Nausea Pistol

   Sylvia Parker was trying to lose weight. She was five foot three and she weighed 91 pounds and she felt tubby. If she were just a bit thinner, she thought, she would have the sharp definition in her cheeks that would make her look like a high-fashion model.
     Sylvia worked as a receptionist at MedSearch, a medical technology company in Detroit. Every day she rose at 6am and jogged three grim miles before work.
     At lunchtime each day she met her friend Melinda at their usual nearby restaurant; she ordered a tuna and lettuce sandwich, and a half a peach with cottage cheese, and gave half the sandwich to Melinda. When she returned to the office, she went to the ladies’ room and stuck a finger down her throat and threw up her lunch.
     She repaired her hair and makeup and brushed away a fleck of tuna that had splashed onto her clothes. Darn, it was her best silk blouse. She hated sticking her finger down her throat but it was the only way she knew. Really, this was the 20th century and weren’t we supposed to be more advanced?
     Sylvia returned to her desk and began opening today’s mail, which had arrived during lunch. Her job was to open every envelope and stamp the contents RECEIVED with the date, and then sort the mail for the various people and departments in the company.
     Usually she didn’t pay any attention to the stuff. it was nothing but stuffy letters from doctors or pleading ads or threatening bills. But today she noticed an ad for a new product, maybe because of the upsetting tuna spot on her blouse.
     It was some new kind of vomiting inducer. The flyer was crudely printed and hard to understand but Sylvia read it, at least the part that was a cartoon showing how to use the thing. If little Johnny swallows poison, just put the black box to his temple and push the ON button and a pulse of laser energy would harmlessly flood his brain and activate the vomiting reflex, purging the child of noxious material.
     The rest of the ad was in doctor’s talk. The device was a palmsized gadget that generated a long-wave laser beam that penetrated to the nausea center of the brain and turned it on. The flyer claimed it was safer than standard emetics, and faster.
     The price was only $139.95. Sylvia dabbed again at her blouse and decided to give it a try. Maybe it would be easier than her finger-in-the-throat technique. She filled in the order blank in the company’s name and typed a letter authorizing the purchase and addressed an envelope which went out in that evenings’ mail without anyone at MedSearch noticing.
     One day six weeks later, Sylvia cleaned up after lunch and returned to her desk just as the mailman arrived. He handed her a sheaf of envelopes and a camera-sized package from VMX, Inc. She sat down and processed the mail as usual and when nobody seemed to be watching she slipped the package into her purse. She was nervous the rest of the day, convinced everybody in the office was staring at her.
     After work she was going to show it to Melinda but the first thing Melinda said was “God, I met these two rich hunks,” and it was Friday, and Sylvia had a new dress to wear, and during an evening of frenzied partying the puke inducer never entered her thoughts.
     It wasn’t until the next day when she came back from her morning run that she thought of it, because she was hungry. Mom and Bill weren’t home and Budsy was away at camp for two weeks, thank god.
     Sylvia was hungry–she hadn’t eaten anything during last night’s frolic, of course, an nothing to drink except one glass of champagne she nursed all night. With everyone away from the house today she could gorge herself, and use the puker a couple of times. Yeah, it would be fun.
     She watched Saturday morning cartoons and ate potato chips with onion dip and Twinkies and a Pepsi and then she went to the bathroom and followed the instructions on the vomit inducer.
     It was a flat, oval device of hard black plastic with a circle of red glass in the center on one side and an activation swich on the other side. Next to the switch was a note: PRESS BUTTON TO INDUCE VOMITING. She pressed the switch experimentally a couple times while pointing the thing away from herself. It clicked, pockity pock.
     She touched her temple with the glass circle and pressed the clicker. For a moment all she noticed was a humming in her head and a slight sensation of warmth. Then, abruptly, she was nauseated beyond her experiece, a gush of saliva in her mouth, a sudden beading of sweat on her face, then explosive, convulsive retching for fifteen minutes. By the time the waves of acute seasickness left her, she was a slobbering and groveling mess, soaked in sweat and spit and bile. She had a massive headache.
     By noon, though, she was good as new. She picked up the device and threw it in a drawer–what a dumb thing, she thought. She knew she’d never use it again. Maybe she should just take it back to work and pretend she didn’t know anything about it.
