JUST ADD WATER It's been years since David and Patrick flushed away the dead Sea Serpents they got in the mail. After thriving in the toxic stew of pollution, strange, slimy creatures now rise from the sewers. Once the screaming starts, David and Patrick realize that their childhood pets really did come to life. With a vengeance. They're massive monsters. . . and ravenous for human flesh! OPTICAL DELUSION Martin punishes his son for wasting his allowance on a pair of cardboard X-ray specs. But when Martin tries them on, he's stunned to see through walls and clothes. But the novelty becomes a waking nightmare when the glasses burn into his face and he starts seeing horrifying apocalyptic visions no mortal man was ever meant to see. Images that turn him from a husband and father to a bloodthirsty homicidal maniac . . . MONEY BACK GUARANTEE With her son's heart set on piloting his own nuclear submarine, Rosemary orders the craft advertised on the back of a comic book. But when her son nearly drowns in the swimming pool, an enraged Rosemary complains to the Better Business Bureau. The company's customer service center retaliates with threatening phone calls. Then her son and husband disappear. Now it's all-out war. Plus, Rosemary wants her $1.99 back!
Praise for Hunter Shea
"A lot of splattery fun."-Publishers Weekly
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)|
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Tuckerville, NY, 1980
When everything was said and done and the dead were long buried, they would blame Wonder Woman.
While everyone else collected Star Wars (the red, yellow, blue and green series) and baseball cards, Patrick Richards and David Estrada plunked every hard-earned nickel they had on comic books. Oh, and there were also the protective plastic bags they had to buy to keep each issue as pristine as possible.
Their habit was expensive, but the thirteen-year-old best friends found ways to scrape together enough money every month to buy the latest issues of The Fantastic Four, Captain America, The Flash, Marvel Two-In-One (featuring The Thing and a different guest hero each issue), Green Arrow and too many others to count. Well, they could count them. In fact, each could rattle off the total number of comics in their collections at a moment's notice.
"Three hundred and twenty-five," Patrick would say.
"Four hundred and two," David would say, showing off just a bit.
Patrick had a paper route while David mowed lawns for the older people in the neighborhood. Sometimes, they would wait outside the Shopwell supermarket, offering to load people's bags into their cars for tips. An afternoon at Shopwell could net them enough scratch to buy four or more comics.
And there was always shoveling to be done in the winter, along with raking leaves in the fall.
When you had a comic addiction, you had to find ways to feed the beast.
They found themselves in late May flush with cash, thanks to a visit from Patrick's grandparents. His grandfather had slipped a twenty-dollar bill into Patrick's pocket, whispering in his ear, "Don't tell your parents. That's comic book money. Get enough to last the summer."
"You're really gonna share?" David said, staring at the twenty on the floor between them.
"It's not like we don't read the same comics," Patrick said. "The deal is, I get to add more to my collection. Say we split it seventy — thirty?"
David smiled. "I'll take it."
They shook and it was done.
The four-block ride to Blackburn's stationery store had them both in a sweat. Summer had come early. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the sun was downright brutal. Popping tandem wheelies, they leaped off their bikes at the entrance, both riderless Huffys crashing to the ground in a tangle of metal and rubber.
Blackburn's kept the comics in a long rectangular box on the floor under the magazine rack. The boys got on their knees, carefully rifling through the upright stack.
"We have everything," David said, deflating. His short-cut black hair glistened with drops of sweat.
"Almost," Patrick said, plucking a Wonder Woman free. His own face was flushed, bringing the cluster of freckles on his cheeks to blazing prominence.
David considered it, then shrugged his shoulders.
"It's better than nothing."
They paid forty cents for the issue, getting a ton of change that somehow made it seem like they had more money than when they had started. The boys jumped back on their bikes and pedaled home, anxious to get back to David's room because it had an air conditioner.
David read along with Patrick, just over his shoulder. Neither was a Wonder Woman aficionado, but neither could argue against the fact that she had one sexy bod.
