Monday, September 20, 2010


"Hands on the wall, now!" the officer demanded, the heel of his left hand burying the side of my face into the scathing red bricks of the alleyway. I slung my left elbow through the air about where I'd expected his ribcage to be. No go.

I was sixteen at the time but my baby face could have convinced you I hadn't sprouted a single hair below my eyelashes yet. By the time they got me into booking you couldn't even tell I had eyelashes. The glare on the finger printing screen cast the reflection of a monster where normally my irritatingly cherubic features would peer back. Made sense. I wasn't a cherub anymore. I was a monster. Bloody and swollen, cracked teeth with intermittent empty spaces. That's the way I should have looked. I smiled at my reflection, flattered to be such a creature, and an ogre grinned back.


"You couldn'a paid four-hundred on the bond, Ma!" I screamed in the late night air after being released three months later, as I kicked at the locked back door to my mother's house. I banged and shouted over and over, spiting the neighboring houses that squeezed the privacy from my childhood home.

"Coulda!" she shrieked from her upstairs window. Her bedside lamplight was the only glimmer in the house. From its uninterrupted cast, I could tell she hadn't even gotten out of bed to respond. "I'm done wasting money on shitty investments, Carl. Get out of here before I send you back there!"

"Jesus Christ A’mighty, Ma!" I gave up my knocking, but shouted even louder. A chipped brown Hush Puppy pump careened from my shoulder. "The Hell!"

"Don't you do dat! Don't you take da Lowd's name in vain, y’understand me?" That got her off her ass. Nothing but a shadow stabbing from her window, a finger prodding toward me with every syllable she cast upon me, but I could feel her angry face--you'd know the one if you'd seen it--tearing me to shreds.

"Yeah, yeah. The Lord. Good ol' Lord. Be sure to thank Him next time you talk, Ma! We got so much to thank him for!"

"You get out of my yard!"

"You ain't got a yard, Ma!"

"I'm callin' the cops!"

"Call the fuckin' cops, I don't care."

"Why don't the both yous shut up before I call the cops, huh?" blasted some wannabe tough guy from one of the darkened windows staring down at me from the confines of their secret troubles.

"Why don't you come down here and I'll give ya’ reason, ya bitch?" I shouted toward the man, and anyone else. But I was already moving down the street, faster than my pride would admit.


"The hell happened to ya' voice, Gary?" I asked, with an asinine smirk, lighting a cigarette in a living room where such was clearly not allowed.

My older brother Gary was every bit the diamond everyone had made him out to be, opening the door to his convict little brother at three o' clock that morning. He went to the window overlooking a convocation of garbage surrounding the cans where it should have been. He opened and jerked his head toward it, pulling me from my seat with his inherent authority. "Do that out the window, at least, you little good-for-nothing," he said without a tinge of disrespect.

"Out the window at least," I mimicked in the most highfalutin, proper tone I could muster.

"See, you too could learn to talk right if you tried," he teased with a smile I probably didn't deserve. "Why are you here anyway? Ma kick you out?"

"Na, didn't have to. She just wouldn't let me back in." I hocked a loogie into the street, loudly gathering it in my throat with a crescendo blast that echoed nastily.

"Mmhm," he said returning with a glass of water I hadn't requested, extending it toward me and insisting with a nod that I take it. I did. "Second chances aren't guaranteed, Carl. You shouldn't have expected to get a--what, fourth, fifth chance?"

"Yeah, yeah. I know. The first guy to ever fuck up, right?"

"You're a kid, Carl. You've got time to change." I turned to protest, but the sincerity and compassion in his eyes took me by such surprise, I went dumb. He cared. I could see it in his eyes, he actually cared. Holy shit, how long had it been since I'd seen that look? "You need to change."


When the governor had instituted the "Supers" the scouts had gone after only the tip of the top. Trained officers with athletic background, such as Gary, were the ideal fit for the new outfit. For them, landing a college linebacker with a 3.8 GPA and a degree in criminal justice was like finding the Holy Grail.

Gary never had my sense of individuality, I think he would admit that, so finding himself in a position to become a valued, guided part of a greater whole was every bit as valuable a find for him as it was for the government. So he thought, at least. Guy like that would've been just fine any way he sliced it. The truth is, the only reason they started that program was because the governor was scared to death by the influx of costumed vigilantes running around thinking they were in a damned comic book. Worried people were going to cause more harm than good.

