by: Mark Budman
An eye-catching short, where the mystical fusion of a chance encounter and a philosopher’s advice, becomes the backdrop to one man’s face-to-face with “The Beast”…
For the second day in a row, Henry, a Certified Public Accountant, hangs out at the food court of the mall so he can tell an attractive woman with a good sense of humor: “Confucius say opera is the only place where a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings.”
He’s heard about Cinder or Tinder, or whatever the hell they call it, but decided it was for the younger people.
He realizes that the mall’s food court is not the opera, but you can’t even cough at the opera, let alone make conversation.
None of the women Henry’s seen so far were attractive. He knows what attractiveness looks like; he is sixty-six, which is only one digit away from six-six-six, the number of the Beast. And everyone knows that the Beast knows everything. The Beast says: “Attractiveness is only skins deep, but if you go deeper, you’d get wet and slimy.”
The Beast is almost like Confucius, but with an American accent.
The night comes, and still no attractive woman has shown up at the mall, so Henry goes home to his lonely bed. He’s recently divorced. He has no idea what to do if he finds an attractive woman. He had sex only with his former wife. Would they exchange Confucius jokes? he wonders.
The next day, Henry goes to Wal-Mart to buy a kitchen knife you could either stab yourself or cut mozzarella cheese with.
When he passes the fitting room, Henry sees a woman outside of a booth, trying on a bra over her green T-shirt. She looks to be in her forties and flat like the Earth in the early Middle Ages. Her shorts are also green and so is her skin where he can see it. She’s got a big frog mouth. The bra is too large.
She looks at Henry and says, “What are you staring at? Only one week after divorce? Can’t you wait?”
Henry wonders if her skin is soft.
“How do you know?” he says.
She takes off her bra and says, “Confucius say, learn to masturbate—come in handy.”
Henry follows her to the cash register.
“I’m sorry to bug you, but how do you know about my divorce?”
“It’s magic,” she says without turning as she leaves the store.
He still follows her.
She turns around. “You have an aptitude for magic,” she says. “You need some schooling.”
She gives him a card.
Henry examines it. “Eastern Massachusetts Adult School of Magic.”
“I can’t go to a magician school or any school,” he says. “I’m too old at sixty-six.”
“Wrong,” she says. “Sixty-six is only one digit away from six-six-six, the number of the Beast. It’s not old.”
“It’s easy for you to say. You’re young. You’re what? Forty-four?”
“Come with me. My name is Lilith, by the way.”
“Are you Jewish?”
She takes him by the hand to a nearby park. Birds sing, poop and make love. In Lilith’s tiny purse there is a huge wine bottle and two crystal goblets. She pours some wine for them. They kiss. She tastes like wine-saturated cardboard, only better. Her skin is soft.
“Confucius say, passionate kiss like spider’s web: soon lead to undoing of fly,” she says.
A few minutes later, naked, Lilith says, “Confucius say, man with tool in woman’s mouth not necessarily dentist.”
She is green all over except for her pubes, which are yellow. There is a tattoo right above it: “Confucius say, bird in the hand is not better than two in the bush.”
Lilith quotes Confucius again, but doesn’t sound comprehensible anymore.
She drops his tool and rises in the air like a tethered party balloon. “Confucius say, woman who fly upside down have crack up.”
Henry tries to run, but a man who came from nowhere catches his hand. The stranger is dressed in a red silk robe and has a wispy black beard, a headband full of pictorial symbols, and smells of General Tso chicken. He looks vaguely Chinese.
“Confucius say, man who fishes in another woman’s well, often catches crab,” he says.
Lilith laughs. She still hovers above. Her skin is more healthy looking pink now.
The man raises his free hand and Henry sees “666” tattooed on his wrist. Henry looks around, and sees tombstones all over. Not modern, like the thick ones, but thin like in the olden times. He could swear that they were not there before. With his aptitude for magic, Henry realizes he is talking to the Beast.
“That’s true,” the man says. “I’m the Beast. I execute judgment on horny Certified Public Accountants. This is the end of the line for you. What is your last word?”
“Confucius say, man who fuck in cemetery may end up fucking dead,”
Henry says. “Damn right.”
The Beast lets go of Henry’s hand. A tombstone overturns, and Henry sees a grave full of his late-middle-age accountant’s bones. Henry is not sure if they were certified. He feels sweat trickling down his shirt. I didn’t sign up for this, he thinks.
At this point Lilith hits the Beast over the head with the wine bottle. The Beast falls down. The earth cracks and swallows him. The earth belches.
“Run, Henry, run,” Lilith cries. “He’ll get out soon.”
Henry can hardly move. “Why are you trying to save me?”
“Because you’re funny.”
“Did Confucius say that?”
Lilith drops down to Henry’s level, takes him by the hand and they run together.
And Henry feels like he’s sixty-one again. Every Certified Public Accountant knows that sixty-one has the same digits as sixteen, which is sweet.
Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union. His writing appeared in Five Points, PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Short Fiction (UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton.