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The Cockroach vs. the Maiden
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-761-7
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy/SF
eBook Length: 158 Pages
Published: June 2010



From inside the flap

After years of struggling against the deadly and histrionic machinations of the criminally insane, the Cockroach, a man with a leather mask chin-strapped to his head, finally confronts destiny in the form of a seemingly ordinary youth who focuses all the rage of his failed life onto society – while finding himself graced with incredible powers.

Though this novel capitalizes on the architecture of the superhero genre, it is not an homage to comic-book geekery, nor is it a “with-a-wink” condescension crafted for the knowing literati.

Instead, like Shakespeare’s use of breezy romance poems and prosaic revenge thrillers for the plots of many of his most carefully wrought plays, and Tarantino’s idealization of the most compelling elements of B-movie extremes, CVM harnesses the dream-work of this American mythology and retrofits it to the highest degrees of sobriety and humanity.

The Cockroach vs. the Maiden (Excerpt)


CHAPTER ONE

It was late October. The horse-chestnut tree outside his window had gone from placid green to gaudy orange. But the temperature on this day was a strange seventy-five degrees.

The high heat was an unpleasant miracle. The untrammeled sun shone against the windows, and even with the bed sheets that were hung up as drapes, one burgundy and one brown, the room became greenhoused enough that sweat ran down Casper Merriweather’s flanks beneath his black Nirvana T-shirt. The shirt had been clean when he’d put it on last night to go to sleep in, but now, after putzing about the apartment for a few hours, it was rank and body-damp. More than once he touched the radiator to make sure it was off.

Casper peeked out a bed-sheet curtain as the monorail slid by, filled sparsely with blank-faced passengers. His third-floor windows were on the same level as the elevated tracks. Sometimes he wondered if they could see him through the bed sheets after sundown, when his face was illuminated by the pale glow of the computer screen as he masturbated to a variety of obscure fetishistic porn. He was not worried or embarrassed, but he wondered.

The train passed; and despite the summery heat, the day looked like a movie set artificed to portray autumn: yellow-and-orange balding trees, their fallen leaves dead on the sidewalk and heaped in the gutters.

Casper was trying to think of a reason to leave the house. Not for the sake of enjoying the weather, but to motivate himself to get away from the uncomfortably muggy apartment. He could check his PO box, but that hardly seemed motivation compelling enough.

He microwaved five rashers of thick-cut bacon. He heated a can of baked beans in a saucepan, breaking four eggs into it as it simmered. He stirred it so the egg whites cooked but tried not to break the yokes. Then he tore up the microwaved bacon with his hands and dropped the pieces in.

After shaking some Tabasco sauce into it, he opened a bottle of Anchor Steam beer and sat in a stained easy chair in front of the TV, forking the food concoction into his mouth directly from the pot while watching a courtroom show that had genuine litigants, his beer resting on the floor. Since he could pirate almost any movie or TV show on his computer, he didn’t bother to pay for cable. But he had purchased a set of three-foot-long rabbit ears, the antennae careened like inebriates.

Finishing his beans, Casper felt a biological alteration stemming from his satisfyingly decadent breakfast beer. Satisfying to such a degree that he seriously considered having a second. But one had to prescribe boundaries for oneself somewhere. And Casper’s boundary was only having one beer at breakfast. He set the pot on the floor and lit a cigarette.

A fat black woman on TV was seeking a divorce in the TV court. She fluently utilized a variety of gestures that would have felt unnatural to honky Casper. Sometimes, when employing a pithy rebut or a withering statement of condescension, she would make lateral movements with her head that Casper associated with Indian dancers. Behind her, the mostly-white audience in the courtroom loved it all, laughing wholeheartedly at the wacky mannerisms of the Negro lower class.

She was saying, "I’m a lady, I’m a lady-listen-I’m a lady. And I don’t need no boy with no toy-I need a man with a plan!" She held up a finger as she said this and performed the Hindu movement with her head again.

The applauding audience said, "Woo!"

Even the husband was smiling, shaking his cornrowed head with his bashful face down.

