by Bruce Memblatt

Hubbell didn’t understand much of the world, but he knew he could manage just about any stunt if he tried.

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The cameras should be rolling.

He stepped out of the bar carrying a duffle bag, natural as can be, as if there wasn’t a head stuffed in plastic inside the bag.

Things didn’t always come easily to Hubbell.  He didn’t understand much of the world but he knew he could manage just about any stunt if he tried.

Like the time he had to walk on that bed of nails they set on fire. Now that hurt like a son of bitch. Burn marks and blisters still marred his toes from that escapade.  And then there was the night he’d almost drowned in the Hudson on that shoot in New York, when he took that freaky helicopter ride, the one where he had to crash that eggbeater into the pier.

Hell, but he was a stuntman, that was his job, and things were fine. Stan said they were fine. Stan was a good brother. Hubbell looked up to Stan. Stan taught him how to be a stuntman. And Stan taught him how to make his way in the world. Well, sort of, he lived with Stan. He gave Stan his paycheck just yesterday.  Stan put Hubbell’s money away in the bank. He made sure Hubbell had enough food, and clothing and things, because Hubbell couldn’t concentrate on the finer details, like keeping budgets, writing out checks, talking to supermarket clerks and the like. He needed Stan because he got confused some of the time.

Lord, all of the time, but stunts? There wasn’t anything to stunts, they were clear as bells. They told him what to do in simple steps, A-B-C, and he did them. However, this one, carrying a head inside a duffle bag was plain weird because there wasn’t any real dangerous stuff involved, like running through fire or jumping out of a plane. All he had to do was carry a duffle bag. Where was the stunting in that? Maybe he was thinking too hard.

Stan warned him not to overtax his mind and think too much. Stan warned him a lot. But maybe the warnings would stop soon. Maybe there was a secret he knew somewhere.

He took the bag and threw it in the back seat of the car. It was a cinch. Now he could go home. But what about the duffle bag? They didn’t tell him what to do with the bag after he was through. And where was Stan?

He began to feel confused again like he did most of the time.

He stared at the bag for a moment. A thought tickled his brain that caused him to reach in the back for the bag and open it. The plastic that encased the head made it difficult to see, but he could make out the eyes that squeezed tight against the clear casing.  They looked like fish eyes lying in the deli counter at the supermarket. He concentrated for a moment… but larger, and wetter.

He couldn’t wait till Stan saw it, because it looked like the real thing, like it was really somebody’s head, not some toy replica the studio forged.  He imagined all the fine work that must have gone into it. The guy who made it must have been really smart.

Suddenly it hit him that time was passing. Stan still wasn’t there, the sun was setting, and he was getting hungry.

He stepped on the gas.

Turning onto Sunset Boulevard, the duffle bag slid around the back seat.  He hoped the head didn’t fall out onto the floor of the car, because then he’d have to pick it up and it was starting to make him feel uneasy. If he could just concentrate, but his mind always seemed to swerve, getting close, but never close enough to reach the magic thought that would put things in focus. He was always just an inch away like Wile E. Coyote in those old Roadrunner cartoons.

He carried the bag up the stairs to their small garden apartment on the third floor of the building on the corner of Sunset and Gower. The bag just nudged the cactus plant in the hall by their door. When he stepped over the threshold it was dark. Stan wasn’t there either. Where was Stan? Why was Stan always gone so long leaving Hubbell’s thoughts to wander and bend in all kinds of strange directions? Sometimes he hated his thoughts. Sometimes they frightened him.

The kitchen was dark. He opened the refrigerator. The light poured over his face as he peered inside. He remembered how he was supposed to clean the smudges from the door. There was a chicken leg on the middle shelf. He grabbed the leg and sat down on the sofa where’d he’d placed the duffle bag when he came in.  As he swallowed his food he listened to the traffic outside the window. He wondered if Stan was on his way home. Maybe Stan was in one the cars driving by, but he had the car. How was Stan going to get home?

He tossed the chicken leg to the floor. And then he heard the bedroom door creak.

