by RSL

From CHM #36 June 2023

She will learn

that if a man runs off the edge of a cliff

he will not fall

until he notices his mistake.

From Nick Flynn, ‘Cartoon Physics, part 1’

In the perfect little town of Dureem, a tired, emotionally spent Thomas Mupp is opening the door to his detached house with calming cream walls and cool oak flooring. Prying off his boots, he slams the door with his free hand. Today had been long. He’d told his father this morning that he needed to leave Dureem, and he did not take it well. And now, coming into his home, he genuinely struggles to remember a life outside of today. So like a hatchling in the darkness of a shell, his every cell screams only one thing: that he needs to get out of Dureem.   

“David,” Thomas calls from within the hallway. “Where are you?”  

David does not reply as instantly as he usually might. His silence (and apparent absence) from the house prickles his neck. It’s not like David to be out at this time, and if he is, he’d have left some kind of message. Thomas goes to their open plan kitchen where David is typically writing on a laptop in the corner, but he isn’t there either, and the laptop lies closed on the couch.

Just as he’s about to call David’s phone, there is a bang above Thomas’s head, like something falling. “David?” Thomas runs to the stairs, afraid for him.

Finally: “Yes!” David replies, his voice muffled by plasterboards and flooring. Thomas hasn’t even mounted the first step when David practically falls down the stairs he comes down so fast. Framed by the stairwell, hair disheveled and shirt untucked, he looks delightfully stupid. “What’s wrong?” David asks, as if reading in between the lines of Thomas’s thoughts.

“Nothing,” Thomas replies, bracketing a cry. He embraces David, and David holds him so tight that this feeling of looseness within Thomas, this feeling that he is not quite all together real, leaves, and they meld as one.  

“Wine time?” David asks in a gentle voice.

Thomas sniffs and unlatches. “I just want to leave.”

“Come on,” he says, holding his arms. “Just talk to me. Tell me what’s up.”

His turgid eyes blink back the breaking of a dam. “Please,” he says.

“We’ll go,” David replies. “I promise. I just want you to relax and calm down now. You’re safe here.”

Reluctantly, Thomas agrees. “Maybe one or two will settle me. But I’d like to go as soon as possible.”

“Of course,” David says. “Anything. Do you want a red or white?”

Thomas shrugs.

“Well, red it is,” David says. “It’s what I have these great big fangs for, ain’t it?” He turns and heads to the kitchen. While over there, he puts on music. “Alexa, play, ‘Soothin Tunes’,” pronouncing tunes like toons.

“Sorry. Slip of the tongue.”

“It’s okay,” Thomas replies. “It’s not your dad who’s a cartoon character.”


“By blood, I mean,” he says, taking from David a glass of wine. “Unless you’re hiding some whiskers?”

“All family is blood. And Ronnie the Rat is part of me as much as he is you.”

“Yeah?” Thomas drinks his wine in seconds, goes to the kitchen worktop and refills, then returns to the couches with the bottle and his glass. “I wish you could take half the burden, then.”

“So today didn’t go well?” he replies.

“You mean me having to put up with the little-boy-isms he patronizes me with… Or the constant Manifesting he does, tirelessly conjuring clowns out of his ‘grey goo’ or whatever the fuck he calls it, while I’m trying to speak to him like an adult? You mean all that?”

David gulps dramatically. “So he didn’t like us bailing.”

Bailing is doing a lot of legwork in the wrong fucking direction. We’re not bailing, David. We’re just moving away. He can pop up anywhere and everywhere, so it’s not like some difficult trip.” He sighs. “He owns everything around here. I want independence.”

A song changes from some soft-sung ballad to a washed-out rendition of something by Chopin. Rain Prelude maybe? Thomas briefly wonders who these artists are, who with all their skill cover songs stylelessly, only to be reduced to a nameless entity filling up the room. Sonic wallpaper. Thomas is reminded of his dad’s films, the ones Harry put on to keep Thomas quiet. The ones David now works on. Thomas shivers at the sudden chill wrapping around his neck.

