Kyle Cleaver shakes the cobwebs out of his head, slowly opening his eyes.
He’s in a small room with a concrete floor. Tools hang on the walls and lay scattered on workbenches. Pieces of a disassembled lawn mower lay piled up in a corner.
A record player sits on a nearby card table. Several dog-eared albums are stacked against it.
Kyle’s heart races when he realizes he’s tied to a chair.
A large white figure turns around to face him. The bulky, man-like body has puffy, stubby, arms and legs and a head resembling an ice cream cone. Its face has a perpetual grin with friendly, happy eyes. The figure’s cone-shaped head is topped with a gold crown cocked to one side. An oversized blue cape with gold embossed letting is tied around the figure’s neck.
“King Kone,” Kyle says.
“Good. I’ll have a royal slushy and a cheese royal with kingdom fries. And please make sure the fries are crispy.”
“Do you know why you’re here?” King Kone asks.
Kyle makes a note that the speaker’s squeaky voice sounds as if it belongs to a teenage boy.
“It can’t be to review your food. That’s not my department. I’m an entertainment critic. By the way, your food and ice cream deserve a five-star rating.”
“You’re here to answer for your crimes.”
“Oooh, an inquisition. And I take it you’re the judge? The least you should have done is dress up like an evil inquisitor or a devil, or something else intimidating. King Kone makes me want to have a chocolate sundae and laugh like a kid. Hey, how’d I get here?”
“Take out. The Chinese takeout you ordered took you out,” King Kone replies proudly. “I paid the cook forty bucks to slip something other than MGS in your Chow Mein.”
“So, you studied my eating habits. Smart. So why am I here again?”
“You’re here to answer for your crimes against musicians, for the vicious reviews you’ve written that have ruined artists’ careers.”
“So why the costume?”
“It was the only costume available, okay? Because of your scathing reviews, Cleaver, twelve recording artists were dropped from their labels.”
“They should have been dropped from the Empire State Building. And why aren’t they here instead of some kid in a moth-eaten King Kone outfit? Face it, King, the twelve so-called artists you’re seeking vengeance for were amateurs or simply lacked talent.”
“You gave Peter Portnoy’s first and only album a one-star review.”
“That was two years ago. Tell him to get over it.”
“It was written like a personal attack.”
“Because I wasted an hour listening to his country-western claptrap that I’ll never get back. I didn’t want to give him any stars at all. My editor made me give him one.”
“Your words were cruel, unnecessary.”
King Kone turns away. Shuffling toward a workbench, he picks up several sheets of paper.
“This is some of what you wrote. ‘Peter Portnoy is a country music clodhopper, but his music has been classified as having ‘too much rock’ for Nashville. The only rock you’ll need after listening to this Hee-Haw inspired torture fest is the one you can find outside to throw at Portnoy’s record.’”
“A lot of quarries reported a shortage in rocks that summer.”
“…The opening song, ‘Prayer for The Men of the Oak Hill Mine,’ will inspire you to pray for a steam shovel so you can bury Portnoy and his hillbilly hack band deep in the nearest cavern. In ‘Save Me,’ Portnoy’s dead serious tone makes him sound like a backwoods Moses, but his scatological cornpone lyrics have all the clarity of Robin Williams on acid. ‘It Won’t Hurt’ is dominated by Portnoy’s amateurish turn on pedal steel. Portnoy plays the instrument with the skill of a sadistic nun running her fingers down a chalkboard. Yes, it hurts.’”
“You should read what I wrote about Bob Dylan. Yet it hasn’t kept him from croaking out new records year after year.”
King Kone’s gloved hand shakes as he continues to read aloud. “‘In the movie ‘Mars Attacks,’ the earth is saved from hostile invaders when the hero discovers that country-western music makes the Martian’s heads explode. I’m certain the album they used was Portnoy’s record. Save this pasture patty for when the Martians attack and you’ll be a hero. Play it before then and if your head doesn’t explode, anyone within listening distance will certainly attack you.’”
“If it makes you feel any better, I called Adele’s voice a ‘five-alarm fiasco.’”
“Why did you review Portnoy’s album?”
Kyle squirms in his chair, trying to get free. “It was a public service. It was so horrible, I had to put it out of its misery.”
“You should review albums you like.”
“What good is that?” Kyle squawks. “If you haven’t noticed, King, no one pays attention to good news anymore. People love to see celebrities cut down to size.”
“Did you know Portnoy came from an abusive background? His father was an alcoholic who died from cirrhosis when he was eleven. His coke addict mother beat him until he ran away. He was homeless when he was thirteen.”
“If he was singing those malodorous melodies in my house, I’d beat him too. Listen, Paul McCartney’s mom died when he was fourteen. John Lennon was seventeen when his mom died. They’re the greatest songwriters of all time. Portnoy should have learned to channel his pain the way they did, rather than blame me for his failure.”
“Are you aware of what your review did to his career?”
“I hope it kept him from having one. Bad artists deserve bad reviews. They’re like a venereal disease. If you don’t pay attention to it, it’ll only get worse. Try and ignore it, and it can kill you.”
“Maybe I should kill you, Cleaver.”
“What purpose would that serve?”
“It would rid the world of a mean-spirited, smarmy, negative force.”
