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Today's Story by KJ Hannah Greenberg

The twins had been caught, by Lynnie Lola, their erstwhile nemesis, and Ralph’s current girlfriend, bowling with the less-than-cool Scooter Max, Beanstock Betty, and Slugfaced Samantha.

Jim-Jam’s Louse

Jim-Jam, The One and Only, Ariel O’Neily pushed back the bridge of his neon blue, suspender-wrapped sunglasses. Using the forth finger on his right hand to scratch the second forward quadrant of his head, he uttered a loud “drats!” Upon retracting his digit, Jim-Jam noticed that beneath one fingernail appeared a dark crimson smear; Jim-Jam had lice, again.

That think-on-your-feet, twirler of porcupine quills, builder of egg white-shellacked magic boxes, and assembler of champion probabilistic algorithms, expressed in pseudocodes, such as Java or ALGOL, had no time for the literal minutia of the world. In exactly six point five minutes, the door to Jim-Jam’s Make-It-or-Break-It-That-Will-be-Fifty-Dollars-an-Hour-to-You-Mister Workshop would open.

At that propitious time, Mac and Doris, the Diskin Twins, would push their tacky, clad-in-last-year’s-model-from-the discount-bin, red and purple, with a touch of gold, spandex treads over Jim-Jam’s lintel. It was not the twenty dollars per day that J.J. had charged each twin for the rental of periscopes that would precipitate their appearance, nor was it the twins’ need to clarify their ongoing confusion about the difference among fish, salad, and dessert forks, as outlined in the etiquette book that J.J. had sold to them, that would propel them towards Jim-Jam. Rather, the twins’ limited stampede, within the strictures of Jim-Jam’s charm-school-therapy-center-bicycle-repair-cum-refrigerator-fix-it shop would occur, rife with complaints, because of the small matter of missing domestic bliss at the Diskin home, for which Jim-Jam was responsible.

Mr. and Mrs. Diskin, benevolent patrons of the Raymond Charles High School marching band, breeders of Great Danes and of Standard Poodles, Tuesday night bowlers, and Wednesday night bridge leaguers, had grounded Mac and Doris, in short, because the twins, acting on Jim-Jam’s advice had enrolled in boxing lessons.

Jim-Jam had suggested those lessons as an alternative to Mac and Doris’ usual means of resolving sibling disputes, namely of defacing each other’s bedroom doors and of intentionally leaving pieces of onion skin in each other’s bowls of breakfast cereal. J.J. had advised Mac and Doris on this path only after he had collected their first day’s periscope rental, their weekly costs for instruction on civility, and their charge for the manners book he had composed. The manners book was remarkable in that among its pages was advice on: gutting squirrels, politely executing subterfuge when grabbing the last pair of red and purple, with a touch of gold, spandex socks (only during clearance sales), and using fish forks.

After paying Jim-Jam, the twins realized that they only had enough moula left, even if they pooled their coins, for a lone order of Deli Deluxe fries. This realization troubled Mac and Doris since they still owed Ralph Dupas, star discus thrower, brother of Marina Dupas (hamster owner extraordinaire), and former patron of Jim-Jam’s vinegar-makes-a-good-cleaning-agent-and-also-a-neat-source-of-electronegativity domain, for a milkshake, apiece. Worse, the twins had “borrowed” some money from their mother’s wallet to pay for their boxing lessons.

By the time that the twins had calculated their debt, two boxing lessons had passed. To wit, the siblings hung up their gloves and regressed to their former, unceremonious grappling. It just happened that Mac and Doris managed to: make their living room’s end tables airborne, return the living room’s throw rug to its initial rag components, and transform two of their mother’s best yard sale vases into more material for her mosaic workshop.

The twins also succeeded in laying waste to their mother’s silver-plated framed picture of them as toddlers, to their father’s most recent bowling trophy, and to the family cat. Despite the fact that Mac and Doris had begun by hurling the sofa’s pillows at each other, they had rapidly progressed to hurling the stuffing from those pillows at each other, and then to heave an actual sofa, itself. Only their mother’s materialization, at the room’s entrance, deterred them from taking further action.

Specifically, Mac and Doris’ parents grounded them. Such a punishment was more than horrible given their need to return to Deli Deluxe to reimburse Ralph.

Ralph was already mad at them. The twins had been caught, by Lynnie Lola, their erstwhile nemesis, and Ralph’s current girlfriend, bowling with the less-than-cool Scooter Max, Beanstock Betty, and Slugfaced Samantha. It had become known to Ralph, as well, that the twins had, albeit politely, turned down an invitation to Lynnie Lola’s birthday party in favor of hunting for last year’s pullovers with their mother during the January end-of-season sales. Such umbrage, in Ralph’s reptilian brain, was unfathomable.

It was bad enough that the results of the Diskin Family’s bargain hunting had been red and purple sweaters, with a touch of gold spandex, which matched the twins’ shoes. More problematic was that the twins had failed to discourage Betty, a freckled, freaky girl who captained the school choir, from singing the national anthem at the final spring assembly. Two cafeteria doors and numerous pairs of hard contact lens shattered as a result of Betty’s mezzo-soprano solo.