“Where were you before?” he asks, changing the subject. “I thought you were working on one of his scripts.”

“Yeah,” David says. “I still am. He’s just trying to figure something out with a character. ‘The key is trauma’, he keeps saying. But I’ve had no chance to work on it all that much.” He drinks some wine. “Busy day.”

“What kept you busy?” Thomas asks.  

You, silly,” he replies. “I’ve been worrying all day.” He reaches out his hand. He takes it. Their fingers lattice.

“I know, I should have messaged. Let you know how it’d been. But it was hard even going there.”

“What do you mean?”

“I was at his… Play Palace, or whatever he calls it. Outside it. Going over what I needed to say and how to say it. And I was looking at his, you know, balloon towers he has. Great tall things in the ‘Crimson Courtyard’, you know where he has those fountains that splurge that blood-like stuff? And I just kept thinking about what could happen to me.”  

“What do you mean what could happen? He’s never done anything wrong?”

“No. Not officially.”

David pauses to drink more wine. “What about that courtyard? I thought you liked them. And I Doubt he’d make you swim through blood.”

“I did, when I was four. And no, it’s not blood, but, you know. Hard to untangle that association. But this is his whole thing. He is, and always will be, Ronnie the Rat. He could never be like this, like us. A human. Everything is painted holes in walls and dust clouds whenever he runs anywhere.

 “I’ve seen him fly off into space and return without a scratch. Seen him swallow hot suns and burp out aluminum. He has lava for breakfast, can take a hit from a collapsing mountain, and can drink black holes like milkshake.

“So I was looking at those balloon towers wobbling in the air and the red oozing from them, and I was thinking, ‘He’s not frail; he’s not like a balloon; he doesn’t bleed.’ And yeah, I was thinking, like, what’s he gonna do to me? He can do anything to me. Do anything to anyone. We’re nothing. But him, Ronnie the Rat. He’s not frail.”

“Why would he be frail or human?” David says. “He’s a cartoon.”

“You’re struggling to read the room tonight. I know. I’m not disputing that. I just—he was a dad. He played the game Human Race. And he should never have adopted us if he didn’t plan on living up to those expectations. So, no, he doesn’t get to make films or whatever he’s working on right now, not if he thinks, what, ‘trauma is the key’? Not after what he did to Harry.”

A noise from outside prompts Thomas’s attention: his neighbour, Ms Tick, lit by her porchlight, taking out the rubbish. She notices Thomas and waves through the patio doors. Thomas nods back.

“What time is it?” Thomas asks.

“6pm,” he says.



“Nothing.” Thomas eyes his wine and downs it in one. The gulp hurts his throat.

“Woah there cowpoke,” David says.

Thomas flinches when he says this, retracts and repours another wine.

“What’s up?”

“Sorry,” Thomas says, holding his hand again. “It’s not your fault. I’m just on edge. Today was rough and brought up a lot.”

“I’m sorry,” David says, stiffening. “Do you wanna maybe talk more about it? Like, am I meant to be packing?”

Thomas sighs. “Yes, and no.”

“Yes and no?”

“Well… We had it out, as you can imagine. But it’s tiring with him. One minute he’s Ronnie the Rat playing the violin on his whiskers, modulating his voice in strange notes, whispering, ‘Oh, Tommy-boy, Oh Tommy-boy,” and the next he’s a wheel of cheese rolling around the room. Then when I really got angry, he broke out into song, flashed us through a desert, then to I think a moon of Jupiter, and then some shadowy pillow world that smelt of raw oil. And the whole time I’m just crying, you know, trying to tell him that I’m suffocating here.”

“Maybe he just wanted to make you laugh? You know, to bond?” David says.

“And that’s the problem. I’m there asking him to let me go.

“‘Let me go’. He’s not forcing us to live here.” David’s back straightens, alert like a guard dog. “He wouldn’t hurt us, would he?”

“He doesn’t say we’re locked in here, but when was the last time you left Dureem? I know I can’t remember. Feels like this is my whole life: Coming home and complaining about dad.”

