What do a rubber ducky, a pack of chewing gum, a crummy bottle of gin, and a balloon emblazoned with ‘SCIENCE!’ have in common? Merla hasn't the slightest idea, nor is she wondering. No, instead she is baffled by the price of this run-of-the-mill rubber ducky she just purchased for $8.68. At a gas station.
“Wait. Why is the gas station selling rubber duckies in the first place?”
She considered diving into this monumental question, but the present danger of her head imploding was more concerning than both the evil pricing policies of International Rubber Ducky Incorporated and the gas station's questionable stock.
“Ughh, headaches are THE WORST.”
Merla began the trek back to her apartment. Not ten minutes pass before she realizes she looks like a homeless drunkard with her over-sized hoodie, scraggly hair, and alcoholic beverage. If not for the balloon. It's going more for ‘druggie’ with that touch. It's amazing what the smallest thing can do. The rubber ducky, or Mr. Duckster, as Merla has already dubbed him, is of no consequence to this image as he is safely snuggled up in the hoodie's muff.
The phone. It's ringing. Samantha. Of course it is.
She answers the call: “Yelloo.”
“Dude. What are you up to?”
“I am doing all of the things, and I don't know what any of them are. Why do you ask?”
“Dez and I are heading to Quiddlopolis. Care to join?”
“Again? What is Dez arting?”
“Oh, the usual: dragons and strife.”
“I 'unno. The thought of free food is tempting, but this headache is in full opposition.”
“Did Amer cook for you again? You shouldn't let him do that.”
“That wasn't his fault. And no, I think it's just work.”
“Well, we'll be there all night.”
“I won't promise anything, but save me some dumplings.”
And that was that. There are still quite a few blocks to go before the homestead.
“Why did I have to go all the way to the gas station!? … Owwww!”
Yelling: not the best idea for a headache. Especially not at night on a creepy street. Yes, we all know what happens next. It's the best trope there is: a mugger. Don't worry, she has experience with this. I think.
Punk is wearing a black hoodie with black sweatpants. He must be new to this. Coppers'll stop you just for wearing that getup. Anyway, he's ahead of Merla, at the corner of a typical street-side brick building, with a street lamp giving him more shadow than is necessary. Despite the punk being clearly suspicious, Merla is oblivious and preoccupied with her imploding brains.
“Yo, girl,” punk says in a low tone as she comes within some seven steps, “need some crackajacks?”
“Some crackajacks. Y'know, Big Jack's crackerjacks.”
“Is this happening right now? Are you seriously trying to sell me drugs?”
“C'mon girl, you look so down. I think you could use a little pick-me-up.”
“It's the balloon, isn't it?”
“I'll give you a discount.”
“I don't want any ‘crackajacks’, man.”
“You don't know it yet, baby, but y' do.”
“My head can't take this anymore.”
“Aw girl, you got a headache? Why didn't you say so? I got something for that.”
“Dude. Just touch me already so I claim self-defense when the cops buzz me about a severe case of crackerjack'd bones.”
“Woah girl, relax, ain't no one wanna get hurt here. You don't need nothin', alright, I respect that. Let me know if you ever do tho', I'll give your beauty a discount any time.”
“Don't bet on it.”
Well, I don't know what you think, but I think that went better than anyone expected. Merla trods past the remaining blocks back to her apartment complex.
She shuffles up to the 3rd floor, swings her door open and loudly exclaims: “HONEY, I'M HOME.”
Amer leans back from the computer desk to peer into the doorway, pushing his glasses up his nose to counter gravity. “Excellent.” Several already-disgruntled neighbors bang on the wall, yell back, and/or shoot death stares out their doors as Merla walks into her apartment.
Placing the crummy bottle of gin (balloon anchored underneath) and gum on a table, she flops down on the couch with a voluminous exhale. “Owww.” Amer pops out of the chair.
“I know you don't want to tell me why you need that stuff, but why didn't you just get it yourself?”
“Yet another thing I don't want to tell you.”
“Whatever. You owe me.” Merla is now playing with Mr. Duckster. How squeaky he is!
“What's next for mystery night?”
“That one I actually can't tell you. … The gas station sells rubber duckies?”
“Apparently. Meet Mr. Duckster. He was like ten dollars.”
“Obscene.” Amer has now opened the gin and walked to the window.
Amer opens the window and pours about half of the gin out the window. Merla sits up, wondering what in the hell he is doing.
“What in the hell are you doing?”
“I defer to the balloon.”
The balloon. Where has the balloon gone? Ah, it is now directly above Merla, face-down, with the string in her hair. ‘SCIENCE!’ She sighs and lays back down on the couch. Amer sits down at the computer, leaving the bottle of gin open on the computer desk.
“Sam and Dez are at Quiddlopolis tonight.”
“Are you going?”
“Maybe later. Are you?”
“Only if my brain stops tempting implosion. Oh, and someone tried to sell me drugs on my way back. He was calling me ‘baby’ and ‘girl’ and such.”
“That'll happen. Crackerjacks?”
“I just won a bet.” Amer has the grin of a plotter.
“What would that be? Did you just use me for a bet?”
“I will neither confirm nor deny this.”
“Why did you pour gin out the window then?”
“The gin serves other purposes. Which I am still not divulging.”
“Just tell meee.”
“I will not. Where is the change?”
“It's mine. You made me go out there with a monster headache.”
“I'm going to take a shower.”
Merla throws the hoodie at Amer. He brushes the right sleeve off of his head and continues tappity-tapping away at the computer. Merla disappears into the bathroom.
“Will Mr. Duckster be joining you?” Amer asks loudly, never ceasing the tappity-tap.
“MR. DUCKSTER!” Merla exclaims as she realizes he was forgotten on the couch.
Merla swings open the bathroom door, fetches Mr. Duckster, and then disappears into the bathroom again. During her shower, she sings songs about the adventures of Mr. Duckster that neither you nor Amer could ever hope to understand, so they have been stricken from this narrative.
She emerges some 20 minutes later with a towel wrapped around her from chest to waist. As Amer contemplates his next move, propping his chin against his hand, Merla walks to her dresser.
Amer's focus drifts to Merla at his left as she slips on underwear and undoes her towel.
“I can sense you looking at my bum. Stop it.”
“I would do no such thing” he says drone-like as he ponders this and that.
Merla dons an over-sized t-shirt, walks over to Amer, and shakes his chair.
“Roland made that bet, didn't he?”
“Ludi-crous. Are- you- feeling- any- better- yet?”
“Not really. And why are you wearing my glasses?”
Amer spins around. “Aren't I adorable?” He is trying to look cute to the best of his ability.
“No more than you were” she says as she plucks them away from his face and slides them onto her own.
Merla sits down on the couch and combs her hair. Amer stands, dons the hoodie previously thrown at him, and struggles to chew about six sticks of gum simultaneously. Once at a satisfying consistency, he stabs a small hole in the balloon, squeezes its contents into the gin bottle, quickly clogs the spout with gum, and screws the cap back on. Merla sits slack-jawed wondering again what in the hell he is doing.
He inhales a bit of the helium directly from the balloon and says “I'm going out for a bit.”
“I won't ask. Watch out for the crackerjack dealers.”
Amer quietly leaves the apartment with helium-gin in hand and bounds down the stairs. Merla watches the balloon slowly deflate and rest on the ground.
To be continued…