The Brothers Snuff (short story)

It was a few minutes before three o’clock in a subterranean shack with the atmosphere of a halfway house and the twin stenches of overcooked chicken and undercooked red meat.  Chad, the only minor currently living in the shack, swung open the hinged trapdoor, having returned from his primary stressor, Fairview Junior High.  Inside, his father, Esau Snuff placed a sticky pan full of three Farmer John’s hot dogs (swiped from a Junior Dodgers game at the barren park across the street) onto a dusty black stove with thick ungloved hands the size of baseball mitts.

“So, Dad, how’d that contest go?” Chad wondered, as the unibrowed man before him turned the stove’s dial.  A failed butcher, Esau’s unkempt, dandruff-laden hair was as crimson and raw as the rare meat he served.  Scattered samplings of that rawness formed the stubble on each one of Esau’s chins.  The day before, he had entered the famous “Fairview-Longview White Rapper Tourney” to build his confidence and possibly raise his work possibilities.

“Terrible.  General Jamin chose that dag L-Roy guy instead of me.  He said I dance like an organ-grinder’s monkey and rap like a cow.[1]  Speaking of which, General Jamin also sent me some rare double chocolate orangutan milk from his vacation in Borneo, but he didn’t know I was allergic to chocolate and lactose intolerant.  Want it?”
“No thanks, Dad,” Chad muttered, with a single class on his mind.  His history teacher, Ms. Howell, adored by only the haughtiest members of that class, was driving him mad with her chronic ravings, most recently denouncing the Eiffel Tower as “Socialist Euro-trash” while her students struggled to comprehend Camus.

“Something wrong there?” said Esau, scowling at Chad’s unwillingness to taste General Jamin’s questionable imported chocolate dairy product.  “Say, I forgot to tell you, Uncle Dathan called.”

Chad stared.  “Why’d Uncle Dathan call?”  Esau had two brothers, Dathan and Abiram.  Dathan, who operated a successful albeit unconventional psychotherapy business, was the eldest of the three and the only one currently married.  Though Abiram had hastily earned a Jesuit priesthood at I Can’t Believe It’s a Seminary in Harmony, California, most of his income came from a terrible cartoon aimed towards a two to eleven-year old audience.  This animated piece of slime starred veteran voice actor Rodger Bumpass as a self-pitying anthropomorphic burrito who once consumed his taco fiancée, a feat that Esau was not entirely unfamiliar with.  However, of his two brothers, Esau liked Dathan the least.

“Oh, his son Randy’s your age, and Uncle Dathan feels you two should get to know each other better.  I disagree, but I’m not the psychotherapist here.”  Esau turned down the stove, and put one of the three deformed frankfurters on Chad’s empty pink plate.  “You know, I think if I had chosen a better rap name, they may have given me a chance.  ‘Esinem’ just sounds so—so bland.”

“Good to hear, Dad.  When do Uncle Dathan and Randy want us to come there?”

“Tomorrow morning at six.”

“Six?  What the hey?  That’s too early!”

“Well, don’t blame me, blame yer Uncle Dathan.”  Esau shrugged his hulking shoulders and slouched to his lonesome bedroom.

*                                              *                                              *

“Rise and shine, Chad,” said Esau, as he casually stormed into Chad’s room, licking orange chicken grease off his wide fingers.

Chad quickly got out of bed, got dressed in the first garments he could find (including a XXL Cal State San Dominguez long-sleeve shirt that Esau accidentally tossed into Chad’s laundry load instead of his), and followed Esau to the family truck.

Dathan Snuff’s house was located in Vista del Diablo, a once-gated community which had accepted too many former hippies who eventually voted for making the neighborhood more inclusive.  Nonetheless, from the Wall Street Journal on Dathan’s manicured lawn, it appeared that these Snuffs were one of the more conservative families living in Vista del Diablo; despite their patriarch’s oh-so tragic nouveau riche upbringing (neither Esau nor Chad could speak for the socioeconomic background or any other information regarding Dathan’s wife Dinah besides her marital status and first name).

As he pondered the mysterious Dinah while staring into the windows of his estranged brother’s Victorian home, Esau turned to Chad, half-trembling.  “You know, I changed my mind.  I really don’t think I can face Dathan after what I did to him.  You go inside.  I’ll pick you up in time for school.”

“What the hey are you talking about?” yelled Chad at his deadbeat dad.

“Look, kid.  I didn’t go to Dathan’s wedding, and he’s gonna yell at me for it if I go there.  It was before you were born, of course, back when I was still a wee bit of a workaholic, and I just couldn’t leave the butcher shop.  Now, get out of my car.”

“What the h–”

“GET!” screamed Esau, thrusting his massive chicken-encrusted hands toward the face of his son, who ran in a fit of terror through Dathan’s unlocked front door.  Esau’s lime green pickup truck sped out of the driveway, the “BEFETER” vanity license plate which had put Esau in debt mooning the Victorian house.

Dathan, a short, wiry balding man with thick designer eyeglasses, extended a surprisingly slim and feeble hand toward his never-before-seen nephew.  “I’m Dathan!” he assured Chad, seemingly forgetting his status as an uncle.  “This is my wife, Dinah.”  The gold digging blonde bimbo which Esau had spent years envisioning was a frumpy stout brunette who resembled Esau more than Dathan did.  Dinah pointed her cigarette in the direction of their redheaded offspring, Randy.  “And this is our adopted son, Randy McLain!”  Though Randy had a bratty appearance, Chad didn’t blame him for refusing to become a Snuff upon his adoption.  As he and Esau had never owned a television (Esau’s impulsive purchase of his license plate made additional luxuries next to impossible), the daily “Snuffalupagus” taunts which Chad endured throughout elementary school confused him until he finally gained the nerve to ask his bully in fifth grade.

