Unintended Consequences (Story, Drabblecast Edition)

It was pointed out to me that the version of my story Unintended Consequences that was in last November’s Drabblecast Episode 224 is not the same as the original version on this site. I’d expanded it in response to editorial feedback; here is the version that aired, below the cut. (Or possibly without the cut if you’re reading via RSS)

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

by John P. Murphy

James Kennedy had stared at his sock drawer for a good ten minutes that first morning, dumbfounded. He’d never seen it so neat, and he didn’t remember doing it. But there they were: threadbare, but tidy and folded.

The next morning had been his kitchen cabinets: Peanut butter, coffee, cooking oil, lined up by size.  Ramen in neat rows. When had he done that? His hands trembled as he closed the cabinet doors.

The third day, he got home from the unemployment office and went to his desk for a stamp. It was even cleaner than the cabinets. Pens, pencils, erasers neatly arrayed. Good god, his bills were sorted by payment date.

James thrust his hand into his pocket and squeezed his one week token. He hadn’t… And anyway he wouldn’t… This wasn’t like waking up next to a bottle he didn’t remember finishing. Something else was going on.

His grandmother had told stories. From the old country. Little people who helped make shoes or something. He didn’t remember stories of them cleaning houses, but it was crazy anyway.

He worried at the thought like a loose tooth all evening. He barely remembered microwaving dinner, let alone eating it in front of the TV.

He took the milk from the fridge, and sniffed it. He poured a glass half-full, put two Oreos next to it. He felt stupid, but hey. Worst that could happen, he’d be out half a glass of milk. Not that he could afford to waste food.

He brushed his teeth and went to bed.

James woke coughing and spluttering. He was wet and he smelled milk. He couldn’t move.

“Are ye mocking us?” came a high-pitched voice.

It was dark. James struggled against something he couldn’t see.

“What?”

“Enough games, Jimmy. Give it over.”

“Huh? What?”

Something hit him in the eye. He blinked furiously to get rid of crumbs.

“I’ll grant ye’ve hidden it well. We searched yer drawers, yer cabinets, yer desk. So well done and all that, but we’re done with the games. Now I’ll ask ye nicely. If ye don’t answer, I’ll be angry. Where is it?”

The lights flashed on, searing James’s eyeballs. Angry murmurs surrounded him.

“I don’t understand. Where’s what?”

James struggled to raise his head — standing on his chest, wielding half a pair of scissors, stood a little man half a foot tall. His little face was red and contorted like a gargoyle’s. He waved the scissor at James’s face.

“Where’s the fecking whiskey?”

James froze, then laughed. He’d finally cracked up.

“Cut him.”

James yelped in pain. His big toe burned. It sure felt real.

“No joking, Jimmy.”

“There’s no whiskey, and there won’t be. I’m sober, and I’m going to stay that way.”

“Do I look like I give a good goddamn whether yer sober? It ain’t fer you, it’s fer us. It’s always been fer us, we just shared it out of our uncommon generosity. Until you hid it!” The little man stamped down hard. James winced at the sharp pain, wondered if he’d cracked a rib. “Now give it over.”

James’s mind cleared. He’d gone through bottles and bottles, more than he remembered drinking. The day he’d poured it all out, he’d felt such blessed release.

He was brought back by a sharp pain on the cheek. The little man’s scissor dripped blood.

“I threw it out.”

The room went quiet.

”And why, pray tell, would ye do that?”

“It was wrecking my life! I lost everything — my wife, my job, my self-respect. Throwing that junk down the drain was the best thing I ever did.”

“All right,” the little man said quietly, lowering his bloody scissor. “All right, I respect that. How’s about this. Get us one more bottle of the good stuff, and we’ll call it even for tidying up.”

James hesitated, testing his bonds. “Fine.”

The little man scrambled off his chest. “Let him up, boys!”

James sat up. He considered jumping out and thrashing the little bastards, but his heart wasn’t in it.

He got dressed, limping, ignoring the many pairs of eyes on him. “There’s an all-night liquor store down the street. I’ll go there.”

James pulled his jacket on and grabbed his wallet. He peered inside and grimaced. “When you say ‘good stuff’, how  ‘good’ are we talking?”

The little man with the scissor strode out onto the table and glowered up at him. “Just what do ye mean by that?”

James pulled the bill out and waved it. “I’m down to my last twenty.”

The little man scowled. He folded and unfolded his arms. “How many ye need?”

“For really good stuff? Three of those. More would get better.”

“Give it here,” he said. James folded the bill twice and handed it to him. The little man unfolded it like a map and studied it. Two others leaned in over his shoulder to peer and point. “Wait here,” the little man said, and they scattered.

James shed his jacket and sat heavily at the kitchen table. He wrung his hands for a few minutes, then looked up at the clock. 3am. He got up and made coffee.

He’d nearly convinced himself the little man with the scissor was a hallucination when they returned. Four of them, holding — James choked on his coffee.

“This enough?”

James couldn’t speak. He picked up a handful of proffered twenty dollar bills. And then another. And then a third.

“That… That’ll do.” He gulped. He smiled weakly. “You know, maybe I was a bit hasty before.”

#

“Jimmy!”

The friendly voice came from behind. James turned away from the door he’d been opening, and beamed. “Donnie! How are you?”

They shook hands. “I’ve missed you,” Donnie said. “You haven’t been to a meeting in weeks, we were starting to worry. But you’re looking really good — are those new clothes?”

James showed off his new duds — a nice new sport jacket, clean blue jeans, comfortable loafers. He looked and felt like a million bucks. That was only what, fifty thousand Andrew Jacksons?

“So are we talking about a new job, or did your rich old uncle buy the farm?”

James laughed. “A new job, sort of. Connections from the old country. It’s only been a month, but let me tell you, I feel like a new man.”

Donnie stepped back then, and glanced at the liquor store sign above the door James had been about to walk through. “Oh. James… I thought you were still on the wagon.”

James held up hands. “I am, honest. I’m just picking up something for a friend. No, really!”

The door opened behind him, and the liquor store owner, Joey, emerged. “Hey Jimmy? I thought that was you, it’s your usual time of day.”

Donnie gave him a meaningful look. “Be seeing you.”

“Uh, yeah, Donnie. See you. Hey, Joey, sorry about that. What do you have for me today?”

Joey swept the Sox cap off his bald head and wrung it as he led James into the store. “Come on in, I’ve got something you’ll like. You said last week you wanted something really special, from the old country?”

James forgot all about Donnie. If it was a bottle of what he thought it was, the little buggers would pay dearly, a whole wardrobe worth. Joey gave a worried glance at the door behind the counter, and leaned in to whisper. “It’s in the back. I put my hands on a whole cask. But this has got to be cash, you understand?”

“Sure thing.” James’s grin spread. Oh, they’d pay for that. Forget new clothes, they’d pay Cadillac money for that. Hell, yacht money. He dug his bulging wallet out of his pocket and waved it like a flag. Joey stepped through the door into the darkened back room, and beckoned.

James didn’t see the two big men until they’d taken him by the arms and relieved him of his wallet. “What’s going on?”

Joey shook his head, and looked away as the handcuffs came out. “You’ve been a good customer, Jimmy, but… Come on, you thought I wouldn’t notice?”

“What are you talking about? Notice what? Officer, hang on, this is all a huge mistake.”

The taller cop just shook his head. He gave James a wistful look, almost pity.

“All those twenties, Mr. Kennedy… Did you really think nobody’d notice they all had the same serial number?”

<<<>>>

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