He was jumping off the couch when he heard Stan holler, “What the hell is all the noise about out here?”

Excited, Hubbell ran towards the bedroom, “I’m so glad to see you’re home, Stan. I didn’t know where you were or how you’d get home.”

Stan cried, holding onto the bedroom door, “I’ve been home for hours, you damn fool.”

Stan was angry again. He had been getting so angry lately.

Hubble reached for Stan’s hand with the intention of calming him, but Stan pulled his hand away and scratched his head. “I’m sorry, Hubbell. I’m tired and it’s frustrating sometimes having to repeat the same things over and over to you. I wasn’t at the studio today, don’t you remember?”

“No, Stan, I don’t remember. I’m sorry,” Hubbell said but he’d bet his paycheck that Stan was at the shoot that afternoon. Though it couldn’t be, because Stan said he wasn’t there. Hubbell began to wonder if his confusion was getting worse.

He said to Stan, “Where were you, then?”

“I was here, Hubbell. Where do you think I was?” he snapped. “I just walked out of the bedroom.”

Praying the answer was no, with a bitter look on his face, Hubbell said, “Was Gloria here too?”

“Now Hubbell, I keep telling you I’m entitled to have a girlfriend. Why are you so down on Gloria?”

Why was Stan asking why when he knew why? Hubbell hung his head down, and he quietly confessed, “She’s mean to me, and she makes you act mean too.”

“I have had just about enough!” Stan cried and then he returned to the bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Hubbell retrieved the chicken leg from the shag rug that covered the floor and threw it against the wall. Stan was entitled to have a girlfriend, but Hubbell was supposed to come first. He was Stan’s brother. If he could just make the world as simple as he saw it, if he could just come first, just once, with someone, anyone. If he could concentrate.

Hubbell returned to the couch. He waited anxiously, cracking his knuckles, for the light to go out under the bedroom door. Then quick as a wink he reached into the duffle bag that rested beside him on the sofa and pulled out a carving knife. He somehow knew he couldn’t let Stan see the knife. Stan wouldn’t understand, maybe no one would understand. He’d hide it under the couch. Reaching beneath the sofa he had one of those thoughts that scared him. With all the concentration he could muster he chased the thought away until it fell into a memory just under the surface of his mind.

He was concentrating on the new radio he was going to ask Stan to let him get with his next paycheck when the phone rang.

The phone rang just twice before it stopped. Moments later he heard Stan shouting from behind the door. “Where were you today?”

Stan was still hollering as he barreled through the bedroom door. “That was the studio. They said you didn’t show up today! Where were you, Hubbell?”

Where was he today? He was at the studio, of course, he must have been. The call must have been a mistake because he was sure he was there and, after all, the duffle bag was sitting right next to him; the duffle bag with the head in it. Why was Stan always shouting and yelling?

He knew Stan wouldn’t believe him when he said, "They must be mistaken, because I was there. I swear I was there.”

Stan paced back and forth tugging on his straggly hair. Perspiration began to seep through his undershirt. He kept repeating, “I’ve gotta calm down.  I’ve gotta calm down.”

And then he leaned down close to Hubbell. Starring at him in a steely calm whisper he hushed, “Tell me where you were today, Hubbell. Just tell me.”

He couldn’t think. Words wouldn’t come. He felt like he was on trial. This is what it must have been like to be on trial. As if he was some kind of pickpocket, or a murderer being grilled on the stand. Stan wasn’t treating him fairly. He felt something he hadn’t felt in a long while—he felt shame.

Hubbell dug his fists into the couch and said, “You know, Stan, if I say something it’s the truth. And by the way, just who is paying all the bills here?”

He pulled back because he was certain Stan was going to take a swing at him, or holler at him again.

He cried, “I’m sorry, Stan. I’m sorry.”

“No, Hubbell, you aren’t sorry, you are pathetic,” Stan said, grabbing on to Hubbell’s knees.

