“I’ll run over and grab it,” said LaShawn.
“No, hold on,” said Rory. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
We stood at the back corner of the shed, looking out across the yard to where the suicidal clone had dropped the AK-47. It was a potent weapon, and precious.
“Seriously,” said LaShawn. “I’ll be there and back in ten seconds.”
He probably would too. LaShawn was fast, and the armed thugs inside Budgie’s house had so far held their fire.
“Hmm. I don’t like it,” said Rory. “Miles?”
“What do you reckon about LaShawn making a run for the AK?”
“Oh. I know we could really use that gun,” I said, “but you’d be right out in the open, on your own.”
Rory looked at me then LaShawn, and then over at the unclaimed machine gun. He scratched his chin and then sighed.
“Leave it,” he said. “It’s a bag of sweet potatoes on a mailbox.”
(Rory’s grandmother, Linda, had once found a bag of sweet potatoes sitting on top of a mailbox. After examining the vegetables and finding nothing wrong with them, she took them home and cooked them for her husband, Des. Though Des enjoyed eating them, afterward Linda could not shake the thought that perhaps someone had deliberately soiled or poisoned or cursed the sweet potatoes before abandoning them. No harm came to Des, but Linda could never again bring herself to cook or eat sweet potatoes, found on a mailbox or otherwise. From then on in the Zanzibar family, “A bag of sweet potatoes on a mailbox,” became a saying used to describe anything that seemed like a good offer but would probably end up causing trouble. I have heard the phrase applied to a cheap all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, a second-hand pogo stick, a business investment opportunity and Rory’s cousin’s fiancé.)
Very well. Our gun inventory was down to an Uzi, two rifles and a handgun. Not so bad.
Rory distributed the guns, we loaded them (LaShawn checking that the safety was switched off on my weapons), and then prepared to make our assault. Rory’s clone crouched at the front corner of the shed, keeping watch on the house. Behind him, Rory stood with the Uzi. Then it was me with a handgun (thanks to the dead clone I no longer had the machete). Behind me, LaShawn waited with a rifle and spear. We stood for a minute, awaiting the go-ahead from Rory. Up on the hill a plover cackled; nearby, there was a scratching among some bushes; overhead came the whoosh of wings as a fruitbat flew low. Rory, with a calm focus in his eyes, turned and nodded at LaShawn and me. This was it. LaShawn slapped me on the butt—not in a sexual way, but in the encouraging way athletes sometimes do it. Rory tapped the clone on the shoulder; the clone nodded and raised his rifle, ready to fire. The bushes near us rustled.
“You fat piece of sh**,” came a voice from the bushes.
Oh no. Not now. Please not now.
“You’re f**king useless,” said the voice.
I winced and shook my head, trying to ignore it. Rory turned around. The clone ran out from the corner of the shed. The bushes rustled and scratched.
“You’re a f**king waste. You’re just going to f**k this up like you do everything else. How do you show your dopey, balls-ugly face in public?”
The clone’s footsteps crunched the gravel near the house.
“What is that?” muttered LaShawn.
Rory peered toward the voice. A drop of sweat rolled into my eye. In the bushes a tiny reflection winked. There was a slow scratch in the dirt. Rory’s eyes narrowed and he stepped out from against the shed wall. From the shadow beneath the bushes, it crawled out.
Picture a man’s foot—a right foot, UK shoe size 12. It is a sickly green colour. The big toe is twice the size it should be, and instead of a toenail it has an eyeball protruding, like a golf ball sitting on a tee. The ball of the foot has a small, thin-lipped mouth. The foot extends to just above the ankle, where it narrows into three fat strands, like lifeless tentacles dragging behind it. Five narrow, bony appendages extend from the foot’s sides, three on the right side, two on the left, like long spider legs. With short, jerking movements they propel the foot, keeping its front raised; the heel drags. Impaling the middle of the foot, and somehow merged with it, is a claw hammer. The relationship of foot and hammer has the impression of parasite and host. However ugly you are picturing this foot, multiply that ugliness by five. And it is not just ugly in appearance, but in nature, or aura. There is something innately disturbing and twisted about it. It is an abomination.
The foot crept out into the moonlight and stared at me with disdain. It grinned a wicked grin. “You disgusting piece of sh**,” it said.
I lowered my head. I suddenly felt tired.
“F**king pathetic. Why don’t you do everyone a favour and stick that gun in your mouth? Blow your f**king brains out.”
The foot sounded so angry.
“Miles?” said Rory. “What is that thing?”
“Why is it talking to you like that?” said LaShawn. There was a tremor in his voice.
The foot scurried forward a metre and stopped. I stepped back.
