Quality Assurance
Chris Bauer


Cliff drained the beer can, focusing his eyes at the source of the insult. A winged monkey -- bristly grey fur, tail curled behind, wings folded -- perched on the railing of his deck. Its beady eyes followed as he delicately stacked the empty can on the growing tower.  Cliff popped open another, and the creature responded with a wide, toothy grin.

Taking a long slurp, he lowered the beer to see a second monkey land beside the other. This one wore a gas mask.

"This our recipient?" it inquired.

The first consulted a hand-held computer. It nodded confidently.

"Why da gas mask?" it asked.

"'Cause he's a STINKIN' loser!"

The simians rocked back and forth in hysterical laughter.

Cliff struggled to sit upright in the plastic lawn chair. He was in no mood for verbal abuse, especially from flying monkeys. He had no girlfriend, no job and no prospects of either. He was reduced to doing odd jobs to supplement his unemployment checks.

"Flying monkeys," he commented with the calm objectivity provided by four beers.

"Simia volaticus," corrected the know-it-all in the gas mask.

Cliff responded by taking another drink, cautiously peering over the can's rim.

A third monkey fluttered down to join his compatriots.
It lifted the sunglasses precariously balanced on it snubby nose. “Knock knock,” it said.

“Knock knock who?” came the predictable chorus.


“Loo who?”


The monkeys laughed riotously, wiping tears from their little beady eyes.

"Shove off," growled Cliff. He flung the can at the intruder wearing the gas mask. It easily dodged the aluminum missile, cocking an ear towards the ground in response to the hollow clank.

"He 'beer'-ly missed me!" it announced.

The monkeys howled in laughter, holding onto each other to keep from falling off the railing.

Cliff staggered up from his chair. "Fuck you!" He recovered the surviving beers and yanked open the porch door.

His sight blackened with flying monkeys.  To the flutter of a dozen wings, rough, little hands pulled him upward.  He struggled -- punching, twisting, kicking, until he looked below. Tree tops passed beneath him. He froze. He squeezed his eyes shut.

The wind whistled in his ears, accompanied by the rhythmic flap of monkey wings.

Suddenly, their grip released. He felt himself spiraling downward. Opening his eyes, his heart stopped at the sight of a police-car's roof rushing at him. He thumped, bounced, then slithered onto the hood. Ignoring the wailing alarm, he inventoried his injuries. He decided he felt okay, except…

His stomach churned.  Sour vomit shot from his mouth and up his nose.
Gagging, he rolled off the hood of the car. Then, he threw up beer all over himself, the pavement… and the police car.

Clinging to the door handle and mirror, he climbed back to his feet. He distinctly heard unrestrained monkey guffaws as police officers ran in his direction.

Cliff fumbled his apartment key into the scarred lock. The cold, disinfectant-stinking holding cell had sobered him quickly. His brother, the successful lawyer, was confident the charges would be pled down to misdemeanors with compensation.

Cliff pushed open the door. He groaned.

His meager furniture was overturned. Bookshelves were emptied, their contents scattered over the floor. Stale cigar smoke hung in the air, spiced with the odor of burnt cooking. From the kitchen came the clatter of plates, pots, and raucous drunken merriment.

Stepping over empty beer cans, books, and frozen food wrappers, Cliff tip-toed to the kitchen door and eavesdropped.

“Last—(hiccup)-brown booze,” rasped a simian voice. The distinctive pop of an opening beer can followed. “Let’s burn something.”

Cliff was cold sober now, and things would be different this time. He carefully planned his attack, then threw himself into the kitchen.

The floor was smeared with catsup, mustard, and a few unrecognizable substances. Flying monkeys were scattered on the counter, in the dining set chairs, and passed out on top of the refrigerator.

He ripped open a cabinet door, pulling out a heavy pitcher and wielded it, like Samson swinging the jawbone of the ass. Scattering his enemies, he slammed one creature in its furry chest. The simia volaticus bounced across the table, smacked into the wall, and flopped to the floor.

"Get out of here!"

Swinging again, he slapped one flying monkey against a cabinet.  It screeched in pain, but clung tightly to the pitcher, wrapping its tail around Cliff’s hand. Another tackled his leg, and he pounded it with his combined monkey-pitcher weapon. The creature on the refrigerator popped up awake, and flung itself at Cliff. He batted the monkey out of the air with self-amazing dexterity. Amazed by his hand-to-monkey combat skill, he flailed away with the monkey-clad pitcher -- bashing a swath through snapping jaws, clutching hands and grasping tails.

A second monkey clambered onto the pitcher, rendering Cliff's weapon useless.  Cliff yanked open the oven door and flung the monkey-pitcher combination inside. Then, ripping the electric can opener from the outlet, he swung it by the cord, mowing down his chattering enemies. The oven door squeaked open, and he slammed it shut with his backside.

His winged tormentors rallied into a monkey-phalanx, hooting and encouraging each other for a counter-attack.  Cliff pulled open the kitchen tool-draw, selecting a hammer. Adrenaline rushed through him, the fire of combat burning in his eyes.

“Come on you Wizard of Oz rejects,” he challenged. “Come and get me.”