“And watching Ms Tick like a hawk.”

Thomas smiles. “Fuck all else to do.”

Thomas looks out the patio doors again, into the darkness. The deep purple hues of the bruising sky are blackening.

“I’ve left,” David says. “Not sure when or for what. Work, I think. Editing.”

“Was it for dad?”

“No, no. My work with him is only for now. We’ve been real close lately. Maybe that’s what he’s so angry about. This story that’s eating him up. People are tricky, he says.”

 Thomas isn’t listening. He’s watching the bin where Ms Tick was moments ago. He stands and moves to the patio doors. “You know, every day for the past… I don’t even know how long. But for as long as I can remember, every day at 6pm, Ms Tick takes her rubbish out.”

David is silent but for the slurping of his wine. Thomas cringes.

“Don’t people have routine?” David asks.

“The bin is every two weeks, David. I suppose it is always me doing it. While you, what, whittle away the hours at that manuscript for dad. Getting real close with him.”

“I don’t understand your point,” David says. He is meek, shriveled into himself, a tortoise retreating to its hell.

Thomas downs the rest of his wine and goes to the cupboard to get more, sighing as he opens the wooden door. There’s only white. He mixes the remains of his red with the white and necks it.

“I shouldn’t lash out at you.”

“It’s okay,” David says.

Thomas lets the bad air of argument filter, then speaks. “What’s he like with you, honestly?”



“Yeah. He’s—honestly, he’s okay.”

Thomas drinks more wine.

“No, seriously. He does a lot for us. Talks about you all the time. ‘What a rootin tootin lad he is that starshine o’ mine’, he says, in that lovely foxtrot of an accent he does. And, yeah, he looks after me. When we’re at his Play Palace, it’s rough sometimes. He’s surrounded by this press team and all these rotten eggs who don’t care none for what he does. Not at all, no sir. They don’t know what he’s making here. This Story. It’s his magnum opus, he says. What’ll make people take him seriously. He won’t just be a cartoon. He’ll be a creator. And it must be tough, musn’t it? He must be lonely. No one like him.”

Thomas is down half a bottle, eyes fogging with drunkenness like the mist on a car cold car window.

“Look, I know this is a bit left field—but think about it: he made everything for you. And this place, he built it for you, he says. He spoke for a long time with me. He loves you. And I guess, yeah, maybe I feel like we’re bailing on him.”

Thomas returns drunkenly to his seat, head wobbly, lolling lazily, the wine leaving him light and loose. “He was a terrible father, David. Awful. You weren’t there. You didn’t see what he did to us. To Harry. He can tell you whatever the fuck he likes, but I am removing him from my life.

“Do you know what it’s like to watch your dad morph his hand into a mallet and smash a waiter’s knees off? Or to hear your little brother crying because there was another ‘accident on set’ that we had to pay off, and it turned out he’d just vaporized one of the grips with his ‘Peepee laser gun’? The hurt he’s caused so many people over the years. It’s too much to deal with, to remember. That past, festering.”

“Where’s this come from?” David asks, his words molten with a sudden fury. “Why are you like this?”

Thomas eyes the bottle of white he grabbed, except now it’s red. “I swear this was a white,” he says.

“Thomas, you’re drunk. I asked you a question. Why are you like this?”

“You,” he replies. “We met. And, I dunno. You. You were very nice, but you didn’t take shit. Like Harry.” Thomas looks off into the night, where the porchlight still shines from Ms Tick’s house. “I miss him.”

“I don’t want to leave,” David says then. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. Ronnie has—”

Stop saying his name.

“That’s his rootin tootin name, Tommy-boy. What else am I to call him?”

“His what?”

“His—fuckin name.”

Thomas pulls back in his chair. His eyes flick upward.

“What’s wrong? Thoma—”

“Shut the fuck up.” Thomas’s hand, accusatory, points at David. “You’re not him. You’re not David.”