“Who books all your jobs, Hubbell? Who makes sure your money goes in the bank? Who makes sure there’s food here for you, and all your bills are paid? Who does all that stuff?  I do far more work than any regular manager would do for you. You are a twenty-four-hour a day job, Hubbell."

He felt the pangs of shame he experienced before increase. Stan was right. Well, kind of, he could do some shopping and pay some bills if Stan would teach him, but Stan didn’t want to teach him, because if he did, he wouldn’t need Stan anymore. He could take care of himself and then Stan would have to go out and get a real job. Who the hell did Stan think he was kidding?

Hubbell kicked his legs up, hitting Stan, pushing him to the floor by the couch.

“What the hell are you doing, you crazy son of a bitch?” Stan cried, grabbing onto the carpet. "Are you going to answer me, or…” His words broke off when he spotted the carving knife below the couch.

“Say, Hubble, what is that knife doing under the couch?”

Hubble didn’t know what to say. He was getting confused again. He always got confused when Stan yelled at him. And he couldn’t tell him about the knife just yet, because he wasn’t sure. This was all Gloria’s fault.

“This is all Gloria’s fault!” Hubbell shouted, and he stood from the couch. "Get away from that couch!”

“Are you crazy? Ordering me around? Why is this Gloria’s fault? You know something, Hubbell? You’re jealous of Gloria. And you know what?” Stan said, still on the floor near the couch, snidely winking at Hubbell, his hand grasping the air. “When she comes back later, I’m going to do her right in front of you. Right in front of your eyes. That will teach you a lesson. That will be an eyeful for you, little brother.”

When she comes over later? She was coming back later? And he was going to do her in front of him? What did he mean do? He meant the nasty thing, that’s what Stan meant. Stan was taking things too far. Wait till he found out. Gloria wasn’t coming over later. Stan must have been confused.

Hubbell stared off into the room wondering if he would ever have any peace in his life. If he would ever have someone like a Gloria, someone who looked up to him, like he looked up to Stan. Why were things always so jumbled?

He turned down toward Stan and he said, “What if she doesn’t come back later, Stan?”

Stan grinned. “Oh, don’t worry your little heart out, Little Brother. She’ll be back later. She left her duffle bag on the couch. See, it’s sitting right next to where you were sitting.”

Suddenly a chill screamed through Hubbell’s being, but it wasn’t a chill, it was a hidden memory crawling up to the surface of his mind.  God, the duffle bag—that’s Gloria’s bag? But he got it at the shoot today. What was Gloria’s bag doing at the…

“Why are you looking so strange?” Stan cried. He stood from the floor. He stared at Hubbell, who was still, silently locked in a daze.

Hubbell didn’t respond; he just continued to stare off into the room. He wasn’t at any shoot today. They didn’t give him the bag. Who gave him the bag? Gloria’s bag.

Stan darted over to Hubble and fiercely shook him, crying, “What’s wrong with you? Snap out of it, you son of a bitch. Where the hell were you today?”

Hubbell still didn’t respond. His thoughts were locked in on the duffle bag, just on the bag. He tried to concentrate, to retrace his steps. That’s right; they didn’t give him the bag. He got the bag from Gloria when…

“Listen, you. I’m warning you, Hubbell. I’m going to go in the kitchen and get a pot of water and throw it on your crazy assed head,” were Stan’s last words before he pulled his undershirt over his potbelly and ran into the kitchen. As he stepped onto the linoleum, he turned on the light. He was heading for the sink when his eyes caught the blood smeared fingerprints on the refrigerator door. In that moment, he remembered the knife under the couch. He raced back into the living room. And there he saw Hubbell still standing near the couch in a trance.

“Hubbell!” he hollered and then his voice softened to a whisper as he drew his mouth close to Hubbell’s ear. “There are bloodstains on the refrigerator door. You wouldn’t happen to know how they got there, would you?”