Kyle laughs. “You make me sound like Darth Vader. Am I the only critic who gave Portnoy a bad review?”
“No, but you’re an influencer, people pay attention to you. Your words are like arrows. They hurt, they wound.”
“I think that ice cream costume is making your brain soft. You and Portnoy need to grow a backbone if you plan to be a success in this business.”
“You have no right to use your column to belittle someone. Look at you. You’re short, fat, balding, ugly, and unexceptional. You look like Bun E. Carlos, Cheap Trick’s drummer.”
“Now that is an insult,” Kyle chuckles. “Perhaps you should write your own column.”
“Maybe I will, right after I kill you, Cleaver. Maybe I’ll become you. I’ll write under your name, and I’ll undo all the horrible things you’ve done.”
King Kone waddles to the workbench. Picking up a blow torch, he struggles to light it.
“You might want to lose the gloves,” Kyle suggests.
King Kone turns around. His gloves are on fire.
Shrieking, King Kone throws off his gloves, stamping on them.
Sparks shoot off his shoes.
“Nice Birkenstocks. They’re flammable, you know. So much for melting my face off.”
“I was trying to scare you.”
“Oooh, I’m petrified. I have a way we might be able to resolve our differences,” Kyle says. “How about I write a new column about…about…”
“Peter Portnoy,” King Kone says angrily. “His name was Peter Portnoy.”
“Right. It’s either that or you can untie me and let me go. I promise I won’t press charges.”
“I’m the one who should be pressing charges!”
“Let’s see. You drugged me. You could also be charged with kidnapping, menacing, and threatening me with bodily harm, and that’s just for starters,” Kyle says.
“I should have you arrested.”
“For what? Assault on a career with a deadly pen?”
“You ruined Portnoy’s life. You ruined my life.”
“C’mon, King. You’re taking this fandom thing a bit too far, don’t you think?”
“He was my father.”
“After your review, he spent eighteen months on the road, trying to rebuild his reputation. People laughed at him. Audiences booed him off the stage before he even sang a note. There was even a website... Punish Peter Portnoy.”
“Oooh, do you have the link?”
Even though he’s wearing a benign-looking King Kone outfit, Kyle can tell that the boy is glaring at him.
“Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.”
“My mother left him for a D.J.”
“Now that’s a crime.”
“My father was broken by all his bad experiences. He stopped playing. He destroyed his collection of guitars, all except for the acoustic guitar he used to write the songs for his first and only album. Two years to the day after your review, my father went out in the woods and shot himself. When I found him, he was lying next to a copy of his album and your review. His blood was on your review.”
Kyle blanches. “Perhaps we can reach an agreement. I’m a wealthy man, you know.”
“Money earned from the blood and tears of the artists you’ve ruined.”
“Pardon the pun, but you’re beginning to sound like a broken record,” Kyle says. “You and I know that no matter what you do, you can’t bring him back. I’m sure your father would want you to live out your life comfortably. My poverty can be your vengeance. Let’s make a deal.”
“I’ve got a better idea,” King Kone replies.
King Kone ambles over to the record player, turning it on. Picking up a pair of headphones, he plugs them into the stereo. He selects a record. Removing it from its sleeve, he carefully places it on the stylus.
He brings the headphones over to Kyle, placing them on his head.
“Do you recognize the artist, Cleaver?” King Kone asks.
“Is this your father?”
“Yes. This is the record you gave one star.”
Kyle grimaces. “I hate to admit it, especially given my present predicament, but it hasn’t aged well.”
“Keep making cracks if you want, Cleaver,” King Kone replies. “Let’s see if you’re still so glib after you’ve listened to this every minute of every day for the next week, two weeks, or two months.”
A heavyset, balding man sits in a neighborhood park playing a beat-up acoustic guitar. The gaunt, skittish teenaged boy standing next to him keeps a close eye on the meager tips listeners have dropped in the singer’s open guitar case.
A couple stops to listen.
“Say, isn’t that one of Peter Portnoy’s songs?” the woman asks. “I’ve always wondered what happened to him. Guess the poor guy couldn’t take the heat.”
“It’s weird. The singer kinda looks like Kyle Cleaver, that reviewer who really tore him apart,” the man replies.
The teenager approaches them.
“What do you think of Peter Portnoy’s music?”
The man listens closely. “You know, Cleaver was right. It sucks.”
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Heh, this story's fantastic! It's hard to tell who to root for. Is this a story of a bereaved child trying to get justice against an arrogant asshole? Is this the story of an honest critic who was kidnapped by a deranged reader? Both, actually, simultaneously. That's what I like about it. It's messy. There's an argument against Cleaver that his words led a man to take his own life, but it seems like those words were right. On that note, love the ending. Definitely a let down for the kid. Great humour throughout. Thanks for the laughs!
Thanks for the comments!
Loved this story!! Very clever use of the prompt :) Well done! Cleaver is sooo bad but also consistent even when faced with possible torture, haha. The punishment is sweet revenge. I love the whole premise. (btw, I think you meant MSG instead of MGS. You can still edit it.)
Thanks! I appreciate your comments (and your editing skills).
Haha, yeah. Your story was one of my favorites so far this week :)