The name of this short story snippet is “Stripped Down” and it concerns what happens when a cartoonist discovers his comic strip to have unusual powers. This short story is not yet available.

Stripped Down

by Dean P. Turnbloom

Arthur thought the story line for his new web comic was hilarious. It was, after all, mostly taken from his own life, a ne’er do well thirty-something, he named Kevin, moves back in with his parents when his wife runs off with their marriage counselor, a woman who happens to also be a divorce lawyer, and they take him to the cleaners in court. It’s hilarious, he thought to himself, and with great potential. Throw in a sarcastic talking gerbil named Max and you’ve got a hit comic.

Despite his enthusiasm and optimism, Arthur was taken by surprise when he was offered a contract by a large online syndicate—surprised and elated. He saw this as an opportunity to start anew and maybe get his life back on track, after being dumped by Susie, his now “ex”-wife. Who knows, soon he might even be able to afford to move out of his parents basement.

The first week’s storyline thread was all about the obligatory character introduction and development—the son, his parents, the foul-mouthed and wise-cracking gerbil, the cute neighbor, and Sheila, his ex, with her new girlfriend, Wanda. It was everything a new strip could hope to be, and more.

Two days into the second week he had the gerbil in a cast after an unpacking incident caused his cage to collapse. The graphics were outrageously funny and the online reaction was enthusiastic and overwhelmingly sympathetic to Max the gerbil. Arthur’s agent called to tell him the reaction was the strongest showing they’d ever had for a new comic barely into its second week. The website hits were increasing by the thousands each day. The strip had, in a word, gone viral.

Arthur celebrated his newfound success by taking his parents out to dinner. He told them about the reaction to his strip and said that if this turned out not to be a fluke, in a month or so he would be able to afford to move out on his own again. He was already being prodded to give the okay for tee-shirts and other trademark items to be sold. They toasted his success and enjoyed a wonderful evening together.

That night, after returning home, Arthur noticed that his own pet gerbil, Dirtbag, wasn’t in his cage. He searched high and low for her, but she was nowhere to be found. He was about to give up when he heard a loud “SNAP” from behind the refrigerator. Turning on the light, he reluctantly looked. There, behind the fridge was Dirtbag, caught in a forgotten mousetrap.

“Damn!” cried Arthur and he rushed to pick the gerbil up, though he could tell that it was dead. He was, of course, a bit sad, but it was, after all, just a gerbil—a gerbil he’d purchased mainly because it creeped out his ex-wife.

After disposing of Dirtbag, Arthur went to work on the next day’s strip. In this one, Max the Gerbil reacts to Kevin’s dad, Frank, constantly annoying him with a feather duster. Max trips Frank with his crutch and Frank ends up in a cast alongside Max, with Kevin bringing them drinks with little umbrellas.

Pleased with himself, he scans the artwork into his computer, digitally colors the frames and uploads it to his website for the morning edition.

The following morning Arthur was awakened by the sound of an ambulance as it pulls up to his house. Quickly pulling on a pair of pants, he sprints up the stairs and finding no one in the living room or kitchen, he darts out the open back door.  There he is just in time to see his father being wheeled to the ambulance, his mother crying and following along beside. Running up to her, he asks, “Mom, what happened. Where are they taking Dad?”

“Oh Arthur,” she sobbed, “Dad was taking out the trash this morning and tripped over your hamster cage and fell down the back steps.”