“Hiya, Chazz!” snickered Randy.

“Uh, it’s Chad.  You know, like ‘hanging chad,’ ‘pregnant chad…’”

“Pregnant chad!  That’s rich!”  Though they were not oblivious to it, Dathan and Dinah ignored their son’s teasing of his cousin.

“And where’s your father, Chad?” asked Dinah, just before her current Kool cigarette caused her to cough five times.

“Probably leading the neighbors into his slaughterhouse out back,” muttered Dathan.

“Dathan!” scolded Dinah while Chad flinched.  “How can you speak of your own brother in such a way?  I never speak that way about Ruben; I’ll have you know…”

“Don’t worry, this is typical Dathan and Dinah,” said Randy, his freckled face unchanged.  “Let’s go downstairs, Chazz, so I can introduce you to somebody much more interesting.”  Randy led Chad to a corridor with faux flowers on the sidelines.  At the end of the hallway was a door with a poster reading “Randy’s Castle” nailed to it.  The design of the poster was nearly identical to that of a White Castle advertisement, though Chad doubted that any of these yuppie Snuffs indulged in fast food like he and Esau did.[2]

Upon opening the door, Chad caught the eye of a beautiful girl in her mid-teens with curly auburn hair, a floor-length green dress, and a loose crucifix necklace upon which an infrared light sluggishly blinked.  “Chad, meet Gloria.  Gloria, meet Chad.”

Before slithering up to Chad, Gloria took a delicate sip of champagne from what appeared to be a beaker.  “Want the rest?” she purred.  Chad whimpered, having been unexposed to alcohol consumption for his entire life.

A confused Gloria shot a glance at Randy.

“He’s nervous,” confirmed Randy.

“Just pretend it’s apple cider,” said Gloria, bringing the beaker to Chad’s lips.

“Or gravy!” exclaimed Randy, his gray eyes lighting up.

Chad obeyed the young woman.  As he sipped the alien liquid, he overheard the voices of Dathan and Dinah alternately arguing and giggling.

“So, Chad, I take it there are other things you haven’t done,” whispered Gloria, placing her forefinger on Chad’s shoulder.

“You mean…” gasped Chad.

“Gloria and I do it all the time,” snickered Randy.

“Don’t tell him that!” yelled Gloria, shoving the obnoxious redhead.  She then resumed her obvious seduction of the newcomer.  “Now, Chad, Randy tells me your dad works in the meat business.”

*                                  *                                  *

“What’s taking Chad so long?” snapped Esau as his dumpy truck lingered in the driveway.  The last few bites of a double grease-burger sat in his lap.  Finally, Chad sprinted outside, his wrinkled Cal State Dominguez shirt sharply twisting in the wind.

“Well, I’ll be,” muttered Esau.  “You look deathly pale, Chad.  Have the rest of my ol’ In-Out burger.”

“No thanks, Dad.  I ate enough at Dathan’s.  There was enough food to go around.”

“Lucky rich brat.  Probably 200 tons of rabbit food, right?”  Esau started the car, and Chad reminisced about the wicked things he had done with the temptress Gloria.

“Dad, it’s half-past nine!  I’m late for school!” squealed Chad.

“Well, don’t blame me.  You’re the one who wasted all that time eating vegetables with Dathan and his trophy wife,” said Esau.  “Must be one spoiled kid, that Randy.”

“You never told me he was adopted,” said Chad.

“How the hey should I have known?  Adopted…he’s probably European royalty or something.  One of those hemophiliac brats…”

*                                              *                                              *

Clenching a tardy slip embellished with a few tiny anxiety-induced doodles, Chad walked into Ms. Howell’s classroom, anticipating more conspiracy theories from the schoolteacher rumored to be the daughter of the Millionaire and his wife from Gilligan’s Island (again, Chad was lost on the pop culture reference).  However, an irate Ms. Howell promptly pushed him to the wall, grabbing his tardy slip.  “I know what you did to my daughter Gloria,” she barked through clenched teeth, “and I’ve already told your dad.”  Several students giggled, and were not shushed by Ms. Howell.  “He should be arriving any minute now.”

Esau Snuff opened the door, his giant beef-encrusted hands scratching his potato-shaped head in confusion.  “Surely there must be some mistake!” he persuaded the gray-haired middle-aged woman.

“How on Earth did you know my Christian name?” asked Ms. Shirley Howell.  “You’re a very bad father, Mr. Snuff.”  She flashed a confident smile at the giggling group of junior high students, unaware of the massive hands that were lunging toward her.  Before she could speak another word to Chad, Esau, or the more obedient members of her class, Ms. Shirley Howell’s frail, bony body fell to the floor, where said bones were violently gnawed by Esau Snuff.

*                                              *                                              *

“For the murder and attempted devouring of Shirley Howell, I sentence Esau Snuff to thirty-seven years in the Fairview-Longview Penitentiary,” said Judge O’Hare.

The Judge summoned a pleasantly plump bespectacled social worker named Rachael Flannigan.  With a slight tear in her eye but attempting to maintain a stoic persona, Rachael approached Chad Snuff, the criminal’s thirteen-year old son.

