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Mental was written in the mid-eighties before any of the works Grabowsky ultimately became known for were published, before the "Nicholas Randers" era, and though critically praised in its day by such publications as New Blood Magazine, it had been sitting in a file cabinet ever since until recently.  You can now find it included in Grabowsky's Diverse Tales, revised and updated, and we thought we'd present it here in its original 1986 form.  We hope you enjoy.






Short Fiction by Nicholas Grabowsky

1.  Mental           2.  Halloween 5 novelization excerpts (click here)


by Nicholas Grabowsky

(written as Nicholas Randers)

copyright © 1986 by Nicholas Grabowsky, all rights reserved

      “I have done nothing. I have seen nothing. I have absolutely nothing in common with my little boy.”

   Stan stood in the sultry, one-room apartment. He was alone and frustrated; not bored as was usual for him, as he was reaching his second year without a single roommate in this, his paltry living quarters in the center of the monotonously familiar city suburb. Frustration indeed took over boredom as quickly as a spider rushes out to its prey struggling in its web. And a web was exactly what Stan felt he was in. A mental web.

   “I remember nothing.”

   He would repetitiously mutter aloud the mindless abstractions, gazing blankly out the back window over his un­made bed at the construction workers erecting some sort of building; the sign directly across the way at the dirt-covered sidewalk read something to the extent that it was to be a medical building, but the sign no longer registered in his mind. His thoughts were beyond the scenery laid out before him.

   “Oh God, today is neither the start nor the finish.”

   The atmosphere in the room was stale; stagnant to him. It carried the same rancidness that greeted him every morning after a night of boozing and hitting up. He felt miry and sloppy. He hadn’t changed clothes for a realistic estimate of three weeks or even bathed for a great deal longer. The atmosphere was intensely warm.

   He wore no shirt, and his chest hairs appeared as one dark smudge across his chest as if someone finger-painted them on with black paint. The beard he developed appeared almost as if it was scrofulous bread mold, and particles of food were snarled and tangled in between the hairs. He was drenched in sweat, his baggy trousers wet with it, and the room was pu­trid and fusty with the smells of body odor and strawberry air freshener. There were small pools of water dispersed throughout the apartment; on the brown dresser, the worn and neglected green carpet, the unkempt bed, the love seat, the black and white t.v.. He had not long ago placed ice cubes in these spaces, hoping the room would cool down considerably. A small portion of his frustrations was that this devise had failed and the room remained warm. He gave no mind to the large fan on the rug at the foot of the bed or the closed window before him.

   “It’s not my goddamn fault they keep killing our nation’s postage stamps.”

   Suddenly, as if some unseen presence snapped him out of a deep trance, Stan immediately took his eyes away from the scene beyond the window and turned. He shook his head once.

   Twice, in effort to bring his mind back to the things at hand. He glanced on the bookshelf at the small electric alarm clock with the words “superbell” engraved just above the number six. The time was quarter to five p.m.. Time to bring out Joey for dinner.

   He walked across the carpet, bare feet stepping into the soaked damp spots where the ice cubes had been, and made his way past the bare dining table into the adjoining kitchen. He opened a cupboard and grabbed two white china dishes from a stack of six.

   It didn’t take very long, perhaps five or six minutes at the most, for Stan to set the dining table for two. The table setting was now fully complete--to his standards--with two white china dishes, two plastic cups which bore cartoon pic­tures of Pebbles and Bam Bam singing in a rock group, forks, spoons, napkins, and a vase filled with six or seven carrots with the stems cut off. He fancied carrots a great deal more than flowers.

   Stan turned to the kitchen once more.

   “Joey,” he called rather cheerfully, “time for din-din, son.” He seemed to have now forgotten the warm and rancid stuffiness of the apartment.

   Stan took a few short steps into the kitchen and stood in front of the refrigerator. He gripped the top handle and opened the freezer.

   “Ah, Joey,” he said.

   Inside the freezer was the contorted little girl, pos­sibly six or seven years of age, her pale and frigid body stiff with frost. Small icicles had formed around her face and arms. She wore a pink dress which stuck fast together with her body onto the surrounding Hungry Man dinners and ice cream and a bag of frozen blueberries.

   Stan reached inside and, grabbing her arms, slowly and carefully pulled the frozen body out from the freezer’s cold vapors. He gently pulled the t.v. dinners and other frozen foods apart from her body one by one, each time creating a tense splitting sound, and he then tossed the packages back into the freezer.

   Holding the girl firmly with one hand, the stiff body acting as a rigid mannequin over the kitchen floor, he shut the freezer door.

   “Now, Joey,” he told her, “be a good boy and Daddy’ll give you one hell of a dessert. Ice cream. Sound good, Joey? All right, now let’s eat.”

   Stan slid a chair from the table and sat the stone—like body before the place setting. He scooted her in and pro­ceeded to walk back towards the kitchen. There was a micro­wave oven in the kitchen, and Stan was not exactly Chef Boy Ardee, so he decided he would simply put in some thawed chicken thighs and french fries. That should make a healthy meal. Joey was a growing boy, after all.

   He heard a thud from behind. He turned. Joey had toppled over sideways, half on the rug and half onto the kitchen floor.

   “Joey....you shouldn’t have......”     

   He walked over and lifted the girl up, exposing a large crack running down her head where it made impact on the hard floor. There was no blood, however there was a red gel present but barely visible deep inside the crevice of the skull......

   “Joey, you gone and hurt yourself.”

   He set her firmly back onto the chair and pushed her forward into the table. He let go cautiously, and Joey re­mained.

   “Good boy,” Stan said. “Now stay put.”

