• Jeff South

Book Club: An Excerpt

Ever since the release of Kilroy Was Here in 2017 I have been working on a sequel. Then, one day, while on a flight for work, I got an idea for a spin-off story involving a couple of the characters from Kilroy Was Here. Because I'm someone who struggles to finish what they start, thus I'm perpetually starting something, a response to a Facebook post motivated me to think about a prequel about the alien hunting "book club" in Kilroy Was Here. Now, a little over four years later, that prequel is almost ready.


Almost.


Still some revisions and editing to be done. Plot lines need connecting.


But I want to get folks ready, so here is an excerpt from the first chapter. Enjoy!




***



There are no men in black. Hollywood and ill-informed conspiracy theories would have you believe that there are men (why is it almost always men?) in black suits and sunglasses and sometimes a cool hat who are supposedly quasi government agents who harass, bully, and threaten anyone who attempts to tell the world the truth about extraterrestrials. There is only me, a guy in a 2007 Saturn Sky I call the Kevmobile because cars should have names. I, woefully out of shape and of suspect emotional health and a penchant to overeat, am what protects the Earth from what lurks from beyond the cosmos. It’s just me, the Kevmobile, a backpack of weaponry, eating a meatball sub, who fights that which you cannot fathom. I, a renegade lone wolf struggling used bookstore owner in a marinara stained hoodie and gray sweatpants, ensures the planet sleeps safe at night.


Because I promised a friend I would carry on with his mission.





*




My cell phone buzzes as it sits in one of those cradles for your car. This is the most elegant enhancement to the Kevmobile, which I bought “as is' ' for one thousand dollars from a man who wore overalls and no shirt. My Corporate Directives Liaison, known to me only as Heather F, has texted me.


Check email on assigned device for updates


I grab a tablet Heather F provided me weeks ago to “streamline our communication across multiple accessibility platforms,” as she put it, from the glove compartment whose door stays attached only through a kind of sheer willpower that I don’t personally possess. A swipe here and a tap there and her email appears on the screen of this particular accessibility platform.


To: Kevin Raulston

From: Heather F

RE: Case #4D7BR549


Kevin,

See attached dossier on your target. Intel confirms our Herpezoid is Wesley Brewer, a possible dealer of DNA morphers. The ask is that you competently leverage existing operational models and efficiently execute appropriate action steps and conduct all requisite follow up per the agreed upon key performance metrics. Circle back with any process-centric questions via the usual protocols.


Heather F


The tape deck just to the right of the cradle still works and plays a-ha’s “The Sun Always Shines on TV” from a mixtape I made in college for a girl who rejected it. The music is just loud enough to drown out the pattering of raindrops from a steady early spring shower. I pull myself from The Rapture of the Follies, a self-published novel by a local author that I’ve been reading for my book club. A Styrofoam container in the passenger seat holds what’s left of a meatball sandwich from Tater’s Subs and Spuds, a local spot owned by Bubba “Tater” Spencer, a man so larger than life he demands two nicknames. I take a hearty bite of the sub and dab a dribble of marinara from my chin as I read more of the dossier. The accompanying photo shows a man with a round face, cherubic cheeks, and icy blue eyes.


NAME: Wesley Brewer

ADOPTED HUMAN FORM: Male, approximately 35 years old

KNOWN OCCUPATIONS: Acting coach, wedding DJ, possible former hairdresser


Currently teaches improvisation in the basement of the Episcopal church on Main Street for Poplar Bluff’s local community theater group. Possible front for DNA morpher ring. Class tonight is from 7-9 p.m. Advise attendance under the guise of participation and then secure target at close of class.


Wait for this week’s class to end and melt ol’ Wes with my trusty P-47 Electro-Photon Phaseable Multiblaster. I retrieve two Multiblasters from the precarious glove box. The soft glow from the dashboard panel gleams off their chrome plating. I switch the red safety button to the off position on each gun and a low purr of power surges through them. The final bite of meatball sub and a quick sip of diet cola provide the much-needed boost to carry out this mission. I’m also already anticipating my post-hunt celebration meal of loaded tater tots at Pokey’s Bar & Grill. My body will be ready to replace the calories I’m about to burn, or at least that’s the story I’m sticking with.


