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Today's Story by KJ Hannah Greenberg

Laboring, for free, for a ruffian twice his size, who had a horrible case of halitosis, was one thing.

The Unintimidatable Jim-Jam Ariel O’Neily

It wasn’t his choice, not even Jim-Jam’s idea of a good time, but Mrs. Preenberry had insisted. More specifically, Snorkel P’s mom believed that children who kowtowed to social fads failed to achieve personal goal fulfillment as well as gave birth to dwarves. She had, after all, read such blather in Homefronts, in Ethical Abodes, in Raising Lops and Little Children, and in other such demographically-skewed trash.

As per Snorkel Preenberry, himself, that tall, wide, dull brute was J.J.’s social studies partner. Accordingly, J.J. spent Wednesday and Friday afternoons at the Preenberry household eating chips, playing Nintendo and pretending to be concerned about the accuracy of the maps, which he and Snorkel were making, of global hot spots. Truth be told, the only hot spot in which J.J. was interested was the space between Lynnie Lola’s arms.

For two consecutive weeks, he and Lynnie Lola had been on speaking terms. Apparently, the homage Jim-Jam had paid that gal’s lifeline, Ralph, Deli Deluxe‘s french-fry foreman, by buying rounds of regular, rather than child-sized, portions of potatoes for everyone, in combination with Jim-Jam’s posting, on YouTube, pictures of the entire student government brigade dressed in millenary that J.J. had fashioned from empty Khitty Khlean bags, that is of Lynnie Lola’s social nemeses looking ridiculous, had won Lynnie Lola’s favor. All that remained was for J.J. to find a way to snuggle her.

The problem was Raymond Charles High School’s champion bb shooter, aka Ralph, also had the hots for Lynnie Lola, and was a taller, wider and duller beast than Snorkel. Plus, Ralph still recalled that J.J. had sold him, at great cost, a mere Band-Aid to cover a blemish. Jim-Jam considered that maybe Ralph’s sister, Marina or Scooter, Marina’s boyfriend, the only kid at RC High School crazy enough to better Ralph at tackle football, could be persuaded to pull Ralph away from pursuing Lynnie Lola. Failing those strategies, perhaps Jim-Jam, himself, could get Ralph drafted into the military and sent to Hindu-Kush or to Tehran, or called into a few months’ worth of high school detention.

Meanwhile, J.J. was stuck teaching not only cartography, but also basic composition to Snorkel. That brute didn’t know an introductory paragraph from a main claim in a syllogism. Yet, Mom had insisted that Jim-Jam could not charge a learning partner and that there would be further yard duty for Jim-Jam if, per chance, Jim-Jam applied some sort of sideways fiduciary pressure to young Mr. Preenberry.

So, after stuffing one more miniature tortilla into his mouth, and after shaking and shaking the Cheese Whiz can to ascertain that it, indeed, was empty, Jim-Jam spread his notebook and several of his least favorite writing implements on Snorkel’s dining room table. Their world history teacher was wise to the ways of outright copying, having successfully used Plagiarismchecker.com’s software on the entire brass section of the school marching band. The school’s football games would be devoid of Sousa marches for some time to come. To wit, Snorkel would actually have to write his paper, not just cut and paste, or, if he persisted in failing to grasp the fundamentals of English, Snorkel would have to get some sucker to do his work.

Laboring, for free, for a ruffian twice his size, who had a horrible case of halitosis, was one thing. Having to pray before and after each indentured task was something else. Mom, who had represented many clients in freedom of religious expression cases and in separation of church and state cases, ought to have been more compassionate. Instead, she lectured at Jim-Jam’s to obey all elders.

Head bowed, Jim-Jam mumbled some of the words on the yellowed pages of hymnal open before him, poked Snorkel’s fleshy bicep, and then began to divulge the difference between overarching ideas and supporting notions. If timed correctly, he would be able to get his thug of a partner all the way to a rough outline in little more than four sessions. Snorkel, however, was too dim-witted to care. He hoisted the TV clicker off of the table, hurdled the sofa, and landed, solidly, in front of the tube.

Earlier in the afternoon, before knocking off the cheese spread and the frozen Mexican treats, Snorkel had insisted on showing Jim-Jam all of the geckos that had drowned in the inflatable pool meant to cool the Preenberry’s Doberman-cocker spaniel mutt. To Snorkel, Homework was as low of a priority as was scraping off the carcasses of the flies he swatted onto several of his home’s walls, but left.

Of more interest to the lout, already on his third trip to the fridge, was dialing the social studies teacher. The large teen flipped open his cell phone as dexterously as had a certain space captain on a long forgotten television series. Similarly, Snorkel fancied himself capable of exploring strange, new worlds and of commandeering the affections of exotic, alien beauties. In a squeaky voice, on his teacher’s unlisted line, Snorkel left the message that the teacher’s eight year-old daughter had been taken to the county hospital.