David laughs. “Hon—”

Thomas shouts, loud. “Stop it. Bring him back”

“This is ridiculous,” David says, standing. “You’re drunk. I’m going upstairs.”

A smash of a glass. David turns. Wine pooling on the floor. In Thomas’s hand: a smashed shard of glass to his throat.

 “You fucking move and I do it. I do it right now.”

David’s hands are up—playfully. “Look, calm down, okay, this is not the way to go about this. I’m sorry. I was—disrespectful. I wasn’t listening to you, Melon.”

“Dad, what have you done with David.”

Another laugh. “I am David.”

She starts walking around the perimeter of the room.

“Where are you going?” He moves closer. he yells, presses the glass to his throat. Blood leaks.

“Any closer and I fucking rip my throat open. I’m going upstairs. Move back.”

“Christ on a croissant, just look at your neck—”


David sighs, bored. “Fine, okay. Exeunt.”

Thomas makes his way to the stairway, then slowly steps up each stair with his eyes on this not-David. At the top of the stairs, he spins, runs to where he had heard the bang earlier. He is crying and calling for David, for the man his father has clearly done something to. Ronnie can be anyone, do anything—and he’s hurt David. He’s hurt him and took his place to convince him to stay, to—

But bursting through their bedroom door, there’s nothing. No signs of a struggle, no smashed furniture. All that is out of place is the open window and blinds flowing like the tail-end tendrils of a ghost.


Thomas spins to David at the door.

“What have you done with him?” Thomas demands, his back finding safety in the bedroom wall, near the window.

I’m David,” he replies. “Come on. Let’s reconvene our tête-à-tête.”

Thomas’s hand is on the window now, and in his back left pocket, the shard of glass.

“You’re him,” he says. “David?”

“Yeah,” he replies, coming closer, his hand rising to his face. “I’ve always—”

Thomas doesn’t give him a chance. Stabs him right in the side of his face, the shard ripping through his jaw, then throat.

But red runs. Blood. A foul and bright near neon red in the twilight-light dusk of the bedroom. And Ronnie doesn’t bleed red.

Thomas lets go of the glass—still lodged in David’s pulsing pulp of a neck—and returns to the wall.  

Then he begins to tremble, scratching at his airless throat.  

Because David’s body is bubbling, and that blood burns to a foul ashen grey. Then comes the sound of what can only be imagined as a black hole’s screech. Some mad, hungry roar that somehow sucks in the air, the room whirling now in a vortex. The bubbling body bloats like a balloon and then bursts, flies around the room comically, grey goo splattering across Thomas’s face and the walls. The sack of flesh that was once not-David whacks the wardrobe with a wet slap.

Thomas is out the window now, sliding along the tiles. Fuck this. But when he gets to his car, it’s gone, replaced with a Ronnie the Rat See ya soon, folks, sign.

He runs around the house to the cover of night, toward Ms Tick’s house, the only other car he knows, and the little perfect town of Dureem shakes. A voice.

“Son o’ Mine, O beautiful sunning shine – where is it do you go?”

Ronnie is singing, with all the bravado of a children’s film finale, and Ms Tick isn’t answering her door. Thomas charges at it. He falls through with ease, and is in the house, covered in a stinky, chunky liquid. The door behind him bears a Thomas-shaped hole, crumbling apart. It’s cottage cheese.

“Ms Tick?” he shouts, crawling, dragging himself up. “I need your keys, I need—”

Thomas bumps into a wall, a wall that perfectly represents what he assumed to be Ms Tick’s living room. He isn’t sure how moments ago it looked real, but he pushes over the flimsy cardboard anyway.

A bad mistake.

