This one has been kind of a pain. It’s changed a number of times since I finished it nearly a year ago. It’s gone from uncomfortable ending, to sad ending to mediocre ending. There were visible ghosts at one point. It was only a ghost story at one point. I guess what I’m getting at is that it probably still isn’t in its final form, but it’s brand new and no one has seen it in it’s current form. I welcome feedback and hope ya’ll like it!
a place you cant come back from
“My god, I love the open layout.” Christina said leaning her hands against the back of the show-couch, resting.
“Yeah, this place is huge.” Arnie said back to her, glancing around the room to make sure the realtor hadn’t come back.
Arnie was slightly balding and overweight. He was a gopher for Steward and Lang, a semi high powered Law firm in downtownSeattle. He’d been in law school for years and it seemed the longer he worked for Steward and Lang, the less likely he would ever get his degree. The law firm paid enough for him to subsist so his laziness seemed to bloom.
Christina was constantly being called “thick.” She wasn’t by any means fat, but then again she wasn’t by any means skinny; Arnie, on the other hand, thought she was the most beautiful woman to ever walk the earth. She was a third grade teacher at Frederick Douglass elementary and she played the part; long plaid skirts polyester blouses and up-done long black hair.
The two of them stood in the room looking at each other in wonder. This was the place of their dreams. It was a huge apartment, right next to a quaint little coffee shop, with a view of the Pacific.
They stood there like that, staring with small smirks into each other’s eyes, when the realtor walked back into the room.
“Sorry I forgot the keys,” She said pulling them out of her briefcase. “I forgot that each door had their own lock, but…” She looked up into the couple’s eyes and saw the confirmation which would make her day. “You two have the smiles of someone discovering their dream home.” Before they could respond she was pulling papers out of her small smart briefcase. “It’s a good thing I got the keys…” She tried to hide her smile, but she failed.
“Honey, is the box of flatware in the kitchen?” Christina yelled out to Arnie from her crouched position in front of a wall of boxes.
“Yeah babe, they’re in the box marked kitchen 2.” Arnie said pulling out a shoebox from a packing box marked: Art supplies. He quickly opened the drawer to his large oak desk and slid it to the back of the drawer, trying his best to keep the box hidden. He hadn’t noticed that Christina had walked into the room behind him.
“I can see your underwear.” She said coyly.
“Jesus!” Arnie jumped up, and slammed the drawer closed. Christina didn’t recognize from his movements that he was trying to hide the shoe box from her; she only saw his panic and took it as embarrassment. “Why do you always do that?”
“’Cause is funny!” Christina laughed while jumping on him.
They wrestled around on the ground for a few moments smiling and laughing, but eventually Arnie pinned Christina to the ground. He snarled playfully and snapped his jaws at her and she laughed and fought to free her arms. After a moment he stopped the playfulness and smiled down at her. “Welcome to your new home babe.” Then he lowered his head and kissed her, releasing her arms.
She kissed him back and pulled him down to her, hugging him. Then after a few moments she let go and he slowly got up. She stood and walked to the doorway. “I’ll be back soon…” She smiled at him then walked back to the kitchen.
She went back to the box she could only find with Arnie’s help and continued to unload the dishes. She took one out at a time and slowly and carefully unwrapped each piece of newspaper, placed the dish in the sink, then carefully folded the newspaper into a four inch square.
“Hey babe?” Arnie called from the bathroom. Need filler paragraph. “Babe?” Arnie called again from the bathroom.
“What is it?” Christina meticulously folded another piece of newspaper.
“Are there any stains out there?” Arnie had the door to the bathroom partially closed, but the echo he created in the empty apartment resonated perfectly in Christina’s ears.
“Of course not, they always clean apartments when people move in.” She reached into the box and grabbed another plate.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Arnie said staring at a red stain on the tile behind the bathroom door. He didn’t know where they had packed away their cleaning solution otherwise he would have cleaned it right then to spare Christina’s wild imagination, but he could swear that that copper stain, partially on the wall and partially on the ground was blood.
That night they huddled in one of the two empty rooms trying to decide which one would be the office and which one would be the bedroom. They had a single sleeping bag on the ground and the area around them was lit by the ethereal glow of candles. They had yet to make it to the store to get light bulbs.
“I don’t know if I like the fact that the fire escape is right outside of this room.” Christina said twirling Arnie’s curly hair around her finger; that is, what curly hair he had left.
“That could be a really good thing though babe. If there’s a fire, all we have to do is go out the window and down the stairs.” Arnie said lightly rubbing her hip.
“Yeah, but what if a burglar came up there. All they’d have to do is break the window and then we’d be dead.” She was trying to mask her concern and be as objective as possible, but she was failing.
“Out of all the places inSeattle, why would they come here? The neighborhood isn’t upscale and we’re on the third floor, you can’t even see if we have anything of interest, why would some thief just randomly pick our apartment?” Arnie was smiling, trying to avoid Christina’s infectious fear. He looked over at the window which held the fire escape and took a deep breath. He got up and checked the lock and closed the blinds, then lay back down next to Christina and blew out the candles.
“It’s still possible.” Christina said demurely. She rolled onto her side and then had a thought. “What about the other locks? Did you check those before we got into bed?”
“Get into bed? Babe we’re lying on the ground in a sleeping bag!”
“You know what I mean!” She said slapping his shoulder.
“Yes I locked the doors and windows. Now I’m not getting up again,” he said spooning her. “It’s sleepy time babe. No one is going to climb up three stories, just to climb in our window and besides, the fire escape ladder is raised. They’d have to be twelve foot tall to get to it. It’s just a new place, you’ll feel better once we get our stuff situated and it feels more like home.” Apparently he didn’t have to worry about her because she was already softly snoring.
Later that night Arnie woke startled. He’d been dreaming, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember what
about. He tried to lie for a moment longer, but he felt pressure from his bladder so he gently got up, making sure not to wake Christina and went into the bathroom to pee. Once he finished he took a step over and turned on the water looking down at the faucet and a momentary flash of fear grasped him. What if I look up into the mirror and I see someone behind me? He thought, patiently waiting for the water to warm, terrified to look up at his reflection.
Don’t be stupid. He said to himself and that was all he needed. He took a shallow breath and looked directly into the mirror and the only thing that looked back at him was his own tired reflection. He gently smiled and then walked out into their immense living room. The apartment was two bedroom one bath and thirteen hundred square feet; it was simply huge. He looked out into the street lamp filled room and smiled. This was his new home. He could already see the arrangement of furniture. He walked over to the kitchen which had a window overlooking the fire escape and grabbed a glass of water. He looked out the window and down the fire escape; from the look of it, the ladder had descended all the way to the ground. When they viewed the house he could have sworn that the ladder had been pulled up. Then he thought back to the red stain in the bathroom and his mind started to wander. Oh, my god, could that be blood? Could someone have come up from the fire escape? He pushed the thought from his mind and climbed out the window and down to the first level to pull up the fire escape. He made a mental note to ask the neighbors whether they had lowered the ladder in the morning.
He climbed back in through the window and locked it. He started back to the temporary bedroom and then had an idea. He went back to his desk and pulled out the Art Supplies box and grabbed a few tacks. Before he lay back down with Christina he laid a few on the window sill in the kitchen and another few on the window in the room where they slept. He had trouble sleeping that night.
The next day Arnie went off to work leaving Christina behind to do some more cleaning. Christina loved the extra time she had at home. She loved the idea of nesting, especially in this large apartment; her fears from the night before gone with the morning sun.
Christina walked into the large open living space and stared out into the bright morning sun and smiled. She could unpack most of what they had brought over today and the movers should be here tomorrow with their furniture. She was already visualizing the layout, reveling in the thought of a nice chamomile tea and the most recent Nicholas Sparks novel in the nice little breakfast nook she was going to create while Arnie worked away in his office. It was perfect. It had room for everything.
She went back to the kitchen and continued to unpack in her singly odd way; very carefully unwrapping the dishes and silverware and wiping them individually with her small dish towel then placing then in the sink to wash off. She smiled, enjoying the mundane task in the fresh new apartment when she looked up at the sun filled window in front of them. She remembered briefly that the window also connected to the same fire escape as the room they slept in and noticed little thumb tacks sitting on the window sill. She made a mental note to yell at Arnie later for putting those there. She could have hurt herself!
She brushed aside the tacks and leaned to look out the window and down the fire escape. She could see from her vantage point that the ladder at the bottom had been pulled up. She smiled because Arnie was right. The ladder was pulled up. Who would want to break into their apartment anyway? She made a mental note not to bring the issue up again because she didn’t want to deal with his smugness. She could just see the look on his face and she couldn’t take it.
She finished the dishes about an hour later and moved onto the box marked jackets ‘n coats, carefully pulling the tape off the box and pulling it open. The box had a meticulously created divider to separate the coats and jackets from the hangers. Christina had cut another box and then used Gorilla glue to hold the divider in place. She pulled the box to the closet door and, one by one, took the hangers out and laid them on the rack. She had a number of colored plastic hangers and they all had to go in according to color; the blues with the blues and the yellows with the yellows. She smiled at the configuration once it was complete.
She then reached down to grab the jackets when she happened to look at the back wall off the closet. There was a small red splatter, down at the moldings. She grimaced and immediately turned around and went into the kitchen to grab the box she had labeled cleaning supplies. She grabbed her favorite bleach spray and rag and headed back to the closet. She sprayed like it was an infestation of ants, holding her body away from the spray and shielding herself with the hand holding the rag. Once she felt she had sufficiently slathered the stain she attacked it with the rag, pulling off just a little bit of paint in the process.
She folded the rag, careful not to touch anything she had just wiped up, and caught a glimpse of the maroon stain. It was just a glimpse and all she could smell was bleach, but she had a horrible suspicion that the stain was blood. Come on, why would there be blood in the closet? Christina, normally incredibly superstitious, was galvanized by the warmth and light of the sun and the exciting prospect for a new apartment, ignored her fears and threw the rag into the hamper.
She continued to clean and organize for a couple of hours, until the afternoon sun began to beat down through the windows and heat the apartment. She began to feel the beginnings of sweat break through her skin making her scalp itch and decided it was time for a shower.
She gathered her necessary toiletries and headed into the shower, turning on the hot water and shutting the shower curtain. She put her towel on the rack and the various bottles of soaps on the counter and turned to shut the door. There was another red stain behind the door on the wall again at the moldings. She squealed lowly and ran back out of the bathroom grabbing the rag from the hamper and the bleach cleaner from the kitchen. She went at this stain with the same ferocity as she did the one in the closet and then put the rag back in the hamper and the cleaner back in the kitchen.
When she got back to the shower she could see the steam coming from over the shower curtain and she chuckled to herself nervously. It was only a stain, she told herself, it was only a stain.
She de-robed and jumped into the shower, reveling in the hot water. She scrubbed herself thoroughly, until her skin turned red, then turned up the heat and deepening the tint. After about ten minutes she had finally had enough and turned down the heat, enjoying the afternoon sun coming in through the window, when suddenly the power went off. The lights in the bathroom went first and then the water started to get cold. She reached down to turn the water off when there was a loud knock on the front door. Four distinct pounds. She jumped then turned off the cold water. She wrapped a towel around her body and yelled out “Just a minute!” Then ran to the bedroom and opened a new box quickly, giving herself a cut on the cardboard in the process. She swore and sucked on her finger as she pulled on some tights and threw on a long tee shirt. She made it to the door and opened it slightly hiding behind the door. The hallway was empty.
Christina, scared slams the door shut and makes her way back to the temporary bedroom. The room has echoes of the afternoon sun, now setting, laced across it. She looks at the window sill and sees more tacks sitting on it and suddenly she realizes what Arnie put them for. They were a defense mechanism. She quickly pulled the blinds on the window looking out over the fire escape, then she turned and grabbed her sleeping blanket and ran into the other bedroom, laying the sleeping bag in the closet, shutting herself in and sliding the closet door closed.
Inside the closet she cried. Not necessarily out of fear, but out of helplessness. She understood that she was letting her mind run away with itself, but the thought of being alone in this alien house, despite how beautiful it was, suddenly scared her.
She cried for what seemed like forever. She cried until her mind cleared and she couldn’t remember what she was crying about. The tears wiped her memory and slowly lulled her to sleep.
Arnie came home shortly after she had fallen asleep, content to come home to a new place. He noticed that most of the boxes in the living room were still there and he smiled to himself. Christina must have spent so much time being her meticulous self that she didn’t get to everything. He went from empty room to empty room until he started to think that she had run out to get some dinner for them. It wasn’t until he went into the bathroom and he heard her familiar snore. The snore that sounded a little more like a moan. He followed the sound until he walked into the room opposite their new bedroom and found the sounds coming from the closet.
Arnie slid the closet door aside to find Christina lying in her sleeping bag asleep on the ground. He leaned down and slightly shook her shoulder, then kissed her forehead and she abruptly sat up looking him straight in the eyes.
“Where the hell were you!” She says bunching the sleeping bag in her fists and bringing it up to her chin, covering her body.
“I was a work babe.” Arnie said, slightly recoiling.
Arnie opened his mouth to say more, but Christina dropped the sleeping bag and hugged him tightly.
Arnie woke up the next day, showered and wondered what had come over Christina the night before. She wouldn’t let him out of her sight, even just to go to the bathroom, and then there was that outburst at him when he got home.
She’s so superstitious, He thought, moving into a new place and sleeping there must be horrifying to her. There’s nothing familiar about the place.
He quickly washed himself and was grateful that the furniture was coming today. It would mean other people in the house and it would also mean a distraction. When thy finally had their possessions there it would finally startg feeling like home to her.
He shut off the shower and glanced at his watch sitting on the bathroom counter. 7:45AM, he was going to be late…again. He quickly dried himself and then noticed the red stain on the wall behind the door. Damn, he thought. I forgot to clean that yesterday. That’s not going to help Tina calm down at all. He looked back at his watch and swore to himself again.
He cracked the door open, slowly as to make sure he didn’t make any sound, then peeked into their new bedroom. Christina was sound asleep, her tousled hair in her face as she lightly snored. She made a mandate last night that they would no longer be sleeping in the room with the fire escape access. It was just too dangerous.
Arnie tiptoed into the kitchen and rifled through the cabinet under the sink until he found the bleach cleaner and he made his way back to the bathroom. He sprayed the stain a few times and then took a swath of toilet paper and wiped it clean, flushing the red paper down the toilet.
He quickly got dressed and looked in on her one more time.
“Love you.” He said softly making sure not to disturb her, then slipped out the door and went to work.
At work Arnie sifted through paperwork, trying to organize the jumbles the privates left on the desk for the various cases the lawyers were taking. Arnie was a master at his craft. He would organize just enough to know where everything was and then procrastinated for the rest of the day, handing off the documents to the various lawyers as they came by for them. He always gave them exactly what they were looking for, but his desk was a total mess. It was his protection mechanism because it ensured that no one else in the office knew what was going on in that horrible mess of a desk.
It was while he was sifting through the piles during his morning that the phone call came.
“Thank you for calling Steward and Lang, this isArnoldspeaking.”
“When are you coming home?”
“Damn it, when are you coming home” There was venom in her voice.
“Later on babe. What’s up?” He asked but there wasn’t any real concern in his voice.
“Come home now.” There was something wrong with her voice, but he couldn’t quite place it. Just something…off; Something not quite Christina.
“I’m working babe. They’d cut my pay.”
“I’m never going to get anything done!” He could feel her frustration flowing out through the phone covering him in a thin layer of anxiety.
“God, I should just kill myself!”
“Tina, what’s wrong!” In their various arguments they had had, Arnie had always tried to keep his voice down; he told himself it was because he was level headed, but deep down he knew there was no one better for him than Christina, and the thought of angering her and increasing the probability that she would leave was too much to take. He didn’t yell this time either, but the timber of his voice did rise.
“I need a specific time when you’re getting home!” She was starting to whine.
“Please talk to me!”
She paused for a moment, ashamed at herself for what she was going to ask next.
“Do you think our place is haunted?” She trailed off by the end and he could barely hear her.
“Babe, there’s no such thing as ghosts. What happened?”
There is another pause on the other end of the phone and then in another meek voice Christina comes back on.
“Are you cheating on me?”
“What?” His hand tightened on the receiver.
“I found some letters.”
“Letters? Babe I’ll be home later…”
The phone cut out, leaving a horrible sorrowful tone in his ear. A sound indicative of an ending. But before it did, Arnie could swear he could hear someone knocking on a door through the phone.
When Arnie got home that night Christina was already asleep on the couch. Her gentle snores told him where she laid in the darkened apartment. The apartment seems impossibly cold, so after kissing her gently on the forehead and making sure she’s completely covered with blankets, he turned on the heater and made his way to the shower. He turned on the hot water and looked at himself in the mirror as he waited for the water to warm up. His eyes are drawn and there are large dark bags underneath. In the poor light of the single bulb in the bathroom he looks ten years older than he actually is and he suddenly feels depressed. This is his life. He is an aging intern working for a soulless law firm, where he virtually has no upward mobility and he has no idea what he’s even doing at the firm in the first place. The only reason he took the job in the first place is because he wanted to be more responsible for Christina’s sake. He wanted to be the breadwinner like all the classic TV shows portray. He wanted her to have the lifestyle she always wanted, and yet here he was, a balding, overweight, gopher at the age of thirty burning the midnight oil for lawyers who could care less about him and not at all for his girlfriend at home.
Once the water was warm enough Arnie peeled off his clothes and stepped in. The water itself was hot, but for some reason he just couldn’t heat himself up. It was as if the cold had sunk in his bones and kept his core cold. He twisted and turned in the shower trying to keep the hot water on his freezing body.
While he was shampooing his hair he heard Christina call for him. It was faint, but he distinctly heard her soft caring voice. It was the voice she used when they had just finished in bed; slightly sultry, but infinitesimally caring.
“Just a minute babe. I’m getting out now.” He called from the shower, hoping for a little late night coitus.
Once he turned off the shower the water on his body seemed to freeze. He grabbed the towel as quickly as he could, but in doing so he saw a red stain on the wall behind the bathroom door. Damn it, I thought I got that! He thought to himself.
He quickly dried himself off and grabbed the bleach cleaner again and some toilet paper to clean off the red stain. Then he went into the bedroom threw on some clothes and went back into the hallway. He stopped immediately. There was a figure walking out in the main room. He felt a chill course through his body and he took a deep breath. As quickly as he saw the shape it disappeared and he thought for a moment it must have just been Christina-until he heard her soft snore.
He quickly flipped on every light switch in the vicinity and looked around the open room. The only person in the room was Christina and she was sleeping on the couch. Arnie shivered as he walked over to her. Was she sleepwalking? Sleep talking? But she sounded so awake.
He got over to her and took a quick look about the room making sure there was no one there, but he noticed the kitchen window slightly ajar. No wonder it’s so cold. He thought as he walked over and shut the window. He looked down, just as a precaution and saw that the ladder to the ground was pulled up. Then he turned and walked back over to Christina, making sure to put on the heater full blast as he passed it.
He gently shook her and kissed her again on the forehead.
“Why don’t you love me?” She said in a voice which didn’t sound like her own. He wouldn’t have believed it was her except for her lips moving. He kissed her on the lips and picked her up carefully, grunting in the process, and took her to bed. When he lay her down he gently kissed her ear lobe and whispered “I do love you” and covered her up in blankets. He fell asleep shortly after.
Arnie woke in the middle of the night when he heard footsteps in the hallway. It sounded as if Christina had put on heels and was walking around on tiles. He sat up and felt Christina’s side of the bed and found her absent.
“Babe? What are you doing?” Arnie said getting up from the bed. She must have turned off the heater, he thinks to himself, shivering as he put on a sweater. He opened the door from the bedroom and again heard heels clacking on the tile. It almost sounded as if they were running away from him. Outside the bedroom it felt even colder. He shivered and looked about the hallway, flipped on the light switch. It didn’t go on.
“Babe?” He called out, as he peered through the darkness. He thought he could see her moving around in the large living room, but he wasn’t sure if it was just shadows and his sleep deprived mind playing tricks on him. He walked out into the kitchen and noticed that the window was open again. Startled he closed it and peered out through the window. The ladder was down.
He whirled around and whipped his head to the left and right searching the room.
“Tina, where are you?” He said hoarsely, trying to be loud, but at the same time trying to be quiet.
“Why don’t you love me?” He wasn’t sure if it was Christina this time. It sounded like her, but at the same time it didn’t. Something about the timber of the voice, he just couldn’t put his finger on it.
“Baby where are you?” He said again a little more forcefully. He took a step forward and hissed as he stepped on a thumb tack. He pulled it out of his foot and turned to the window sill, noticing that they had been brushed from the sill. He shut the window then heard more footsteps behind him and a weak knocking at the front door.
A chill ran through him making him involuntarily shiver and he grabbed the coffee pot, wielding it as a weapon. He walked over to the front door and looked through the peep hole. There was nothing on the other side. He turned and looked through the room and saw a figure standing with its back to him in the corner. Arnie’s mouth went dry and he clicked his tongue trying to get some moisture back, but failing. He slowly walked towards the figure, brandishing the coffee pot. He got to within a few feet when he heard the shower curtain shut and a sob coming from the shower.
Arnie gulped and cocked the arm back ready to bash the figure with the coffee pot and reached his other hand out to turn the figure around. As soon as he touched it the façade fell and what he could have sworn was a person dissolved into a pile of clothes.
There was a louder knock at the door and Arnie turned and jumped. He heard more footsteps and saw the window in the kitchen was open again. Shivering he walked towards the bathroom. The door was open and he could see the curtain shifting as if someone were on the other side moving around.
Arnie took a deep breath and began towards the shower when the light in the spare room came on. He turned to see Christina sitting in the middle of the room with blood on her hands, flipping through notes from his past girlfriends.
“Why don’t you love me?” She said with tears in her eyes, looking directly at Arnie.
“Babe why are your hands bloody?” Terror gripped Arnie and he took a step towards Christina, as he did, the curtains billowed into the room. The ladder was down and that window leads to the fire escape! Arnie thought briefly, but before he could come up with a more concrete thought, the door to the spare room slammed shut and the shower curtain opened.
The tub was filled with blood and it had splashed out onto the floor and the walls in the bathroom. There were bloody handprints covering the walls and written in blood on the mirror were five words.
“I do!” Arnie said and took a step backwards. He saw stains covering the walls, bleeding down to the moldings. Down to the spot he cleaned twice already.
There was a loud knock at the front door behind him and he turned to look at it. He felt a breeze of freezing cold air and the lights went out. In the darkness he felt a hand on his chest and a brush of hair against his cheek and a soft feminine voice whisper in his ear. Liar!
Arnie woke the next morning, disoriented. He was curled into a fetal position on the bathroom floor and his teeth were chattering from the cold tile. He sat up to get off the tile, still confused as to where he was. Then he remembered. He shot up holding his hands out toward the shower curtain, but it was open and there was nothing in the shower, except for a single ray of light coming in through the window and illuminating the bathroom.
Arnie stood and rubbed his eyes in confusion. The red stain behind the door was still there. Arnie lumbered out into the hallway. He looked into the spare room and saw Christina curled up on the floor holding something in her hands. Arnie turned and went into their bedroom to start packing clothes. He had already made the decision that they weren’t staying there for the night.
As he was packing he thought about how easy it was to get this apartment and the smile of relief the realtor had when she saw they wanted it. Arnie grabbed the cell phone off the night stand in the room and dialed the realtor.
“Caroline Jacobs!” Her familiar bubbly voice souded tinny in the phone.
“What is wrong with our apartment?”
“Excuse me? Who is this?” Concern and a little fear filled her voice.
“ArnoldLawton. Third floor apartment. What’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t know what you…”
“What happened here?” His voice was cold and he stopped looking at what he was doing, but continued shoving random clothes into his duffle bag.
There was silence on the line for a moment and Arnie waited it out. Eventually she sighed and told him a story.
“A couple lived there before you. He was cheating on her. Apparently she came home one day and caught them in the act and she took a butcher knife went into the shower and turned on the cold water. She waited in there until he came to investigate and she killed him. Killed the other girl in the hallway and killed herself in the closet. Why are you asking this now? Did something…”
“You bitch! How could you!” Arnie said and hung up on her. He stopped packing and put the heel of his hand to his face and started to weep. This place was supposed to be his freedom. He was supposed to be able to relax here and he was supposed to learn what love really meant here. It was his first time living with a girl and she seemed to really care about him.
“Were you talking to her? It’s ok, I knew you never really loved me.”
Arnie jumped when she spoke. He thought she was still sleeping in the other room. He must have woken her when he yelled at the realtor.
“Babe!” It was all he could get out because he couldn’t comprehend what she had just spoken.
“I’ll leave.” She looked down at her feet and her hands clasped a folder. The folder he had hidden in his drawer so she wouldn’t see it. The folder with letters from the one who got away.
“Oh, baby, no…” He chuckled a little bit and he stood up from the bed gesturing that he was going to hold her. She flinched and backed up.
Immediately Arnie felt like he had slapped her. She acted as though she were scared of him. Arnie thought he could hear the squeak of the handles turning in the shower.
“Why don’t you love me?” She was crying. Tears were pouring down her cheeks.
“Babe…” He held out a hand and she took a step back.
“It is because I’m fat? Because I’m ugly?” Water blasted through the shower head and hit the back wall.
“No.” Arnie said forcefully. The lights flickered in the house and Arnie could feel goose bumps. It was cold.
“You are beautiful now help me pack; fast.” He grabbed her arm and she ripped it back, out of his hands.
“You’re only saying that. What about these? Why did you keep these? Why did you bring them here?” Christina said waving the folder in his face.
Arnie didn’t have a response for her, but he did hear foot steps go toward the kitchen.
“I blinded myself thinking that you love me, but I knew all along it was only a matter of time. Guys are all the same. They never stop looking for options.” She waved the folder in his face again. “I’m not going to be one of these girls who holds onto the hope that because you kept a couple old things that you’ll call back. I don’t want to be played.” Her hands were balled at her sides now with the folder crushed in her hand. “I THOUGHT YOU LOVED ME!” Arnie was pretty sure she couldn’t see through the tears in her eyes and he was also pretty sure he heard a knife retract from its sleeve in the kitchen and heared a soft knock at the front door.
“I do love you! I do!” He was rolling his eyes and huffing because of his fear of what was in the kitchen. It was his fear for himself though, it wasn’t for Christina.
“Admit it.” She said making a smug look and wiping tears from her eyes; Arnie could hear footsteps walking back towards them.
“Goddamn it! What do you want me to say!” He said flailing his arms.
“I see the way you look at girls as they walk past. You’re with me for now, but you’re always looking for the next thing.” She pounded his chest and then he backed away. He grabbed the duffel bag and went to sling it over his shoulder when behind Christina in the doorway he could swear he saw a hand on the door jamb.
“You want to get of here that badly huh?” Christina said slumping. Tears rolling down her cheeks.
Arnie didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know what love really was. He wasn’t sure if he ever really felt it. He knew what it meant to lust and to yearn, but what did it mean to love? How could you let one person have everything you have. Let them have everything you are?
“No!” He said it, but there was no conviction in it, and Christina caught it instantly.
“Why did you bring me here? Why did you say you want to move in with me? Were you only looking for cheap rent?”
The room dropped twenty degrees and Arnie could see goose bumps jump out on Christina’s arms. There was a soft sobbing from the other room. Arnie looked over Christina’s shoulder into the other room and she ever so slightly turned her head.
“Babe, we need to get out of here!”
“Our home…” She said.
The door to the bedroom began to close and the light receded from the room as clouds passing over the sun. A low moan echoed in from the bathroom and a loud knock came from the front door.
“Babe listen…” Arnie began and Christina looked him in the eyes. Her cheeks were puffy and her eyes were red and her lip quivered. “I don’t know what love is. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in love. But I wanted to move in with you.” He raised his hands, gesturing around the room. “This is a place you can’t come back from. Moving in. There are only two paths we can take from here. We go on or we don’t. I don’t know if I love you. I’m not sure if I’ll ever really know, but I know I don’t want to live without you. We’re moving forward and that has to be what’s important.”
Something crashed in the kitchen and Arnie suddenly felt tired. He let the bag slide off his shoulder and it echoed when it hit the ground. Christina looked at the window sill and there was a knife sitting on it. Arnie hadn’t noticed it sitting there earlier.
“This is a place you can’t come back from.” Christina echoed.
“Baby please!” Arnie pleaded.
Christina looked into Arnie’s eyes and he looked back. She took a small step forward and they fell into each other’s arms.
The apartment was in a horrible neighborhood. It was small and dingy.
“Who was the previous tenant?” Arnie asked the realtor.
“A couple of college kids, who graduated and moved on.”
Christina looked to Arnie and smiled.
“We’ll take it.”
So this represents the last of the stories from the book which came out nearly a year and a half ago. I plan on discussing the method of writing this book in the next post, so I wont go on at length here. Anyway, enjoy!
Daniel tackled the fat thief with voracity. He felt the fat man grunt and immediately collapse and he knew immediately he would win the fight. What he didn’t know was that the gay college guy would see the gun he’d hidden in his belt.
When the two men hit the ground Daniel ground his knees into the fat mans ass and pushed his face against the ground, while Daniel grabbed the hand that held the gun and ripped it out of the fat mans hands. He was about to stand and look at Mary to see how she was doing, but before he could he felt a hand rip the gun out of his belt line and shortly after the cold embrace of steel against the back of his head.
“You drop that gun now mister!” The gay boy’s voice cracked and Daniel thought it endearing how hard he was trying to hide his lisp.
Daniel thought back on his night and then took a quick peek at Mary. He saw the fire in her eyes and knew that she was a fighter just as much as he knew that the gun the gay boy was holding was near empty from the night’s escapades. He managed a quick glance at the waitress and saw that she was standing in the archway to the kitchen watching the action. That’s good, he thought at least she hasn’t called the cops yet.
