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Toad rental—cheap!

Rented on March 18, 2012.

Richard Uptown Pluckman hurried down a Boston sidewalk, a bag of recently-rented toads under his arm and a fearful expression on his face that verged on mindless panic. Every few steps he looked back over his shoulder (the left one) as if fleeing from some unseen pursuer. He had barely made it out of there alive.

The sun was low in the sky, nearly at the horizon, and blood red. Pluckman shuddered as the thought of blood flashed across his sodium-ion channels. After the attack, there had been so much blood. Everywhere. It had taken him hours to clean up, even using that new Kirby he had bought from a door-to-door quailsman. Days later the smell had still permeated his entire fourth-floor study. And now the unnamed Things that had attacked him had found him again, and Pluckman knew that there would be another assault soon. He didn’t know when, or where, or how, or why, or anything else that might be useful to stop the blasphemous Things. Come to think of it, Pluckman thought, he didn’t know much at all. The near-death and 2¼ days of polymyocatatonia that he had suffered when the Things had first escaped had so affected his poor, addlepated mind that he had even forgotten his seven times table.

But the blood had been green, he remembered discordantly. Iridescent green. So why did the blood-red sun remind him of the blood of the Things? He didn’t know. Maybe the Things were affecting his mind: Reaching out to taunt him, reaching out from their gorgothine realms beyond the ordered, organized reality in which Pluckman dwelt. As a professor of exozöoontology at the state university, he knew that the Things were capable of such feats of blasphemous rubberduckery, but he prayed to all the gods, goddesses, and gourds that he believed in that he was out of reach of their tentacly grasp.

Richard Uptown Pluckman rounded a corner into an alley, breathing a sigh of relief as he believed that he had eluded the horror tracking him, if only for moments. He squatted down, letting a couple of the toads out of the plastic bag so they could stretch their legs. They ribbitted happily and played in a puddle in the crumbling pavement as the sun dipped below the horizon at last. Pluckman wondered where the toadshop owner had acquired this so-called “plastic” bag, because plastic hadn’t been invented yet. A duller man would have ascribed the existence of the clear, filmy material to sorcery, wizardry, devilry, witchery, warlockery, or the suppurthine acts of other eldritch creatures from beyond this realm, but Pluckman was far from a dull man.

“Gnomes,” he concluded after a bit of mental rumination and irredental goonflayvination. The slippery, durable material could be none other than the work of gnomes: Specifically, the gnomes that lived in underground caverns that snaked for miles through the earth beneath his townhouse in the city; the gnomes that crawled and crept and lurked and plurked each night, lurking and plurking about his parlors and sitting rooms, crawling and creeping about his wainscoting and middendorfing—oh, his poor wainscoting!—hammering on his walls and floors, clinking and clanking with their gnomey little tools, so hard at work fastening random objects to his walls and floors (and sometimes his ceilings and bafflings), all acting with the unified purpose of driving Richard Uptown Pluckman absolutely batty.

But he wasn’t batty yet. Not even the escape of the Things that he had been foolishly keeping in a flimsy glass aquarium tank in his third-floor buttroom had made him go batty. He was nearly driven to mindless panic, indeed—now constantly looking behind him in fear and terror of their pursuit—but batty he was not. He didn’t even have any bats.

Pluckman continued watching his rented toads play in the pool of muddy water as only toads can. He pulled out a lighter, flicked it open, and lit the rubber ducky that he had just removed from his middle breast pocket. It burned slowly. He began to smoke the ducky like a pipe. Thick, noxious, carcinogen-laden smoke rose into the air. His nostrils burned. But he knew this would keep the unnameable Things at bay a little while longer. Or at least it would make him less nervous.

And smoking rubber duckies was just so en vogue in 1922 Boston.