     But by Monday she’d forgotten all about it.
     Every few weeks after that there would be another bill from VMX, but Sylvia just tossed them into the wastebasket. One time a mournful guy from VMX phoned, and Sylvia told him “I’m sorry, Mister Vole, but everybody is in a meeting.” She wrote down the message and the VMX man complained, “The damned things just aren’t selling, and the ones we do sell, they ship them right back for a refund.”
     Sylvia didn’t give it another thought until the Christmas holidays. Mom was in one of her “streamlining” moods, and she invaded Sylvia’s room and dumped all of Sylvia’s drawers onto the bed and told her to throw away half of it. “This house is filling up with useless shit!”
     The black oval of the vomit device was among the discards Sylvia tossed in the good-bye box. She tossed it with extra vehemence, and that’s when Budsy saw it. “What’s this, sis?”
     “You get away from my stuff.”
     “You’re throwin it away, what is it?”
     “You get out of my stuff, you little sneak.”
     Budsy tried to carry it away down the hall, but Sylvia leaped and grappled with him. Budsy was only 13 but he was prettystrong. Then Sylvia wrested it from his hands. “I’ll show you what it is.” She pressed it to his head and pushed the button, and Budsy collapsed and began retching. He’d just had two hamburgers and they went all over Sylvia’s new rug. “Mother!” she wailed.
     Mother was vexed at the mess. “Why didn’t you go into the bathroom?”
     “I couldn’t, Ma, Sylvia hit me in the head with something and I puked.” He started crying again.
     “Well clean this up before I hit you myself. And let’s get going — carry this stuff out to the car. I’m taking everything to the rummage sale. Come on, carry it now.”
     Budsy carried the box downstairs and put it in the car. Along the way he pocketed the vomit inducer.


     Budsy Parker kept the thing hidden in his room for a week before examining it, waiting for any household memory of the event to fade. Then on Saturday everybody was away. He had the house to himself. He took the device out of his secret drawer and looked at it. It was only about as big as tape cassette. PRESS BUTTON TO INDUCE VOMITING, it read on one side.
     He went downstairs and opened the door to the back yard and called: “Here, Freckles! Here, girl! Come in!”
     The dog didn’t come in, even though it was cold and snowy outside; she knew Budsy too well. Budsy took a slice of lunchmeat out of the refrigerator and offered it. The dog came inside, hesitantly, and Budsy grabbed her and tried to put the device against the dog’s head. The dog struggled and whipped her head around, but Budsy managed to subdue her and click the button.
     Nothing happened. The dog struggled away and dashed back out through the still-open door. Okay, he thought. It doesn’t work on dogs.
     He put on his parka and went outside and walked through snowdrifts until he saw the Clifford kids, Patty and Billy, making a snowman. Patty was in the fourth grade and she was giving instructions to younger Billy. They didn’t notice Budsy approaching–they were looking the other way. Budsy came up behind Billy and put the puker to Billy’s head and pushed the clicker, and Billy fell puking to the ground. Patty turned around and said “Oh, no, Billy’s sick” and crouched down beside him. Budsy touched her on the head and she too exploded with vomit.
     On Monday, Budsy carried the device to school in his left mitten. There was a hole the size of a dime in the palm of the mitten, and the glass center of the Puker gleamed in the hole. Budsy had been thinking about Lurk Bronoso…
     He got to school twenty minutes early, as usual, and met the guys at the corner of Catalpa and Randolph, a block away from Kennedy Junior High. “One of you guys got a smoke?” he said.
     A tall kid handed him a Camel filter. “Bronoso is coming with some new ‘mones.”
     A kid with a shaved skull said, “Maybe you better get out of here, Budsy, Bronoso is radically pissed at you.”
     “For what?”
     “You’ve gotta start paying up or Bronoso is going to quit selling to any of us.”
     “Aw, so what, there’s lots of guys with better ‘mones than that dickface.” Budsy looked at his pals and grinned, but his friends all stared behind him. Budsy turned and saw Lurk Bronoso.