Sexy for a comic book character. Not as hot as, say, Mrs. Pendleton, freshly divorced and constantly on the prowl. The boys appreciated how difficult she made it for any straight male to not stare at her bulging rack or curvy hips.
They were done in five minutes, the air from the AC making the pages of the comic flutter.
"Well, that was exciting," David said, rolling onto his back.
"It would have made more sense if we had read the previous two issues." Patrick flipped through it again. They'd decided they weren't going to preserve this one. Wonder Woman just didn't make the cut for the special-bag treatment.
He perused the endless ads for gag gifts, magic kits, body building guides and footlockers filled with a thousand army men.
His eyes paused on the all too familiar ad for the Amazing Sea Serpents! In the ad, a smiling family of creatures that looked like a cross between mermaids and anacondas, with almost human faces, waved back at him from the comfort of their underwater city.
Sea serpents make the ultimate pet! No mess! Low maintenance! Just add water and let the fun begin!
Patrick had always wanted to order the Amazing Sea Serpents, but his parents absolutely forbid him from, in their words, wasting his money on worthless junk.
"All that stuff is a scam," his father had once said. "When I was a kid, I ordered what was supposed to be a working rocket that could break the atmosphere. What I got was a balsa wood stick and a big rubber band."
But that was then, in the old days.
There were laws and stuff now about scams like that. If it was in a comic book, it had to be tested and approved. Stan Lee would never pull one over their eyes. Excelsior!
"We should order the Amazing Sea Serpents," Patrick said.
David had his eyes closed, his hands clasped behind his head. "Huh?"
"They only cost $4.95. You get the serpents, their tank and everything."
Now David sat up. He'd wanted his own for a long time, too, but his parents felt the same way about the whole business as Patrick's.
"We have the money," Patrick said. "And even after that, we'll still have fourteen bucks for the new comics when they come in."
"What about our parents?"
"We don't have to tell them. It says it takes six weeks for delivery. It'll be summer vacation by then. My mom and dad will be at work by eight every morning. I'll be the only one home when the serpents come in the mail. We can set them up in your basement."
David's basement had been a downstairs apartment until the tenants had moved out months earlier. Until his family found new ones, the place was all theirs. Most of the time, they just read comics on the overstuffed couch that had been left behind, eating from brown bags filled with chewy Swedish fish.
"I'll get an envelope," David said, running to the dining room.
Patrick found a pair of scissors and cut the ad out. He would never take scissors to X-Men or Spider-Man.
At least this way, Wonder Woman was serving a noble purpose.
He filled out the order form and David sealed it in the envelope along with a five- dollar bill, licking the stamp. They were going to be out a nickel, but what did it matter?
"I can't wait to see what they look like," David said, a grin splitting his face in half. "I bet they won't be boring as all those beta fish we've had."
On his way home up the street, Patrick dropped it in the mailbox.
Six weeks couldn't come fast enough.
Nothing was better than the first day of summer vacation.
Nothing, that is, until Patrick checked the mail and saw the box with a return address from the Bakura Corporation. That's where the Amazing Sea Serpents came from. It took all his will power not to tear the box open. But he'd promised to wait to do it with David.
The box was awful small.
In the ad, it looked like the Amazing Sea Serpents lived in this huge tank surrounded by a veritable underwater metropolis. Whatever was in the box would barely be enough room for a baby hamster to bop around.
Patrick changed quickly out of his school clothes and ran a brush over his teeth. He sprinted to David's house with the box under his arm.
"David!" he shouted through the screen door.
"Oh hey, Patrick," David's mother said, stepping into the hallway. "Come in. David's in his room."
"Thanks, Mrs. Estrada."
"You want something for breakfast? I just made pancakes."
"That's okay. I just ate three cinnamon Pop-Tarts."