"I wanna see ya costume!" I garbled around a bite of cereal one morning that next summer. "What's it like? Ya wear the nut-huggers?" He glared at me from above his laptop, and tilted the screen even lower. He must've been working on some official business.

"You dooooo don'tcha?" I chuckled.

"Now as two words, please," he said with the patient irritation of a veteran grammar tutor.

"Don't you?" I reiterated with exaggerated enunciation and a hint of a British accent.

"Lovely," he glanced up with a pinched smile momentarily, then back down, "we'll make a lady out of you yet, Eliza." I had to work to not laugh at that, though I wanted to badly. Ever since I'd moved in, those moments when I could see him as a brother, not as some painfully righteous arm of the law, were so few. Even so, I wasn't going to laugh at a diss. He checked his watch, grunted, and closed up shop, crossing to the door in a flash. "

Time fo' ya--for your real life?" I taunted him once more for good measure.

"Mmhm. And you?" he asked, trying to resist the accusatory tone which belonged--and surfaced--in his voice.

"Gonna rob a bank or somethin' prob'ly."

He swung around and blasted me with his eyes. For a moment I feared my joking had gone too far, especially since I wasn't really joking entirely.

"Go-ing to rob a bank or some-thing pro-bab-ly," he said striking each consonant, especially the end "g"s, and stretching each vowel, for illustrative purposes only.


"Villains" loved the fact that they got an official title too. The city was booming with them just as soon as the Department of Super Tactical Operatives formed. For every fresh crop of do-gooders itching to live out a little boy's fantasy, there were three times as many lifetime criminals with much broader delusions of grandeur and the lack of scruples necessary to stretch for that brass ring as long as they needed to, no matter how many convictions and masked crusaders tried to stop them.

"Last crime you committed was almost a year ago," the brute made the computer screen between him and me look the size of a saltine. He was the kind of guy you expected to have out in the mess, doing the work, not sitting here auditioning Goons.

"Yeah, but I took out a cop," I lied. He ticked his eyes up at me, reminding me not to bullshit a bullshitter.

"Not what it says here." He twisted his lips, flared his nostrils, grunted, and tilted to the side as if maybe... Then, he shook his head, lips tightened against his top gum line. "You just ain't right for this outfit, ok kid. Come back once you've done some shit, arright? Actually done some shit."


I felt the baton whip the back of my knee cap and crashed to the ground, crumbling like the plasma screens I'd been carrying under each arm. I was almost as thrilled as I was in pain. Almost.

Finally, I thought, I'd have something to show on my résumé; some relevant, recent material for my résumé.
I knew who to call for bail, Marty Hadlock. Couple of Goons I'd met told me that was the way to go: get locked up, call Marty, and he'd let you work off the bond, with interest of course.

"They give you your papers?" Marty asked, a stony face that moved slowly and monumentally as tectonic plates.

"Yes, they are all here." From his grimace, I saw that my brother's dialect coaching had already gotten the better of me and my thug-speak was deteriorating despite my efforts. He checked my file, breathed deeply through his nose as if he was already having serious doubts, then exhaled with his eyebrows bowing to inevitability.

"Well, two felonies, six total arrests since age thirteen... Hmmm... If they say you gotta be registered, you gotta be registered. Congratulations kiddo, you're almost a Goon. You know where the Office of Judicial Status Certification is?" he rambled off with unexpected clarity.

"Yes, I've been there." With my brother once, a few months earlier. Marty glared at me suspiciously, eyes that looked like they were capable of kicking my ass without the aid of the rest of his massive body. "I tried to cheat on my Goon Cert the first time," I explained with the best save I could conjure on short notice.

He laughed and slid the papers back to me. "Awesome. That's freakin' awesome!"


Gang, Outlaw, and Offender National Registry. GOON. They didn't include the R. Not because they couldn't afford to make the stamp one character longer or because the R wasn't an important part of the equation, but because they wanted to make good and damn well positive that you knew who you were to them.

Through the window to the next room I spotted Captain Righteous and Lady Lightning--no shit, that's how they were legally referred to--waiting in line, smiling, laughing, with their florescent spandex uniforms glistening beneath the steady glowing bulbs.

