As it was, tedious bro Bob was groomed as the sole heir to the family empire. Not me.
Our Pop, who preferred to be addressed as The Dill King, made it his mission to teach me to be like my brother Bob. Ingrate Bob.
Bro Bob refused to call Pop The Dill King. And when people called Bob The Gherkin – a nickname that was The Dill King’s idea of a compliment – Bob got mad.
I always called Pop The Dill King because he asked us to. And I literally begged people to call me Le Petit Monsieur Cornichon, a nickname I had to make up myself.
Whatever. I had all the fun because I was fearless. I was the brat who always had a cast on my leg or my arm along with bruises and cuts. When somebody dared me to do something, I did it. Why not? Scars are interesting. Broken arms heal.
I jumped off things. I raced around blind corners.
I slept in the graveyard because dead people can’t hurt me and ghosts are mere angry vapor.
I let hateful little turds lock me in small, dark boxes because for me it was quiet and restful and eventually someone would let me out. Probably.
I mounted alligators and tried to ride them. I poked hornet nests. I got in cars with strangers.
Tedious Bob, of course, never took a dare.
When no-scar, dreary Bob wasn’t sulking about being the favorite, his notion of fun was to squint amorously at his spreadsheets. He meticulously collected and analyzed data from tasting parties where he invited foodies to test variations in our pickle recipes. Bob did not taste anything himself. Bob did not like pickles.
Unlike Bob, the recipes I invented were genuinely new. For instance, what if you pickle ghost peppers in with your boring cucumbers? The Gherkin got so pissed when I did that. Why? Data’s data, right? By the way, ghost pickles are excruciatingly delicious.
Bro Bob did enjoy formally inspecting the pickle vats every Monday morning and Friday afternoon, his shiny shoes clacking on the cement floor of the pickle factory.
Like Bob, I enjoyed walking the vats. Unlike Bob, I walked in neon kicks with plenty of a mellow indica strain on board.
Very much unlike Bob, I led hella entertaining factory tours. Customers always bought more product after little M. Cornichon guided them through our facility. This may or may not have had to do with the bongs I tucked behind vats and shared with our guests.
Obviously, I had an excellent attitude. Obviously, I was of value to the business and to the family. I still don’t understand why The Dill King sent me away.
It happened right after The Gherkin extracted my hand-blown glass bongs from their crannies and dumped them on The Dill King’s desk. Yes. My famously mature bro tattled.
The Dill King shattered all my gorgeous vessels and wasted a lot of primo 420.
I guess this was the last straw. I guess Pop no longer wanted happy tourists to buy our product and tell their friends what a fun and delicious business we ran.
It made no sense to me. I obviously made no sense to them.
So off I was shipped to my uncle’s place in Idaho. Fucking Idaho – the one state in the union where weed was still fully illegal.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Uncle Idaho earnestly endeavored to find me a job. At first, he sent me off to apprentice at a beer brewery, then as a ladies’ shoe salesman, then with an antique dealer.
I hosted popular and successful after hours parties at the brewery. This was frowned upon, especially since I wasn’t exactly strict about checking IDs.
Back I went to Uncle’s.
At the shoe emporium, I was intoxicated by the ankles, calves, knees, and upwards of ladies who were trying on shoes. Of course I couldn’t resist licking the flesh they offered. How could anyone? Some of the ladies complained about my mode of sincere worship. Only some. Eventually, enough complained that I got fired.
Back to Uncle’s. Again.
As for the antique dealer, when I covered up the unsightly nicks and dents and scratches in her stock with my own colorful and creative doodles, it was not recognized for the brilliant marketing I know it to be.
So, out on my ass there too.
I sat at the dining room table at my uncle’s after that, sucking on my last plain but serviceable bong and thinking up ways to get rich, or at least get out of my uncle’s house.
“Why can’t you consider the consequences?” Uncle Idaho stood next to me, literally looking down on me, and pontificated in a very loud voice. “What is wrong with you?”
Uncle was being mean and unnecessarily harsh, so I pushed him hard in the middle of the chest. Uncle wasn’t expecting it. He stepped back, lost his footing, and fell. On the way down, he banged his head against his display case of cheesy porcelain figurines. It shattered most of the figurines and it knocked him out – just for a minute! I have no idea why everyone got so excited.
Shortly afterward I found myself walking away from dear Uncle Idaho’s house, carrying a backpack stuffed with basics. To be honest, I was excited to be released from boring people’s boring expectations. I was now free to find myself a position where my creativity and enthusiasm were valued.