“Chad, I’m here to take you away from your father.  As your father has two brothers living close to your current residence” (the word “close,” of course, was limited to geographical distance regarding the Brothers Snuff), “I have assigned you the choice of living with your Uncle Dathan and Aunt Dinah, or your Uncle Abiram.”

Chad only had to picture Randy’s menacing freckled face before he spoke the exotic three-syllable name of his latter uncle.

“Abiram it is.”  Rachael and Chad promptly left the courtroom, where Esau Snuff cursed in the direction of the son he had just lost custody of, his huge fists shaking wildly in anger through the choke-holds of rusty handcuffs.

*                                              *                                  *

Rachael Flannigan applied lipstick as she reached a tiny condo which presumably belonged to Abiram Snuff.

“What the hey?  This can’t be the place,” said Chad.  “My uncle Abiram’s a successful cartoonist.  He’d never be caught living here!”

“Hmmm,” said Rachael.  She rang the doorbell.

An aging beatnik directed his tired eyes at Rachael.  “Miss Flannigan, I presume?  I’m Abiram Snuff, Chad’s uncle.  Come on in, Chad.”  He gazed into the bewildered face of his nephew.

Abiram’s house was a little more opulent inside, but nowhere near the degree of Dathan’s abode.  The walls were littered with sketches by famous cartoonists such as Carl Barks and Walter Lantz, and Abiram possessed the biggest vinyl collection Chad had ever viewed.  “So sorry I haven’t been a part of your life thus far.  I’ve been very withdrawn from society since my own awful custody battle.  I lost half of my art and music collections that way, and I bet Shirley threw them all out.  For the love of Pete, I never should have married such a religious zealot!”

This news was too horrible to be true.  The revelation that Gloria’s mother was Mrs. Howell was bad enough, but…

“I knew Shirley having twins would be a bad sign from the start,” said Abiram.

Twins?  Ms. Howell had never mentioned having another daughter.  Hopefully this was another Shirley.  Chad nervously tried to evade his disturbing thoughts, picking up a random book from Abiram’s library, a first edition of Victoria Lucas’ The Bell Jar[3].

The door opened again, and a young woman appeared.  Though she wore thick and only mildly stylish wireframe glasses, a denim jacket, rainbow shorts, flower-patterned Doc Martens, and a golden necklace with the world’s tiniest electric chair as a charm, the glistening auburn hair was unmistakable.  Chad knew exactly what shapes lurked beneath those modest garments.  Before Abiram could introduce his daughter Sophia, Chad sprinted into what appeared to be the condo’s only bathroom, taking The Bell Jar with him.

But this particular chamber wasn’t entirely a bathroom.  The front half contained ugly white tiles in a complex but repetitive series of designs, some which resembled a backwards swastika, and was dedicated to a shower and a urinal, both made from mahogany.  Halfway across the room, the flooring turned to maroon carpet, upon which a pewter desk containing partially-opened drawers overflowing with crumpled multicolored papers faced a small window, from which Chad could see a pleasant view of two more condos.

Chad discarded his current thoughts of eternal self-harm, flinging The Bell Jar atop the rusted metallic desk.  He then noticed a series of manila folders in the most ajar drawer, which were sloppily labeled in Abiram’s chicken scratch and not alphabetized in the slightest.  Thankfully, Chad had inherited his uncle’s scrawl, so it was legible to only the two of them and perhaps a couple other Snuff family members.  Chad softly chuckled as he wondered whether Abiram’s seventh grade English teacher had criticized his penmanship as harshly as Mrs. Howell had Chad’s, until he realized that he was thinking ill of the recently devoured.  Quickly and not entirely discreetly, Chad moved the majority of Abiram’s files onto the desk.

The first file was labeled “Lumpy Herrera Ep 101,” the second was “Lumpy Herrera Ep 102,” and so on.  There were only 27 “eps” of Abiram’s children’s cartoon Lumpy Herrera to date, culminating in “Lumpy Herrera Ep 214.”  The 28th file, however, contained a rough draft of the pilot to Abiram Snuff’s untitled potential second animated series, labeled “Almonds Are a Squirrel’s Best Friend” in thin green India ink.

Chad sifted through the contents of “Almonds.”  Abiram couldn’t draw a squirrel if his life and that of his daughters (the taste of vomit spread through Chad’s mouth like a cancer as he pictured Gloria alongside her separated neo-hippie identical twin) depended upon it, thought Chad, holding up a pathetic scribble resembling a bucktoothed spider monkey crossed with an emaciated koala etched on fragile parchment with that same weak green pen.  What would the South Korean animators say? Chad asked himself as he read a sticker on the back of the parchment reading, “For Seoul.”  Nobody would accept such a frail sketch for a pilot.  Chad dug through the drawers for a superior piece of parchment, upon which he would draw his own cartoon for the Koreans to animate.

*                                              *                                              *

“I swear to Shiva on Grandfather’s grave,” murmured Sophia Howell-Snuff in a monotone fraternal to Gloria’s, “Cousin Chad is the family curse I told you about.”

Refusing to face his daughter, Abiram scratched his well-groomed goatee while adjusting a particularly crooked black-and-white print of Woody Woodpecker on the nearest wall.  “Abiram, Sr. is so far from resting peacefully in his grave due to his three sons’ deviations from his humble Northern Oregonian logger-type lifestyle, that he doesn’t need to deal a curse or his granddaughter swearing to Shiva on it,” he bitterly explained to Sophia, who bit her studded bottom lip and pulled back her magnificent waist-length hair while she experienced lysergic visions of a nightmarish Snuff family future which appeared to be soon to come.