The dim light above my line, not forty yards from the beloved masked defenders, flickered wildly in the grimy casing, as if weeping over its dead counterpart, the dust of which hinted a not-so-recent demise.


Captain Righteous had been gone for about an hour when I reached the head of my line, and some kid with blond hair--a sidekick I’m sure--was grinning his way to the front of theirs. The hag behind the counter on my end of the glass checked my paperwork, stamped my page without looking at my face, and shouted, “Next!”

GOON, the large red imprint reminded me, as if I could ever forget. But it's what I wanted. Right?


I folded the paper into a tiny triangle and headed down the hall. The brightness shining through the windowed doors from the street felt daunting and cold. It wasn't for me. Not anymore, I knew.

"Well, I'll be damned!" I turned to find a grinning titan in an orange Lycra onesie and a yellow cowl that covered everything above his upper lip. This, I recognized after the initial shock, was Crime Crusher--I don't make these up, ok--from the news. He was the cream of the cream, the man for the job, let me tell you. If a big Villain had come down, he'd been “Crushed.” End of subject.

"Well, brother man, aren't you full of surprises!" Crusher said crushing me with a bear hug.


"Gary?" I felt my face scrunching around my eyes in disbelief, as if the bridge of my nose had been sucking on a lemon. I still have no idea what he was saying as he, essentially, carried me into the next office, nor do I know how my hand wound its way to my mouth, pressing the triangle of judgment in for safe keeping, as I managed to submit a few mumbled "Mmhm"s of confirmation to whatever he was talking about.

There was a line in the room. I mean, there was a line, but Captain Crusher didn't know the meaning of lines. The girls at this desk were beautiful. Go weak at the knees, crash your car just to get a better look, fall to genuflect and propose as you pass them on the street kind of beautiful. Nevertheless, they crowded around to fawn over Captain Crusher, submission of facial features not necessary for a stud like him.

The garble of his voice finally cleared as he repeated to my awe-stricken ears for the third time, "Where's your paper?"

"Huh?" I felt my heart kick into a fury as if it was trying to pump up the evidence of my evil. "I don-- I don-- I do not have them," I said, my words and voice coming out like a Muppet, odd-sounding and teacher-approved.

"Who needs 'em, right, ladies?" he grinned a pair of alpine ranges. They laughed as if he was the lovechild of Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams, and passed a page across to me, never tearing their eyes from him. I scribbled away, unsure of what else I might do. In a flurry of movements, the page was slid across, spun around, hammered with a stamp, and pushed back to me. No questions, no credentials, no need. For a Super like him, he could've brought in Al Capone and walked away with a Super Cert. I looked down.

"DSTO APPROVED" with the governor's signature below. I turned around--I don't know, to run, maybe?--and caught sight of my reflection in the pristine white floor below, clean enough you could wash with it.

That guy looking up to me didn't look like a two-time loser from the ghetto. He didn't look like a monster in the making. He looked like Carl. Gary's little brother, Donna and Eddie's little boy. The kid who won the science fair in fourth grade.

Who knew that all along he'd only been one stamp away?

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To Remember the Truth

Curtis stopped typing, much to his own surprise. Every other set of fingers around him, cubicle by cubicle, proceeded in the cacophony of clicking, bounding noisily from key to key so that the song reverberated against the concrete walls like a heavy hailstorm as the letters and numbers dropped onto their screens, etched into an intangible slate, existing nowhere but in the lights before them.

He rubbed his fingers, moist enough to squeak softly, against the polyurethane coat of his narrow desk space, reminding himself of actuality. His tie felt tight around his collar and the room began to shrink around him as his chest grew with anxiety until he burst, ripped free; from his clothes, from the room, from the whole damn performance.

So, I always stop for a few when Curtis asks me for change, not just because his stories are interesting or because he manages a certain intelligibility atypical of underpass dwellers, but because every now and then when he whispers wildly about the Machine and the Trap and the System, backward as it may be, I start to feel a little less crazy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Liliana’s eyelashes beat together like a feathered gavel before her mahogany eyes, sentencing me to “Piss off, Heremy…”--I loved how she said Heremy instead of Jeremy and the way she rolled the r, so of course it made me smile, which she acknowledged with a displeased tilt of one eyebrow, but steady as a dancer kept stride--“…because I got two good waitresses, a sussessful res’rant, an’ I don’ wanna loose none ‘ose tings porque uno pinche cabrón can’ keep his nassy lil’ hans to 'imself.”