I soon ended up sleeping in doorways and getting beat up by losers like me, only meaner.
On the plus side, I was still cute. At 19, I looked even younger. My naturally muscular physique looked if anything even better with dents and bruises and stains and torn textiles. I appeared chiseled and tarnished, yet innocent. I seemed harmless yet strong. Approachable yet iconic.
And approach they did.
As a horny omnivore, that worked for me.
If these guys wanted to buy me pretty clothes and feed me and generally bribe me to stick around, I was down. I didn’t need some spreadsheet to calculate the value of my services and I wasn’t shy about making them pay.
Finally, a profession I was well suited for! I was a ho. Yes, I called myself a ho. “Sex worker” is more dignified, which I was not.
Most of my sex worker buddies worried about getting beat up, raped, or killed. They were careful, but it still happened.
I was not careful. I got bad customers, sure, but I had a big, shiny knife, which I kept sharp; and I had skills. Which I did not mind using. After the first half dozen bloody messes I made, I earned a reputation. The other sex workers sent me their bad customers, which meant fewer and fewer bad ones for all of us. The vice squad probably knew about me and probably didn’t care.
Pretty soon, there were no more nasty, violent customers. I had my choice of places to stay. I was well fed. I didn’t have to work much.
In other words, I was bored.
To cure my boredom all I had to do was rewind. Backpedal. Return to my roots.
This time, I packed better stuff into a fancier backpack and set out walking in better looking, sturdier boots, a warmer jacket, cleaner and more durable pants. I sported a stylish and studly haircut. I was a vagabond – a chic vagabond.
What did I expect to happen?
My second day on the road, a beater 2015 Mustang, candy apple red on one side and Bondo® snot colored on the other side, pulled up beside me. “Dude!”
“Need a ride? Something to eat?”
“Great! I been walking all day.”
“Get in!” The passenger side door opened. A lanky redhead with a Gandalf beard, his skinny body swimming in baggy, paint-splashed denim overalls, climbed out and then immediately climbed back in, folding himself into the back seat.
After I settled into the raggedy and still warm shotgun seat, redhead leaned forward and offered his hand.
“Rusty,” said the redhead.
“Cornichon,” I lied.
“Core. Knee. Shone. Cornichon.”
“Okay, hey Cornition. Hey. That’s Slick at the wheel.”
Slick was anything but. His prodigious belly pressed against the steering wheel, but his arms and legs were regular. He smelled like he worked at a fish processing plant. His black hair was slicked back with some kind of pomade; I guessed that explained the name.
“Where you heading?” Slick growled. His voice matched his belly, not his arms and legs.
“Anywhere but Idaho.”
“Sounds good, dude. Let’s go.”
Slick stomped on the gas pedal and the Mustang shot forward, squealing its tires.
The thought crossed my mind that these guys might be heading for an epic crash on this winding, slick road at dusk. That is, if they didn’t pull over to rob me first.
I smiled. I wasn’t bored. This was more like it.
It was late in the day and getting dark fast. Rusty and Slick kept up a conversation of sorts by hollering obscenities over loud, bad metal music. They were passing a blunt, which they offered to me, but I could tell by the way it smelled I wanted nothing to do with it. I have standards when it comes to dope. “No thanks.”
Besides, it would help to be clear-headed when they tried to rob me.
I didn’t have to wait long. The end of the blunt seemed to be the signal. Slick flicked the roach out the window, then veered onto a muddy side road, really just a track between two overgrown orchards. Slick stopped the car, but he didn’t even turn off the engine before he tried to grab me by the front of my collar. I ducked easily and burst out the door, which Slick had not locked.
Slick heaved himself out of his seat, struggling a bit before he found his feet. Meanwhile, I had easily jumped the fence and was already sprinting between apple trees. When I glanced back, Rusty was unfolding his long body from the back seat through the passenger door I’d left open. Both guys roared. No words, just beardy testosterone noise. Why yell “STOP!” at someone who obviously has no interest in stopping?
When I emerged on the other side of the orchard, I found myself back on the highway. Surprisingly, the guys were not far behind me, wheezing but still running. Who knew they could keep up.
I sprinted across the road right in front of a line of hurtling trucks. The guys bellowed across the road at me but did not follow. I trotted along beside the road, putting distance between me and them. I didn’t see the guys gallop back to the ‘Stang, which was still running. I didn’t see them mount up and come after me.