“Tell me, Shiva, what does Uncle Esau look like?” asked Sophia as she envisioned a crude line drawing of an angry, grungy looking pea-green man, wider than he was tall, with spaghetti noodles for arms and hands the size of boulders.  This unsophisticated figure was very unlike the marvelous watercolor paintings which adorned Sophia’s bedroom and bathroom.  Both rooms were hidden at the end of a series of catacombs underneath the condo’s rug which housed the tombstones of both of Abiram’s parents, as well as a fourth Snuff brother who had died in infancy when Esau, three years old at the time, attempted to “burp” the baby.  Though Sophia’s sleeping quarters were physically distant from her father’s, the two were emotionally close.  Sophia delighted in sharing her precocious artwork with her father, who regularly submitted them to the Korean animators in place of his own feeble work.  Sophia not only created the final design to the outrageous famed burrito character, Lumpy Herrera himself, but she dreamed up the entire concept during a particularly savage case of the munchies, caused not by cannabis inhalation but by the consumption of purple snow.

Sophia’s uncredited contributions to the weary little world of children’s animation ended there, but she could have been more prolific.  Before Sophia’s cousin Chad replaced Abiram’s latest creation with horrid simplistic sketches of every last living member of his quirky family tree (Chad inherited not only Abiram’s unimpressive penmanship but the unimpressive doodling style which made Abiram a secret fraud constantly seeking designs from his own sixteen-year old daughter), Sophia was to envision the entire village of tree-dwelling humanoid rodents which were to star in “Almonds Are a Squirrel’s Best Friend.”

Sophia stayed trapped within her psyche for several more hours (her Uncle Dathan, her psychotherapist, had instantaneously diagnosed her with catatonia), until she was awoken by the footsteps of a postal worker outside the condo.  She then made a cross-town telephone call and descended down to the Snuff family catacombs.

Coughing and whining from fatigue, Randy McLain emerged before Sophia.  “I like what you’ve done with your lip,” he grinningly explained to his indifferent cousin.

“Cut it out, Rand,” snapped Sophia, stomping on a couple catacomb silverfish.  “You know I’m not like Gloria, Shiva bless her troubled soul.  My electric chair necklace should have cleared that up by now.  It’s making fun of hypocrites like her and my mom—actually, it’s just making fun of Christians in general.  Crucifixes and electric chairs are both torture devices, get it?  And I find it sickening that you’re so magnetized by your own cousins.  It’s incest, dude.”

Randy scowled.  “Yeah, well, hey, I’m adopted.  I’m not family.”  He eyed the tombstone of Abiram Snuff, Sr.  “None of these people mean a lick of crud to me.”

“Well, then bring my sister here,” said Sophia.  “True, she may have not been raised by a brother Snuff like you, but she is a Snuff biologically.”

“I have her where I want her,” snickered Randy, and lit one of Dinah’s Kools.

*                                              *                                              *

Abiram sat in the torn black armchair at the end of his library, simultaneously waiting for Chad and Sophia to return to his house, and for a call from veteran voice actor Rodger Bumpass who was contractually entitled to voice the main character in “Almonds Are a Squirrel’s Best Friend,” though Abiram was getting sick of Bumpass and dreamed of hiring Mark Hamill for the role.

Suddenly, Chad opened the back door, looking more disheveled than ever.

“Chad!  Where the hey were you?” asked Abiram.

“Just came back from the post office.  Had to mail my Dad some, uh, double chocolate tangerine milk from Australia.  Orangutan milk.  This one rapper he’s friends with, L-Roy Jenkins, uh, he gave it to me to send to him in the Fairview-Longview Penit—Peniten—Prison.”

“Australia, huh?  I’ve always wanted to go,” said Abiram.  “Always seemed like the Canada of Europe.”

“Australia’s its own continent,” replied Chad.  “Actually it’s Australia and New Zealand.  You know, the place where The Hobbit was filmed.”

“Oh, was it New Zealand I was thinking of?  That’s right,” said Abiram.  “Because there’s a screenshot of the European flag on theirs.  You’re a sharp kid, Chad.  Have you ever considered working in cartooning?  We could use more cartoonists like you, what with Seth MacFarlane and all.”

“Ouch!” squealed a voice from downstairs.  Sophia staggered into the library from the hinged trapdoor which led into the catacombs.  “I just tripped on your mother’s grave,” she hissed at Chad, shaking some soot and silverfish out of her waist-length auburn hair.

“Sophia, I haven’t gotten around to telling Chad about his mother,” said Abiram.  “I was planning on taking the two of you out to Weenie Wednesday’s tonight so we could discuss that and a few other things.  And what’s that little ornament around your neck?  Is that an electric chair?  Have you been listening to my old Lenny Bruce records again?  You know, sometimes I wish I had gotten custody of Gloria instead of you.  I ran into her at Vons a couple nights ago and she was just as polite as I would have raised her to be.  I hate Fairview and Longview’s custody laws.  Even when your mother died, I didn’t regain custody of my own daughter!  Why should she live with Dathan when I’m her own flesh and blood father?”  Chad groaned, and Abiram raised the left side of his unibrow at him before shaking his head toward Sophia.  “Just because I got booted from the priesthood doesn’t mean I never joined it, and I can make you get down on your knees and confess your sins to me, little lady!”  Chad silently blinked at Abiram in disbelief.  “I was in the priesthood for several years.  Father Albert, they called me.  Abiram is a Hebrew name already, one of the two followers of Korah during the uprising against Moses.  He gets swallowed by the earth and sent to Hey for his misdeeds, so I figured I should choose a more Biblically pleasant name.  And then I was thinking, there was that song by Paul McCartney solo or Wings (I could never tell the difference), ‘Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.’  So I changed my name to Father Albert as a slight hawmidge to McCartney.”