“I mean it mister!” The crack in his voice was gone and there was a distinct click of the hammer being drawn back on Daniel’s Colt Python. I guess I underestimated him. This kid has balls.
Thoughts of Mary’s life floated around his mind as he weighed his options. The gay boy was holding a gun which had killed six people. Daniel had killed without remorse and without regret and now that gun was turned on him. Maybe it was karma, maybe it was cosmic Darwinism.
“pull the trigger you fucking fairy.” He said it slowly, clearly and low. Almost growling it.
“What?” The weight of the gun against his head abated a bit as the gay boy hesitated in shock.
“I said pull it. You think it matters at this point?” He looked pointedly at Mary, who stared back at him with desire; an emotion he mistook for love.
Ten years ago Petunia Higgins had sent him a note saying she had been pregnant and had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. Of course at this point, Mary Higgins had already turned eight and had a number of surrogate fathers.
It surprised Daniel to hear that he had a daughter and made a decision in that moment to be the best father he could be. The very next day after he got the letter from Petunia, he packed a bag and traveled back from his job inNew Yorkto his home state ofWyoming. This would be his penance; this would be his retribution.
His whole life he’d had a terrible temper. He turned to sports as a child to facilitate release for his pent up emotions, but it only worked for a time. He joined the football team when he entered high school and joined the in crowd of jocks and cheerleaders. Drugs, Steroids and the untouchable quality of the football greats galvanized his young emotions and he began to get into fights and had trouble with the authority of the school.
It wasn’t until the “event” happened during his senior year, that he decided it was time for a change. He was with the center of the offensive line and one of the defensive backs hiding out by the boat house at the side of the lake giving each other steroid boosters and cocaine bumps, when they came across a car in the woods with a freshman from the school and his little girlfriend.
Deciding that a freshman shouldn’t be getting any more action than they were, they opened the door to the car. The scrawny kid was immediately offended and turned in his seat.
“What the fuck man! Get outta here!” He seemed to have a Texan drawl.
Daniel stood behind Frank (The Center) and Carlos (The defensive back) and they stood hulking over the open door peering in on the couple, not saying a thing. The cocaine made them jittery and excited and the Steroids made them quick tempered.
“I said get the fuck outta here!” The young freshman yelled again trying to grab for the door. The kid was joined soon after by his little girl friend: “Yeah, you fat fucks!”
When looking back on the incident Daniel rationalized that the girl mouthing off had caused it, but in actuality the outcome probably would have been the same whether she said anything or not. The football players never noticed the bumper sticker with the Vagabond biker gang logo on it.
Without saying a word Frank grabbed the girl by her hair and tore her out of the car, clear of the freshman’s arms while Carlos reared back and gave the boy a devastating right hook.
“You shouldn’t be with a little prick like that. You should be with a big prick like this.” Frank unzipped his fly and pushed his penis in the girls face.
She squirmed and squeaked while Carlos blocked the freshman’s view and continued to pummel him. Daniel stood in the back vaguely exhilarated and waited his turn. When Frank was finished, her nose was broken her dress was torn and she was no longer a virgin. Then Daniel had his way. Carlos continued to beat the freshman, who’s squirming began to slow.
When it came to Carlos’ turn he grabbed the girl’s throat and squeezed until the girl turned blue. It wasn’t until they had put their pants back on that they realized what they had done. Daniel looked in on the destroyed face of the freshman while Frank checked the pulse on the girl.
Those were the first two deaths Daniel had experienced. They dumped the bodies in the river, made promises that they would never talk about the incident again and parted ways. In the thirty years since he had been questioned once about the incident, but the bodies were never found.
Coming back toWyomingbrought the memories back to him, as well as the one time he had sex with Petunia. It was short and angry and he never talked to her again. The only correspondence he had with her was the letter he got telling him he was a father of an eight year old girl.
Daniel showed up at her school and watched her play on the playground. He felt old anger well up at Petunia for holding this little girl a secret for so long.
She was a beautiful little girl. She was everything he could have hoped for, a small, lithe, spindly little girl with a kind smile. She roamed the playground dancing around the other children with that broad kind smile on her face. She laughed and played with both the boys and girls alike and he felt immense pride well up inside him as tears began to spill from his eyes.
This beautiful young girl was his. He was her father.
He waited until some of the other little ones started to leave and he waved for her to come over to him. She noticed immediately and waved, giving him that award winning smile.
His heart warmed with every step she took toward him. His little girl and she was so beautiful and innocent. He felt himself smiling uncontrollably.
“Hi mister, my names Mary.” He wanted to pinch her cute little chubby cheeks, but kept his hands in his jacket pockets.
“Hi Mary. D’you know who I am?” He leaned down to her and managed to hold his hand out for her to shake.
“Nooo.” She drew out the o coyly. “but my step daddy says that if a man comes up to me I should play with his peppy and he’ll give me money for our rent. Is that true?” She continued smiling at him and Daniel went pale and immediately felt sick.
“No. Never talk to any man who may come up to you. Don’t listen to anything your step daddy says.” He wanted to be kind and helpful, but he couldn’t help the anger boil up in his stomach. He had images in his head of strangling the man who misled her so badly.
“K!” She gave him one last smile and turned to continue to play, oblivious to his anger and of the implications of her statement.
That night Daniel waited outside Petunia and Mary’s house and waited for them to sleep. He watched the drunken slob who was married to Petunia drink and watch TV and eventually pass out on the couch, so Daniel slowly slipped into the doorway of the trailer. He saw the fat face of the man and the stains on his wife beater and immediately knew he had to die. He could see in the sleeping slob’s face that what Mary told him was the truth.
He took a blanket from the floor next to the couch and gently squeezed the fat man’s nose while covering his mouth. Daniel stood rigid in position for nearly five minutes making sure the fat man didn’t stir then stole his way into Mary’s room. She slept on beer and cum stained blankets so Daniel covered her in the blanket that he used to murder her step father. He was careful not to touch her, as if the stain of murder would rub off from his hands and taint her innocent soul.
The rest of the night he spent burying the fat man out next toLakeMeneloua, exactly fifty paces from the boathouse.
He promised himself he wouldn’t re-visit the grave and for years he stayed true to his intentions. Petunia would occasionally have a difficult new “Step-Father,” but Daniel would have a talk with the man and they always went away. Then Mary turned sixteen and suddenly adopted the moniker “Candy” and when she was supposed to be out with her friends she was actually prostituting herself out by the biker bars.
Daniel kept his distance and tried not to interfere, but as she got older she got in to more and more precarious situations. The more danger she got in the more he felt he had to be there to protect her. It got to the point where his ventures out to protect his daughter started to interfere with his work, but he couldn’t bear to be apart from her. He was always standing in the background, a guardian angel hidden from the fray. Whenever someone got rough with her, he would step in and make sure that man could never hurt her again.
It was only when he was burying his sixth body that he felt as though he was venturing into dangerous territory. He was standing deep in his mass grave, 50 paces from the boathouse, and looked around at the bodies in varying states of decomposition. This cant be considered heroic anymore, he would think. It had never dawned on him that murder, even to protect a family member was still murder.
Mary was approached by the police twice. The first time was to arrest her for the murders of some of her known johns who ended up dead. They let her go for a bail of 6,000 dollars for prostitution, but she was acquitted from the murder charges. Daniel anonymously paid of course. The second time she was arrested, it was in a bar called Stephanie’s which was being raided by the ATF and the local police grabbed her up again on prostitution charges. The ATF let her go because it was obvious to them that she was oblivious of the Vagabonds influence in the bar and of their illegal trafficking.
Two bodies and two years later “Candy” got a call from an introverted disaster of a man. Daniel listened in on the tapped phone conversation in a room he rented in an IN-Law up the street. He tracked the call (with the machinery he got from the bank account he called “The Good Daddy fund”) and went to the johnny’s house and surveyed who would be taking out his daughter.
What he saw horrified him.
Behind the closed doors that constituted the façade of an office was a room dedicated to murder. There were pictures on the wall of dead women and posted next to their destroyed bodies were newspaper clippings of their young faces declaring them missing. Nazi paraphernalia littered the walls in between the dead women and two German pistols were carelessly thrown on the desk, but what held the room together was a big tapestry with the sign of the biker gang, the Vagabonds. Daniel stayed in this room for only a moment then he pulled out an electronic devise and began to study it. A few months earlier he had momentarily borrowed Mary’s purse while she was with one of her Johnny’s and sewed in a tracking bug, purchased of course, from the Goody Daddy Fund.
He followed the signal for hours until it finally stopped atLakeMeneloua. Daniel smiled when he noticed where the little beacon stopped. It was like divine providence. His prey was going to his burial ground.
When approached theLakehe parked his car on the side of the road and walked to the boathouse. He knew the area, he understood the land and he knew where they were going to go. He was destined to be a hero. Perhaps this was how he was going to introduce himself to his daughter. He was a hero who would catch a mass murderer. He was so lost in his thoughts that by the time he reached the scene, the Johnny had already knocked her against the window and was starting to tear her clothes off.
Daniel, forgetting his desire to be a hero, let his terrifying anger take over. His eyes glazed over with anger and he pulled out his Colt Python and pulled the open the car door. The Johnny was salivating and his eyes were dilated and when he looked up Daniel pistol whipped him as hard as he could. The Johnny screamed and covered his spurting nose, but Daniel didn’t hesitate. He grabbed the John by his collar and yanked him out of the car slamming the John’s head into the car door on the way out. The John screamed again, this time in frustration, but he was cut short by the echo of the Python in the open air which surroundedLakeMeneloua. Five shots in quick succession followed then the waters were still again.
Daniel took time to put on gloves then took care to replace as many of Mary’s clothes as he could. He was careful not to touch her, just knowing that the act would wipe off onto her innocent form. He put Mary back in his car and drove her back to the interstate. He left her money and left her unmolested, then went back to work on the Johnny. He wanted to keep her away from the knowledge that he was helping her. He was just her guardian angel in the shadows. He wanted her to know her father, not the creature of the night he had become.
He dragged the body behind the boat house and began digging. Delusions of grandeur raced through his head. How heroic it was. How good of a father he was. Pride welled in his chest and he felt good about his actions, slowly moving aside the bones which were so carefully laid in his mass grave.
What he didn’t notice was the policeman who had spotted his parked Rover and was slowly approaching him.
He later rationalized his actions by telling himself he did what he had to do. He needed to be a good father. He had to protect his Mary.
When the policemen approached him and asked what he was doing (after delicately putting the fresh body into the hole) he didn’t hesitate. Daniel knew the policeman genuinely didn’t know what he was doing, but his natural instincts took over and he fired two shots from his powerful Python. The officer dropped immediately.
What do I do now? He thought. They’ll know he was out here. They’ll know he saw my car. Mary is still lying on the road out there. What if they take her in again? I have to get to Mary!
Daniel went back to his car and took up the tracker. The blip was moving. She had found another ride. He raced back to his car ignoring the dull pain in his muscles from burying the two bodies. This was going to be an adventurous night it seemed and he only had three more bullets in his gun. Then the blip stopped moving.
Two things happened when he got to Raven’s. The first was the Raven who sat on the warm neon sign cawing at him and the second thing was the coat of arms which hung above the bar. It was the symbol for the Vagabonds.
He made eye contact with the man who was sitting with Mary in a booth. He was a dirty man with long hair. The man smiled and winked ever so slightly. Storm clouds echoed over from above the diner and the cawing of the crow not only warned him he was entering the end of his days, but also of how many bullets remained in his Python; three distinct caws. He gazed out into the stormy night and saw a distinct separation of the edge of the world and the entrance of the heavens. He hoped Mary’s luck kept. He hoped he’d have enough bullets. He looked at the painting over the bar and took a deep breath. Then looked down at the man witting with his daughter. A man he knew brought her here for a purpose. A man who knew Daniel had killed one of his fraternal brothers tonight. Don’t worry Mary, He thought. Your father is here.
The power of the gun shocked him. Frank had seen many movies and in every one the guy with the gun shot smoothly and without remorse. When Frank did it his arm shook and brains splattered his face. It shocked and surprised him long enough for him to reconsider whether this was a good idea or not. It wasn’t nearly as satisfying as he thought it would be and then he was lying on the ground with a businessman playing hero and a young college guy trying to be the bigger hero.
Frank cursed his luck, something that he was very good at, and whimpered at the feel of the gun being pressed against the back of his head.
“Please don’t shoot me!” He cried and both the businessman and the jock turned to look at him, but Frank he was looking at the other jock. The one with the accent. “Please, I’m sorry I don’t want the money any more! I didn’t mean to kill him I swear! You can keep the money!”
A week earlier Frank had received a phone call; and it was a fortuitous one at that. He was out on his luck again, living in a cockroach infested shack, overdue on his rent and without any prospects of a job. He had beer cans and empty pizza boxes splayed throughout his apartment which created ragged landscapes of waste. The dust was layered into a thick film, giving the flat a slightly eggshell hue.
“Franklin Peter Delamotte?” The voice on the other end of the phone had a slight southern accent, but it was rough around the edges as if the person speaking were trying to be suspicious.
“I have a proposition for you.” Frank said nothing, but he did lean forward in his seat. This was something important. No one called him by his full name. Not even his mother.
“I’m taking your silence as consent to continue. Today is your lucky dayFranklin. I plan on giving you ten thousand dollars.”
Frank continued his silence, more out of shock than contemplation. Ten thousand dollars was a lot of money and he hadn’t paid rent for the last two months. He was surprised he hadn’t heard from his landlord yet.
“In return, Mr. Delamotte, I ask a favor from you.” His drawl changed it to faaava. Again Frank kept his mouth shut. He missed that the voice had switched into professional diction by using his surname. “At this time, I would in fact, need ya to agree. It’s important.”
Frank rubbed his face vigorously while trying to decide what to do, but the man on the other end didn’t have the patience for it.
“Mista Delamotte. I need you to agree or you will lose this opportunity. Now, do you agree?”
Frank quickly eyed his studio and assessed the filth, the size and the smell before he answered.
“Ok, what is it?” His slight alcoholic drawl taunted the southern one on the other end.
“Good. Now Franklinyou will receive your money when you have succeeded in this favor. You will go to the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming. To a place called Raven’s diner. There will be a group of people in the diner. Specifically a man and a woman sitting together. The man may have a ring. You will go on March 15th 2005. There will be a gun strapped behind the broken neon sign. Shoot the man who may or may not have the ring. Then shoot the prostitute. Once this is done, drop the gun and walk out of the diner. Then, when you get back to your studio your back rent will be paid and there will be ten thousand dollars waiting for you in a sack just inside ya door” It came out dowa.
“Right.” It was a question more than a statement, drawn out like a groan; riiiight, but the man must have picked up on his incredulity so he continued.
“Mista Delamotte, two shots and walk. Easy money and your back rent. Now you have entered into a binding agreement, you cannot back out.”
Frank rubbed his chin and quickly looked out the window, feeling eyes on the back of his head.
“Is this some kind of joke?”
“Hardly. Ten thousand dollars plus a pass out of debt. Now before I end this conversation I need to hear some confidence.”
“How do I know?” He was talking to bide his time, but he was too drunk to think of any plan.
“Mista Delamotte, you disappoint me. If you must have verification please drive to breakneck bend onMustang Avenue. We will give you half the money now and we are sure that the money will make all doubt will vanish.”
Frank tried to say something back, but the dial tone began, cold and empty in his ear.
He looked about his apartment. The carpet was buried underneath the aggregate filth of years and what he could see was bug infested.
Ten Thousand Dollars.
Frank resolved to find out what was in the dark, forest covered bend on the emptyMustang Ave.
Mustang Avenue was a dark mysterious expanse of road, which had one particular dreary and dangerous sharp curve shrouded in shade from the overhanging maples. There was a wall on the edge of the three foot shoulder, but no reflectors adorn this dark wooden railing. Head lights are the law in this dark stretch of road, but few ever adhere.
Frank saw the curve up ahead and frowned trying to mask his fear. He clicked off the radio, distracted by the Boss’ rendition of “Nothing Man” and peered out over his dusty dash board. Seeing nothing he flicked on his headlights, not out of duty to the law, but out of a sick curiosity for what he might find out there in the darkness.
A few hundred feet from the curve he saw a man walking a dog. The man was dressed in black and the dog was as well. This must be it. He thought and parked his car off the shoulder just before the curve. The man paid no attention to him until Frank was near enough to touch him. Then the man spoke.
“There is a man who will be driving through here shortly. He is the one you are to shoot in the diner. The prostitute will be obvious. For now you are to take this dog to the dumpster at the rear of Raven’s Diner and replace it with the duffel bag which will hold the money.”
The man never turned to look at him, just kept his attention on the English Bulldog while it did its business.
“What is this? Why did you call me?” The man turned to Frank with his piercing green eyed stare.
“You’re a poor slob. You need the money. You have nothing to lose. You are the perfect choice. Now do you understand the instructions I have given you?”
Frank, incredulous at the man’s statements, merely nodded.
“Good, the car is a mile down the road. You better get moving.” The man produced a gun from his jacket and shot the dog in one fluid motion. Frank took a step back in horror as the man quickly hid the gun and walked straight into the forest.
“What the fuck!” Frank said under his breath and turned to look after the man, but the shadows were thick and the man had already disappeared into the night.
Frank’s heart pounded, brining bile up to the back of his throat. He looked down and saw that his pants were covered in the blood of the dog and he frantically wiped, trying to disavow the knowledge of what just happened. The dog’s corpse was laying at the edge of the road and from Frank’s point of view it looked serene.
“Could it have been staged?” He said out loud, his jowls shaking. It looked like the dog was just lying down on the ground sleeping. Could it be that they had trained the dog to play dead at the sound of the gun? Frank wondered how they got the blood to splatter on his pants. There was no blood he could see on the dog.
Frank boldly walked over to the creature, angry that these people might think him stupid enough that he might fall for a cheap parlor trick, but when he got within reach he recoiled and retched on the side of the road.
The side of the dog’s head had been blown away and Frank didn’t notice the small black hole just above the collar.
Desperately Frank grasped at its hind legs, trying to stay clean, but then looking back at his car. He cursed himself for parking so far away and then began to drag the dog back to his car. He nearly got there too.
He was passing the rear drivers side door when he saw the headlights of another car moving around the curve.
Shit! He thought. The person driving is going to see me dragging a dog with half a head! He did the first thing that came to him.
He dropped the dog and quickly started walking towards the headlights. With any luck they’ll just drive right past me. He took a few steps forward praying for the best, but when the car got near it began to slow. Keep going, keep going. But the car continued to slow until it seemed to be just crawling towards him. Fucking Good Samaritan. But then he remembered something the informant said. The man he was supposed to shoot was going to be in a car that will drive by.
He squinted and covered his eyes with a hand, cursing the man for not leaving the gun he shot the dog with. This could be all over now. Ten Thousand Dollars!
He stood tall and tried as best he could to hide the dog behind him as the car slowly rolled up to him.
“Howdy! Having some car trouble?” The man said. Frank could tell the man was white, but the car was veiled in shadows. Frank didn’t answer him, just continued to sneer, trying to get more specifics about the man.
“You hear me man?” Frank heard the concern in the man’s voice and relished it. He knew he should say something to the man, to make him feel more at ease, hell, maybe he could kill him here and now and everything would be resolved without any shooting later in the diner. The only thing that held him back was something the southern man on the phone told him. Shoot the man who may or may not have the ring. Then shoot the prostitute.
The car neared enough for Frank to get a decent glimpse of the man before, presumably, the man saw the dog lying behind him and possibly the blood spatter on his trousers. Frank took a step towards him arms outstretched, still with no exact expression on his face and still without saying anything. The man’s eyes bulged and the car suddenly jumped forward and zoomed down the road.
Frank chuckled as the exhaust swirled around him. There was a stack of papers in the passenger seat. On top of the stack of papers was what looked like a title page. It said “DOWN ON LUCK” by Robert Tanner.
Frank took his time loading the dog into the car, but he was long gone before the police arrived on the scene, chuckling the whole way to Raven’s Diner, thinking about the Ten Thousand dollars and how he would spend it.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Daniel said with a new emotion creeping across his face…fear.
“I’m sorry I know I was supposed to shoot her too, but I didn’t mean to kill him and it kinda shocked me. It was like the dog. There’s so much blood.” Dark stains began to spread across the taut fabric at his arm pits and a sour odor emanated from his perspiring body. “Please, I just want to go!”
His voice was nearly drowned out by Tanya’s screaming. She didn’t take notice of the others in the room. She slipped out of the seat and cradled Robert’s head in her arms. Blood covered her mixed with the surprisingly white bone fragments from his skull. She tried to fix the wound, pushing the bone back against his head, until she realized how futile the effort was. She felt as if something weren’t right in the world. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to die that easily. He took care of Chopper single-handedly. How could this happen? It can’t be true!
She combed his hair back from his face and kissed his forehead while periodically shaking his head.
“What’s he talking about?” The business man said to the jock still sitting in the booth, ignoring the gun at the back of his head.
Charles sat silent by the table. All he could think about was the note. Someone here knew they killed the girl; however none of them looked like the man in white suit. He knew the business man was yelling at him, but he couldn’t process the situation. Was the robber just happenstance? Would there be someone else coming in through the door to deal with him? Or was it the slob?
“Why did you want him to shoot Mary?” Daniel roared at Charles. Daniel forgot all about the slob bawling on the ground and turned his attention to Charles. The boy was looking down at Daniel and his eyes were full of fear. Something more was going on here than meets the eye. The kid holding the gun came here with the kid the shooter is talking to.
“What is he talking about?” Daniel asked Abe indicating Charles with the gun. Frank now a crying mess of the ground.
Abe was astonished. He still held the gun to Daniel; however Daniel was acting as if nothing were wrong. Then Abe remembered what Charles told him. About the man with the letter and he thought about what they did and why they were here. He looked into the fire of Daniel’s eyes and felt all the courage in his body evaporate. This was a man who had no qualms killing. He had this way of looking at you, as if he were looking through you. Abe shivered and shook his head. He wanted to say something, but was worried how it was going to come out.
Daniel thanked God that Tanya stopped screaming, he might have a chance to think. He knew he couldn’t stay here. Having an unregistered gun which killed eight people isn’t the greatest thing to have on you during an interrogation. He tried to piece together the puzzle forming in his head. This slob comes in and shoots a man, then later says he didn’t mean to kill him. He insinuates that a college kid puts him up to it, paying him an, as of yet, undisclosed sum of money and for some reason that same person wants to shoot Mary.
Daniel slaps the gun in Abe’s hand to the side and a smile touches his lips when the boy pulls the trigger and the bullet flies wide. He raises his gun and presses the barrel into Abe’s head, then turns to look at Charles.
“What the fuck is he talking about boy?”
“Please.” Abe whimpers crossing his eyes to look at the barrel. Charles doesn’t answer.
“It was you right? The accent?” Frank mutters on the ground, desperately trying to get an answer from Charles. Charles stares at Abe.
“I don’t have time for this.” Daniel’s famous anger was noticeable in his voice. “One more time, boy, what’s going on?” Abe lets out a moan and Frank loudly farts.
Charles still says nothing, staring wide eyed at the gun in Daniel’s hand.
Tanya, meanwhile, has let go of her vice grip on Robert’s head and in doing so, loses her grip on reality. Her vision turns red and black spots invade her peripheral vision. She quietly stands and grabs a steak knife from the table while the men are arguing. She takes a look over at Mary who is crouched in a booth hiding her face and feels the anger renew, white flashes spotting her already diminished vision. He should have shot you first bitch.
There is a loud resounding bang as Daniel pulls the trigger and Abe falls back to the ground, lifeless. Then Daniel turns his gun to Charles.
“What, exactly did he tell you and how do you know it’s him?” Daniel asks Frank, but looks at Charles. Frank is confused and terrified. He stares at Abe’s corpse and holds his breath. He doesn’t answer and he doesn’t hear Tanya approaching from behind him.
“You, slob. I’m talking to you.” Daniel tears his gaze away from Charles and looks down at Frank.
“Stop!” Daniel yells surprised that Tanya has gotten as close to Frank as she has. She was holding the blade overhand above her head. Daniel swung his gun around to stop her, but he’s too late.
There is a sickening crunch as the blade hits the top of Frank’s head, then a loud grinding noise as the blade slides down the front of his face and buries itself into his windpipe.
Daniel pulls the trigger on the Frank’s Glock and Tanya’s head pops backward before she slumps to the ground. Cursing himself for forgetting the grieving woman, but thankful for her making the shot easy. He knows he would have to kill her anyway. If he’s going to get away, there can be no witnesses to tonight.
He begins to turn back to Charles when he hears Mary cry out. He whirls around and sees Charles holding Mary by her beautiful hair, holding Frank’s Python to her head.
“Y-you d-drop that thing now mista!” Charles stutters though his southern accent is still prevalent. Mary looks Daniel in the eye and he can see the little girl in her.
“kkkelp.” Frank’s voice comes out bubbly and grating, as if he were choking.
Daniel ignores Frank and looks at Charles. Inwardly he curses himself again. He should not have walked into this environment. Simply too many variables. Now he has to protect Mary and get her out of here and make sure no one else does. Shit, there’s still the waitress, he thinks, but does not divert his attention. Some things were of a higher priority.
“Things may have gotten a little out of hand boy. Death can do that. Now just tell me. What is this slob talking about? Why is he apologizing to you?” He adjusts his grip on the pistol and flexes his arm. He has to move fast and he has to be accurate. One shot to the head hiding behind his beloved daughter.
“I dunna what’s going on! You just let me go ya hear?” There is a rustle from the kitchen, but Daniel decides he needs to take this shot and then deal with whatever’s going on out there. The police are probably almost here and he needs to move fast if he wants to get away. He’ll have to forgo the information he’s seeking.
“Don’t lie to me.” Daniel says as calmly as he can muster.
“I ain’t lying! I…” While Charles mutters Daniel turns his head towards the kitchen gasping, as if someone were barging into the room, all the while keeping Charles in his periphery.
When Charles turns Daniel takes his shot, quickly raising the gun and taking short aim. Charles falls limply away from Mary and Daniel lithely moves forward cradling Mary in his arms. He kisses her on the forehead and he feels tear well up in his eyes…this is the first time he’s ever touched her.
“I was hoping it was going to be you.” The voice comes from the kitchen and echoes in the small bloody room. Daniel turns to see who is speaking, but before he can he feels electricity enter his body and the ledge of reality he has been struggling to hold onto crumbles slowly away…and everything is dark.
Mary’s screams of agony awoke him. Daniel ached all over, but when he tried to move he found his arms and legs bound. He slowly opened his eyes and little by little the darkness receded.
He was in the kitchen of the diner, or at least he assumed it was the diner. Mary was being held over the stove by a tall, burley man, her face was a collage of burned skin and each tear drop sizzled on the burner as if wiping away her right to feel.
“Stop!” Daniel yelled through coarse vocal cords and the big man turned to look at him. He had a devilish, angular smile. He let go of Mary and she fell to the ground whimpering. Then a voice spoke from behind him.
“Welcome back to the world Daniel.” The voice was distinctly feminine and the determination in the voice scared him.
“We’s just so happy to see ya.” The big man said in a fake southern drawl. Then he giggled, it was high pitched and sounded like a weasel.
“Leave her alone. She didn’t do anything.” Daniel attempted. He tried to take a deep breath, but felt something constricting his chest.
“You’re telling me that a disease infested whore didn’t do anything?” It was a new voice, one that Daniel recognized, but he couldn’t quite tell where it came from.
“You’ve brought this on yourself Daniel. You have sinned. You have murdered and now it’s time for your come-uppance.” The woman walked into his view and he immediately recognized her from the outfit she was wearing.
“Do you repent Daniel?” The waitress’ nametag said Stephanie.
“Quite honestly I don’t give a shit if you repent or not, but you killed one to many Vagabonds.” Now Daniel knew where he knew this man; it was the man who brought Mary here earlier in the evening. “You see, you did a lot of dirty work for us Daniel. We were gonna kill all those people out there. Then Stephanie here came up with the plan. We lured you all in and you did the work for us. It was brilliant. Now with the infector over there gone and her benefactor, meaning you Daniel, out of the way. We bikers take a breath of fresh air. How many of us did you kill?”
Daniel tried to answer but he was too short of breath. He looked down and saw a rope tied around his chest. As he watched it he saw it visibly tighten.
“Robert and Tanya only killed Chopper. Charles and Abe killed Kick Stand’s little girl. Frank was the easy fall man and then there are you two,” The rope tightened as the man spoke and Daniel felt his lungs burning and felt the crack of two of his ribs as the rope cinched tighter. “The pariah and the avenger.”
“Your time of destruction is over, Daniel. We will now live in peace.” Stephanie smiled down at him and gently caressed his cheek. “Goodbye Daniel.”
The rope tightened again and the light slowly drained from his vision. I’ll be with you soon my darling. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you in this world, but nothing will touch you in the next.
“And you darling. I’m gonna be happy that I will never have to see your face in my bar or my diner, ever again.” A ghost of a smile played about Stephanie’s lips.
So my producer for the podcast got caught up with some prior engagements, so we’re going to have to wait until February to get to listen to the last three installments of the podcast (Final Punch, and All Night Diner parts 1&2), so I’m going to trudge ahead and post All Night Diner in two parts because it was the longest of the stories in the book and it might bring about some suspense for those of you who follow it.
This story is my version of a “who done it.” Initially I wanted to play with the narrative a bit and keep it one flowing story where Robert’s ring would roll around the diner and that was how you got introduced to the characters. I got about twenty pages into it before I realized that it was a failed and flawed attempt and I’d have to go at it from another angle.
