D. Paul Angel
Claire walked up to Bruce as he was pouring himself a cup of coffee.
“Have you lost weight, Bruce?” she asked, looking him over as she grabbed some coffee for herself.
“No, I don’t think so,” he replied, unconsciously sucking in his gut anyway. “I have finally been able to get decent some sleep though. Maybe that’s it?”
“Oh that makes all the difference! Are you doing something different at night?”
“No, to be honest. I just used to have these horrible nightmares, but they just seemed to suddenly stop a couple weeks ago. I don’t know, maybe they’re just not waking me up anymore? Who knows,” he finished with a smile.
“Would you say the dreams stopped on or around the fifth of this month?” a deep voice asked, joining the conversation.
Bruce turned to see that three very large men in suits had entered the room and walked right up to him and Claire without his noticing. The man in front, with the deep voice, gave Claire a quick smiled out of the side of his mouth that only made him appear all the more intimidating.
The other two, Bruce realized, didn’t even look as though they know how to smile.
“I’ll, uh, talk to you later Bruce,” Claire said, backing away and hurrying out of the room.
“Oh, you forgot your coffee,” Bruce shouted after her, but she half waved without stopping. The door’s *click* as it closed was louder than Bruce had ever heard.
“So, we were talking on, or around, the fifth of this month. A couple weeks ago as it were,” the man said again as his two friends casually took up residence between Bruce and the door.
“Uh, maybe? Who are you?” Bruce asked while trying to figure out what to do with Claire’s coffee cup which he was still lamely holding in addition to his own.
“I, and my learned colleagues, represent certain vested interests in the newly emerging field of nightmare eradication. Perhaps you are familiar?”
“Oh, you’re with Monster-A-Go?” Bruce asked, starting to relax a bit.
“In a,” Deep-Voice paused, looking at the ceiling and waving his hands in thought before finishing, “in a loose manner of speaking.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” said a new voice, surprisingly even higher than Claire’s, “that we are part of Monster-A-Go’s collections arm.”
Bruce turned, expecting yet someone else to have entered, only to find himself looking at the same two very large men as before. He couldn’t even tell which had spoken.
“I don’t understand,” Bruce finally said, turning back, as Deep-Voice casually took Claire’s coffee cup from him.
“One of your neighbors, who shall remain nameless per our strict respect for HIPPA regulations, engaged the services of Monster-A-Go in the recent past. Their treatment began on, or about, the fifth.”
“I still don’t understand.”
“Your nightmares were clearly rounded up and eradicated at about the same time.”
“I guess so? I mean, maybe? And- So what?”
“We are scientific minds, Bruce. Do you mind if I call you Bruce?”
“Uh, no. You are?”
The man broke Claire’s mug with a quick clench of his fingers, spraying himself and and Bruce in scalding hot coffee. Even as Bruce tried to wipe the hot liquid off him, the man casually opened his hand, letting the larger pieces drop without even a hint of flinching before answering, “The best friend you have in the room.”
Bruce audibly gulped.
“So. Bruce. As we are all possessing of scientific minds here, it would certainly strain the bounds of credulity to believe that the stopping of your nightmares, on or about the fifth as well, would simply be coincidental.”
“You think my neighbor’s treatment affected me?”
“‘Think,’ Bruce, is not nearly strong enough of a word.”
“What do you want then?”
“Why, payment of course. Your nightmares have been eradicated, right?”
“But I didn’t ask for it!”
“Regardless, you have clearly benefited from Monster-A-Go’s proprietary treatment which is not now, nor has it ever been, free.”
“You expect me to pay you for something I didn’t even ask for?”
“You irrefutably received the benefit of Monster-A-Go’s intellectual property,” replied Deep-Voice shrugging.
Bruce turned to try and pace in frustration only to almost run into the two behind him, so he ended up just uncomfortably twisting in place. After a little more futile fidgeting he exclaimed in frustration, “That doesn’t even make sense!”
“Unfortunately, Bruce, such legalities rarely do.”
“This is a joke, right? Hidden camera?” Bruce asked looking around the room, “I mean, you can’t seriously be charging me for something I didn’t agree to!”
“I assure you that we take the eighteen thousand, four hundred, ninety-three dollars and forty-two cents you owe us quite seriously.”
“Eighteen thousand dollars!?”
“And four hundred, ninety-three dollars and forty-two cents. Due in full.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Bruce shouted.
“Immediately,” added High-Voice, with far too much eagerness for Bruce’s comfort.
“But- I don’t have that kind of money!”
“Then I am very sorry to inform you, Bruce, that you and I can no longer be friends,” said Deep-Voice again, as he slowly began pulling out the coffee cup shards embedded in his hand and deliberately dropping them on the floor.