   The moment he set foot back into the kitchen, there came a knock at the door. Stan halted abruptly and listened. He suddenly began to shake nervously. His head clearly was quivering.

   “Oh, my God,”  he exclaimed in a frantic whisper.

   Knock, knock, knock.     

   “Oh, God.....damn it.....” His arms flew through the air in frustration. The frustration he felt before had returned. It came back. It was here, in his head again.

   Knock, kncok, knock.     

   Joey sat still, casting an expressionless gaze past the vase of carrots.

   Stan immediately knew what he was to do. He went over to the door.

   “Now, Joey, be quiet now,” he whispered.

   Stan undid the latch and opened the door midway so as not to expose little Joey. Mrs. Spurse was standing im­patiently in the hallway before him.

   Mrs. Spurse was known throughout the complex as Mrs. Gossip herself. In person. She, by some unperceived feat, seemed to know almost exactly every detail of every individual tenant’s private affairs. She would discuss these private affairs with other tenants in the laundromat down the hall or over the phone or at bridge parties and other tenants, in turn, would know every detail of every other individual tenant’s affairs. It was like dominos. Mrs. Spurse would be the one to knock down the freshest news to the next person, then from door to door down the hail everyone would know. Like Tom Puggs sleeping with Ron’s wife, sixteen-year-old Mary sleeping with her sister’s boyfriend, the burglar who lived in l6b who slept with nobody, the gays, and.....     

   “Mr. Fienburg, I don’t mean to intrude on your private affairs, but your wife has taken another room upstairs along with Joey. I wonder if......”

             “What?” Stan replied in dismay. “I have no wife. What are you talking about? In God’s name.....”   

   “I can understand your problem. Really, I....”

   “Mrs. Spurse, I’m sure you don’t understand. I have no wife. I’ve never had a wife. Joey is here, and I ad­opted him. He’s safe. He’s nowhere else but here. You are crazy, Mrs. Spurse.”

   Mrs. Spurse drew back at the sudden whiff of the putrid smells of the room. “You’re crazy. You look crazy! What’s the matter with you? Don’t you ever clean yourself?”

   “Go to hell,” Stan said firmly.

   This didn’t phase Mrs. Spurse. “Pam is directly upstairs from you. I saw her go into the Toby’s old place and the man­ager says she paid for it. Joey moved in with her, too. You know, they weren’t even seen for months around here until there was a vacancy. You people are weird, Mr. Fienburg.”

   “Mrs. Spurse,” he told her sternly, “you are not very much liked around here. I hate your guts. So why don’t you just screw your gossip, you talkative little bitch. I know no Pam.”

   Stan slammed the door immediately when he finished, and the woman in the hall stood there long enough to catch the breeze the door created in her face. Then she yelled, “You’re crazy!!! Both of you!”

   She proceeded to walk away.

   Inside the room, Stan turned towards Joey. “Now, don’t you pay any mind to that bitch, son,” he said. “She’s sick.”

   Joey continued to stare past the vase of carrots.

   All of a sudden a spark flashed across Stan’s mind and he hurried back to the door with what he figured was a brilliant idea. He opened the door and called after Mrs. Spurse.

   “Mrs. Spurse.” He saw her down the hall, approaching the stairway, and she turned. “I’m sorry! I need someone to talk to! Really! Won’t you help me?”

   Mrs. Spurse turned, the look of surprise on her semi-­wrinkled face, and she gave a sly grin. It was a matter of seconds before she appeared at his door once again.

   “O.k. Mr. Fienburg. Under the circumstances, I forgive what you just said to me. I understand how these things are. Now, what of Pam?”

   “No,” Stan replied, “you don’t understand. But you will soon. Won’t you come in. I wouldn’t want anyone in the hallway to accidentally overhear.”

   Mrs. Spurse nodded and stepped inside. Stan closed the door behind her, and she saw the girl at the table.

   “I see you’ve got Judy here,” she said, then, “Hi, Judy.”

   Judy did not answer.

   Then reality set in and Mrs. Spurse realized what was truly there.

   “It’s Joey,” Stan corrected her.

   And the woman screamed.

   Stan rushed over to her.

   “Shhhhhhhh,” he placed a finger over his mouth and reached for her mouth to gag it. The woman backed, horrified, into the door. Stan grabbed her and drew her to him. She tried to struggle, but her senses were numbed from shock. He managed a knife which was attached to one side of his belt, and he drove it into her bosom. Her frantic screams were soon stifled by the raising and lowering of the blade. There was blood and more blood......       

   The screams were indeed stifled.

   Again there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Spurse’s body fell limp onto the floor. Stan once again grew frust­rated. His arms flew through the air.

   “Oh God.....damn......”   

   He opened the door to an older man, a neighbor.

   “It was a mouse,” he told him. “Bloody little bastards when you catch ‘em, squish ‘em with your bare hands, you know.  Leaves a mess like crushing a half-empty beer can if they’re big enough.”

   He wiped blood from his wrist and closed the door, leaving the neighbor in dismay, who then returned to his abode.

   That evening, Stan and Joey had dinner. Mrs. Spurse’s head in the microwave, blistering and popping with blood and all, would be quite excellent gossip at bridge meetings.


   “I have done nothing. I have said nothing. I have ab­solutely nothing in common with my little girl.”

   Pam stood in the sultry, one—room apartment. She was alone and frustrated; not bored as was usual for her, as she was reaching her second year without a single roommate in this, her paltry living quarters in the center of the monotonously familiar city suburb. Frustration indeed took over boredom as quickly as a spider rushes out to its prey struggling in its web. And a web was exactly what Pam felt she was in. A mental web.


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