I put the Multiblasters into a dilapidated pink and orange backpack I bought at a thrift store along with another device about the size of a dustbuster and an empty clear plastic canister. The small outer pocket holds a packet of glitter that I shove into the pocket of my light jacket. The glitter is for civilians. You never know when you’ll need glitter.


Herpezoids are not easy to hunt in the rain and I should really call this one off, head home, and read some Dorothy Parker while eating pizza rolls with chopsticks and sipping a 7 & 7, which is always a nice way to end a day. Try again tomorrow night when the skies should be a blanket of stars based on the forecast. Tomorrow night is book club, though, and I can’t miss that. I would, however, have to explain my truancy to Heather F. who would then chastise me for “failing to actualize core competencies,” which is a thing she said to me once. Best to suck it up and do the job as instructed. I shut off the engine and, as I exit the Kevmobile, wonder what people with normal lives are doing at this very moment.


The rain isn’t a storm or downpour, but one of those steady April showers that bring the May flowers that send my allergies into a fit of rage. The rain pecks my face and feels heavier than it looks, so I jog to the back of the car and pop the trunk. I spy my jack, my spare tire, a light jacket, an old pair of jeans I’ve been looking for, two more of the clear plastic canisters, and a box of paperback Westerns I bought from an estate sale. I brought everything I needed to pull off this job. What I did not bring was an umbrella.


Well, shit.





*





A blonde girl in her mid to late twenties with shy eyes and a nervous twitch in her left hand sits at the front of the class and nibbles on her nails. Her visible discomfort could be caused by the church basement’s temperature, which is too cold for mid-April. She looks anywhere but at her partner, a tall fellow in a t-shirt displaying the name of a band I’ve never heard of. A subtle clearing of his throat pulls her attention to him and he offers a reassuring smile.


You got this, his eyes tell her. This is no big deal.


I lean forward from my position on the end of the last of the five rows of metal folding chairs. This spot allows me to keep my backpack close by without imposing on the space of someone else. The girl draws a deep breath and exhales, just as we all were taught to do during opening warm-up exercises. This releases all the tension that is holding back her trust and commitment to the process.


The dozen or so audience members shift in their metal folding chairs and Wesley Brewer, the improv guru and wedding deejay extraordinaire, enters the scene and stands between the two seated scene partners. He squats and places a hand on the girl’s knee, a bold gesture if you ask me. It’s a display of intimacy. He is invading her bubble. Dude better not invade my bubble.


“The ‘yes, and…’ game is a simple and foundational activity for improvisation,” he tells her. “This is where we lay the rules out for the scene.” He pats the girl’s knee - another bold move. “Remember, Kenzie. Trust the process. Trust David. No judgment here. We’re learning. Are you ready to begin?”


Kenzie nods and pushes a strand of her blond hair behind her ear. She locks her now determined eyes on her fellow participant. Wesley pats Kenzie’s knee one last time and tells them to begin.


“Dang,” David says, as he mimes wiping sweat from his brow a little too broadly for my taste. “It sure is a hot day to be digging for buried treasure.”


“Yes, and.” Kenize looks to Wesley for approval. After he gives a wink of encouragement that convinces me the two of them are sleeping together, she continues. “This rain isn’t helping.”


David pauses. This isn’t the response he had hoped for, but he perseveres. “Right. Yes. And if you could hand me that shovel over there, we can get started digging.”


“I didn’t bring a shovel,” Kenzie says. “Were we supposed to bring a shovel?”


A few titters pop up in the audience, which I find rude. They’re not laughing with Kenzie, but rather at her efforts and Wesley clearly stated in the opening this was supposed to be a supportive group. Pretentious assholes.


Wesley intervenes. “Kenzie, love, all is well.” He stands behind her and rubs her shoulders. If two aren’t banging, then Wesley is certainly open to the possibility. Herpezoid creep. I can’t wait to take his sexually harassing ass down.


“I just get confused.” Kenzie shakes her hands in frustration. “I didn’t know he was going to bring up a shovel.”


“Be open,” he says in a most guru way, his aura enhanced by the back turtleneck he wears. “Otherwise, you become a stopper to the work. A stopper is any behavior that prevents the scene from progressing. The best improv is about moving forward.”


He turns and addresses the room.


“The beauty of ‘yes, and’ is that it not only applies to improv, but life in general. What are you holding yourself back from? How are you being a stopper?”