“That song stinks,” muttered Sophia.

“Fine.  You don’t get to go to Weenie Wednesdays with me and Chad tonight!” yelled Abiram.  “Go to your room, and try not to trip over any graves in the catacombs on the way there!”

Sophia spit at her father’s feet as she proceeded to limp down to her bedroom.  “I hope ‘Almonds’ never gets picked up by a single network!” she screamed.  “I’m going to give all of my drawings to Seth MacFarlane from now on!  Then you’ll really wish I was more like Gloria!”

Abiram eyed Sophia’s slobber.  “It looks like there are traces of purple snow in here,” he murmured.  As he bended over to get a better look, his cell phone vibrated in his back pocket, and he hurriedly reached behind to answer it.

“Rodger, you old swine!  What did you think of ‘Almonds?’  What, you didn’t get it?  Lost in the mail?  Seoul lives just across town!  Preposterous!  Fred Seoul, 613 Vista del Diablo, Longview…what, did they try to mail it to South Korea?  Knuckleheads, they’re all incompetent.  This isn’t the first pilot I’ve made that’s been lost in the mail.  Yeah, you remember ‘Preston the Dinosaur’ too.  Kind of glad it got lost, it was a tad too X-rated for a deacon to have his name all over, even if MacFarlane did do most of the work.  Listen, I gotta get my kid to Weenie Wednesdays.  It’s a hot dog place in Longview.  Chow down.

“Sorry about that, Chad,” said Abiram.  “You’ve been to Weenie Wednesdays before, right, Chad?  With a dad like Esau, I can only imagine.”

“Nah, Dad always hated Weenie Wednesdays.  He thought the meat was too ‘spongy.’  We always went to Axl’s Frankenfurters….”

“You can tell me more in the car,” said Abiram.  “It’s a Studebaker, the same one from The Muppet Movie!  People always wonder, how can a rich, famous cartoonist such as myself live in such a tiny condo?  Those knaves don’t realize that I’d rather pursue my collector’s dreams than follow the status quo!  I still can’t believe that idiot Seth MacFarlane outbid me on the DeLorean though, what a fluke!”

*                                  *                                  *

Weenie Wednesdays was technically located in Fairview, but in a nicer area than Esau’s shack.  It was like every other 1950s diner except that it sold fruit smoothies instead of chocolate malts, another possible reason Esau had boycotted it.

“There were so many strange meats at Axl’s Frankenfurters.  Venison, kangaroo, ostrich!” explained Chad.  “Some of them even had Twinkies for buns, and it really caught on!  When Hostess went out of business, Axl’s followed suit!”

“These ‘frankenfurters’ are even worse,” muttered Abiram as he searched the menu.  “Kraut Dogs?  Polack Dogs?  This is a ‘50s diner, but seriously!  I might as well tell Mr. Wednesday, the Head Weenie, that we Snuffs are half-Polish and zero percent German, but one hundred percent offended!”

“They mean ‘sauerkraut hot dogs’ and ‘Polish sausage hot dogs,’” explained Chad in a monotone.  “And it actually says ‘Polish,’ not that ethnic slur.”

“So it does!  You’re a sharp kid!  Want to help me out with my cartooning?  You’re a good cartoonist, right?  Better than that MacFarlane?  Can’t believe Sophia would threaten to get mixed up with that swine.  Judging by all that purple snow she hacked up, I bet she’s so miserably starved from the munchies that she regrets that she can’t get to eat these delicious Kraut Dogs with us!  I like you, Chad.  You’re not like Esau.  That’s what I wanted to talk about actually, your mother.  You see, my ex-wife Shirley wasn’t the first victim of his bizarre cannibalism techniques.  That was your mother.”

“I figured as much,” said Chad.  “Why, though?”

“From what I’ve heard through the Snuff family grapevine, a couple weeks after you were born—and a couple weeks before your parents’ wedding was scheduled—Esau, your father, caught your mother having an affair with your Uncle Dathan at his Cal State Dominguez Hills fraternity house.  So, uh…yeah…speaking of dogs, did I ever tell you about how your Uncle Dathan chose to give vasectomies to his dachshunds instead of having them neutered?”

Chad grimaced.  “Why didn’t my dad eat Uncle Dathan too?”

“Oh, he tried.  Lord knows he tried!  But he only got a couple bites in there.  It made enough of an impact though, why do you think your Uncle Dathan and Aunt Dinah resorted to adoption?  With a couple nibbles rendering him sterile, Uncle Dathan contemplated suicide, and shortly later he met your Aunt Dinah while she was working as a nurse at the Fairview-Longview Psych Ward.  They married each other out of pity, as she pitied his impotence and he pitied her frumpiness.  His psychotherapy business is a crock because he only entered the field to put others into misery as revenge for what your father Esau did to him.  Before that, he was a lowly manager at a fast food diner like this one.  Hang on, it was this one!  Oh Lord, I’ve said too much.”

“You haven’t said enough,” said a nearby voice.

A nerdy college student wearing a black R.E.M. shirt approached Chad and Abiram with a wide grin on his tiny face.  Abiram threw his menu in the student’s general direction.

