Fiction: All the Glory
By Isaac Menuza
Fields black as a monkey’s ass spread either side of the highway as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t far. Lightless farms and derelict diners blurred into a picture show of ruin. Howie Jaensk plowed through the Indiana night, his sixteen-wheeler humming a familiar tune. On the radio, a fake Texan crooned about his love of Old Glory.
Howie tapped the steering column offbeat. He blinked, eyes thirteen-hour bleary. His headlights wobbled in his vision. Fucking tired.
A bright white smut oasis bubbled from the plains in the distance, a spotlit cum stain. Eagle’s Nest Adult Superstore, the billboard said. Howie pulled his rig off the I-70. Watch a flic, empty his balls, catch a wink. Sounded like paradise. Besides, he had plenty of time—fewer stops on this run than in the past. The demand for off-brand yoga pants and neon sneakers had taken a hit the past few months.
Howie brought his truck to a stop behind the windowless building. He killed the ignition, hopped from the cab and kicked life into his joints. Stretched his arms over his head and felt humid night kiss his belly.
At least there’s no goddamn bible thumpers out this late.
Last time he stopped at a place like this, some black-tied asshole had tried to snap a picture of him buying porn. The guy’s camera ended up a sharp-toothed jigsaw puzzle on the concrete.
The entryway to Eagle’s Nest had been painted as the white head and gold beak of the eponymous bird of prey, opened wide, the tinted door its black tongue. Howie shambled through, thinking it a decidedly unsexy sort of welcome.
A distant chime dinged. Incandescent lights turned up to blinding intensity reflected off cheap tinsel strung across the ceiling. Howie pulled his cap low and navigated through displays of synthetic vaginas advertising lifelike excretions, black dildos large as a forearm, and leather straps that were either articles of clothing or implements of torture—or both. American flags hung over each row of merchandise, labeled to indicate the general items contained therein.
Aside from Howie, the place was empty. The only sound was the grunting and moaning of a movie streaming somewhere out of sight, as well as the murmuring narration of a robotic female voice pumping from wall-mounted speakers.
“Welcome to the Eagle’s Nest. The Midwest’s finest outlet for patriotic adult material. One hundred percent authentic American made. Home of the Funbooth. Ask about our juicy package deals…”
The DVDs dominated one whole side of the store. Howie hefted his jeans and scanned the titles. He couldn’t discern any pattern to the organization. No tags to indicate the categories. He pulled one out. MANUEL LABOR, the title read. On the cover, a poncho-adorned Latino with a thick mustache puffed a speech bubble: “My tamale esta muy, muy grande.”
Howie put it back and pulled out another. He startled at the sight of two oil-glistened men embracing. “Shit,” he said, dropping the plastic case.
What kind of fucked up place puts the gay shit with the normal stuff?
The muffled sounds of the streaming movie changed from panting exuberance to something different, perhaps panic. The woman cried out and uttered a prayer in a foreign language. A sound like a gunshot rang out.
“Can I help you find anything, sir?”
Howie gawked at the man at the end of the aisle, a rail-tie thin nightmare in red and white pinstripe pants, star-spangled blazer and a white top hat. A tuft of snowy hair formed his goatee, wetly mottled by brown scraps of whatever he’d eaten for dinner.
“I wouldn’t need help if you all labeled the damn things,” Howie said, rubbing his stubble. Usually, having an audience while browsing would have made him uncomfortable. Something in the man’s eyes peering down at him, though, seemed to dispel any notion of secrecy. A penetrating gaze and a patronizing awareness.
“Where’s the normal DVDs?” Howie asked.
The shopkeep stepped closer. His voice hissed from pink lips like a sprung leak. “Normal? Aren’t you tired of normal? Sure, you could purchase one of these fine works of visual art, sit alone in your vehicle and do the…normal thing. Or, I could offer you something extraordinary.”
Howie narrowed his eyes. He knew a carnival barker hustle when he heard one, and he didn’t trust anyone who thought they were special—or tried to sell it, anyway. “I think I’m good.”
The thin man’s gaunt features folded into a half smile. “The Funbooth has never disappointed a customer; however, I will respect your wishes.” He swiveled and retreated, dipping his hat under a thread of silver tinsel.
“What is it?” Howie blurted. Hadn’t even realized he was curious.
Reversing under the shimmering string, the shopkeep said, with evident reverence, “It is a pipe bomb in a closet, a raging beast tamed by your hand. It is the sweetest melody you’ve ever heard, swirling in the kiddie pool of your balls.” He grabbed his crotch. “It will make you orgasm with such ferocity that you’ll have flashbacks for years to come.” He tittered like a throat-choked chipmunk. “Excuse the pun.”