He moves around the room, the passion in his voice rising. His words draw me in.


“You can use ‘yes, and’ at work and in your relationships for problem solving, ideation, creativity.” This makes sense. I hadn’t thought of this before. I give props to the Herpezoid scum known as Wesley Brewer. He is a compelling speaker. Also, note to self, buy some books on improvisation.


He expresses regret that class time is up, dismisses the group and the students shuffle out, save for Kenzie who lingers behind for some additional coaching. I toss the backpack over my shoulder and step out into the hall and head to the men’s room a couple of doors down. David is there at a urinal mumbling to himself about what just happened. I conduct my business at the neighboring urinal, wondering if I should say something but there is a certain dude etiquette about conversing at urinals. Typically, I wait until the washing of hands because that is a less intimate setting within the men’s room. Alas, David has finished his business and washed his hands while I am still midstream. The few remaining voices fade from earshot, so I wrap things up and get to work.


Wesley is putting away the rest of the chairs, leaning them against a wall underneath a whiteboard with bullet-pointed rules for the improv class:


  • Yes, and…

  • Don’t be a stopper

  • Expect the Unexpected

  • Play in the present and use the moment

  • Who are you? A Pea in a Pod or a Fish Out of Water?

  • Change, change, change!


Wesley Brewer strikes me as more articulate and learned than the average Herpezoid, but he’s still gotta go. My guns are fired up and the containment device is set. Time to play in the present and use the moment.


“Excuse me,” I call out. “I really enjoyed the class.”


He smiles and clasps his hands together. “Great! This was your first time, yes?”


“It was, indeed. And I gotta admit the whole using-improv-in-life thing really spoke to me.”


“I believe it with all my heart.” He walks to the whiteboard and regards the rules as if they’re ancient wisdom scrawled on a cave wall. “These principles have helped me grow as a person.”


“Yes, and,” I wiggle my eyebrows in the hopes that he saw what I did there. “I think they can help me, too. Especially in my job.”


“And what is your job?”


“I hunt Herpezoids.”


Now, I’m fully aware I should’ve just walked into the room, shot Wesley Brewer, and contained him, but the fun quotient involved in that approach is low and unattractive. Efficient, yes, but not exciting. I guess you could say I added new information to the scene. Wesley swallows hard and a slight tremor forms under his right eye. An uncomfortable silence fills space between us.


“What does that even mean?” Wesley asks with a forced chuckle. “Herpe-what? I don’t know what that means.”


“Aw, c’mon, man. Don’t be a stopper!”


My target doesn’t move. He knows that I know. And I know it, too. We both know that I know and we both know that we both know we know.


“Can we work out something?” he asks. I assume this is his way of changing, moving us forward. “I can get you anything. I’m directing Noises Off! for the community theater. Any part you want is yours, my friend.”


“I need information about your DNA morpher ring, Wes.”


“First of all, it’s Wesley. Second…” He grabs one of the folding chairs and hurls it at me. I dive out of the way before it can hit me and roll over against the table that held refreshments. Wesley steps over and picks up the chair and holds it overhead. His human skin melts into his body to reveal the green scaly flesh of his true Herpezoid body. The talons of his claw hands click on the metal chair. His beady yellow eyes widen and his snout snarls to show just enough fang to intimidate. He clearly wants to finish me off.


“I bet you wish you hadn’t come to class tonight,” he says.


“Yes, and, that’s why I brought guns.” I whip out both my Multiblasters and unload a flurry of shots into him. The small orbs of yellow energy land all over this torso except for one that is a direct hit to his forehead. Tentacles of electricity scatter across his body as it melts into a puddle of goo that looks like someone puked split pea soup.


“Why didn’t I just hit you with the chair?” His remains ask. “I should’ve just finished you off.”


No, Wesley isn’t dead. Yes, Herpezoid remains can still talk. It’s a weird thing, I admit. A small vial of purple liquid is lodged in Wesley’s yuck, something I’ve never seen before.


“What have we here?” I hold it up to the light and examine it, as if that is going to tell me anything. It appears viscous as it flows slowly inside the vial.


“That’s mine,” Wesley says. “Give it back. Better yet, drink it. See what happens.”


