I opened the door to greet the sales representative from the Rod Serling School of Writing. Mr. Gregg stood awkwardly on the stoop. He attempted a smile but his expression indicated he’d rather be somewhere else. He was a tall, thin, Icabod Cranish type of fellow with oddly bulging eyes. Rather than wearing a suit and tie, he wore an ironed oversized sweatshirt that said, Bugs R Us, with a stencil of a cockroach; baggy black jeans, and white high-top Converse sneakers. I figured maybe his outfit was in line with the Rod Serling theme of weirdness. I invited him into the family room, which was typical late 1960’s middle class with the ubiquitous painting of a tall ship at sea and the graduate photos of my older brothers on the mantel.

Dad had glasses of lemonade on the coffee table and was waiting to hear Mr. Gregg’s spiel. My Dad, love his soul, would do anything for me, his only daughter. He’d taught me to ride a bike when I was five, and to shoot skeet when I was fifteen. He got me my Mossberg 500 pump-action when I turned sixteen, and came to all my girls’ wrestling events during the season. But I objected to his nosing his way into my dream of a writing career and the decision to use my own hard-earned summer cannery money on this school — he always had to act like he knew everything.

I’d been seeing ads in magazines and on TV for the Rod Serling School of Writing for some time.  I was raised on black and white shows of Twilight Zone, Thriller, and The Outer Limits. I had filled out the aptitude test, written a short story, and sent off everything in the hopes of being selected and having my writing reviewed by my hero Rod Serling.  

Sitting across the table from us, his long legs at an uncomfortable oblique angle, Mr. Gregg spent a few minutes explaining how fifty thousand students were enrolled in the correspondence course around the United States, and what a great opportunity it was for an aspiring writer to have the chance to have her work reviewed by Rod Serling and other professionals in the television industry, which by the way was desperate for aspiring writers like myself.  He pulled a number of binders out of a briefcase, explaining how these were the kind of insider trade workbooks that all enrolled students were entitled to.

Dad let him say his piece and then leaned into him.

“Now, you don’t really mean to tell us that Rod Serling himself is going to be reviewing Katie’s stories, do you?”

Mr. Gregg’s expression changed from nervously optimistic to perturbed. “Not always, of course, because Mr. Serling himself is naturally very busy, but I assure you his assistants from the industry will be reviewing every piece.”

Dad parried and jabbed. “And by assistants from the industry, just exactly who are you referring to?”

“I mean, you know, people whose job it is to edit and assist Mr. Serling in the school.”

I timidly interjected, “Can you give us any names? Anyone who we might have seen their credits somewhere?”

Mr. Gregg was sweating now, his face had taken on an unhealthy pallor, and I noticed a reddish rash developing around his neck.

“I don’t have any with me directly, no, but I can provide…”

Dad: “Isn’t it so that at best you probably have college students reading and editing and that Rod Serling will never see anything Katie writes?”

Mr Gregg looked at his shoes for a moment, marshaling an answer. I was surprised by how Dad was exposing this apparent scam.

“And we’ve got some college professors signed up too.”

I saw victory in Dad’s eyes.

“So unpublished students and second-rate professors will be reading Katie’s work, rather than Rod Serling or, let’s see here, Richard Matheson and other people listed in your advertising? And for that we’re supposed to pay a thousand dollars for a two-year commitment?”

I was super-impressed by Dad’s relentless interrogation.

Mr. Gregg was beginning to tremble, and his skin was bursting out in ugly boils. Even his eyes seemed to be pulsating. I could see Dad realized he’d made his point and better lay off. “I thank you kindly for coming all this way, but we’ll be passing on your school. Katie can take correspondence courses from the college right here in town at a much better rate.”

“But… I have a wife and kids to feed!”

“Thanks but no thanks.”

As Dad and I stood to shake his hand, Mr. Gregg was gripped by some kind of seizure. He let out a tortured noise, sounding more like a night owl than a human, and suddenly his skin erupted, cracking along invisible seams. He stood to his full height, head bumping the ceiling. With one motion he discarded his outer clothing and skin, like an exoskeleton. A giant praying mantis-like insect stood before us. Dad gestured me to get back.

“Katie, I’ll hold him off, you go call the police.”

The creature jumped for Dad, horrible slashing mandibles reaching for his throat. Dad grabbed Grandpa’s Marine Corps sword off the wall and was able to keep the blade between him and those gnashing scythes. I ran for my room, grabbed my Mossberg from my closet and pumped three shells into it. Returning to the struggle, where Dad was being overpowered by the monster’s sheer strength, I hollered, “Dad, roll away now!”

Just as he did so I discharged buckshot into that creature’s head and torso. It exploded in a horrible green goo splattering the white walls, our furniture and piano and both of us.

My ears were ringing. Dad got up from the floor and put his arm around me. Shaken, we pondered the mess of vile carapace, steaming viscous innards and turgid liquids befouling the carpet.

Dad squeezed me warmly. “That’s my gal.”

I hugged him back. “That’s my Dad!”

Jonathan Worlde is the byline of Paul Grussendorf, who is an attorney representing refugees and a consultant to the UN Refugee Agency. Paul Grussendorf’s legal memoir is My Trials: Inside America’s Deportation Factories. Jonathan Worlde’s neo-noir mystery novel Latex Monkey with Banana was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award. Recent short fiction appears in Antietam Review, The Raven Review, the 2020 anthology Ghost Stories of Shepherdstown, in Cirque Journal, Ab Terra Voices, Every Day Fiction, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Sirens Call, Stupefying Stories and Daily SF. Paul is also a traditional country blues performer under the stage name Paul the Resonator, whose CD is Soul of a Man. He enjoys performing African-American blues for schoolchildren in Africa.

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