This story has a bunch of characters and is very exposition heavy because it’s almost a novel length idea condensed into 55 pages. I had hoped to finish out the book by having each section be a different genre, you have a horror story, a love story, a suspense story and a gothic moral tale a la Donna Tartt. I’m not sure it if succeeds, but I loved writing it and I love the twist.
Next Friday will be the conclusion, then I will offer up some more Bowling Alley poems before I post a brand new, never been seen before story “a place you cant come back from.” Enjoy!
All Night Diner
The diner lay in a desolate wilderness ten miles from the town ofCheyenne,Wyoming. It was a way station for weary travelers as they made their way through the depressing flats of theGreat Plains. Its original name was “Capote’s” with a carved wooden sign hanging above the door. Its owner was Jacques Capote who built the place as a façade for a drug and arms trading post. He dealt with gangs, delinquents and bribed the police; all the while developing a taste for cooking and turning Capote’s into a place coveted by the passing trucking and biking crowd…a crowd who could pick up, not only a decent bite to eat, but some uppers for the road. It wasn’t until Jacques’ beautiful wife and newborn son were killed in an altercation with police in the diner that he decided to change his career and in an effort for safety, the bar’s name.
The story goes that the funeral for his family was delayed because a raven landed on the casket of his son. He spent hours staring at the raven, screaming at anyone who tried to move the bird. He raved that it was the spirit of his dead son. Later that night after the bird flew away and the woman and the boy were buried. The raven returned to Jacques. It sat on his window sill, and if you believe some that tell the tale, spoke to Jacques. It gave him instructions.
The next day the wooden carved sign, which travelers strained to find, came down. The day after that, a new neon sign which read “Raven’s Diner” went up. The day after the newly instituted diner opened, ownership of the bar went to Jorge Calaveras; a man who frequented the diner. On the fourth day Jacques put a shotgun in his mouth and displayed his brains on the window of his newly christened “Raven’s Diner.”
Some said the place was cursed. Some said it was haunted. Some said it had the best corn beef hash in theGreat Plains. No matter which story you believe, it was in this place where seven people met and spent the night in a diner which had a view of the edge of the world.
Robert and Tanya
“Fuck you! I’m not going to jail! I didn’t do anything wrong!” The greasy biker said from the other side of the diner. Robert looked over at the man out of the corner of his eye, just to make sure he wasn’t going to ruin the night then turned and looked back at Tanya.
Robert drank his coffee in abstinent silence; fingering the ring he brought to the tryst. He looked across the stained Formica into Tanya’s brown eyes. There were slight crows-feet at the corners of her eyes which used to catch excess makeup and make caked lines; spindles out away from the corner of her eyes. Makeup she used to hide the bruises her dead boyfriend gave her.
Robert had saved her from all that. She no longer wore makeup, in fact whenever she passed a counter with a young woman attempting to sell, she would shy away and hide in Robert’s arms. That night was their anniversary. It was a year free from makeup and abuse.
That was the reason Robert brought her back to Raven’s. He wanted her to stand in the diner she used to frequent with her abusive boyfriend and face her fears. Once she did he was going to have the waitress serve her favorite dish, then present the giant diamond which weighed down his pocket. She amazed him with her vitality and stubbornness. He wondered sometimes why she stayed with a man who abused her for so long. Robert intimated that if he were to raise a hand to her she would tear his head off, but then again, he thought, maybe being beaten for a solid year is what it took for some people to finally stand up for themselves.
He remembered the first time he saw those eyes.
A year earlier he was on a poorly run PR tour for his new book “The Ingredients of Life” which featured a poor writer traveling from city to city and trying to find his purpose. The protagonist had sex with prostitutes, did drugs in Portland flophouses, tipped cows while tripping on acid in the Wyoming plains, had a drinking contest with a senator from Texas and eventually died of a gunshot wound in a cemetery in El Paso.
Cheyennewas as far as his publicity company was willing to pay for and Robert wasn’t sure if that was a reflection of their budget or their opinion of his writing.
He was passing the quaint little “Raven’s” when his Dodge Dart’s radiator boiled over. Six months later he would tell Tanya that their meeting had been serendipitous. If his writing were any better, they never would have met.
Her make-up application was thicker that day than it normally was. Her boyfriend, whom she called by his nickname, “Chopper,” had beaten her especially bad the night before. He would usually focus his efforts on her stomach because it brought fewer questions from people; not that he really worried about such things, he just found it easier to avoid questions altogether.
Robert had looked at her, took note of the obvious swamp colored distortion of her skin tone and sighed in absent empathy. She saw him looking and gave him a slight and self-conscious smile, then raised one of her hands and covered as much of her face as she could.
Robert wrote a novel called “Life; Intransigent” three years earlier where the main character was a battered woman. He felt it would be untruthful or perhaps somewhat un-realistic if he wrote about the experience the woman had in the moment, so he focused the battering as a memory, something as fleeting as a dream, used only as back-story so as to give a greater understanding of the woman’s decisions to avoid male contact. She was a villain because of it. A cold calculating bank-robber who couldn’t understand affection because it was something she never had, or if she did, couldn’t remember. The book was a perfect statement of Robert’s ignorance of the broad range of human emotion.
So when he saw her eating dinner with the large man in the leather vest; when he saw her look at him and smile at him, he smiled back then focused on his meatloaf.
Throughout his meal he noticed her stealing glimpses at him. Every so often he would look at her directly and she would smile and very coyly look to the ground.
Robert’s assumption was that she recognized him from one of his book’s dust jackets, but that was only partially true. She did recognize him, she’d read all of his books, and where she thought his writing was a little sub-par, she also thought he understood what it meant to be in peril. Every story he wrote had characters in extra-ordinary circumstances. In “The Particles of Faith” a priest is excommunicated from his church for alcoholism and travels the country as a preacher, stealing and healing along the way. In “Dodger” a young man is imprisoned for killing a man when he’s eighteen and spends his time in jail plotting escape. The list went on.
So she locked eyes on him and tried to convey her situation, covering her bruises only that once and giving him a view of what she represented through her body language.
Robert, whose longest relationship was only a year, was ignorant of her efficacious flirtations. He felt mildly uncomfortable, as if he were starring in a third rate Dukes of Hazzard knock-off, and the large biker would turn around and beat him for staring at his girl. Her gazes were just so resolute.
When he finished his meatloaf he got up and gave her a shy grin as he made his way to the bathroom. He didn’t know it at the time, but this small furtive glance was his downfall. She had been desperately trying to gain his attentions because her perception was that all writers had money and she thought the best way to escape the choking grasp of Chopper was to run away with a man who could solve problems through money. Money could fix anything. He didn’t seem to be responding to her though and as his meatloaf began to disappear from his plate her hope began to drop like the first dead leaf of autumn. Slow but steady.
Then, on his way to the bathroom, he smiled at her and she saw her shot. She excused herself from Chopper’s side (he didn’t even register her leaving, he was busy wolfing down his own portion of meatloaf) and demurely made her way to the bathroom doors where she waited for him to come back out.
Robert peed languorously, searching his mind for ways to avoid contact with her. Robert was a pacifist at heart and the thought of confrontation scared him. His big plan was to exit the bathroom, throw money down on his table and nod his head at her, so when she met him at the entrance to the bathroom door he let out a little squeak under his breath.
She stood before him with her arm on the door jam, her legs spread, her lips full and her eyes held a worldly and knowing gaze. She handed him a piece of paper, then leaned forward and grabbed the back of his neck and pulled his lips to hers. Her lips were glossy and she tasted of coffee.
The kiss lasted only for a moment and when it was over. She slid her hand from the back of his head to his cheek. She looked, not away, but down as she did this. She wanted to show him she understood what she was doing was wrong. She wanted to show him she felt shame for her actions, but the hand on his cheek was meant to display that no matter how wrong it was she wanted it.
There were no words in their first interaction (unless you count Robert’s squeak). It ended there, she walking back and sitting next to Chopper and him fulfilling his earlier plan. He walked over to his table, threw down money then walked out of the diner. The one change in his plan came at the door (next to the neon sign) when he turned back to catch one last glimpse of her. She was looking back at him, her make-up caked face wrinkling with expectancy.
When Robert got back to the hotel he opened the note. There were four words and ten numbers. Tanya Pearson 803-567-8956.
My God! He thought this is like a story I would write!
He called her back the next day.
Initially Tanya used him. Their first meeting she found out he had no money, but that he seemed to be willing to do anything for her. He was like an angel sent from heaven. He was everything she wanted in a man. He was considerate, he listened and most importantly he didn’t beat her.
They met secretly for months, always talking briefly about their separate lives and then spiritedly copulating when the conversation ran down.
Robert was in love from the first moment. He loved her small town mentality and her ineffable compulsion to be needed. Her life didn’t seem to have purpose and she was slowly slipping down into depression. Chopper only seemed to need her as a focus for his outpouring of lust and aggression. Robert though, accepted her and empathized with her. He hated Chopper and often talked about giving him a piece of his mind (Of course this was always taken lightly by Tanya because Robert was so soft spoken and Chopper was three times his size), but when the evenings devolved into intercourse he quickly forgot his anger.
Three months after their first meeting Tanya came to a realization. She was pregnant. She decided to wait to tell both Chopper and Robert until she knew when conception was. The only way she was going to keep it was if it were Robert’s, if she couldn’t definitively identify the father she was going to abort it. There wasn’t any reason to chance having Chopper’s baby.
A few months later she began to show and immediately Chopper was proud. When he found out he grabbed Tanya in a headlock and gave her noogies laughing and whooping. He said it was a miracle; the doctors told him that (after a fight he got into when he was twenty and got kicked in the testicles…repeatedly) he would probably never be able to conceive a baby, his testicles were just too damaged.
Robert was elated when she told him he was going to be a father. He held her tight and kissed her deeply, then that night after they made love she left him to return to Chopper and he began to formulate a plan to get his new love away from her tyrannical husband.
When Tanya got home she was dismayed to find Chopper even more tossed than usual. He had gone to his local hangout “Stephanie’s” (it was a bar owned by the head of the Vagabonds, his biker gang) and gotten free drinks in congratulations all night long. Chopper tried to fuck Tanya that night, but because of the alcohol, was unable to attain an erection. She tried to buffer his ego by sucking him, but he remained skin taffy.
Chopper, who had never dealt with embarrassment well, beat Tanya unconscious. He had tried to keep his blows to her face and torso, avoiding her stomach so as to save his unborn son (he had no idea that not only was it not his, it wasn’t even a boy); unfortunately in his stupor he eventually forgot she was pregnant and laid a few very well placed kicks and managed to kill the unborn baby.
When Tanya woke she was lying in a pool of blood and immediately knew what happened. She called Robert and told him about the beating, weeping and sobbing into the receiver. They agreed about a meeting spot to discuss what they would do. She wouldn’t have cared if it were Chopper’s baby, but because it was Robert’s it opened her eyes to the reality of her situation. She was not living a real life, but some kind of bizarre, warped Wonderland. She came to the realization that she was the only one who could change her circumstances. She was the one who would have to act. She just didn’t realize Robert would be so willing to help.
“Let’s kill the son-of-a-bitch.” He said it so coldly, with a determined look in his eyes. Tanya thought she saw his nostrils flare.
They came up with the plan together. They would call a rival gang, the Sons of Chaos, and tell them Chopper was selling on their property out in the forest byLakeMeneloua. Meanwhile Robert called Chopper, explaining that he was a friend of one of Tanya’s high school friends and set up a date to acquire some crank.
It was the perfect plan and it worked just how they thought it would. Tanya stayed home so she would have plausible deniability and Robert went out to meet Chopper. Robert got to the meeting spot (out in the woods next to an old run down boathouse) early and was surprised when Chopper got there ten minutes before the scheduled time. Chopper didn’t say a word during the transaction; he just looked at Robert, stared deep into his eyes. They exchanged money for goods and Chopper took a few steps backward, wearily eyeing Robert. Chopper made it a hundred feet when he stopped in his tracks. Robert, knowing the rival gang must have started their move, began to slowly walk in Chopper’s direction.
The kill shot came quick. They didn’t give him a chance to speak; they didn’t even give him a chance to run. He took two .22 caliber bullets to the head and dropped to the forest floor. As Robert walked past, giving the body a wide berth, he raised a hand to the man holding the gun. The man nodded back.
Four months later Tanya and Robert sat, again, in Raven’s diner. Tanya had gone to Chopper’s funeral, then disappeared leaving a note behind that said she was too heart-broken to stick around. She and Robert had been living out of hotels and hostels ever since. She never dreamed her life would be lived in hotels, but she relished every minute of it. The freedom and liberation which came from the road was like nothing she had ever experienced. She felt like she had been released from prison.
Robert pulled the ring from his pocket and brought it to his lap. He smiled at Tanya who smiled back; it was a look of complicit joy and it made Robert’s heart sing.
Robert was so wrapped up in mentally practicing his proposal that he didn’t notice the short, fat, balding man walk into the diner behind him. It wasn’t until Tanya’s eyes widened as a short fat man raised his arm and pointed a Glock at the back of Robert’s head, that Robert realized something was wrong.
Robert turned slightly saw the man’s face and said one word before the bullet destroyed his brain and he collapsed into a pile of useless organics in his seat.
“You!” His publicist would hardly be happy to hear this was his last word.
Abraham Gelding Winslock watched in horror as the short ugly fat man barged in the front door and pulled the trigger. The sight of Robert’s head exploding out across the table and covering Tanya was too much for him. Abe turned to the window with his hand daintily covering his mouth, holding in the high pitched screech he felt building within him. It was not the first time he saw someone’s brain exit their body.
Abe was descendant from old money. His father was a banker who graduated from Harvard in the top of his class. His father before him did the same. The Winslock money came from the early 1800’s when the first Abraham founded New England Trust, which rivaled Bank of Italy in prestige. The original Abe’s son, Tristan, sold the trust to the Bank of Italy (which shortly afterward changed its name to Bank ofAmerica) and became a millionaire. That money had been invested and saved and it slowly grew to immense proportions.
Abe’s father was the first to branch out into work outside of investing and became a philanthropist of the first order. He spent his time building soup kitchens and hostels for the unfortunate. His plan was for Abe to follow suit, after he finished Harvard of course and continue the prestige of the Winslock name. For the entirety of his life Abe believed in these goals and strove for them. He was the top of his class in his Academy and had near perfect test scores. He was accepted into Harvard and the first two years he excelled.
Abe was a quiet boy; unassuming and polite. He seemed to live to please people and to serve. His desire to please began at a very early age when he realized he was gay. His father took him to a brothel (a high end, very expensive bordello known only to rich men and ignored by their wives) and let him pick out anyone he chose. Abe couldn’t choose, so his father did for him. When the prostitute took him to her room she instantly recognized the problem.
“Does he know honey? Is he trying to make sure you’re straight or is he trying to make you fuck it out of yourself?” She was crude and beautiful, but the only love Abe felt for her was for her elaborate dressings.
He vowed from that moment that he wouldn’t let his father know and that he’d do anything he could to please him and that meant hiding his homosexuality. Abe saw his sexual preference as a problem, an issue he was unable to resolve, so he decided to ignore it and as a result he grew up shy and anti-social, but extremely intelligent. The quality time he would have spent with friends he languished in the comforting embraces of Proust, Dickinson, Dickens and the Bronte sisters.
He didn’t branch out of his bubble until the second year at Harvard. He met another boy who seemed interested in him, the way that Abe deemed only appropriate between man and woman.
Charles Van Pugh was a beautiful boy. Six foot tall and the perfect Aryan. His hair was delicately cropped and framed his deep blue eyes and creamy skin.
Charles was the captain of the basketball team and loved by everyone at school. The women coveted him and the men envied him. He spent his nights doing anything he wanted and his days sleeping. His father was a man of fairly new money. When Vincent Van Pugh was ten his father started his own insurance company and grew his moderate salary to unforeseen levels. Vincent took over the family business when he turned thirty and his plans for Charles were the same.
Charles, knowing his fate, accepted that he had a direct path and decided very young that he would need to live his life as fully as possible, because once he turned that fateful age, his life as he knew it would be over. So Vincent took care of everything for him. He spent his time at the office and had his lawyers take care of every issue his firebrand of a son had and decided that Charles was just too much of a handful. So Vincent slowly backed out of Charles’ life. The only interjections were to hand Charles favors, like acceptance to Harvard despite his straight D’s, and his trust fund which totaled eight point eight million dollars (which he would receive when he turned twenty-five).
Charles in his all knowing twenty-year old wisdom, decided that sex was the gateway to everything he wanted and since he was lucky enough to be princely bred, things generally worked out for him. He fucked girls for rides. He fucked guys for favors. He fucked his teachers for grades and the school administrators to erase his records. It was during this promiscuous streak that Charles met Abe.
To Charles it was just a fuck for homework, but to Abe it was the first real person who seemed to take notice of him. Charles was Abe’s first and because of this he fell for him hard. Abe felt he loved Charles and forgave everything he did. He knew Charles slept with everyone he could, but Abe just liked being in his company so he put up with it all. Abe was just waiting for the chance that Charles would see how much he loved him and possibly return the emotion.
Charles’ bad behavior and Abe’s love for him is how they came to be in the diner on that night.
One month before Robert was killed in the diner, Abe met Charles at a party. Charles told Abe the only way he would continue to fuck him was if he was high so Abe met him there with a baggie of weed and a six pack of beer. Abe spent the better part of the day trying to score an eighth and when he did he grossly overpaid. It was just something he had never done before and the dealer, recognizing his innocence raped his wallet.
That night Abe’s plan seemed to be holding up well. Charles smoked most of the bag during the night, sharing with other people and intermittently drinking his beers until he decided there was nothing else of interest (in actuality the girl he was after had left with another guy) so he wanted to go home. Abe offered to drive since he hadn’t done anything but admire Charles’ perfect jaw line, but Charles would have nothing of it. He grabbed the keys from Abe’s hand and jumped in his Aston Martin. Abe barely had time to get in before the car zipped away.
It took Charles ten miles to realize he didn’t have his headlights on and the whole time Abe sat clutching the sides of his seat. Once he realized he snapped them on then looked over at Abe and smiled. Abe was terrified and Charles relished in it.
“Relax, baby. It’s all copasetic. I know what’ll calm you down.” His eyes wavered and he didn’t look at the road, while he unzipped his pants.
“Charles, please.” Abe was scared and his lisp came through stronger than it normally did.
“You know you want to.” Charles didn’t even look Abe in the eyes, he just grabbed the back of Abe’s head and pulled it to his crotch.
Abe didn’t say anything, it actually scared him a little the strength that Charles put behind it; slamming his face down into Charles’ flaccid penis. Later he would chastise himself for not putting up a fight, but at that time (actually every time Charles was horny) Abe felt needed and wanted by someone he was attracted to and he couldn’t stop. The more time, though, that he spent blowing Charles the more flaccid his penis seemed to become.
It confused Abe because Charles kept speaking as he liked it “Yeah Bitch! You suck that cock!” There were even a few groans thrown in there, so Abe just kept at it. Abe didn’t realize, though, that in Charles’ state he still wasn’t watching the road and less than a minute into the act the car jolted in conjunction with a loud bang, as if someone had punched the hood of the car.
Abe whipped his head up and Charles slammed his foot on the brakes.
“holy shit.” Charles’ voice was very soft and very calm.
“Whatthefuckwasthat?” Abe said staring at Charles, too scared to look out the window.
Charles didn’t say anything he just gripped the steering wheel and looked through the windshield.
Abe vomited when he dared a look through the windshield. There was red goo all over the windshield, almost like pumpkin innards died red with little bits of gray sludge and white fragments intermittently dispersed throughout.
“That little girl, man. She just popped!” Charles looked out forward through the windshield and Abe vomited again when he heard the windshield wipers start.
Charles only waited until the windshield was clear, then he took the car out of park and began to drive away. Abe never said anything. He was terrified and his stomach was threatening to continue its regurgitation so he kept his face between his legs.
Charles took him to his dormitory and dropped him at the entrance. He didn’t wait for Abe to say anything, he drove away while the door was still open. Abe got one last glance of Charles’ flaccid penis as the stained Aston Martin drove away.
That night he didn’t sleep. He waited for the police to come to his door and arrest him. He waited for Charles’ to come and kill him, for fear that Abe would squeal. He waited, but he didn’t do anything. He didn’t call the police, he didn’t call his parents. He didn’t know what to do and he saw that girl’s brains sprayed about the windshield every time he closed his eyes.
He stayed in his dorm room for a week, waiting. His roommate stopped coming home, his clothes stank, he didn’t shower, he was a wreck. He felt dirty inside his mind. He felt constantly sick and restless, exhausted and sleepless, bored and terrified. He didn’t know what to do.
Then after a week he ventured out to take a shower late at night. There was no one in the hallway and no one in the shower and it was quieter than he’d ever experienced. He crept down the hallway, making sure to be quiet and jumped under the warm water. He felt relief wash over him. He went over the events of the night and decided he shouldn’t get into trouble. After all he never even saw the girl. It could have been a deer. Charles was so trashed that night it could have been anything. He gave himself countless excuses for what it was and took all responsibility off his shoulders. When he got back to his dorm room he fell fast asleep.
He went on with his normal life after that.
He didn’t give that little girl another thought for a week.
But then one night the fog started to roll in over Havard yard. He could see the fog moving in closer, thickening and congealing the air. He peered out into the morass and saw a lone figure standing next to a tree, leaning on the tree to hold its weight.
The fog and his tortured mind blurred the reality of the situation and when the figure began to walk through the milky cloud Abe thought for sure it was the girl. His rational mind left him and fear of being tormented by the girl’s ghost seeped into his conscious mind. He imagined her half shattered body shuffling toward him, scraping a useless leg behind as she slowly made her way to his window.
Abe shut his eyes and sank down underneath the window. He could almost feel the fog beating against the dorm.
He was about to stand again to take another peek, when he heard harsh breathing coming from the other side of the window.
He flatted himself against the ground and looked vertically up to the window. He could see hands cupped over eyes…blue eyes. Charles’ eyes.
Abe lept up and threw open the window startling Charles. Abe reached out through the window and slapped Charles, then brought his face close and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. Abe’s emotions were running wild and he didn’t know what to think or how to act when he finally looked Charles in the eyes.
Through the whole ordeal Charles never said a word and it wasn’t until Abe was finished scolding himself that he realized Charles was as white as a sheet.
The story came out in a slow metered cadence. Charles was at basketball practice when a man in a suit showed up and gave a letter to his coach. After practice the coach handed the note to Charles and gave him a sympathetic pat on the back. Charles ignored it and went to the locker room. Once there, amidst his fellow teammates he opened the envelope which had a Polaroid in it. It was a very clear picture, taken at night with the flash to maximize the carnage. It was the girl, her head half gone the chest caved in and one leg a twisted branch with bone gleaming in the flash from. On the back of the picture a sentence was written out.
“Raven’s Diner at 7PM Tuesday.”
It was that night Abe was thinking about as Robert’s brains splayed across Tanya. The thick fog rolling in from the darkness. They had taken a step out of reality, a ride given by the fog. Now they were stuck in the diner with a man who already killed some one else…and they were told to come here. Someone knew what they did and set them up.
Oh, God, thought Abe. What if it’s the man with the gun?
The man who’d followed her here looked at her first when the gun went off. She saw that much right away. The two, slightly homoerotic college studs never even gave her a second glance. The smaller effeminate one (Mary thought of him as the receiver) jumped up in his seat and screamed like an arachnophobia prone prepubescent girl while the larger muscular one (this one was the giver) just sneered in disgust.
The business man was the first to react. He leapt from his seat and tackled the tubby gunman, spilling them both onto the floor. She could see them both struggling for the gun, but the businessman seemed much better in such physical disputes. The woman who was with the dead guy was screaming and the pitch hurt Mary’s ears. That bitch had to calm down.
Mary slid back to back of the seat in her corner of the diner and thought back on her night. One of the most fucked up nights I’ve ever had. She had to get out of this diner before someone else died and more importantly before the police got here. A crime scene was no place for a twice convicted prostitute.
She looked out into the dark black night and noticed the deep green sign for interstate 82 down at the end of the driveway to the diner. She looked longingly at the road and thanked God that she had been as lucky in her life as she had been; all she needed now was an extension of that luck and she could get out of here tonight.
Of course her luck hadn’t always been there; when she was a little girl she had been decidedly unlucky.
She grew up without a father and her mother always told her he had died when she was very young. He had been a firefighter and had died in a burning blaze when Mary was still in her womb. He was a policeman who saved a group of nuns from a bank robbery while Mary was being born. He was a priest who died while exercising a demon from a young girl. The story changed weekly.
Mary’s mother faked at being religious. She often told Mary she was named after the mother of God, because she was meant for great things. She was meant for much better things than living at the trailer park with her mother.
Mary and her mother were very poor and to supplement the meager money Mary’s mother, Petunia, made at the Laundromat she dated and tried to find men who would be willing to support her. It was something she very bad at.
Mary was shown early that physical and verbal abuse was something that just happened in relationships. To her it was a normal course of life. Petunia’s first boyfriend used to come home from his construction job and slap her if the dinner wasn’t on the table. He used to put tape on Mary’s mouth if she cried. Then one day he hit Petunia too hard and she fell, cutting her face on a plate she was drying. Mary’s mother told her she needed to be beautiful always because the man who had been so kind as to provide them with food had left because she got a scar from the plate and he didn’t like to look at it.
Mary also learned, very young, that a woman has her place and she learned it over again in a new brand new way when she turned eleven. Her mother’s boyfriend at the time was a slightly overweight, greasy, stay at home father figure. He’d gotten a million dollars off a frivolous lawsuit and used the money to be a disgusting slob and waste his time on a couch. Mary had just gotten into third grade and her mother was taking less and less interest in her, being too overwhelmed by the pressure of life and having a child, so she began to drink. Heavily. Most nights her mother drank with her slob of a boyfriend (who slept all day; that is when he wasn’t watching TV) and they tried, loudly, to fuck. Most nights he was too drunk to get it up, but one night after her mother had passed out in a drunken stupor, this drunken slob of a boyfriend entered Mary’s room and told her what good daughters did for their fathers. Told her what men look for in a woman…and he never had trouble maintaining an erection with her.
Things continued on like this for years until the slob left them. With the money gone and work the only apparent option Mary’s mother made a hard decision. She sent letters out and tried to find Mary’s actual father. While doing this, she sent Mary out to the street to get money. Petunia knew what Mary did with the slob and thought of Mary as a real woman now. She had a brief thought that maybe she named her daughter after that other biblical Mary and then started to drink and forgot the whole thing.
That was how Mary spent her early life, going from one John to another. Making pittances and spending them on pleather outfits.
Petunia died when Mary was seventeen. She literally drank herself to death. It took Mary three days to realize that Petunia was dead and when she finally understood, she closed her mother’s eyes, slapped her face and left the trailer, never to return.
The night she ended up at the diner started off the same as any of her other nights. She was at home getting dressed when she got a call from a new Johnny. She often kept her regulars on speed dial just in case she needed some extra money; also it better prepared her for their special requests.
The call she got was cryptic and intriguing. It asked her to meet at an address and if the John was pleased, payment would be copious. Mary didn’t know what that meant, but it sounded promising.
She arrived at a nice looking townhouse and honked twice in quick succession as instructed. Two minutes later a man in a pressed double pleated suit exited the house and made great care to lock all three deadbolts on the door, then secured the standard knob lock. Mary took no notice, because she was busy practicing her pouting look in the rear view mirror.
When the man got in the passenger side seat he didn’t say anything, but laid his hands meekly in his lap and lowered his head slightly looking down at his carefully manicured hands. Mary looked over at him and smiled at his innocence.
“Where to baby?”
He looked up at her and purposefully blinked twice.
“Go directly to interstate 82 and exit on Meneloua pass and park by the boathouse. Do not speed.”
He blinked one more time then looked back down at his hands.
“Honey, the only speeding I’m gonna cause is when your blood rushes to your dick.” She licked her lips in a lubricious and vaguely vulgar way and put the car into gear.
He didn’t say a thing the entire drive down to the lake, just kept his hands in his lap and kept his eyes trained on his hands.
When she put the car into park she turned the volume up slightly on the radio and turned to him.
“What can I do for you baby?” Her ignorance was due to her luck. She had been doing this for years now and she never had an issue with anyone. She never had a pimp, but then again she never really needed one. No one ever gave her any trouble and when they did they never came back to her again.
He didn’t raise his head. “I want you to take off your top. I want you to rip it off.” He spoke fast and out of breath as if he were turned on already.
Mary smiled and slowly lifted her shirt. “Is this what you like baby?”
“I said rip it off!” Spittle flew from his lips and he raised his eyes from his hands, they burned with fire and drool was falling from his lips. She felt her luck drain. She leaned back against the window and let her satin blouse fall back into place. “Why do they always make me do it?”
Mary didn’t know if he’s talking to himself or her, but she didn’t want to stick around to find out. She reached behind her and tried for the handle of the door.
“You don’t leave!” This time she knew he was talking to her and she felt his strangely large hand cup the crown of her head. “Why do they always try to leave when I’m teaching them a lesson?” He whispered in her ear just before he smashed her face against the window.
For the first time in her life she realized that the abuse she had previously thought normal in a relationship was far darker and more menacing. She wondered if her mother feared, as she did now, that the man abusing might be trying to kill her. Her heart sang for her poor dead mother as she slipped from consciousness.
When Mary came to she was lying on the side of the road. She had her purse with her and her attire seemed in order, nothing ripped or cut. She looked about trying to get her bearings and noticed she was no longer atLakeMeneloua, she was sitting on the side of interstate 82. Groggily, she stood and started to walk down the highway unaware in the darkness of where exactly she was along the interstate.