The man admitted his sexual incontinences with a shy smirk. And it was possible to perceive that in his mind he had acquired a degree of caste and social proof through his cheating. The couple had a three-year-old daughter.

Taking a piss, Casper discovered motivation to leave the house. There was a plastic baggie on the floor below the window. This served as a mnemonic: the previous night he’d thrown the last of his weed out the window. He’d been smoking it and watching a movie called The Evil Dead, which was about five people in a cabin in the woods being confronted by a malevolent force. Though it was more schlocky and splattery than horrifying, Casper smoked a great quantity of the weed and the image on the screen became larger and deeper until it was in full-blown 3-D. One of the demon-possessed people-a carrion woman with an ulcerous face-reached her arm through the television screen and grabbed his knee. Jolted awake, he realized his stoned brain had shut down for sleep with his open eyes still watching the film. When he looked at the clock it was five-thirty in the morning.

Trying to sleep afterwards, he kept seeing the rotten woman reach out and grip his knee. The marijuana was making his heart beat rapidly. That caused his body to feel even more panicky, releasing adrenaline-which in turn sped up his heart even more, and so on. Soon he was concerned that he was having a stroke. He felt his soul dissolving like a swallowed aspirin. With the presentiment of death came an understanding of his solitude in the universe.

The marijuana was obviously part of the problem. Suddenly getting out of bed, Casper took his baggie to the bathroom window and dumped its contents, one small bud and a stem, into the autumnal breeze-which bore a sweet whiff of leafy putrefaction, mixed with the curiously generic odor of dumpsters from the alley three stories below. That last little bud fell through the darkness, making, to Casper’s ears, no more sound upon landing than it did when falling.

Casper thought The Last Little Bud would make a superlative title for a children’s book.

Casper had slept much better after releasing the bud to its fate.

Among the hypnagogic hallucinations projected onto the cosmic screen of his inner eyelids were phrases of faux wisdom and pseudo-insightfulness. Such as: "If you love something, then let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours forever. If not, then it never truly was."

Also, he dreamed that he was captain of a colonial ship at sea. And since the marijuana bud had mutinied, he put it in a rowboat with a rifle, six shots and gunpowder, three days of water and food, and set it loose on the Spanish Main. He watched the bobbing boat drift out of sight.

The Last Little Bud.

It was never seen again. But in modern times there still existed a legend among the Arawak indicating that their ancestors had discovered a marijuana bud half dead, washed up on the beach. Tenderly, they nursed it back to health, and eventually married it to a trim-ankled, blushing, buxom maiden whose name translated into English roughly as ’Frisky.’

The business with the Indian maiden swiftly inspired erotic imagery of feminine bodies. Two women, living together as wife and wife. They were both dressed in the extravagantly elegant manner of a 1930s musical. In fact, one wife was Ginger Rogers at lovely twenty-three. The other: an anonymous coed Casper had seen walking a tiny dog the previous day. Clad in their ephemeral dresses, they kissed in bed with the uppermost female grinding into the lovely other until Casper ejaculated down his left pajama leg, which woke him, briefly. He closed his eyes, falling back to sleep in the same posture he’d woken up in except with the cooling slime running down his inner thigh. Upon awakening, as he stood at the toilet, blurry-brained, leaning a shoulder against the wall as he waited for his morning erection to fade enough so he could urinate, he was belted with the odor of something pungent and wrong coming from the heated enclosure of his pajama bottoms. Still, he was too lazy to change attire.

Picking up the marijuana baggie from the floor, now, after his breakfast and beer, he carefully examined it for any bits inside worth keeping. Depressing the foot lever of the miniature garbage can he dropped the empty bag in and put on his slippers and a bathrobe and went downstairs, out into the warm eye-sting of unobstructed daylight. He walked around the corner into the alley. He looked around on the ground in his bathrobe. He saw a lone ant and several smears of dirty chewing gum welded to the cement.

Taking his cell phone out, he selected a pseudonym from his contact list.

"Hey."

"Hey," Casper said. "I need something if you’ve got it."

"I do."

"Okay. I’m coming over right now, if that’s all right."

"Yeah."

"I’ll be there in like five minutes."

