The Essence of Brimstone

**This is another Francis story (first one being the “Francis Fairy Tale” before this).  Most of my weird writing tends to center around a boy-man named Francis who, in each tale, I’d like to believe is essentially the same Francis but one who is living in a separate dimension from all of the other Francises. The Francis below is one of the most sympathetic versions of himself. Enjoy :))

There once lived a very sad and very fat man.  His name was Francis Whiteman, but everyone who knew him (even his own mother when she was in one of her teasing moods) called him “Francine.”  Francis didn’t think this was very funny.  However, he was too afraid to stand up for himself, and each time that he did his tormentors would steal his lunch or call him names far worse than Francine.  It seemed to Francis that he could never redeem himself in the eyes of his peers, especially since he still lived with his mother in a one-bedroom apartment.  They shared a bunk bed; Francis got top bunk and his mother, who was getting older and could no longer climb up stairs, let alone a bunk bed, slept in the bottom.

When Francis was a young boy, there had been nothing particularly unusual about living with his mother.  Most boys his age lived with mothers of their own.  However, the bunking situation of the Whiteman household was not exactly accommodating when it came to Francis’s first youthful attempts to clamber up the social ladder and join the ranks of his peers.  He would have been satisfied with a friend—maybe two.  Unfortunately, the secrets to social success at Stoutman Elementary School lay in the suspiciously guarded domains of athletics and playdates, and, most importantly when it came to playdates, sleepovers.

Francis had been a rotund fellow all of his life, born at a hefty 12 pounds 8 ounces.  And, as the years passed and his chins grew in number, it quickly became apparent to Francis that his ever-expanding girth could no longer be attributed to “baby fat.”  This was the explanation that his mother had always fed him alongside his eggs, bacon and hot chocolate (extra marshmallows!) each morning.  Phyllis Whiteman was truly a loving, sweet-natured mother, but, unfortunately for Francis, this sweetness was not merely a quality of her character but also a critical component of her recipes and mealtime inspirations.  Francis was no athlete and he knew it; he figured he could make a couple of friends by being a social butterfly.  He had heard grownups use the phrase and understood the concept of being social, but he was uncertain of the butterfly part.  He just hoped it didn’t mean he had to be pretty or capable of flight. So, the key to any semblance of popularity was The Sleepover—the greatest test of a kid’s coolness, an unforgiving evaluation of his toys and home.

Unfortunately, having perpetual sleepovers with one’s mother wasn’t really viewed as a cool thing to do—in fact, Francis’s schoolmates found it to be pretty freaky.  Thus, sleepovers, for understandable reasons, proved to be a challenge for young Francis.  In reality, the plurality of the term “sleepovers” is misleading, as there had ever been only one sleepover in the history of Francis’s childhood.  One was all the schoolchildren needed to conclusively determine that Francis was a loser weirdo.

It all took place one Friday evening in the beginning of third grade.  Francis had coasted the first few years, neither liked nor disliked by his peers.  He was a sweet boy by nature, but was deathly shy and spoke to people who weren’t his mother only under the most extreme of circumstances.  Very few people even knew what his voice sounded like.

Yet, deep down Francis had been deeply lonesome and yearned for a companion.  He and his mother were both horribly allergic to most fur-covered mammals, so a pet was out of the question.  His companion would have to be human and preferably not his mother.  The opportunity for friendship first presented itself in the third grade when a new boy joined Francis’s class.  This boy knew nothing about Francis, hadn’t judged him as “weird” or “fat” or “too quiet” as Francis had always secretly assumed the rest of his classmates had.

Jordan Sommerlad, the new kid, was a Quaker.  Nobody had really known what that meant, but the mysteriousness and exotic nature of such a title was appealing to the curious bunch of third graders.  There’d never been a Quaker at Stoutman Elementary School before!  Cylindrical canisters of Quaker Oats were passed clandestinely around the school hallways so that all the kids could see what a grownup Quaker looked like and determine whether or not being a Quaker was cool.  It was ultimately determined that the Quaker Oats man looked just like George Washington, except friendlier, which was cool.  Plus, Jordan looked just like Frodo from Lord of the Rings, which was even greater. But before it had officially been decided that Jordan Sommerlad was cool, Francis made his move.

“Hi Jordan, I’m Francis.”

“Hi Francis.”

“Wanna come over to my house and have a sleepover tonight?  I’ve got Nintendo 64, plus my mom lets me watch MTV and the Discovery Channel sometimes!”

“Um, OK. “

It had been a brief conversation, but Francis had felt hopeful.  Sparks of friendship were in the air.  Sadly, the friendship was never meant to be.