She walked for nearly two miles before a car passed and she was grateful when it did. While traveling she had a distinct feeling of being watched and at one point, she thought she could hear a crack of a twig from out in the woods, but she ignored it and walked all the faster.
The old Ford Taurus stopped just a few yards ahead of her and she ran to the car, not in elation for getting a ride, but in fear of the man who had hurt her, who was probably following her in the woods.
She whipped open the door and plopped into the passenger side and shut the door. “Thanks Mister.”
“Holy shit! What happened?” The man had long hair, and looked a little greasy, but she felt safer with him than without him.
She looked quickly into the rear view mirror and was not surprised when she saw her face was covered in bruises, but what disturbed her even more was the bandage on her forehead. She reached up and lightly touched it, wincing at the lacing pain.
“Please drive, I’ll tell you on the way.” She glanced into the woods to see if she could see the man and then breathed a sigh of relief as the car started moving.
They pulled into the parking lot at Raven’s fifty miles later after the man who introduced himself as Tommy told her she looked as if she needed some food (and knew he did) in her.
They were there for a short time, not quite long enough to get food, when the businessman walked in. Mary’s new Johnny immediately started to seem nervous.
“That fucking guy has been staring at us since we walked in here. Is he a cop?”
Mary turned around and looked the businessman in the eye.
“He looks like a horny old fogey. That’s what he looks like.” He didn’t though. In fact, Mary found him very attractive and when she looked at him, he stared straight back into her eyes and smiled slightly. She felt her heart flutter and a strange need to have the businessman hold her.
“He better not be a cop. Are you setting me up? You can’t get anything on me. I’m just an innocent bystander!” His voice started to break and Mary realized for the first time she had never propositioned him. All men were the same. Even if they did something nice for you they wanted something out of it. Maybe he thought he could get it for free if he took her out to dinner.
“This isn’t “Pretty Woman” pal, you’re still gonna have to pay.” She turned back to find him half standing.
“Fuck you! I’m not going to jail! I didn’t do anything wrong!” He was loud, but not terribly. She hoped the people on the other side of the restaurant count hear him. She felt strangely ashamed that the businessman could.
She didn’t make a move to stop him and he charged out the front door, sneering at the businessman as he went by. The businessman never took his eyes off her. He ignored Tommy completely.
Mary looked at him and had a distinct feeling of déjà vu. Something about him seemed familiar. It could have been one of the cops who arrested her when she was seventeen, high as a kite selling herself at a biker bar. It could have, but she didn’t think so.
She had nearly placed where she knew him from when the fat slovenly man burst into the bar with the gun and shot the poor bastard at the other side of the diner.
I wrote this one for a college creative writing class and strangely enough it’s semi-autobiographical. The first five or so pages are actually true (though pieced together through multiple different experiences). There is a video out there somewhere of me boxing one of my buddies in the street and he hit me so goddamned hard I flew out of the camera shot and into the bushes. He would always get me with that punch. Cocking that right arm back while jabbing with his insanely long left. I remember one time we boxed and he hit me so hard I just sat on the ground, dazed. And yes he did, in fact, box prison guards. The institution is also true, though it was really just an abandoned building that was rumored to be haunted. A couple of friends and I went to check it out one day, but there were crazy markings on the walls (looked like blood) and a strange string on the ground. We took a step in, heard a rustling noise (which in retrospect was probably just a rat), turned tail and ran.
The first version of this story was much longer and much more supernatural. There were ghosts hiding around every corner, but when I brought it to class the TA (who I thought was a pretentious pompous ass at the time, but have since changed my opinion) said it was disjointed, there was too much going on and the ghosts took away from the point of the story. I whittled it down, using his recommendations and when I turned it back in it looked somewhat like the story below and he gave me an A+. He also hated the title I had for it at the time which was “Teenage Wasteland” which for him didn’t match up with the story. I still think it does, but the new title gives the reader a warning for what is to come. This also has one of the themes of all my earlier writing. It’s ultimately a coming of age story, just told in a little more brutal light.
The four boys sat on the side of the river quickly downing their Jack Daniels and Coke. They came to this spot often because it was really the only place they’d found where they could be free to drink and smoke as they pleased.
“Hey Tick, send over some more Jack man.” Colin said. “We ain’t got all night man, come on.” Colin often made fun of Pete, calling him the Tick and demeaning him, Colin’s favorite past time was giving the Tick noogies.
“All right, its coming over, hold on, I’m a little buzzing here. I don’t want to drop it.” Pete was more of the loser of their clique. He was often taking orders and requests from the other three, trying to stay in their good graces.
Both Colin and Tom were typical jocks. They spent their time talking about pussy, how to get it and where and Pete always sat by intently listening. Matt was the only one of them that had carnally knew a woman, but Pete was the only one that admitted to never losing his virginity and he loved to hear Colin and Tom talk about it, rampant adulation in his eyes.
Pete slowly made his way to Colin, trying to hold his balance, but not succeeding very well. He saw the rock sticking out of the ground, but it failed to register in his alcohol-ridden brain. Pete took a staggering step into the rock and all his weight shifted forward over his wavering legs making him fall forward towards Colin.
None of them saw Matt reach out and grab him. They rarely saw Matt under the bridge. He always seemed too contemplative to approach. He rarely said anything, mostly sticking to his drink, downing one after another, and looking off into the distance. He almost always drank more than the others and never seemed to show any effects of the alcohol. This night was no exception; he quickly sat up and reached out snagging Pete from mid-air.
“You better watch yourself, my man. Them snipers’re gonna kill ya.” Matt said trying to sound like John Wayne immediately and completely exiting his introspection.
“Thanks Matt, I was just trying to get the JD over to Colin.” Pete said looking up with a guilty smile at Matt’s six-two stature.
“I know, pilgrim, you best run ‘long.”
As soon as Pete tore his gaze away from Matt, Matt grabbed the Jack Daniels bottle from his hands, quickly spun the cap off and took a deep swig from the bottle, wiping his mouth with his sleeve afterward.
“Any a ya care to take me on?” Matt tossed the bottle over to Colin who jumbled it and screamed as the bottle shattered on the hard pan under his feet.
“Relax the bottle was empty.” Matt said smiling over at Colin who was still looking wild eyed at the ground where the bottle had broken.
“You drank the rest of it? There was still a quarter bottle left!” The boys, as most boys, were prone to hyperbole.
“Relax Colin, you dad’ll give us more later. Now, who’s on for a little one on one?” Matt held up his fists for emphasis. Matt loved to box. After school he would get any match he could. There was a rumor going around school that he fought a prison guard…and won. Behind his back the others called him psycho.
Tom was the only one that would ever fight Matt. It wasn’t that he was the only one that was big enough; it was that the other two were too scared. Colin fought Matt once and after some big talk was knocked flat on the first punch. Pete tried to fight Matt once, but Matt punched him in the stomach and Pete ran away screaming. That was where Colin got the nickname from; he said Pete looked like a tick running away from a flame. That and that he was small and annoying.
“Sure, I’ll take you. You’ve drunk enough I ought to be able to take you down.” Tom said shrugging.
“It’s on. Hey Pete, you wanna get the gloves?” Matt was the only one who called him Pete. The rest of them called him Tick.
“Yeah, hold on, I’ll get ‘em.”
“You ready to go down big man.” Matt said taking his boxer’s stance and dancing around Tom.
“Oh, the little man scared he gonna get hurt, he’s gotta pump up his ego.” Tom spouted, flexing his arms and taunting Matt.
Pete came running back with the boxing gloves in his hands, trying to keep his balance but failing and crashed down to the ground once again.
“Hey Tick he told you to watch out for the snipers.” Colin laughed.
Matt, ignoring Colin’s banter, picked up the gloves and put one on. “Minute rounds? That to long for you?” Matt gave Tom a sly smile.
“Anything you can handle bean pole. Bring it on.” Tom reached down and took up his gloves.
“So what do you want to do after Matt beats you Tom? Run off to be consoled by Palmela Handerson?” Colin made a masturbation motion as he said it.
“Best sex I ever had.” Tom said getting the second glove on.
“Alright, you gonna time us Pete?” Matt asked punching his gloves together.
“Sure, how long you guys gonna go for?”
Tom stopped dead in his tracks and looked over at Carl.
“Dumbass, didn’t you just hear him say minute a round.”
“Well, yeah, but I wasn’t sure if that’s what you guys were going for or…”
“Minute is good Pete, just time us.” Matt said.
“Ding, ding.” Tom said pulling his fists up.
The fight was short. Matt kept his right arm back, slowly cocking it as he jabbed Tom with his left. Tom kept his arms up, determined to win the fight and only jabbed when he got the chance. Then Matt made his move. He dropped his left hand to his side, as if tired and Tom, seeing his opening, swung his right fist wildly trying to gain momentum in a roundhouse aimed at Matt’s head. He never got there, Matt’s cocked right hand descended and smashed Tom right above his nose, knocking him backward into the slow moving creek.
When Matt finally pulled Tom out of the river, Colin was still laughing and Pete was still gaping in awe.
“Jesus, man. That was strong. Fuck.” Tom shook his head briefly. “Fuck!”
“You always fall for my tricks. I figure one of these days you’ll figure it out.” Matt said smiling down at Tom.
“So you gonna go wack off then?” Colin wheezed struggling for breath through his laughing.
Tom didn’t respond, just took off a dripping glove, and flipped him off.
“Hey you guys want to go do something?” Pete said abruptly and surprised them all. He’d dropped his gaze and was looking at his shoes, perturbed. “I know this place.” He slowly looked up with a worried look on his face.
They pulled up to the building at about a quarter after two in the morning. It was an old mission hospital, previously used as a mental ward for the State. The building was now condemned and awaiting demolition crews to arrive. Tom drove up in his truck and parked three blocks away.
“So this is it Tick?” Tom asked looking back to the crumpled figure shoved behind the seats. Pete cocked his head so he could see around the seats and above the dashboard. He slowly nodded his head.
“Yeah, that’s it. Hey listen; maybe this is a bad idea. I mean what if the thing falls down when we’re in there?”
“Don’t be such a pussy Tick.” Colin said shaking his head.
Tom opened the door and stepped out of the truck, turning to see Matt jump out of the bed.
“You cats ready to go?” Tom said smiling, his eyes floating from the alcohol.
Matt and Colin answered by walking toward the building; Pete was still trying to climb out of the back.
“Hey guys wait up! Hold on, don’t leave me back here, come on.”
Matt turned around and grabbed Pete’s arms pulled him out of the truck and threw him over his right shoulder. “You ready to go? This ain’t gonna be a walk in the park.” He said it with jest in his voice; as if he was expecting trouble.
“I guess, I just…” Pete drifted off.
“Hey, if you wanna stay back and take watch duty, that’s fine Pete.”
“No, I have to go in. We better get going; they’re going to get there before us.” Pete said motioning to Tom and Colin.
Matt put Pete down and watched him run to the other two, shaking his head he sauntered after them.
As Matt approached he could see fear in the other’s eyes, and knew he’d have to walk them in or they would never actually go. They would talk about how they thought the place was lame and how they didn’t really need to go in there, that the place was deserted anyway. Matt knew the truth…it was a terrifying edifice. It didn’t matter that no one thought of the place as haunted, when he stood there and saw it in person at almost three in the morning, he knew the truth.
The building was menacing.
He knew what the others were feeling, because he felt a little of that fear himself – though he was loath to mention it. He knew the other three looked up to him. He knew they would follow him and despite the fact that he really didn’t care about going in, he knew it would be a story that would impress on Monday during free period.
“Well then, did we come here to wait outside?” Matt questioned the building and let the question hang in the air. They all turned and looked at him wide eyed. This was one of the biggest reasons why they loved Matt; he took them beyond their means. He brought excitement into their lives.
He was taking them in.
Matt walked forward, grabbed the handle on the door and quickly pulled it open.
“Shall we?” Matt said walking in, never looking back.
“So why did you bring us here Tick?” Colin asked his voice shaking with fear as he looked straight ahead and slowly walked into the entryway. “I mean was there a specific reason you wanted to come here, or was this just some place you jack off.” It was supposed to be funny, but Colin’s voice wavered.
“I just thought it might be cool to come in here, you know, hang out? It might be cool. Might be better than under the bridge smelling the crap float by us.”
“Say it man,” Tom said looking ahead the same way Colin was, trying to include some humor into his inflection but failing. “Shit, just say it man. Watching the shit float by us. Shit! It’s easy see? You need to get over your goddamned swearing fear.”
Matt continued up ahead, walking down the dimly lit hallway slowly looking back and forth between the walls, inspecting them. He knew Pete’s reason for coming in here was to show he wasn’t afraid. He wanted to show his friends that nothing could scare him, maybe get a little respect. Matt thought it commendable, but there was something about this place and he knew Pete wouldn’t be able to handle it. There was just something in there, something that compelled Matt to keep moving forward, as if he were meant to go in there.
The other three followed leaving the door open as they entered, relishing the extra light flowing in from the streetlamps. They saw Matt walk in and turn the corner. They heard the empty echo of his footsteps and for a second, nothing, but then, just when the boys were wondering what Matt was up to a bloodcurdling scream permeated the air. Tom gave Colin a worried look then looked back at Pete.
“You think he was serious?” Tom could barely get the words out of his throat, it came out as a squeak.
The answer came from down the hall. Matt screamed again, but this time angrily. Tom broke into a run, tearing down the hall, dreading the corner just yards in front of him, knowing he was going to see something that he didn’t want. Knowing Matt was in trouble.
He looked back right before the corner and saw Colin and Pete waiting back at the door. He couldn’t believe they would just stand back there and wait to see what happened to their friend. Tom gave a wave, indicating them to follow him, then plunged around the corner.
At first he didn’t see anything, only dark, but he could tell in the dim light that there were dark stains on the walls. Ahead of him was another hallway with numerous doors on either side spanning what seemed like hundred of yards, to a window. The only illumination seemed to come from the blue moonlight flooding in that window.
“Matt? Hey man, you down here?” The statement floated out before him in the murky blue light, with only silence as an answer.
“Tom you see him?” Colin called from behind him.
“You want to come down here and check fag?” Tom spat back under his breath as he tried to stem his anger toward the loneliness of that dark hallway.
Tom took a few more steps into the hallway, trying to focus his eyes in the dim light. He squinted and felt a shudder run through his body. The dark splotches on the walls. He understood what they were…blood. They were everywhere. That can’t be from the hospital, Tom thought, but he didn’t want to imagine what that thought really meant.
There was an open door halfway down the hall.
“Matt! Matt, you down there?” He understood the absurdity of the statement, but he couldn’t give up the hope that Matt would jump out and let the joke end. He got no answer.
Tom moved to the open door and leaned up against the wall and craning his neck to see into the room straining to bring the room into focus. Then he heard shuffling from the other side of the hallway. He snapped his head around and saw a figure walking slowly towards him. It was a small figure but in the shadows he couldn’t see any features, but then it raised a hand and beckoned for him to approach. Tom shut his eyes and leaned up against the door jam of the room, terror freezing him in place. He stood there willing the figure away when a hand wrapped around his mouth and another wrapped around his stomach and before he could fight against it he was dragged into the room.
Pete slowly moved into the hallway. He thought the figure down the hallway was Tom, but he couldn’t really tell, the light was just too dim. He tried to wave to him, hoping that Tom would recognize that it was Pete coming to help. It was Pete and not Colin. Colin had turned around and ran when they were standing outside. Without a word; he just turned and ran the other direction. Pete knew the only thing that he could do was to go into the hallway and see what was wrong. He couldn’t just stand outside and wait to see could he? His bladder pressed against him as he walked further into the hallway, freezing him in place. He took a deep breath and tired to forget his fear. Colin was the one who ran. Colin was the one who was scared. Besides they were probably just trying to scare him. Somehow they came up with a plan on the way here and were tricking him. The figure quickly turned and disappeared into the room and Pete’s bladder released.
Matt lay on the ground next to the girl. The knife wound in his side burned him ferociously. He could see the little girl was still alive and that was a good sign, but he didn’t know what to do. He had screamed as soon as he saw the man on top of the girl. The man got up and zipped up his pants as he did so. Matt screamed the second time. He had never known himself to be so angry with anyone. Especially because he didn’t know exactly what was going on. He just saw the girl lying still and the man grunting and moving. Only one thought came to mind. Matt raged and charged the man. He knew it was a mistake, he couldn’t even see his adversary very well and he knew to never let his anger take control, but it had. He charged at the man and threw a punch, not seeing the blade in the other’s hand. The blade flashed a dull blue light and in an instant it was hilt deep in Matt’s side. Instantly he fell. He heard the man cough slightly and suck saliva back into his mouth. Matt looked at the girl, trying to gather his thoughts, knowing that his friends were in trouble, knowing that this girl was hurt. This small, innocent girl.
Tom was twirled around by the strong hands and felt something very hot thrust into his stomach making his legs go weak. He looked up into the man’s face and saw dark eyes, unshaven face and rotten teeth. His breath smelled like a sewer.
“You here to join yo’ frien, ma’ facka” The man hissed into Toms face with a heavy drawl.
Tom could do nothing but groan. His legs started to give out and his stomach blossomed in pain. He felt the blade inside of him, wiggling around, sending searing pain every time it moved.
Tom looked away from the man and saw Matt lying on the floor next to a girl on the ground and his legs finally gave out. He felt himself falling to the floor. He felt the knife slide out of his body, slowly expanding the wound with its serrated edge.
Tom’s knees hit the floor and the man cackled from above him, then turned back to the girl lying on the ground.
Tom let out a wheeze and raised his arm, unsure of his own intentions, just hoping help would come from somewhere. The man noticed Tom raising his arm and without turning he mule kicked him Tom the face. Tom fell backward watching the room spin, wondering why he agreed to come here.
Matt watched as the man pulled Tom into the room and fresh anger flushed back into his veins making his blood flow faster and making his wound ooze with renewed vigor, but despite the free flow of blood he felt his mind clear. He watched the man stab Tom then turn and kick him. The man turned to look at Matt then he unzipped his fly and took his pants back down, looking straight at Matt while he slowly masturbated and got down on his knees in front of the girl.
Matt fought back the anger and waited for the man to stop looking at him.
“Tom? Matt? Are you guys down here?” Pete said in a meek voice from down the hall.
The man turned around and bared his teeth like a feral animal letting out a grunt of disgust at the voice. Matt took his opportunity. He quickly rolled to his back, and kicked both legs out putting all the force he could behind them, trying to make contact with the man’s testicles.
Matt extended his legs with as much force as he could muster ignoring the flaring pain that blossomed in his side. Unfortunately the man moved at exactly the right moment. Instead of connecting with the man’s disfigured testicles, Matt hit his right thigh sending the man off balance and making him fall backwards onto Tom.
Matt staggered to his feet as quickly as he could, trying to beat the man to his feet, but when Matt finally got standing he noticed that the man was already up, ready, with knife in hand.
“We got’s a fighta, huh?” The man hissed.
“Bring it on fucker.”
Matt took his boxing stance, with his left arm forward, throwing a few exploratory jabs at the man. With every jab the man attempted to slash Matt’s wrist. Pete entered the doorway and squealed when he saw what was happening in the room; a stranger with no pants on, holding a knife, fighting with Matt.
Matt kept jabbing at the man taking the slashes to his arm, ignoring the flashing pain, but with each jab his raised right fist cocked back even further.
“You likin this, pretty?” The man said smiling showing his rotten teeth.
Pete stood in the doorway amazed at the sight when he felt something pull on his pissed soaked pants. Carl looked down at Tom, blood running from his nose and a glazed look in his eyes.
“Get help.” Tom whispered before he fell back down to the ground.
Matt jabbed the man one last time, comfortable with the power he’d generated with his right arm, and then dropped his left arm letting the man into his open chest. The man lunged with the knife at the same time Matt his sledgehammer of a right arm. They made contact at the same time, the knife gently sliding into Matt’s chest, while Matt crushed the man’s nose spraying a fine mist of blood in a halo around the man’s head. The man fell backward in conjunction with Matt.
Pete watched the two fighters fall then he ran off, terrified of the knife sticking out of Matt’s chest and the glazed look in his eyes.
Matt lurched on the ground, listening to the rapist’s growls of anger. Pain flared in his lungs, and when he looked down he saw the cause. The six inch Gerber blade was still sticking out of his chest. Matt slowly reached for the knife, while turning his head towards Tom.
Tom reacted to the man falling by trying to roll on top of him, laying the rapist out with punches. Matt watching in pride as Tom valiantly pinned the man down and raised his fists in fury.
“You’re gonna die, fucker!” Matt could see the fire blazing in Tom’s eyes and realized they weren’t going to make it. The rapist, somehow, already had another knife in his hand.
Tom swung his right fist down and the knife came up to meet his neck. Surprise blossomed in Tom’s eyes and his limbs went limp. The rapist threw him off, ripping the knife out in the process, a fountain of blood pouring from his neck.
“Na, pretty, time fur you. Not niiice to enteerupt whilst one’s fuckin.’”
The rapist began to rub his penis, his hands wet with blood. Then he got down on his knees and crawled toward Matt, the knife clutched in his free hand.
Matt said nothing waiting for his opportunity. He knew he would only get one. He closed his eyes and waited.
A hand on his foot. Knife slowly scraping the skin.
Up to his thigh. Matt twitches his arm.
The hand grabs his belt and Matt erupts into a flurry. He whips his hand to his chest and rips the knife out, screaming and coughing blood while doing so. The rapist smiled, relishing in witness to Matt’s pain, until Matt kicks hard and upward into the rapists genitals.
“Fookin’ Aghhh, Fook!” He grabs his testicals and falls to his side, while Matt swings the knife up hard straight to his temple. A wet scraping sound echoes in the room, to Matt it sounded like a butcher preparing a steak, and immediately Matt felt sick.
The only sound the man made was a clicking in his throat. Then he fell, the death rattle continuing as he hit the ground.
Matt looked at the fading light in Tom’s eyes and smiled, intently listening for the wail of sirens.
Tom smiled back and in the hazy malaise of his memory he thought of all the times he had spent with Matt and Pete and Colin. All the time they joked about sex and girls and fighting. All the boasts and lies about their prowess. None of it was wasted. It was all meant for here and now. They had done something grand together, the four of them. The ones who got into trouble for being drunk at school. The ones who snuck liquor and pills from their parents. They stopped this man. They were heroes.
In his last moment Tom felt pride in being Matt’s friend and pride in his actions. Pride in wandering through the teenage wasteland and coming out a man on the other side.
This is the oldest of the stories in this collection. The premise comes from my old back yard in Boardman Ohio, where we had a huge (at least to my 9 year old eyes it was huge) forest in the back yard and in front of that forest was a large stone fire pit, which almost looked like it was part of some archaic house. So the image of this and my fascination with dreams created the story. The twist at the end is a little juvenile, but hey, I wrote this thing over 12 years ago so I’m still fairly proud of it.
“Don’t worry about it son,” Justin’s father said, “Some people like to believe these dreams are a premonition of events in a persons life. This, however seems to be just a single ordinary, garden-variety nightmare. People have this type of dream all the time. All it means is you’ve been sitting in front of the T.V for too long or you spent too much time playing on the computer. It’ll eventually go away, all you have to do is try and ignore it. Try and wake yourself up while when you have ‘em and they should fade out.”
“But every time I have one of these I die. It’s really starting to freak me out dad! Especially ‘cause it keeps coming back.”
“Think very hard now son. At the end of the dream do you really die? You may think you do but if the dream cuts short, right before anything happens to you, you should be okay.”
“Well, I guess I never really die in it, it’s just that it is really startin’ to scare me. I’ve had this stupid dream for five days in a row and I don’t want to deal with it anymore.”
“It’ll go away, don’t worry about that. If it doesn’t we can always take you to the clinic and they’ll process the dreams and tell us what the underlying message is. One thing that you’ve got to be careful for though. If you keep getting this dream, right at the point where you’re captured and you fear death, do whatever you can, but don’t die.”
“Why? What’s the big deal?”
“If you are in a situation where you die in your dream, that means that in real life you’ll die.” His father finishes showing a small, almost imperceptible smirk.
Here it was again, the terrible dream that’d been haunting his every turn the past few nights. It started out innocently enough. He was hiking in the trail behind his house, no big deal, but though it was just a flat short trail he felt tired careening through the twists and turns. Everywhere he turned he saw birds lying dead on the ground giving him an omen for the events yet to occur. He could see his house in the distance and he could tell something was wrong. The house had been tainted somehow, there was some angle that was different, or maybe it was some brick laid wrong. There was just something about the house that was wrong, but still he moved toward it getting to edge of the woods, passing the brick fireplace and entering his back yard.
With each step fatigue grew in his muscles even though it was clearly a dream. His vision got blurry around his periphery, making it seem like one of those cheesy flashbacks he had seen so often in the movies.
Despite the knowledge that it was a dream the fireplace still scared him. Even now when he was almost seventeen the fireplace haunted his thoughts. He knew there was nothing there. Nothing that could hurt him. That it was just something the previous owner thought would improve on the house’s looks, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling. On top of that the dream seemed to deepen his neuroses of the brick structure. He looked at it and couldn’t help but think that it was some remnant of an ancient house which burned to the ground. Something from the civil war era, with the ghosts of the soldiers haunting it, bound by some unbelievable desire to right past wrongs.
He had always given it a wide berth when passing it, but in the dream, he wanted to go to it. He wanted to see what was in it, what it was made of, what was burnt in it. It was an antique, not meant for human contact.
But what if there were something from the other owners in the ashes of the fire? What if there were clues of the inhabitants still hanging around this place. He could be the one to find out. He could be the big hero. The headlines would show his picture with something like “Local boy finds out the mystery of the lost soldier.”
He walked up to it, feeling the absolute strangeness in the atmosphere; there was something wrong about the fireplace. It was the same feeling that he got from the house, something was wrong with it. But still he moved slowly along the small brick wall towards the deadly quiet fireplace.
There was some kind of vibe coming from it, as if it were a natural fan gently blowing air away from it, warning him to turn back before it was too late. He had come too far though. Curiosity killed the cat they say; apparently it could kill seventeen-year-olds too. He reached the hearth and put his hand into the ashes. He could see them sift around his fingers but couldn’t feel them. As though they were made of air.
Then, he realized what was wrong with the fireplace and house. They weren’t real. They had a presence of transparency, even though he couldn’t see through them.
Then the fog around his peripheral vision tightened and the whole world seemed to shift. They were transparent, he could see through them. He could make out the features of his surroundings, but there was something dramatically different. They had an aura of blackness surrounding them that seemed to be quickly spreading, dissolving the world. He felt his heart drop as he remembered what happened next.
The ground and his surroundings disappeared leaving him to freefall through the darkness. All he could see was the blackness of space. Just falling through the void. He experienced this same kind of feeling many times. Whether he was in school during one of his boring lectures, or just when he was lying on his bed watching the T.V buzzing in and out of reality. But it was a familiar feeling and every time it happened he jerked himself awake. He had even done this in English class, when their sexist teacher was lecturing about how Mary Shelley had not actually written Frankenstein, but her husband, Percy Shelley had. He had never totally understood the sexism, but it wasn’t a subject he cared about so he just shut down to get another half hour sleep. He started to dream fall again and jerked himself right out of the desk.
This dream, however, was completely different. He could make himself jerk around but he would never wake. He even knew he was dreaming, but when he tried to wake himself he would just keep falling.
He would just fall, and fall, and fall. After some time the blackness around him would begin to clear and he could see he was in trouble. He was falling into his back yard, only about thirty yards from the fireplace. He could see the house, as normal as ever, and he could see the old brick fireplace was normal as well, but he still felt apprehension. There was something menacing about its visage. He kept falling, and as he looked down he could see that he was going to land in the pool.
Every time he flew down at what seemed faster than terminal velocity into the pool sending him down into depths deeper than the pool was capable of creating. He was sinking into the earth not just elevated pool.
When he finally stopped he tried to break for the surface, but everything was black. He was back in the void, suffocating as it gently held him. This world was struggling to be created, not struggling to stay alive.
He swam and swam; not sure if he was going in the right direction, but every time he made his way to the top. He felt panic seep into his heart and brain, and fear of making it out of the dream alive ate at him. Then, just before he lost hope and gave up to sink back down into the void he breached the surface…just as he always did.
He reached up for the wall of the pool and pulled himself out. The blur came back, covering the outside corners of his field of vision and more powerful than anything was the pull to the brick fireplace.
He distinctly knew he wouldn’t fall through it like he just had. He was on a lower level of Hell, there would be something worse. He walked to the brick structure feeling no fear, as if the events he knew were about to transpire didn’t effect his thought process, as if he thought he were just out for an innocent walk.
The fatigue imposed itself again. Making it hard for him to reach his destination. His body was trying to tell him something. There was danger up ahead and he knew it. But his brain didn’t seem to want to listen. He pushed himself through the pain, sure he could get there, that he could uncover the mysteries that lay in that forlorn structure.
When he finally made it, he collapsed, sending ash from past fires into the air. He looked at them, with the backdrop of the dusk sky, thinking about their beauty as they flew. They were the lords of all creation; they could do whatever they wanted. They planned out their lives, their futures, and their pasts. It was amazing how so much beauty could come out of destruction. He made the effort to roll over to his stomach so he could look into the fireplace, to hold the ash and the burnt wood, to hold that destruction. He felt himself begin to cry for no reason. He knew it would happen but he had no control over it. It really was quite silly, to cry over burnt wood and ashes, but at that moment it was as if he could feel the pain the wood felt as it was burnt. Laying there, unable to move, as someone dosed you in lighter fluid. To watch them strike a match and throw it on you. To feel the flames burn through the fluid and catch a hold of you.
