Cereal Is Important

CerealIsImportantThe little marshmallows in his cereal made Chuck smile. They were childish and not particularly nutritious, sure, but they were delicious and the high point of most of his days.

“So, do you think you can get to that today?” his wife repeated.

“Sure,” he said between bites. He hadn’t been listening, he had been trying to enjoy his cereal.

“Can we take care of them right now, then?”

He looked up and she was doing that thing where she put her hands on her hips and all her weight on one foot. If chuck were to try to capture the look of judgmental impatience in a statue, he would carve it in that shape. It would be a waste of time, though, because nobody wants that in their home.

“Honey, they can wait, I’m eating me lucky charms.”

She was not amused.

“Charles, this is important,” she said, the weight shifting to her other foot.

Chuck sort of wished he had been paying attention now, but only sort of. “Of course it is.”

“Oh, really? Charles, you don’t seem to be acting like they are very important.” She was really mad. She only called him Charles when she was angry, and here she had done it in two statements in a row.

“Of course they are, but I’m eating my cereal. They can wait until I’m done.”

“You don’t even know what we’re talking about, do you?” She was on to him.

“Sure, I do,” he lied.

“Okay, if you were to rank THEM by priority, where would you put them, then?”

He thought for a moment. He was in real trouble here, but decided that he couldn’t make it much worse. “Well, I can tell you this much, they’re after me lucky charms!”

She left him that day, but at least when he told this story to their divorce attorney, he got a chuckle.

Hairy Larry

HairyLarrySince this is one of the longer short stories, you can also download a PDF, EPUB, or MOBI for use on your kindle/nook/phone reader… thing.



Tommy hated his roommate’s pet tarantula, Hairy Larry, but he never would have killed it on purpose. Arvin loved that fuzzy, little bastard, with its creepy, little eyes, and Tommy knew that Arvin would never forgive him. Tommy had been volunteered by Arvin’s horrible new girlfriend Clair to feed the beast while they went on a two week long trip with her parents. Tommy hadn’t liked being alone in the apartment with Larry for so long, but the arachnid had kept mostly to himself.

Arvin could sit there for hours watching the creature creep around the cage, but a single peek in, to make sure he was still there, had Tommy’s skin trying to crawl off of his body, especially if he happened to find himself peering into that hateful, plotting ocular octet. This happened fairly often, as the creature seemed to like watching him. Tommy tried not to look at it except for the few minutes every third day when he had to dump a few crickets in and try to keep his bowels in check while scooping leftovers out of the tank; you can bet he paid very close attention to the creepy-crawler’s whereabouts while his hand was in the tank.

Now, on the eve of Arvin’s return, Tommy found the evil arachnid dead, its legs curled up under its body. He had known immediately that Hairy Larry was dead, but had put himself through the torment of poking it with a pencil. After the obligatory, terror filled jump back following the poke, just in case it was still alive and now upset, he watched it not move. No, Larry was dead. Tommy hated the thing, you’d think he would be enthused by its demise, but it had croaked on Tommy’s watch, so, he felt responsible.

Knowing that there was no time to waste, Tommy pushed out of his mind the paper on the appearance of themes from “the Gift of the Magi” in modern society that he was supposed to be working on. He took a picture of the brown, crumpled corpse for reference, then drove to the pet store.

* * *

Arvin was happy to be home. He had adored Clair since they had been introduced by a mutual friend, and they had just recently started dating. Despite the fact that she was, at times, a bit of a piece of work, he thought that they were a good fit. Spending time with her parent’s, though, highlighted to Arvin exactly where she had gotten her ability to be a pain in the ass. He was thankful that she was not as high strung as her mother.

The trip had consisted of a week on her father’s sailboat sandwiched on either side by a few days at their home. Under the guise of needing to get some schoolwork done the following day before break was over, he had left a day early. In truth, Arvin just needed to get away from them. He looked forward to spending some time alone in his own home. He thoroughly enjoyed the idea of doing something, anything, without having to explain himself to anyone.

Walking in and shrugging the bag off his shoulder, he sighed, then went over to Larry’s tank. The rose hair tarantula was dead. Arvin had expected this to happen eventually: he had had the spider for almost ten years now and the spider had been getting old. Expected as it may have been that Larry wouldn’t live much longer, Arvin was still upset by walking in to find his corpse.

Intending to deal with the body later, he left it for the moment and went to take a shower. When he got out, he called Clair and told her the bad news.

“Oh, thank God,” she said.

Arvin stood in shocked silence for a long moment; his pet of almost ten years had croaked and that had been her response? He hadn’t expected her to be as crushed as he felt, but “Oh, thank God?”

He didn’t have a clue how to respond to that, luckily Clair wasn’t one to let the line sit dead for long and explained, “I mean, I know you liked Larry, but I’ve been hoping it would die since we started dating. It creeped me out.”

