Mark James Wooding
justice for custiss

This is Day One of my search for the truth. My name is Arnold Custiss. Today I escaped from prison, where I was being held for a crime I did not commit. I was sentenced for murder, and for improperly passing a frozen dessert truck.

Yes, I did kill my boss. But I was nowhere near that ice cream truck. Someone framed me, and no one else cares; especially not my wife, who at my trial screamed for the judge to give me the death penalty.

Apparently the judge didn't think the crimes were that severe. He only gave me life in prison without parole, whereas he could have sent me home to live with my wife.

I wasn't afraid of prison. I'd seen Jailhouse Rock. I'd seen other movies, too. I was looking forward to some gritty games of football with the guards. I'm not sure where I got the idea from, but I thought it would be fun when the male and female prisoners got together every month or so for cotillion. I also thought that my artistic side would be satisfied working on the chain gang trimming shrubbery into the shape of playful animals.

It turns out that prison wasn't quite like that. Still, it was a step up from my previous life, with fewer fights and no shrill nagging. In spite of that, I couldn't get a good night's sleep, not with that undeserved stain on my driving record.

Since no one was going help me clear it, I knew I'd have to set the record straight myself.

I escaped from prison disguised as a seeing-eye poodle who'd lost his blind person. It took me weeks of hard work to create my disguise using an old sheet, and thousands of short hairs that I pulled from the prison's shower drains.

At first I tried to make a German shepherd costume, but straightening each of those short hairs was taking way too long.

The guards weren't sure what to do with an unattached seeing-eye poodle – until I started humping one of their legs. Then they let me go.

I broke into a nearby house through the doggy door, and I stole some food, some clothes, and a piggy bank full of bacon and sausage.

I’m writing this record of my search so that people can know the truth.

Before my conviction, my driving record was perfect. I'd never even gotten a parking ticket. I don't know why someone framed me for improperly passing a frozen dessert truck, but I'm going to see that justice is done, no matter how many things I have to steal, or people I have to hurt.

At night I'll hide in this secluded mobile home, and I'll search for the truth by day. I should be safe here. It belongs to a friend of mine who only uses it to hide out in when his mother-in-law is in town, and she's currently working as the fat lady in a North Korean circus.

Tomorrow I'll find the officer who said he gave me the ticket.

Day 2

I'll never forget the name of the police officer who lied in court about that ticket: Tom Butterworth. The search for the truth had to start with him.

Tom Butterworth looked a lot like Mrs. Butterworth, the lady on the syrup bottle. Their faces were so similar that I suspected that they were related.

The only differences were that Tom Butterworth wore pants instead of a dress, and he didn’t have boobs.

Wait. There was another difference. Tom didn't have an expiration date on the top of his head.

Or did he? I don't remember now.

Anyway, early this morning I entered the city under the cover of darkness. But I needed a disguise so I wouldn't be recognized in the daylight. Also, I really like disguises.

So I broke into a party shop, where I stole an astronaut costume. Everybody trusts astronauts.

I acted as casually as I could as I waited for the library to open. I caught myself trying to float a couple of times. It felt free, and beautiful, like being in outer space, but I stopped as soon as I saw the looks I was getting from passersby.

When the library did open, I got Butterworth's address from the internet. A couple of awkward bus rides later, and I was at his house.

It was his home, but I had the advantage of surprise -- he wasn't expecting an astronaut at his front door. I pushed him back into his house and threatened him with a ray gun. It was just a toy, but he didn't know that.

I took off my helmet. He recognized me right away. He apologized for lying in court about me, and said he'd felt guilty about it ever since. He said it was the police commissioner's son who had driven illegally around the ice cream truck.

I didn't make Butterworth pay for his crime: he apologized, he gave me the information I wanted, he promised not to report me, and he gave me a can of soda which was icy cold, just the way I like it.

When I left Butterworth's house I had to change my disguise in case he changed his mind and reported me. I found a uniform hanging on a clothesline, and I knew that no one would recognize me dressed as a Girl Scout.

There was a library just a couple of blocks away. I went there and got the police commissioner's home address.

As I left the library I was spotted by a group of Girl Scouts. Apparently the uniform I had stolen belonged to one of them.

They chased me for five blocks.

I spotted a stray kitten and I grabbed it. I tossed it at the fastest girl. She caught it, and the girls were distracted by its cuteness long enough for me to get away.

After midnight tonight I'll head back into the city and pay a visit to the police commissioner. This is actually going better than I could have hoped.

Day 12

My last entry was ten days ago. On that night, just after midnight, I went back into the city and walked to the police commissioner's house. I opened the living room window and was halfway in when three chihuahuas leaped at me and knocked me backwards. What surprised me most was that they didn't bark first. They must have been that strong, silent breed of chihuahua that you hear so little about.