He shuddered, feeling goose bumps spread about his arms. He rolled over unable to look on the destruction in the fireplace and looked to the ash floating in the air. They all seemed so happy despite their horrible births. He caught his gaze on the largest as it floated down into reach. He reached up for it and felt its silky texture, but as soon as he grabbed it something grabbed him.
The tears immediately stopped flowing, and the goose bumps stood on end. He looked down to see another hand grasping at him, coming from the ground. He immediately jumped up despite his aching muscles and pulled an arm out of the ashes. The skin attached to it was rotten and flaking away leaving mostly dirty bone. He tried to pull back but all he succeeded in doing was pulling the arm out to the shoulder.
He changed efforts and worked on the fingers instead, peeling them off one by one, but he wasn’t strong enough to hold them because each one he pulled off went back down into the death grip as he tried to pry the next finger off. He backed away again, forcing a head to pop out of the ground. The head rotten just like the hand and the arm leaving mostly flaking skin and smiling skull.
The rest of it body came out on its own. Another hand shot through the ground grabbing his leg and pulling him off balance. As he tumbled to the ground he saw the thing pull up. It seemed to be a zombie, but nothing like the walking dead from legends. They had most of their skin. They seemed like normal people in a trance. This was much different. The garb on the creature was a union uniform from the civil war and the stink on its breath was almost unbearable, like his father when drinking. The teeth chattered together and the zombie crawled toward him.
He was too tired to get up off of the ground though so he just lay there and wait for his fate. Wait for the creature to do him in. To kill him.
When the zombie reached him, it slowly slid its boney hands around his neck and began to squeeze. That was when he always woke up, with the stench of death in his nostrils.
“It happened again last night.”
“The dream that I was telling you about! It happened again! The zombie got out of the ground crawled over and started to strangle me! I could feel the air cutting off! There has to be something I can do to stop this! I’m afraid to go to sleep at night because every time I have the dream I feel closer to death! I don’t want to die like this! I’m only seventeen years old!”
“There’s nothing that can really be done for dreams, son. I’m sorry but I don’t know what to tell you. I lied to you before though; you can’t actually die from dying in your dreams. I was just trying to scare you a bit and I guess I went a little overboard. You have nothing to worry about. The next time that you have this dream…”
“Tonight, the next time will be tonight!”
“Tonight then, the next time that you have this dream, let it span out. I didn’t mean to scare you as much as I did but the past is gone. So let it finish, try to stay asleep and you’ll see that you’ll get away from the thing.”
“Zombie. You’ll get away from the zombie and you’ll probably even beat he thing to a pulp. Dreams are the place you can be a hero. Where you save the day and come out all right. Even nightmares have their soft side. Think about it, no matter how bad they can get something good always happens. Or even if everyone else gets hurt or dies, in your nightmare you always come out all right. Whatever’s going on inside of your head just let it flow out, don’t stop it. That way you can let it play out and hopefully tomorrow it’ll be gone.” Justin’s father says as he takes another drink.
Things never turn out how they’re suppose to. The dream proceeded on with the unnatural slowness that was its course. The same events took place, in the same order, with the same lucidity. The zombie had a hold of his throat, the stench of death creeping in around him. He felt the evil invade his skin. The bony hands squeezing and squeezing his life out of his body. He felt like it was the last thing he’d see, this fireplace and the dying embers flying around him in the stillness of the night air. This zombie was going to take his life and take everything that was so beautiful in this place from him. Justin suddenly got angry and reached up to grab onto the zombies old decayed hands and pulled with all of his might…to no avail. The thing still held tight to his neck. The thing still squeezed his neck. He couldn’t stop it. The hope he held a second earlier was gone and he could smell death and vodka as it permeated his lungs. No air could get in, just that smell, that impending destruction of his human form. Tears fell from his eyes as the world around him slowly slipped into blackness.
“Help, please.” He said with a little voice. “Don’t.” He got this out more assertively. He somehow managed to look back into the gaping eye holes of the monster that was slowly taking his life for its own. He saw the grin on its face the thinning hair falling over its face as it applied more force squeezing his neck.
“I’m sorry,” it said to him. “I didn’t mean to do this.” He could hear the sorrow in the monster’s voice, pain it was experiencing. Though the monster was still grinning. “This was the only way it could be, you must understand Justin.” The grin widened and the grip faltered for a second, it was enough for Justin to get one breath of fresh air. With that one breath he felt his life and hope return, but the zombie gripped down hard again, settling into the bruises on his neck. “You just aren’t as good as me,” the zombie whispered into his ear. “I just can’t let you carry on my name.”
Justin looked back into the zombie’s face and for the first time noticed it had deep blue eyes. Those eyes penetrated his own, torturing him, for he knew the monster didn’t really feel bad. The monster was enjoying every moment.
The last thing that Justin saw was a name plate on the zombie-soldier’s coat. It said Frank. Then everything around him faded to complete blackness. Everything that was beautiful around him had faded out of existence. He felt himself wake for just a moment, saw the posters in his room, saw a shadowy figure before him, then his life faded away.
“Police,” The frantic voice of Justin’s father said. “I found my boy lying in his bed this morning dead. He’s dead. Someone came in last night and killed him in his sleep. All I heard was a whimper that sounded like “help.” I couldn’t really tell but when I went in he was dead, his face was blue and his neck had a line bruise around it. Please help me. Please.” He paused for a moment to take a drink before he gave them the address.
At the funeral Justin’s family stood around and mourned the loss of such a nice, if not a little special, young boy. They said how nice he always was and how cute he always was and how he’d always made them laugh.
At the end of the procession every one left but Justin’s uncle and his father. They were the closest to the boy. They stood there in silence for minutes until Justin’s uncle put an arm around Justin’s father and said, “I’m sorry that he had to die so brutally Frank.” The thinning hair fell down onto Frank’s forehead as he looked up and smiled with his blue eyes into his brother’s face. “Thanks. That means a lot.”
I think fondly upon this one. The three bums, Scary Larry, Red, and Milton are all real; they all hung out on the corner and everyone in the SET (This is what my apartment was known as at the time) frequently talked to them. The whole story takes place in a fictional land (The setting for a compilation with Ben Lilly, which still has yet to spread its wings), however the landscape is all the Sunset district in San Francisco. The lake in the story is a lake in Golden Gate Park which I wrote the story at with my laptop. The office in the story was an abandoned office on top of the then JT’s restaurant. So to say the least this story has a great nostalgia for me. The premise of the story was to play with form and mess with the reader when they’re reading. There are many points where nearly the entire page is word for word a previous page and the imagery gets more and more disjointed as the story progresses. The point was to expand upon and give homage to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a very short and disturbing story. The kind I like best.
“I had a dream about this room.” I looked about the room, but despite the intimate knowledge I have of it and its inhabitant, I felt odd here. There was something off about the room. Cold ambivalence, amplified by the empty stare of the psychiatrist. I thought mentioning the dream might elicit more of a response from the doctor, but par for the course, all I got was an indifferent nod.
“You,” I said waggling a finger at him “were not in the room,” I looked up at the psychiatrist expectantly, but the doctor was lost in his notebook. I felt a flash of anger, imagining a notebook full of doodles of women with big breasts on far off islands. “It was all empty,” I decided that if the doctor was indeed doing this, at least he was a pair of ears. He was something to talk at, if not necessarily to. Relief abounds through disclosure, even if no one’s listening. “Only the couch where I’m sitting and the picture on the wall.” I raised my hand and pointed at a painting of “The Scream” on the wall. I often mused at the thought of it. How indicative of a psychiatry office to have a painting so disjointed from reality, with a person lost in dark colors, screaming, holding their head in torment of a future horror. It’s something so ingrained in popular culture that you don’t even have to be a connoisseur to recognize it. I think, however, the juxtaposition of fantasy and reality caught so conclusively in the painting, was lost to most. Maybe even the doctor.
“Does that make sense? That painting in my dream? Why would I be here, in this room instead of in my own? Or in the park? And why would there be only this couch and that painting? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Am I unhappy with my life and is the screamer is supposed to indicate that I need change? Is that how I feel subconsciously?” I leaned back on the couch as I talked almost forgetting the doctor was sitting across from me; in fact I didn’t even think about stopping, I was on a roll, monologuing my problems out, but when I paused to start a new direction, something about women, about loneliness, the doctor cleared his throat.
I snap my head up to query the doctor. Not a word spoken, but enough was said. Time was up and the doctor would hear no more.
“You know, you could be a little more cordial when I come here. I spend a lot of money on you and all you can do is point at a watch or clear your throat.” I again look expectantly at the doctor, who says nothing, just crosses his legs and smiles, pedantically. “Fair enough. Same time next week I hope? If I’m not boring you too much?”
I chuckle as I walk out of the office. I knew the doctor wouldn’t respond, but it was the kind of therapy I was looking for. I’m not sure if I could handle someone trying to analyze me, silence seems to work best for me and somehow the doctor knows this.
I’d been going there for over a year; long enough to wonder if the doctor could even form a coherent phrase. I felt tired and worn down, like someone is taking a nail file to my soul. I would wake up in the morning and go through the motions, gather the paycheck and pay off another month’s rent. Dire times for the uncertain.
My entire life I’ve dreamt of other places. A day dreamer by trade, retail by necessity. What could be greater, I think, than for a disaster to happen in the world, something catastrophic. A cacophony of whining birds, screaming metal, and moaning people. This would be a place where I wouldn’t have to worry about progress reports and being seven minutes late for work, ducking the boss. This would be a place where I could be a hero. I could lead.
I looked around the intersection when I got to the bottom of the staircase. It’s amazing that a psychiatry practice would be atop a Hawaiian barbeque, however I swear by the results. Since coming here I’ve felt less pressure, less stress and my mind feels more at ease.
Busy intersection. A slight waft of ocean air, the salty breeze with a modicum of fish thrown in for good measure. It always amazes me that living in a city like this there would be such a minimal amount of smog, the ocean air transporting the chemicals across the bay. That breeze did wonders.
I lived three blocks away from my shrink’s office; another reason why it’s so easy to come here. Proximity makes the world go ‘round, but often I feel a longing for farther off. It appeals to my dreamy nature. Dreamers are always travelers, just not necessarily doers.
Ambling down the few blocks was always an adventure. There were four homeless men that live on my block. Two of them, however preferred to be called bums; the differentiation is miniscule to most people, but they laid hints periodically that they had an apartment. I laughed out loud the first time I was told this. I’d been giving the two of them, a tall angular black man named Red and a smaller emaciated vet named Milton, money for years now and when I found out they not only had jobs, but they actually had an apartment together, I was shocked. Almost. It takes a lot to be shocked in this city. They’re an original odd couple. I often ponder what social gatherings would be like at their apartment. Everyone panhandling the next person to walk in the door. If you’re fashionably late you’re broke.
The third bum is a much more annoying individual. Scary Larry as he’s known to the locals. An old short white pederast who blames the world for his psychosis. I often mused when I saw Larry walking down the road in a beat up old suit, as if he was attending a spellbinding rendition of “Cabaret” at the trash can on the left.
Then there’s a fourth, much more sinister character that wanders around aimlessly wearing a beanie down over his eyes, and baggy clothes encapsulating the waif of his body. He’s known to walk around the streets and follow women. There was even a rumor that he had attacked a woman in her own kitchen. Spooky, but it was all part of the area’s charm. Serious, yet playful; sophisticated, yet naïve.
This is my world. This is what I call home. This neighborhood, with its fascinating inhabitants, however, I have a place much more sacred to me than any place I could call home. A place almost as significant as the doctor for the sanity he lends me. A park. They call it “The Skinny” for short, but its real name is Tamskinelli. A quiet park that people frequent, they just pass through. A park where one can be alone with his thoughts. A wonderful place to gain perspective.
Dusk descended upon my neighborhood, placing a red musk on the small mom and pop businesses. Relief washes over me while I take a deep breath, stuff my hands into my pockets and saunter down the three blocks. A comfortable feeling, I know my surroundings, the buildings, the people. I stroll like I have no cares, pushing everything to the back of my head. I had finished work and I didn’t have another shift for 54 hours. I had no other obligations for the evening. Just me alone with my thoughts.
When I got to my corner I saw Red and Milton hanging out in front of my doorstep. A small smile crept across my face; these two were always a riot.
“Fuckin’ lady!” Miltonspits out. “Bitch don’t know what’s good for her. All I did was go up there and ask her for change!” He took a step back and sat down in a rusted old wheelchair with bumper stickers on it. I always wondered why Miltonwent to the trouble of putting those things on there. They don’t seem to make any rational kind of sense. There’s “Baby on board” plastered nearby “Honk if you’re horny” (This one always tickled me. Miltoncornered me on more than one occasion and proceeded to tell me how much he loved pussy) and the ever popular “I EAT SHIT” in big bold letters by the right wheel.
“Whoa, man, cool. Be cool, man. She’s just a lady!” Red was eloquent in this way. His lower jaw jutted out at you when he talked as if he was constantly tying to catch an afternoon drizzle.
“Fucking bitch. I wheeled up to her and was like ‘hey got any change, babe?’ and she turned on me like an eagle and was like…” he raised the pitch of his voice and, strangely enough, does indeed sound like a scorned woman. “’you lazy, lazy man, I saw you walking around, there is nothing wrong with your leg!’” I descended to them and raised my eyebrows inviting conversation. Miltonhad eyes that burrowed inside you. He looked through you rather than at you. Everything was intense withMilton; even if you’re only talking. He had a way of looking at you, as if he were imploring you to like him, which in turn made it hard not to. But there were these times, when the anger had boiled over in his system and he looked like a ravaged tiger ready to spring. As small as he was he didn’t seem like a problem, but if you saw his eyes, a blue and red fusion of hate and anguish, you’d feel his pain, and it’s impossible for you to turn away.
“What you say to her, man?” Red had a way of speaking as if he were both very drunk and stoned at the same time. His cadence was slow and rhythmic and his physiognomy was that of a retarded twelve year old boy. He was, however, as sharp as a knife.
“I says to her, I says, ‘Fuck you lady!’ then I showed her.” Miltongrabbed his pant leg and slowly lifted it as if both Red and I had never before seen the grotesque. His shin actually looked as if someone made a bowl out of it. Three inches deep. It’s a wonder he can stand at all. “And she screamed and went running off, the bitch. I tell ya, people are fucking stupid, the bitch, no idea what the fuck she’s saying, the bitch.” Then Red chimes in with his phlegmatic wisdom.
“Here, man, have a cigarette.” His jaw jut out, bottom teeth showing, but the most caring eyes a person could ever see.
I smile down at Milton and Red. The world is right today. I feel at ease. No more tension built in my shoulders.
I tapped Red on the shoulder and moved past without saying anything.
“Hey, man, you got any cigarettes?” It was Red.
I turn around and look directly at the cigarettes exposed forMilton’s consumption. Red follows the gaze and smiles.
“You know,” Red says with a chuckle. “One for the road.”
“One for the road, right.” I said and popped a cigarette out for Red, pause, then give him two. “One for the road.”
“Hey, alright, man! Take it easy!” Red takes what I like to call Red’s Jazz pose. Right hand outstretched and right foot extended and upturned.
“Night guys.” I say as I enter my building.
Nights were always the worst. Nothing to do but think about what you’ve done during the day. Who you’ve loved and who you’ve hated. It could be a wonderful time if you’re happy, but it isn’t a wonderful time for me. Downtime creates residual restlessness.
I fancied myself an insomniac, though clinically probably no more than a poor sleeper. I didn’t go nights without sleeping, it just took a long time for sleep to take over. It didn’t matter the bed, or the pillow; it didn’t matter what comforter, sleep was always just a hard time coming.
I thought of many things while trying to sleep. I thought of girls and friends, I fantasized of being a hero and saving some baby from a burning building. I dreamt about being a famous writer and traveling the globe, writing my world famous books. I did this while staring at a spider that made my ceiling his roost. I ignored the dust that carpeted my room and webs that encrusted my walls. No point on dwelling on the present when you can be wishing for a future.
I sighed and scanned through the books lined up against my walls. What to read today. I searched through my endless library and decided, that night I didn’t have much attention span. I settled on a short story collection; “Cthulu and other Oddities.” I always had a fancy for the fantastic. Otherworldly thinks appeal to my dreamer nature. I laid down taking note that for the night, thank God; there would be no setting of an alarm clock. I had that freedom. The book cracks open and my eyes scan across the title of the first story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I read it though I didn’t really understand it. I think I fell asleep, but I may be just that disjointed.
Dreams are enigmatic. Short jolty scenes where aberrant images clash. I saw the park, or rather the area of the park I frequent. There’s a lush almost swamp like pond with a clearing complete with a fallen tree trunk carved into a bench; a perfect place to write, nothing but all the time in the world to create.
In the dream, though, this scene wasn’t the serene venue that I wished it to be. The water was like pitch, motionless and menacing. There was a slight breeze in the air, usually indicative of an ocean zephyr. I glance up at the sky expecting the usual opaque navy, and instead it’s scarlet.
I want to keep looking, intrigued by the oddity, wanting to know more, but instead my head whips down to see someone crawling out of the brackish water. It’s a tall man who seems to be impervious to water. It rolls off him as if he were a duck. He’s wearing a red beanie and a black trench coat. I immediately recognize him and thank god I’m not a woman in my kitchen. Strange I seem to understand what’s happening so intrinsically, I wonder how it could be a dream.
He crawled, jerking, up the incline towards me and raised his head. The beanie was pulled down over his face, but I saw his mouth. Teeth big enough to split both lips. I slap my hands to my face and scream. The world fades and lines streak like running paint. I feel wallpaper underneath my fingernails.
I sit up in my bed and the book falls to the floor with a thump. I resolve to stop eating spicy food before bed.
In the morning I decided I must face my fears and my dream. I must go to my spot and contemplate.
The day was windy and gray. My breath burned in my lungs as I pumped my legs on the bike pedals to reach my destination. A cold burn. I feel despondent about my lack of exercise. This shouldn’t be nearly as hard as it seems to be.
Every time I saw the park I’d be amazed. It seemed to have a glow about it. A separation from the downtrodden cobbled neighborhood. It had a resplendent warmth, a golden aura. Just being able to see the park made me more at ease.
I laid my bike down in the grass and trod to my destination, weary of the conjured creatures of my mind. Obviously I was being paranoid, right? Dreams are just dreams, but reality had a terrifying thinness to it; as if the cold I embrace the lucidity of my surroundings. No if this were a dream I wouldn’t be cognizant of the burn in my lungs, which consequently has not receded.
The pond has a light green tint to it, and the bark bench has a soft worn feel to it. I stare down at the spot where the creature ascended in my dream. A frog, nothing more.
I see strange things sometimes. Solid objects wave, like air rippling across water. I mention this now because it’s what the dirt is doing. Previously I have told people of this oddity, thinking it wasn’t abnormal. All people must get this from time to time. Apparently this is not the case. I have been accused of being a burn out. Too much acid they said, but this isn’t the truth. I’ve never done drugs. My perception is too vapid to even try it for fear of it deepening.
I pull my gaze from the quivering dirt and cast my eyes to the houses in the distance. Business as usual. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. Pause, a car passes. People doing their daily thing, furiously and frivolously going from point to point.
The only divergence I see is through my peripheral vision. A man standing in the shadows of an oak at the precipice of the park. His hand is resting on the trunk and he seems to be looking at me. I try and take a better look at him, but when I peer closer he’s gone. A shadow person.
This is another thing that happens to me periodically. They pop out of the corners of my vision, as if I’m lonely and my subconscious is creating a partner for me to commune with. They’re hardly ever there and when they are it startles them much more than they startle me. I have scared many an elderly lady. Still wonder about drugs?
Goddamn its time to see the doctor again.
I pounce up the stairs and reach his door. Closed and locked. Damn. I stand there for a minute and wonder what good it will do to knock. Chances are he isn’t here, after all I don’t actually have an appointment, however I have come before unannounced. It’ll have to be another day.
Red and Milton are standing in front of my door again. Déjà vu. Routines are done to facilitate memory. It is far easier to remember what you did yesterday if you do it everyday. This is my curse. I try as hard as I can to avoid the mainstream. I work because I have to, but small talk doesn’t ease the mind it collapses it. Right?
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
I jump down from the bike and walk it over past the two vagrants to my house. They notice me, but seem too involved in some kind of conversation, as I pass I turn and wave. This was a mistake.
I run right into someone. Square into his chest, and though he has a small frame he doesn’t move. I turn my head with an apology on my lips and I see Larry. The crazy asshole. And now he has something to yell at me for. Shit.
“You see ‘em too! I seen ‘em on the corner! They sneaky. They hard. They haunt! They always there aint they? Just round the corner! Waitin fer ye! They’ll get ye.” His eyes are on fire. Normally gray now sunsets. Waving bright colors flow like water. His mind is gone.
I was expecting him to scream bloody murder to me. I was expecting to feel a barrage of fists, but no I get the Larry with an eager face, wanton, imploring. It scares me.
“Goddamn it, you need to sleep more.” The same thing I tell myself. “They’re only your imagination, bad food and sleep deprivation.” The same thing I tell myself.
“Naïve, boy! They comin for ye.” I don’t see humanity in his eyes anymore. I’m not sure if I ever had; all I see now is a wall. I see bricks that he has lain throughout the years adding to this persona. The façade became real. Larry as he was, whatever he was, is no more. He is behind that wall. This is what remains. I imagine this is what happens to people when they go crazy; they put themselves behind a wall to protect themselves.
“Good for them.” I hear the disdain in my voice. I hear the anger. It’s not real anger at him though. It’s his mannerisms. They terrify me. They have a swagger of a man who seems to have something so heavy on his conscious that it drags him to hunch. Big waving arms for emphasis on his statements. They terrify me. They remind me of me.
I slip past Larry and ignore his imploring shells that were once eyes and glance back at Red and Milton. They are both looking at me, not at the combination of Larry and I, our little quibble that we always have, but at me. Red lifts his head a little and whispers something to me. I think I understand the concern in his face and the darkness of his eyes. His broken lips wording “be careful.”
Too much. I’ve had too much. I have to go inside. I’m getting loopy, dizzy. I need to sleep. I slam through the doorway and take the steps two at a time, my bike forgotten in the hallway. Forget the bike. Two at a time. I gotta get to sleep. I feel even worse. Everything is spinning, two at a time. Can I take three? It’s getting dark. Two at a time. The front door seems so far away. Two at a time. Two at a time. Two at a time. Door, Room. Bed. Sleep. Déjà vu.
I’ve woken to find that I haven’t slept at all. I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Exausted, lying in bed watching the shadows of a nearby tree snake across my ceiling. I need air; I’m being suffocated, a thick ephemeral haze covering the room. I’ve woken in a cloud.
I feel dizzy and out of sorts. Everything around me almost seems like it may be a dream, as if I’m sleeping now, but I can feel the pins and needles in my right calf. That slow and warm crawl back and forth. Sporadic patterns laced in the leg. I need a walk; fresh air will clear my head. It’s too muggy in this apartment. Its suffocates you to sleep it doesn’t lull you.
I sit and collect my thoughts with my head in my hands. I can’t do it. I feel crazy, shaken, buzzed, except I have a cognizance of my actions. I stand and sway making my way towards the door, rubbing my forehead. I feel slimy, greasy, coated in a sheen of Crisco. The more I wipe the dirtier I seem to get. I can’t believe I’m walking outside like this.
Outside I near the park. The air helps, I feel a bit sharper. However I can never go back inside, I couldn’t stand the claustrophobia. Tight lungs desperately stretching to try and get air. A burning sensation.
There are Shades here. Shadow people; peering from behind trees, out lines, shapes. If I was alone on the road I’d be scared, with people here I know that they’ll stay there. At the edges. Irrational thoughts for sure. Who wouldn’t? What would you think if you saw people at the edge of your vision? So what if you knew they weren’t real. What if one time, one was?
There is so much clean air in the woods. I think maybe I could take a nap out here. I must be tired. That’s why the Shadow people are coming out. That’s why they’re creeping so close. I thought I had slept. Did I sleep? Did I dream the whole thing? I thought I slept. Maybe it was a day dream. How sad, daydreaming about dreaming.
Clean air. I can breathe out here; full of oxygen, moving the toxins out.
I need to go to the doctor.
They pump oxygen into casinos to keep people awake. Keep their senses clear, so they could gamble longer. I can’t sleep out here.
A shadow person just ran across the field ahead. Am I dreaming? Wait where did everyone go?
There’s another one.
I thought people were around? Oh, I’m dizzy. Another one.
Am I dreaming? Or are they real? Another one.
It’s getting dark. No my eyes closed. Another one. Maybe the fresh air is working.
I wake into a dream. I’m still in the park. No shadow people around now. Is it a dream? I just lay down. Feels like a dream. Feels warm. The park at night is not warm. I must be sleeping! The walk worked.
“Ya must run now. It won’t take ‘em long. They’s found ya tonight. Ye best be careful.” Behind me.
I turn into Larry. With him standing in front of me. He smiles at me; winking. Oh, it’s getting dark again. Or…
No my eyes were closed. I’m still in the park. I feel agoraphobic. I have to get inside.
I need to see the doctor.
In the street I see a man. He looks angry.
“Psychotic punk! Did you think you could get away with it?”
Is he talking to me? He isn’t looking at me.
“Pull that wallet out! I know you have a knife! Where’s the gun?!”
He grabs my hands; pulls them to his chest. What the hell?
“You fucked my wife! Drug addict! Pilferer!”
Why won’t he let go of me?
“Let go of me!”
He looks crazy!
“You’re holding on to me!”
I’ve very confused.
“Leave me ALONE!”
He screams like a woman.
I let go and he runs away. I shake my hands and…it’s getting dark. Again.
I wake on the street. I’m clothed and walking. I’m not wearing the same thing I was before. Different clothes, different day I guess. I see Red and Milton in front of my house.
Miltonseems better today; he has a big grin on his face, his cheeks wrinkling up around his eyes. I don’t think I could bear talking to them again today. I feel dizzy, probably from riding my bike up a hill, going all the way to the park, but I still don’t feel good.
Wait, did I ride my bike today?
I see the guy from my dream in the distance. He’s wearing different clothes too. Different clothes different day. It’s a gray hoodie with a black beanie this time. He’s following a girl too. I make a step towards them and I see Red out of the corner of my eye. He’s trying to tell me something. I squint my eyes. His lips create the words “be careful.” I frown and look back to the guy from my dreams.
He’s close to her now. He’s walking fast and she looks worried. I try to move toward them, but I’m dizzy. I see her reach into her pockets, I presume keys. Get the keys. His hands pull out of his pockets. Get the keys. His nails are long, ugly. Dirty. Get the keys. How can she pause? Get the keys! It’s getting so dark. GET THE KEYS! He’s a demon! Grab. The. Keys!
Too slow. He took her. Jumped over her shoulders. Nails digging into her shoulders. Those teeth. Big enough to split both lips. They bite. Tearing and ripping. She screams. She never got the keys. Its so dark. I see people walking towards me through the darkness. Shadow people I know. I can see them clearly. A hand on my shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. A hand on shoulder. I turn and see Red standing there. He looks sad, but I’m so dizzy. Hand on shoulder. “Be careful.” Déjà vu.
I find myself in the doctor’s office. It’s cold. I think one of the windows is broken. What day is it?
“What day is it?” He looks at me and shakes his head. I think of the park. The skinny they call it. The skinny. There is a glow there. It’s a glow of gold. It feels good there. Feels thin. “Why am I here today? Did you agree to meet me?”
The doctor shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head. He’s skinny. He’s thin. He seems familiar. Déjà vu.
“Why the scream? Am I screaming?” The painting. Paint. Scream.
His hands go to his face. Screaming. Thin. He’s paint. He’s running. The paint, leaking. The room is bare. No scream, no doctor. Why am I here? I need the park. It’s getting so dark. All the time. Must be winter. When do I work? Friday. I like Friday. It’s skinny. Oh, yeah the park.
It’s cold here. I can only see through a pinhole. Shadow people blur the vision. They’re so close. Do I have keys? I NEED TO GRAB MY KEYS! Déjà vu.
I rip the doctor off the wall. The painting. The Scream off the wall. It’s too much. How could you put that in a doctors office? I feel something under my fingernails. Yellow wallpaper. Déjà vu.
The pond. I look to my pond. It’s so cold. I look in my pond. I see myself crawling out of it. Déjà vu. I wear a red beanie and my teeth split my lips. I crawl into it. The pond is skinny. I reach the bottom fast.
The bottom is the doctors office. I see the scream on the wall. The doctor is too. Screaming. It’s so dark. Déjà vu.
Larry entered the room with a wide eyed expectancy. He was being followed by a shadow person. He felt the shadow person pulling at his brain, stretching his sanity like taffy. The room was cold and dark, soap covering the windows.
The room was bare, nothing covering the walls, not even wall paper, only a dingy brown mold. The hardwood floors were pulled up at points leaving small protrusions that were perfect for stubbing a toe.
A stiff breeze flew into the room and Larry shivered when he saw the man lying over in the corner. He was curled up into a ball with a red pool surrounding him. The window was smashed in, glass sprayed everywhere. The man had a piece of glass grasped firmly in his right hand. Larry took note that his fingernails were either bent back or torn off, he had been digging in the walls.
Larry shook his head and turned back to the door. He saw the gouges next to the door on the wall. Deep and with blood spattered periodically within.
Larry respected the man, he had seen the shadow people, he had run from the shadow people and now he had stood up to them. He had fought.
People around the neighborhood called him Scary Larry, people thought he was crazy. They were afraid of him, but there was something that the people around the neighborhood didn’t know about, something they would be much more scared about.
