The Devil in Kansas

by David Ohle

Moe

An excerpt from The Devil in Kansas

Down a dismal street, Moe walks along, past one closed and boarded-up shop after the next. Just as the moon slides out of the sky and the sun rises he comes to a neon sign depicting a dancing skeleton holding a glass filled with white liquid.

Moe, dazzled by the light, ducks into the Bones Jangle Lounge.

At the far end of a long, narrow space, a human skeleton hangs on a stand at the rear of a small stage, bathed in a lurid red light from a spot above. Its mechanical dancing and the syncopated jangle of its bones provide lively ambient sound.

Down the center of the space is a series of eight raised tables, each with four sets of pedals. New arrivals sit drinking something thick and white while they pedal and chat. Some of them watch the skeleton dance.

Along one wall is a series of dispensers. Moe stuffs yellow money into one of them and from a hole an alien hand slides him a white drink. Drink in hand, he sits at one of the tables and pedals.

The lounge lizard, seated there in shabby clothes, looks half dead and slightly alien. He shows a horizontal scar on his chin and some scaling on his face. He says to Moe, “Nice suit. You look familiar. Do I know you?”

“I don’t think so.”

The skeleton stops dancing and a comely young new arrival woman slithers onto the stage in a beaded costume and begins a seductive dance, stripping as she goes, which gets Moe’s attention.

The lounge lizard says, “My suit’s at the cleaners. It’s a lot like that one. We’re men of taste.” He raises his glass for a toast, but Moe is distracted by the dancer, who has stripped to a thong, one large enough to support a huge cock and a whopping set of balls.

Moe has a sip of his drink. His lips pucker. “Yeah, men of taste…. What is this stuff?”

“Sour sheep’s milk. The aliens think we like it.”

*

Moe works in a grasshopper mill, a windowless hangar-like building on the outskirts of town. A cavernous, warm room, actually a huge incubator. Thousands of football-sized grasshopper/alien eggs lay

row upon row under lights. Moe, in white smock and rubber gloves, operates a set of pedals near a vat of eggs soaking in a soapy liquid. The pedaling activates an agitator in the vat, washing the eggs. Tiring, he stops to rest, looks down into the vat while absentmindedly picking at a large pimple. When he finds a loose part, he lifts it, the pimple bursts, spilling all sorts of pus-like spew into the egg vat. A loud buzzer goes off, then an ear-piercing alarm. Moe holds his ear and cringes, his pimple deflated but still dripping.

*

An operating room in an alien hospital lit by kerosene lamps. Moe lies etherized on a metal drain table. Breast transplant surgery is being performed on him by gloved alien hands.

Another set of alien hands performs some sort of indeterminate surgery in Moe’s groin area.

*

The sound of bleating sheep distantly, then closer.

Moe comes out of the anesthetic. When he looks at the heaving female breasts on his chest and his heavily bandaged groin, he’s mystified.

He hears laughter from an inner courtyard below his window. He props himself up with great effort and looks out.

The courtyard, Eden-like, lush with alien vegetation, features an old swimming pool teeming with alien fish. Whole sheep, wool and all, roast over a pit of coals.

Alien doctors in surgical garb stand around with buckets.

A new arrival hacks open the stomach of a sheep. When the steaming hot entrails spill out, the aliens catch what they can in the buckets and eat it hungrily.

*

In Moe’s hospital room, he looks again at his breasts, then at the place where his pudenda should be. He looks into a wall mirror and pales with horror.

Behind the mirror, in a small, dark room, an alien watches a screen displaying a three-dimensional X-ray image of Moe’s now-female pelvic region.

*

In the crowded Bones Jangle. The skeleton dances and the lounge lizard, in a silk pongee suit, knocks back a black, syrupy drink. When the skeleton stops dancing all attention turns to the stage.

Sultry music welcomes Moe into the stage lights in a tight silk jumpsuit. He begins a striptease, but a few minutes into the act, the lounge lizard leaps up, charges toward the stage, pulls a .38 snubby and shoots Moe in the stomach.

Moe falls, mortally wounded.

We fade to black.


David Ohle’s novel, Motorman, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1972 and rereleased by 3rd Bed Press in 2004 with an introduction by Ben Marcus. Its sequel, The Age of Sinatra, was published by Soft Skull in 2004, followed in 2008 by The Pisstown Chaos. In 2009, two novellas, Boons and The Camp were published by Calamari Press under one cover. He has edited two nonfiction books, Cows are Freaky When They Look at You: An Oral History of the Kaw Valley Hemp Pickers (Watermark Press, 1991) and Cursed From Birth: the Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr. (Soft Skull, 2006). His short fiction has appeared in Harper’sEsquireThe Paris ReviewTriQuarterlyThe Missouri Review, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. He has taught fiction writing at the University of Texas in Austin, the University of Missouri in Columbia, and currently both fiction and screenwriting at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

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