I’ll bet she was twice my age, but like any twenty-year-old beach bum worth his saltwater, I was all about the ladies and if there was any reason I shouldn’t be with them--perhaps a generational gap--then, mo’ betta’, I figured.

Like the kind of guy I’d punch nowadays, I leaned over the counter with a smile they might picture next to “cocky ass” in Webster’s, and said, “Or maybe, you should forget what you know about my involvement with said waitresses, and find out for yourself what all the fuss is about.”

She craned down toward me, her intensity pressing me back nearly off the stool, and she reached down to my crotch, encircling the area with her fingertips, whispering, “But then, I’d wanchu never to leave, an’ you know how to keep a dog from runnin’ away? Shop off ‘is lil’ balls.”

I miss that place--missed it ever since that afternoon--but not nearly as much as I miss that woman.

Where You Lie

A breathy mumble came from her lips; a name. She tried again, after a few crackling inhales, “Where is… where’s…”

He looked all around, wreckage in each direction, then back at the stranger. “Fine… he’s… she's... they’re fine. Everybody’s fine,” he lied.

She smiled, and then was gone.

Originally posted at 6S

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Mysterious Dr. Ramsey

Ramsey Michelle Helton wore matching ruffled pigtails which looked as though they might have come prepackaged with the galaxies of freckles on her tiny cheeks. Her smile revealed two front teeth as absent as the shoes I assumed she wore, at least on occasion. A frog chirp from her overalls pocket convinced me that if I looked hard enough I would find a hidden camera somewhere in the double-wide trailer.

She skipped across the small room and looked in my eyes curiously for several moments before whispering, "You don't wanna hear them voices no more, huh?"

I'd driven nineteen-hundred miles to witness the "Mysterious Doctor Ramsey", as the tabloids had dubbed her, but not even that leap of faith could prepare me for the chill that her words issued to my tired, crazy soul, eager once more to surrender to what a wiser man might call "blind faith." Then, she kissed my head, freed me from my hell, and proved to me at last that there is no faith a man can ever have which may fairly be ruled unjustified.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Terribly Gifted Terry Gordan Chapter 1: Stuck

Thin rows of sunlight outlined the inner walls of the warehouse through aging fractures, one of its least substantial structural flaws. The rickety door screamed from the pain of being forced open against its rusty disuse, shoved into the ceiling, stilled gears scraping against the defunct track.

Were a living person, with the good sense to know what they were seeing, watching from within as the door went up, that living person may well have ceased to be such instantly. True, people aren’t frequently startled to death, but it happens. And, in such a circumstance it would’ve been the more favorable of two options. If a person sees Rex Proper walking into the room flanked by three men in suits, it is most likely that person never sees another pleasant thing for the rest of their (short, horrible) life.

Terry Gordan was lucky enough to be watching from behind the quartet, the scene playing out faintly beyond the red screen of the bandanna around his eyes. The door yelped as its parts lodged irreparably from the brute force of one of Rex’s nameless hulks. As the four men stepped into the darkness of the building, the shadows swallowed the dim picture and left Terry to imagine the scene, his heart beating slow and hard like the stroke of a sledgehammer, his knees kneading nervously at the dirt, wrists wringing sorely against the cuffs.

There was a merciless silence following the eerie echo of the door’s last stand, as the dirt where a floor once had been muffled the men’s steps. Terry felt like he was drowning, the sound of his breath resounding like the wind and the waves, and pressing harder against him than either natural force was capable.

A rumbling groan akin to a low-speed blender hummed from within. And Terry’s shoulder muscles tightened until they cramped, and then some. They'd found her. The sound swelled until it broke, shooting furious roar after furious roar from wall to wall. Birds evacuated the storm, the sound of their shrieks and their furious launch from the tin roof underscored Rex’s raging screams aptly; the horn and percussion sections of his animalistic melody.

“Don’t fucking touch anything!” Rex hollered, his voice raspy over the sound of him punching one of his subordinates, a jab for every word.

“You want to just leave it here?” The question was simple, impulsive, and rational. And for the man who spoke it, the last.