On the unseen film, a man grunted, “Eat it, bitch,” followed by a growl. Someone, an actual person, coughed behind the wall.
“Can I see it?” Howie lifted his Vikings cap and scratched above his ear.
“Would you like to? Unfortunately, I must insist on the deposit up front. If you visit the booth and do not experience the single most formative climax of your life, then I will issue an immediate refund. Minus expenses, of course.”
“How much, exactly?”
“Jesus. No, thank you.”
“What price for guaranteed satisfaction, sir?”
Howie nodded. He was tired of the same half-cent adventures. Same stretch of road, same landscape, same ratty restaurants, same tangy aftertaste of energy drinks. Same porn, contorted into a thousand silly scenarios. Did you order this meat lover’s pizza?
He considered the offer again. Scams rarely promised a refund, so maybe the Funbooth would live up to the hype. Anyway, in all his travels, he couldn’t remember encountering any place quite like this bizarre establishment. “All right,” Howie said, “Let’s see what this thing’s about.”
The shopkeep led him to the front of the store. In this light, his irises looked almost purple. Under his hands, a glass display counter held spearhead-shaped butt plugs; a panoply of condoms; women’s undergarments, unpackaged and wrinkled.
Howie handed him five crisp bills.
“Please wait a moment,” the man said and reached behind him to pull a knotted string that ran up the wall and into the ceiling tiles. A bell rang faintly in the bowels of the building.
An itch of doubt flittered in Howie’s stomach. He shoved his hands in his pockets and waited, not sure where to place his eyes. The shopkeep had no such problem, apparently. He continued staring at his customer, expression neutral under that ridiculous top hat. Howie felt almost condemned. No small talk before an execution.
After an agonizing interregnum, a bronze bell tinkled above the shopkeep’s head. “Well. We’re ready,” he said.
Howie followed him through a door in the rear and entered a darkened service corridor lined with grey brick. Industrial light fixtures flickered to life as if triggered by their presence.
They came to a sealed doorway painted to resemble the flag. Eagle’s Nest was nothing if not consistent.
Adopting a somber attitude, the shopkeep peeled the door open and doffed his cap, exposing a bushy mane of white hair. “After you.”
Howie found himself in a room no larger than a bathroom stall. Misshapen stars crowded navy blue walls. The only source of illumination shone far above, and Howie had thought the place no taller than a single story.
“A few ground rules,” said the thin man at the door. “First, and most obvious, no peeking.” He pointed one skeletal finger at an orifice to Howie’s left, something he’d missed when he first scanned the room. It was about the circumference of a baseball and fitted with a rubber one-way valve of sorts.
“Second, do not attempt to communicate with the other party. And third, when you have finished, knock on this portal exactly three times.
“Finally, a recommendation. To experience the Funbooth best, work yourself to semi-tumescence.” Seemingly taking note of the lost look on Howie’s face, he added, “Get yourself hard. Other than that, may you have a journey of unequaled ecstasy.”
The man shut him in.
“Shiiiiit,” Howie muttered.
Unadulterated silence. Howie studied the gloryhole. He’d heard of them, of course. Even watched a few scenes of big-titted women slurping disembodied cock. Never pictured himself using one though.
In the corners of the room, sticks of incense burned with the smell of cinnamon and a bitter undertone. He languished in a moment of indecision, fingers on his belt buckle. There could be anybody on the other side of that hole. Hell, could even be the shopkeep himself for all Howie knew. He nearly gagged at the thought.
Yet, in the back of his mind, a fantasy took hold. It could be anybody behind the wall. No limitation to his imagination. Lately, he’d found himself distracted by the counterfeit attractiveness of the pornstars he watched, could no longer ignore the stretch marks and cellulite and telltale frailness of addiction. They’d all begun to resemble his ex, Marcia, who was, as a matter of fact, his most recent lay. Months ago. She’d looked unabashedly ashamed afterward.
Howie dropped his jeans, stepped out of his underwear, closed his eyes and gripped his dick. He stroked it, first picturing spectral images of youth—smooth skin, round asses, shy tits with nipples like jelly beans. Then the fantasies solidified: the young teller at his bank, redhead Jane from the main office, his brother’s stepdaughter…
She’s eighteen. You’re not related by blood.
God he was hard. Anything went in the blank anonymity of the Funbooth.