Bloodstains on the refrigerator... The blood stains. He was supposed to clean the smudges off of the refrigerator door. The stains he made when he got back last night when he was in a frenzy. When he didn’t know what to do with the bag right before he ran out and drove around all night. Drove around, but why he was driving around with the bag? How did he get blood on the door? God, he got the bag from Gloria when he grabbed her. When she was turning the key to her apartment, right before he… No, it couldn’t be. He was just confused. Stan was confusing him.

His eyes moved from dead to alive. He shrieked at Stan, “Stop confusing me!”

Stan reached under the couch for the knife.

“The blood stains, Hubbell, on the door, Hubbell. The knife under the couch, let’s look at it. What in hell have you done?”

Stan held the blood stained knife in his hand.

Hubbell cried, “I didn’t do anything! I swear, Stan, I cut my hand with the knife accidentally, that’s all. Hey, you better get cleaned up. Gloria will be here soon.”

“Why are you so anxious for Gloria to come over, Hubbell?”

Oh no, he was doing it all wrong. Now Stan was beginning to suspect something. He’d better stop his hands from shaking. How could he stop his hands from shaking? How could he stop the confusion in his mind? Once that hidden thought broke through, the confusion would end and he’d be left with it.  How could he stop that thought, that horrible thought, from jumping through the surface?  He couldn’t stop anything.

He held his hand out to Stan, tears began to fall, and he began to cry.”She’s not coming, she’s not coming. I killed her. I chopped her head off.”

Stan slapped his knee and began to laugh hard. “Oh, Hubble, get serious! You? You puppy dog, you haven’t got the balls to chop anyone’s head off, let alone my girlfriend's head. You know something? I have been working you too hard. What you need is a nice vacation. I’m gonna clear your schedule, Little Brother. C’mon, let’s get that knife and the door cleaned off and get you some rest. Gloria’s gonna pee when she gets here and hears how you chopped her head off,” Stan said and then he began to pat Hubbell on the back.

Stan didn’t believe him. He thought he wasn’t competent enough to chop her head off. Wait till he looks in the bag. Wait till he sees Gloria’s head rolling out of that bag. God, his world was coming to an end and Stan was laughing. He couldn’t do anything right.  He couldn’t even kill someone right. But he had to kill Gloria, because her presence confused him, and confused Stan into thinking she was number one when Hubbell was supposed to be number one.

Hubbell sat down on the couch. His eyes searched his brother’s face for compassion.

Through a sob he said, “You don’t understand, Stan. She was taking my place, confusing everything. She took all your time. There was nothing for me. She confused everything, Stan.”

Stan’s face turned serious. “Hubbell, enough is enough. You’re starting to scare me.”

“Look in the bag. Her head is in the duffle bag.”

Stan pulled the bag up and sat it on his lap.

He smirked. “Gloria’s head is in this bag? Of course it is. Okay, I’ll humor you, Hubbell,” he said and then he unzipped the duffle bag and reached into it.

Hubbell watched Stan closely. He waited for the look of shock to consume Stan’s face.

“Oh my god! Oh my god, you sick bastard! You really did it!" Stan shrieked.

Sweat began to form on his brow. He pulled the head out of the bag. Blood still squeezed around the edges of the plastic. His hands dropped limp and the head fell.

Stan’s eyes followed it carefully as it rolled across the floor.  Suddenly his eyes lit up. He spat on the floor, and he slyly said, “You stupid son of a bitch. That’s not Gloria’s head, that’s her roommate.”



Copyright © 2010 Bruce Memblatt

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Bruce Memblatt is a native New Yorker and has studied Business Administration at Pace University. In addition to writing he runs a website devoted to theater composer Stephen Sondheim, which he’s lovingly maintained since 1996.

His stories have been featured in such magazines as Aphellion, Bewildering Stories, The Horror Zine, Bending Spoons, Strange Weird and Wonderful, Static Movement, Danse Macarbe, SNM Horror Magazine, The Piker Press, A Golden Place, Eastown Fiction, Short Story Me! 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Necrology Shorts, Suspense Magazine, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, Black Lantern Publishing, Death Head Grin, The Cynic Online, The Feathertale Review and Yellow Mama.

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