“It?” Rex hissed. A gunshot. “It, motherfucker?” Two more gunshots. Rex coughed up another chain of beastly roars. Violent and braying enough to freeze the veins, his outbursts simultaneously bled a portion of pain that almost forgave such a hateful tirade.

“Hey, Rexy, come on, she’s…” A gunshot; and another employee was relieved of his duty.

“No, please, Rex, no.” Three more shots.

Terry hadn’t been so naïve as to expect a positive outcome, but he’d been honest, led them to the place, done everything he could to save his life. Somewhere deep down, he’d wondered if there was a chance he could survive another day. But this man had just killed his own, just to blow off some steam. The future was less clear than Terry was accustomed. Far less clear, and that was a terror unrivaled in his experience.

Terry’s feet shuffled in place like the running start of a Merry-Melodies character. Finally he found traction and began straining himself upright, shaky knees combating his effort. Rocking back on his heels he wobbled, wrestling to press his toes to the ground. As he very nearly accomplished the move, Rex entered Terry’s grainy, amber sight, open barrel leading the way in b-line for his skull. Terry’s senses overcame him and he fell to the ground like a burlap sack.

Rex stood with his feet on either side of Terry’s ribcage. He stooped forward with the pistol and tugged the bandanna up with the pistol, the barrel scratching the flesh between Terry’s nose and left eye. Terry’s tears readied for the flood, but they were damned by the onslaught of every emotion conceivable, as if the man’s soul was going for one last spin, courtesy of a life of memories taken for granted. Each in full feature, these moments played out in the stage of his mind, time nonexistent.

The final fleeting flashes of those he loved most, and the dam began to groan, tears surfacing around the edges. Then, as his grimaced brow awaited the swift burn to take him away, the heat and smell of the barrel seemed to fade. One eyelid surrendered fear in favor of curiosity, sliding open just as a drop splashed onto his hairline. The other eye opened and within the brightness of the summer sky, the shadow of a broken man quivered slightly above him, drops beginning to storm from his eyes as his trembling intensified.

Rex held the pistol undecidedly, almost as if forgotten. Finally, it fell to his side and hung by his pocket. Rex stepped over Terry and stumbled back to the warehouse, toward his fallen love. He stopped at the door and collapsed, the killer of killers fading into a sobbing contradiction.

Terry worked his forearms into position and propped himself, slightly, on his elbows. He watched Rex for several seconds, perhaps a minute or more. He battled conflicting sentiments, sympathy and fear. He had to do something, to react, and unfortunately those were the only two stimuli he could summon. Terry was no tough guy, but damned if he’d go out in fear.

Terry waited until Rex had finished weeping and crawled onto his knees, staring into the darkness of the warehouse. Then he said, softly, “I can help you find the person who did this.”

Rex turned his head gradually to his left, and then stopped, refusing his interest in the claim. His shoulders took three passes up and down as his chest heaved, his own inner turmoil bubbling. He sprung to his feet, stripped the water from his face, and stalked toward Terry, his pistol again in the lead.

“How?” He stabbed the pistol forward.

“Same way I found your... this place, man. Same way I find anyone.” Terry had to fight to stifle his enthusiasm, darkly tinted as it might have been; he’d bought some time, but this wasn’t over. Not by a far cry. He didn’t have to be psychic to see that. Unfortunately, he was a psychic. And a fairly inadequate one at that.

Friday, April 2, 2010

How to Reply to the Nigerian Prince -- A 6S Challenge

Deer Prints Narmeen,
I to have looking for to put into my money some place safe for getting later and to share with my new friends, like have you done hear. I tell so much new friends with the emails to please can have some of my very much money, my father have dies and I will be kings inheritance but must not make the money in a bank heer in Namibia.

Why the friends do not want to have some moenys like for them I have offered? You certain have a big talent on the emails, Narmeen, and I no your very good with what you due. Please extablish an account in the bank nearest your heart, and I like your new friend will give access to my money as you will me yours to also as well, my friend!1!!`

His Royal Majesty,
Dukuv Erl

The above is my reply to the challenge: How to Reply to the Nigerian Prince
From Gita Smith
After being contacted by an email scammer claiming to be (or represent) a Nigerian Prince, you respond with six well chosen sentences.
Do you scam him back? Slam him or Scram him? How clever will your answer be? Which of us will fall for YOUR email and send money to you? Let's see....
Sign up and enter your 6 sentence response: here

Carpe Damned

With the sort of self-propagation normally found only in lengthily-Latin-named creatures my Biology teacher used to hum about, the strata of irony frolic before my mind’s disbelieving eye, webbed together like a Mobius strip.

