The Screaming Medusa by Nathan Willis

The Screaming Medusa promises to destroy worlds and everyone wants one.

There was a video online but it was taken down within hours for violating terms and conditions. Everyone claims to have seen it and says it’s good. So good it lives up to the hype and I haven’t been able to secure one from any of our distributors, legitimate or otherwise.

We have everything else; Golden Mayhem, Werewolf Apocalypse, Laser Meltdown, and all the usual M-80’s, bottle rockets, smoke bombs and roman candles. But no one wants those. They want the Screaming Medusa. And I’m running out of time.

We have a promotional event coming up with Langston DeFord, the Receiver who blew off two of his fingers last year lighting a firework. Mickey’s been trying to make this happen since he first heard the news. A week ago, Langston finally called back and said he was game. But it has to be something special.

The Screaming Medusa has eight Girandolas that transition across the entire color spectrum. They fall around the primary load of two concentric circles that hold their position and shape for five seconds before burning out. Then there is the screamer. It doesn’t have any sparks or lights. It sounds like a rocket going right at anyone within a quarter-mile until it lets off a final, loud report behind them. No one has any idea how it does this.

Mickey said he would get the lot set up and spread the word if I work on getting the Screaming Medusas. When I break the news that I haven’t been able to line up a single Medusa he isn’t worried. He’s sure I’ll figure something out. He reminds me that the store is on its last legs. We need this. Night Fire discount stores have been popping up all over the country and last year they opened one not far from here. The drop in business was noticeable.

The plan is to have Langston hold the lit Medusa over his head with the fucked up hand. We’ve hired a photographer to get a close-up when the fuse has a couple inches left. The image is going to be our new logo. We are going to launch an advertising campaign. This is what will revive our business.

I suggested that as a Plan B we do the whole thing with a Planet Burner, the same thing Langston lit when he hurt his hand but Mickey said that would be in bad taste. It’s a Screaming Medusa or nothing.

Langston’s first year on the field it looked like he was a bust. The coaches made excuses and said he needed to adjust to the pace of the professional league. To see him out there on the field, bewildered, not knowing the plays and missing easy catches, the issue appeared to be more than just pace. It looked like a problem with basic fundamentals, something it might be too late to fix.

The following year he was a monster. He caught everything. He wasn’t just the best receiver on the team; he was one of the best in the league. He maintained that level of performance for two more years until he suffered an injury in the off season that required emergency surgery. Then it came out that he did it setting off fireworks and lost two fingers.

There were rumors of a triumphant return after rehab.

The reports coming in said losing those fingers didn’t impact his game at all. He was the same player. Aggressive. Able. Catching everything.

Then footage of his practice leaked online. It was horrible. Worse than year one. There would be no triumphant return.

That video has not been taken down. It has over two million views.

At the end of each summer, Mickey and I split the leftover stock to store until the following year. He says there’s some law about having so many fireworks in one place that isn’t a business, which I’m pretty sure is bullshit.

Mickey doesn’t really have anyone else in his life. He burned all his bridges a long time ago. I think knowing I have half of something we share makes him feel less alone, even if it is just fireworks I put in the basement.

What he doesn’t know is I don’t bring it all back. I keep some of the good stuff for myself. Not because I want to shoot it off. I’ve spent so much time explaining what each one does and how it does it that I can’t enjoy them anymore.

I do it because I want to take something from Mickey. I want part of what he’s attached to missing when things pick back up in May. I want to lie and say I have no idea what happened but if he’s noticed, he’s never said anything.

As it turns out, it’s a good thing I took what I did because I might need all of it.

Allison didn’t mind the fireworks until a few months ago when she found out she was pregnant. Now she hates them. She doesn’t even want the extras I keep down there. She thinks that any day now this place will go up in one big, colorful explosion with us in it.

There are times we’ll be talking and if the conversation can somehow be associated with any of the family artifacts in the basement we can’t bear to throw away just yet, I know that what she’s really thinking about is us being blown to bits.

I didn’t realize how much I’d kept until I brought the boxes upstairs and laid everything out on the kitchen table.

I broke it all down and separated the casings, black powder and effects into different buckets. I sketched out what I thought a Screaming Medusa should look like and got to work.

It felt good to take apart the things that could hurt us and put them together in a new way.

Langston is late. We posted online about his appearance and a hundred people RSVP’d. At least twice that many have shown up. No one has bought anything. The crowd has been standing in a roped-off area for an hour and they’re getting restless. The photographer is telling Mickey we need to pay him whether he takes pictures or not and if he stays much longer he’ll double his fee.

A line of cars pulls into the lot. The doors open, a couple of guys get out and orbit around the last car until Langston emerges from the back seat. He’s wearing a silver suit and when he tugs the lapels to adjust his jacket the fabric shimmers under the sulfur lights.

Langston waves his hands over his head and the crowd cheers. They are cheering for his fucked up hand. I know this, the crowd knows this and he knows this.

When I found out Langston was coming, I wanted to ask him what happened after that first year. What did they tell him or what did he do that made the difference. I don’t want to know the answer. Not anymore.

The finished product, my Screaming Medusa, doesn’t exactly look like a professional job. Strips of duct and scotch tape are visible on the outside. The ink of the computer printed label is bleeding from all the glue. It looks like Medusa might be crying.

Mickey doesn’t blink when I hand it over and say there’s just this one. He bobs it in his hands and tells me I did a good job. He says he’s proud of me. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have any more right now. That might actually work in our favor. If people see we have it once, they will keep coming back to see if we have it in stock. We only need this one.

Mickey goes to Langston, shakes his hand, directs him to the launch tube and explains the process. Light it. Hold it up. Wait for the camera. Drop it in the tube. Get the hell out of there.

The launch tube is just steel pipe fastened to plywood. The crowd isn’t nearly as far away from it as they should be. I look down and see the words HOT ZONE spray-painted on the grass between the tube and the crowd.

This was Mickey’s idea of getting the lot ready. Nothing about this is safe.

Langston grabs the Screaming Medusa like he’s invincible.

Mickey addresses the crowd, introducing Langston and saying they are about to see something they will never forget.

Langston lights the fuse and raises his hand into the air.

The camera flashes as the fuse burns down.

Langston waits until the absolute last second to drop the Screaming Medusa into the tube and dive away, not quite making it out of the HOT ZONE.

The crowd is so quiet we hear the fuse stop and everything inside ignite.

We are about to witness the Screaming Medusa.

We are about to find out what I can destroy.

Everyone takes a step back.

I close my eyes and listen for the sound.

Nathan Willis is a writer from Ohio. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 99 Pine Street, Across the Margin, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Nottingham Review, Crack the Spine, Ink in Thirds and Booth. He is also a reader for The Nottingham Review.

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