Grasshopper Jungle

Michael Grant calls it ‘Original ,weird, thought-provoking…One hell of a book.’ Charlie Higson said ‘Cool, funny, sexy, gross’. ‘A literary joy to behold’ according to the New York Times. A book about life, love and the end of the world. In Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend Robby have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army of horny, hungry six-foot-tall praying mantises. This is the truth. This is history. It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.

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22. Two-Headed Boy

We stood inside Johnny McKeon’s private office.

There were no windows. It was impossible to see anything in the dark.

Robby threw the switch for the office lights. I jumped when they came on.

You don’t expect things to get all bright on you when you’re nervous about doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.

Robby shrugged apologetically.

He said, “We may as well turn on the light in here. Nobody can see us.”

My heart raced, but Robby was right: Nobody could see us.

Robby shut the door to the office, which closed us in with Johnny’s things.

Johnny McKeon’s real-life horror show.

Johnny McKeon’s office smelled the same as the rest of the shop, but wasn’t nearly as cluttered. In fact, the office was rather tidy.

Rather.

I said it again.

The three walls boxing the office behind the door were lined with dark wooden shelves. Johnny had salvaged the shelves from the Ealing Public Library when it remodeled three years before: the year we were in seventh grade.

“Holy shit,” Robby said.

Here’s why he said it: Johnny McKeon’s shelves were full of horrible, grotesque things. They were the kinds of things that no sixteen-year-old boy could tear his eyes from. And there were four sixteen-year-old-boy eyes in Johnny’s office.

One of the cases displayed another of the McKeon sealed glass globes, but this was different from the peaceful and pleasant nature-ball Johnny kept outside in the shop. The globe was

about the size of a basketball, and it was propped steady atop a black lacquered stand with a brass plaque on front, as though it was some kind of trophy or shit like that. But this could not have been a trophy.

The plaque read:

McKeon Industries 1969

Contained MI Plague Strain 412E

Inside the globe was a festering universe.

The globe Robby and I studied held something resembling a black, folded, and coiled brain. The thing clearly was not a brain, but the wrinkled patterns on its surface made me think of one.

“This has to be like some kind of movie prop or something,” Robby said.

“Look around, Rob. All the shit in here looks real,” I said.

In fact, everything inside Johnny’s office was real, we came to find out later. It didn’t matter. Neither of us actually believed Johnny McKeon was hiding away props for horror films.

The black thing inside the globe pulsed and twitched like a beating heart. It seemed to become more animated the longer we stared at it. It was almost like a gelatinous cauliflower. Here and there on its velvet surface, a mound would rise up, like a mosquito bite, a black

pimple, and then burst open at its peak.

Little volcanoes erupting.

When the pimples burst open, strands of oval globules, pale yellow pearls, coiled and twisted over the surface of the blob, then turned black and sprouted velvet hairs, dissolving back into the surface of the brain thing.

Where the glass globe with the fish, shrimp, plants, and worms outside in Johnny McKeon’s shop emanated a placid, almost hopeful aura, this thing whispered of rot and death, disease.

Robby and I could have stared at Johnny’s secret collection of things all night.

On another case was an assortment of large specimen jars.

All of them had a common etched label:

McKeon Industries 1969

Human Replication Strand 4-VG-03

One of them contained a human head. It was a man’s head. His eyes were squinted, half open, and although they were clouded, his pupils and irises were plainly visible. He had pale blue eyes. I could even see small blood vessels in the whites of his eyes. He had a mustache.

His lips were tightly pursed and frowning.

“He doesn’t look too happy,” I said.

“This has to be fake,” Robby said. “Who would keep shit like this?”

“Johnny McKeon would,” I answered. “He probably found it when the plant shut down and thought it was cool.”

“He could charge admission,” Robby said.

Another jar on the rack held a pair of human hands.

The palms were pressed together. It reminded me of the trite framed artwork depicting disembodied praying hands that hung at teenager eye level above the long urinal in the boys’ toilet at Curtis Crane Lutheran Academy.

The pictures were there to remind us what good teenage boys do with their hands.

The jar beside the hands contained a penis and testicles.

The position of the jars made an artistic statement about what happened to boys who masturbate.

“That guy probably went to Curtis Crane,” Robby said.

His voice shook with nervousness.

There is nothing more deeply frightening to a sixteen-year-old boy than confronting the possibility of losing his penis.

We had to leave, but we were mesmerized.

But the thing on that particular rack that was most compelling was the jar containing a two-headed boy. It was a whole fetus, bluish in color and clay-like, tiny but fully developed.

Robby reached up and spun the jar around, making the boy pirouette for us as he floated in the zero gravity of his vacuum jar. His little legs were bowed and folded beneath him. A knotted um-bilical strand corkscrewed from his round belly. One hand, its fingers so perfect, rested opened, palm up in front of the knob of his penis. The other hand was clenched in a defiant fist beside his hip. And from the boy’s shoulders sprouted two perfect heads, one tilted to the side, resting. Both mouths were open, small black caverns that exposed the ridge of gums and the small rounded mounds of the boy’s tongues. The eyes were open and hollow. Each plum-sized head was rimmed with a floating tuft of iron-colored hair.

There was something overwhelmingly sad about the boy.

I couldn’t identify what it was.

Robby said, “This isn’t right.”

I said, “I think I know exactly what it would be like to have two heads like that.”

The last wall contained specimens of bugs. But these weren’t any bugs I’d ever seen. They also floated inside sealed rectangular glass cases filled with preserving fluid. They looked almost like aquariums with alien creatures in them.

Some of the bugs in the tanks were as big as middle-school kids.

They looked like praying mantises, or grasshoppers maybe.

The larger tanks only contained parts of bugs: heads, appendages, thoraxes.

The heads were as large as mine and Robby’s.

The tanks were also labeled:

McKeon Industries 1969

Unstoppable Soldier—Strand 4-VG-12

“We need to get out of here,” Robby said.

I agreed.

It was too late, though. Robby and I were trapped in Johnny McKeon’s office. Somebody was outside, in the main room of the shop.

They weren’t making any attempt to be quiet, either.

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