     Lurk Bronoso was twelve years old and six feet four inches tall. He sold synthetic hormones and artificial DNA clusters, just to friends of course. He grabbed Budsy by the throat and Vadered him to his knees. “You owe me money, punk.”
     “I got it, I got it for you!”
     Bronoso pushed him away and Budsy fell into a snowdrift and banged his head against an old crust of snow. He stood up and slowly handed fifty dollars to Bronoso. “Here.”
     “Okay now,” said Bronoso, looking at the other guys. “I got some new growy ‘mones my brother made, he says they’re the best yet. And some more of that horny ‘mone I had last week.”
     “Gimme a growy, Lurk,” said the tall kid. “I’m almost to six feet.”
     “Hell, yes, give me another hit of that horny ‘mone,” said the shaveskull.
     “Sure, here ya are. How about you, Budsy? Oh, that’s right, you’re prepubic, aren’t you.” The guys laughed.
     “Yeah,” said Bronoso. “You got to keep up with your puby ‘mones if you want to put some hair on your balls.”
     “Well give me some, I’m not saying I don’t want it.” Budsy’s face burned with embarrassment.
     “Your credit’s no good, that’s all. Cash it up.”
     “Come on, Lurk, I gave you my cash, give me a hit, okay? I get allowance next week.”
     “Nope.” Bronoso walked toward the school.
     Budsy hefted his right mitten and felt the puker inside, felt the control button under his index finger. “Well you’re a shitfaced frelker,” he shouted.
     Bronoso stopped and turned and charged back toward the corner, and Budsy and everybody else scattered for their lives.
     It was time to go into class anyway. During class one of Budsy’s friends whispered, “What are you doing getting Bronoso on our back, you dope?”
     The fight broke out at lunch. Budsy and his pals were at their usual corner in the cafeteria and Lurk showed up and said, “Parker, you’re going to find out the pain of messing with the Bronto.” He strode toward Budsy with his fist already swinging. Ordinarily Budsy would have been cringing away, but this time he had the Puker in his hand. He leaped toward Lurk and managed to slap him on the side of the head and fingered the ON button at the moment of the slap, and the momentum of Lurk’s swing sent him flying as he abruptly puked and puked and lay groveling on the ground. Budsy kicked Lurk in the ribs and the nuts.
     “Now keep your goddam ass out of our turf,” he said. “Right, guys?” He looked around at his pals, but they were gone.
     After lunch Budsy had Advanced Pre-Remedial Mathematics and when that was over he went to his locker, except there were two big guys hanging around his locker, two l4-year-olds who must have been on ‘mones a couple of years, because they were well over six feet tall. Budsy thought to run away–but then he noticed they were looking in the other direction. He came up behind them and took a deep breath and then clopped one on the head, and then the other before he noticed anything, and they both collapsed puking on the floor. A big crowd gathered to watch the hulkers blow their lunch.
     Everything would have been okay then if Budsy had stopped now. But by this time the whole school was paying attention to him, he couldn’t use the puker in secrecy again. In the last period of the day Budsy and Bronoso had a world history class together and Bronoso attacked him again, right in front of everybody, and Budsy used the Puker on him again.
     The room was silent except for Bronoso’s agonized dry heaves. Kids suddenly started leaving the room and then it was a flood, and the teacher, Mr. Hawkings, was grabbing Budsy by the shoulder and Budsy puked him and broke away. A sarcastic mutant in a wheelchair rolled away into the doorway, and he was a guy who had been pissing Budsy off for a long time, and he puked him and pulled the wheelchair out of the way and dashed into the hall…


     Rudy Jackson turned on the TV. “This is News 4 L.A.”
     “I don’t want to watch no news,” said his girlfriend Donna. “Let’s watch Three’s Company.”
     “Look, I’m going to work, I got to keep up with the news, I got to, I have a position of responsibility.”
     “Big deal, you’re Rudy ‘Security Guard’ Jackson. At least let me have a toot before you go.”
     “Shush you.” He lit a joint and watched the news.
     “A handicapped child is dead today, and a junior high school in Berkley, Michigan was held hostage by an eleven-year-old who used an advanced medical treatment device to inflict terrifying nausea on his teachers and classmates. A wheelchair-confined student choked to death on his own vomit during the post-lunch attack.”