“I didn’t know-” Arvin started, but she cut him off.

“In fact, if there was ever a reason that I’d break up with you, it would be that nasty creature.”

He was speechless again, she was nothing if not blunt and honest. This was a quality that he usually liked in her, but at the moment a little more compassion would have been appreciated.

“Sorry babe,” she continued, “I need to go. Mom says dinner’s ready.”

“Okay,” he managed.

“Talk to you tomorrow. Bye!” she said cheerfully and hung up.

Arvin sat down on the edge of his bead, still wrapped in his towel. His body felt heavy and his bed seemed to sag more under his weight than usual.

* * *

Tommy walked back in, having visited three different pet stores in search of a spider that looked like Hairy Larry. He had a paper bag in one hand that housed the heir to the tank and title. He saw, by the duffel bag just inside the door that Arvin had come home already, but probably hadn’t noticed the death yet, as the spider’s body was still there. Moving quickly, Tommy set the paper bag next to the tank, checking twice that the top was rolled tightly enough to contain the beast. He then scooped the lifeless arachnid out of the tank with a piece of paper and dumped it into the trash, listening all the while to the silence of the apartment; listening for a clue that Arvin was moving around. Once the spider’s body was in the trash, he moved back to the tank, opened the bag and dumped in the new occupant, closed the lid, and went back to the trash. It wasn’t until the paper bag was crushed down into the can, that he realized that he had been holding his breath since he had walked in. His heart beating from the top of his throat as it was, he wasn’t sure that he would have been able to breathe anyway.

There was only one step left, he needed to take the trash out, just so there was a minimal chance that Arvin would uncover his scheme. He pulled the liner out of the can and cinched it closed with the blue, plastic strip that ran around the inside of its lip, then made his way to the door, stopping briefly to glance into the tank and appreciate how much the new creepy bastard looked like the old creepy bastard.

* * *

Arvin had thought that he had heard Tommy moving around in the living room, but when he went out there, Tommy was nowhere to be found. The trash can was missing its liner, so he assumed that Tommy had taken the trash out. Letting the trash get too full without taking it out had been a point of contention between them when Tommy had first moved in a few months before. Arvin guessed that it had been full, and seeing that he was home, Tommy had taken it out to soften the blow that Larry had died.

“Poor Larry,” Arvin thought strolling over to the tank, his eyes panning slowly across the sandy bottom. Something moved. Arvin brought his face close to the Plexiglas surface and watched the tarantula crawling along as if he hadn’t just recently been dead.

“What’s going on Larry?! I thought you were dead!” he asked, ecstatic that the spider was alive. He had never seen Larry play dead before, but couldn’t come up with another reasonable explanation that didn’t involve zombie spiders.

Then a realization set in along with a sinking feeling in his chest, as though the bottoms of his lungs had suddenly been filled with concrete. He had already told Clair that Larry was dead and she had said that she might have broken up with him if the spider was still around.

“Shit,” he said aloud, realizing that he was going to have to kill Hairy Larry.

* * *

By the time Tommy got back from the dumpster, Arvin had left again. He stood staring at the spider for a long moment, then realized that he wasn’t going to be able to get any work done there that night. He’d be watching Arvin and the creature, probably cluing Arvin into the subterfuge rather than getting away with it, so, after replacing the trash can’s liner, he packed up his school work and went to the library.

* * *

Murdering Hairy Larry was brutal. When Arvin go back from having the CO2 tank for his paintball gun filled, Tommy had been gone. This was all for the best, he didn’t want to have to explain what he was about to do, especially to Tommy, who had just spent two weeks taking care of Larry.

Arvin thought that the spider would die quickly, but after covering the top of the tank with plastic and using his tank to pump CO2 in, to displace the air, Larry held on for hours; it was heart wrenching. Arvin had to go in the other room for long periods of time and pretend to get differential equations homework done.

When the spider was finally dead, and hadn’t moved for an hour, Arvin cleaned up the plastic. He was so emotionally wrung out by the endeavor, though, that he planned to bury the spider in the morning and went to bed.

* * *

“God damnit,” Tommy muttered under his breath as he walked in late that night and found Hairy Larry, version 2.0 dead. “There’s twenty bucks down the drain.”

It was late and Arvin had gone to bed already, so Tommy moved quietly around the apartment. This spider’s death was no coincidence, he knew. Had he bought a spider that was already on its deathbed? He contemplated just leaving it, letting Arvin find the dead beast in the morning. He’d probably assume that Hairy Larry had just died and that would be that, but Tommy knew that this was his fault, and he needed to fix it.