“Man, you could hurt somebody,” whined one.

“Yeah, it’s like this is your stuff…” added another like he was speaking from a pulpit.

“It’s my apartment!”

“Au contraire, you merely rent,” countered the monkey-preacher.

Cliff felt fists desperately pounding the oven glass. He pressed his full weight against the door.

His first victim had regained consciousness, staggered up on all fours, and delicately examined its tail. Satisfied, the flying monkey shook out its wings and stretched to its full two-foot height. Pointing a murderous finger, it creature growled in a low-voiced mock Austrian accent. “I’ll be back.”

The Dorothy nemesis crew collectively fled the kitchen.  Cliff heard the deck door slide open, then a barrage of parting insults, followed by flapping wings.

“Let me out of here.” The voice from the oven definitely wasn’t a monkey’s.

Cliff crouched, peering through the oven’s little glass window. He looked directly into a human female face graced with ocean-blue eyes and perfect eyebrows. A torrent of wavy, blonde hair covered her shoulders.

Hefting the electric can opener as a precaution, he pulled down the oven door an inch, and peeked inside.

“Please let me out.” Her voice progressed from plaintive to demanding.

Cliff complied.

She poked out her head, retreated, slipped out a slim arm and shoulder, then huddled inside. “Uh, Could you get me something to wear?”

Cliff bounded from the kitchen, leaping over catsup and mustard puddles, skipping over living room rubble and debris.  He hesitated at the bedroom -- he could just give her a towel… no, it might be too small. Going to the closet, he slid open the door and examined his limited wardrobe. Something long enough… something easy to pull on… flipping through hangers, he found a grey button-down dress-shirt and ran back to the kitchen.

She had advanced to the door, but managed to maintain some degree of physical modesty. He could still glimpse a lithesome thigh, a finely toned shoulder, the soft curve of a breast…

Cliff offered the shirt. “I think it’s big enough.”

She nodded rapidly, clutching the clothing to her chest. “You know, you can leave now.”

Stepping over the condiment puddles, he paced back and forth outside the kitchen door, wishing he had a beer.

After a few moments, in a less than confident voice, she called him back.

She had rolled up the sleeves, and the front and back tails of the shirt barely covered the subject.

“Where am I?” she asked, her voice a mix of emotions.

“In my apartment.” Cliff struggled to prevent his eyes from wandering over the short-comings of the impromptu clothing. He tried to compensate by offering more information. “This is St. Louis. It’s March thirty, two-thousand one.”

Her eyes went wide. “Two thousand one?” she squeaked. Her shoulders shook violently, and an explosion of sobs poured out. Tears streaked down her cheeks. “A year,” she gasped. She futilely swiped at the tears with her sleeve.

Cliff fidgeted, not sure how to comfort a woman formerly a winged monkey. In a moment of inspiration he slipped past her to recover a handful of unburnt paper towels.

Sniffling, she accepted his offering. “You saved me,” she said, her voice hushed.

She stepped nearer, blue eyes locking onto his. “It was horrible. They made me one of them.  But all the time, I knew…” The tears poured again.  “You saved me!”  Arms open, she crushed herself to Cliff. Molding her body to his, she kissed him fiercely. In that instant, impressions flooded him -- flawless skin, tongue cautiously seeking his, her hips grinding against his groin….

Only a tiny part of his mind heard the fleshy ‘pop’.

Something sinuous caressed his thigh.  Bristly grey fur exploded through her cheeks, teeth became sharp needles.  He jerked his head away, watching her eyes change to dark buttons, the nose flatten and widen, her whole form shrink to a simian likeness. He tried to push it away, but the sinewy monkey arms clung around his neck.  With a desperate effort he broke the creature’s grip. It fell to the floor, bundled in the shirt.  Small furry hands reached from inside, unbuttoning its way out. Cliff stared wide eyed.  The flying monkey shook out its wings and grinned.

“Gotcha!”  Hooting triumphantly, it bounced off the apartment walls. Pausing, the creature theatrically blew him a kiss, then spread its wings and leapt into the air.

Cliff watched it shrink to a distant speck, the howling guffaws fading. After a while, he turned in a slow circle, surveying the wreckage -- empty liquor bottles, cigar ash, broken CDs, books flung in abandon, scraps of food painted on the walls.

“Why me?” Cliff screamed.

He pounded the floor with his fists. He shouted complete paragraphs of obscenities, stringing together new and unheard of epithets.

The ringing phone caught his attention. Too weary to answer, he let the answering machine take the call.

“Mr. Browning, I represent Flying Monkey Quality Assurance. May I ask a few questions about the quality of our harassment—"

Cliff hurled himself at the telephone, ripping the handset from the cradle. “The name is Brown!  There’s no Browning here!”

The monkey voice at the other end hesitated. “You’re not Cliff Browning?”

He roared into the speaker. “Brown!  The name is Cliff Brown!”

"Are you sure?" it responded, totally devoid of its maniacal confidence.

Cliff sighed heavily.

There was a long silence on the telephone, followed by panicked voices in hurried discussion. “Our mistake," it apologized.

The line went dead.

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