The cardboard cut-out of the living room gives way to a bottomless pit, and stars are swelling and bursting in bright flashes of cosmic puss throughout that endless space. The sound, the vortex of a black hole scream, fills his skull like a mad swarm of hornets eating away a nest of bone. Far off into the pocket universe that has bloomed in the living room, cold constellations and corpse stars congress, and soon those alien asterisms form the face of Ms Tick. Her monstrous mouth widens and unrolling from the black nebula is a tongue-like red carpet, travelling faster than light from what must be billions of light years away. It only takes a couple of seconds for a shape to emerge on the end of that tongue, a foul, terrible, awful blot on the skin of the universe. Who could it be? Why, it’s only Ronnie the Rat doing a jig in his showman outfit, booming in a high falsetto, “Oh Sweet, Sunning, Beautiful Shine, O’ Handsome Son o’ mine! Why do you leave me to die?”

Thomas is out the house again now and running on the road when his legs stick to the floor. He wrestles his leg out of whatever is holding him, only to see molasses-like strands grabbing like fingers his calf. He is in a toffee swamp that is slowly simmering, evolving from the muddy, brackish brown to a deep, merlot red made black in the tangoing moonlight. And just as he reaches the pavement, the blood-toffee river drops away, revealing only that same cosmic wound that is festering in Ms Tick’s house.

Thomas jumps the fence into another estate where the houses he runs to all burst into confetti. And his dad is still singing…

“O Son o’ mine, the prince and pyre, you’re burning a hole in my home! And don’t you see, my jewel, my bean, that I will not let you roast?”

Thomas is running through a now houseless field, avoiding the meatless whack-a-moles that burst like geysers out the ground, when his phone rings. He checks to see if it’s David. It is. Answering, he tries his best to abate ragged breaths and talk. The other end emits only a whimpering, snotty cry that boils to a full-on scream, Ronnie’s voice in the background, deep and chthonic: you were gonna take my rootin tootin lad weren’t ya hotstuff, oh yes, you were—

Thomas stops running.

Oh he’s listening now when loverboy turns up. Are you listening Tommy-boy?

Thomas nods, terrified for David.


The click of Ronnie’s fingers down the phone: and with a blink, the world is bright again. A blank unyielding voidspace.

“Behind ya, Zoos, my boy.”

Thomas rotates slowly on command like a broken Lazy Susan.

Ronnie’s showman suit is now a mess of royal regalia and ragamuffin robes that boast the mangled, agonized Os of screaming faces. Beside him is the messy pulp of David. His face, welted and bruised, is a gaunt mask with the horn of a coat hanger hooked through his eyeless socket, while what should be his body hangs limply like a stretched morphsuit.

“Here you are my sweet! My munty-mire. My glassy-eyed twitchy thoughtless fire.”

“Dad,” he says, sniffing. “Just let him go. I won’t leave.”

“Oh, but son, my peach and plumb! I thought you sincerely wanted to run?”

“I did. I do.” He looks around. “But where could I go.”

Ronnie smiles, his mouth rippling into the open air, wider than his face allows. The grin conjoins and comes full circle above his head, and in this new little fleshy halo a grey, foamy ball manifests. Lips red with blisters rupture its surface. It speaks in a low, grumbling, toneless tone. “You have come around, Son? Thine rebellion have ended? Harrison’s lesson hath returned?”  

Thomas keeps looking at David whose mouth opens and shuts every now and then, his eyes white like milk. Thomas nods, remembering Harry suffering the exact same way.

“Is he hurting?”

Ronnie’s eyes furrow, then a big blue hand stretches out of his ear and slaps Ronnie’s cheeks, popping his eyes out. They float toward David. Ronnie’s original now eyeless form and little ball of grey goo burst into flames. From the floating eyes, Ronnie’s form grows back. “Yes,” he says. “Pun-ish-ment.”

“Why?” Thomas asks.

Ronnie bursts like a blister and floats over to Thomas like a mist. He is holding his breath when he begins condensing his form around him. He manifests again with his arm around his neck, holding him like an old friend. “You know how much I love you. And Schmavid-David, and Hawwy-son, was gonna take you away from me.” Ronnie clicks his fingers and a lazy-eyed, malnourished, smaller version of himself appears before David’s hanging skinsuit. It slaps the flaccid skinsuit’s bottom. “Talk,” it says in a scratchy chipmunk-tuned kitten-voice.