I did hear them when they got close. They aimed for me. I let them get close, then jumped into the ditch. The car flew over me and rolled in the field beyond. It landed on its side, wheels spinning, after throwing Rusty and Slick free. They were barely visible as two still lumps at the end of the paths their bodies plowed through the wet soil.
I reached into the open window to shift the car into neutral. I waited for the wheels to go still, then I rocked the car until it whumped down in the dirt, right side up.
The Mustang was now scraped up on both the paint side and the Bondo side, but miraculously otherwise undamaged.
I got in. I shifted into first. I gentled the messed up muscle car out of its nest in the field, over all the bumps and through all the slick puddles, and I paused before I turned onto the highway.
Before I shoved my boot heel into the gas pedal, I looked in the rear view mirror. Idle curiosity, I suppose. The Rusty lump and the Slick lump were no longer there.
I unsnapped the leather knife holder on my belt. I put the Mustang in park and got out. These fools. I wanted them out of my life permanently.
I marched up to where they had been lying. Only two piles of mud now. But there were footprints, which I followed into the orchard. I turned toward light I saw through the trees. I came out into a clearing. Sometime in the past, there must have been a barn here. Now there were only the remains of a roof, scattered and nearly covered with dirt and bindweed and dead leaves from past autumns. What was left of a few jagged foundations cast hard shadows in the moonlight.
And a big red barn door lay face down in the dirt. It looked fresher than the rest of the barn’s remnants.
The footprints led right up to the barn door.
The door had slid open recently, it appeared. The hinges were too clean, as were the parts previously covered by the closed door. I hopped up on the frame of the door and looked down into the dirt and weeds “inside” the door. No sign of the guys.
Strange. I walked around the perimeter of the clearing. I saw no more sign of Slick and Rusty.
Fine. They were gone. Probably went to hide under the side of the barn and died there. I hopped up and down on the barn door as hard as I could to make sure they were good and dead.
Whatever happened to the boys, it wasn’t my problem.
I felt free and smug walking back to the Mustang.
If I heard what sounded like Slick’s gruff voice hillbilly-hooting way off in the distance, it was probably my imagination. I had no fear, you know, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a vivid imagination.
I got back into that Mustang and stomped on that gas pedal and I never looked back.
I sold that crap to some gullible teenagers. I managed to convince them it was laced with something potent. I urged the kids to take in its aroma. I encouraged them to interpret the questionable bouquet as something more interesting than it was.
Then I sold the car itself to some hollow-eyed addicts. I made up a story about how it was the car James Dean was driving when he died. They were far gone enough not to realize Mr. Dean had died 60 years before this car was made, not to mention this car was obviously no Porsche. They were eager to hand over the cash.
Which left me with enough to stay somewhere warm and quiet where I wouldn’t have to use my knife.
Also, auspiciously, there was Wi-Fi and it was safe to take a device out and use the internet without aforesaid occasion for knifeplay.
I used it to find customers. This time, in this different place, somehow I found my way to darker digital chambers. Here, the customers were looking for things that surprised me. What a delight!
People wanted digits removed. People wanted to be serviced by those who were differently configured by birth or surgery – missing jaws, extra limbs, things that were hollow where you’d expect them to protrude, and so forth. It made me quite red and swollen to read about these things although I, of course, had nothing of the sort to offer.
But there was one thing.
Some people wanted to play with partners who lacked fear. They wanted to find out how far they could push another human without the other tapping out from terror.
These people were looking for, to be succinct, me. These people were willing to pay me to have fun that was usually much more difficult to be had.
I left some responses. I didn’t expect much. Not many people could be after this particular kink, I thought. A response from a stranger like me would seem too dodgy, I thought. If I heard from anyone, I thought, it would turn out to be a vice bot.
Then I went and bought myself a nice, greasy dinner, and then I came back to my room and stuck needles in my cock until I came hard and then I went to sleep.
One fellow was particularly zealous about meeting me. I like zeal in a customer, especially one who pays me in advance. He had no interest in a dick pic. He didn’t want to look at my buttocks or my face.
He wanted to talk to me, like, on the phone talk to me. (How old was he?) He wanted to talk about what kind of things scared me.
“What kinds of things scare you?” he asked. He sounded friendly, and not that old.
“Nothing,” I said, because it was the truth.
“Come on. How about spiders or snakes or alligators?”
“Ghosts or zombies?”
“Public speaking? Police? Buried alive?”
“None of that.”
“Water? Caves? Nuns? Heights? Flying? Knives? Thunder and lightning?”
There was a pause.
“When can we meet?”