“I’d like one of ‘em Kraut Dogs!  Don’t hold the mayo!” exclaimed Abiram.  “And a small Diet Mello Yello, quite right slick!  What would you like, Chad?”

“I don’t work here,” said the student.  “But you’re Abiram Snuff, right?”

“Always glad to meet a fan of mine!  Didja catch this week’s Lumpy?”

“I’ve seen them all twice!”

“Not the ones that haven’t aired yet, though?!  Because that would make you a—a pirate!  Shiver me timbers, you look too jolly to be stealing from me n’ Rodger.  I told you, no monkeying around on this island, or I put ye head in a mason jarrrrgh!”

“Geeze, Mr. Snuff, I was just going to ask you if you wanted to give a lecture on cult cartooning at Club Zroopy tonight.  I’m the bouncer there.”

“You?  A bouncer?”  Abiram gave the situation two seconds of deep thought, before turning to Chad.  “Hey, Chad, did your dad ever take you to Club Zroopy?”

“We have an age limit,” said the nerdy, scrawny bouncer.

“Really?” asked Abiram.  “I thought it wasn’t enforced.”

“Exactly!  Enjoy Club Zroopy, Chazz!” laughed the bouncer.

*                                              *                                              *

Club Zroopy was located within a couple blocks of no-man’s land that neither belonged to Fairview nor Longview.  As Abiram and Chad walked up to the steps, the scrawny R.E.M. fan eagerly opened the door for them.  “Everyone here loves Lumpy Herrera!  He’s definitely the biggest cartoon thing in the indie community since Jake the Human’s Timely Adventures, or whatever that one anime snooze-fest was called.”

“The indie community?” Abiram asked Chad, as they observed many an elitist sipping Pabst and Perrier.

“You didn’t by any chance expose your ears to the new Yeasayer track?  It’s been streaming since Wednesday on multiple varieties of media, so…”

Eh, it didn’t do much for me.  The bass was kind of flat, and though I appreciate that Keating’s “experimenting” with a new retro scene and whatnot, one can’t help but acknowledge that it’s been done on literally hundreds of levels before, definitely including the one he chose to indulge himself in.”

I don’t see how your opinion can match that of the highest critics, but if you ever want to apply for, say, Stereogum, be my guest—but I don’t want you to be disappointed, I mean.  As I was saying earlier, Grizzly Bear is taking post-folk to an extravagantly impressive medium.  They’re so brilliant, as I was telling Worth yesterday morning, that it’s a great honor to the so-called indie community that neither Grizzly Bear nor their contemporaries Dr. Dog and/or Jens Lekman have ever been accepted on a grander scale, if you catch my drift.  They’re charmingly baroque; as a McSweeney’s regular put it.  Did you catch the subtle yet clever allusion to Joanna Newsom on Saturday’s This American Life?  My God, that girl is rather dashing…”

“Jonathan, Jacob.  I can’t fathom why neither of you have tasted even a single pale lager at this get-together.  It’s locally brewed: straight outta Krebs’ basement!  It’s quite a masterwork, really.  And, if you happen to buy this particular brew at one of three local markets, three-quarters of the proceeds go to benefit approximately one-half of the Elephant Six Collective.”

“Meh, the Elephant Six Collective hasn’t done much for me in the past few years.  Even they have managed to go soft.  I guess one major label reissue and a handful of charting singles will do that for anyone.”

“It could be worse, though.”

“How so, Jacob?

“Indeed, it could be much better.  Ah, would you look at the time—the opening act will be starting in just a few minutes, it seems.  The Dirty Projectors couldn’t make it, unfortunately, due to artistic differences at work.  So as a last-minute replacement, Tucker booked the out-of-state talents of Future Islands—not bad, if I do say so myself.”

“You know, I downloaded their first and part of their second EP, and they were quite moderate, but when I heard their latest record, they were not so impressive.  One wonders how they sound live.”

Feeling sick to his stomach, Abiram ran out the same door he had just entered.  Chad trailed him through the egress, hiding a pint of presumed Pabst Blue Ribbon behind his back.

“Face it, I’m a washed-up old hack,” said Abiram.  He sat down and buried his head and arms in his lap, giving Chad a perfect chance to take a couple sips.  Comparing this alcoholic beverage to the one in “Randy’s Castle,” Chad decided he was more of a champagne guy.

“Hey, it’s Pregnant Chad!” snickered an unwelcome voice.  From a nearby bonsai popped the ginger-haired head of Randy McLain, his expert hands all over his arguable cousin Gloria’s thin frame.  Gloria, who was nearly blacked out drunk, mindlessly played with her infrared crucifix.

“Pregnant Chad?” a bewildered Abiram Snuff asked, and peered into the bonsais, where Randy grinned from ear to ear at his uncle by adoption.

Abiram stared at his inebriated daughter Gloria.  “I hoped my daughter would have at least a decent experience living with my brother Dathan, but even that isn’t possible.  I’m calling your parents, you waste of an adoption!” he roared at Randy before passing out from shock.

“Guess he isn’t calling them,” chuckled Randy as he jumped back into the bonsais, grabbing the now unconscious Gloria.  “C’mon, baby, you know you want to!” he cackled.  “We’ve got it all at Randy’s Castle!”

Chad spilled the contents of his red cup in Randy’s face, who let out a horrible scream.  The entirety of his face was smeared with a thick, gooey brown liquid that contained a few odd red hairs of its own.  “I’ve got crud all over me!” he cried, and sprinted out of the bonsais in shame.