“Look at you, ya dumb f**k. Hopeless. Just slam your f**king head against the wall and knock yourself out.”
“Miles,” said Rory. “Hey!”
I looked up at him.
“Miles, what is that thing?”
I sighed. I knew what it was.
“Last night, when LaShawn switched on the cloning machine, my foot got stuck inside the shed door. It was all blue with radiation. We cloned my foot.”
“Wait,” said LaShawn. “No, that’s not right. Your foot wasn’t in the machine, it couldn’t have been cloned.”
I shook my head. “You said yourself the machine is dodgy. And… there was extra cheese. I didn’t see it at first. It wasn’t in the machine. Something went wrong. That thing is my foot clone.”
“Nah, it can’t be,” said LaShawn.
“No, he’s right,” said Rory, staring curiously at the hideous foot.
“Why do you even bother?” said the foot. “Just quit already, like you quit everything. Jeez, you’re useless.”
“Remember that little clone with the squished head LaShawn told you about?” I said.
“Yeah,” said Rory.
“Well, it was only about half your size. And it only got part of your personality.”
“Yeah, that’s right,” said LaShawn. “It was super aggressive.”
“Well,” I said, “this foot clone is only a tiny bit of me, and I think it only got a tiny bit of my personality.”
“What a load of sh**,” hissed the foot. “Can you hear the garbage that comes out of your mouth? Why do you even talk? No one wants to hear you, no one cares. Just shut your mouth, you f**king idiot. F**k.”
LaShawn pointed at the foot. His other hand gripped the upright spear with a tight fist. He looked at me like he was about to cry. It shocked me a little. “Miles?” he said, barely above a whisper, “what part of your personality is that?”
I dropped my head and took a long breath. “It’s, uh…” I cleared my throat. “It’s the voice in my head when I’m… I dunno, when I’m feeling… down.”
LaShawn’s hand trembled. His lips quivered, his eyes glistened with a tear. “Are you feeling down now?”
I shrugged. “A bit.”
“Fat piece of sh**,” said the foot.
LaShawn’s eyes widened, he shrieked and hurled the spear. The volume of his shriek, along with the suddenness of the throw, momentarily stunned the foot. The spear struck just off target to the right; the force of the throw buried the entire spearhead in the ground. As LaShawn shrieked again, the foot darted back under the bush, then out the other side and away through the trees on the hill. Rory walked a few paces in front of us, stopped, held the Uzi at waist height and began firing. The rapid gunshots shattered the air like a jackhammer and thumped into the trees, causing an exodus of birds and bats from the treetops into the sky. For all the ear-splitting mayhem spewing from the barrel of that stubby gun, Rory was as calm as an old man watering his garden, swaying his hand side-to-side. He kept firing. When the ammunition in the clip ran out, he attached a new one and fired again. I stood back against the shed wall with my hands over my ears, while LaShawn crouched near me, his head between his knees, shouting and digging his fingernails into the back of his neck as though trying to rip his skin off. The gunfire ceased, LaShawn muttered to himself, there was a click of another clip being loaded, and then the firing resumed. As casual as can be, Rory fired across the hill and back, high and low. A dust cloud formed at the foot of the hill, and further up branches collapsed and fell from trees—a few small trees were cut down entirely. After emptying five clips of ammunition, Rory ceased firing and stood still. LaShawn stood up, still tearing at his neck. The hillside looked like Godzilla had just stomped through it. There was a long silence.
“Useless tub of sh**!” came a distant call from atop of the hill.
“Motherf**ker!” growled LaShawn.
In an instant he was off, screwdriver in hand, racing toward the hill. He became a silhouette in the dust cloud, then disappeared through the trees.
Rory dropped the Uzi, turned and came back to the shed. It had all been so strange—I would have expected LaShawn to respond in an ice-cold manner, but this time he got emotional, and Rory, who usually would have given the biggest reaction, this time had been the stoic one. He walked up to me and put his hand on my shoulder. He had a look of care but not worry.
“You don’t have to listen to that foot,” he said.
“Whenever you’re ready,” came Rory’s voice from over at the house.
“Oh sh**,” said Rory, hurriedly picking up LaShawn’s rifle. “I forgot about the clone! Come on!” He ran to the front of the shed.
“What about LaShawn?” I said.
“He’ll be fine.”
“Shouldn’t we wait for him?”
Too late. Rory had already disappeared around the corner.
LaShawn was gone, and our all-important assault was now down a man and short another gun. But I was strangely feeling okay about it. After watching Rory methodically destroy a small patch of forest with a machine gun for my sake, I wasn’t so nervous about following him into battle.
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