The puffy slippers he wore had rubber traction bottoms so he felt okay walking in them. And the blood-red bathrobe caused him to feel downright regal. So he lit a cigarette, put the pack back into the robe’s deep pocket and strolled along Fifth Avenue, the monorail tracks standing over him.

Inside Orlando’s bedroom, Casper sat in a blue stuffed chair. Beige stuffing burst from a tear in the armrest. It was not possible to keep one’s fingers from fondling the stuffing.

"Whatever you want," Orlando said.

"Can I owe you twenty bucks?"

"Till when?"

"Tomorrow."

"Yeah."

"How ’bout the day after tomorrow?"

"If I say yes, you gonna say next week?"

"Not necessarily."

"That’s fine." Then: "It’s over there."

Orlando’s gesture brought Casper’s eyes to a bookshelf against the wall where half a dozen mason jars stood, all filled with fat buds.

Casper went over and examined the various jars. In permanent marker on their lids was written the variety of weed each contained: Red Lion, Romulan, Purple, etc. At Casper’s back, Orlando had a square mirror the size of a baseball base lying on his mattress. Orlando used a razor blade to separate a pile of cocaine into lines.

"What’s this Red Lion?"

"I’d say that’s one of the better ones I got. I don’t smoke weed but it smells the best."

"What do you mean you don’t smoke weed? You mean you quit?"

"Yeah." He was bent over, sniffing a line through a tightly-rolled bill.

"Why?"

"Because it got me fired from a job, and I was only rehired on the condition that I go through frequent random drug testing."

"’Frequent random drug testing.’ Well, how often do you get tested?"

"It depends. It’s random."

"How can they make sure it’s frequent then if it’s random?"

"I don’t know how the logistics work. Maybe they flip a coin once a year to determine whether to test the other workers, but they flip a coin for me once a week. Or something."

"I’ll have this Red Lion."

Sniffling and wiping his nose with a knuckle: "’Kay." Orlando grabbed that jar, and weighed out twenty dollars’ worth of that strain with the electronic scale on one of the shelves.

Casper: "Aren’t they gonna pick up on the cocaine though?"

"It burns through the system too quick for the test to pick up. Unlike weed, which can be stored in your fat cells for weeks."

Drug addicts were often armchair medical experts.

Orlando tossed a Ziploc bag with several buds in it onto Casper’s lap. Then he sprayed two squirts of Windex onto the mirror and carefully wiped it down with a washcloth.

Half a minute passed. Orlando kept spraying and wiping his mirror.

"Why are you focusing so much on that mirror?" said Casper. "I mean, it must be clean."

"I just have OCD about a few very specific things."

"But you’ve gone through like-like four rounds of wiping and squirting. This is just madness at this point."

"I know. I just admitted it’s OCD."

He squirted it again.

"Anyway, isn’t it kind of early in the day for coke?"

"I’ll tell ya-this stuff is so addictive I have to have my roommate keep it in a safe for me. I told him to only parcel out a little bit to me each Friday."

"Oh my God, is it Friday?"

"No. It’s Monday. But what I had just now was a little extra I keep on the side for emergencies."

"Smart."

They both heard the front door open, and close. An entity creakily walked the apartment.

Orlando pointed at the mirror, then pressed that finger against his lips in order to indicate silence on the subject of cocaine. Casper nodded.

"My roommate-he doesn’t know about the stuff on the side," Orlando whispered, kneeling and sliding the mirror back into the depths of a well-organized closet.

They went into the kitchen to say hi to Leon, whom Casper had never met. Leon was pureeing bananas and celery together in a blender.

Orlando: "What up, what up, what up?"

"I-I think I’m-I think I’m puh-pretty cuh-close to f-f-finding out who that guy-is."

"What guy?"

"The guy-the guy in the mask."

Unattractively skinny, Leon had an Adam’s apple so pronounced it looked as though he had attempted to swallow a titmouse, and failed. Pallid, too, he was, with glistening purple discolorations beneath insomniac eyes. With the complicated blotches of acne marring his face he looked like he had begun to fester.

"What guy in what mask?" said Casper.