He checked the hours on the pet store from which he had bought this second spider and found that they opened at seven. He had never known Arvin to be up before ten, so he knew he had the time. He decided then, his face awash in the glow from the screen of his phone, that in the morning he could check the pet store’s return policy. If they had sold him a bad spider, he should be able to switch it out and get back before Arvin got up.

* * *

The morning came for Arvin with the refreshed feeling of awaking in his own bed after so long away from it. The horrible thing he had done the evening before was forgotten in the few moments of peaceful calm, as he looked around the walls decorated only with a Thin Lizzy poster and splashes of crisp morning sunshine piercing the bushes outside his window. It wasn’t a slow morning that limped from the sleeping world to that of the awoken, leaving his mind moving just as slow the rest of the day; it was a quick waking. He had a hint that his dreams hadn’t been pleasant, but the sleep had been deep and he was fully rested.

Arvin climbed out of bed, went to the kitchen and poured cereal into his favorite green bowl. It wasn’t until he was sniffing the milk that was two days past expiration, to determine if it was any good, that his eye caught the tank and his heart sank again.

He had killed Hairy Larry.

He walked over to the tank, the forgotten carton of 2% in one hand and a bowl of fruit-loops in the other. The first thing Arvin noticed was that Larry wasn’t curled up like he had been the night before. Leaning close to the glass, Arvin wondered if maybe the body had relaxed as it started to decay.

Arvin was, in no way, prepared for it when the spider moved. He produced a large arch of milk from the open container in his flailing arm as he jumped back with a shriek. Some of the milk did, in fact, make it into the bowl but, as many of the colorful toroids were also flung toward the ceiling the ratio of milk to cereal was all thrown off.

Arvin recovered quickly from the shock that Larry had moved. When he had, he said “Holy shit, Larry, how did you-” then noticed the mess he had made and sighed heavily, then went back into the kitchen to get some paper towels.

* * *

Our two heroes went back and forth like this for a week. Sometimes Arvin wouldn’t get a chance to off Hairy Larry for a day or two, so the spider would survive longer than the others, but Tommy would eventually find the spider with its legs curled up under it. A grand total of five spiders died in that tank, including the original Hairy Larry.

After the first three, and a sizable investment from Tommy, he got the idea that maybe there was something in the tank killing the spiders. He endeavored to scrub out the tank and change the dirt. When Arvin asked about it, Tommy was so deep in the lie that he didn’t see another option, but to say that he and Larry had bonded.

Arvin found new and creative ways to kill his pet. He read that the most humane way to kill a spider was to freeze it. So he tried that a few times. He tried poison once too. Every time, when he was done, he would place the corpse back into the tank, more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. Then, if he left it alone long enough, when he returned, he would find Hairy Larry alive again.

Since Clair thought that the spider was dead, Arvin made up excuses as to why she couldn’t come over. So far, it had worked, but he didn’t think that it was a long-term solution. Sitting one night in the living-room, staring at Hairy Larry, (who was as spry as ever, potentially even more so, despite being suffocated then frozen solid the previous evening) he noticed Tommy giving the tank nervous glances from his desk on the other side of the room while sipping on some tea.

Wishing that he could talk to Tommy about what had been happening with Hairy Larry, he opened his mouth, but shut it again before any words came out. Tommy wouldn’t understand, he had even started to like the spider so much that he had cleaned the tank instead of going out with his friends one night. How would he tell Tommy that he had been trying to kill the spider? More than that, how would he tell him that the spider had died and come back to life five times?

Then he had an idea.

“Hey Tommy,” he started, “how would you like to move Hairy Larry into your room?”

Tommy, who was, apparently, startled by Arvin’s comment, started to cough wildly. It was the wet, uncomfortable sounding cough of trying to expel liquid from one’s trachea. When he had managed to stop coughing, he asked, in a raspy voice, “What? Why?”

“Well,” Arvin said, settling back into his chair from where he had started to rise in case his friend needed the to be manhandled in a Heimlichian fashion. “Clair, it seems, hates Hairy Larry and I’m supposed to get rid of him.”

“And you think I’d want him?” Tommy asked slowly. His voice had recovered, but the look on his face was still one of discomfort.

“You said so yourself, you had grown attached to him. It’ll be perfect, you can put him in the empty spot on your dresser, so you can see him from bed!”

The thought of those beady, little eyes watching him sleep made his skin crawl. He opened his mouth to protest, but found that he couldn’t think of a single thing to say that wouldn’t leave him caught in a lie. “You sure nobody else will want him?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” Arvin said, waving his hand. “You’ve been taking such good care of him, I wouldn’t dream of giving him to anyone else.”

Tommy forced a smile onto his face and nodded, thinking of the fact that on his last trip, the pet store had been all out of older tarantulas. This version of Hairy Larry could live another ten years, easily.

“Plus,” Arvin added with a smile, “this way I can come visit him.”

“Perfect,” Tommy added with a grimace.