Thereafter, ten or eleven minutes in front of the flickering screen passed. Snorkel determined: to remove all of the grime from beneath his encrusted fingernails via paperclip, to see if he could increase his vocal decibels while burping, and to watch reruns of a pride of lions mauling a zebra. He was intrigued with the idea of accomplishing all three goals simultaneously. Contently, he belched.

Mrs. Preenberry, who just then peeked into the room, smiled at Jim-Jam. She didn’t see her beloved child on the other side of the sofa, but did take note that her boy’s study partner was making good use of one of her books of proper songs. Maybe that lad even knew had to play the organ. There was one in the family’s basement, leftover from the days when Snorkel’s musical father had sold disposable cups and party napkins door to door instead of traveling around the globe distributing cargo planes’ worth of ant farms, pet rocks, and related products.

Whereas Jim-Jam seemed a tad too concerned with gadgets, contraptions and doohickeys for her liking, he might be the right young man to befriend her shy, small boy. Snorkel’s lack of male role models was confounded by Snorkel’s father’s international commutes. Mrs. Preenberry knew nothing of the gilded pens whose decorative girls shed more than pounds when turned upside down or of the URL links to Taiwanese anime, such as Hana Kimi or Uchiha, with which her husband maintained links with her son. She just perceived her child as lonely.

While Mrs. Preenberry fantasized inviting Jim-Jam for Sunday dinners, for June fishing trips, and for weekday sleepovers, Jim-Jam surreptitiously reached into his left, front pants pocket for his decoder ring. He turned its main dial to green. If it actually worked, he could be back in his shack, beneath his broken baseball bat, odd atlases, dented pot and dead muskrat (the lizard having had to be replaced when a neighborhood cat had overshot Jim-Jam’s threshold). He could be comforted by his elephant tusk, large globe formed from rubber bands, trumpet’s bell, choice sections from a dirt bike, map of a subterranean railroad and weeks-old sandwiches.

Regrettably, nothing happened. J.J. was left babysitting a man-child with a unibrow and chopped liver breath as well as left ingratiating himself to a midlife mom more concerned with building mores in future generations than with the means by which pop artists ought or ought not to make political statements through their music’s content and through their producers’ access to international decision-makers.

If J.J.’s mom wouldn’t wield her always powerful, sometimes painful, rhetoric to thwart such no-goods, Jim-Jam would have to fly solo to reveal how pulsing automobile windshields, whose vibrations were hidden from all but pedestrians stuck at intersections, were sending messages to Middle Eastern foes and how prunes could be synthesized to rid the neighborhood of rabid squirrels, escaped jackals and little sisters. Even those politically dangerous missions would be far more delightful in which to engage than his current situation of having to redirect an adolescent ogre away from an electronic parking place and toward a stash of books.

Inspiration, fortunately, never seemed to leave home without Jim-Jam. Whereas he couldn’t contact his international research colleagues, the academics he had befriended via Facebook and LinkedIn, such as the young professor, up for tenure, in the Department of Sustainable Living, at the Maharishi University of Management, in Fairfield Iowa, and such as the untenured, adjunct instructor, in the Microcomputer Support Certificate Program, at Montana Great Falls College of Technology, by turning a dial on his watchband and a knob on his iPod,  J.J. could cause the screen, with which Snorkel was obsessed, to be filled with static. Sighing, he considered how much easier it would have been to ask his adult cohorts to simply send him accesses to their libraries so he could get his and Snorkel’s homework finished.

J.J. tweaked and otherwise let his fingers walk along his stylus. Snorkel screamed.

Faster than he had initially bound over the sofa toward the television, Snorkel leapt to the table where Jim-Jam was fooling with watch disks. Though the goodwife’s son considered much of secondary education gibberish with which he had to contend if he failed to receive the sort of scholarship monies awarded to children, who collected the seeds of giant cucurbitas or who played the four mallet marimba while tooting along on the harmonica, he knew he did not have to tolerate his study partner’s mischief. Not only was Snorkel aware that the Band-Aid Jim-Jam had sold Ralph had had great cost, but he also knew that Jim-Jam had emboldened Slug-Faced Samantha, Missy Lynnie Lola’s arch rival, to get in good with a star athlete. Snorkel was aware, furthermore, that Jim-Jam had “taught” Mac and Doris, the Diskin Twins, enough etiquette to get them grounded forever.

Hence, Snorkel embraced the only reasonable available action; he lifted Jim-Jam up by Jim-Jam’s shirt and hurled him against the floor. The sight of Jim-Jam’s crooked glasses and the look of blood-colored drool dripping from Jim-Jam’s mouth made Snorkel Preenberry chortle. He laughed so much that it took him five entire minutes before he could spit on the pathetic critter that was supposed to be his easy pass to graduation. It took Snorkel another five minutes before he could focus on kicking Jim-Jam full throttle. Thereafter, Snorkel gamboled down the hall, out the front door and in the direction of Dairy Deluxe. It was time for another snack.

