Greetings, and a thousand apologies for the recent silence. There’s been a lot going on behind the scenes around here, and posts have unfortunately fallen by the wayside. I assure you that this is only a temporary condition, though, and regular posting will soon return.
In the meantime, here’s another webfiction short presented for your momentary amusement. I’d originally intended for this story to be the start of a collection called Maximilian Bonaventure and the Travels on Foot, full of magical realism tales about the modern American condition, but the project was always pushed aside by more pressing matter. I still suspect I’ll finish it one day, though.
May I now present…
Maximilian Bonaventure was suffering a very long Friday, one which seemed to grow by months with every passing second. He spent eight agonizing hours of it trapped in the office, face-tanning in the amber phosphor glow of a workstation he’d long ago nicknamed the Digital Bastard. Their relationship was simple: he mocked the Digital Bastard, and in return, it stared back imperiously, unblinking and vigilant until every one of Max’s daily tasks was complete.
His hatred for the infernal machine hung in the air like a dirigible.
Some days, especially the long ones, Max wondered if it might be dangerous to have an electron gun aimed squarely at his forehead. After all, the Digital Bastard was his arch-nemesis—the unliving opposition to all things good, holy and Max in the world—and so the arrangement was rather like a game of Russian Roulette played between captive and sociopathic captor. On some rare days (like this one in particular), Max quietly prayed for his opponent to finally pull the trigger and end the game once and for all.
Then the clock struck five, and Max was free at last. Free of the dim, oppressive cavern where he worked. Free of the beige computer, the grey cubicle, and the domineering, all-consuming stupidity of his pink and pudgy boss. He was free to hop into his rusting, broken-down beater and drive to the garage, where he enjoyed yet more freedoms, like the freedom to grumble, to impatiently tap his toe and to wait for the results of a routine inspection.
It occurred to him some minutes into this Friday’s liberation that his ‘freedoms’ were all a vexing sort, and perhaps not all that free at all.
Max found himself standing in the garage’s open doorway, where the shop’s dank interior collided with the early evening’s Easy-Bake sun. His posture spoke volumes of his discomfort, stiff-backed and rigid as a fresh corpse, and he further accented the look by burying either hand in its opposite sweat-soaked armpit.
There was a familiar feeling Max had just then, and he was quite sure he hated it. It was a bitter, nervous anxiety which hounded him whenever he threatened to do anything out of the ordinary. The feeling knotted his stomach, squeezed his latent ulcers, and crippled his every attempt to take a vacation. Without fail, it convinced him to cancel his Friday plans, rent a movie and microwave some popcorn instead.
Neither the popcorn nor the movie ever quite hit the spot.
Maybe this time would be different, he thought. A clean bill of health for his car would go a long way toward relieving his chronic dread, and maybe he’d even make it past city limits this time.
“I’ve got some bad news for you, Mr. Bonaventure.”
Max’s stomach twisted and gurgled like a bog. “Bad news?” The words barely escaped his throat.
“Yeah… Yer gonna want to take a look at this.”
Max stepped forward on leaden feet and peered into the engine compartment. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but when they did, he was presented with the same jumble of cables, ducts, belts and bulks of metal that always dwelt beneath the hood. “What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?”
The mechanic cleared his throat. “I don’t want to point, Mr. Bonaventure. It might be taken as a sign of aggression.” His voice was tense, maybe even fearful.
Max immediately thought that was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” he said, feeling redundant for some strange reason. “What the hell’s wrong with my car?”
The mechanic motioned with his chin and muttered something under his breath.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch that.”
The mechanic beckoned him closer and then very softly said, “It’s a ninja.”
“A niiiiinja,” the mechanic repeated, stretching out the central vowel like so much salt-water taffy.
Max turned and once again looked into the shady confines of the engine compartment, and again saw absolutely nothing unusual. He especially didn’t see any pajama clad martial artists. “Where precisely?”
“Hanging from the fanbelt.”
Max shook his head. “I don’t see any such thing.”
The mechanic’s voice took on an ominous tone. “That’s their way, the ninja. Crafty. Mysterious. Deadly.” The look in his eyes was earnest with a side-order of regret.
Every second that passed during that very long day found Max’s threshold for idiocy diminished. At that precise moment, the dwindling remains of his patience were stretched thinner than the skin on a widow’s forehead after her twelfth face-lift. “Fine. What’ll it cost me?”
“That’s just it, Mr. Bonaventure.” The mechanic pointed back over his shoulder with a grease-stained thumb. “There’s this new state policy. Real hum-dinger.”
Max followed the path of that roughened thumb over the mechanic’s shoulder and up to the wall, and there in black letters on a hazard yellow sign sat the most obnoxious fifty-some-odd words he’d read all week.
ORDINANCE 867 SUBSECTION 12: DUE TO A RECENT INCREASE IN THE INCIDENCE OF NINJA INFESTATION, STATE CERTIFIED MECHANICS ARE REQUIRED TO CONFISCATE AND QUARANTINE ALL INFESTED AUTOMOBILES. THE AUTOMOBILE’S OWNER SHALL BE COMPENSATED WITH THE FAIR MARKET VALUE OF THEIR VEHICLE IN CASH, WHICH IS TO BE REIMBURSED TO THE SERVICE PROVIDER UPON SUCCESSFUL FILING OF FORM 867-12-BS.
“You gotta be joking, right?”