He told me to dress in black. He told me to wash myself thoroughly. He gave me an address.
It was a large, brick rambler. In 1955, this house would have been the most ostentatiously fashionable on the block. Today, it showed its age. Even in the dark, even with no lights turned on inside or outside it. Even at the end of a cul-de-sac of dark, boarded up, less once-fashionable two-stories and ramblers.
There was piano music coming out of the open door. Some tinkly Tchaikovsky nocturne, I think. The piano was out of tune, which suggested a person playing an actual piano, not a recording.
I smiled. This guy had put some thought into trying to scare me shitless. It wasn’t going to work, but I appreciated the effort.
I walked into the heavily dark interior. The piano music stopped. I couldn’t see anything. I moved forward cautiously. There might have been furniture, or not. There might have been people, or not. I put my hand on my knife, in case there were people.
My feet and knees encountered nothing. There was a breeze blowing from somewhere. I kept pacing slowly forward. Once or twice, something fabric-like brushed past my shoulder or face.
When I reached a wall, I felt along it toward the left, where most of the rest of the house would be. Probably there would be another room or a hall.
Now I heard moaning. Probably human. Or possibly a coyote arguing with the moon.
“Good,” I whispered to myself. “This guy is good.”
The further I went, the louder the moaning. I nearly tripped when my left foot found a stairway leading down to a sunken room of some sort. It felt like it was a bigger space. And this was definitely where the moaning was coming from.
Now the moaning had words.
“Cornichon,” it warbled.
It sounded like it was in pain. It sounded like it hated me. It went back to moaning, but occasionally threw in a “Cooooome! Come to meeeee,” and a “Help me, Cornichoooooon.”
“Help me find you,” I called out, hoping to get to the good part a little faster.
“I’m heeeeeere,” it screeched, then threw in some barks and howls. “Over here!”
I turned toward the sound, which did seem close.
Something leaped toward me and wrapped cold, taloned hands around my throat.
“Get off,” I grunted, struggling with whatever it was. It seemed to be some sort of animal. It had fur. It had ribs and four limbs. I could smell its breath, which was nasty.
I freed my knife from its sheath, I plunged the shaft as close as I could figure toward the core of my attacker.
“FUCKING OW!” it screamed and sprang away from me. “Are you insane?”
It was my customer, sounding much less friendly now.
I heard him stumble across the room. He found a switch and turned on a lamp.
He was dressed like a proper furry, except for the torn bridal gown. He had removed the wolf-looking headpiece and was dabbing with his claw-gloves at a little line of blood oozing through the waistline of the white gown.
“What? Yes. I mean, you cut me a little bit, but mostly you got me in the padding in this thing. Why the fuck would you do that?”
“You were trying to strangle me?”
“You’re supposed to run and try to escape, asshole. Not kill me.”
“This was not what we arranged. Next time.”
“Fuck that. Get out of here.”
I never got hired by the wolf bride again, whatever his name was. But he didn’t stop payment, so it was all good.
After that, I always negotiated how far my customer wanted me to go. I would even pretend to be scared, if need be. We all make compromises to keep our jobs.
That was the day I met Princess Babe.
She wanted me to sit myself in a tub naked before she got there. She wanted me to notice I was being filmed from several angles, then she wanted me blindfolded. She wanted her helper to add other unnamed ingredients to the tub. She wanted me to stay perfectly still, regardless of how I felt about the other occupants of the tub. When I heard her high heels clicking against the tiles, she wanted me to start begging.
She wanted me to go along with anything she asked, but beg for escape. She wanted me to make her believe I was scared.
I’d get half up front, half after we were finished – as long as she was satisfied I was truly afraid.
More eagerly than usual, I showed up at the address and assumed the position. I lay in that tub in total darkness behind my blindfold for a long, long time. Hours, I think. My heart was racing. I wasn’t scared exactly, but I was legit excited.
The helper entered on sneakers of some sort. No clicking. Definitely not the customer I had been told to expect. Helper paused for a while before adding ingredients. Helper did, however, hold up some kind of metal container with the ingredients inside, which sounded restless and/or angry. Lots of clicking and whistling and rubbing against each other and the container.
Helper must have turned that container upside down on me all at once. The bugs – I couldn’t tell what kind – landed on my head and trickled down all over my naked body, then commenced to crawling over each other and all over me. They had hard but slimy bodies, whatever they were.
I genuinely wanted that shit off me, stat.