He didn't bother knocking on the door. David was sound asleep in his room. It was as cold as a walk-in freezer.
"Wake up, lazy ass."
One eye popped open.
"What the heck are you doing in my room?"
"Look what I got in the mail just now." He held the box over his face.
David rubbed his eyes and sat up. "Oh damn! I almost forgot about them."
"Come on, get dressed so we can put it all together."
They set up shop in the kitchen of the downstairs apartment. Taking turns tearing the brown wrapper and slicing open the box, they carefully extracted the diminutive, oblong plastic tank. Inside it were two packets and a bottle that looked like something eyedrops would come in.
There was a small radio on the windowsill. Patrick turned it on while he shook the box. A folded-up paper landed in his palm. Christopher Cross's "Sailing" came drifting through the lone speaker.
"Nope," David said, turning the dial until he hit on "Call Me" by Blondie.
"All the directions are in Chinese or something," Patrick said, unfolding the square of onionskin paper.
"We don't need 'em," David said. "The steps are written on the bottle and packets."
The bottle was the water conditioner. David read the superfine print on the back of it.
"It says you have to fill the sea serpent home with tepid water."
Patrick's eyebrow shot up. "What the heck is tepid water?"
"It can't mean hot. Or cold. Wouldn't that kill the sea serpents?"
"Maybe it's a special kind of water. You ever see tepid water at the store?"
David turned on the faucet. "We'll just add room temperature water. It works for regular fish."
"If you say so. You better not kill them before they've had a chance to hatch or grow or whatever they do."
Patrick pinched one of the packets between his thumb and forefinger. It said: AMAZING SEA SERPENTS!
"How the heck can sea serpents be in here?" He shook the packet. It sounded as if it were filled with pepper.
"They're supposed to grow when they hit the water, bozak," David replied. He had the water all the way to the fill line. "Now, I have to add three drops to the water and we wait ten minutes."
The other packet was labeled: FOOD.
There didn't seem to be much of it. If these things were going to grow to look like they did in the comics, surely they'd need more than that.
Patrick was beginning to feel that his parents were right.
When it was time to open the sea serpent pack, he was dubious at best.
"What the hell?" David said as Patrick emptied the contents — tiny granules that looked like dark sand pebbles — into the tank. They floated for a moment, then sank lazily to the bottom.
"Well, there goes the serpent dust," David said.
"There's no way those things are gonna grow into sea serpents."
"They look more like fish food, not fish."
Patrick read the food packet, opening a corner and spilling some into the palm of his hand. The red flakes, each so small it could fit in the groove of a fingerprint, smelled like low tide at Orchard Beach.
"It says we don't feed them until they've had a week to grow."
David pinched his nose. "That reeks! Wash your hands, man. I don't think we're gonna have anything in a week to feed."
Patrick scrubbed his hands clean.
The boys knelt close to the tank, watching the little black balls sit motionless.
"You think we got ripped off?" Patrick said.
"I don't know. I hope not. Look, we'll just leave them here and check on them every day. Maybe they'll surprise us."
"And where's the city they're supposed to live in? I thought we'd at least get some little buildings and stuff."
David chuckled. "Maybe once they grow, they'll build it themselves. Come on, let's go see if Mike will let us in his pool."
The Amazing Sea Serpents were left on the drain board, but were never far from their minds.
To their amazement, life did spring from the packet of serpent dust.
It just wasn't anywhere near what they thought it would be.
Within five days, there were half a dozen wriggling, gray spermy things swimming about. They were a far cry from the smiling Amazing Sea Serpents in the comics.
"Maybe they'll get a lot bigger once we start feeding them," Patrick said, amazed but disappointed.
"Let's just feed them now."
"It said we have to wait seven days."
David unfolded the corner of the food packet and sprinkled half in the tank. The rank odor made them both back away.
"There, now let's see how fast they grow," he said.
"I hope they smell better when they're bigger," Patrick said.