The last sliver of sun sank below the horizon. Everything around him was now bathed golden, set under pink and purple clouds, but Pluckman knew that the black horrors of the Things would soon come lurking (and plurking) as the warm light gave way to blue, darker blue, even darker blue, blue-black, nearly black but not quite, almost entirely black, and finally black black (black black black). The gas lights lining the streets of Boston wouldn’t protect him from the Things should they choose this night to come for him—if anything, the soft, alien light of the gas lamps only encouraged the iridescent bubble-congeries to congregate and renew their search for their erstwhile master and his bag of toads.

“Their delicious, crunchy erstwhile master,” Pluckman mused out loud. One toad turned and eyed him dubiously. Grimacing, he gathered his toads up, re-bagged them, marveled some more at the translucent material that didn’t exist yet, and began ambling deeper into the alley. If the growing darkness of the Boston streets was his enemy, perhaps the complete darkness of the narrow alley would be his friend, he concluded bizarrely. (Pluckman was not known for his grasp of logic.)

And, as expected by any rational observer, his friend the darkness was not. Pluckman stopped abruptly in his tracks as a loud glurbling noise arose in front of him—and then behind him, too. Naturally, it was too dark for him to glimpse what was up ahead, and his overly active (but not batty) imagination set to work cruelly concocting possibilities, each more eldritch and tentacly than the last. His adrenal gland fired madly, squirting mg after mg of smooth, refreshing adrenaline directly into his (red, not green) blood supply. His four-chambered heart raced and his five-toed feet wanted to follow. Pluckman didn’t worry that he was about to die: No, he worried that he was about to worse-than-die. He worried no one would feed his cat–dogs or his dog–cats. He worried he would never gaze upon the loveliness of Lillian Gish’s ankles again.

And he worried that he would miss the staring, unblinking gnomes that were at this very moment hard at work fastening his pair of loafers to his parlor ceiling.

Pluckman suppressed a mad chuckle as he muttered shakily to himself in a voice reaching octaves not typically possible in the un-gelded: “Perhaps it is merely an alley cat up ahead—yes, yes indeed! It is only a cat—only a furry, furry little cat!—not one of the horrible Things waiting for me! No, it cannot be—!!” A sudden screech cut off his mumblebutterings.

If one were to describe the sound as “not unlike the sound of a methamphetamine-addled hamster having its testicles torn off with a pair of rusty pliers,” one would not be far off. Except it was Pluckman that emitted the sound, not a hamster. And whereas methamphetamine had been invented many years ago, hamsters had not.

Richard Uptown Pluckman turned white as he looked down. They were gone. He screeched some more. Somewhere, someone probably thought a girl still in her pigtails had just had an entire battalion of spiders descend upon her cute, freckled face. And somewhere else, a dog barked. But Pluckman wasn’t listening for dogs. His toads were gone. The Things had snatched them right out from under his pointy, little nose.

He ran madly out of the alley, flailing his hands about his head as if some unseen thing was assaulting him—and indeed the unseen, unseeable Things were. He turned down one street, then another, then another, generally heading in the direction of his home on Zubenelgenubi Street, hoping against hope that he could seek refuge from the Things there, but knowing that such hope was probably futile. Realistically, he would be texture-coating the floor and walls in whatever location he finally ended his mad flight: Of that he was sure.

Pedestrians and bystanders stared as the mad man flew by, gibbering and flailing and running in a manner not unlike a guinea hen with its head cut off. Only he could see the Things as they pursued him, and in truth not even he could see them—but he knew they were there. Right behind him. Or were they? Perhaps they were merely close by: Of that he was certain. And, not being the least bit batty, all of these contradictions made sense to him: They were behind him, they were nearby, and they were farther away: But lurking, forever lurking… and plurking.

As he turned a corner onto Wessagusset Way—a cut through from Episcopalian Avenue to Zubenelgenubi Street, the exozöoontology expert pondered: Lillian Gish’s gams? Or Vilma Bánky’s long, slender toes? With either one, he would have been happier than he was right now.