David tries to speak and fails a couple times. His mouth opens and static comes out, a high pitch tune undercutting it all. When he finally voices syllables, it is a far off, distant vocalization, like the voice mail left on a voice mail left on a voice mail.

“I went to Ronnie and asked if we could take a break, see the world,” David says in that awful voice. “And he brought me to his Party Room, the pocket in which we are now in, and he showed me the truth of our mask—”

Ronnie’s little minion zips David’s mouth shut, torquing his moans.  

“The truth of our what?” Thomas asks.

“He’s been in the Party Room for far too long—he doesn’t know—”

Thomas stumbles backward, into white expanse, Ronnie following lightly. “Too long? How long have you been him?” Nausea burns in his stomach.  

“I wanted you back at your daddy’s side,” Ronnie is saying now, but the white noise of David’s voice is searing Thomas’s mind. So long ago. Where had all his hours been? All his life felt like this one day, today, like he was born just this evening. He tries remembering David—but can’t. Not him, at least. Tries remembering outside of the perfect world of Dureem, or even his brother, Harry. Their adoption, their life before Ronnie… But nothing arrives to the shores of his mind. Just blank whiteness.

Thomas very suddenly wants to die. And just like that, his hand wields that glass shard from before. Ronnie’s eyes widen, window wipers clearing them of the rain of disbelief.

“Son o’ mine!” he shouts in a thunderous voice, flying toward him like lightning.

Too late. Thomas slits his throat.

There is a pulsing, a wet heat beating out of him. Whiteness, whiteness… The black of his eyelids.


“Ya still here dumby.”

Ronnie in front of him; Skin-suit David a little further away; Minion-Ronnie now a pile of grey goo. And it’s this colour that draws his eye closer to himself, to his hand, the one that did it all, ended his life, the final sentence. Where there should be bright, vivid red, coagulating in the fresh void-air, there is only and utterly the abysmal, foul, evil greyness of Ronnie’s magic goo coating his glass shard and hand.

His hand finds his throat. Cut, open, but sealing. In his left hand: a bottle of white wine suddenly manifested shimmers to red. And to his right, that shard of glass reforms into a full wine glass. He lets these two items go and they float, the wine pouring into the glass.

Except all of that is wrong. It’s not him that looks to his left hand, not him that looks to his right. And he certainly didn’t reform those items himself.

Ronnie is smiling at him.

“No,” he says, and his belly widens, splits apart, intestines folding into themselves in a symphony of squelches, packing neatly away in folds of furry fat. “You didn’t. But oh, you were so very close.” Great megladonic blades for teeth rupture the sides of his flesh, and at the centre of his belly is a black foundry among maggoty stars that wriggle and wrestle against the dirty night. At the centre of this heaving mass is a gaping, hungry maw, the pupil of an unblinking eye.

Thomas doesn’t know what Ronnie means, or what is happening. First, the mess that is David pools into a grey mush, his moans melting to barely noticeable bubbles on the goo’s surface. And Ronnie slurps him up. What could Ronnie have meant? To be so close? He thinks about the glass shard he had in his hand, and—look!

The shard reappears. He—he has control. How does he have his his father’s—

“That’s enough of that,” Ronnie says, slashing Thomas’s hand clean off. And just as Thomas tries to manifest something else, his body begins to quake.

“Oh Tommy-boy, the strings, the strings… They’re falling….” And as Ronnie sings, Thomas’s legs wobble, his arms weaken, but Thomas still fights, fights till his eyes pop with a sad poof of air, only to reform again weakly. His fingers bloat and pop like overfilled sausages. His nose, cheeks, mouth—they swirl away, floating into the grey mass of goo he is now becoming. And as the sick truth of his Making uncoils Thomas’s thoughts, he falls, blank-faced, like a stringless puppet to the floor.

“Tricky stuff, humans,” Ronnie says, drinking what remains of the goo called Thomas, “but we can always start again.”


* * *

For more cosmic horror and weird fiction delivered to you every month, try our free magazine! Tap here to learn more.

Scroll to Top