The shadow people. They came from the park. They took this man. They had been coming for him for years. He just knew how to run. He moved past the gouges in the walls and out the door to the old office. It amazed him that no one ever saw the man going up the stairs. Maybe they did. Maybe they didn’t care. Maybe they thought he was crazy. Just another bum.
Larry reached the bottom of the staircase and saw light traffic at the intersection. Two shadow people, one on his right periphery and one on the left. Time to run.
This is a more recent story and has evolved drastically over time. The character of Sven wasn’t even in the first draft and the prayer wasn’t in it either. The reason I went back into the story and worked at it more was that the theme was there, but it just wasn’t a moving story. I felt like I was beating a sledgehammer over the reader’s head saying: “This is what I mean. This is my theme!” So on came Sven and the story drew out to a longer and more three dimensional piece. I loved writing this one, I think it shows a darker side of the human soul; one where we all have access to, but only some are willing to try and navigate.
Roger Tambour climbed the hill like a lynx hunting its prey, sweating from the weight of his pack and the heat of the desert sun. The intelligence he got from his informant told him his mark would be bartering a deal in twenty minutes two hundred yards south of the hill he was climbing. Just enough time to crest the hill, settle, then facilitate the kill. Such effort for that single beautiful moment when the rifle; the impeccable extension of his arm, bucked against his shoulder and the mark is felled. There was no Semper Fi in this business, no glory, no gung ho motherfuckers. Just Roger and the pop of his rifle echoing, indicating the hollow void it brought.
“Boy you shut that goddamn animal up or you gonna make me do something about it!” Pete Tambour leaned out of his Lazy-boy and craned his neck into the living room where Roger was playing. “I’m serious now, I’ve eaten mangier inVietnam!” Pete was an absentee father. He was only around for about a week a month. Roger’s mother, Patricia, told him his father traveled for work, but he always came home stinking of booze and cheap perfume.
Roger slowly got to his feet putting his arms out for balance. He had just turned four and was still a little wavy on his feet.
“Shit, boy, you need to learn your balance.” Pete turned back to the television and carefully lifted a Bud to his lips.
Roger waddled over to the small collie puppy rolling on its back next to his father’s chair. His mother named the dog Spunky.
“You stupid, lazy, fat piece of shit!” Patricia stormed into the room, waving a letter in her hand. Roger stood on his little fat legs with a look of surprise at his mother’s sudden entrance. The dog barked in response to Patricia’s tone.
“You talking to me baby?” Pete said, not taking his eyes from the television.
“What the fuck is this?” She stood in front of him waving the letter with a hand on her hip.
“Jesus woman, you’re worse than the dog.” Pete said taking another swig of beer. He didn’t move, but slightly raised his eyes to meet hers.
Spunky stopped rolling around and turned to face the drama, then gave a sharp high pitched bark.
“Get that fucking mutt out of here Roger.” Patricia turned to him with her eyes burning and then turned back to Pete. “Is this a fucking pink slip?” She said ruffling it in his face again.
Roger looked down at the dog and then back up at his mother. They’d freed him from the pound a month earlier and Patricia said it was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. It was one of the best days Roger had ever had.
“What the fuck you think it is? It’s pink ‘aint it?” Pete gave a wry smile and never took his eyes from hers.
“So let me get this straight. You don’t clean, you don’t take care of the children, you can’t get it up, and now you aren’t even working?” Now both fists were pressed to her hips and the letter was crumpled in her hand.
“Huhm,” Pete said raising his eyes thoughtfully and rubbing his chin. “Looks about that way doesn’t it, well except for the getting it up. It’s hard to fuck a bitch while she’s complaining the entire time.”
“Fuck you! I’m done, you piece of shit!” She threw the letter at Pete, turned and went out the door. It was the last time little Roger saw his mother.
“What got up her ass, huh?” Pete said turning to face Roger. “You gonna get that thing out the room or not boy? Jeopardy’s on.”
Lookout duty. It was the slowest task in the barracks and Roger resented Sven for making them pull it. Their job was to watch the access road which lead to the barracks and shoo away any visitors. Out of ten shifts Roger had only seen one civilian approach the gate and when they realized what it was they quickly turned and walked away.
It was a slow time, one where you got to know the guy you were with because there wasn’t anything to do other than talk. So there they stood, rifles at their sides and faces which showed the torture of boredom.
“Fucking dog.” Sven spat out. Roger didn’t respond, but turned to look at his comrade.
“Don’t look at me like that, man! Fucking thing had it coming and you know it! Fucker bites!” Roger didn’t know the whole story and wasn’t sure if he wanted to. All Roger knew was that they were pulling Head duty together when Sven wandered off. Then the Sergeant’s dog was found dead under the steps of C company’s barracks.
“Fuck, it’s like he could smell it on me man,” Sven started to violently scratch his head. It was the part of the army which always pleased Roger. He didn’t know about Sven’s past and he wasn’t particularly interested, but he knew it was checkered. “Like he could smell the fucking thing’s saliva. I swear man, that his nostrils actually flared as he was looking me over. Thought he was gonna cry.”
Roger was glad to have Sven next to him; was glad that Sven was in the same company because it lessened the chance that he would ever have to stare down a rifle at him. Lessened.
“You got any grass man? I need to relax.” Sven fidgeted and swung his rifle over his shoulder, bending to tie his shoe. “Tell you what, man. I’m gonna go over there by the fence and jack one. You stick here and keep your queer boy eyes to yourself, got it?”
When dealing with Sven, Roger realized the best recourse was to say nothing and let Sven assume your answer. He took silence for acceptance.
While Sven was doing his business Roger leaned back and drank in the clear blue skies. It was a beautiful day and it reminded him of his first day in the army and the knowledge that he had escaped from his family. From his drunkard father, from his sister who worked herself into the ground to pay for everything for their family, and his younger brother who discovered Meth and began to steal from his sister’s purse.
He walked out into the cool air and felt his first breath of freedom and he vowed he would spend his whole new life trying to forget his old one.
“Shoulda fucked the dog first before I killed it.” Sven said walking back over, buttoning up his trousers as he did so.
“Coulda released some of the tension in my shoulders.” Sven smiled a crooked, snaggle-toothed grin and patted Roger on the shoulder. “Bet you think killing a dog is a rush. Just wait till we get over toIraq. There’s gonna be a storm in the desert for sure, and that fucking storm is of Norwegian descent.”
Despite his vulgar behavior and his bravado, Roger saw intelligence behind those eyes. Brutal and honest. He knew in that moment that he could never cross Sven, because Sven would never give a second chance.
Roger gently cocked his head to the side to look through the scope. The pudgy white man was centered in the crosshairs as he brokered whatever transaction he had set up.
Roger took out his DEA issued pen and wrote down a short description of the contact. Tall, skinny, white, woman. 35. Brown hair, strong handshake, confident body language.
Roger took a deep breath and gently placed his finger over the trigger. He began to say the prayer he learned from the Norwegian sniper who died in his arms and began a count down in his head; all the while keeping the short pudgy man in his kill zone.
“Boy! Another F! I ‘aint raising no dumbasses! What’s this all about?” Pete stumbled out of the kitchen waving around Carl’s report card.
They had lived in a sty ever since Patricia had walked out on them. They never received a note from her; she never asked how they were doing. It was just Katie, Roger, Carl and their drunken father.
“You hear me boy?” Pete drooled as he spoke. It had been three years since Pete had a job, a beer in his hand nearly the entire time.
Carl never heard his father stumbling around the house because he was holed up in his room listening to Pink Floyd, high as a kite and trying to forget his life. He had taken “Comfortably Numb” as his anthem the year before. He had shrunken in upon himself and refused to speak about anything but superficialities to everyone except Roger.
When Pete burst into the room, Carl didn’t have time to hide the Marijuana in the baggie on his bed, but luckily in his drunken stupor Pete sat on it without noticing.
“What’s up Pete?” Carl had just turned 13 and had long since lost any respect for his father.
“You shouldn’t call me that.” Pete said losing his steam and forgetting why he came into the room.
“It’s your name isn’t it?” Carl’s rejoinder was icy.
“Why don’t you call me dad?” Pete said raising his arm to ruffle Carl’s head. Carl moved out of the way.
“I’ll try to do that.” Carl’s gray eyes stared back into his father’s dull blue. “I’m gonna take a nap now, kay?” Carl said without even faking a yawn.
“Naw, why don’t you come out and watch TV with your pops?” Pete reached out again and again Carl deftly moved out of the way.
“No. I think you need to talk to Roger. He said he was going into the army.” Carl said in a monotone. He didn’t think it would get his brother into trouble and he wanted to be rid of Pete.
“What?” Pete said swaying on the bed.
“Yep, spoke to a recruiter. They said in two years, when he turns 18 he’ll be a shoo-in.” Carl got up as he spoke and walked to the head of the bed, pulling the sheets aside.
“Fuck you say!” Pete got up, knocking the weed to the ground and stormed out of the room. “Rog!” He yelled out into the house.
“Pete, will you knock it off?” Katie yelled back at him from the kitchen. She was going over rental units because she couldn’t pay off the mortgage to the house and the collectors had started calling.
“Don’t you call me Pete! You call me Father!” Pete yelled as he stumbled back down the hall. In the past three years he had put multiple dents in the weak walls from his drunken meanderings.
“Why don’t you act like a fucking father you asshole.” Katie said under her breath. “And by the way, Roger isn’t home. He’s off playing in the park.”
Pete made it into the room and threw down Carl’s report card, stomping on it in the process.
“Playing in the fucking park? He’s sixteen goddamn years old; he’s too old to be playing in the park!” Pete said making his way towards the refrigerator. “You fucking kids drive me to drink!”
“That’s why you do it. I didn’t know.” Katie didn’t mask her condescension.
“Goddamn right.” Pete took two beers from the fridge and took them to the living room to his favorite seat in front of the TV, his argument forgotten.
Katie wrote a quick note to Roger and posted it on the refrigerator then went into Carl’s room.
“I’m going to find a way out of here Carl.” She said from the doorway.
Carl was sitting at the window looking out into the mid-afternoon gloom. “Whatever.” He never turned around.
“These Iraqi motherfuckers aren’t gonna know what hit ‘em.” Sven chuckled as he cleaned his rifle. The two of them went into sharpshooters school together and had done fairly well. Sven was a natural. He didn’t seem to ever miss from the beginning of the training. The mark could be running. They could be hiding. Sven never missed. He was a killing machine and he was never happier than when he hit his target.
Roger on the other hand struggled. His hands were a shaky bundle of nerves and he had trouble understanding how to lead the mark. All the while Sven excelled Roger got ever increasingly determined. As time in camp grew longer, so did the war. He knew it was only a matter of time before his squad was called into battle, and he knew he needed to pass his sniper exam. There was no way he was going to war without Sven the killing machine at his side. Despite knowing, clearly, that Sven was a sociopath, Roger never felt more comfortable than when he was in his presence. He knew Sven thought of Roger as a friend, because Roger had accepted him for who he was, even with knowing about Sven’s homicidal tendencies.
In the real world their friendship would have never blossomed and Roger knew it. He would never tell Sven because he didn’t know if Sven realized that the only reason Roger felt comfortable with him was because they had a common enemy. There was direction for Sven’s psychosis, without direction, Roger didn’t know what Sven would do.
“You’re telling me. They walk by a building with Sven the killing machine in it? They’re gonna be red paste on the sidewalk!” They would banter for hours, each trying to top the other’s crudeness, both ignoring the fact that the next morning they were going into a city where it was known that the enemy outnumbered them three to one.
Roger flattened himself on the ground zeroing in on the mark. He thought back to his training. He thought about Carl playing shooting games with him in the arcade as kids. He thought of Sven and how closely related the actions of their families were. He thought about Katie and how she got the job as a lawyer inNew York. He thought about Carl in jail. He thought about the abuse of his mother and father. He thought about the connection he had with Carl and Katie and he felt a tear scroll down his cheek.
He looked down at the chubby man through the scope and realized the man was looking at him, had in fact winked at him and Roger’s tears poured. He paused, his finger waiting for the tears to clear and his vision to return so he could gaze back into Carl’s gray pleading eyes.
Roger turned back to Sven as soon as he saw the Iraqi soldiers retreating.
The bullet had taken Sven by surprise just a moment before piercing his jugular and knocking him back on his ass.
“Ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck.” Sven kept repeating his hand clamped on his neck.
“Medic!” Roger yelled and ran to his fallen friend.
“Shit man, fucker got me!” Sven’s skin had already paled.
“You’ll be alright. Fucker just got lucky man.” Roger said putting his hand over Sven’s, increasing the pressure on Sven’s neck.
“Bitch hurts man. Can’t believe how lucky that guy got!” It was always luck when an Iraqi shot an American, but skill when an American shot an Iraqi.
“Yeah, fucking Sunday fighters don’t have a chance. Don’t know why they’re even trying.” Roger could feel the pulse of blood against Sven’s hand. He could also feel Sven’s hand weakening.
“Man, its fucking cold in here. You got any water?” Sven’s eyes got glossy.
“Fuck, Medic!” Roger couldn’t hide his impatience as he began to feel the blood rushing between Sven’s fingers.
“Cool it man, cool it. It’s too late.”
Roger looked back down at his comrade and felt panicked. “Don’t you give up! I need your crazy ass to keep me alive.”
“You’ll be alright. Remember the prayer. It’ll calm you,” Sven’s hand released its grip and only stayed into place because Roger was holding it there. “Remember our families brought us here. We can party in hell when you die.”
“Quitter! Fuck you! I ‘aint goin’ to hell!” Roger screamed in his dead friend’s face.
“I’m taking him out of here Rog. I’m sorry, but he needs freedom from this place.” Katie sat on the bed stroking Carl’s hair while Roger stood in the doorway.
He knew this was coming, but he couldn’t bring himself to give Katie his prepared speech. He wanted to tell her they needed to stay together. He wanted to say they needed each other’s support. Instead he stood there nodding at her.
“When I heard him come home, I got out of bed and went up to check on him. By the time I got there he’d thrown up on his bed and was lying in his own filth.” Roger looked down to his snoring brother and then back up to his big sister. “He had two thousand dollars in his pocket Rog. He’s selling this shit now.”
Roger looked one more time at Carl. He took note of Carl’s emaciated form, the blood stains on his upper lip from his bloody nose, the sweaty tousled hair and Roger came to his own conclusion.
“We have to get out of here. Carl can’t stay here any longer. He needs to get away from that asshole,” She nodded her head toward the living room to indicate Pete. “He needs to get clean and he needs to stop getting abused. Were going toNew York. It’s far enough away from here that I don’t think he can find us. Let the bastard rot.”
Roger turned and looked at the door leading to the living room, then he looked back at his sister and realization of Katie’s words struck him all at once. They all needed emancipation.
“I can’t go with you.” His words were soft and quiet. He dropped his eyes as he said it feeling shame blush his cheeks.
“You have to go with us. I need help with Carl. It isn’t going to be easy getting him off that shit.” He could see anger make creases at the corners of her mouth and his shame blossomed enough to change his complexion.
“I can’t do it. I’m not going with you.” Roger slowly raised his eyes to meet Katie’s. He could see the hurt in her eyes.
“Fine. We don’t need you. We lived for years with that pig,” she motioned with her head towards the living room again. “Without your help, so we don’t need it now.”
He didn’t respond, just looked at her. He felt the shame, but he didn’t feel remorse. He knew he had to get away from them. Things would never change if he stayed here. They would always control his emotions; they would always control his actions.
“Well no reason to wait. Why don’t you get out of here so I can get us packed, huh?” She didn’t meet his eyes, but she nodded at the door again.
Roger acquiesced and joined his father in the living room, pulling a brochure out of his back pocket in the process.
In big block letters at the top it said: An Army of One.
Roger could see Sven on the other hill three hundred yards away. He knew Sven never hesitated, even in this blaring heat with sweat pouring in his eyes.
The rifle rested on its stand and he relaxed his shoulders. He wished the prayer that Sven said before every kill worked for him like it did with Sven. It seemed simple, but it also seemed to relax him. Sven had ten confirmed kills. Roger had none. But down there in the valley was an Iraqi guard that they were sent to kill and Sven refused to do it this time.
“You’re making me the default.” Sven had said. “You need to do this one. You with me?”
It wasn’t that Roger didn’t want to do it, he was aching to. He needed a release for all the pent up anger he had brewing inside him, but every time he went to pull the trigger he jumped and missed wide leaving Sven to make the shot and finish the job.
“Say the prayer man. I know you ain’t religious, but that shit works. My anticipation goes away and I can take a deep breath and finally just get to it.”
Despite what Sven said, the prayer only took his mind off the guard for a moment. The anticipation was still there and the excitement would lead his fingers.
He focused through the scope and centered the guards head in the crosshairs. He could see the man’s brown eyes and the wrinkles in his face. He had to be in his fifties. Anger suddenly surged through Roger and he pulled his finger off the trigger before he fired astray.
“Who the fuck are you?” He muttered under his breath at the guard. Images of beating the guard ran through his head. Breaking the man’s nose. Cracking ribs. Stomping his fallen form.
Then suddenly the man became Pete and Roger nearly jumped up and charged, but he ripped his face away from the scope and took a few deep breaths.
“Just calm. Just do it.” He muttered to himself.
He focused on the guard one more time and after taking another breath, pulled the trigger. The bullet was true and the man fell immediately, but Roger felt emptiness creep into him. His first confirmed kill, but there was nothing to it, nothing personal. The man was just a notch on the side of a rifle. Roger’s anger grew.
Carl said goodnight over the phone to Katie. He told her he was in his room in the recovery clinic, but he had left two days before and had traveled non-stop since. He hitched rides and rode busses where he could and where none were possible he walked.
His doctor in the clinic told him his drug habit arose because of an absence of love as a child and the history of addiction in the family. He was searching to find meaning and searching to find love and the drugs were his surrogate. He got clean in the clinic, but there was still a nagging hole he didn’t know how to fill. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but there was something deep down in his stomach, like an itch that was too deep to get to.
When Carl got home he stopped off at a sporting goods store and bought a wooden baseball bat then headed for his father’s house.
The sight of the familiar dilapidated façade of his father’s house brought tears to his eyes. Not knowing where the tears came from sent Carl into a fury and he stormed the house listening to his father’s loud snoring.
The police found him three hours later curled up on his childhood bed crying, covered in his father’s blood.
“What’s happened to us?” Katie tritely cried. Carl sat on the other side of the bullet proof glass with the phone pressed to his ear. He said nothing, just looked deeply into his sister’s eyes.
“How’s it in there?” Roger said trying to catch his brother’s attention.
“What the fuck do you care?” Carl’s gaze never left Katie’s.
“Don’t be so mean.” Katie said before a deluge of tears cascaded down her cheeks.
“Why not? He didn’t come with us. He didn’t help us. He just helped himself. Now he wants to know what it was like to bash that fuck’s head in…”
“That’s not what I said.”
“That’s what you meant. You were just selfish. You went somewhere where it’s legal to kill. You live in a fantasy world where nothing matters but yourself. Katie needed help. I needed help. So we helped each other.”
“Yeah, getting fucked up on meth really helped us out.” Roger said flatly.
“No that was how she helped me. She got me off it. I helped her by killing that bastard.”
“Please!” Katie sobbed.
“You’re a fucking sociopath! How does that help her?”
“You don’t understand because you weren’t there. He tried to come after us. He would call and say he was coming to get us. We were paranoid, thinking he was every creak in the boards, he was every knock at the door. We started to get out and he tried to pull us back and you were nowhere to be found.”
“I was in basic training!”
“Which you ran off to because you wouldn’t help.”
“You want to know what it felt like?”
“No, god please!” Katie cried, scooting away from the glass.
“It felt liberating. With every crack of that bat I felt a little more free. After a while I wanted to feel it so I got on my knees and punched his broken face. It was gratifying. It was personal.”
“He left before I was even brought home from the hospital, so as far as I’m concerned I’m an immaculate conception.” Sven grinned as he said it.
“He left ‘cause of my mom. She was a crazy crone. Religious as shit.” He stroked his St. Christopher medal as he told the story. “My sis and I went to church instead of school. We knew the bible back and front. We even had little contests, testing to see who knew bible verses better.”
Roger rubbed the barrel of his rifle down with the rag nodding along. It was the most Sven had ever said to him at once and it was all spontaneous.
“She beat us regularly with a switch, crying and praying as she did so. It started when we were babies. I remember Gretch crying because she skinned her knee. Mother switched her until she passed out from pain. That’s just how it went, we didn’t know any other way.”
Sven shrugged and Roger grunted in response. He didn’t want the story to end, but he didn’t know how to respond.
“I killed my first cat when I was seven. I didn’t mean to do it at the time, I just wanted to know how it felt to beat something. I guess I just got carried away. But there was something to it. There was something holy. Something personal. It was like our souls were interconnected for just the briefest of moments. I understood the creature. I understood what it was feeling and at the moment of death I felt tremendous release, like my life was worth something. It was the first time I felt that. Meaning.” This time Sven grunted. He cradled his rifle in his arms like a baby as he cleaned.
“I both caused and freed the creature from torment and I understood what Jesus meant by accepting our sins. It was like I was projecting everything I had ever done wrong into that cat and in the moment of death, we were both released. I held onto that cat and cried for hours, both in love and sympathy.
“I tried again and again, but I couldn’t get that feeling back. I thought maybe it only happened once with every species I killed, so I tired birds and dogs and even a deer, but I never got that spiritual awakening again.
“I began to get restless. I began to feel like God had abandoned me. How could he only give me a taste of that joyous release? Then I saw my mother beat Gretch. While she was beating her, my mother kept saying something under her breath. I strained my ears and between cracks I was shocked to hear the Lord’s Prayer.
“I dawned on me that I was striving too hard for the feeling. It wasn’t just the act that gave me release, it was also my state of mind. You can’t really enjoy anything if you’re too caught up in it. You need something to center you, something to personalize the matter. I needed a prayer for myself. I needed something that would give me release, something that would center me; so I used my life experience to create my own prayer.”
Roger looked at him expectantly. He had heard Sven say the prayer before, but had never understood its meaning. He thought about Carl killing Pete and he wondered if Carl prayed beforehand.
“Give me cover, for every path I take leads me astray. Give me trust, for every one I know leaves me alone. Give me love, for the care that I missed. Give me hope, for the life I will lose. Give me patience, for my regrets. Give me peace so that I may kill.
“You should use it Rog. I see the excitement in you. I can see the dread hanging off you, the apprehension. You need something to center you, something to help you understand your place in the Universe.”
Roger grunted again, but inwardly he marveled at how Sven could be all at once a sociopath and yet have such a deep understanding of what it meant to be human.
“I need to ask you a favor brother, and I hate to do it this way.” There was silence on the phone line, but Carl let it drag on. Roger knew Carl wanted him to talk first, but he didn’t know what to say.
“Hello to you too brother. How you been Carl?” He felt sweat moisten his palm.
“Listen. I’m sorry that we’ve been so distant, but I know things about you. I know when you rotated back to the world you became a mercenary. I know you kept working as a sniper. I need something from you.”
“Can’t you at least tell me how our sister is doing? She won’t talk to me either.”
“Katie’s fine. She lives inNew Yorkand she works as a secretary for a high end lawyer.”
“I’m surprised you called me and not her.”
“This isn’t something that she needs to know about.”
His tone was grave and immediately Roger’s throat went dry.
“Don’t worry, you still don’t have to be a part of our family, but that family needs a favor. I got into trouble.”
“Listen if this is about drugs…”
“It is. Tomorrow you will be getting a contract for Pablo Hernandez. You need to make sure he’s dead. He’s the accountant of an up and coming cartel. He’s ordered the deaths of many people, especially ones who stole from the organization. Your sister’s stupid husband stole money from him and the organization won’t leave her alone until he’s gone.”
“The accountant doesn’t matter, the documentation is what matters. The cartel will still know and they’ll go after her.” Roger’s hands were wet.
“How’d you know? Are you affiliated with them?” Roger heard Carl take a sharp intake of breath and sigh into the phone.
“I’m Pablo, Roger. They won’t come after her because I’ll get rid of the records, but when I do that they’re going to come after me and the things they would do, would make me tell them who owed the money. This is the best way.”
Roger didn’t answer right away.
“You’re asking me to kill you? Are you serious?”
“Don’t get fucking righteous on me now. You’re the one who ran. You’re the one who stayed away. You’re the one who stays alone. You’re the killer. We all inherited something from our fuck up of a father. I inherited his foul temper and addictions, Katie inherited his tenacity, and you inherited the selfishness. I will never forgive you for running out on us like our mother, but you can do this one thing for us. I expect you to be responsible for once in your life. Katie will die without your help.”
“I can’t do that.” There was no conviction in his voice. The shock was too much and under a veil of confidence there was a layer of fear eating away at him. His life had finally caught up to him. He ran to forget his childhood. He ran for a new beginning. He ran hoping he could forget who he was, but he’d come to realize that Sven was right. You need to embrace who you are. You need to understand your place in the universe.
“You’d better fucking do it. I’ve tried killing myself, but I can’t bring myself to it. This is your retribution; this is what you were meant to do. I’m prepared. You’d better fucking do it.”
You must accept your place in the universe. “Carl,” You need something to center you. “If you need to me, you know I’m there.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Carl stood smiling in the center of his crosshairs. Roger took a deep breath and settled his finger on the trigger one more time. He thought it ironic that he was so much closer to Sven than he ever was to his own brother. He thought about the juxtaposition between what his brother had told him on the phone and what Sven told him while describing his life: this is what you were meant to do and you must accept your place in the universe.
The prayer started to emit from his lips without him realizing it.
“Give me cover, for every path I take leads me astray.” Carl turned back to the buyer and Roger felt relief rush over him knowing he would have to look Carl in the face.
“Give me trust, for every one I know leaves me alone.” His sister was married and he didn’t know about it. Carl was an accountant for a cartel and he didn’t know about it.
“Give me love, for the care that I missed.” His father was killed by his son for past abuses. Killed to accept the sins of the sons. Killed to absolve future wrongs.
“Give me hope, for the life I will lose.” That human feeling of expectation. That feeling that Sven knew so well. The life that you start to win or start to lose from the moment you are born.
“Give me patience, for my regrets.” Leaving when he did and coming back the way he did.
“Give me peace so that I may kill.” His finger slowly squeezed and the recoil gave him gravity of the situation. Through the scope Carl fell and the woman ran for cover.
Roger quickly packed his materials, marveling at the simplicity of the act and the peace he felt. There was something terribly personal about his act. He felt connected with his brother as he squeezed the trigger. He felt as though their spirits had briefly touched and he felt gratitude and pride. Suddenly he understood what Sven was talking about during his story about the cat. That feeling as though this was meant to happen. This is what he was meant to do. He had saved his remaining family and found his place in the universe. His brothers helped him find the way.
This is the weakest story of the book, but ironically, some of my best lines are in this one. This was also my first foray into more of a normal mainstream fiction theme. Its a short one, but there is some gold in there.
The Barn Burner
I watched her drive away. The anger sifted off my head in rises of steam. The room was frigid and the tension was palpable. I walked back to the bar and took a bottle of bad plastic bottled whiskey. I had a barnburner planned. The twelve pack of Budweiser in the fridge was calling to me.
I whipped open the freezer and pulled out ice cubes, relishing in the ample cold pouring from it. I dropped the ice cubes in a glass, splashed in the whiskey and downed it; barely a sheen on the cubes before the alcohol was gone.
“That Bitch.” Not properly directed anger; It could have been towards the woman who cut me off in traffic earlier, but no, I was talking of her. My angel. My love. “That Bitch.”
I know my brain when in a state of anger. Moral consciousness is absent, leaving only pure rage. The fire that burns in my head is penultimate only to the passion that fills my heart. I have plenty of both. I sometimes believe these are the only attributes I do have, fire and passion, and I ponder of the social aspects of such drive. I wonder why girls keep coming to me.
I don’t see beauty in the mirror, I see scorched constitution, I see a boy who is so unsure of himself that when girls approach it’s an all or nothing deal; a forged contract. Alcohol disarming their tractor beams, leading them astray…into my arms. This humble self discord leaves naught for the imagination. If girls make the first move I must accept, it may be my last opportunity to find real love, but that’s not the real reason is it? I desire to be desired. A kiss…the fire that drives my passion.
Discord permeated my skull, I knew what I was doing and at the same time I didn’t. I relished the anger and frustration; it gave me solace, but yet I felt that discordant beat in my heart that told me I loved her. She came to me. She loved me. That had to mean something.
It means cold exhaust wafting into your lungs, while you watch her drive away; a lump in your throat.
“What the fuck!” Anger instills prevalence to monosyllabic words, only adding a second syllable for emphasis. “Fucking bitch!”
I start to pace, aimlessly, with purpose only to walk. To blow steam, the anger has risen so high that I can’t even think.
What’s she thinking? How can she drive away so calmly and serenely? I’d like to think of her sitting there with her bug eyed glasses blocking the tears billowing at the edges of her lids, but she feels no despair. That would only be too great, too auspicious a thought. No, she’s zoned out looking at the road but not seeing it, planning her next PETA meeting. Sure, she can be ethical towards animals, but when it comes to a man she says she loves, she’ll fuck the nearest living thing.
Carbon life, trite but true. Think about the person in front of you one day. Think about being inside of her. Being behind her eyes, feeling the frailty and deficient form that constitutes the human body. Knowing in actuality there is nothing better about her. She’s made of the same material, she’s as easily hurt as you. Flesh is flesh.
Or better yet think of her as a baby. A small child suckling at her mother’s teat. Totally innocent, devoid of any malignant imposition that will enable the brain to formulate evil…and replicate it. This child is what she was; still, what she is, flesh is flesh after all.
This line of thinking should be enough to get me out of my slump, to forget, but by the time it formulates I had already had three swigs of whiskey. Bad timing I guess.