Chad examined his cup in confusion.  This wasn’t Pabst Blue Ribbon after all, but the same chocolate orangutan milk which Esau had been given at the Fairview-Longview White Rapper Tourney.  As he had obtained it from a keg here at Club Zroopy, Chad imagined that this venue must alternate between typical hipster-oriented shows and ones aimed at Fairview-Longview’s white rapper community.

Now what to do with his two unconscious relatives?  Abiram alone was too heavy to carry, and Chad couldn’t drive.  Chad dug into Abiram’s back pocket to pick up his cell phone.  He ignored a voice-mail from Rodger Bumpass and searched for Dathan and Dinah Snuff’s number, but there was none to be found.  What about Sophia?  As a rebellious teenager, she presumably had a phone herself, but how many bars could one’s phone get within catacombs?

A red Porsche swerved into the driveway of Club Zroopy.  “Chad, how could you?” asked Dinah Snuff in her shrill Brooklyn accent as she examined the unconscious body of Abiram Snuff.

“He was my brother and you killed him!” cried Dathan Snuff.  “Sure we disagreed on a few matters, but in the end we are all Snuffs!  You’re just like your father, a murderous troglodyte, just without the girth!”

“Now where’s Gloria?” asked Dinah.  “We got a signal from her infrared sensor that she was in peril.”

“You mean her cross?” asked Chad.

“Of course!” said Dathan.  “That’s how her mother knew that you were up to no good with her at our house.  We can always track everything she does.  And now you’re repeating your juvenile delinquent behavior in a public establishment!”

“If you were truly tracking Gloria,” said Chad, “you would have known you’re your own son Randy, who you have trusted to live with Gloria for the past few weeks, has been the real perpetrator.”

“Yeah, where is Randy?” asked Dathan.  “We need to track him!”

“Yes, you do,” said Chad.

“Don’t talk back to my husband, you little brat!” yelled Dinah, pointing her Kool cigarette at his throat like a knife.

Abiram sleepily arose.  “Oh hi, Dathan,” he said to his infuriated brother.

“You’re alive!” shrieked Dinah, lowering her Kool.  “And where are Gloria and Randy.”

Abiram remembered the horrific sight that brought him to unconsciousness, and led Dathan and Dinah to the bonsais, where they located their troubled niece.

“This isn’t Gloria,” snapped Dathan as he examined the drunken teenager.  “My Gloria does not have that ugly stud in her lip, thank you very much.”

Abiram stared at Dathan in confusion.  “You mean—that’s Sophia?”

“Who the hey is Sophia?” asked Dathan.  “I’m calling a detective.”

“That Rachael Flannigan does some detective work!” suggested Abiram.  “Lord, what doesn’t that woman do?”

*                                  *                                  *

Abiram drove Chad and the unconscious Sophia (why was she dressed like her sister Gloria anyway?) back to his condo in his Studebaker, where Rachael Flannigan was surprisingly waiting for them.

“I just got here,” said Rachael, “but I’ve nearly solved everything.”

“How’d you do that so quickly?” asked Abiram.

“Catacombs,” said Rachael.  “I’ve been interested in the mysteries surrounding your family for a long time, so I bought Esau’s old house.  As you should know by now, each house of the Brothers Snuff contains an entrance to the catacombs.”

“Huh?” asked Chad.  “I lived with Esau for thirteen years, and I never found a single entrance.”

“Esau’s entrance is underneath his bed,” explained Rachael as she adjusted her spectacles.  “Ugh, I had to clean up all the leftover meat around that bed.  It makes working in the catacombs look nice by comparison.”

“Yeah, that’s why I never bothered looking,” said Chad.

“Anyway, I examined the entirety of the catacombs quite thoroughly for the past few weeks,” continued Rachael.  “And it occurred to me that it was strange how Esau’s wife, Voltaire Snuff, had a tombstone when she had been devoured.”

“How did he get away with that, anyway?” asked Chad.  “Judge O’Hare never mentioned any previous devourings on Esau’s criminal record.”

“As is often the case in Fairview-Longview legislation, the criminals do not always get prosecuted.  Not only that, though.  Chad, I hate to break it to, but your mother’s death has been legally labeled a disappearance, despite more than enough evidence that your father was responsible.  Yet her body was completely devoured, which brings to question the need for a tombstone.  So, I did the morally unthinkable and dug Voltaire’s grave.  I was acquaintances with both of your parents, Chad, as we all went to Cal State Dominguez Hills together.  And while I barely knew your mother, I knew that she was a tall woman and that her bone structure did not fit the skeleton I found underneath that grave.”  Rachael paused.  “It was the skeleton of a thirteen-year old girl.”

“That’s preposterous!” exclaimed Abiram, as he finally discovered his voice-mail from Rodger Bumpass.  “Someone in South Korea found it?  What?  Sloppy doodles?  Green India ink?  A man with enormous hands?  I gotta take this!”  Abiram ran to his side yard so that he did not make any more disturbances within Rachael’s speech.

“What a jerk,” muttered Rachael.  “Anyhey, after some more forensics studies, we came to the conclusion that this skeleton actually belonged to your cousin Gloria Snuff, who died over three years ago.  The unconscious girl in your uncle’s Studebaker has been manipulating her parents and everyone else for years by using the catacomb system and her late sister’s clothes to impersonate her late sister while keeping a different personality of her own.  Talk about a piece of work, huh?  Of course, now that the legal system all know what a terror this Sophia is, she’s not going to be getting away with any more manipulation.  The girl is going on trial, and Judge O’Hare will not be soft on her.”