An hour later, Jim-Jam, The One and Only, Ariel O’Neily stood glowering at the entrance to that popular eatery. In intentional falsetto he exclaimed, as he pointed to the table where Snorkel was fisting fries and onion rings into his mouth, that if Snorkel hit him again, Jim-Jam would be forced to hit back.

Lynnie Lola feigned a faint. Ralph grunted from behind the counter, his soda jerk cap more twisted than his expression. Others of the study body of Raymond Charles High tittered at the thought that the person who regularly swindled them by means of confidence tricks regarding drugstore supplies or kitty litter hair accessories might taste comeuppance alongside his shake and burger.

Snorkel spit again, aiming as expertly as a camel. Jim-Jam stepped into the burger bar.

Snorkel stood up, bits of fried dough, splashes of ketchup, and chewed ice cubes spilling from his maw. Jim-Jam took another pace toward the brute.

Snorkel shoved the table aside, sending salt and pepper, relish, mustard and a canister full of napkins to the floor. Jim-Jam folded his glasses and placed them in his button-down’s front pocket. He twisted his decoder ring until the face of his ornament glowed yellow.

Lynnie Lola screamed.

A cockroach, excited by the plunder on the floor, had scuttled between the contenders. Usually those creatures waited until closing hours to feast. However, the sight of half of a jelly doughnut, frosting side stuck to the tiles, was more than the poor insect could forbear. Snorkel had been making his way through the menu, item after item, courtesy of the money Mrs. Preenberry had stashed for that week’s church collection basket. When he had tasted the circular pastry and had found it didn’t suit him, he had pushed it over the side of his table.

Lynnie Lola screamed once more.

In the eatery’s doorway, not more than an arm’s length behind Jim-Jam stood Mrs. Preenberry. Her arms were filled with: an empty charity canister, a copy of the boys’ history assignment and a CD upon which had been burned several cuts of adult anime from Japan.

That wife of the long absent traveling salesman strode to the mess on the floor, stomped on the beetle, thrust Lynnie Lola aside, slapped Ralph for good measure and then pulled her towering son, by his ear, toward her. It was in that unfortunate embrace that Mrs. Preenberry brought Snorkel home.

As she left Dairy Deluxe, that matron glared at Jim-Jam and threatened to serve him with a law suit unless he created and copied, in triplicate, papers that would appear to have been scripted by her son. Otherwise, she hissed, J. J. and his wretched family of brainiacs would never again see a library, a computer screen, a domestic helper, or a tax rebate. While Mrs. Preenberry had the backing of the local church, more importantly, she had the backing of her father, a state congressman.

The woman ranted on that neither Jim-Jam nor his inventions were ever to appear in the Preenberry’s’ consecrated home again, except to rebind the copy of Pilgrims’ Progress from which Snorkel, just that afternoon, had torn a few pages, when looking for something in which to deposit a large clod of snot and when seeking something with which to kill the ants that had begun to trail over an empty Cheese Whiz container. Specifically, legal persons, who were beholden to Mrs. Preenberry, would tolerate no further of Jim-Jam’s acts of academic thievery.

The nerd boy, with whom her sterling child had made unfortunate associations, would have, as remuneration, to provide large hunks of correctly formatted scholarship to her scion and to teach her heir, on any premises but the Preenberry’s’, how to hand over homework in such a manner as to convince Snorkel’s teachers of Snorkel’s authorship. As for the additional services Jim-Jam was supposed to be providing in mathematics and in conjugating German verbs, neither she nor her son wanted any subsequent portion.

So it came to be that during the term in question, Snorkel Preenberry failed to pass algebra and German II, but aced social studies. What’s more, Counselor O’Neily blocked Jim-Jam from access to all snacks except for tofu, whole wheat, chard, and similar gubbins, given Mrs. Preenberry’s graphic disclosure of the sorts of afterschool eats J.J. had been chowing.

At some point after his Dairy Deluxe rebuke, J.J. surreptitiously dialed, while seated safely in his hidihole, the unlisted number of his social studies teacher, which Snorkel had dialed weeks earlier. In a voice mismatched to his own by gender and age, Jim-Jam suggested that the instructor might want to run students’ homework through new anti-plagiarism software. Jim-Jam left the URL for such content and then interfaced with a yacht moored in Shanghai. A young woman, who claimed to be the boat owner’s daughter, answered. She quickly located Mr. Preenberry. The latter promised to jet home immediately to attend his ailing wife’s hospital bed.

Before taking his family’s garbage cans to the curb and gathering their week’s worth of errant newspapers from the bushes, Jim-Jam regarded his PayPal account. There remained a large number of nervous work-study students in the local university’s MIS Department. If they could be coerced, rather persuaded, somehow, to code Internet material and to pilfer data from the school’s engineering library, for him, Jim-Jam he could continue to study of nuclear proliferation.

In the interim, he had to contend with two more years of high school. Despite the exclamations of the home coming queen, the star athlete, and the spelling bee champ, in the end, social control was dependent upon anti-tank missiles and upon being of assistance to the janitor whose key ring opened all of the school’s doors.


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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