John Adams – The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

The Sequel’s Sometimes Better Than the Original

by John Adams

J.T. and Coleman were in a rut. 

Not individual ruts. Individually, they’d never been better. J.T.’s restaurant was actually turning a profit. And Coleman’s ridiculous hours had paid off with a snazzy office and a promise he’d make partner soon.

But collectively, as a unit, neither of them were excited by their marriage anymore. At least, J.T. wasn’t, so he assumed Coleman wasn’t either—though J.T. hadn’t thought to ask. Given his growing boredom, J.T. could hardly blame himself for sometimes messing around with their neighbor, Jeremy. Or that guy from the record store whose name he kept forgetting. Or Coleman’s brother. 

Sure, J.T. was no better than an unneutered dog when it came to marital fidelity. But a dog had to wag its tail. 

Like so many other things in their relationship, their Friday-night trips to the drive-in were always the same, with Coleman falling asleep while J.T. grouchily made junk-food runs. On one such outing, as J.T. paid for the evening’s haul—popcorn, Skittles, Cherry Coke—the pimply clerk asked, “Do you have our new customer-rewards app?”

“Right.” J.T. fumbled for his iPhone. He scrolled through several screens, landing on an icon of the drive-in’s logo. The words ‘REDEEM UPGRADE?’ flashed. “Whatever,” he mumbled, tapping a ‘YES’ button.

“Upgrade in progress,” a female voice droned from the app.

“That’s annoying,” J.T. said, waving the phone.

The clerk grinned. “You have no idea.” She turned to the next customer in line.

J.T. started to interrupt and ask about his ‘upgrade’ but decided it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t like he or Coleman were going to die of thirst if their medium Cherry Cokes weren’t supersized. Besides, he could hear the film starting.

The movie was one of the myriad Agent Jackson spy flicks Coleman claimed to love yet still managed to sleep through. To J.T., the entire series was just a bunch of overdone car chases, noisy gunfights, and not-quite-risqué-enough sex scenes. Still, though, Bryson Devereaux, the latest actor to take on the Agent Jackson role, was pretty hot; at least J.T. could enjoy the movie for that.

He was halfway back to Coleman’s CRV when the entire lot was thrown into darkness. Every car-side speaker stopped, and the screen went black. J.T. stumbled, temporarily blinded. “What the hell?” he asked his armload of cholesterol. He braced himself for the customary boos that came whenever movies stopped mid-reel. 

No such noise came.

Just as abruptly, the screen lit up again, showing a ruggedly handsome tech-mogul CEO plot world domination with his slobbering Doberman Pinschers. J.T. scowled at the corny dialogue. How long until they got to a shirtless Agent Jackson scene? 

He found his way back to the CRV. Carefully balancing the food in one hand, he opened the passenger-side door and crouched inside. He shut the door—loudly, since Coleman had probably fallen asleep by now—and turned to his husband. “They didn’t have any—” 

J.T. gasped, almost spilling the Cherry Cokes. Coleman wasn’t asleep beside him. Coleman wasn’t beside him at all. The man beside him looked exactly like Bryson Devereaux—the debonair Agent Jackson himself. 

“I… have the wrong car,” J.T. stuttered, face burning.

The man in the driver’s seat gave what People Magazine once dubbed ‘That Million Dollar Wink.’ “Oh, J.T.,” the man said, in a familiar and incredibly sexy Southern drawl. “Stop kiddin’, sweetie.” The man leaned over, grabbed Coleman’s food… and planted a kiss on J.T.’s shocked lips. “Thanks for gettin’ the grub. You’ve been such a patient hubby lately, what with me workin’ such long hours keepin’ the world safe.”

J.T. slowly turned from this man—his ‘hubby’?—and stared ahead. On the movie screen, a spy was briefed about the handsome villain’s threats to overtake the world’s governments. But the spy wasn’t Agent Jackson. No, Agent Jackson was in Coleman’s beat-up CRV. The spy on the screen was Coleman. A very befuddled-looking Coleman.

J.T’s pocket vibrated. “Another upgrade?” a muffled, female voice asked.

Hell, yes, J.T. was taking another Bryson Devereaux-sized upgrade! He yanked out his phone and slammed his finger on the app.

The drive-in lights flashed again—unnoticed, it seemed, by anyone but J.T. 