The mechanic stepped forward and swelled with righteous indignation, then reached out a stubby finger and jabbed Max right in the sternum. “This is no joking matter, Mr. Bonaventure, and I don’t appreciate your tone. You could be driving down the road, minding your own business when BAM! A 15th century Japanese assassin springs out from under your hood, back-flips across the street and kills every living thing in a two mile radius. They can do it… I’ve seen it happen. I won’t have that blood on my hands, Mr. Bonaventure.” A single tear welled in the corner of the mechanic’s eye, where it teetered but refused to fall. “Not on my hands.”
“I’m sorry,” Max said meekly. “I didn’t realize.”
“No, no one ever does. Not until it’s too late. You’re one of the lucky ones.”
With the matter apparently settled, the mechanic walked across the garage to a workbench, opened a dictionary-sized tome and began flipping through it. “This a nineteen-eighty?”
“Eighty ‘tree Jefferson Armadillo. In…” The mechanic looked askance at the colony of rust slowly migrating out from the wheel-well, “Poor condition. With Landau top. Fair market value’s a hundred twenty simoleons.”
Max nodded in defeated agreement, and the mechanic whipped out a filthy wad of bills as grease-stained as his hands. He peeled off six blackened portraits of Andrew Jackson, counted them twice and then gingerly handed them over.
“Can I…” Max stammered. “Would it be safe to get some of my things?”
“I have to quarantine the car.”
Max’s eyes pleaded his case.
“But I guess I could bend the rules, just this once,” the mechanic said.
Max didn’t waste any time. In the first second, he flung open the driver’s side door, and in the second second, he had flopped down belly first and was furiously snatching up his most prized belongings. By the third second, he was back outside with his arms overflowing.
“Thanks. I don’t know what I would’ve done without all my… crap?”
The mechanic smiled warmly. “Hey buddy, it’s the least I could do.”
The two men stood there in silence for a moment, and that was the end of it. There was nothing more to say. In a daze, Max wandered out of the garage and into the attached office, where he sat down in a not entirely uncomfortable chair and began to feel very, very sorry for himself. His car was gone, the plans he’d planned to abandon lay in shambles, and all he had to show for it was a wad of filthy bills and an armload of depressing trash.
This particular Friday was stretching to record length, and Max began to wonder how much better things might have been had the Digital Bastard just pulled the trigger.
Then he realized he wasn’t alone. “Lost your car?” the young lady behind the counter asked.
With some effort, Max lifted his heavy head from his hands and looked at the exceptionally average looking girl. Puzzlement and despair painted his face. “Yeah, I did.”
“That law’s a real bugger.” Much like the mechanic, she seemed honestly sympathetic, if professionally so. “I hate those dang ninjas.”
“So…” she droned while waiting for a thought to percolate. “You look pretty put out. Planning something special for the weekend?”
“Yeah, I guess. I mean, I probably wasn’t gonna go anyway.”
She looked a little confused at that, and Max couldn’t blame her. “Go where?” she asked.
The answer came to him with a wry chuckle. “Elsewhere.”
“Anywhere but here.”
“But you must’ve had some place in mind.” It was a statement and not a question. She was beginning to sound irritated.
The plain girl was right, and Max was suddenly taken aback at himself. Were his escape plans really so vague? So completely threadbare? That wasn’t a plan. It hardly even qualified as an idea. Not that it mattered, since he never made it past the video store anyway.
Then he remembered something he’d long forgotten, and a touch of magic sparkled in his eyes. “Well, there is this place. I used to have a girlfriend that talked about an art retreat tucked away in the hills. Said it was always covered in a cottony blanket of mist every single day of the year. The way she described it… The hills rolling like sand dunes, the flowers waving everywhere in more colors than you could name, and a quiet only ever broken by the soft morning breeze. It… it sounded like the most beautiful place on Earth. I’ve always wanted to go. Just to see it. Just once.”
“So why don’t you?”
He shook his head. “No car.”
“Oh. Right,” the young lady said. Having burned through all of her small talk, she drummed her fingers on the counter top for a moment, and then said the words that would change Maximilian Bonaventure’s life. “If you’re walking, you should probably go before it gets dark.”
For just a brief instant, Max misunderstood what she meant, before understanding that he’d misunderstood her. What he heard in that instant was brilliant, if mildly insane. “If I’m walking,” he whispered.
He looked at the bundle of crap he’d salvaged from his ninja-infested car. There was a corduroy jacket so comfortable it often put him to sleep, an ’emergency’ day pack that had never once known an emergency, a pair of cheap sunglasses that made him look like a wasp, what he suspected was a Belgian Army knife, an ancient jazz mix-tape and a tiny bobble-head hula girl. As always, the hula girl looked supremely pleased just to be along for the ride. “Everything a man needs,” he said to no one in particular.
Just like that, his mind was made up. Max stood, waved dismissively to the counter-girl who’d already forgotten about him and his plight, and then he stepped out the door. In the quickly cooling night air, he turned away from the twinkling city lights and began to walk. He walked away from the Digital Bastard and the cubicle prison it guarded. He walked away from his sad little apartment with its sad little plants, his microwave popcorn and the video store that tempted him with vapid delights.
Maximilian Bonaventure wasn’t sure where he was headed, but he was willing to see whatever his wayward feet wanted to show him. Wherever he ended up, he knew it had to be better than this.