Anyway, those annoying little dogs chased me out into the street, where I spotted a partially-open manhole. I pulled the cover off and jumped down to escape the dogs, but I hurt my collarbone in the fall, and wasn't able to pull I myself up to another manhole.

I got lost in the sewers for days. I became weak from lack of food. I was running a fever but I couldn't stop shaking. Finally, I was ready to give up. I just wanted to sit down and let sweet death overtake me, making all my pain and all my problems disappear forever.

I was just about to close my eyes for my final nap, when in the dim light I saw a group of rats staring at me. A couple of them came over and sniffed me, but I didn't move. They kept staring at me, so I just closed my eyes. If they were going to eat me, I wanted them to just go ahead and do it.

Then I felt a tap on my leg. I opened my eyes again, and one of the rats was gesturing for me to follow him, or so it seemed. I figured I was hallucinating so I closed my eyes again.

Then one of the rats bit me on the ankle. It turns out I wasn't ready to be eaten alive. Being eaten while you're still alive is very painful.

The same rat was gesturing for me to follow him, and one of the others looked like it was about to bite me again, so I got up and followed them.

They led me back to their home, where they fed me some mystery meat, and something that looked like toilet paper, but tasted like cabbage.

I'm hoping it was cabbage.

The rats nursed me back to health. We slept nestled together in one big warm group. The rat children loved to run over me when they played. All of them thought it was funny when one of them pulled my finger and I farted. They also loved to hear me sing romantic songs of faraway lands.

They made me a member of their pack. I went on foraging expeditions with them. There were some places I couldn't go, of course, but there were other places I could let them into where they normally couldn't have gone. We made a great team.

They became my new family.

I realized then that so much of my life had been a waste. Like when I brushed my teeth, I put two gobs of toothpaste on the brush, but when I brushed I only used one of the gobs, and I left the other one on the brush. That way when I brushed my teeth the next time, the toothpaste was already there, and I didn't have to waste time by taking the toothpaste tube off of the shelf, taking off the top, squeezing out the toothpaste, putting the top back on, and putting the toothpaste back on the shelf. I thought that over thirty or forty years it would save me a lot of time, but time for what? What would I do with that time?

I had no friends. I never talked to my family. My only companion was my wife, and we mostly argued. The only time we had physical contact anymore was when we had our hands wrapped around each others throats, or when I slipped in a pool of dog urine and she kicked me on the way down, or when I cut off her long brown hair while she slept and superglued it like a horse tail just above her ass.

Things might have been different between us if I'd made more money, especially earlier in our marriage. There was a lot of financial stress. Plus, I did sleep with her cousin, and her sister, and her mother and her aunt and her grandmother (the hot one, not the one with the oxygen tank; that one offered to pay me, but she didn't have enough money for me to be able to forget the missing leg and the full mustache). It's hard to tell how much any of that really bothered my wife; she complained about everything.

But that's all history now. My rat family accepted me unconditionally, and that was a new and wonderful experience that has left me ready to forgive my wife for her fault of finding faults with me.

I loved living with my rat family, but my mission to clear my driving record was incomplete. I knew I had to say goodbye. There were lots of hugs and kisses and tears, and they even gave me some gifts to remember them by.

They gave me a metal nut, which I think was from a plumbing fixture. They gave me a screw, and a cup hook. Also a quarter, and a small, unidentified piece of metal. These may not seem like much to a person, but the rats treasured these items.

The rats showed me an underground path out of the city. I made it back to the trailer safely, where I took a long overdue shower.

I'll have to come up with another plan to get to the police commissioner, but for now I just want to comb the fleas out of my hair, and sleep. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I might cry a little, too, because I miss my rat family.

Day 13

I have a plan. I'm going to pay a visit to the police commissioner's house during the day today. It's the weekend and he should be home.

I'll disguise myself as a mild-mannered proctologist, and I'll say that I was sent by the police commissioner's doctor to perform an emergency colonoscopy. If the police commissioner argues at all, then I'll knock him out, tie him up, and when he wakes up, I'll torture him until I get the truth. If he doesn't argue, I'll knock him out, tie him up, and when he wakes up, I'll torture him until I get the truth.

I definitely won’t give a colonoscopy, even if he agrees to it. I am not qualified to do that, and I don't intend to ever be so qualified. I mean no offense to the doctors who are. I'm sure it's an important job, I'm just glad that someone else does it.

Ah, dang it! My rat family wouldn't approve of torture. I'll have to think of some other way to get the truth out of the police commissioner. I may have to improvise.

I'm writing this entry so that if I’m caught today, whoever finds this will know the truth, and maybe my name will get cleared.

