The Inbox

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Jerry was the first one there. He waited in a chair at the kitchen table, enjoying the peaceful air and the scent of lilacs that drifted in through the open windows of the old farmhouse. A stack of papers belonging to him rested on the table, and he was reaching to straighten them once more when he heard something; looking up he saw the next ones arriving – a man in a trench coat walking onto the porch, and a humongous ape right behind.

“I told you to GET OUTTA HERE!” the man said to the ape. “Stop following me!”

The ape only got closer, almost stepping on the man’s heels, at which point the man turned around and started swatting at the ape, both hands flailing windmill-style. The ape grunted as he deflected the puny blows with one large forearm. The man gave up and continued towards the door, grumbling over his shoulder at the beast.

Mr. Grumble noticed Jerry as soon as he stepped inside; reaching into his trench coat, he walked towards him.

“Max Kelly, P.I.,” he said as he handed Jerry his card. The ape grunted, and Max rolled his eyes. “And my … associate, Killa.”

“I’m Jerry.”

“Well, Mr. Jerry, you been here long?” Max reached inside his coat again, this time pulling out a notebook and pen. Jerry frowned at the sight of them.

“Um, no. About half an hour.”

“Uh-huh.” Max jotted down way more words than Jerry had said.

“And, uh, what do you do for work?” Max was peering at the calculator sticking up out of Jerry’s shirt pocket, and at the papers on the table.

“I’m an engineer.”

“Izzat right?”

Jerry’s eyes darted around. “Yes.”


The ape then got excited about something and started grunting and jumping and waving his arms, causing the dishes in the cupboards to rattle and disturbing Jerry’s papers. Jerry straightened them again.

“I know, I know!” said Max to the gorilla. “I’m getting there.” Max looked at Jerry. “You seen anyone else around?”

“No. I think I was the first one here.”

“Uh-huh.” He was again writing far more than Jerry had said. “Listen, I’m gonna go have a look around … if you don’t mind.”

Jerry shook his head ‘no’ but averted his eyes.

“Good. And, uh, don’t plan on leaving for a while.”

Max and Killa headed down the hallway towards the back of the house, and Jerry was glad to be alone again. He got to enjoy the peace and quiet for only a minute, though, before someone else barged through the door.

“Arrr, matey! And what have we here?”

It was a pirate. A real, live, smelly pirate. With a squawking parrot on his shoulder. Jerry suddenly wished that Max was still there, to distract the attention of this rum-drenched ruffian – Jerry didn’t like how the pirate was eyeballing him with his one eye.

“Give me yer name now,” said the pirate, unsheathing his sword and holding it to Jerry’s cheek; Jerry recoiled and held his breath. “Or I’ll have yer tongue fer supper.”

“Rraww! Tongue for supper! Tongue for supper!”

“Back away, you dog!” came another voice.

The pirate whirled; there in the doorway stood a man in colonial British regalia – a commodore, in fact – his sword drawn and his face set.

“Oh-ho, so the long-awaited day is finally here,” said the pirate. “Well, commodore, prepare ye to meet yer maker.”

The pirate shouted as he charged the commodore; the commodore shouted and charged right back. There was a clash of swords, metal clanging at a furious pace as the two matched blows while moving back and forth around the room. Stands were knocked over, house plants chopped to pieces, and chairs overturned – yet the two swordsman never suffered a single cut, to the flesh or the clothing.

Jerry remained in his seat, watching, and sometime during the battle he noticed three other people standing by the door: a priest, a forlorn-looking woman clothed in a frontier-era dress, and a man who could’ve been Max’s twin, right down to the notebook, except that this guy had a “press” card in his hatband. They, too, were engrossed in the battle, the press guy scribbling notes as fast as he could. Just then Max came charging into the kitchen, with Killa close behind.

“I know!” Max shouted at the ape. “Stop tellin’ me how to do my job!” He noticed Jerry at the table. “Hey, you mind tellin’ me what’s goin’ on here?”

“Uh, I think you should talk to those guys,” Jerry said, pointing to the three by the door. “One of them is taking notes.”

Max started towards the trio, then turned and said to Jerry, “By the way, kid, don’t go near the back door; it looks like a deathtrap.”

Max then hurried across the room, dodging the swordsmen and the debris they had churned up, and in the next instant Jerry heard a faint noise behind him just before a blue blur whizzed by his face. He spun around in his chair, looking back towards the pantry, and there was a man – a large, muscular man – in blue spandex and a green cape holding a villainous-looking character by the throat. The villain had a long knife in one hand, but he dropped it as Spandex Man squeezed.

“Please, please,” the villain croaked. “Don’t hurt me, Captain Marvelous, don’t hurt me. I’ll change; honest, I will. Just don’t hurt me with your marvelous strength from those marvelous biceps!”

Captain Marvelous drew a slow, deep breath and measured the villain with his laser eyes.

“Very well. I will let you go – if you promise to change your ways to the side of good, and stop this senseless life of crime you’ve been living.”

“I promise, I promise!”

Then Captain Marvelous threw the villain out the window, and in another instant the blue blur had whizzed back in Jerry’s direction and stopped in front of him. Captain Marvelous stood there with his fists on his hips and a broad, toothy grin atop his square jaw.

“That dastardly villain was about to hurt you,” he said. “I’m sure you would’ve died a slow, torturous, cruel death – but no need to thank me. Just doing my job.”

And then he blurred away – off to save someone else, Jerry presumed.

Jerry looked around: The sword battle was still raging; Max and his must-be-twin were still taking notes and asking people all kinds of questions; and Jerry noticed that several more people had showed up while he was distracted by Spandex Man.

It was too crazy for Jerry. He stood, smoothed his shirt, and walked out the front door with his papers tucked under one arm.

* * *

Somewhere in the big city, the magazine editor sat hunched over his desk, surrounded by the dozen or so manuscripts that had been handed to him that day. He’d just finished reading the last of them, and only one – a story about a shy, anal-retentive engineer with a secret – seemed worthy of further attention. He sighed, running a hand through his hair.

The reporter. The sleuth with the monkey on his back. The superhero and the villain. The pirate. The country priest. The historical romance that belongs on the Lifetime channel. He drew a deep breath and released it through his nose.

“Can’t anybody do anything original?!”

Slapping one on top of another, he began gathering the rejects into a pile.

* * *

Everyone in the farmhouse froze – even the pirate and the commodore – as the house quaked and the earth rumbled. Suddenly they were all being pulled together and sucked towards the back of the house, unable to stop despite grabbing at whatever was within reach. In another moment they were all swept out the back door, and the door slammed shut after them. Then the house rested, silent.

* * *

“There,” said the editor, now standing over a trash can full of unwanted manuscripts. “Hopefully the next batch is better than this one.”


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