When the lights came back, his legs were in a different position. He felt lower to the ground, slightly cramped… but oddly comfortable. J.T. was no car expert, but he was pretty sure the old CRV had just turned into a fresh-off-the-lot Lamborghini Veneno. 

He looked at his husband—Agent freakin’ Jackson!—and saw him laughing at the movie, oblivious to the changes. On-screen, the Doberman Pinschers chased a comically inept Coleman away from the CEO’s high-tech lair. 

“Upgrade again?” the app asked.

J.T. rapidly pressed the phone screen—again and again and again. 

Flash! The concession-stand Cherry Cokes were now gin and tonics in crystal glasses. 

Flash! J.T. wore a sleek Brioni Vanquish suit. 

Flash! Flash! Flash! His shoes… his watch… hell, it even felt like his underwear… improved. 

J.T. stared at his phone. “Final upgrade?” the voice asked.

J.T. grinned. “Why quit when you’re ahead?”

He pressed his thumb down.

Flash.

J.T. was crouched on all fours, surrounded by growling dogs. A smirking Coleman stood before him, arm seductively draped around the handsome CEO. Beyond them, in the drive-in lot, Bryson Devereaux laughed from inside a Lamborghini, sipping a cocktail. Beside Bryson, a Doberman Pinscher wagged its tail. 

The credits rolled.

John Adams (he/him/his) writes about teenage detectives, robo-butlers, and cursed cowboys. His publication history includes Australian Writers’ Centre, Bowery Gothic, Dream of Shadows, Fat Cat Magazine, Intrinsick, Metaphorosis, Paper Butterfly, SERIAL Magazine, The Shortest Story/The Story Engine, and Weird Christmas. Forthcoming publications include Gallery of Curiosities, peculiar, and The Weird and Whatnot. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions) and 6×10 Play Festival (Barn Players) and selected for readings at the William Inge Theater Festival and the Midwest Dramatists Conference. He performs across the U.S. with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: https://johnamusesnoone.com/. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.

John Adams – Butter-drenched Fingers, Clasped Tightly in Prayer

Butter-drenched Fingers, Clasped Tightly in Prayer

By John Adams

Dear God, I am very much sorry about three things.

First, I am very much sorry for not praying recently. That is Petunia’s fault. She sleeps in the next cot and teases me for praying. I am glad you did not put me on Earth to judge others. I would very much judge Petunia.

Second, I am very much sorry about the thing I did that made one person die and another person go to jail and another person say a naughty word meaning “bottom.” That is also Petunia’s fault.

Third, I am very much sorry I stuck my fingers in the butter at Fancy Lunch. That is my fault.

Let me tell you more about the second thing, which is Petunia’s fault.

We had just served Fancy Lunch to Matron Malloy’s lady friends from the Gentlewomen of Johnson County. (They are much friendlier than her grumpy man friends from Kansas City.)

We were in the parlor of our orphanage—Malloy’s Girls Home—in the godly community of Mission, Kansas.

“Bewildered Belinda, the yellow-belly!” Petunia sang. The other girls cackled.

“I am no yellow-belly!” I hollered. “I am brave, like the Christians who enforce Prohibition across our nation. And stop calling me ‘Bewildered Belinda’!”

“I shall call you whatever I please, Bewildered Belinda.” Petunia pushed tiny, hobbled Emma aside and loomed over me. “Now, go wash your hands. They’re still buttery.”

Matron Malloy stepped into the parlor, thwapping her cane against the wooden floor. “Girls! Time for your performance!” We scurried outside. (I went last so I could lick my delicious fingers in private.)

Now, let me tell you about our performance.

Last month, Matron Malloy took us via locomotive into Kansas City to see Daisy Daydream’s Farm—my first-ever moving picture. I laughed when Daisy stomped on the bottom of the rake. The handle shot up and knocked her noggin! (You should see it, God!)

The only part I did not like was whenever Daisy talked, because the screen showed words I could not read. Petunia called them “title cards.” She teased me that Daisy was telling the whole theater what a yellow-belly I am. (Petunia fibs!)

Matron Malloy goes to Kansas City often, but never before with us. This was a special night. When we returned, she announced we were to perform a play based on the very picture show we just watched—for none other than the Gentlewomen of Johnson County! If we delighted them, they would “take us up as their cause,” which Matron Malloy said was a good thing.

