His name was Cosmic Charlie, and he was doomed to die.
The sentence had been self-imposed, actually, so the
fact, cold and open
as it was, was not nearly as dramatic as it might seem.
But the impending
death was real, imminent, and threateningly certain,
just as sure
as the bulbous-red nose on Charlie's face.
"Taxes," Charlie used to say on the
telephone to strangers, old
new enemies, anybody who'd listen. "The only
"Who is this?" Mrs. Gretchen Houynhym of
the 213 area code said
into her end of the receiver. Of course, she knew who
was. But she wasn't doing anything in particular at the
was she particularly frightened by Cosmic Charlie's
ravings. It was
his time, after all, and their time. Somewhere, in the
back of her
mind, she wondered if Cosmic Charlie was masturbating
into the phone,
somehow stimulated by her confused pleadings for
She didn't mind supplying Charlie with whatever cheap
desired; for she had worked her way through a year of
as a 976 phone sex girl (before she got married, of
that's what her husband thought -- yet she had gone back
the phones three times, for four hours each time, when
tight after the baby came).
"Death!" Cosmic Charlie said into the
telephone. Death was,
all, his favorite topic, the central pillar around which
gnarled vines of his life relentlessly constricted. He
about it, loved flirting with it (although he hated
pain, to be
sure), and would coyly hint around it, sometimes for
hours, in his
telephone conversations with bored housewives. If they
of course. Only if they listened.
If the women hung up on him, well, they were doomed
to die for their
impudence. They would certainly be out of his life
Charlie took a special delight in crossing telephone
of the great White Pages of his mind whenever they
him the way he wanted them to.
Mrs. Gretchen Houynhym narrowed her eyebrows and held
to her ear, trying hard not to become embroiled in what
to be Charlie's deep, penetrating insanity. The sudden
impact of a
topic not usually on Charlie's agenda was startling her,
yet she enjoyed
it in a warm-painful sort of fireplace way.
She suddenly wished that he'd get off, go limp, and
shut up so she
could hang up and go back to her laundry. But another
part of her wished
he'd go on for hours (not necessarily because that would
superhuman virility, but because there was a hypnotic,
quality to his voice that made her think, and made her
the same time. She didn't know why).
"What about it?" she said, snapping her gum
into the phone and
around in the heat of the kitchen green vinyl chair
sitting in for far, far too long.
Charlie, not masturbating, barely able to move, in fact,
loudly into the phone. Gretchen, in all her years as a
was unable to recognize the gasp as anything other than
moan of rapt ecstasy.
"Are you all right, mister?" she asked.
Cosmic Charlie said. He wasn't, of course, by most
human, living standards, but he was doing quite well by
own standards. He was nearing death, and he would take a
few with him
when he went. This much was certain.
Gretchen felt daring -- perhaps it was the Drano
fumes she'd inhaled
earlier today, perhaps it was her husband's impotence
baby was born and he'd lost his job at the Ford
and had to
take a job as an apprentice carpet installer. Or maybe
it was all of
those things. But she felt daring, so dared she did.
"Do you need some help?" she asked. "I
mean, I don't know your
or anything, but...you have been calling here for quite
some time now,
a few months at least, and I suppose we sorta
communicate on the
level. And...well, heck, you sound like you could use a
"Nooooo," Cosmic Charlie hissed.
"Death is coming. It's all I
She left the phone off the hook and went to the other
-- the boarders' line, installed primarily because
to rent out their upstairs storage room when they
mortgage payments. But so far there had been no takers,
had just been cleaning and dusting and paying phone
bills on the
room for no good purpose.
She picked up the phone and dialed 911. She had been
a 911 operator
in the old days before she'd been married as well. What
that was. Always dealing with the sick, macho fantasies
policemen who'd never let her beat them or bite them or
pieces of skin off their backs when they were making
love in parked
patrol cars at three-thirty in the morning. What a bunch
She'd been forced to leave the 911 job, after only
six months, after
leaving marks on a Sargeant's neck. She went from there
to the phone
sex job. She remembered it well.
Within a few minutes she'd gotten Cosmic Charlie's
and was grabbing her purse and coat together. Then at
the last minute,
just before leaving the house, she eschewed her coat,
to the floor. She didn't know why. Maybe she thought it
her look more free 'n' easy. Who knows.
She did bring condoms, though. No sense in killing
herself over a
Cosmic Charlie's house was not in the 213 area code.
It was in the
adjacent 818 area code. So there was a bit of driving
Gretchen. She didn't mind. When there is excitement,
excitement at the other end of an auto trip, no distance
long to travel.
There was sweaty-loud male moaning coming from behind
the door as
she climbed the steps.
"Mister?" she called, knocking lightly on
door. "Are you all right?"
"Yeeeeeees," said Cosmic Charlie.
"Is there...is anybody else in there with
you?" She felt
about asking, but she felt she had to be prepared.
"Yeeeess," Cosmic Charlie of the 818 area
code cried. He let
another howling moan.
Gretchen's eyes widened. She wondered who else could
be in there,
making him make those noises. Was it another woman? Or
one? Or a man, even? Or an animal or a machine or a
who instead of fading away at puberty when real friends
came to take
its place only grew larger, and lovelier, and more real,
could almost touch it, and it could _certainly_ touch
you, and it _did_
touch you, at every opportunity, until your thighs
chafed with juicy
desire whenever it entered the room?
No. It could be none of those things. Call it
but she knew in her experienced heart that the scene
home of Cosmic Charlie was nothing like what she
Uninvited, she threw open the door.
"Come in," he said. He was lying in on a
couch, in the living
amidst a forest of realistic statues of women. The
quite love dolls, but they were far too realistic and
be considered department store dummies either.
Gretchen did not want to enter the home of Cosmic
she should for his own good.
"Come a little closer. A little more. There!
Stop. Stop right
From her vantage point in the musty-still darkness,
see that Cosmic Charlie was probably not the wild-eyed
hoped he would be. There was nothing of the satyric
gleam she'd come
to know well in -- well, in other trades she'd practiced
Instead, Cosmic Charlie's eyes were jaundiced, dying,
She would not use condoms here, today. She'd be lucky to
get a decent
conversation from this sap.
"Death," he began. "Death stops
everything. And out of death,
may find life."
Gretchen didn't like what she was hearing. It was
like the Catholic funeral they'd had for her
"But I have found a way to capture both life and
"How's that?" Gretchen said with a smirk,
hoping that his method
some form of below-the-belt Swedish massage.
"Stay right where
you are," Cosmic Charlie said, reaching his
decaying hand across the couch to a golden cord tied by
a sash to
a specially-placed knob on the wall.
At the pull of the golden cord, a huge bucket full of
some kind of
quick-drying acrylic substance cascaded down upon her
It reacted with her clothing, burning it, then hardening
skin. Within seconds, her clothes were in tatters and
she was unable
to move, within a minute she could not breath and stood
to the spot, to join the other bored housewives of the
714 and 805 area codes in eternal life and
"Better living through chemistry," Cosmic
said Mrs. Gretchen Houynhym, formerly of the 213
"That's right. Better living through
expectorated his next-to-last dying gasp in the general
of his impressive mannequin collection, and wondered who
receive the glorious blessing of death first: himself or
Houynhym, formerly of the 213 area code.