“Shouldn’t Have Worn That Petard If You Didn’t Want to Be Hoisted by It,” by Eirik Gumeny

Dec 20th, 2020 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

The moon hung in the dark night like a single, severed buttcheek, pale as—

No, that was terrible.

The moon was a Swiss cheese hole, but inversed, because it was cheese-colored and the sky around it was—

No. That was even worse somehow.

The moon, he typed again, was perfect and round, like the bottom of a coffee filter basket, but one of the white ones that was bad for the environment and only if you cut off all the accordion edges—

Aric Wigglesticke attacked the backspace key again, stabbing his laptop repeatedly while slowly shaking his sandy blonde mane. Everything about his efforts today was tragic. He prided himself on never missing a deadline, on his indefatigable talents of being able to crap out something publishable with a minimum of fuss, but this…

Once all evidence of his literary travesties was erased, the writer looked up, stretching and blinking his eyes. The café was crowded now, buzzing. His coffee cup was empty, stained, cold. How long had he been here, he wondered.

A busboy, baby-faced and rail thin, stopped in front of the table beside Aric, grabbing glasses and silverware and dirty plates with half-eaten cake slices on them, dropping them with a clatter into the plastic bin against his hip.

“Everything all right, sir?” he asked, not looking.

“How would you describe the moon?” Aric asked in return.


“The moon. To, I don’t know, a mole person or something? Who had never seen the sky? If you had to describe the moon, what would you say? What words would you use to tell someone who had never seen the moon what the moon looked like?”

“Moon-like?” the busboy answered, making a face.

“I don’t think you’re understanding—”

“I have real work to do, man.”

“Right,” he said, watching as the busboy shuffled away. “Sorry!” he called out, suddenly racked with guilt. He remembered what it was like to be young and dumb and chronically underpaid, to be harassed by crazy middle-aged customers asking weird questions—and now, it turned out, he was one of them. Life was hilariously cruel sometimes.

Aric looked around the coffee shop again, at the college students and the screaming kids and the new and harried parents, feeling older than he ever had. Then, surreptitiously, as if it had nothing to do with the previous thirty seconds, he closed his laptop and got ready to leave.


Stepping outside, Aric paused for a second, taking in the fresh air before starting toward his car. There was another Flying Star on the other side of town, with a patio that overlooked the foothills. Maybe, he considered, a change of scenery would—

There was a hand on his arm. He turned. It was one of the waitresses. She was probably in her thirties, her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail. She was almost as skinny as the busboy. Did they not get free pie here, Aric wondered? He paid for his and he’d still put on five pounds since this location had opened.

The woman—Veronica, by her nametag—was leaning sharply out the door, a business card between two fingers.

Aric furrowed his brow.

“Corey told me what you asked him,” she said. “Sorry he was so brusque. He’s new. But I get it, I’ve been in the game for a while. Seen plenty of other writers at plenty of other coffeehouses. In fact, I’m actually writing a screenplay myself.”


Veronica waggled the business card. “Trust me, you’re gonna want to see this.”

Aric took the card, looked at the card, read the card.

“Is this—”

“It is.”

“And it—”


“Huh,” he said.


Aric Wigglesticke arrived a short while later at a nondescript warehouse in a barely developed section of the next town over, the slab-grey building one of at least six lined up in a row. Dust billowed from beneath his car’s tires as he pulled up near the door. His blocky, Seinfeld-looking sneakers crunched gravel as he approached.

The door was barely discernible, the exact same shade of grey as the rest of the building. There was no bell, no buzzer. Not knowing what else to di, Aric lifted his –

The door opened before he could even knock. The smell that flooded out was practically physical.

“Jesus,” he coughed, raising his arm to his face.

“Yeah,” said the man on the other side of the door, a broad shadow in the dark interior. “We’re working on that. Filed a couple permits to add more windows, a better ventilation system.” The shadow shrugged. “You get used to it.”

Aric, despite his better instincts, stepped inside, his eyes beginning to adjust to the dimness, his nose, as promised, to the odor. The shadow to his left resolved into a genial and heavyset man dressed in faded flannel and even more faded jeans, a wet mop of short, curly hair atop his head. His nametag said Neil.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi,” Aric replied. “Is this—” But then the writer saw it, saw the reason he had been sent out here, to this drab and unassuming and foul-smelling brick on the industrial outskirts of a town whose name he never remembered, had, in fact, already forgotten.

Behind Neil were ten thousand monkeys, sitting at ten thousand typewriters, smoking cigarettes and chugging whiskey like water.

“Ten thousand and one, actually,” the other man said, almost as if he was reading Aric’s thoughts, almost as if they were written out before him. “I know the saying is ‘an infinite amount’—” He did the airquotes with his fingers. “—but that’s not exactly practical. I mean, when was the last time you actually saw an infinite amount of anything? Never, that’s when.”

Aric stumbled a few steps forward, mouth agape. The monkeys covered the entire expanse of the warehouse, lined up in tight, neat rows, in open cubicles stacked four and five high on converted Costco-style shelving. The simians were all wearing collars and ties, and glasses, but nothing else. They were remarkably quiet, too, given what he knew about monkeys, their faces pinched in concentration—they were focused on the job, he realized. The clattering of the thousands upon thousands of typewriters was so loud and omnipresent that it actually turned into a dull wash of white noise.

“Truth be told, they’re not all monkeys,” Neil explained. “We’ve got apes in there, technically, Russian bears, a couple of circus dogs. One very productive platypus, which: who knew? And, obviously, there’s a lot of grad students …”

“Are they all trying to… to write Shakespeare?” Aric asked.

