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The Cereal Killer Files
By Mizhowlinmad (HBF), 2010
Summary: B.A. finds himself playing host to a most unwelcome houseguest for the weekend. Response to the ATSB "Same But Different" challenge.
Disclaimer: TAT belongs to SJC and Universal. I'm borrowing them for a short weekend pass. My thanks to the makers of every sugar-coma-inducing breakfast cereal currently on the market.
If anybody spent enough time in Watts, they either quickly got used to all the noise or went stir-crazy. Sirens wailing in a near-constant crescendo, thumping bass lines coming from expensive car stereos, the feral cats in the alley behind singing their screechy mating calls all night.
B.A. had been living in the tiny three-room apartment for a couple months now. He'd slept right through the racket the way a hibernating bear might.
When he finally opened his eyes that morning, he realized two things. First, it was already eight-oh-nine. He'd overslept.
I'm gonna be late, he realized. Every other Saturday at 8:30, he always met Davey, Alex, and DeShawn down at the court for a little brush-up on their basketball skills. They enjoyed it, and so did he.
But when B.A. turned to get out of his sagging bed, the events of the previous day came crashing down on him. He groaned.
His feet still throbbed and ached miserably. A Port-a-John had been dropped unceremoniously atop his favorite red sneakers yesterday after Murdock's concentration had wandered for a mere second.
"Don't worry, big guy. You'll be right as rain in a jiffy," he remembered the crazy fool saying as he'd been hobbling around in agony. "You know, feet are like dandelions. They look kinda fragile, but they're really not…"
Right as rain. Sure. More like a category four hurricane. The image matched his darkening mood as he pulled on a blue pair of Nikes to help cushion his feet.
Only then did he think of what else had happened the previous day.
"We'll be gone until Monday morning, tops," Face had assured him. "I got Murdock out on a 72- hour pass, but then that last-minute invite to this big movie festival in Portland came in. Great chance for Miracle Films to pass out business cards. You'd just be bored….you wouldn't mind, would you?"
B.A. remembered growling in response to that, as he was doing now just remembering.
"Besides, you need some company. It'll be like, you know, a slumber party. A male bonding experience."
Not that B.A. had any experience with slumber parties, or bonding of any kind with the fool who was probably sleeping on his couch right now. It was always so hard to say no to Face when he was on his game. So, he had, reluctantly, agreed to have Murdock crash at his place for a couple days, despite the fact that the man had nearly broken his foot with a toilet.
Gingerly, B.A. took a step forward. It didn't scream in response the way it had yesterday, but it was still sore. He'd probably just have to coach the kids from the sidelines today.
What he needed right now was milk. He'd bought four gallons from the corner grocery a few days ago, so there was plenty. He swore by milk the way some people put faith in chicken soup. His stomach rumbling, he opened the bedroom door.
"Squeeze 'em, hold 'em, love 'em…"
Murdock hummed along with the jingle for Plushable Pals, currently turned up to maximum volume on the TV set propped up on orange crates. He'd heard it at least a dozen times that morning.
At exactly three-fifteen, he'd gotten up. The alley cats hadn't done it; he was a light sleeper, even more so when he found himself in a strange bed. Couch, in this case. Frustrated that his lanky frame was at least eight and a half inches longer than that of the Big Guy's lumpy green sofa, he'd just had to turn on the TV and wait until the test pattern went away at oh-five hundred, just the way he did in his room at the VA.
A half-empty cereal bowl sat in front of him on a TV tray. Its contents were green and purple and had turned the milk a curious puce color. Murdock dug into the bowl the way a starving prisoner might.
As a rule, he was usually hungry. Fast metabolism, he guessed. After yesterday's encounter with those nasty guys in Encinitas, especially so. Naturally he'd gone in search of food.
He remembered feeling disappointed as he searched the kitchen. B.A. had nothing but weird stuff like fiber shakes, protein builders, and energy bars in his pantry and fridge. Nothing he could pronounce, much less try to eat.
That qualified as an actual emergency. Thank goodness the corner grocery was open all night.