Without really thinking about it, he pushed his cock through the hole and into an awaiting warmth. Wet. Unresponsive at first, but then, a tightening movement, gripping his throbbing shaft. Sharp, almost like teeth, a pleasant discomfort. It tightened further, and though he fought against the urge, he felt a rush of excitement, emanating from his stomach and filling his pelvis from nuts to anus. He shook with the effort of holding it back, tapped his foot.
And right when it became a certainty that he would blow, an incendiary sting punctured his dick.
Poisoned euphoria surged through his veins, a hot rush to his brain. Howie tilted his head back and mewled, loud. The deep light overhead expanded, the end of a tunnel, and that tunnel opened onto a field of swaying wheat, royal gold from horizon to horizon. Sweet wind caressed his face. The plains shook. The ground fissured. Girders and concrete and glass thrust toward the sky and amassed—piece by piece—into a gleaming city. Highways weaved their way through the structures like the laces of a corset.
Airborne, looking down, and the city took the shape of a yawning face, female, crying out with his every thrust. He was fucking her, the land itself, jackhammer in the stone, the soil.
Eat it, bitch.
The city disappeared, though her cries of orgasm remained, crammed into his ears. Vast green jungle arrayed below him, mountains on every side. He thrust and grunted and fucked and, oh God, it was coming now, like a roar behind the peaks, cresting, the crescendo of apocalypse. The soundwave hit above him, shrieked with joy. The countryside erupted in gouts of fire that blasted his face with heat and seared his skin, burned him from the inside out.
He came, violently, pumping his sticky seed into the Funbooth, into the hole. It emptied him, as though wringing the very sap from his organs. Billions of stars flashed behind his vision, and he stumbled backward, fell against the back wall, limp dick flopping, utterly depleted.
Howie sat on the floor, sweaty and panting, fleshy legs aquiver. Fear and shame, jumbled into an indistinguishable slurry of emotion, hit him like a landslide. Still unsteady, he yanked up his pants, buckled and zipped. He replaced his cap, which had fallen away at some point during his frantic thrashing. Knocked three times on the door. No response. Three more, in rapid succession.
“Let me the fuck out!”
The way opened, the shopkeep standing there leering, all teeth. Howie hurtled past him and out of the store without looking back.
Howie slathered his crotch with another handful of body wash and winced at the pain. He turned the shower to steaming hot and scrubbed. Even so, the smell lingered—composted fruit mixed with roadkill. At least he’d gotten rid of the pink jelly that had coated his dick and glued it to his underwear. Wasn’t going to salvage that pair; he discarded them in the trash, along with his jeans.
He examined the wound again: two red pinpricks dribbling a yellow fluid. Needle marks? Who knew what those weirdos at Eagle’s Nest might have injected him with. Whatever it was, it spun his head like a psychopathic child cycling a merry-go-round. He shut off the water and stepped out.
After buttoning his shirt—a repeated pattern of a frog playing a tambourine—Howie put his lower half together, proceeding gingerly as it concerned his swollen balls. He tumbled out of the truck stop shower room and leaned against the wall next to a tackboard of barely disguised hookup hotlines and a payphone with a missing receiver. Its cord hung like a glossy, steel rat tail.
“All right, buddy?” a passing driver asked, a blur of movement on his periphery.
Howie waved. Nothing to see here. The other driver rolled past like a fat brown egg, featureless.
Food. Gladiator hungry, and he could eat every pancake in the whole goddamn state. He staggered into the diner with its banana-cream-pie decor, and slumped into one of the hard-backed booths. The television on the wall broadcast a heavily made-up man with tinfoil hair and a lipstick-red tie speaking solemnly into the camera. Howie knew the man—knew him well—yet the name didn’t come to him, as though the blasted Funbooth had drilled out his forehead and skull-fucked his brains to scrambled oatmeal.
“What the neoliberal PC polistasi don’t want you to know—their big secret—is that they get off on hating our country.”
“Hi, my name’s Luisa. Do you know what you’d like?”
Howie unstuck his eyeballs from the television and looked at the waitress. He recoiled in disgust, scurrying backward against the window. Where her face should have been was no more than a smooth brown bulb, a virgin canvas after the painted landscape has been viciously stripped away.
Luisa’s head turned left and right like she was searching for, what? Help? Had he scared her? She was the one who looked fucking terrifying.
“I’ll come back…” she said, radio transmission from a vacant moon.
Howie rushed to order coffee and a slice of pie. She left without asking him what kind.
The hell did those cocksuckers shoot me up with? He’d done weed. He’d done meth. Neither came close to this bargain basement fever dream.
