SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
May 16, 2010

Author’s Note: Whenever possible, I try to avoid being a big fat insufferable whore. This has not made me popular among publicists. So in the spirit of goodwill, I’ve decided this small foray into whoredom wouldn’t leave me feeling too filthy inside. On June 1, I’ll be releasing my new book, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and Other Fairy Tales (Simon & Schuster, $14). Between now and then, Electron Press will be running a few stories originally intended for the book, but not included in the final collection. The hope is that if you like these stories, you’ll like the ones in the book even more, thus feeling compelled to buy several copies. So please don’t hold it against me.

 

Hippety-Hop

 

Bleary Mufflehead wasn’t any ordinary duck.

            In fact he wasn’t any kind of duck at all, but a rabbit. He might as well have been a duck, though, given that contrary to what we normally think of when we think of rabbits, he was slow as a turtle most of the time. No, the phrase “quick as a bunny” simply didn’t apply to Bleary. He also had a tendency to oversleep, thanks to his dependency on assorted over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

            Combining those two things meant Bleary found himself running to catch the subway nearly every morning if he hoped to get to work on time. Sometimes he just made it, hopping aboard the train just as the doors closed behind him. More often than not, however, he just missed it, and the doors closed an inch shy of Bleary’s pink and twitchy nose. On those mornings he missed the train, he would rant and rave and curse loudly for twenty minutes until the next train arrived. The other commuters waiting on the platform, who just wanted to read their newspapers or drink their coffee in peace, found this disturbing and unpleasant. Bleary didn’t care what they thought—he was the one who missed the goddamn train, after all, and his boss Mr. Cromwell was gonna read him the riot act for it.

            One morning as usual, Bleary was bounding slowly down the stairs at the subway station. Commuters were boarding the waiting train and he was determined to get aboard before the doors closed.

            But wouldn’t you know it, just as his furry foot hit the platform he heard the bell and those doors began to slide shut without him.

            “Dammit!” he shouted, “Hold the doors!”

            But no one listened to him, and it looked like poor Bleary was about to be late for work again. Thinking quickly, he thrust an arm between the closing doors at the last possible second. He had always been afraid to try that in the past, thinking the metal doors would crush his arm or cut it plain off or something. That morning he didn’t have time to stop and think about such disastrous consequences. He just stuck his arm in there, and saw immediately that nothing terrible had happened to him. He may not have been on board, but at least his arm was. That was a start.

            The subway conductor stuck his head out the window and saw Bleary standing there with his arm in the door. “Hey!” he yelled. “Get your arm out of there so we can get going!”

            Bleary made a show of trying to tug his arm out, though to be honest he wasn’t trying all that hard. “I can’t!” he shouted back. “It’s stuck!”

            “I can’t leave with your arm in the door like that—pull it out! I got a schedule to keep!”

            “Hey, I’m sorry,” Bleary said. “But I’m really stuck.” He pretended to tug on his arm again. “See? You better just open the doors.”

            With a grunt, the conductor hit the button that opened the doors, and Bleary hopped aboard, quite pleased with himself. The other passengers glared at him, annoyed at having their morning commute delayed by this smart-ass bunny. Bleary neither noticed nor cared; he’d just learned a new trick, and knew he would never miss his train again.

            The next morning—no surprise here—Bleary was running late again, and again thrust his arm between the closing doors at the last moment. Once more the conductor stuck his head out the window and saw Bleary standing there with his arm in the door and a stupid grin on his face.

            “Hey you silly . . . rabbit! Get your damn arm out of the door so we can get going!” he shouted.

            “No can do, there, boss,” Bleary replied. “I’m good and stuck here.”

            “No you’re not,” the conductor said. “Take it outta there!”

            “I can’t! It’s really, really stuck. You gotta open the doors!”

            “Take it out! We’re running late!”

            “Can’t! Open the doors!”

            Once more the frustrated conductor opened the doors and Bleary hopped aboard, chuckling to himself for the rest of the trip. He was so damn clever sometimes. There was no way the train could leave if he had his arm in the door. This was the finest trick he’d ever learned. Not only did it insure he’d never miss another train—it was fun, too, matching wits with the train conductor that way.

            Believe it or not, on the third morning Bleary arrived on the platform in plenty of time for the train, excited as he was to try out his new trick again,

            When the train pulled into the station and the doors opened, he hung back and let the other commuters board first. From the outside it looked like he was being polite, but he knew better.

            When the conductor looked to make sure everyone was aboard, he saw Bleary leaning against a pillar. Assuming the stupid rabbit was waiting for another train, he ducked back inside and closed the doors.

            When he heard the bell, Bleary hopped forward and stuck his arm between the closing doors. But this time something wasn’t right. The conductor didn’t take another look to make sure everything was clear. So far as he was concerned, everyone who wanted to be aboard was aboard, and Bleary was waiting for another train. He pushed the throttle forward slowly, a wicked smile curling his lip.

            “Hey!” Bleary shouted as the train began to move. “Hey! Stop! I’m stuck here!”

            Funny thing is, this time he really was stuck, thanks to the passengers in the car who, tired of being held hostage by Bleary’s shenanigans every morning, had grabbed his arm inside the car and held it tight.

            “Hey!” Bleary shrieked in horror, hopping alongside the train and trying to no avail to wrench his arm free. “God! STOP!”

            But the conductor couldn’t hear him over the chugging of the engine as the train picked up speed.

            Eyes wild with panic, Bleary hopped faster and faster, his mind aflame with terror. He tugged and tugged at his arm, but it wouldn’t budge. All he could see was the wall at the end of the platform approaching fast.

            “NOOOO!”

            But it was too late, and poor, dumb, annoying Bleary was splattered against the wall as the train roared into the tunnel.

            Inside the train car, those passengers who’d been holding tight to his paw now found themselves holding a bloody, severed arm.

            “Hey,” one of the passengers said, holding the severed arm aloft for the others to see. “Anybody want a lucky rabbit’s foot?”

 

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