I woke up in the middle of the night feeling hollow and hungry. My stomach rumbled, so I went to the kitchen to pour some disciplinary bourbon. Fuckin’ stomach will think twice before pulling this crap again. I flicked on the kitchen light and was brought up short by my shadow. There was something off about it. I moved and it moved with me, it still looked like me — I couldn’t place what wasn’t right. Then it hit me: The lights were overhead, but my shadow was sprawled across the floor like I was backlit. Seeing the game was up, the distorted silhouette shivered. Its limbs struggled and began to unstick themselves from the floor with audible pops. My guts dropped out. Cold sweat beaded on me like condensation. It was all I could do to step over the shadowbeast to get to the bourbon.
I poured three fingers Florida-style (measured vertically) and scooted backwards into a corner. Something was happening to the monster: Its darkness was — not lessening, but diminishing somehow. Soon it gave way to smooth skin, cut abs, and adorable dimples. The shadow had fully receded from the body before me, pulling back and taking up residence in the eyes. But there, the concentrated darkness stayed.
“Mario Lopez,” I said, because I have long since learned that it likes to hear those words spoken in fear.
“Broadway!” Mario Lopez cackled. “Long time no verte, mi amigo!”
I almost corrected him, because I was a sleepy idiot pouring bourbon on a burrito-less stomach. But it’s so much better if he forgets your name.
“Why?” I asked instead. “I wrote the books! I acted as your herald, just like you demanded! It’s been years! Why now?”
“Because,” Mario Lopez said, idly chewing his lip until it gushed blood. “We’re doing a Saved by the Bell reboot.”
“In the new show, Zack is the governor of California! Ay ay ay, can you believe it?” Mario Lopez knelt on my neighbor’s chest, stealing the man’s inhalations as he slept.
“I got fired from Cracked!” I pleaded. “Nobody buys my books! I barely have a platform! I cannot serve you! All I have now is half of a little Patreon where I write jokes about things that should not exist in this universe.”
Mario Lopez just stared at me emptily.
“Oh, right,” I nodded. “Carry on.”
“But oh no,” Mario Lopez continued, drumming on my neighbor’s shuddering eyelids. “Zack is in the middle of a huge PR scandal — he’s closed too many low-income schools! So he sends all the disenfranchised minorities to upper-class Bayside! Talk about fish out of water! Like your neighbor here!”
Mario Lopez’s voice fell flat as a wind-dead lake.
“Gasping like a fish out of water,” he clarified.
“Can you let him live?” I asked, my voice tremulous, my hands tremulous, my whole body tremulous from both fear and lack of adequate liquors. “He owes me $15.”
Mario Lopez rose from my slumbering neighbor’s chest and trod directly on his wife’s face as he crossed their bed toward me. The man sucked in desperate air, and the woman’s nose gushed blood, but neither woke.
“My character, A.C. Slater,” Mario Lopez said, stripping off his too-tight polo shirt and undoing his belt. “Was used to being one of the popular kids, but now he’s a gym teacher.”
“The least respected teacher,” he added. “The kind of teacher who knows that, when others refer to them as a teacher, they hold air-quotes in their hearts. This shows modesty on my part. Modesty is culturally desirable at this time.”
“I-it is,” I said, remembering how hard it was to distinguish questions when he flipped to his empty state. “People like humility.”
“Especially from the old and obsolete,” he had stripped entirely naked, and somehow glistened even in the gloom of my neighbor’s unlit bedroom.
“But you don’t look old,” I ventured, unsure if it was the correct thing to do — praise its vanity, or point out a mistake it was making.
“I paint faint lines around my eyes before I go out in public,” Mario Lopez said, now idly pawing at his limp, yet still truly monstrous genitalia. “I allow the skin on my body to slightly loosen, when others see me shirtless. As they do. Often.”
Seriously, his dick was the size of a Fiat. It looked like that staff thing you see on the sides of hospitals — just two snakes twisting around a massive rod.