“Fucking bitch!” I was still stretching for emphasis.
I was lucky because I hadn’t broken anything yet. This tends to be a predisposition of mine. It’s either that or punching walls; however I prefer to retain the use of my hands.
I accept the fact that I have defects in character; I just don’t think that other people should. Throwing things seems like a perfectly succinct thing for a cuckold to do, doesn’t it?
“Fucking drove away!” I still tasted the exhaust. Bland and burning. It tasted like rejection.
I threw back by head and poured what was remaining in the can down my throat, crushing it in the process. I stumbled a step back and threw it at the wall. A cacophony of clatter about as abrasive as a couple of dice rolling across a table. Great fucking effect.
I stopped myself, anger abating, when I realized just how ridiculous that looked; like a horrible B actor trying his best for the Oscar. I hope to God no one’s looking in the windows.
Heavy scented air filled the bar. I see her enter; thigh high dress with jeans on underneath. Why the hell do I find that sexy? There was a cool breeze blowing behind her, gently tossing her hair about her head. She was wearing a unbuttoned blue petticoat and there’s a streetlight shining behind her, haloing her head in soft warm light.
“Goddamn.” The guy next to me whipped his head around, drunken eyes wavering in their sockets, I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me or the bartender.
“Thas right goddamn it!” He spit as much as he slurred. “Whas it take to fucking drink ‘round here?”
He put his hand on my shoulder, a gesture of friendship, of companionable fortitude in the face of a packed bar. I smiled gently and pushed it off, nodding and looking back for the bartender intently. She had sidled up beside me at the bar and I didn’t even notice.
Looking back I realize there was only one possible entrance for her. The bar was busy and the person that was sitting on the stool next to me had gotten up to take a leak and when she sat down I could feel her there; as if she were giving off radiation.
My mouth was suddenly dry, her auburn hair ruffled from the wind and her cheeks rosy, not from makeup, but from the cold night air. Her lips were full and red, not overtly, but with a slight sheen that enabled the light to reflect and show their full plumpness.
I took a deep drink of whatever I was drinking, hoping the quaff would alleviate my inhibitions. Liquid courage. I tried to lean my body ever so slightly so as to turn more towards her, get her attention. Only I made a slight miscalculation, the stool I was on was precariously balancing on the edge of a step and by moving so briskly I managed to plunge the stool off the edge, in turn plummeting myself off the stool and onto the hardwood floor of the bar. Excellent first move.
“Shit!” The parameters of intelligence only encompass times of mental inaction. It’s very hard to say anything intelligent when you’re drunk and falling off a stool in front of someone who takes your breath away.
She was on me before I knew I hit the ground. I felt her soft hand press up against my cheek, a gesture of concern. I opened my eyes into clear deep pools. Hazel with a tint of the sky swirled in. Kind eyes, with only a hint of smile around the edges. She knew I was embarrassed, but she didn’t take advantage.
“Are you ok?” Breathy diction with smooth intonation. Sexy.
“Umm…” Fear and anger work the same way. In the throws of either only one syllable will emerge.
“Is that a yes?” Her smile revealed itself and her hand moved from my cheek around the back of my head. I felt her finger nails sweetly scratch through my hair. I used all my nerve not to reach up and hold her against me, to feel her heart beating close to mine, to smell her lavender scented hair and strawberry breath. To keep that comfort completely encompassed in that embrace, that memory. Instead I slowly stood up.
“Wow, that wasn’t embarrassing or anything.” I could feel my ears burning, I envisioned my cheeks turning scarlet, especially where the memory of her hand still lingered.
The whiskey bottle is half gone and there are four empty beer cans lying in front of me. I didn’t spend the time to right them when they fell over. They all seemed to fall over. It doesn’t matter which way I put them on the table. Defective all of them. Why the fuck cant I get anything to stay upright? Do I have to slam a fucking pole through them and pound it into the table? And, yes, by the way I realize how ridiculous this sounds; being angry at the fucking beer cans, but where else should my anger lead me? I don’t want to think about her. I don’t want to think about her betrayal.
I long for solace so I look to a giant painting of an old ship I have on the wall. It was something my grandmother gave me, and with it came an insatiable wanderlust. I remember a deep longing to be on that ship as a child, to ride along with the sailors and pirates. Never to be held down in one place, never having to worry about paying bills. Just you, a couple of other stall-worthy men and the open sea. Nothing to fear but death. I feel peace when I look at this painting; there are worlds outside of my own. Outside of this beautiful-tortuous relationship, a place where I can be at peace.
I’m pulled back from my wonderment by the sound of a can falling over.
“Fucking Bitch!” I’m not sure if I’m talking about her or the can. Hell, at this point I don’t think it matters. She’s ruined my life and I’m in hell. Not only did she cuckold me, but she left of her own will! I didn’t even boot her out the door!
I reach into the cabinet and grab the shotgun, lay it against the couch and head back to the fridge for another beer. Funny they call it a barnburner. I would like that, yes. Burn down that fucking barn.
She held my hand the entire night. The warm compress of her palm against mine, with only slight dampness of impending sweat. I felt comfortable, conjoined, as if I were stronger with her attached to me, even if we were only connected through our hands.
I saw nervousness in her feet first. On the drive back to her house I could see them jittering, as if moving to a silent beat. The talk was light and pointless, about the movie we just saw. Never-ending story. We were both ignoring the fact that she balled her eyes out when the horse was dragged into the swamp. I could see the embarrassment in her eyes, deep and ingrained.
She had a purple coat on that night, matching the sunset. I’d look at her image framed by the orange-purple light and she was perfect. Her cheeks were slightly rosy, reminiscent of the first time we met, and her eyes were soft from the tears that watered them earlier. She had wiped away her makeup during the movie with my handkerchief and it gave her an ethereal glow; a natural soft face with all the colors of the sunset giving a dramatic backdrop. She smiled when I looked at her. Coy and shy all at the same time. I intimate she thought it was because I was attempting to ascertain her forlorn demeanor. In actuality, it was because in that exact moment, with the dying sun lighting her up, putting fire in her hair, emphasizing the tenderness in her gaze; the color of her jacket framing her petite body against the fading of the light, she looked like an angel. Her hand was the only thing to give me illusion of reality. That warm damp compress and the more intently I stared at her, the tighter the grip became.
I felt a surge of energy float up from my hand, through my arm and into my heart, following the blood stream; flowing through my vesicles. It was as if she was giving me an infectious disease. I could feel it surge through my body, a levity, a lightheadedness, a surge of joy; my heart entered my throat and made my tongue stick into place. The only words I could manage to convey my feelings came at her doorstep when I dropped her off.
I looked at the barn behind her house. I smiled at her.
My mouth hung open for a moment after I spoke the words, as if I were going to say more, but when nothing came I smiled again.
She, however, didn’t answer, just jumped at me and hugged me with fierceness; like she was trying to squeeze me in half, destroy my body and hold onto my soul. My heart leaped again and she felt it, the loud thump against her breast caused an echoing rhythm in her…and she hugged tighter.
She moved her head from my neck; I could hear and feel her intake of breath. I looked into her eyes and watched as she bit her lower lip, eager, eyes provoking.
I lost reason. I lost lucidity. I lost hope. Her lips touched mine and I forgot how to live my life alone.
I gazed down into the barrel of the shotgun. She had a cute little name for him. A pet name. She called him the Italian Stallion. Too fucking cute for words. He wasn’t even Italian.
Two thirds of the bottle was gone and two more beers. I had a vague recollection of what the problem was, but at that point I pretty much only felt anger.
“Sherb fook, haarry prick.”
Flailing blindly around the room, the only thing keeping me alive is the fact that I didn’t load the shotgun, though I’m not entirely sure if I could load it at this level of drunkenness.
I know at some point I tried to fire it. I think I blacked out. I think I’m pissed. I think I need to burn her barn. That beloved fucking barn where all her indiscretions took place. That fucking barn, where she made a cuckold of me. That fucking barn was where all the damage came from. Fuck the barn.
I had planned a barnburner tonight, but now that phrase took on a whole new meaning for me. Fuck her, and fuck that barn.
The shotgun dropped from my hand with a perfunctory thud, and I made my way to my garage and grabbed my spare tank of gas, that just so happened to be resting snuggly against the back hatch of my Jeep. Fucking divine providence.
I was watching football at the time it happened. Ignorant to the indiscretion, the blind cheating that was about to be unloaded on me.
“Baby, I need to talk to you.”
I felt a hand on my shoulder, warm and soothing. A surge of warmth flew through me, straight to my heart, brightening my disposition. I turned and looked into her azure-hazel eyes, tendrils of color weaving into one another giving them a slight marble touch. There was consternation in her expression; her mouth turned down into a purse. My thoughts turned black with the quintessential quote: “Uh, oh!”
“What’s wrong baby?” I reached behind me with my right arm and caressed her forearm, hoping to coax fortuitousness. “Come over and sit down.”
“No, I’d rather stand.” It was a quick answer; I knew I was in trouble.
She didn’t answer at first; she just sighed and walked around in front of me, in front of the TV. She was indicating I was to give her my full attention.
“I don’t know…”
I grew impatient with her game. “Babe, I know you like to be coy, but just say what’s on your mind. We’ll get through whatever.”
“No I don’t think so.”
My heart dropped and skipped a beat. Not this talk, not with her. Please God not with her.
“I’m leaving.” She stopped as if I would say something in response; as if I could respond. “I’ve…found something, someone.” She was quick to correct herself.
I think I tried to speak. I tried to come up with something intelligent to say. I wanted to be Humphrey Bogart, instead I said:
“It’s been in the barn, only a few times, but I can’t go ba…I mean it’s unlike anything…”
I stayed silent a second time, Then the nausea hit and I ran for the toilet. I retched three times. It was a horrible feeling, there was nothing in my stomach, but it was clenching like vice grip. I heard her in the hall behind me.
“I know its coming as a surprise. It was for me too, but it’s just so damn good.”
I retched harder. I could feel my intestines moving upward.
“What’s his name?” I managed between retches. I reached up to the toilet tank cover trying to raise myself, the horrible clenching of my stomach slowly subsiding.
“Paulo. He’s beautiful and exotic. He’s fromAndalusia. He’s just so…I mean we have this connectedness…I just cant go back. He’s just such a beautiful man.”
My stomach retched, but I didn’t throw up. I shat myself and I screamed more than I thought possible. She left in a hurry. I thought of the drink in the kitchen. I had to plan a barnburner; as much as I could drink. I would have to stay up all night. I had a barn to burn, and with any luck it would be occupied.
This story has been through so many drafts I can barely remember which one I kept, however the basis of the story and the themes are still there and prevalent. I initially sat down to write a coming of age story a la “Stand by Me” and there were so many things that I wanted to put into it. I wanted bullying to be central, as well as overcoming obstacles and puberty. I asked myself, how do people deal with difficult situations? How does a little fat boy deal with having no father and an overbearing and protective mother? Then there’s the card. Ultimately the card itself is a means to an end, but you can read the story in whatever way you want. Is the card supernatural? Is it all part of his imagination? Is it his subconscious mind trying to show him the way into manhood, to get beyond his childish fears and stand tall and proud? In the end what does it really mean to be grown-up? I invite you to think about these things in yourself as you read about poor little Tanner Miller who is struggling to break out of his shell and find happiness and meaning through the harshness of reality.
Another Ace in the Hole
Tank walked down the street ignoring the laughter of the other children endeavoring to eliminate the hurt of their cruel remarks, when he happened upon a card laying in the gutter of the street. It looked old and its edges were tattered, the face dark from dirt caked into the card’s wax surface. It was an ace of spades, which made Tank feel particularly vindicated and excited. It was the death card, a card that bled power. He ran his hand over the undulated wax and took a deep breath relishing the thought of warm energy running up his arm from the card.
He was shocked out of his reverie by a rock glancing off the top of his head; laughter reverberating through the air, muffled Tank’s cry. It was nothing new to him, these random act of violence, so he ran forward ignoring the pain shooting down his back making an effort to ignore the jeering of the children behind him all the while wiping tears from his face. Running was never Tank’s forte however because of times like these he did it often. The sight of Tank running was always a surprise because it seemed a boy that big just shouldn’t move that fast.
Despite his quickness Tank was still shocked to escape. In his estimation children were cruel as a matter of nature, but the only one that resulted to extreme violence like throwing rocks was “Ace” the local bully. Tank hated Ace and his cronies; the only thing they seemed capable of creating was misery and once they started in on you they usually didn’t let you go, but maybe the card was good luck. Usually they meant business if they went as far as to throw rocks.
Tank ran all the way home, clutching the card in his chubby little fingers, praying for deliverance between gasping breaths. Once he was home he didn’t stop to pay respects to his mother in the kitchen or plop down in front of the television as he was prone to do; instead he ran straight for his room barreling his way up the stairs.
Once in his safe haven he collapsed to the ground gasping for breath, trying to cover his rosy wet face. He laid there for an hour feeling his head for blood and crying to himself about his weight problem. He hated being fat more than he hated the bullies who tortured him. He looked in mirrors and grimaced, knowing the only way to lose weight would be to go on a diet and eat only good foods. Hell, he might even have to exercise! The thought made him want to vomit.
After his hour of sulking he remembered the card, which he had crushed in his fat little hand. He let out a small squeak, thinking he had ruined any magic in the card by crushing it so he bent over it and pressed it on the carpet of his room, hoping and praying the card wasn’t ruined, that the crinkles would come out and it would still work.
He was distracted by his mother calling him down to dinner, any worries about the card or the day’s transgressions left him and he sprinted for the door whipping it open and bulleting down the stairs. Dinner time was, after all, his favorite time of the day.
Tank’s real name was Tanner Miller. The nickname came not just because of the resemblance to his real name and his size, but because he had a tendency to run over things without noticing them. Tank’s mother taken any fragile knickknack about the house because of his clumsiness. This was where the nick name originated, from his penchant for destruction, but it wasn’t that Tank was clumsy, though he was; it was that he never quite realized how big he actually was. He would walk by something thinking he had enough clearance and run right into it.
Tank was an only child in the Miller household, thus was spoiled all his life; given portions of two instead of one. This could account for his abnormal largeness, but it wouldn’t entirely be true. Tank had a genetics problem; he was born with a damaged thyroid throwing off his metabolism. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew this and accepted it, it was partly the reason he never fought back against bullies at school; because he knew there was nothing he could do to change it. When his father was still alive, he said acceptance of his obesity was the only true way to happiness. Tank fully believed him, because his father was overweight too. His father, Albert Ronald Jackson Miller or just AJ for short, died of a heart attack at the age of thirty-five. Tank’s mother grieved briefly then turned her attention to Tank as AJ’s surrogate.
Tank’s mother was eternally loving and always told Tank he looked great, that he was a handsome little man. What Tank didn’t realize was that Province Miller wasn’t saying this out of a mother’s love; she just liked larger men. Not that she was attracted to her son, she just felt big men were much more attractive.
Province was the one person Tank always felt comfortable around; when he was home she would smother him in care making him feel truly loved, enabling him to ignore his obesity. She made him feel human, something Tank wasn’t used to feeling.
When he went to school he felt like an alien. He knew other people were staring at him. He knew they laughed at him behind his back, sometimes getting bold and yelling out such childhood pearls as, “Look out, here comes fat ass!” and “Since when did they allow elephants in school?” Tank took much of this in stride and used his imagination to imagine their colorful insults. He would imagine he was an elephant, walking around in the barren wastelands of the Serengeti, towering above all the small gazelle and prairie dogs whom had his classmate’s faces. He dreamed one of them might look up at him and realize they were just two creatures running alone in the desert and ask for friendship. It never happened. Tank never had any friends and he always ran home after school.
The next day Tank was getting ready for school and he happened to notice the card sitting on the ground; a lonely ace sitting on the barren carpet. He reached down and picked it up, rubbing it against his pant leg to straighten it.
He turned and placed it on his dresser as he pulled on his shirt. Once on, he put the card in the front pocket facing in holding the face of the card to his heart then waddled down his staircase for breakfast.
When Tank got to school it was the same routine; people jeering and yelling obscenities at him. He went from class to class ignoring his peers, trying to find his happy place where their tormenting yells could be ignored. His imagination was vast and it took him to many places, but perhaps his favorite was an amusement park where he could go on all rides and people would hang out and play with him. Girls would bat their eyes at him.
He had been infatuated with amusement parks since he was ten years old. He and his mother went for his birthday; his mother thinking it might be good for him to get out and get some fresh air, get on some rides and forget about his weight problem.
Tank protested the entire way, so much so that his mother almost turned the car around to take him home, scolding him for his laziness. She didn’t though unfortunately for Tank.
When they entered Tank thought it was the greatest place on earth. He loved the loud noises, the conglomeration of people and the large rides that seemed to fly, but it was the smells and the food were the best part. He couldn’t think of a better way to spend his birthday and he thanked his mother excessively.
They were at the park for an hour, his mother begging him to go on a ride when they finally got in line. It all seemed to be in jest, his mother acting like a child pulling on his sleeve and stamping her feet. Tanner enjoyed the attention, though he did his best to play it off wanting to give his mother a bear hug to show her his love, unable to express it in words.
The coaster was his mother’s choice, a big twisting thing she was sure he would love and after waiting two hours they got to the front of the line and were getting ready to board. Tanner got in first and crushed himself in the corner of the car giving his mother room to get in. He wanted her to enjoy herself as he had, he never wanted the smile on her face to wane; conversely he wanted to feel free like a bird with wind whipping around him. His mother got on next to him and gave him a big smile coercing one out of him. It was biggest smile he ever gave, so big it split his lips. Then the attendant came by and tried to close the bar over them, only it wouldn’t close, Tanner was just too big.
Province threw a fit. Yelling at the attendant, saying he wasn’t doing his job and that the manager should come out and they would have words. The attendant apologized, motioned to the safety regulations posted on the wall and Province grabbed Tank’s hand and stormed to the next ride…with the same result.
With each subsequent rejection Province’s face got more and more red, her fists balled so tightly they became white; Tank tried to meekly suggest they should just enjoy the park and forget about the rides, but when she finally started to cry she turned to him and said, “no one can tell you, you can’t do something. They’re all being mean. You have to stand up for yourself.”
The memory of the smells and campy atmosphere are what stayed with Tank, not the embarrassment and he used it as his primary escape. His happy place. Somewhere people couldn’t hurt him, no matter what they said or did. It was the memory of the place he had been happiest and was too strong for others to penetrate.
So when he got to school that day in his head he went to the park, this time imagining being on one of the rides, flying through the air with wind blowing through his hair, and all the cares far behind him on the ground, when he was brought out by one of his teachers.
His imagination was so strong he didn’t notice Mr. Robertson had been talking to him for a few moments before he recognized Tank wasn’t paying attention. Mr. Robertson got to a knee in front of him and shook his shoulders, knocking him out of his trance.
“Tanner. Tanner? Are you okay son?”
“Ye…Yes Sir,” His hand jumped to his chest pocket to hide the card.
“You were pretty spaced out there for a minute. I was just giving you kudos for your name plate.”
“Thank you mister Robertson.” At first Tank didn’t know what he was talking about, until he remembered they made nameplates the week before. Tank had been at the amusement park in his head then as well; he barely remembered making it.
“Don’t listen to these kids around here. One day you’ll grow up and be their boss.” Tank looked into Mr. Robertson’s face and gave his best embarrassed/thank you smile.
It wasn’t until after Mr. Robertson walked away that Tank noticed the pocket holding the card was hot. He snapped his hand away as if it were on fire and bent over pulling his shirt fall away from his skin, all the time ignoring the “wide load” jokes coming from behind him.
Tank didn’t bother finishing the rest of the day and ran home as fast as his feet would carry him. When he got home he didn’t bother finding out if his mother were there, he went straight for the staircase and ran up the stairs to his room slamming the door behind him and dropping the card to the ground.
In his room he hovered over the card and studied it, trying to find differences between normal Bicycle cards. There was nothing out of the ordinary. It had the same design as the other cards, it had the same consistency and the correct weight. Just a small playing card lying on the ground.
He got down on all fours and stared at the card. Had it all been in his imagination? Had he needed escape from school so badly he made himself think the card had actually heated up?
“Honey? Tanner baby? Didn’t you hear me?”
Tank squealed and turned into his mother’s perturbed face, wondering how she got there and why she looked so scared.
“I thought something was wrong! I was about to call the hospital! Are you okay baby?” Terror faded from her face, but was still present, like a ghost streak left on a pane of glass by a greasy finger.
Tank stared at his mother. The hospital? Why would she need to call the hospital? He was fine; he just got a scare from the card and was winding down from school. Was she angry with him because he ditched school early?
“Baby, speak to me. Are you okay?” His mother’s voice was frantic and when he looked out the window, he saw why. Had he fallen asleep? How could it be dark outside?
He looked into his mother’s eyes and gave her his best smile. He spent long hours in front of his mirror perfecting that look. That, “everything is fine” look.
“Sorry mom, I didn’t mean to scare you. I guess I just fell asleep. I was really tired and I found this card outside, I guess I lost track of time.” It was the worst excuse he could possibly think up, trite, pathetic and typical backtracking of a teenager in trouble, but his mother bought it all the same.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tank could see relief appear on his mother’s face and hear it in her voice. He had successfully wiped the greasy smear away.
“Yeah, I think I’m just gonna go to sleep. I think that’s all I need right now.” Tank morphed his expression from happy reassuring smile to tired and worn. Once again his mother bought it.
“Okay baby, but let me know if there’s anything I can get you. Just yell down, I’ll be listening.” She leaned down and kissed his forehead.
“Thanks ma.” He said hugging her.
They both got up and His mother tucked him into bed. He gave her another big smile as she kissed him on the cheek and he watched as she exited the room. She deliberately left the door slightly cracked before leaving, making sure to give him an “I love you.”
Once she was gone Tank sat up in bed and eyed the card on the ground. He gave a little huff of confusion and laid back down quickly falling asleep.
That was the first dinner Tank ever missed.
He woke the next morning and left for school after he had a hearty breakfast. His mother woke early expecting him to make up for lost time so she cooked him a feast. He ate ravenously, acting like he hadn’t eaten for days and Province felt relieved when he ate. How could he remain her sweet little fubsy if he didn’t eat?
On his way to school Tank felt the front pocket of his baggy shirt for the card he safely tucked there that morning. He wasn’t entirely sure why he brought it along, especially since it made him leave school early the day before.
He enjoyed the feeling of the card, though, sitting down low in his pocket. It was like a secret no one else knew about, not even his mother. What kind of powers could the card have? And where did it come from? He thought the power it surged would only improve his ability to go to his happy place and escape reality, ensuring his ability to ignore the real world and all its cruelties. It might even give him the power to make himself skinny and make girls interested in him. Most of all, he thought, it may give him the power to stand up to bullies. To stand up to Ace.
Tank’s day at school was moderately long and very boring. When he got to class he immersed himself in work, forgetting he had the card after about twenty minutes of arithmetic. The hours zipped by, but that all changed when school let out for the day.
He left through the gym door on the side of the school, the way he usually did, and made his way home, but he only made it half way when the card began to radiate heat again. He was scared at first, remembering how the card had burned his chest the day before, but his curiosity was too strong.
He reached in his pocket and whipped the card out. He expected to see it glowing a shade of orange, bright with fire, but it just looked like a playing card. There was warmth coursing into his fingers and Tank could only wonder how did the card heat? What kind of magic did it contain? He turned it over thinking maybe the back had some clue to the mystery.
The back was a dream, white flames leaping, inextricably there despite the afternoon glare. He dropped to his knees slammed the card down to the sidewalk in an effort to put out the flames, and then inspected his hands to asses how bad the burn was. Nothing.
He was so taken with the strangeness of the situation he barely noticed when a rock skidded off the ground just beyond him. He began to turn to see where it came from, but before he could he heard a chorus of titters; “Look at the fat ass!” and “Don’t get to close! He might eat you!”
Tank felt his anger rising, alongside the dread of human interaction he always carried in his heart. Behind him was Carlos Williams, Ben Massey and John “Ace” Wild. Anger fled from Tank the moment he saw them, replaced by intense fear. When these guys decided to bully someone they didn’t quit.
Tank picked up his card, his secret power and tried to run, but his legs had turned to jelly and they tripped over themselves flopping him to the ground. He grabbed the card and thrust it in his shirt pocket trying to ignore the warm waves emanating from it, trying to hide his fear of the three bullies.
“What’s that you got there fat boy?” Carlos squealed kicking dust and small stones into Tank’s face.
Tank immediately pressed his hand to the card to protect it, then scolded himself promptly afterward, knowing that if they didn’t know about the card before, they did now. So he pulled his hand back as nonchalantly as he could and put it into the pocket of his slacks.
“Carlos asked you a question Pillsbury, I expect you to answer.” Ace said.
“It…It’s nothing.” Tank whimpered. He tried to ignore the pain burning into his chest and swore he was going to catch fire. Thoughts of his happy place skittered vaguely around the corners of his mind, but pain focused his mind in reality.
“It’s something. Otherwise you’d take your hand out your pocket,” Ace said “I want you to give it before Ben here can count to five, or you’re gonna be in a world of pain.”
Tank closed his eyes at the onslaught of tears as the gravity of the situation hit him; he had to stop them or they’d steal his card; steal the source of all that pain and joy. So he opened his eyes and sneered at Ace. It didn’t work.
“Fuck him up.”
Carlos kicked him in his ribs, the impact rolling him a few feet away. The boys readied themselves while giving him a chance to stand up and get his bearings while the burning card pinnacled in intensity against his chest which made him notice something that he never had before.
He was taller than they were.
The three bullies walked toward him, their hands balled in fists and Tank forgot about the incessant burning. Instead he felt an immense anger well up inside him. He balled his hands into fists mimicking them.
When Ace was in range he swung at him with all the strength he had directly into Ace’s stomach, doubling him over, but before Tank could manage anything else Ben and Carlos descended, showering his head and shoulders with fists.
When Ace got up, he forgot about the card Tank had been hiding and laid into Tank’s ribs with kicks and punches. It surprised Ace that Tank would punch back and it incensed him more; he wanted to make sure Tank didn’t do it again, so he beat him as hard as he could. He beat him until his hands were bloody; he beat him till Tank went limp. Ace was used to feeling bigger than others; it made him feel like a man.
The last thing that ran through Tank’s head was he had protected his Ace. He had won.
Tank woke in the hospital terrified. He was lost, with no idea where he was. The room around him was white and Spartan, without any familiar surroundings. He felt for the card, but only found a thin piece of fabric he knew to be a hospital gown. He looked down at his chest and his head whirled, the room spinning and vomit threatening the back of his throat. He screamed for his mother before he realized what he was doing, but instead of his mother coming it was an unfamiliar nurse.
“What’s wrong honey?” The nurse cooed at him.
“Where am I? What happened?” Countless questions converged in his head clouding evaporating his articulation.
“You’re in the hospital. You got beat up pretty good; I’m surprised you’re awake now. The doctors didn’t think you’d be up for hours.” The nurse reached out and stroked Tank’s hair.
“Huh?” Pain flooded every joint in his body. He felt each individual cut in his face and ribs; every move made each bruise feel like a fist burrowing deep in his muscles.
“You’ve been unconscious for two days now honey. It’s good to see you awake.” She got up and walked over to a table and picked up a small paper cup.
“Two days?” There was no way could be out for two days! It had to be a joke; it must’ve only been a couple of hours. They hadn’t beaten him that badly…had they?
“Two days for sure, honey. Your mother was worried sick. She came in and cried for hours, said she was going to sue the pants off whoever did this to you. Said she wanted to see them in the Chair. She went a little crazy.” The nurse put the cup in Tank’s hands. “Why don’t you take these now? I’m sure you’re in pain, these’ll lessen it, make you sleep some.” She wiped the hair out of Tanks face and smiled. “Now you get some rest. I’m gonna call your mother and we’ll git her over here as soon as we can.” Then she left the room.
Tank lay there, head spinning and closed his eyes to try and remember exactly what happened, but all he could picture was the card. It preoccupied his mind so completely that it was everything outside of the pain. The nurse said his mother was coming; there was nothing to worry about there. Where was the card?
– – – – – – – – –
The death card flared in his mind, it was bright white lending the only light with a backdrop of pure black. Tank felt warm, his gaze transfixed on the card, warmth emanating from it filling him with pleasure that he had never known making his loins hum below his large stomach. Tank looked down to see what was happening, why the warmth felt so amazing, but his gut wasn’t there anymore, his stomach had shrunk down to a good level, a respectable level, and he could see straight down to his toes. But what was even more astonishing and frightening was down with all the tingling warmth his penis stood fully erect.
Tank looked at the card in the inky blackness and saw the glowing shift its focus and shine brightly down upon his groin. The light came off in waves and as time progressed the waves got brighter and came to him faster. Tank was frightened and tried to turn away, but the sensation the light was bringing was too overpowering, it held him where he lay, making his legs shake and his chest heave.
Tank’s back arched, thrusting his groin into the pulsing light, forgetting his fear and losing himself in the sensation of the card’s light beating down upon him. Pressure was building up inside of him and he blindly grasped for anything to hold onto while his hips shook. The light pulsated faster and faster, changing color from white to pink to bright red waves of light.
Tanks strength failed and he fell back to the bed spent and sticky, feeling empty and relaxed. Then he started to cry feeling suddenly guilty, guilty at the act, guilty that it felt good, guilty he was alone. Something happened that didn’t seem quite right. He felt tears running down his face as he looked back at the card. It was still glowing, but the light switched back to soft phosphorescence as it floated before him. He contemplated the feeling it gave, the feeling of empowerment when Ace and the others attacked him the other day and the sexual comfort it brought him now. He reached for the card and held it against his chest, next to his heart.