“Sophia tripped on my mother’s grave earlier today,” said Chad.  “I’m assuming that it was because you were digging it.”

“Seems correct,” said Rachael.  “Did you get a load of those silverfish?”

“How did the real Gloria die?” asked Chad.

“Her mother, Shirley Howell, was a devout Christian Scientist and wouldn’t allow her various medical conditions to be treated.”

“We lost Jim Henson that way,” said Abiram, returning to the porch.

“Sophia was just lucky,” admitted Rachael.

*                                              *                                              *

Esau Snuff sat on the stone bed of his Fairview-Longview Penitentiary cell, awaiting his new cellmate.  As Weenie Wednesdays was the main caterer for the prison, Esau had gone on a hunger strike, though he had barely lost any weight.

The barred door automatically opened, and a grinning red-haired boy of about seventeen jumped onto the bed alongside Esau.  “Too bad these prisons aren’t coed.  I requested my girlfriend when I found out we were both going to jail, but it turns out she’s going up north to Corralberg.  Oh well.”

Esau noticed a familiar brown substance smeared around the boy’s face.  “Hey buddy, is that double chocolate orangutan milk?  Do you have any?  Do you know General Jamin?  Do you want to hear me rap?  You’ve got a fridge full of carrots and kale…”

“Shut up, old timer,” said Randy.  “This is Randy’s Castle now!”

Without giving him the slightest glance, Esau absentmindedly strangled the red-haired youth, before swallowing him whole.  His lactose intolerance did not approve of his consumption of the double chocolate orangutan milk smeared across Randy’s face, and when the jailer arrived, he saw that Fairview-Longview Penitentiary had lost two perfectly horrible cellmates.

*                                  *                                  *

Rachael Flannigan arrived at Abiram Snuff’s condo at 3 PM sharp, just around the time that Chad finished school.  Abiram greeted her and they sat down in his library to discuss the boy’s future.

“I’m sorry I called you a jerk,” Rachael told the cartoonist.

“It’s true,” admitted Abiram.  “I made a living most men would die for off of my own daughter’s talents.  It’s no wonder she became such a nightmare; I’m twice the manipulator she was.  Every single sketch in Lumpy Herrera was hers and she never received a mere credit.”

Rachael scowled at the man in disbelief.  “And what will become of your fraudulent career, now that Sophia is doing time in Corralberg County Jail?”

“Those South Koreans won’t produce that libelous tripe Chad sent them,” said Abiram.  “I wish that ‘Almonds Are a Squirrel’s Best Friend’ had been finished by Sophia like I thought.  It was a good show!”

“Why are all you Brothers Snuff this pathetic?” screamed Rachael.  “No wonder Chad tried to ruin your existences; he’s the only decent thing to come out of your genes!  Abiram Snuff, I am taking Chad’s custody out of your hands and into mine.”

“You can’t do that, Flannigan.  A boy needs a dad.”

“A boy needs a mom!”  Rachael took a deep breath.  “He’s never really had either, though.  And only now is he officially an orphan.”

“That he is,” said Abiram.  “Listen, I’m going to sell all the junk I’ve collected over the years, even the Studebaker!  It’s worth millions, no doubt.  Then I’ll…”

“Then you’ll be an unemployed bum like Esau, except with oodles of cash?” asked Rachael.  “Get a real job, Abiram.  Leave cartooning for the cartoonists.”

“So does that mean I get to keep Chad?” asked Abiram.

“No.  You have one child to take care of, and that’s yourself,” said Rachael.  “In the meantime, I’m going to investigate Sophia’s case.  She screwed up royally, but I am unsure how she actually broke the law.  Even if it might be slightly drug-induced, her artistic talent is too rare to be lost forever within Corralberg cells.  Dathan once diagnosed her with catatonic schizophrenia, and it is likely she has multiple personality disorder as well.  She’s an ill girl, but she’s one in a million.  What she needs is a good psychiatrist, not jail.”

“Then does that mean we can get her to finally effectively illustrate ‘Almonds Are a Squirrel’s Best Friend?’” asked Abiram.

“You can, but expect no involvement from me,” said Rachael.  “Abiram, you’re pathetic, but there’s something about it that allures me.  I’ll have you know that I’ve never wanted anything to do with men.  I’m forty-two and the only true love I’ve ever experienced was Chad’s mother.  That’s what got me so interested in your family.  The only woman I ever loved rejected me for your two equally pathetic brothers, which led to her untimely death.  I am saddened that Chad had to suffer through his father’s violent tyranny, but pleased that he made it out alive.  What I’m trying to say is…Abiram Snuff, Jr., can we raise Chad together?”

“I love you too,” said Abiram, and they embraced just as Chad opened the door.


[1] Sample Esau Snuff rap lyrics: “You’ve got a fridge full of carrots n’ kale / Yet you’re too weak to rip open the mail / On celery sticks you’re gonna crunch / I eat turkeys like you for lunch.”

[2] Said poster was originally used to advertise (William Randolph) Hearst Castle, but was discontinued when it became apparent that absolutely nobody understood the wordplay.  Randy’s birth mother, Erin McLain, purchased it at a swap meet for her boy shortly before her disappearance.  It remains Randy’s only tangible connection to a more modest past.

[3] Other selections from Abiram Snuff’s personal library include I’ve Got a Good Feeling About This: The Star Wars Gang Teaches Self Esteem! and Ha Ha You’re Red: Humor From Beyond the Iron Curtain.

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