Things had been going alright between Jordan and Francis for most of the evening.  Between the video games and the Discovery Channel there hadn’t been a lot of conversation, however, so Francis couldn’t be sure whether he had won himself a new best buddy or not.

The pair had been hanging out in Francis’s (and his mother’s) room and had just finished watching a disturbing TV-14 documentary on the History Channel about the earliest known shark attacks.  They’d also learned how, apparently, certain ancient tribes believed sharks to be creatures of the devil.  Nightmarish images of unhinged jaws swallowing plump seals whole were still drifting through Francis’s mind when his mother had burst into the room, wrapped in a bright blue bathrobe covered in little white bubbles and sea tortoises.

“Don’t mind me, boys!” she’d said with a smile. “I’m just hitting the hay early tonight—up with the chickens tomorrow and off to the wiener stand!”

Francis blushed.  He hated when his mother said “wiener,” especially in front of guests.

“OK, mom.  We’ll just go to bed, too, I guess.  We don’t wanna keep you up or anything.”

“Now, there’s a good boy!” Francis’s mother responded, beaming at her adorably round son.  “Goodnight, sweet love.  I’ll see you in the morning. And, goodnight Jordan!  Hopefully my snoring doesn’t wake you up, sweetheart!”

She laughed and Jordan joined in, though halfheartedly, as he was fairly uncomfortable with the entire situation.

“So, where will I be sleeping?” Jordan asked, previously under the impression that he would be occupying the bunk in which Francis’s mother was now quite comfortably resting.

“Oh, you can just share my bed!” Francis responded, unaware that boys in his grade no longer shared beds with other boys.  It was weird, kind of a girl thing to do.  Jordan hadn’t brought a sleeping bag with him, so he had no choice but to join Francis in the top bunk.

Francis had fallen asleep almost immediately, dreaming of evil sharks trying to eat his mother.  Jordan, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep.  Francis’s mother’s snoring was too loud.

In school on Monday, the harassment began.  Jordan had spread the word about Francis’s small house and disturbing bunking situation.  The Discovery Channel and Mrs. Whiteman’s heavy snoring apparently were pretty hilarious to Francis’s classmates as well. From that point onward, Francis became increasingly sad and increasingly introverted, his life centered around his mother and his studies—and soon, his mother and the family hotdog stand.

Each day, Francis would return home from a long day of work at “Whiteman’s Wieners,” feeling worse than ever.  The town locals (many of which were old schoolmates) found this stand, along with its sole employee Francis, to be incredibly comical.  Francis and his hotdog stand were the butts of every joke.  Sometimes, however, the harassment would go well beyond the comparatively innocent realm of “joshing around,” as his mother often put it.  Nothing could ever make a permanent dent in Phyllis Whiteman’s cheery spirit.  The loss of her husband had not been easy to cope with—he’d collided in his cheerful yellow VW Beetle with a large truck that had, apparently, been hauling brimstone across state borders—yet she’d managed to move on and smile at the world once more.  Francis was different—sweet-natured, but very lonely and a frequent sufferer of nightmares.  He felt isolated, haunted at times, and he really hoped that his life wouldn’t always revolve around hotdogs and his mother.

However, 13 years later, Francis found that his world was still making long, slow revolutions around the family wiener stand.  The rest of his classmates were graduating from college and Francis was still woefully preparing wieners for mostly nonexistent customers.  Very few people seemed to enjoy the taste of Francis’ss hotdogs, perhaps because, lately, the wieners’ primary sources of seasoning were Francis’ss tears. His day-to-day routine had grown monotonous.  Each morning, Francis would arise at the crack of dawn, consume a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cocoa Puffs with his mother and set off for work.  On increasingly frequent occasions, however, he would discover not the hotdog stand with which he’d grown up and knew so well, but a vandalized and humiliating display.  The vandals would spray paint vulgar symbols all over the hand-designed dancing hotdogs to which his mother had dedicated so much time creating.  Each time this happened, Francis would sadly begin the slow process of scrubbing off the shameful vulgarities that he knew would reappear in only a matter of time.

On one particularly disastrous morning, as Francis was in the process of gathering his old, worn out scrubbing and cleansing tools, a strange man appeared from the depths of the deepest, darkest shadows.  Francis was not certain what it was about the man that bothered him, but he immediately felt unsettled.  As the man stepped closer, into the light of the rising sun, Francis’s discomfort increased and his heartbeat quickened.  For some reason, all he could think of were the sharks he’d learned about on Discovery Channel so many years ago.