The card hummed against his chest, soothing him with its reassuring warmth. He tried to focus on it to relieve the guilt and renew the euphoria, but darkness crept in on him and he slept.
Tank was released the next day. No one spoke of his first wet dream, not to explain what it was, nor to berate nor console him. To the people in the hospital the wet dream was a normal pubescent function, but to Tank it meant something different altogether. It meant a connection with the card a link between fantasy and reality. He knew there something was different about that particular, peculiar card. He thought, maybe, it was made specifically for him, as if it were his own personal savior. Something to give him power and make him a man.
When Tank got home, he took immediately to bed, wanting a repeat of the wet dream…however none came.
He spent a week at home after he left the hospital, most of it in his room either sleeping or trying to understand the card. He hardly ate that week telling his mom his stomach hurt. He would feign vomiting whenever his mother put food in front of him. In truth, he just wasn’t hungry. It felt like his stomach shrank, he would drink a glass of water and feel full. It was working too, he lost twenty pounds since he entered the hospital and never felt better, in fact when he vocalized he wasn’t hungry he actually wasn’t hungry. The only time he hunger struck him now was when his mother made him eat, restarting his metabolism and the only reason he did that was because his mother looked haggard. He could tell worry was eating away at her and he knew the only way to ease her consternation was to eat.
He was complacent in these trivialities however, because there was something about the card he had to figure out. The card had levity to it, like a mist that passed through him like an ethereal goddess. Every wave that passed through felt like ecstasy, more powerful than the caress of a woman’s touch. It gave him strength, courage and discipline. It gave him hope.
The night before he headed back to school Tank had another dream of the card. He had been home for a week and a half and Province forgot all about taking legal action against whomever attacked Tank; her fear for his health was just too great.
He lost thirty pounds and had become merely chubby in his convalescence. Province, eaten with fear, could only wonder at the cruelties children. He was once big; so big that people generally didn’t bother him, but what would happen when he went to school skinny?
Tank however, had other more important things on his mind. In his youth he had yet to find the fairer sex attractive and the wet dream didn’t even really make sense to him; he didn’t understand what had happened or what it meant and it confused him. However when it happened again he couldn’t have been happier…
Roberta Simmonds. He wasn’t sure if that was her name or not; he had never spoken to her, had never even spent more than a couple of moments looking at her, but here she was in all her teenage beauty. He stared at her mosquito bite breasts and her slightly distended stomach. She stood with a coquettish demeanor, a tinge of smile at the right corner of her mouth, her eyes burning hungrily at his malnourished form; her auburn/blonde blowing slightly a ubiquitous wind. His eyes trailed down her curves until they reached tender soft peach fuzz, slowly growing thicker the lower he looked. It was uncharted territory; he felt no arousal as he drank her in, just curiosity. That is, of course, until the card came into view.
Roberta’s smirk grew larger and her eyes betrayed her force of desire, a soft white light glowing around her teenage body. Tank felt unsure of himself, unsure of what was expected of him. His stomach dropped and he felt nauseous, his head swimming.
Her smirk disappeared, replaced by a look of hunger. She no longer looked fourteen, now her body looked older, middle aged, at least middle aged to a thirteen year old boy. He took a small step back, feeling sweat break out on his forehead along with the emergence of menace into the atmosphere.
It began in his shirt pocket again, intense and localized. Unknowingly his right hand reached up to his pocket and clutched the card. His breath quickened as she approached him. She reached out with her right hand and caressed his ear, while the other hand wrapped around his waist.
He didn’t know what to do, what was expected, so he did the only thing that came naturally to him; he took the card out of his pocket, cognizant of his tumescence, and placed it in the center of her chest. Her eyes rolled back and her mouth dropped into an O, while he pressed his chest against hers, embracing the heat and channeling his heartbeat to match hers. Tanner felt loss of control in his throat, muttering “ga…ga…ga…ga” in contiguous rhythm, while pressure built.
He didn’t see what happened to her, how she reacted when the cancerous expulsion happened, because he sat bolt upright in bed, holding the card tight in his right hand, encircled around his penis. He felt dampness spread across the blanket and immediately knew it had happened again.
The shame was somewhat lessened this second time however, as if he had expelled his guilt with the ejaculate. He felt relieved and smiled as he looked around his small bedroom. Today was his first day of school and he would see Roberta Simmonds, maybe catch a hint of her coy smile. Maybe he would kiss her. Maybe he would ask her to go steady.
Tanner rose from bed and ran across the hallway to the shower, smelling the wonderful fragrance of a full breakfast his mother prepared. The empowerment at the end of the dream didn’t fade as he washed the semen from his body; it only grew as he donned his previously baggy clothes, which now billowed around him.
He was in such elation that he hadn’t noticed when he slipped the card into the back pocket of his pants. His Ace. His wild card.
He went downstairs, smiling wider than his mother had ever seen. He didn’t notice her reaction at the time, mostly from his levity, but Province seemed to relax when she saw him and for the first time since his stay at the hospital, she smiled.
Tanner almost finished his breakfast that morning; he honestly tried, but his stomach had shrunk so much and the breakfast was just too large. He noted his mother’s expression, one of fear and tribulation, smiled meekly and kissed her on the cheek. He wanted to tell her that he loved her and was sorry to cause her any strife, but he only turned and headed for the door.
Outside the air was cold and he felt goose-bumps popup all over his body. Since he lost the weight his clothes merely caught the wind instead of deterring it and as a result he shivered his entire way to school; by the time he arrived he felt brittle.
Tanner notated the blank stares of the other students. He knew he looked entirely different, but by most accounts the students didn’t seem to notice him at all, let alone his absence from school.
His will dropped and though he had finally thought of himself as Tanner; the effulgent Tanner, the one who lost all the weight, but the apathetic demeanor in his peers destroyed this image, subverting his self image to Tank the Nobody; Tank the fat ass.
He felt joy leak from him, like steam rising from his head, replaced by a much more cold and forlorn feeling. Did it even matter if he was here? Would he be missed from school? Should he just go?
The front door looked more like an entrance to a prison, than a high school; where the teachers didn’t care and the students cared less. No, he’d only be missed if these people needed a punching bag.
He walked over to the curb and sat down feeling tears well in his eyes. He would suppress it until he knew he was alone of course, but the feeling was there non-the-less. However when his butt hit the curb he felt warmth. It surprised him and he jumped up swatting at his pants as if he sat on a fire, but when he stood the warmth faded. Then he remembered…the card.
Elation returned as he shoved his hand into his pocket. His strength returned and he felt courage pushing out his depression. Who cares, he thought, they don’t mean anything to me either.
He walked through the front doors with gumption and stormed directly to his first class.
That was the first day Tanner felt he learned anything in class. He felt confidence and it made him see things in a new light. When he looked at the other students, the looks he initially took for disgust, were actually obtuseness; they merely didn’t recognize him.
Later, when they realized who he was they congratulated him in his appearance. His classmates compliments amazed Tanner, but what actually got to him was a select few weren’t just being polite. They seemed to really mean it.
He walked with gait in his step, like he was a lord walking among his subjects and it lasted all day, until it was time to come home. Tanner decided to walk right out the front doors rather than sliding out the side door. That was his only mistake.
“Hey fat fuck, where you goin’?”
Tanner recognized the voice; it was the same voice that played over and over in his mind. Ace. He grabbed the card squeezing it in his hand and feeling its warmth.
Tanner tensed and stopped walking. He felt pressure build between his shoulder blades and his stomach clenched; even curled his toes to give extra traction. He never tested how fast he was after he lost the weight and fancied himself much faster, but this was not the venue with which he wanted to be tested.
“You gonna talk to me or are you just gonna stand there, fatty?”
Fire burned in Tanner’s palm. He felt it running up his arm and propelling its way down his back, streaming heat through his capillaries. He turned three shades of red and his face wrinkled, eyes crunched like a baby throwing a tantrum. He faced Ace.
Ace stood at the top of steps leading to the building laughing, his cronies standing on either side of him.
Tanner felt an outline of an A burning into his palm, felt it pulsate with power, with heat. Then he saw the loose piece of concrete at the edge of the pathway. It was the size of a large rock and must have weighed at least two or three pounds.
“Oh, look at the Baby I think he’s gonna cry!” Ace struggled to finish the sentence, breaking off into such fits of laughter that he leaned over and laid his head on Ben Massey’s shoulder.
Everything happened very fast after that. Tank took two running steps towards the bullies stretching for the concrete, then took two more giant powerful steps and threw the thing with all his might. He heard his shoulder creak and his muscles rip. He imbued the concrete with all the heat that had been growing within him, forcing it through his blood into the card, then into the concrete.
Ace lifted his head of Ben’s shoulder to taunt Tanner further and through the worst possible timing, was hit directly above the bridge of his nose.
Ace never felt it crush his skull, but just as quick as that Tanner ended his reign of terror.
Tanner heard screaming, but had no idea what he had done; only knowing he fought back. Tanner grabbed his pained shoulder and started to run, wanting to go home, but knowing he couldn’t go there. He knew Ace was going to get him for this. So he ran to the only place he felt he could be safe; the only place where he could be protected. He ran to the Police Station.
Tanner was held in protective custody for three days. Province had no idea things had progressed so far for him, to the point where he would throw stones at other boys. She made a resolution to care for him more, to pay attention to him, nurture his growing needs rather than to push her own desires.
Tanner, on the other hand, was worried more about where the card was than what was going to happen to him. His power, his strength and his willfulness were directly attributed, at least in his mind, with the card. The attraction to females, the use of his penis for pleasure rather than mere urination, the strength to stand up for himself and the growth of his self esteem all now seemed to be void in it’s absence. Guilt filled that void, more even than the guilt of his first wet dream. Guilt because he had ended someone’s life; as much as he felt he did a service to mankind with the dispatching of Ace, he felt cold.
On the fourth day Tanner’s mother took him to school. He sat in the car with his head lowered, depressed and terrified of what his classmates would do to him.
The school rose in the window and a vision of what this place meant to him before came back to him; it looked like a prison. He’d be stuck here all day without the protection offered by the police or the comfort of his mother. He’d be alone.
They pulled up front and Tanner grabbed for his backpack in the back seat, sighing as he did so. Province grabbed his arm and forced him to look at her.
“Tanner, you’re a man now. Be good.” She nodded as if to give meaning and purpose.
Province meant after what he’d been through other children at school would either be scared of him or they would look up to him. He was a role model now whether he liked it or not, he had to be careful to show his contrition.
Tanner took his mother to mean now that he had killed he was a man and that gave him the power of fear, which Tanner took as a burden. He sat with the backpack now pulled into his lap and thought about it. He had once been terrified of those kids, what they would do, what they would say and rather than get through it he became shy. Now it was his peers that would feel the fear. He had to be careful because now he was Ace.
Ben Massey and Carlos Williams were standing in front of the school waiting for him. When Tanner saw them he paused and said a prayer as they walked over.
“Hey, Tanner! Um…hey!” It was Carlos.
Tanner stopped and stared as the two bullies closed the distance. His eyes scanned the few students milling around before the bell rang in hopes of finding someone to interject, at least long enough for the bell to ring, but no one was looking; just Roberta Simmonds. She had a disgusted look on her face and spit towards him before whipping around and storming off. One thing repeated in his mind: He was Ace now.
“Tan, the man” Ben laughed. “…I was wonderin’,” He said as he closed the gap. Tanner could only imagine what these two were up to. The two who had beaten him to the point he had gone to the hospital. They seemed amiable, as if they were scared of him, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Hey, dude, you should, you know, like, let us, kinda, follow you?” It shouldn’t have been a question, but there was undoubtedly a raise at the end of his sentence. Tanner thought back on what his mother had said in the car. He was taller than they were.
Tanner looked past their relieved faces looking for Roberta, but she had gone. Instead his eyes caught Darla Wallace. Darla? She was prettier than Roberta. His now only slightly chubby cheeks rose into a smile and he ascended the small staircase that led to the school, glancing down at the spot where Ace had been standing when he was hit. Down at the side of the staircase was a playing card. Its face was down, so he couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked old and well loved. It looked like his Ace. Tanner glanced at Carlos, who was looking at him reverentially.
“Leave it. You don’t need it.” Tanner said out loud thinking of his mother’s words then of Ace’s malicious sneer. I’m a man now.
First of all, sorry for the late post.
This story was my effort to enter into the Science Fiction Genre and it digs down into my inner geekdom. I love the idea of space and I love everything that goes along with it and this was an effort to explore that medium. Now, whereas most of the material in the story is real and factually accurate, some of it is just plain wrong (there is no technology available to reach another star system in our lifetime, let alone developing and executing one in less than twenty years) , However the “Twilight Zone” aspect of the story is prevalent and forefront which is what I was going for and what I love. I hope you all enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed writing it!
“When you look up into the sky, what do you see?” Hercule Lambert asked the panel as he gestured to the screen displaying the famous Eagle nebula. “I see opportunity. I see beauty. I see mystery. Ladies and Gentlemen, many of you may have heard of the comet fragments which hit earth recently. They show a consistency which we have never seen from space, forming three layers of remarkable material.” Hercule pressed the button on the clicker clutched in his hand and the image on the screen changed to a crushed ball of metal.
“This, my fellow sentient beings, is the first incontrovertible fact that we are not alone in this universe…or at least…in this multi-verse. What you see on the screen is ball of aluminum alloy. For those of you who don’t know, aluminum allow is not a natural substance. It has to be created in a lab by an intelligent creature who understands basic chemistry.”
Hercule paused for a moment trying to rein in his excitement as the crowd began to murmur. He slowly let a smile cross his face knowing he’d captured his audience and continued on.
“Shocking isn’t it? Now I know many of you may be thinking I’m pulling your leg, or that the alloy must have been jettisoned from some satellite we already had floating out in space. Well I can tell you for a certainty, it does not belong to theUnited States and I can also assure you it doesn’t hail from any other country on Earth, but we’ll get to that in a moment,” He clicked the button once again and the image changed to a twisted cage of metal with bubbles emerging sporadically throughout. “What you are now seeing is our mystery comet with the top layer of aluminum alloy peeled back to reveal a most unusual skeleton. It looks like this skeleton was crushed as well as the aluminum which served as this comets skin. This skeleton is made of a new material scientists are just now trying to get instituted into space shuttle production. It’s an amorphous steel which is ostensibly a bulk metallic glass. Think of it as a space age pyrite. It has amazing magnetic, radiation and thermal durability. This material is just in its infancy; the theorem originally published in 2004, but never fully developed.
“While you ruminate on the possibilities of what that means, turn your attention to the pustules on this remarkable material.” Hercule clicked again and a close up of the bubbled metal appeared on the screen.
“These pustles are filled with a familiar byproduct of the Earth’s unique atmosphere. Hydrogen Dioxide. Or in lay-mans terms…water. At this point we don’t know how water has formed in these pustules, there is speculation that it’s merely condensation from its vast journey, and there is also a hypothesis that it was created that way to further its thermal qualities. In either case the research for that particular answer is still ongoing.”
The room explodes into questions and conversations which echo through the room as reporters press for information. Hercule mentally pats himself on the back knowing he inspired this conundrum, but before he can truly enjoy it a man from the back shouts out.
“You said you had proof this didn’t come from another country! How can you prove that?” Panic weaved delicately in his voice.
Hercule smiles and raises his hands indicating the audience to quiet down. “If another Cold War is what you’re worried about, there is nothing to fear. I could never be more certain; this meteor did not come from another country.” He looks about the room, letting the forcefulness and power of his statement sink in. “You see, once we uncovered this pustule laden glass steel we decided to take an extra precaution. We asked ourselves, where could this have come from? Deciding that the possibilities were too endless, we set the sphere into a vacuum chamber for extra precaution. It was during this process which we found the most interesting component of the comet.” Hercule pauses for dramatic effect with his hands crossed in front of his belt, smiling at the collective who are eager waiting his response.
When he is satisfied with the drama created he turns toward the screen, lifts the arm with the clicker and theatrically switches to the next image. Inwardly Hercule knew it would be anticlimactic, but he couldn’t hold in his glee. He was about to uncover the means to understanding the universe, the means to unravel the fabric of space-time.
“What is it?” A confused journalist responds.
“This little ball you see is a container. The contents are a most remarkable revelation.” He takes two steps forward, covering the light from the projector and fully faces his captive audience. “We calculated the trajectory of the comet and found it came from just outside of M 51, otherwise known as The Whirlpool Galaxy. Using these calculations we focused the Chandra X-Ray Observatory to the area and found yet another astonishing revelation. Chandra was able to take pictures of a phenomenon only hypothesized…a Naked Singularity. These enigmas are basically a black hole with no event horizon, just an exposed singularity.
“A black hole is created when a massive star uses all its radioactive gasses and collapses on itself. This creates an incredible gravitational field, called an event horizon, surrounding a pinpoint of matter with infinite density, called a singularity. A Naked Singularity is that pinpoint of incredible density, but without the event horizon.
“What makes these monsters of the universe so terrifying is if you approach a black hole the intense gravitational pull will slowly pull your molecules apart like taffy, stretching them beyond their molecular bond capacities. Then once you reach the Singularity the density of matter would crush your molecules in through a passage way no larger than a pinhole. One prevailing theory is a Black Hole is a portal, thus the Singularity is the doorway. If that description is to esoteric, imagine every molecule in your body being pulled apart then reapplied at the speed of light, and oh by the way, they wont necessarily be put back in the same molecular structure it started in. Have you ever seen “The Fly?”
Hercule smiles at his own cleverness as the journalists gasp and wretch.
“But you still haven’t explained why it can’t be from another country!” A pugnacious journalist offers.
“We are truly living in amazing times my friends.” Hercule presses the clicker again and the picture changes to a large laboratory. “This is CERN, the foremost particle physics center in the world, where less than one month ago they got their Large Hadron Accelerator started. The result was far greater than anyone could have predicted and completely disavows the Big Bang Theory. They created what is known as Dark Matter. Dark Matter is previously thought of as matter which releases no radiation and can only be detected by its gravitational pull, but I want you to think of Dark Matter as the parameters of our universe, or to simplify things, Dark matter is a water balloon and the Universe as the water contained within the balloon. Dark Matter expands to accommodate any form of galactic expansion and creates an environment where particles can create actual matter. Dark Matter is a galactic Petri dish. CERN, with the help of their Large Hadron Collider has created a new universe.”
Hercule stepped back to let the information sink in. “Imagine cell division on Methamphetamines. That’s what Dark Matter is capable of. It has endless growth and is a perfect bubble. The universe, in all its diversity of life, is created inside this bubble and when it needs to get bigger the Dark Matter accommodates it and expands to an appropriate size. The universe doesn’t expand at any static rate, that’s why we had so many problems understanding its expansion; it expands at whatever pace it needs to go.”
“What’s the point Lambert?” cried one anxious journalist.
“The point is that inside of that circular container, beneath the contorted amorphous steel, and inside this little golden ball which is a miniature version of CERN’s collider, was globule of Dark Matter. There is no other place on Earth, except for CERN, that has access to this incredible substance. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a calling card from our intergalactic neighbors!”
One Week Later…
Colonel Harp Connors, CERN director Farrokh Dahr and NASA director Clark Traffers looked at each other in rapt excitement at the physicist’s remarks. The four men walked the gangplank overseeingAmesResearchCenter’s new project headed by Hercule. It was the most ambitious and thus dangerous project anyone had ever undertaken and Hercule, with his small stature and squeaky voice, was nothing but confidence.
“Gentlemen. As you well know, the leading theory of the meteorite which struck earth approximately three weeks ago is that it is a message to us from an Alien intelligence.” Hercule failed to mention the fact that it was his theory; He didn’t want his arrogance get in the way from further grants or the possibility of using Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center to bring his idea’s to fruition.
Hercule left his statement hang in the air, letting the information sink in and stew in the three men. He needed to impress them with the progress of his project and with his ability to produce. He especially needed Dhar’s approval, to utilize the Large Hadron Collider and CERN’s superior research facilities. Without CERN his project couldn’t lift off the ground, but then NASA’s support and further grants from the government couldn’t hurt.
“We all know the theory Lambert. What did ya bring us here for? The Government doesn’t have endless pockets you know.” Colonel Conner’s southern twang tended to make people look past his intelligent eyes. Hercule made a mental note not to disgruntle the man in the future.
“Yes, um, well, anyway,” Hercule stammered and looked to Farrokh who nodded his head in approval, giving Hercule the steam he needed.
“Well, as you gentlemen know, our planet is unique in our perceivable Universe. The chances of life growing on a planet relies on a number of variables, a theorem we call the Goldilocks principle. The composition of elements, distance from a star, rotation of the planet, lifespan of the star and plain luck are all components that make up life and must be formed ‘Just Right’ to make life occur.” He flexed both index and middle fingers emphasizing the quotes. “Now, with that being said, do any of you gentlemen have any idea how we could have received a message from a hypothetical life source?”
“No,” Colonel Conners said with stony composure, “but you do, so why don’t ya stop bein’ coy and get to the damn point.” Hercule sneered in disappointment deciding to forego the games.
“Yes. I’m sorry for wasting your time Colonel. Despite what many people believe, we don’t live in a Universe, but a Multi-Verse. Imagine a deck of playing cards stacked on one another. Each card is another Universe and each is contained within each other, they never commingle; unless there is an event which makes them.” He looks at the men and ignores Conner’s consternation. He wants to make sure they understand, but is afraid to ask.
“A Star collapses on itself creating such duress that it rips the fabric of space-time connecting the two Universes with a portal, otherwise known as a Black Hole. Think of this phenomena as a needle pushing through two of our playing cards, connecting them.”
“Are you saying that this meteorite was not only sent by an Alien Intelligence, but from another Universe?” Traffer’s choked on the thought and Hercule could tell he was onboard. The American’s could now be the first into the next Universe. Imagine the funds a president would deliver under such a guarantee.
“Yes.” Hercule said raising his chin a bit. “The exit point of this galactic tunnel would be through what is now called a Naked Singularity. This is created much the same way as a Black Hole, except without the gravitational force of the Event Horizon. Just a Singularity exposed. Using the card analogy, where the pin pushes through the cards is creates an indenture, but on the other side it creates a volcano. The gravity of the Black Hole forces mass through the indenture and then though the singularity into the other universe. My theory is, in the space between Universes you exit your Universe through a Black Hole and enter another through the Naked Singularity. The key is just finding a way to keep matter protected and in one piece as it passes through.”
“You mean string theory.” Farrokh managed looking concerned. “This could be the experiment to prove string theory?”
“Precisely. We have tested the sphere and found that it creates a large magnetic field, forming a gravitational field of such magnitude as to bypass the intense pressure of the Singularity. The sphere survives, but the transport doesn’t. But what’s more important, gentlemen, is that this meteorite came from a Naked Singularity near the galaxy M 51. It came from another Universe, traveling through a Black Hole on their end and exiting the Naked Singularity in our Universe.”
The determination in Hercule’s face and the weight of his words left even Colonel Conner’s speechless.
“CERN just created a globule of Dark Matter, the DNA of the universe, in their Large Hadron Collider. Obviously this alien life is as intelligent as us, because they were able to build a particle accelerator as well; as evidenced by the Dark Matter they sent us.
“My point gentlemen, is that they showed us their advancement. Let’s show them ours.”
“Twenty months ago I had a conversation with three men that forever changed my life and the ideas of physics. I have since become somewhat of a celebrity in the scientific community as the man who proved string theory. I now stand on the cusp of a much greater journey. The culmination of my forty-four years.” Hercule squinted slightly trying to cut glare of the camera lights. It had been five years since his discovery of the meteorite which contained the Dark Matter. In that span of time one voyage, the “Expedition I” had taken place.
Expedition I was a reconnaissance mission to take information from the Black Hole which Hercule believed to be the entrance to the alternate Universe. They took measurements of the gravity pull, size of the Black Hole and time it would take to get there. They also included a globule of Dark Matter from CERN’s laboratories and sent it in a sphere, similarly designed to CERN’s particle accelerator walls. It entered the Black Hole and it was lost on all tracking systems. The voyage was considered a success.
“As some of you may know, just as Expedition I entered the Black Hole another meteorite came crashing down towards earth. This again came from the Naked Singularity by galaxy M 51. This again was another calling card from our neighbors from the next universe. The Sphere was much larger, but with cracks interspersed through it. The contained material seems to be lost to the vastness of space. This as tragic as it may seem, gives our human race much hope. A civilization as advanced as theirs can still make mistakes.” Flashes of cameras briefly blinded Hercule and he raised his hand blocking the bright flashes. He smiles, reveling in satisfaction, before beginning again.
“The sphere held some interesting compounds. The most provocative was carbon, the building block of our existence. Our intergalactic neighbors are trying to speak to us in the inter-universal language of science. Our interpretation of their message is that they, as life forms, are composed of carbon just as we are. We may be dealing with an alternate universe full of humans. They may actually be having this same press conference as we are. The possibilities are endless. Could you imagine another world filled with human beings on a third planet from some foreign sun, built of carbon and able to send advanced space expeditions to another universe.” The gentle murmuring in the crowd grew to a cacophony of animated conversation as the people in the audience argued amongst themselves if what Hercule said could possibly be true.
“My mother named me Hercule because of her love for Agatha Christie’s famous detective Hercule Poirot. I’d like to think I have inherited some of his deduction and reason and I hope to put all my knowledge forward as I become our first Inter-Universal Ambassador! I will be a primary scientist on Expedition II which will send a man through an extra-dimensional space to another universe.” When he finished his speech Hercule took a step back from the podium, smiled and waved at the cameras and the crowd. His boyish grin and flamboyant wave belied his forty-four years. He walked off stage and was greeted by security guards who ushered him out of the building as various people tried to get his autograph and ask him questions. The paparazzi snapped photos of him as he entered the black limousine. Finally the respect I deserve. He thought as he rode toLBJSpaceCenter.
“This is Puma two from Expedition II, all systems go. Ready to pass the point of no return,” Hercule sat strapped in the Universal Excursion Module and thought of the heroic journey he had in front of him. He could see the Black Hole swirling in darkness ahead of him and he felt a twinge of fear. He was sure of his calculations and his ability to solve physics mysteries, but he felt doubt scratching at the back of his mind like a cat trying to be let in.
“Puma two this is capcom, we roger. You are go.” Jack Denning answered from Huston. He had never lost a man on a mission and he didn’t want to start now. He looked about the room in appraisal of his hardworking staff, making sure Hercule’s trip was a success. He was interrupted from his ruminations by one of the team’s scientists.
“Jack they found some abnormalities in the most recent sphere!” Paul Stevens, one of the scientists studying the sphere, ran in the room out of breath and terrified.
“Thank you capcom. Main thrusters on.” Hercule transmitted.
“What’re you doing here Paul? We’re in the middle of a mission!” Jack slid his headphones down to his neck barely hearing Hercule’s transmission. His stomach dropped when he looked into Paul’s face.
“It wasn’t just carbon in the sphere. It was broken strands of DNA and RNA. Little broken strands of it. At first we were excited. We thought maybe the aliens sent us forms of their building blocks so we could understand them, but then we started to cross reference it to figure out what it was and what we could get from it. It was human DNA.” Paul stared up at the screen as videos of Expedition II speeding up towards the Black Hole.
“So Hercule was right after all. They’re are humans in an alternate universe trying to contact us.” He proudly looked back up to the screen and crossed his arms.
“No sir…” Paul was interrupted from Hercule’s transmission.
“I look out into the void of space and I see a bevy of stars, a universe of possibilities. We stand on the brink of a new life. A life where we are not alone in the cosmos. We can have new neighbors and extend our knowledge of this space we live in. I proudly go where no man has gone before, but with any luck many will follow. May God be with you all.” Hercule finished his aired speech and turned to speak to Jack one more time. “Jack I’m opening the Sphere now. I’ll set the timer to sixty seconds and let you know when I’m entering. Over.”
“No! Hercule wait!” Paul yelled at the screens.
“He can’t hear you Paul, you’d need to be on mic. What is it?” Jack stared at Paul in annoyance. This hardly seemed time to interrupt, especially since Hercule had passed the point of no return.
“It wasn’t just human DNA. When it was put into our formatting computers we found a genetic match for the sample. It was Hercule’s DNA.” Paul gulped and looked to the screen as the image started to flicker.
“Timer set, entering sphere.”
“I don’t understand…” Jack looked in confusion at Paul, who stared at the screen.
“Thirty seconds, closing sphere capsule door.”
“Paul, what does it mean? He’s entering a universe of people who’re exactly us?” Jack reached a hand out and touched Paul’s shoulder. Paul didn’t respond.
“um…capcom, door has a slight malfunction. It’s moving slightly slower than it should, please advise.”
Jack looked up to the flickering screen and saw the massiveness of the Black Hole. He looked to Paul and back at the screen and gently picked up the mic. “Roger Puma two. Try manual override.” He dropped his hand and let the mic go.
“Negative…pcom, sys…not…ponding. We…re at negative ten…ds, already in the…k Hole’s gravitati…ull. Please advise…ver.” Panic entered his voice.
“oh, my god…” Paul said softly beside Jack.
“Again try manual override, Puma two. Do you copy?” Jack lifted his headphones from his neck and put them back on his ears. He sat down in front of his monitor.
“Nothi..! Oh, go…ressure is…owering, sphere…ost close…ygen leaking!”
“Heart rate speeding up! Temperature cooling!” The biometric monitor yelled across the room.
“System’s failing! Oxygen leaking!” Cried the system’s analyst.
Jack put his hand over his mouth expecting the worst. The video feed had gone, blinking from a static view of the Black Hole to nothing. Then Hercule came back on.
“I…understand.” His voice came in gasps of breath. “I…as…wrong. It…isn’t…a…portal. It’s…a…time…machine!”