As for Slugfaced Samantha, an actually beautiful girl, whose arduous appellation derived not from her hemline (boys still lined up to drop their books near her) or from her hairdo (she belonged to the tribe of women who lived perfectly coiffed), but from her rivalry with Missy L. Only Slugfaced (and Marina, Ralph’s sister) dared to publically contest Lynnie Lola’s fashion sense. Plus, Slugface dared to make hot eyes at the boyfriend of Miss (I’ll-break-your-head-and-suck-out-its-contents-if-you-even-blink-at-Ralph) Lynnie Lola.

Regarding Scooter, Marina’s boyfriend and the only young man at RC High School daunting enough to better Ralph at tackle football, all that could be said, if said quietly, was that he was an embarrassment. A less than successful attempt, by J.J., to alter Scooter’s girth, had resulted in Scooter being topped off with shimmering azure hair. That boy glowed instead of glowered, attesting to all comers that he was a failed bully-in-the-making.

Because of those associations, Mac and Doris found themselves, in Ralph’s esteem, lower than used toilet paper, tree toads smashed between the thumbs and forefingers, or day-old nose turds. The Diskins could ill-afford such ranking; Ralph was their primary source of answers for not-yet-announced Spanish grammar tests, for prewritten English essays, and for five to seven “free” pieces of golden brown potatos at Deli Deluxe. As a superior fry boy, Ralph was powerful.

Accordingly, when choosing between rattlesnakes and angry parents, between thunder storms and angry parents, between the wrath of Ralph and angry parents, Mac and Doris had demonstrated themselves to be both sublime and somewhat intelligent. They had elected to demand of the owner of the I-can-solve-your-postnasal-drip-or-your-sister’s-love-life-but-you-have-to-choose office that he confer upon them enough money for two orders of French fries, jumbo sized, a month of boxing lessons, and two rounds of milkshakes. Mac and Doris also planned to extort, if only by causing hypertrophic scaring to select parts of J.J.’s dermis, funds for flowers and candies for Lynnie Lola.

Hence, instead of proceeding directly from RC High to home, the twins had spun sufficient excuses to cover them during a ten minute visit to Jim-Jam’s factory of fantastic alibis, differing interpretations, and exciting excuses. By the time that they got to his door, they would have exactly, eight minutes left, give or take five, to pulverize their patron.

If they lingered beyond that upper limit, as their mom had reminded them before school that morning, while they solemnly chewed their allium-laced oatmeal, Mac and Doris’ current punishment would seem, relatively speaking, like a long, hot bubble bath filled with sweet scent, rubber duckies, and soaps of graduating size. Whereas their mom had not specified what the additional consequences of their “bad choices” could be, Mac and Doris, independently, imagined: having to wash the cat, having to wash the car, and, worst of all, having to wash the dinner dishes. Even though the twins were skilled with gummy worms, were fluent in instant messaging, and were more than above average in their ability to recycle toothbrushes, they were crummy with soap.

That crumminess was what Mac meant to express to Jim-Jam, when sneezing in the face of the self-proclaimed Salt of the Biosphere, Master of the Microscope. To wit, Mac insistently shoved J.J. up against the “Don’t Park Here” sign in the teachers’ lot. Doris, meanwhile, was taking Iphone snaps of that encounter, while dictating copious rhetoric about it, in the hope that such a totem to her brother might prove interesting to Scooter and to Ralph.

Until Lynnie Lola, RC High School’s queen of panache, passed by, Doris pandered into the microphone. Thereafter, Mac’s twin allowed herself to be distracted by the amazing confection that L.L. wore on top of L.L.’s noggin. Someone had fashioned, for the school’s prima donna, a topper made out of a paper party plate adorned with fringe cut from the outside of a cat litter bag. As was usual in their district, girls trailed after Lynnie Lola, carefully jotting in their notebooks L.L.’s latest fashionista accomplishment.

Doris, who was likewise mesmerized by that site of tonsorial ornamentation, failed to notice that Mac was using his fist to furrow Jim-Jam’s brow. Heedless, Doris ran after the bouncy coterie, all the while calculating the possibility of being able to raise enough funds, before the first period bell, to buy a bag of Khitty Khlean.

Meanwhile, Jim-Jam aimed his famous anti-tank, rustproof keychain at his abuser, but before J.J. could recite the atomic mass of the first twenty elements of the periodic table or release his keychain’s safety latch, he was rescued by the sounding of the school’s warning alarm. Mac hastily dropped Jim-Jam on the asphalt and dashed toward the school’s main door. Jim Jam estimated his speed to be greater or equal to that of a mixture of ammonia and picric acid exploding in a chem lab sink.