“Hello, sir,” Francis stammered. “Would you care for a hotdog? I’m sorry about the stand…it usually doesn’t look quite like this…”

His voice trailed off and he forgot what he’d been saying as the man’s cold, menacing black eyes stared unblinkingly into his own.  Francis could barely see any whiteness in those eyes, just inky darkness.

“Are you angry, Francis?  Does filth of this kind upset you?” the man murmured.  For a moment, Francis thought he spotted what appeared to be flames flare up from the depths of the man’s throat.  He dismissed this idea immediately and almost laughed (nervously albeit) at the absurdity of it.  But before he could laugh, Francis was filled with alarm as he realized that the strange man knew his name.  It wasn’t cold outside, but Francis began to shiver.

“I can help you, Francis.  I know that you are miserable.  I know that these people make you suffer.  Everything can be changed.  Everything.” The man released this final word in a hollow whisper.  His breath smelled of sulfur.

“N-no, it’s alright.  Everything is alright.  These people were just joking around…they’re always just joking around…,” Francis responded feebly.  For some reason, he couldn’t look away from this man.

The man did not respond to Francis.  He only stared.  The air became difficult to breathe.  It smelled and tasted of smoke.  Then came the heat.  Francis’s eyes watered and he began to sweat, drops slowly trickling down his forehead and into eyes, which he found he could not close.  Soon he was slick with perspiration and panting.

“To refuse my offer would be…unwise,” the man said softly, his voice crackling. Francis thought it sounded like wood popping and burning apart in a fireplace.  “I can offer you a powerful new body, more friendships than you can imagine and a glorious new home, without mommy holding you back—humiliating you.  This new life, this happiness, is yours for the taking…just say yes, it’s so easy…”

The man licked his lips with a tongue that was too long and too red.

Francis began to shake violently.  He had never been a brave man.  He had always, however, been a good man.

“N-no, thank you,” he whispered, barely able to get the words out, “It-it isn’t a perfect one, my life, but it’s m-mine.  Thank you anyway, sir.”

In that moment, several things happened at once.  The immobilizing fear that had possessed Francis for the entirety of the nightmarish encounter disappeared, as though a spell had been broken.  Distracted by his sudden ability to move, Francis didn’t at first notice creaking sounds coming from the shadowy man, nor the grotesque mutation of his jaw that was occurring.  His bottom jaw seemed to become unhinged and left his mouth gaping open, exposing hundreds of small, black teeth, each filed to a point.

“I am so very hungry,” groaned the monster that stood before Francis.  In a split second, it lurched forward, gnashing its many teeth and hurling itself towards its prey.  Francis knew his options were limited.  He was, indeed, a very fat man and had trouble even walking quickly.  The only weapons he had at his disposal were the raw hotdogs he’d brought for the hotdog stand.  Reacting instinctually, he grabbed a handful of floppy hotdogs and flung them into the gaping maw of the beast.

Without pausing to observe the effects of the hotdogs on the monster, Francis launched himself into the hotdog stand, locking the door behind him and closing up the window tightly.  He tried to the stifle the sounds of his heavy breathing and waited.  He was certain the beast would break down the door and gobble him up at any moment.  However, the moment never came.  Francis waited, in silence, for what seemed like eternity.  Soon, he heard the sounds of cars passing by and of people walking to work.

Finally, Francis took a deep breath and prepared to exit the hotdog stand, his sacred sanctuary.  He was confident that he would be hearing a good deal more screaming if there were indeed a vicious, man-eating monster outside.  He poked his head slowly out of the doorway and glanced quickly right and then to the left.  Nothing.  The only remainder of the horrifying beast was the faint, lingering scent of sulfur on the air.  Francis shuddered.  Hesitantly, he stepped outside and gathered up his work materials, continually checking his surroundings.  The monstrous man never reappeared.  In fact, Francis never saw him again.

However, Francis did notice some changes in his life from that point onward.  The vandalism ceased and the hotdog stand gained popularity around the neighborhood.  Francis no longer seasoned Whiteman’s wieners with tears; in fact, it was not long after Francis’s encounter with the brimstone man that Francis realized he would never have to season another hotdog ever again. As funds increased, the Whiteman family was finally able to afford an apartment with two bedrooms (the bunk beds were split apart and placed in separate rooms!) and the prospect of Francis attending college was no longer a fantastical daydream but quite a conceivable reality.  Francis still, on occasion, had nightmares about sharks—and, sometimes, about hotdogs—but when he woke up, reality was so very distinguishable from his nightmares that they no longer mattered in the least.


^I thought no visual image made more sense for this tale than a burnt, demonic hotdog



5 thoughts on “The Essence of Brimstone

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