We rehearsed our play in the garden every afternoon for weeks. Each day, I cried to Matron Malloy, begging her to let me play Daisy Daydream. She chose Petunia instead and cast me as Pig #2. (That made me cross, which is why I took your name in vain that one day, so I guess that is a fourth thing I apologize for, God.)

The day of the play, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County arrived in sleek motorcars. We served them what Matron Malloy called “Fancy Lunch.” (The butter was very fancy, indeed!) The ladies wore crepe dresses and felt hats—even Matron Malloy brought her nicest cane!

During Fancy Lunch, one of Matron Malloy’s grumpy Kansas City friends visited. I very much did not like him. (Nor would you, God.) He had a crooked nose and crossed arms. Matron Malloy glared at him, the way she once glared when tiny, hobbled Emma slurped applesauce.

After Fancy Lunch, we performed Daisy Daydream’s Farm. It was horrible. The crooked-nose man just scowled, arms crossed. The society ladies called me “piglet.” Worse still, when Petunia stepped on the rake, she dodged! It didn’t knock her noggin—not even a little! (I now agree with other Christians that acting is sinful.)

Afterwards, the Gentlewomen of Johnson County left, cooing of “temperance” and “temperament.”

But that crooked-nose man? He didn’t leave. When Matron Malloy ordered us girls to bed, he stayed.

In the parlor.

With her.

Arms crossed.

I lay in my cot, thinking about that spooky fellow. And about something else, too: Petunia’s teasing. “I’m no yellow-belly, Petunia,” I muttered to myself, throwing off my blanket.

“Belinda?” croaked tiny, hobbled Emma.

“Hush,” I whispered, racing down the hall.

I quietly opened the parlor door, peeking inside. The crooked-nose man clenched Matron Malloy’s bony shoulders. “Boss Pendergast says you’re skimmin’ off his booze money out here in the boonies,” he hissed. “Time for retirement.”

My very frightened throat squeaked.

“Huh?” The crooked-nose man twisted around, releasing Matron Malloy.

She sighed, yanked her cane forward, and thwapped his crooked nose.

14 times.

It only took six.

He lay before her, bleeding. He twitched… sputtered… stopped. Matron Malloy casually shrugged dirt from her nice dress, smiling at me. But not a nice smile. “Good girls stay in bed, Belinda. Naughty girls… get punished.”

She lunged across the parlor. I scampered back, ducking as her bloody cane whooshed by my head. I dashed out the front door, Matron Malloy close behind. Shrieking, I ran across the garden, hopping over set pieces from the afternoon’s performance.

Something wooden thwapped behind me. I was certain it was the cane, sending me to heaven.

But instead of angels… I heard tiny, hobbled Emma’s victory cheer: “Her [naughty word] is clobbered!” (I won’t repeat Emma’s actual word, God, because it is naughty and means “bottom,” but it also means “donkey,” so if you want to pretend she meant “donkey,” I will share that the word was “ass.”)

Thank you, God. Thank you for leaving that rake where Matron Malloy would stomp, knocking her noggin into deep sleep. Thank you for sending us Mrs. Salisbury, our new matron who is not (as the Gentlewomen of Johnson County whisper) “enmeshed in moonshine, murder, and that ghastly Kansas City mafia.” And thank you for finally stopping Petunia from calling me “Bewildered Belinda.” I very much prefer my new name: “Brave Belinda.”

Please forgive my four trespasses. In Jesus’s name, amen.

John Adams (he/him/his) is a writer, improviser, and producer from Kansas City. He primarily writes the genre he’s coined “inclusive absurdist speculative melodrama” – which means “monsters, aliens, and ridiculously huge emotions.” His fiction has been selected for publication by Dream of Shadows, Siren’s Call, 101words.org, and The Drabble and shortlisted in The Molotov Cocktail’s 2019 Flash Monster Contest. His plays have been produced by Alphabet Soup (Whim Productions, 2018, 2020) and the 6×10 Play Festival (The Barn Players, 2016) and selected for readings for the Midwest Dramatists Conference (Midwest Dramatists Center, 2017, 2018, 2019). He performs at comicons and comedy festivals across the United States with That’s No Movie, a multi-genre improv team. Web: http://JohnAmusesNoOne.com. Twitter: @JohnAmusesNoOne.