On the television: “We’re in a war. A war against the radical Left. A war for our culture, for our decency as Americans.”
Howie’s dick tingled, reanimated. He shifted in his seat as red neon flashed on and off through the window, pumping clouds of faint blood into the urine-colored interior.
Bald-faced Luisa flung a plate of jiggling blueberry pie and a mug of stale coffee on the table and shuffled away. “Dios mio,” she said under her breath, if she even did breathe.
The berry discharge congealed like week-old toe jam. Howie occupied his bubble, a thick layer of mucus between himself and the outside world.
“These so-called Social Justice Warriors won’t rest until they’ve rammed their extremist agenda down our throats. Up our rectum!”
Howie’s jeans teepeed. Embarrassed, he tossed his napkin on his lap, pressed it down, touching his erection, which only made throb all the more.
“Up our rectum. Fisting us. Elbow-deep.Working us like a sock puppet. Fisting. Fisting.” The TV personality leaned his head back and let out a series of staccato hiccups. He returned his coiffed expression to the camera, locked eyes with Howie and started moaning, “Oh, oh, oh, oh.”
And Howie was rubbing the front of his jeans, ripping the napkin under the strain of such intense motion. The pie wobbled with the table’s vibrations. “Fuck,” he whispered.
The TV personality’s mouth gaped open and he vomited purple bile onto his desk. It spilled overtop, rolled from the television, landed on Howie’s plate, an avalanche of syrupy goo. The seaside scent of cum. That hunger taking over him again.
Howie raised his fork and picked through chunks of expectorated meat, excavated a bite of pie. He tongued it into his mouth, savoring its viscid texture as it slid down his throat. Utter gag-inducing perfection.
Too late, he realized Luisa stood next to his booth. The top of her eggshell head opened, a seam unzipping with painful slowness, thrust upward like the jaws of sea monster. From it issued a wail that forcibly occupied the stifling air of the restaurant.
Howie shoveled half the pie into his maw, guzzled the coffee and slapped a ten spot on the plate. He escaped before the stomach-churning shame and the hushed gawking of Luisa and his fellow patrons could catch up to him.
In his sleeper cab, Howie removed his jizz-stiffened jeans and reclined on his bed, kicking his legs wide to examine his groin. His cock slumped like a gunned-down soldier, his balls inflated like veiny balloons.
What the fuck is happening to me?
He wanted to tape cardboard to his windows, sleep for an eternity, avoid the outside world at all costs. An overwhelming nausea welled behind his tongue. The picture of his son, Ethan, in cap and gown twirled on a piece of yarn above his head, throwing light like an SOS. Howie ripped it down and tossed it against the back of the driver’s seat.
The fuck is happening to me?
Unbidden, he thought about his brother’s stepdaughter—
Stop it. Stop!
Eagle’s Nest and that too-pleased-with-himself scarecrow owed him answers. They’d violated his mind, twisted him into a grotesque pile of fly-bait. Pumped him full of chemicals from Hell itself. This wasn’t his life. Couldn’t be his life.
He wouldn’t go on like this.
The electric chime dinged, far away and petulant. Howie waited at the counter, tapping the glass and pulling his shirt low over his waist. The printed frogs clanged on their tambourines, loose percussion above his beating heart.
The shopkeep appeared, carrying an armload of merchandise that he deposited against the wall. “Back so soon?” he said, blinking beneath his ridiculous hat. He ran his hands over his pinstriped pants, which Howie could see now were blotted with splattered brown stains.
“I want back into the Funbooth.”
The thin man’s cheeks puckered with an unbearable smile. “That may not be such a good idea—”
Howie slapped a thick wad of cash on the table. “Please.”
They held their cheap Hollywood standoff until the shopkeep reached a hesitant hand behind him and rang the bell. Tinkle, tinkle.
“What did you see?” he asked, staring curiously at his rigid patron. “What did it tell you?”
Howie splayed his fingers on the glass, counted one to ten, ten to one. His chest heaved. His eyes itched with sleepless crust and bloodshot. The robotic female voice repeated its sultry proclamation of juice and discounts and the largest ever whatever.
The storefront bell issued its call to action. Dinner’s served.
“Well,” said the shopkeep, sighing, “Shall we?”
Howie pulled the pistol from the back of his pants.
He was wondering if he’d ever have a chance to use the thing. Had always envisioned himself blasting a posse of hood rats trying to raid his rig. He giggled at the absurdity.
“Sir.” Surprisingly calm. “Firearms are not permitted on the premises.”
“Shut the fuck up and show me. I want to see what’s on the other side of the hole. What you did to me.”
