Maggot’s Day in Bosstown started like any other. The Bosstown Fudge factory’s purple ramparts shadowed the mephitic rush of Scum River. Rain slicked the shacks along the riverbank and beaded cobwebbed eaves. Mist wreathed silver fingers around pillars and town clock. The gas stations—once doors to Elsewhere—stood deserted.
Townspeople stayed in their homes. Children munched on marshmallow fudge, root beer float fudge, peanut butter and jelly fudge, cotton candy fudge. For a limited time, they could request white chocolate fudge with pretzels and candy corns.
No dentists worked in Bosstown. The strongest teeth were in the shattered windows of Bosstown Fudge’s forgotten rivals. In the cemetery, the graves whispered. Doors to Elsewhere, ajar. Promise of promotion if you put the time in. Till then you hunkered down and stuffed yourself with the Boss’s yummies.
Charlie sipped coffee at the stainless steel table. The cold sludge tickled his gums. He’d been staring at the blackened pane screening out Scum River for over an hour. The peeling window film in front of him took on the whimsical improvisations of an abstract painting. The instant mix burbled in his gut.
A generator kicked on. It thrummed in a low register, then stopped. Charlie tried to work a jingle around the sounds, something cheerful without being absurd, but his mind was as blank as the peeling window film screening out Scum River.
Next to his notebook a dried coffee stain ringed a pornographic magazine.
Rubbing his overalled belly, Charlie stepped onto the second-floor catwalk.
Sometimes he did his best thinking wandering the factory. His steps rang on the steel grating high above the so-called Pit, where the Smellmouths salivated in the dark. Their glandular secretions—which gave the fudge its psychotropic properties—played a scent repertoire from the mouthwatering to the macabre. No one knew if the smells were purposeful or related to some autonomic function.
The fetor from below dug at scabbed memories. Charlie was in Smear Alley again, painting sexually suggestive flowers on the wall of the Marquis Club. The Boss could send him back there—or somewhere worse—if he failed to devise a catchy jingle by tonight.
The Boss controlled the Smellmouths. And the Smellmouths made the fudge that controlled Bosstown.
“Bosstown’s got that Maggot’s Day fuuuudge…” Charlie snapped his fingers and turned back. His subconscious tended to cough up the goods once he stepped away from his notebook.
Over his clattering footfalls the Boss droned from the Pit: “Have you come up with the jingle yet, Charlie?”
(The voice hinted of doors to Elsewhere)
“Have you come up with the jingle yet, Charlie?”
Slimy sounds in the darkness.
They sounded like wet farts.
Charlie halted. Apparently his Muse had prompted him too late: The air grew rank with the stink of his mother’s death last year, a mixture of unswept rooms and rotten fruit as she labored through her death rattle in the bed by her television.
(Cancer and television—Doors to Elsewhere)
Charlie had pushed the Boss too far.
He had been patient, letting Charlie go through the motions the last six months. But Maggot’s Day was the most important day of the year. He wasn’t going to let the festival be ruined by a grieving jingle maker. With mounting intensity he drove into Charlie’s sense memory, conducting the Smellmouths through their cruel, pungent symphony.
“The jingle, Charlie…”
“I—I have it, Boss. The hook, at least.”
“This is your chance to move on. I know it must get lonely up there.”
Charlie wiped his eyes. “It does, Boss. Worse than Smear Alley.”
“Sing to me.”
“Bosstown’s got that Maggot’s Day fuuuudge,” fluted from children’s mouths all over Bosstown. Grownups rubbed warmth into achy bones and peered out front doors. Along the riverbank rain-bent shacks sagged in the shadow of the Bosstown Fudge factory. Scum River twisted past the factory’s purple ramparts.
On the second floor, on a stainless steel table next to a notebook and a girlie magazine, stood a half-drunk mug with the words ARe wE HAvIng FudGe YeT?
A generator kicked on.
In the Pit, the darkness sighed.