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HUGEPOP!!!Bedtime StoriesOne Man's WorldThe Mispronouncer


            Paul, at only eight years old, was at death’s door, his life running out of him like yolk from a cracked egg. Two men stood over him in his dark room, his unconscious form burning with fever in his bed. “He won’t survive the night,” said Richard.

            “Name your price,” said Gary, the boy’s father.

            Richard stroked his jaw and said, “Tell me how much you have in the bank. We’ll come up with a workable price from there.”

            Gary looked down at his dying son. Paul wasn’t a very good boy, behavior-wise, but he was only eight. There was plenty of time for improvement. Or there should have been plenty of time for improvement. “The last statement from the bank said I have a little over 13,000 dollars,” said Gary .

            “Fine,” said Richard. “Then my price is a little over 13,000 dollars.”

            “You want all of it?” asked Gary . “You want to clean me out? Every cent?”

            “It’s your son’s life,” said Richard, popping his knuckles one at a time. “You don’t have time to think about it. I can’t raise the dead. Yes or no?”

            “Yes,” said Gary .

            Richard knelt next to the bed and placed his hands on Paul’s face. The boy’s skin was hot and slick with sweat. After a moment, Richard felt the familiar cold, prickling sensation flowing through his arms and into Paul’s body, increasing in intensity until it made him grit his teeth in pain, his hands quivering. Gary watched in silence, eyes shining.

            “All right,” Richard finally said, rising to his feet. “He’ll be fine.” As the last traces of healing power buzzed through his hands, Richard dipped his forefinger inside of his own lip and healed a cold sore that had been bothering him for a few days.

            “Thank you,” said Gary . “Do you take checks?”

            “I do,” said Richard.

            “Dad?” said Paul, sitting up in bed and wiping stale sweat from his forehead. “Can we go to the toy store tomorrow?”

            Gary sat on the side of Paul’s bed and stroked his hair, tears in his eyes. “No, son, it’s too expensive. But let’s do something free together. All day.”

            Richard left the room just as Paul was launching into a piercing, healthy whine.


            Five days later, Richard was awakened by a frantic banging on his front door. It was three in the afternoon and he had been napping on the couch in his study. His back ached. He opened the front door to find Gary standing on his porch, haggard and disheveled, his face contorted with grief. “I want my money back, you fraud.”

            Richard frowned. “What’s wrong, Gary ? What happened?”

            “Paul’s dead,” said Gary .

            “Impossible,” said Richard. “I healed him.” He wondered if Gary was going to attack him. He glanced around to see if there was something he could strike Gary over the head with if necessary.

            “He didn’t die of the disease,” said Gary . “He fell in the water during a free old-fashioned ferry ride and got hit by the paddle wheel.” Gary bit his knuckle to try to keep from crying, but it didn’t work. After a brief bout of sobbing, he composed himself and said, “So give me the 13,000 dollars back.”

            “I’m sorry for your loss,” said Richard. “But I fulfilled my end of the deal. I healed Paul of his disease. I never said I could make him immortal.”

            “He didn’t even last a week!” shouted Gary , turning and kicking one of Richard’s dead potted plants off of the porch. The ceramic pot shattered on the sidewalk scattering dirt across the pavement.

            “Life is cruel,” said Richard.

            “I’m broke!” shouted Gary . “I can’t even pay for the funeral! 13,000 dollars for four days? That’s a rip off, man! He did nothing but complain and demand things the whole time!”

            “All right,” said Richard. “I can see this isn’t going anywhere. Goodbye, Gary .” He closed the door and locked it. Then he locked the back door and every window in his house, even the second story windows. Gary pounded on Richard’s door for ten more minutes, smashed the rest of Richard’s potted plants, and left. I hope this doesn’t turn into one of those dangerous obsessions for Gary, thought Richard as he sat at his computer and used some of his new money to order classic pin-up girl memorabilia online. It probably won’t.


            It did, though. Two nights later, Gary pitched a tent on Richard’s front lawn and sat wrapped in a flannel blanket glaring with wild eyes at Richard’s bedroom window through the tent’s open door-flap. Richard peeked out at Gary through the venetian blinds in his darkened living room. He dialed the police on his cell phone.

            “Is the man armed?” asked the dispatcher.

            “You know, I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Richard.

            Within minutes, two squad cars roared up in front of Richard’s house, lights flashing. Four officers jumped out of the cars with guns drawn, shouting for Gary to give up quietly. He didn’t. Richard watched in awe as Gary leapt from the tent and sprinted for the front door of the house, producing a large hunting knife from somewhere inside his tattered coat. When the knife appeared, all four cops fired their guns at the same time, two bullets punching through Gary ’s back, another striking his shoulder, and another grazing his neck. He sprawled in a heap on the front walk leading up to the porch, the knife clattering out of his grasp across the cement.

            Richard unlocked his front door and stepped out onto the porch. The night air was very chilly. Gary had rolled onto his back, bleeding profusely, and Richard could see his weak breath puffing up into the air above his gaping mouth. The cops, with their guns still drawn, were approaching with caution. “Sir,” shouted one of the cops to Richard. “Go back inside.”

            Richard ignored him as he descended the steps, popping his knuckles. He got down on his knees in the yard next to Gary on the sidewalk, the dew on the grass soaking through the knees of his pajama pants, and placed his tingling hands on Gary ’s face.

            “I hate your guts,” said Gary , gurgling through thick blood and saliva. “I hate your filthy guts.”

            “Sir!” shouted another cop. “Get back from the suspect!”

            Richard’s hands spasmed on Gary ’s cold cheeks and forehead. His eyes watered. “This one’s a freebie,” he said.

            “I hope you suffer like no one has ever suffered before,” said Gary , his voice clearer now. His wounds had stopped bleeding. “I hope you die in slow, miserable agony.”

            Richard rose to his feet, the tingling in his hands subsiding in gentle waves. Gary started to stand up too, but a cop yelled, “Stay on the ground”

            Gary looked up at Richard with pure hatred. “Give me my money back.”

            “You’re lucky I don’t intend to keep your tent too,” said Richard. “And you still need to have those bullets surgically removed. Don’t forget about that.”

            The moon came out from behind a cloud and made everything look pale and petty and incredibly temporary. Then it fell behind another cloud and Richard gave his statement to two cops while the other two loaded Gary into a squad car and drove away.