My partner is this weasel named Jim. It isn't that he was dishonest. He is loyal, reliable and brave to the point of stupidity. He's also just plain hard to figure out. He's a literate redneck with a wry wit. I met him over at Bill Burroughs house one night long ago. He did a lot of oddjobs for Burroughs, like run to liquor store for expensive Nordic vodkas, tend the organic garden, mend the fences, tweak the orgone accumulator. I had a sneaking suspicion Jim was some kind of Cthonic beast himself. But Bill assured me he was solid.
Based on a tip, we hunted down this farmer who happened to be a large and very pernicious fungus. He was responsible for the disappearance of various children and other livestock. I had seen his fungus form once before when we were casing the farm. His head looked like a cross between a lobster's and a morel mushroom. He wore an orange and green spongy suit that protected him from who knows what. Dessication, perhaps? In any case, I had discovered he was very fond of tequila mixed with champagne. Jim called this a Champignon Mexicana. Jim's a funny man. He doesn't talk enough to be called a wise guy, but when he does, it's a zinger.
The plan was to pretend we had broken down nearby, offer to get the farmer drunk in exchange for a ride into town and put him in the bag when he least expected it. It was eight o'clock or so, a decent hour for callers. With luck, he wouldn't get suspicious. I didn't count on my sister's son, Luke, sneaking up on me. "Hi, I followed you."
"Dammit, I'm on a job, Luke. This is very dangerous, now go on home." My sister had a couple failed marriages and the kid had suffered through them. She was a reserved Christian lady with bad taste in men. The kid needed a father figure desperately and would cling to me every time I'd go to her house to visit. It's a credit to him that he could tail me without my finding out.
"I don't know how to get there. I'd get lost." The kid was good at lying too.
"Ok. Well, we're going to have to wing it." He didn't really know what he was in for, but the kid was about to learn fast. "Look, Luke, this is going to be like the movies, ok? Just pretend like you're my son. Keep your mouth shut and don't be suprised by anything that happens. Got that?"
"Like the movies, yea."
"If you do this right, you might just have a job."
Jim gave me a vicious look. "The kid gives us authenticity."
He shrugged. He wasn't about to call off the job now. "If anything, we can use him as bait."
We started ambling up the gravel road that led to the fungus' house. We saw the mycoid just sitting right there on his porch.
"Look at him, sitting right there, waiting for the world to go to sleep," I said.
Jim whispered, "Shush. For all we know, he's a tree-ear."
"That's a real obscure one, Jim."
The farmer stood up on his porch. He reached for something at his side. "Who are ye? What're you want?" Good accent. This spore did his homework.
I spoke up, "We had a little car trouble up the road. Wondering if we could hitch a ride or use your phone."
He looked at us suspiciously with the doughy face he had chosen. Another good piece of mimicry. "I ain't got no phone. You'll have to hoof it into Zeandale." He leveled a weapon at us, looked like a shotgun.
I held up the bottles. One Cuervo, the other a sparking white wine. Cutting costs on the job, I'd hoped he wouldn't be a stickler. "We thought maybe you'd accept these gifts in exchange for your kindness."
He smiled, "Why don't you come on in the house." Any other farmer would be wary of strangers carrying hooch. He nodded at us we approached the porch and then he noticed the boy. He smiled widely. I tried not to show my revulsion at his taste in produce. We hadn't brought any cattle to mutilate.
"Is it just you out here, mister?" I asked him.
He nodded, "My wife has passed on, God rest her soul."
"Let's hope she went to a better place." Jim looked down at the creature's belly. I tried to flash him a look to cool it, but he wasn't paying attention.
The farmer ushered us into his parlor and disappeared shortly and reappeared with four tall glasses. I shook my head. "I don't think my son will be drinking." Luke made a face in protest. "Your mother would kill me."
The farmer smiled and grabbed the bottles. "Aye'll make 'im a short one. Cause he's a short one."
Jim said, "What can it hurt? He'll turn out to be a no-good like his daddy." Jim said impishly. I looked at the kid. He looked like he was on the verge of tears. I was gonna let Jim have it when we got done with this.
The farmer mixed the drinks expertly. I don't know where he learned how to drink, but he knew what he liked. He frowned quickly at the sparkling wine. Then looked up smiling. He noticed the bag I had set down beside my feet. "What's in the sack?"
"Nothing. We were just taking the kid out snipe hunting. You ever been snipe hunting, mister?"
He laughed, "Oh, yea, many times."
"I bet there's lots of snipes around here," Jim said. Then he smiled that perverse smile that someone was going to wipe off his face one of these days. The farmer started chuckling so that we knew we had a real party going.
The old mildew stain kept getting in the kids face, offering him candy or more libation. I refused for the kid, "His mother doesn't want him to rot his teeth out."
The kid kept quiet, and I got to give him credit for that, but suddenly, he piped up. "What's a tree ear?"
There was a nervous silence. Then Jim explained, "A tree ear is a kind of bracket fungus that lives on trees. Why, did you see one when we were out in the woods?"
The kid sat there for a second. "I gotta go potty," he said. The farmer pointed the way down the hall. I went with the kid. "Could you wait for me out here? That man gives me the creeps."
"No problem, kid. Good save back there, by the way." I waited outside.
The kid was taking forever. I knocked. He called out yea. "You fall in?"
"Nope. Just doing number two."
"Eat more fiber next time."
"Nevermind. I'll talk to your mother about it." I looked at some family photos on the wall in the hallway. Naturally, none of them had our friend the famrer in them. He could have, at least, taken on the form of one of them. Then again, maybe he isn't that kind of doppelganger.
Finally, the kid opened the door.
"I was just about the bust the door down."
"There wasn't no lock."
"That's a double negative."
"I'll explain later."
When we turned into the parlor from the hallway entrance we saw Jim standing in the middle of the room holding the farmer at bay with his shotgun. Jim had no skin. The last of it was disappearing in the farmer's mouth. Somehow, he was still wearing his clothes boots and all. The kid just stood there, staring, in shock.
"What the hell happened, Jim?"
"Don't rub me the wrong way, I feel a little thin-skinned at the moment," he said as well as he could without any lips.
"I would answer that, but I can't think of a pun at the moment. Something about hide."
"This is no time to split hairs," he winced. The farmer was still chewing. His face was slowly changing as he engorged.
" You said that without blinking."
"I hope he gets some stuck in between his teeth. Don't just stand there trying to think of something clever, get the bag! Jeez. We gotta talk about thinking on our feet here. This gun ain't goin to stop him."
I picked up the bag sitting in front of the couch. "Let's see, I got an idea. Hey, buddy, you want something to wash that down with?" I picked the bottles up off the coffee table. "Well, the drinks are here in this bag." He made a lunge for them as I tossed them in. I opened the bag wide and tripped him at the same time. The farmer was quickly sucked in as if he had met suddenly with a black hole. The force cynched the bag up tight as he was pulled through.
"Whoops, I forgot. How're you going to get your skin back, Jim?"
"I'll worry 'bout that later. I just need something to take the draft off." He adjusted his collar and shivered.
"Good thing, you went to the bathroom first, eh kid? That'd take the piss out of anyone." I looked at my nephew standing there eyes aglaze.
He looked at Jim, snapping out of it, "Who's bait now, Jim?" He smiled proudly. Jim looked at me. I don't know if he was pissed or amused. His face was getting harder to read.
I took out my garlic elixir and passed it his way. "Here, try some of this, kills the spores, among other things."
"Gleck!" It's a cure for a sharp tongue too.