“Can you put that away?” I gestured at his naked cock, which was easy to do. I didn’t even have to pick a direction. “I’m not sure if I’m embarrassed or jealous but I literally can’t look at anything else. There’s not enough room.”
Mario Lopez picked up something from the floor and mechanically slid on a pair of the woman’s worn panties. They were metallic purple. It was almost worse.
“Can you put on something else?”
He wrapped himself in the man’s robe and, as an afterthought, plucked a football helmet from its place on the wall. It was clearly some kind of treasured trophy, and my neighbor moaned in his sleep. I could tell he was losing that precious memory by the way Mario Lopez’s mammoth dong twitched.
“The gym teacher role was my idea!” Mario Lopez said, mimicking human cadence once again. “Gym teachers have been in the news a lot lately. That makes it timely content — the best kind of content!”
“Yeah, but it’s always for like molestation charges or something. I don’t think gym teachers are in a real hot spot now, culturally spea-”
He spat in my open mouth and I immediately fell into a violent seizure.
When I awoke we were on the roof of an elementary school. He was crouched atop an antenna array which should not have held his weight.
“On the show, we make many jokes about how the kids these days are both sheltered and clueless,” his voice once again like an echoless cave.
“That’s not great,” I said, in between the huge gouts of bloody vomit my system used to try to reject his poison. “It’s a harmful and tired misconception and it alienates what’s got to be your best demographic.”
“The old cast is coming back!” Mario Lopez dropped from his perch and grabbed me by my beard. He dragged me to the edge of the roof and tossed me off like you’d toss paper at a wastebasket. I landed in a dumpster and he leapt after me. I took the full weight of him on my old, shitty knees. How could he be so light just a moment ago, and so heavy now?
“We got Jessie Spano!” He howled.
“We got Zach Morris!”
“We got Kelly Kapowski!”
“We got Max — the original Max, remember him? Hahaha!”
He rocketed up and away and he didn’t even disturb the trash. It was almost noiseless. Like the quiet ruffle of crows preening.
“What about Screech?” I poured myself out of the dumpster and tried to hobble after him, across the deserted parking lot.
“We do not talk of Screech.”
“I saw something about this,” I gasped, noticing that however quickly I hobbled, Mario Lopez moved marginally faster. Just enough to keep my pain perpetually escalating. “You said fans could expect an ‘updated, edgier version of the show.’ Then later you compared it to Game of Thrones.”
He nodded along as I spoke, then confirmed: “Yes, there will be severed penises.”
“It’ll probably be a while before you can resume filming though, right?” It was my only hope: to die before his masterwork could air. “With the pandemic delays and all?”
Mario Lopez pulled to an abrupt stop. He spun and put a finger in the dent between my collarbones. He bored into me like a drill.
“You are such a weak species. Just because hundreds of thousands of you die, you think you’re allowed to slow. To nurse each other. At least the ants realize they are ants.”
“I-I’m sorry we care that we die!” I howled, and he removed the piercing digit.
“Not all of you do. This is good. The reboot is on pause, but I am not. I am working on another project right now. I posted a video on Instagram. Did you see. I was very proud that we were one of the first productions to resume filming. My crew is expendable. My work is not.”
“W-what’s it called?” I moaned, getting to my feet.
“Feliz NaviDAD!” He chuckled. “Many will die for Feliz NaviDAD!”
Mario Lopez began to hop in place, eager for something that hadn’t begun yet.
“This interview’s over, gordito,” he said, and I could see the shadow leak from his eyes once again. “I’ll give you a headstart.”
“W-what?” I asked, but my body knew. I was already running. Or trying to.
“10-9-8,” there was mirth in his voice, but with each number it fell away until there was only the void. “7-6-5-4-3-2…”
“Oh shit.” My knees. My god damned traitorous knees. “Oh shit oh shit oh shi-”