Grapealicious wasn't nearly as tasty as Choc-o-Rama or Rainbow Splash, but the prizes sure were neat. And the grocery lady had even had it half-price. Lined up beside the bowl were a pair of 3-D glasses, a working compass, and a plastic dinosaur that looked vaguely like the Aquamaniac suit Hannibal sometimes wore.
The commercial ended and T.J.'s Tree House resumed. Murdock munched away as T.J. started talking to Droplet, his magical talking umbrella, about different kinds of clouds. They broke into an uptempo Motown-style duet, which Murdock also knew by heart.
But he couldn't sing along at the moment. His mouth was too full of half-chewed Grapealicious, and even he knew it was rude to talk with your mouth full.
Murdock wondered vaguely if he'd have to make another milk run. That last carton had been almost empty.
"Cirrus, hope they can hear us, oooooh yeah…"
There wasn't a kitchen or a dining room or a living room in B.A.'s apartment. Just one big square space that served as all three by default. Murdock, sitting Indian-style in front of the couch, was as obvious as a cockroach.
"Turn that down, fool!"
"I can't, or I'll miss the verse about cumulonimbus," said Murdock, hardly looking up. "Good mornin' to you too, sunshine."
Was it his imagination, or was Murdock's voice different somehow? B.A. decided it was probably just a hangover from the previous day, and shuffled toward the fridge in search of moo juice.
Inside was a slab of bacon, a half-empty carton of strawberries, a couple bottles of his homemade whey protein drink.
B.A. blinked. Was this one of those times where he woke up, and somehow, inexplicably, found himself in Bolivia or Honduras or Morocco? Or maybe a really bad bender dream? The kind you got when a crazy man dropped a toilet on your feet and then invaded your apartment?
It couldn't be. A second look confirmed the absence of the four cartons he knew he'd bought on Thursday.
"Where's my milk, fool?" B.A. glowered.
This time, Murdock did turn away from his show. B.A. noticed that he was shaking slightly, like a leaf on a tree branch at the end of the fall.
"If you want a scientific answer to that," Murdock started in a voice that sounded like Einstein's, "it's navigated my esophagus and is currently being converted into a creamlike substance called chyme by my gastrointestinal system for later metabolic use…"
Despite his bad feet, B.A. advanced like a charging bull. "You drank all my MILK?!" His hand shot out to grab Murdock under his collar.
"I didn't drink all of it," Murdock wheezed. "Still got about half a gallon left. And the box says, 'be the first on your street to collect all eight prizes.' How was I gonna eat all that Grapealicious without any milk?"
B.A. kept his firm grip. "You drank four gallons of my milk, sucka? You gonna pay!"
On the TV, T.J. and Droplet had moved on from clouds to getting along with new friends. Murdock was too busy trying to wriggle out of a choke-hold to notice.
"Hey, you want this compass, big guy? Or the 3-D glasses? We can make a deal here!" He dropped the Einstein accent and tried Monty Hall instead.
It wasn't working
"First you drop a john on my feet, then I get stuck with you for two days, then you go diggin' around through my stuff without even askin' me…" B.A.'s voice climbed, climbed in pitch.
"Hey, you can have all three, you big mudsucker! Lemme breathe, OK?"
B.A. finally did, seeing Murdock clutch at his own windpipe in relief. "Can't believe I let Faceman talk me into 48 hours of this jibba-jabba." He shot one accusing finger at his guest. "You better hope I'm in a better mood when I get back from hoops practice. And you better replace all that milk you drank real quick or…" He paused for effect. "I'm takin' it out on yo' hide, crazy man."
And he slammed the front door behind him.
Out in the hallway, he took a deep breath, steadying himself. The kids wouldn't want to see him like this.
It might give them the wrong ideas.
Murdock felt like he did whenever one of those sudden thunderstorms sprang up, and then was gone a few minutes later. Afterwards, there were always rainbows and birds singing.
And he could run to the grocery after T.J.'s Treehouse and right before Koala Kids. No sweat. Five minutes, tops.
Right now, there was something waiting at the bottom of the Grapealicious box.
And to get it, he would need milk.
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