Billy the Grub | The New Engagement
Billy The Grub story art

Billy the Grub

By Jon Berger

I’d gotten off the city bus and walked a ways, trying not to take up the whole sidewalk. Mrs. Yellow said that it is good to walk around. She said, “The more people see you, the more they’ll like you.” She smiled a lot. Everyone liked her.  I followed the signs that had the electronic store logo on them. I learned about logos in our consumer class the week before.

Inside, the electronic store had the air conditioning, and people were walking around like those windup toys. The greeter man didn’t say hi, so I waved to him and smiled in a way that didn’t show my sharp teeth. I searched across the store for the bright iFad logo. It reminded me of fancy suits. It stood for “Fellowship assistant device.” Once I found it I walked in that direction and I was tall enough to peer over the aisles, so I picked ones that people weren’t in, as if they were blockers in a maze, being extra careful so that my tail didn’t knock anything off the shelves.

They had the ones out that you can play but you can’t buy. Some kids were using them. They took their pointer fingers and moved around a blue bubble on the screen. When their blue bubble touched red bubbles the red bubbles turned blue. I positioned myself so my shadow didn’t fall over the kids. I am what people call seven feet tall, so I stood back waiting my turn. A woman in the distance gasped and dropped something. The store had a small feeling of freeze in the air. Little kids heard her and turned around to face me. They scrammed, one bursting into tears. Mrs. Yellow said it was okay for kids to do this. A boy with a backwards hat didn’t seem to mind me. I approached the iFad next to him.

“What up, monster man?” he said just enough to look away from his game.

“My name is Billy. What’s yours?”

“Cool, I’m Andy.”

“What game are you playing?”

He wasn’t playing the bubble game. He had a small blocky device plugged into the bottom of the iFad that looked like something you’d find in the garbage.

“I jailbreak all the iFads and upload Gears of Doom onto them.”

“Cool.” I had no idea what he was talking about. “What’s Gears of Doom?”

“It’s an old videogame. It’s not like these stupid ones. You’re this army guy and you shoot monsters that come out of hell. I got it from an emulator.”

“What’s emulator?”

Andy paused his game, cringed his brow and stuck his tongue out. He looked up me. “You know, I’m not really sure, it just… emulates code to run on different hardware.” He shrugged and un-paused. “Just don’t tell anyone, or I’ll get in trouble,” he said as he mowed down a horned demon that made a bloody screaming sound that crackled the speakers.

“Okay. I won’t.”

A big security man was walking toward us. He came out of some backroom doors and was built like a barrel. The man turned the corner with stomping steps. “Hey, you shit! You know better than to be in here.”

Andy the emulator quickly unplugged his grubby device and darted down a crowded aisle. The guard took a few quick lunges but Andy had already disappeared and the guard was too big to chase him.

“Little fucker.” He straightened his belt and then glared up at me. “What you doing, Grub?”

I pointed at the iFad. “I… uh, wanted to try it out.”

He crossed his arms over his chest, nodding his head at the displays. “Well ‘… uh’” he said jutting his head forward, making fun of me, “hurry up and do it then.”

I approached the iFad. The screen cast a glow over my hand. My ebony claws were filed down with grinders because it was part of the rules. I placed it on the blue bubble simmering at the top right corner. When I moved to drag the bubble it didn’t move with my finger, but my claw made a screeching sound against the screen, creating a big white scrap running diagonally across it. Little white screen flecks trickled to the floor.

My insides dropped and I stared at my feet. I down-glanced over. The guard unclipped his walkie-talkie, held it close to his mouth and spewed into it. A static voice spoke back. He clipped the talkie back, pursed his lips, put his hands on his hips and sighed at me with a head shake.

A tall skinny man whose head looked like it was going to pop stormed over pumping his arms the whole way. He came out of the same backroom door. This man wore a tie. He stopped and looked at me. He then turned to the screen and threw his hands above his head, “OOHH!” he casted his hands down at the iFad, “NOOO!” He leaned over and fingered the scratch and then turned on me. “You stupid fucking Grub. Do you have any idea how much these things cost?”

“I’m sorry, did didn’t know.” I looked around at nothing and fiddled my claws together in hopes that they’d disappear.

“No you don’t know do you?” He clenched his fist and stomped on my foot, “God. Fucking. Damn. It.” 

It didn’t hurt, but I thought it would make the man feel better if it did, so I picked my foot up and held it.

The man started gasping for breath. He leaned onto the display counter and then propped back up and held his fingers to his temples and started to wobble. “Holy shit, I could lose my fucking job for this.” He sat down on the floor and started breathing heavily with his head hanging between his knees. I noticed a crowd forming around us and people were taking pictures of me.

The guard stepped in front of me and held out his hand like a traffic cop. “Alright Grub, I think you’ve done enough damage for today. Why don’t you just come with me?” Only it wasn’t really a question. He grabbed my arm above the elbow and walked me into the backroom.

***

Join Us!

Mercy, ingenuity, nuance, complex truths, guts and honor still matter! Join us in proclaiming so by purchasing, or giving the gift of, a print subscription (2 issues per year) to The New Engagement.

Subscribe

Follow Us

"You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive."
~ James Baldwin

Help us spread the ethos of compassion and understanding by joining our social media networks and sharing generously!

Contests & Prizes

Flash Fiction Contest
On May 1st, we announced the winners of our Flash Fiction Contest: Thomas Garcia (1st), Rick Krizman (2nd), and Rios de la Luz (3rd). Read more.

The James Baldwin Literature Prize
It is with great pleasure that we announce the winner of The James Baldwin Literature Prize of $1,000 to Hafsa Musa. Read more.

The New Engagement

The New Engagement endeavors a novel approach to discovering, introducing, and showcasing writers, artists, and filmmakers, by providing them digital and print platforms, while encouraging and supporting their social-consciousness.