earlier.
"You like Flix Bars?" Donnie asked.
"Then, no, you can't have one. Go away."
Horkin made some exhalation of disgust — a pfah! sound — and marched off. Donnie didn't need him as a friend. Denying that man pleasure was the only measure of satisfaction he could muster. To bring up Tracy? Low. His heart hurt just thinking about her. Like someone had tied a boat anchor to it, and the weight was dragging it into his guts. He didn't deserve this. Maybe he deserved the hangover, sure. But not the heartache.
"One of those candy bars for me, man?"
Donnie looked behind him, found Tabor bringing the mail cart with the one squeaky, epileptic wheel. Tabor was huge, hunkered over that cart like Godzilla playing pinball. The fact that the cart was painted white and Tabor was about the darkest shade of black outside of a midnight sky during a lunar eclipse, it only enhanced the visual.
"As a matter of fact," Donnie said, "it is." And it was, too, no lie. He tossed a Flix Bar back, and Tabor caught it in the palm of one tennis racket hand.
Tabor pulled up an empty chair.
"How you holding up, brother?" he asked.
"Yeah, let's not talk about that."
The big dude's lips formed a surprised 'o.'
"What?" Donnie asked.
"It's your breath, man. You don't need to tell me how you're doing, because your breath tell the whole damn story. Smells like someone poured tequila on a dead possum and shoved it in your mouth to pickle for a couple days, maybe weeks."
"I drank some."
"Most. All. Just eat your Flix Bar."
Tabor crumpled the wrapper, shot it at a wastebasket and missed. Shrugging, he bit his candy bar in half. It formed a swollen lump in his cheek as he chewed.
"Like it?" Donnie said. "I figured you might wanna try one."
"Try one? I love these things."
"Oh, you had one before? This was my first."
"Yeah, right what? I've never had a Flix Bar before."
"Who hasn't had a Flix Bar? That's like someone saying they've never had a can of Coke or a Big Mac. You living in a cave in Afghanistan or something?"
"Shut up, I've never even seen one of these before."
Tabor pitched the second half of the Flix Bar into his maw and chomped away. He waved a dismissive hand at Donnie. "Whatever, man. You're still drunk, that's what I'm hearing you say." He stood up, swung the chair back under an empty cubicle desk. "Never had a Flix Bar before, my ass. I'll see you later, Donnie. Stay sane, brother."
"Yeah, yeah. I'm fine."
It was a curious thing, how alcohol cured a hangover. It'd be like if getting punched in the face a second time helped the pain of the first.
He couldn't do tequila, though, so tonight it was cheap wine. Tasted like fake strawberry. Came in a box. Perfect.
"I'm going to rot my teeth out of my head," he said to himself as he unwrapped another Flix Bar.
He started to crumple the wrapper, but then uncrumpled it.
On the back, he read: "Made by Perigree!"
Never heard of them, either. Must be a new company, he figured.
As he licked smears of chocolate from the corners of his mouth and the flats of his front teeth, Donnie thought about Tracy. It was hard not to, which was what the wine was for — to smother those thoughts beneath pillows (of rock salt and sackcloth). Drowning was probably the better metaphor, but Donnie didn't much care.
He wondered aloud what she was going to name the kid.
"Boy or a girl?" he asked nobody. Appropriately, nobody answered.
Stupid kid. Stupid Tracy, wanting to have a kid.
"I'm not stupid." He licked his lips and reached for the remote. "I'm smart."
The fruity wine, now half-empty, was starting to gross Donnie out. The sweet candy treats — four Flix Bars by this point, he was going to have the worst case of acne — weren't helping. He wanted something salty. Maybe pretzels, even though, you know, blah, yuck. Instead, he just sat propped up against the headboard of the bed, flicking through channels, feeling queasy.
Buzzing past a channel, he caught a glimpse of something.
Green alien. Purple teeth.
He flicked back.
"—proud to announce the 50th Anniversary Flix Bar! Inside every special edition Flix Bar is a secret code! Text message the code to this number —"
Sure enough, a number flashed on the screen below the dancing alien.
"—and Flixy the Moon Alien might call you back to tell you you're a winner!"
"What do I win?" Donnie asked the television. Being half-drunk and three-quarters queasy, he believed that the television could probably hear him. He was not disappointed. The screen erupted in colors. The alien put a few new moves into his dancing: a little disco spice, a dash of Travolta, a pinch of roller rink panache. It made Donnie dizzy just watching it.
"You win a lifetime supply of Flix Bars!"
"Ugh." His stomach roiled at the thought.
The 50th Anniversary?
"I call bullshit!" Donnie stammered.
No way this stupid candy bar had been around for fifty years. It couldn't have been around for five years, much less fifty.
"Screw you, Flixy! Moon Alien bastard!"
Donnie pitched the remote at the television. It caught the corner, and spun upwards in an erratic mid-air pirouette. It hit the wall and exploded into many pieces.
"Serves you right, remote control."
Sometime soon after, Donnie found himself in the bathroom, throwing up.
Sometime soon after that, Donnie passed out in the tub.
His head was ringing.
No. Wait. Phone.
A phone was ringing.
Somehow, he managed to crawl out of the tub and slug himself to the nightstand by the bed. The alarm clock told him it was just past two in the morning.