I wasn’t sure whether the bugs started biting me or whether that was my imagination. By then, my throat hurt because my heart was beating so hard inside it. Also, I may have been screaming in that hoarse whispery closed-mouth way you scream when you’re asleep and having a nightmare.
I wasn’t sure whether I was right side up or upside down, falling or lying still.
I needed to piss. I needed to shit.
I couldn’t get my breath but I didn’t dare open my mouth with so many bugs on me.
I heard the clicking heels.
I was trying hard not to squirm because I knew if I squished my pals I’d soon be awash in their sticky ichor, which sounded maybe even worse than the live bug rodeo romping all over me.
I was starting to scream out loud, despite my best efforts not to.
“Do you want out?” that husky voice asked.
I risked opening my mouth to say, “YES PLEASE GET ME OUT OF HERE, PLEASE PLEASE GET ME OUT OF THIS.”
“How do you feel?”
“GET ME OUT GET ME OUT GET ME OUT.”
“Maybe I will.”
My next reply didn’t come in words. I opened my mouth and screamed as loudly as I could, bugs be damned. It came out all shrill and wavering. This was not a sound I knew I was capable of making.
The voice laughed, which segued into a type of grunt I’ve heard women make when orgasm turns them into wild boars. While my customer was coming, she was scooping up handfuls of the bugs and dropping them on my sweaty head, which judging by the sound, made her come harder.
That was the moment I fell in love with Princess Babe.
Love was an emotion I had always assumed was the invention of some marketing hoodlum to sell us more anti-perspirant and uncomfortable underwear. I didn’t know her name. I didn’t know what she looked like. I didn’t know if I was about to die from multiple poison bug bites. All I knew was the world orbited around that shoe/voice person who was currently making me genuinely suffer.
“May I please see you please may I take the blindfold off please?”
“May I please touch you please. If I can get the bugs off me and touch you then you won’t have any bugs so may I please?”
She was saying no. She was also laughing. I was emboldened.
“I have never been scared before. Not really. I feel like I should pay you.”
She inhaled sharply. I did not hear her exhale.
“What did you say?”
“I said I’m truly scared. For the first time in my life. Thank you.”
I heard her get up and walk away a few steps, then stop. She walked around to the other side of the tub. She reached behind my head. She untied the blindfold.
She wore a red bra and panties and red high-heeled pumps. Her head was shaved. She had a close-cropped goatee. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. Or still have.
“My name, my real name, is Charlie,” I said. “Nobody else knows it.”
“You can call me Princess Babe because that is my name,” she said, then she opened her mouth so wide I could see all of her teeth, and she barked out a laugh.
“You’re a mess,” she said. “Stand up. I’ll get my helper to brush the bugs off you.”
“Thank you, Princess Babe. Thank you for everything. I love you, Princess Babe.”
“Shut up,” she said as her helper started brushing the bugs off.
One thing I am scared of is that Princess Babe will leave me. She never says she won’t.
Another thing I am scared of is bugs. Not so much your everyday potato bug sauntering down the stem of a tomato plant; but bugs in masses that run toward me instead of away are terrifying. I am terrified. I shudder when I think about them.
Princess Babe thinks it is the cutest thing ever that I’m scared of bugs. Every time we get together, she brings a big jar of icky, buzzy, bitey, slithery, horrible, awful, terrible bugs. I know she can let them loose on me anytime. I know in fact that someday she will. Some days, that is; multiple times. I know she knows I am ready to beg for her to do it. To get it over with, for now. To feel the very thing I fear. Both, neither, I don’t know. Most of the time, though, my Princess Babe is satisfied to make me shudder. She sets down The Jar right next to me. Right by my face. Where I cannot possibly pretend it doesn’t exist.
Gods I love her.
But anyway, the thing I am worried about is that The Gherkin and The Dill King will find out I took their recipes and improvised and made them better. I worry that they will investigate where their dwindling profits are going and find brightly colored jars labeled with my Petit Cornichon brand. I worry that my brilliant success in the pickle world will bleed into the dull and antiseptic world of The Dill King and The Gherkin, that they will look up from their spreadsheets and finally see me now that I no longer want to be seen. And when they discover I make better pickles than they do and I am richer than they are, they might try to interfere with my beautiful, scary life. They might sue me for pickle plagiarism and I might lose.
Princess Babe might find me less suitable if I lose my fortune. Which is the worst that could happen. The only thing I fear besides bugs.
As for you lot? You can try to scare me, but you will fail. It has to be Princess Babe, and it has to be The Jar.
In the meantime, do not call me Charlie. Just don’t.
I still have my knife.
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