Making it at last to his brownstone townhouse at 1450 Zubenelgenubi Street, he bounced off the door three times before even remembering that it had a “doorknob” that had to be turned by hand in order to gain entry. A random thought entered his mind—self-opening doors, someone should invent them—but then, shaking his head, he returned to the task at hand: Grasping the doorknob with one of his five-fingered “hands” and turning it quickly before the Things caught up with him and made him their blunch.

The door was locked. He bounced off it a fourth time.

Pluckman stopped to compose himself. An eminent professor of exozöoontology at the state university shouldn’t go about bouncing himself off of doors in a mindless panic, he thought to himself.

He started pounding on the door as hard as he could, shouting and frothing at the mouth as he did so. Passers-by stared as they passed by. The local fishmonger stopped to throw a fish at him. Unfazed at the sudden thud of a sturgeon hitting him on the back, he continued to pound and pound. A small crowd had gathered by the time the door gave way. He fell forward into the entry-way, stumbling, landing against the inner door of his house. The professor remembered then that he had a set of “keys” in his pocket that would most likely allow him access to his own house; upon trying the first key (there was only one), the lock turned, the doorknob turned, and he entered. He shut the door, locked it from the inside, then started piling furniture against the door.

He collapsed into an easy chair and waited for his adrenaline-soaked body to calm down—but he knew that calm would probably never come. Pluckman pulled a business card from his breast pocket and read it: “Toad rental—cheap!” A phone number and email address were scribbled on the reverse side in fine #2 pencil. He shook his head in despair. Why had he ever made that call? Why had he sent that electric-arc mail? And then why had he gone down to that toadshop? Why had he trusted that toadbroker? Why had he put himself in a position to once again be revealed to the Things? Was it all for a bag of toads for the low, low price of ½¢ per toad per day? Did he really do it for such a trite, vapid, toady reason? Did he really ignore all the evidence he had gathered that a concentration of toads in a single place was the best way to attract the Things and not repel them?

He did. And now his sanity and his very life would most likely pay the price—and it would be more than a ha’penny a day, of that he was certain.

Richard Uptown Pluckman pulled another baby rubber ducky out of his pocket and began smoking it. He placed the toadshop card next to his cat-eared Oliver typewriter and began pacing like a Kimdangian Emu trapped in a vestibule.

Calm washed over him as the nicotine and seared-rubber vapors hit his lungs. No answers were forthcoming from the inanimate paper card. It was, after all, an inanimate paper card. After his experience with the “plastic” bag, Pluckman idly wondered when some bright individual would invent talking business cards. He chuckled as the thought flowed along his taxed neurons, glad to have something to think about that didn’t involve iridescent green bubble-congeries and un-death at the hands of blasphemous, writhing tentacles and the flying polyps.

Pluckman remembered those flying polyps. The exozöoontologist had learned more about them than he ever thought possible. The only thing he never learned about them was whose butt they had flown out of (and why all those long-legged, vacant-eyed rabbits kept jumping on his roof and keeping him up late at night with their staring red eyes).

Richard Uptown Pluckman reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his aptly-named “pocket” watch. Time was still ticking by slowly, and—he breathed a sigh of relief—in a forward direction. He realized then that he needed… to go.

Upstairs to his bathroom he went, letting his guard down as his confidence grew in leaps and bounds. He had eluded the Things at last and for good, he mused. He wasn’t sure why he was so confident: It was the very room adjacent to the upstairs bathroom that the gorgothine creatures had inhabited prior to their breakout; surely they would know how to return to his townhouse, bubble their way up the stairs, and assail him mercilessly. But logic never was his strong suit—he remembered how when he was a younger man he had once bagged a dog and passed the burrito for no other reason than his mama’s pet cow was crossing the road in front of him and, in the immortal words of the future Adolf Hitler, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Richard Uptown Pluckman opened the bathroom door and peered in. The light was already on.

A bright yellow rubber ducky sat on the floor of his white porcelain bathtub. The acrid aroma of the ducky’s smoked compatriots wafted up from Pluckman’s coat. His eyes widened. The rubber ducky in the bathtub was a rubber mubbleducky. He knew what it would do. It looked at him.

“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee—!!”