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Short story: It’s 2020 and Ashton Kutcher is still trying to Punk me, by Jordan Hamel

"If I don’t have Ashton Kutcher in my house who am I? I’m just a person in a house": a short story by Wellington writer Jordan Hamel.

Every morning it’s the same. Cling wrap on the toilet seat, a pop up snake in my can of breakfast nuts, local theatre grads dressed as law enforcement, claiming I’ve committed serious tax fraud. Ashton sprinting out from the bush, savouring my fake surprise. "We got you man, look around, You’ve just been Punk’d!"

But where are the cameras Ashton? Where are the cameras?

I’m not really sure when he arrived at my house, I just know he’s never left. He haunts every room, rigging trapdoors and rubber chickens. At a certain point it just became easier to play along, cry some forced tears, fall to my knees shrieking, I know how to make good fake TV. It all seemed quite harmless, even though I know somewhere out there Mila Kunis is worried sick.

At first I didn’t actually believe Ashton Kutcher was at my house, I couldn’t understand, why me? Even when I accepted it, I still never wanted to talk about Ashton Kutcher being at my house. But then my friends started to talk about Ashton Kutcher also being at their house and maybe I wasn’t so alone? These friends started writing poems and books and critical essays about Ashton Kutcher being at their house. They wrote about why we should write about Ashton Kutcher being at our house, they wrote about why we shouldn’t write about Ashton Kutcher being at our house. We went to public talks and seminars about treating Ashton Kutcher like we would any other house guest and coping mechanisms for when Ashton Kutcher is at your house. There are even specific hotlines setup for when Ashton Kutcher is at your house and once some sports guys even said Ashton Kutcher was at their house so I guess it’s ok now? Maybe I can finally deal with Ashton Kutcher being at my house?

At this point you might be thinking Ashton Kutcher is a metaphor for depression or anxiety but you’d be wrong. Ashton Kutcher is literally hiding behind my dehumidifier as we speak.

If anything he provides a playful distraction for me. A routine, some plot device to keep me out of hostile negotiations with myself. But sometimes I think I’d rather be alone, at the mercy of my own walls, without having to worry about my car being filled with popcorn! Do you know how many bags of Act II Butter Lovers it takes to fill a 98 Honda Civic? Because I do. 74, it takes 74 bags of Act II Butter Lovers microwave popcorn to fill up a 1998 Honda Civic.

Sometimes I’ll bake Ashton cookies or some type of slice, I’ll shout to no one in particular, "I wish I could eat all of these delicious baked goods myself. Oh well, I guess I’ll just leave them in the kitchen unattended and get back to my model trains." Naturally Ashton won’t reply except for a muffled giggle. So I leave the kitchen, pastry aromas filling the air and he’ll float in like a cartoon dog, tongue dragging, eyes distended, because all these years with Ashton have taught me pranking is hungry work and even celebrities need a treat now and then.

Once, after baking some brownies, I hid behind the bench with a comically large net (which he really should've seen, but ever since the MTV cheques stopped coming Ashton’s been getting sloppy). When I caught him he thrashed like an undersized snapper too frightened to realise I just wanted to release him back into the wild.

I stared into his mischievous eyes and, in a twist we both should’ve seen coming, I saw myself. Both of us living caper to caper, both waiting for Xzibit to ferry us across the river Styx in his pimped-out, neon-lit, spinning rimmed boat to the great MTV Crib in the sky.

I thought, maybe this really can be a home for Ashton Kutcher, maybe if I maintain healthy routines, open communication and if possible, medication, I can manage Ashton Kutcher being at my house. He knows he’s hurting me, but awareness can still cause inertia, I start to wonder if I actually want Ashton Kutcher out of my house? Because if I don’t have Ashton Kutcher in my house who am I? I’m just a person in a house.

I tell Ashton we’re the same and that he can stay here pranking me for as long as he wants. Because maybe this is a home for empty men, men who lost half of themselves and drift like ghosts through old, comfortable spaces. Maybe we’re both half men, maybe we’re halves of one man, maybe we’re two halves, maybe we’re just two half men, just two half men men men men men men men men men, we can’t stop singing, men men men men men, Ashton says, "Maybe there’s a show in that?" men men men men men men, "do you think," men men men men men "people would watch us" men men men men men "and forget about Punk’d?" men men men men men men, it’s become an unstoppable incantation, men men men men men men men, "there’s only one way to find out Ashton".

We rush out the door, dodging whoopee cushions and plastic spiders, we get into my car and head for the nearest television studio, our asses sticky with plastic butter and salt.

Next week's short story: "Old Love" by Jan Pryor, author of the memoir Afterglow: After Alexander (Haddon Publishing, 2018).

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