Having survived his earlier encounter, Jim-Jam spent much of the rest of his school day collecting fives and tens from his peers. They paid him tribute for such feats of profundity as: supplying L.L.’s followers with emptied bags of Khitty Khlean; giving Scooter a tutorial on the invariance of the speed of light, on Coulomb’s Law and on Gauss’s Law, mere minutes before Scooter’s science class; and helping Marina catch the lab mice which her teacher thought ought not to have been emancipated. J.J. turned those bills into origami puppies, penguins, and grasshoppers. Though his tetrahedral chain fold was suave, Jim-Jam got stuck on a herringbone fold during a class change. Accordingly, he was forced to cram his money into his pocket like less refined boys. Jim-Jam muttered a bit as he smashed in a bill, noting to himself that he ought to have attempted to fold a pecking hen or a tiny wall basket, instead.

After school, when Jim-Jam was restored to his If-You-Didn’t-Bother-to-Recylcle-it-I-Can-Transform-it-into-Something-Spectacular Lab, he unwrinkled that misshaped note. While refolding, Jim-Jam regarded, at exactly thirty second intervals, the wall clock mounted in the belly of a whale, carved from a broken fencepost. A small, gray lizard scurried over the timepiece’s face. J.J. sighed and picked another louse from his head. Last week it had been carpenter ants. Perhaps his domain would eventually become infested with flammulated owls or with red-cockated woodpeckers. Jim-Jam returned his attention to equations full of multiple variables. That math was as easy as was pulling walnut meat from a walnut hull. Another, slightly larger, lizard scampered by.

Rapping, high on the outside of the Man-Who-Can’s shack, tattooed enough of a pattern to pierce Jim-Jam’s concentration. Jim-Jam watched as slowly, the twine, rubber band, and catgut-wrapped handle, on his hut’s door, angled downward.

Jim-Jam’s mother, whose lawyerly countenance was all but dwarfed by her overlarge, lawyerly briefcase, stood at Jim-Jam’s threshold. She bent a bit and scrunched her eyes; there was insufficient candle power in the strings of holiday lights that illuminated her son’s playhouse. She regarded the only child, with whom she was acquainted, who could simultaneously tolerate blueberry fudge, roller coasters, and old Beach Boy vinyls. Only her beloved James Johnson Ariel knew how to make dirt muddy and how to keep cacti succulent.

That Jim-Jam’s mother had not visited his hidihole to praise him was clear from the caterpillar mouth she wore. Jim-Jam had previously seen that scowl when his mom had learned that J.J. had “solved” Ralph’s proboscis dilemma with a high-priced band aid, and when his mom had ascertained that the “magical” formula J.J. had sold to cure Marina of her fear of difficult choices (like whether to wear the blue, paperclip earrings or to wear the ones cut from the residuals of J.J.’s Khitty Khlean millenary endeavors) was merely salt water doctored with food coloring. His mom had proffered that look, too, when J.J.’s advice on slaughtering pet turtles for soup was printed, in the September issue, of the Wise Owl Column, of Teens Can Magazine.

Jim-Jim’s own face altered as he realized that his mother’s brows pushed together to form a shape mirroring the morph of her lips. The last time that Jim-Jam had seen that phenotype was when he had besot his younger sister, by bestowing upon the little lass red and purple, with a touch of gold, speckled skin. Yet, Jim Jam was an accomplished contender, usually unbeatable, even by experts; he rushed to take the opening gambit. “The problem with lice,” he frowned to his mother, as he pulled yet another tiny critter from his head, “is that they multiply.”

Jim-Jam’s mother, chimera-like in her expression, countered parsimoniously. “The problem with children is that they come into the world with a feeling of royalty and forget that they need to attend to their chores. When the rubbish is left next to the house, instead of at the curb, where the sanitation engineers can reach it, the rubbish gets knocked over by Mrs. Peabody’s long-haired dachshund. Subsequently, the rubbish blows about and needs to be picked up by hand, especially along our subsequently dirtied side path. Afterwards, said side path needs to get hosed down. Get moving mister.”

Jim-Jam began to smile, but realized that his reaction might be mildly conspicuous. Instead, he ran quickly and silently to do his mother’s bidding. Jim-Jam’s mother remained in the doorway of workshop, watching his efforts from afar. All five feet and one half of an inch of her, especially her face, remained stern. As though for emphasis, she stood with her arms akimbo and her briefcase in an upright position.

Exactly forty-five seconds after Jim-Jam had begun to scoop scattered chicken bones, discarded coffee grounds, and used tinfoil, making mental notes of which items he hoped to recycle, the Diskin twins appeared. J.J.’s mother greeted them with a grunt. They stood for a minute, watching Jim-Jam hand carry banana peels and shredded office documents. They looked at his mom, especially at her pronounced countenance, and then immediately thought about their own parents. Whereas Jim-Jam’s task seemed awful, having to wash their cat seemed worse. Defeated, the twins walked home.


KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of sometimes rabid imaginary hedgehogs roam the verbal hinterlands. Some of the homes for their writing have included: AlienSkin Magazine, AntipodeanSF, Bards and Sages, Big Pulp, Morpheus Tales, Strange, Weird and Wonderful, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, and The New Absurdist. When not disciplining her imaginary friends, Hannah serves as an associate editor for Bewildering Stories. She has also worked for Tangent Online as a literary critic.

Read more stories (including other adventures of Jim-Jam O’Neily) by KJ Hannah Greenberg


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