Here goes.

Final Entry

My plan worked, sort of.

I went to a hospital, where I stole a lab coat, a stethoscope, and an anal speculum made of stainless steel. Then I paid another visit to the police commissioner's house.

When he opened the door I walked right in. The lab coat and stethoscope bought me a few precious seconds of respect. I told him about the emergency colonoscopy, but he didn't believe it. He threatened to call the police, so I knocked him out with the anal speculum. I was going to knock him out anyway, but I wanted to see if he'd believe the colonoscopy story.

Apparently the lab coat fooled the chihuahuas too, but when they saw me hit their master over the head, they realized I was an intruder. They chased me into a first floor bedroom. When the last dog had entered the bedroom, I kicked them farther in. Then I stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind me, trapping the little bastards.

The police commissioner was still unconscious, so I carried him into the dining room and laid him diagonally over the table. I tied his hands to one table leg with the stethoscope, and I tied his legs to another table leg using a lamp cord.

When he woke up he looked at my face, and he recognized me as the person who had entered his house and knocked him out. Then he recognized me as the person he’d framed for improperly passing a frozen dessert vehicle. He saw the difficult position he was in, and he said he was ready to talk. He said he would tell me everything.

Then his wife walked in.

She must have been taking a shower, because her hair was wet. I knocked her out and tied her to a chair using the cords from the Blu-Ray player, the cable box and the television.

The police commissioner - his name was Larry - begged me not to hurt her. I told him I didn't want to hurt anyone, but I wanted the truth. Again, Larry said that he would tell me everything.

Then his son walked in.

I knocked out the son – whose name was Hal – and tied him up too using cords from the kitchen. Larry begged me not to hurt Hal. I told him that I had already told him I didn't want to hurt anyone, but I wanted the truth. Again, he said he would tell me everything.

Then Hal's girlfriend walked in.

She was quicker than most of the others, and she managed to scratch me before I knocked her out. I tied her up with other electrical cords that I found in the kitchen. But I began to worry. I was running out of electrical appliances to cut cords from.

Larry started to talk, and I told him that if he begged for me not to hurt the young woman that I’d just knocked out, I was going to hit him over the head with a chair.

Larry's wife - Heather – woke up. She saw her family tied up, and told me that if I would spare everyone else I could have my way with her.

I told her that I wasn't there for that, I only wanted the truth.

She said, “Are you sure?” She started to go into detail about the things I could do to her if I let everyone else go.

Larry told Heather to shut up, that I just wanted the truth about how I was framed for murder.

I thought he must have made a mistake. I was only framed for improperly passing the ice cream truck.

Then Hal's girlfriend – Veronica – woke up, and she said that if I'd spare everyone else, I could have my way with her.

Then Heather called Veronica a slut, and they started arguing.

Larry shouted at both of them to shut up.

Then Hal, the police commissioner’s son, woke up. He started crying. He said it was all his fault. My late boss had been blackmailing him over a photo of a romantic relationship that Hal had had with a piece of office equipment. Hal went up to give my boss his monthly payment, and saw his blackmailer lying on the floor.

That must have been after I’d hit my boss in the head with a three-ring binder full of documents, and while I was in the bathroom washing my face, wondering what to do after what I thought was my first murder. I’d hit my boss because I’d had all I could take of his constant criticism and his foul-mouthed insults.

To Hal it had looked like just an accident, and he took advantage of it to hit my boss in the head with a pistol butt and finish him off. He didn't intend for someone else to take the fall, but since I was going to be convicted of murder anyway, he asked his father to get him out of the ice cream truck mess too.

Then all the people who were tied around the table started arguing with each other. I was sick of all of them. I just left them there, tied up and arguing.

I made my way out of there in a daze. I thought I had killed my boss, and when I found out I wasn't the killer, I was crushed. All my life I'd been a failure, and killing my boss was the one thing I'd ever done that I was really proud of.

When I had come back from the bathroom and had seen several of my co-workers staring at my late boss's body, I confessed what I thought was my crime. Some of my co-workers were overjoyed, and tried to carry me on their shoulders around the office. Before my months in jail I was a lot fatter, and we all fell over. But just the fact that they tried was one of the best feelings of my life.

When I was in jail I even got a thank-you note from my late boss's family.

But it turns out that I'm still a failure.

However, my rat family loves me, and I'm going to go back to live with them. And this time I think I'm going to bring some flea repellent with me.

If you hear rumors of a man traveling the streets at night with a pack of rats, don't dismiss it as an urban legend. That will be me and my rat family.

My life among humanity is over.

Copyright 2016 Mark James Wooding
Cover art 2018 Samantha Rose Wooding

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