He answered the phone.
"Guh," he said.
"Tracy," he said, surprised. His mouth turned to cotton. He felt suddenly very awake, very sober. "How'd you —?"
"Find you? Tabor gave me the motel name."
"Oh." She sounded like she'd been crying. "Have you been crying?"
She sniffed. "I did it."
"What? Did what?"
"I had an abortion."
Silence. Crickets. Tumbleweeds.
"Well, that's good, right?" he asked, finally.
She didn't say anything. Just another sniff.
"Now we can get back together," he said. It was true. Wasn't it? Couldn't they? No baby to drag them down? No sudden pressure to get married, raise a litter?
She said nothing. Nada. Just her, breathing. Just transmissible grief.
"Babe —" he tried.
"It's over," she said. "We're done. I just wanted — I just needed you to know."
He tried calling her back.
Went straight to voicemail.
"Guh," he said, and curled up in a ball.
At work, everything hurt. The fluorescent light pried open his eyes like a demon with hands of white fire. The demon tore open his eyelids and kicked him in the pupil repeatedly. His mouth tasted of brine-soaked gym socks. His lips were dry like balsa wood.
Everyone was looking at him. Eyes peered over cubicle walls. Whispers and murmurs drifted around; he caught his name, periodically.
Even Horkin seemed suddenly sensitive.
The pig-faced jerk brought by another ream of forms to add to the still-existing pile resting on Donnie's desk.
His beady stare drifted up and down Donnie, then he laughed, all nervous-like.
"You probably don't need these, right now," Horkin said. He picked the forms back up.
"Your voice sounds like hammers," Donnie said.
"I'll bring these back later," Bob said, retreating.
Sometime later, Tabor came up behind him, rested one of those hamhock hands on Donnie's shoulders (though in his defense, it was as gentle a touch as Donnie had felt, almost as if Donnie would break into little fragments if he wasn't handled with the uttermost gingerness).
"Lunch time, man," Tabor said.
"Not hungry," Donnie managed.
"I think we need to go out somewhere. Right now."
"Can't. Work to do." Not that he was doing it. Stupid work.
"You know you're wearing sweatpants? And a robe? No shirt?"
It was news to him. He looked down. Sure enough, gray pair of sweatpants (with a few chocolate stains on the thighs, thankfully upfront and not behind him), ratty hotel robe, and — whoops — no shirt. Sweat beaded in his meager chest hairs.
"Huh," Donnie said. "Uh-oh."
It was a gray day outside, bleak and bleary and with clouds that looked like hairballs bobbing across the steely expanse. Tabor drove — a hatchback Honda far too small for his hulking musculature — and Donnie sat in the passenger side, lying against the seatbelt strap, moaning.
Tabor wanted to talk. He was friends with both Donnie and Tracy, he said. Wanted to help everybody.
"Then help us get back together," Donnie said.
"Don't work like that, dude. Abortion's some rough stuff."
"So she told you."
Tabor paused. "Yeah. She told me."
"She regrets it," Donnie said. "I heard it in her voice."
"Do you regret it?"
"No." Lie. Big lie. Gigantor lie with crushing feet. "Yes. I don't know."
"I'm hungry," Tabor said.
"Super. I'm sitting here, my head feeling like a rotten pumpkin filled with bees, and I'm pouring my heart out — in a conversation you started, by the by — and now you don't care and just want to eat." Donnie closed his eyes and breathed loudly. "Fee Fie Fo Fum, Tabor smells the blood of an English-mun."
Tabor rolled his eyes. "Man, don't be that way. Listen, you want to keep talking, then we need to eat. It's lunch time. I got blood sugar issues."
"Where you wanna go?"
"Not hungry. Don't care."
Tabor waved a hand. "You gotta eat something. When's the last time you ate?"
"Last night. Flix bars and boxed wine."
"Oh, you a health nut, now."
"Don't mock me."
Tabor started rattling off restaurants — local joints, chain places, fast food.
"Fast food," Donnie said. He needed some grease to hold his body together.
"Burger King. I think I want Burger King."
"The hell is Burger King?"
"You deaf?" Tabor enunciated every word: "What. Is. Burger. King?"
Donnie felt his pulse quicken. He didn't need this kind of nonsense. His head was fragile already, a Faberge egg held together with spit and masking tape. Tabor, his best friend — and without Tracy, his only friend — was turning against him, toying with his tender brainmeats.
"Shut up!" Donnie barked. "You damn well know what a, a, a Burger King is! It's the place! Where the — the King of Burgers lives! Golden crown? Kind of a gay beard? Big smile? The BK Broiler? Jesus!" He pounded the dashboard with the flat of his hand to enunciate how little he wished to be messed with right now.
"You need to settle down, man. I seriously don't know what you're talking about, I am not making this up. Tell me. Is there a Burger King nearby?"
Teeth clenched. He was thisclose to screeching like an attacking raptor and pouncing on Tabor with beak and talon (or at least unbrushed teeth and sweaty palms). He sucked in a deep breath. "Burger King. Corner of Redstone and Spring Market. By the entrance ramp to the bypass."
Tabor frowned. Waited. "Oooookay."
"Okay what? What's the frown for?"
"That's not a Burger King."
"It's not a — well, then, what is it?"
"Man, that's the Burrito Hut."