Howie pressed the barrel against the man’s washboard chest. “Fucking show me.”
They repeated their procession from the night before, slow-motion death march. Gun in the shopkeep’s back, his steps nevertheless unfaltering as they plodded down the shadow-plagued hallway. He halted in front of a steel door. “Kingdoms are built on mystery, and yet your kind are always trying to unravel it.”
Howie whipped him across the jaw with the butt of the pistol, sending him reeling. A jet of blood splashed the metal. Howie cranked the handle and charged inside.
The stench hit him first, dog kennel excrement and dumpster flora. He was in an ill-lit rectangular space. Anteroom to a slaughterhouse. Ahead of him crouched a shirtless, deformed gremlin of a man who wrangled another person against the wall, forearm across the back of the neck, pressing the person’s face flush against the surface.
The little man startled, gawking dumbly at Howie’s weapon, and stumbled backward, dropping his burden. Not a person, Howie could see now, but a body, mottled skin the color of a fresh bruise. The corpse tumbled to the concrete face up. Half a face up. Its left eye was a wreckage of blood and tissue, a prolapsed fuck-hole to match its twin in the wall.
Flies buzzed and landed above Howie’s quivering lip. The gremlin raised his hands and stood. At his feet, the corpse head spasmed, imbued with sickening life. Two orange antennae sprung from the wound, furtive, searching.
A centipede the size of a yard-long braided rope scuttled out of the skull and onto the dead man’s face, rearing upward like a hypnotized cobra. Swaying like a stalk of wheat. Its oversized mandibles chittered an insectile language, a sound like rusty nails that stabbed Howie’s brain.
From behind him, the exultant voice of the thin man. “It speaks to you. The bitten.”
Howie wheeled, the gun in his hand bucking with fire. The first round ripped into the shopkeep’s upper chest. The following two rose in an unwieldy arc, shredding the man’s neck and obliterating his lower jaw. The spray misted Howie’s eyes as the man teetered backward into the hall, gurgling on his own blood.
The gremlin-man screeched and landed on Howie’s back, legs wrapped around his abdomen. Teeth sunk into the meat of Howie’s shoulder. Howie grabbed a handful of greasy black hair and yanked. He staggered sideways, slammed his attacker into the wall. Once. Twice. The grip slackened, and the man hit the floor. Howie rammed the toe of his boot under the man’s chin, rocketing his head against the door jamb. Howie brought his foot down on the man’s temple until bulging eyes popped from their sockets like party toys.
Panting, body ablaze with ache, Howie shambled deeper into the room, keeping himself upright with a hand on the wall. His head felt like a heat-warped piece of plastic. Dangling dividers separated this space from another. From that direction came a chorus of desperate grunts.
Howie shuffled through and found himself in a cavernous warehouse stacked with cages. The cages held dirt-crusted humans who rattled and hollered, hands grasping the air. He couldn’t make out their words, could hardly see them. Their faces, they bore the same blank surface as Luisa’s had in the diner, dozens of plaintive void canvases in shades of brown and black.
In the corner of the room, a couch splotched with white and crimson stains sat atop a plasticine tarp, illuminated by the harsh shine of studio-grade spotlights. An inert camera poised on a tripod angled downward at the scene.
Howie retched, blowing acidic vomit over the concrete. The captives warbled in tongues more foreign than that of the centipede, that insidious invertebrate which coiled now at Howie’s feet, etching its hundred legs under his pant cuff, sinking its jaws into his calf, his thigh, and higher still.
His vision wavered, edged toward a vast plain of dead crops above which soared carrion birds like gliding razorblades. The venom dampened his thought process. A weak impulse told him he should assist the captives, penned like livestock awaiting execution, but his movements no longer felt like his own.
He fell to his knees. The pinch and twist of legs ascended his chest. The centipede’s antennas tickled his cheeks. Its hardened body pried his lips open, burrowed inside, murmuring in its alien voice. Succumb. Succumb. Surrender.
Howie gagged on the writhing creature in his throat. The city towered over him, obsidian obelisks arranged in a ruinous mechanism of destruction. Its true form. Inescapable.
The lashing tail wriggled between his lips. “I’m sorry,” he tried to say to the amassed faceless ones, to the howls that shook this obscene reality. It came out as a ragged oink.
Eat it, Howie.
He raised the pistol, placed its hot metal between his teeth.
The structures eclipsed the sky, shuddering teeth of a bear trap, emitting a roar of pressurized heat that filled his mouth and ejected from the top of his skull.
I’m sorry, he thought.