     “What the hell? Rudy, what’s he saying?”
     “The kid got hold of some kinda doctor tool and hacked the kids in his school with it.”
     “Geez! Hey, honey, please, let me have some before you go, okay?”
     “Well… I’ve got to get dressed…” He turned up the volume of the TV and went into the bedroom. He took off his clothes and put on his security guard uniform. and unlocked the box. He took out a .357 magnum revolver and tucked it in his waistband, and put five bullets into and a folded paper of coke in his shirt pocket.
     When he got back to the TV they were just finishing the segment about the school. “Spokesperson Elmer Vole of VMX, Incorporated, the Anaheim, California manufacturer of the device young Parker used, declined responsibility.”
     The scene shifted to a sweating Elmer Vole with six hostile microphones in his face. He stood in front of his factory. VMX.
     Rudy said, “Hey, that’s one of the companies at the industrial complex where I’ve been working.”
     “Wow,” said the girl. “Come on, chop us out a couple lines.”
     “Here, you do it, give us both one for me to go to work on. That company, VMX, that made the doctor tool that kid used — they have a lot of stuff in storage under bond.”
     “Gosh, Rudy — and it’s on national TV and everything.” She expertly used the razor blade to form the chopped coke into four exactly equal lines and they snorted them during the commercials.
     When he got to work Rudy put his time card into the clock and punched in. He yakked for a few minutes with the other guard who was going off duty.
     Hey, did you hear about that VMX stuff?” The other guard hadn’t.
     Rudy walked through the complex, making his first rounds. Sometimes there were people working late, but not tonight. He stopped at the VMX shop and stared curiously into the window. The office held only a metal desk and a tipped-over swivel chair and a file cabinet. The inner door into the factory from the office was ajar.
     On the desk was a small flat object… it looked like the thing the kid had on TV. Rudy looked at the door to the building and suddenly noticed the seal was broken. Somebody had been into the building.
     Rudy tried the door and it opened. He went in and picked up the device off the desk, then put it back down. The door to the factory room was open. Rudy looked in and saw cases and cases of the devices, stacked into boxes with their tops open, ready to be filled with styrofoam peanuts and sealed and shipped.
     And then Rudy saw a body on the floor, and it looked like Mr. Vole. The body still held a pistol in its hand.
     He called the cops, then called Mr. Klippen, the boss of the rent-a-cop outfit. “Hi Mr. Klippen, I got bad news, looks like this Mr.Vole of VMX killed himself inside his warehouse. I already called the cops.”
     “What! Inside the warehouse? You mean you let him break the seal and go in? That VMX building was under bond, and now I’ll have to pay it off. Goddammit, Rudy, you’re fired.”
     Rudy was astonished. “But Mr. Klippen, it was that way when I came on shift, what about Oliver? It happened while he was on.”
     “He’s fired too, don’t worry.” Klippen hung up in Rudy’s ear.
     Rudy fumed. He walked around the factory while waiting for the police. He picked up one of the devices and slipped it into his pocket as a souvenir. He wondered how much the devices were worth. He was out of job now. He picked up a case of the devices and took it to his car and put it in his trunk.
     Cops arrived and questioned Rudy and took pictures and then left. Mr. Klippen arrived and shooed Rudy out and Rudy headed home on the northbound San Diego Freeway.
     Traffic was heavy and nobody would let Rudy get over to the right to make his turnoff onto the Pasadena Freeway and then at the last second there was an opening and he headed for it, but a guy in a battered Toyota pickup (the lettering on the tailgate had been peeled off so it now read “YO”) dodged in front of him and cut him off, laughed, and gave him the finger. Rudy had to go another ten miles to get off the freeway and get back on the right road. He fumed about it all the way home. He wished he had some way to punish the guy.
     He thought about the puker, how the kid in Michigan used it. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something with which you could punish bad drivers like that? Sometimes you can understand why people in LA pull guns on the freeway. If you could gun down people, but just make them temporarily sick…
     Rudy was out of work for six weeks and he’d been turned down for unemployment. The rent was due. He had twenty six of the vomiting inducers stashed in his box, but he didn’t know who to sell them to. PUSH BUTTON TO INDUCE VOMITING. He looked at them as he took his pistol out. He rattled the handful of bullets, put one in the gun.