“What? No,” the other man replied, visibly affronted. “Why would we want Shakespeare? We already have Shakespeare. They’re working on the next multi-platform young adult blockbuster franchise. The next Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but, y’know, without having to worry about things getting milked into oblivion or the author going crazy and becoming a horrible, conservative monster. We don’t have a title yet, but I’m guessing it’ll probably start with an H…” He shook his head. “Anyway, what can I do for you?”

“Oh… I, uh… I’m working on a novel and I… and I need a moon metaphor?”

The other man shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “The monolithic pop culture stuff is great, but this—helping authors—that’s our real bread and butter. As I’m sure you can imagine, the monkeys write a lot of other crap along the way to taking over the entertainment world—and, yes, that includes Shakespeare. We usually just recycle those, though. But the rest of it…” He turned, waved a hand. “Follow me.”

Neil led Aric through the crowded warehouse, past monkeys and more monkeys and gorillas and the aforementioned circus dogs and a couple of grad students standing around a coffeemaker. He slid open a slatted garage door at the back of the building, revealing a dirt yard almost as big as the warehouse, surrounded by barbed wire and filled to the brim with dented, rusting dumpsters.

“Stick close,” Neil said. “It gets a little twisty.” He squeezed—literally, the dumpsters along the edge were packed too close together—between two of the dark green containers and then began leading Aric through the labyrinth of discarded ideas. Eventually the big man paused at a crossroads, looking this way and that, then started down the row to his left. He stopped a few dumpsters in, checking the number on the dumpster against something on his phone.

“Yup. Here you go,” Neil said, reaching up and throwing open the plastic lid. “There should be a stool here somewhere…” He began looking around. “I know it’s not the easiest climb.”

“Is this…?” Aric asked.

“Entirely full of moon metaphors, yeah. They’re a dime a dozen.”

“That’s a little rude,” the writer said, his insecurities triggered, his creative hackles raised like an insulted cat in front of a very mean dog. Warm rage began boiling within him. “Writing isn’t easy,” he seethed. “You wouldn’t even have a business if—”

“Sorry,” said the man in the flannel, waving his hands in surrender, “sorry. I meant that they’re literally a dime a dozen, to purchase. Help yourself. There’s a cashier by the exit whenever you’re ready.”

“Oh,” Aric said, his escaping wrath leaving him suddenly exhausted, “right. Okay. Yeah. That’s literally why I’m here.” He shook his head. “That’s actually a really good price, too. I thought—”

“Nah,” Neil replied. “Monkeys don’t cost much. Their union is terrible.”


The moon hung like a half-cooked pancake that someone had flung at the ceiling of the world, perfectly round and mostly solid but clearly still gooey on the inside, unfinished and in need.

“This is it,” Aric Wigglesticke mumbled, staring at the crumpled paper in his hands. “This is it!” he shouted. “Everything—everything—”

In that moment it all clicked, everything the writer had struggled with for the past two months, themes and motifs and motivations, every random note he’d jotted down on scrap paper or coffee-stained napkins. He could, finally, see the rest of his story, his novel, falling into place. Cooking metaphors. The commodification of nature. The impermanence of time. The liminality of waffles. He began laughing like he’d just brought a stitched-up cadaver back from the dead.

He pulled himself out of the dumpster, nearly falling, then raced back inside the warehouse, frenzied with the need to get to his laptop, to write his epic, this Great American Novel that was threatening now to physically consume him.

“Good for you,” Neil said as Aric barreled past, the writer barely hearing the salesman, possessed as he was.

Neil was leading a book club’s worth of older women through the shelves of typing monkeys. With a raised finger, he excused himself, then turned and called after the crazed man: “Do you need an ending?”

Aric stopped cold, sudden, tripping over his own feet. An ending? He hadn’t thought about the ending. Did he need an ending? Surely, he could figure one out. He’d completed the puzzle, hadn’t he? Fit everything together meticulously. The ending would just come to him, wouldn’t it? Sure and easy as breathing?

Maybe. Or, he considered, listening to his own wheezing lungs—he hadn’t moved this fast, this frenetically, in years—maybe not. A bad start could be overcome, but a bad ending could ruin everything that came before it, could undo hours of work.

“What, uh…” he asked, stepping sideways towards Neil, “what—”

“Well,” Neil said, his voice dropping to a whisper as he approached, “endings aren’t like beginnings, or even middles. We have a couple of trash cans you could root through, but…” He narrowed his eyes. “But for a single, solitary American dollar, I can tell you the one secret to all great endings. You’d never need to worry again.”

Aric had pulled a bill from his wallet before the man in the flannel had even finished speaking. Neil took the money, folding it with two fingers and tucking it into his shirt pocket.

“You ready?” he asked.

“Yes,” the writer replied, practically salivating. “Yes.”

Neil leaned in close, conspiratorially; Aric could smell the coffee on his breath, the woodsy musk that emanated from him like a forest breeze.

“The secret,” he said, eyes darting back and forth, “the one weird trick, to all endings, for every story forever and ever, is…”

Aric’s heart felt like it was going to explode through his chest.

“…you just stop abruptly and pretend it means something.”

“What?” he said, appalled. “That’s not—”

“Isn’t it, though? I mean, maybe it shouldn’t be, I’m with you there, but I could give you reams of examples of—”

“Just because—look, endings demand closure,” Aric protested, “they—”

“What’s more closed than a door slamming in your face?”

Beside them, a monkey in a red paisley tie exhaled and ashed his cigarette. He shrugged and nodded in agreement.


Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series and has written for Cracked, Nerdist, and SYFY Wire, among other outlets. If he had a witty catchphrase, he’d add it here, but he doesn’t, so…

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