I roll my eyes at his suggestion and shove the vial into my pants pocket. Corporate can have a peek at it when I deposit these two.


“Wesley?” a female voice calls out. I glance to the doorway to see Kenzie standing mouth agape in horror. “What have you done?”


“Aw, shit,” I stand and hold up my hands. My Mandela Effecter Spray is in my pocket, but I don’t want to freak her out. “I need you to remain calm.”


Kenzie does not remain calm, however. Her soft features dissolve and her skin, like Wesley’s, morphs into that of a Herpezoid. She sprints toward me so I fire off two shots to slow her down and then two more to finish the job. Her gooey remains pool onto the tile floor, which will make clean up easier. It’s a bitch to get Herpezoid remains out of carpet.


“Kenzie!” Wesley calls out. “Why did you come back? You were supposed to take the DNA morphers to the drop point.” “I’m sorry! I just wanted to come back and tell you how much this class has meant to me and my confidence.”


“Trust the process, Kenzie. You know you have to follow your scene setup so you can have a second beat! This is why you suck at improv.”


“Okay, you two.” I holster my weapons and remove the dustbuster, known as the Herpezoid Containment Device, from my backpack. “You know what comes next.”


“This cannot be happening right now,” Wesley whines. “I have three wedding receptions to deejay this month, two corporate events, and auditions for Noises Off!


I reply with a chuckle and grab a cookie from the refreshment table. Someone brought snickerdoodles, which are my favorite, so I wrap a few more up in a napkin and put them in the backpack for later. I once more take in the improv rules on the whiteboard. They make sense. I’ve not been happy with my life over the last 75% of it, so this will be helpful. I pull my phone from my pocket and snap a picture of them. Expect the Unexpected stands out.


“I guess you could say I wasn’t expecting the unexpected,” I tell them. “I wasn’t expecting to take down two of you, so I gotta jog out to the car and get another canister.” I finish my cookie and turn to the duo of Herpezoid guts. “Don’t go anywhere.”


“Dick,” Kenzie says. Wesley’s voice bellows out to me as I head toward the door.


“You think you’ve won? Ha! The king is coming, baby! The king is coming!”


I reach the doorway where I’m greeted by a short, round fellow with black horn rimmed glasses and a full bushy beard. His mouth hangs open at the spectacle behind me. This calls for the Mandela Effector, the glitter I put in my pocket earlier. I retrieve the glitter from my pocket and promptly blow it into his face. He twitches his nose and bats away the mist from his eyes. The man, whose name tag on his blue work shirt reads “Scott,” backs against the wall in the hallway and begins the early stages of trying to sneeze. His squinting eyes look to the fluorescent lights above and this induces a loud, roaring sneezing fit that carries him down the hall away from this scene. This is all perfectly normal and according to protocol.


“You’ll feel no pain, sir,” I call to him. “This will all seem like some weird dream tomorrow.”



*





Wesley and Kenzie are now secure in their canisters. Kenzie complained about feeling cramped while Wesley ranted about the return of the king, whatever the hell that means. Whatever. Herpezoids are unsavory, mouthy deplorables who will say anything when they’re about to get liquified. The rain outside has waned to a light drizzle so no need to exert myself walking to my car. I toss the backpack containing my weapons, my containment device, and the two improvising aliens into the trunk with my containment device and plop into the driver’s seat. The empty container from Tater’s Subs and Taters depresses me, so I grab my empty cigarette pack in the hopes that I might find one I didn’t realize I had to no avail. Sometimes I smoke and I feel bad about that but I only smoke when I feel bad about eating too much, which is nearly every day. A sip of my 32 ounce drink produces the stuttering sound of a straw struggling to find liquid. Outside on a plot of grass a large gray rabbit stares at me as it chews. Its black eyes drilling into my soul. I’ve seen that damn bunny before and I’ll see his smug, judgmental and adorable face again. I blow out a long, weary sigh and let “The Sun Always Shines on TV” provide the soundtrack for my drive to Pokey’s Bar downtown for an apple martini and a plate of loaded tater tots for a celebratory dinner.





*





No, there are no men in black. Just me, a guy who needs to do some laundry.


And the support of a shadow company buried deep within the operating structure of a major corporation owned by an eccentric CEO and a handler named Heather F to assign me Herpezoids to take down.


Relax, people of Earth. I got this.


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