The fledgling sea serpents didn't rise to the top to get at the food. They just kept pulsating in the water, ignorant to the bounty above them.
"I guess those are all dead ones," Patrick said, pointing to all of the black balls of sludge at the bottom. Oddly enough, the dead ones were bigger than the living specks.
"Or maybe they're sea serpent shit. Get one on your finger and smell it."
"You sniff sea serpent shit."
"No freaking way. If it smells as bad as the food, I'll throw up," David said.
"If it smells as bad as your farts, I'll throw up, too."
Baseball camp started for the boys and it was five days before they checked on the sea serpents again.
The second they entered the kitchen, they stopped dead in their Keds.
Patrick waved at the air. "Whoa, it smells like your mother's cabbage."
"Or a dead mouse. Jeez."
The closer they got to the sea serpent tank, the more they realized exactly where the stench was coming from.
"Well, that's interesting," David said. He picked the tank up, bringing it close to his face while pinching his nose shut. Some of the water had evaporated. It was getting so murky, they could barely see the living sea serpents.
"Only three left," Patrick said. "And they're the same size as they were last week. I can't believe our parents were right."
"Yeah, but look at this." David pointed to the bottom of the serpent tank. It was filled with the black sludge balls. They had tripled in size. "Their shit keeps growing!"
"They're just absorbing the water. ... I think." Patrick tucked the collar of his shirt over his nose to filter out the heady sea serpent aroma.
"We gotta get these things out of here. If my mother or father come down here and smell this, they're going to kill me."
"Should we flush them?" Patrick felt bad about killing the three sea serpents that had survived, but not bad enough to stop David.
"What if the toilet backs up? Then they'll be all over the floor. I have a better idea."
Patrick followed David out of the house. They marched down the block, stopping above the sewer grate on the corner. This was the same sewer they fished tennis and Wiffle balls out of with coat hangers, the balls covered in muck but good enough to play with after a thorough soaking in a bucket of hot water and laundry detergent.
All of the fathers also used the sewer to dump used motor oil, old chemical stuff for their lawns and gardens and basically anything gross and liquid they wanted to get rid of.
It was a fitting resting place for the boys' first bitter disappointment in US commerce.
"You want to say a few words?" David asked with a smirk.
"So long, Amazing Sea Serpents. It was smelly and nasty while it lasted."
David tipped the tank over, the grimy water, sea serpents and sludge balls splashing across the iron grate, pouring through the holes and disappearing into the dark sewer with a soft echo.
"Let's put the tank in Ernie's garbage," David said. "I'm sure that old crank will appreciate the stink."
Ernie was the neighborhood asshole — a man bent on making the lives of every child miserable by chasing them off his sidewalk and even attempting to prevent them from walking in the street by his house.
They snuck to the side of his house and quietly stuck the tank in one of his pristine metal garbage pails. There were several paper bags of trash inside. David hid the tank between two of the bags.
Sprinting away from their dirty deed, they ducked into Patrick's yard, chests heaving.
"No more buying stuff from comics," Patrick said.
"And no more Wonder Woman," David added.
Five houses down, in the cloying humidity of the sewer, the remains of the Amazing Sea Serpents seeped into a coagulated mass of muck. There was a faint hiss, then a blue tendril of smoke that twisted down the tunnel.
A wet and ragged rat out for an afternoon of foraging skittered headlong into the smoke. Its body went rigid. It turned and ran as far away from the source of the smoke as it could.
Food could wait.
Patrick waved his arms in the air.
"What for?" his friend Alan said, the bat still in his hand. He was midway between home plate (a chalk outline in the street) and first base (Mr. Arthur's yellow Chevy Nova).
"The ball went down the sewer."
David blurted out, "Ground rule double!"
Alan grumbled. "Man, that would have been a home run. Patrick would have never been able to get it back in time."
Excerpted from "Mail Order Massacre"
Copyright © 2018 Hunter Shea.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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