     “I’m going out, honey,” he said. The sullen girl watched TV and didn’t answer. There wasn’t any gas in the car. He didn’t want to do anything in his own neighborhood… but then he didn’t want to be trapped on foot far from home, either. “Maybe I could just get some gas money,” he said to himself.
     There was a park across the street from the 50/50 Tavern, and Rudy sat on a park bench next to a tree. Finally somebody left the bar and walked into the park. At first Rudy thought the guy was a giant, but as he came closer Rudy saw he was about his own size, maybe a bit smaller. He wiped his hands on his pants and pulled the pistol and stood up in the path. “Hold it, mister. I need some gas money.” He meant it to be menacing but instead his voice squeaked.
     “What is this?” the guy said. He didn’t stop walking.
     “I’ve got a gun,” said Rudy.
     “You what?!” The guy suddenly ran right at Rudy and knocked at his hand and the gun went flying. “Now what’re you going to do, you bastard?” His breath was mostly tequila fumes.
     “I’m, uh, sorry, I–”
     The guy punched Rudy and Rudy fell down. “Now I’m gonna kill ya,” the guy said with satisfaction. Rudy struggled to his feet and ran away before the guy could do anything else.
     “Now what am I going to do?” Rudy said to Donna. “I don’t even have my gun any more, how’m I going to get another security job? Can’t even pawn it.”
     “You already pawned it, don’t give me no stories.”
     Rudy thought about using the puker. How close did you actually have to be? Rudy went to the bus station when there was a big crowd of people around. He held the puker head-high and pointed the clear circle toward the crowd and held down the button. Suddenly a person in the crowd burst out in vomit. Rudy felt guilty all the way home.
     He looked at the pukers in his box. Twenty eight of them. He took one apart and it was simple inside, just a couple of wires and chips on a circuit board, connected to the glass disk and a battery. Rudy tinkered with the parts and cobbled together a more useful and easily-aimed hand weapon, using the body of a TV remote control with the glass disk on the aiming end and the clicker/off switch convenient for the thumb.
     As weeks went by Rudy perfected his techniques. He discovered that the glass disk of the Puker didn’t have to be actually in contact with the victim’s head. He aimed it at the head of a woman sitting on a bench at the far end of the bus station — nobody else was around — and pushed the button, expecting that if anything happened it would be a diminished effect, a wave of nausea without vomiting, perhaps.
     Rudy discovered that the Puker had the same effect no matter how far away from the head you held it. The Puker sent a pencil-thin beam of energy straight out from the glass disk. Rudy found that he could stand in a doorway and point the disk toward a pedestrian and, if he aimed right, induce a frenzied display of wet gagging from thirty feet away. The limit seemed to be about 50 feet–further away than that, and there was no reaction. And you had to aim pretty carefully and be sure the laser light hit the person’s head. It was a yes/no effect — it never made the victim a little bit sick, it was either full-tilt puking or no effect at all.
     Rudy was able to puke people and grab their wallets without any danger, and he and Donna were getting along a lot better. He made a puker for Donna, but she wasn’t into mugging people. Then one day she was leaving her waitress job at midnight and some gang kids were there. “That’s a cool coat you got, why don’t you let me have it?” said the tall one and the other two nodded. They pulled her toward the alley and said, “We want your ass, too.”
     But Donna pulled out the puker and zapped the three guys and it worked like a charm. Suddenly the alley was no longer a prison, it was just a dark street where a guys were puking desperately on the ground. All you could hear was the puking. It sounded so good to Donna. She exhaled loudly and hiked away.
     “You got to make one of these for my sister,” Donna told Rudy when she gets home. “You could sell these things for big money, you know. Every girl on my shift would want one.”
     “Say,” said Rudy thoughtfully, “they’re having an auction of all the junk from the VMX building, and I saw the lists… nobody is going to bid on those things… I bet we could buy crates of the things for real cheap…”
     And thus did true democracy finally come to America.
     It was the perfect defensive weapon.

Originally appeared in
Lip Think magazine, 1992