Some of the best years of my life were sipped away alongside a procrastinating posse of fellow ne’er-do-well would-be artists, on the back porch of a coffee shop named Carpe Diem; or if you’ve not seen Dead Poets’ Society: "seize the day." And, while we played chess or cards or did anything else to distract ourselves from the craving to create, we debated over what we considered life’s great ironies.

Yes, take it all in: at “Seize the Day” coffee shop my friends and I would distract each other from developing the abilities we were afraid we might actually have, as we bitched and moaned about the lack of opportunities available, and how ironic it was to have the passion and drive but no outlet.

And eight years later, as I grasped about for inspiration to help me write something during this tiny window of solitude I have today, I found it right where I left it. I can see the lot of us now, as if walking upon our ghosts: everyone’s tilting back in those plastic green chairs, wearing cigarettes as surely as arms, and as I pass by I see pride in their ear-to-ear smiles, as if they’re all thankful to finally see proof that the door can be opened--even if it wasn't large enough for us to all go through together.

Also posted at:

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Fool and the Full

Inspired by the quote: "A bore is a man who deprives you of solitude without providing you with company." Gian Vincenzo Gravina

Perhaps the nicest thing I could say about Harper was that the foolish young bastard was simply an inherent bore and that there was little, or perhaps not a thing at all he could ever have done to better himself to such a degree that he might have become a passably desirable human being.

Before we began our excursion into this nameless jungle, Harper was a wet-behind-the-ears lab assistant. Apparently young Harper had paid his way through grad school as a farmhand. How very dignified of him.

How in the hell a bumpkin straight out of grad school had been placed on a mission like this, the type of mission for which even a scientist with
my experience must spend thirty-odd years trying to earn a spot, I cannot tell you, but there he was. Maybe our mission’s backers thought we might do some farming if we discovered a new species in this forgotten place.

Sarcasm aside, the farmhand story was perfect; it fit him more snugly than his irritatingly white undershirt, which he had worn every day and washed in a stream every night, making it look at all times as if he’d just stumbled across the wreckage moments earlier. It was as if he believed that if he looked like everything was fine, he could feel like everything was, rather than accepting the facts.

The evidence it provided in support of my initial evaluation, when I first shook his hammy hand--that he was an out-of-place buffoon who could make a nice sacrifice if the jungle should demand--might have made the farmhand story more tolerable had it not been repeated more than five times in the three weeks we were together before I decided to kill him.

I don’t do myself justice there; I realized that I
must kill him.

“Cold-hearted” is an imaginary characterization. It is but a term our society has applied to those we secretly envy most, those who need not bother with the trifling preordinations allotted by man’s fickle laws and non sequitur dogmas to remedy a particular set of circumstances. One finds quickly that desolation in the anonymity of the unforgiving wilderness offers freedom in many ways, not the least of which is the gift of a cold heart.

Harper’s incessant droning made me feel more alone than did the swirling orchestra of cackles and caws from the ominous night air. During one such concert, struggling to sleep after another hungry day, I came to my realization about Harper’s fate. The taunting, screeching calls of the darkness that night rapped my nerves like bullwhips, so that I might have gone mad had I not found the wherewithal to focus on my bane, and the elation of freeing myself from his nuisance. I hung from the thought like a lifesaver floating in a tempest of loathsome awareness. That, I realized was the issue: I could not help but be aware of him until he was dead, and that was
his fault and no one else’s.

The day we crashed, he’d begged that I help him with CPR. He actually wanted to waste our precious little energy on attempting to resuscitate a man who’d been impaled with a branch; I think now that I hated him immediately. Even at the exact moment we realized the other two passengers were dead, I knew he was no one I cared to associate with, regardless of whether he was the only sentient being I would ever see again. I’d tried to shake him but he longed for association with a parasitic passion.

I sat up from my blanket of leaves that night and contemplated the execution of the task at hand. My stomach growled, offering its own angry call into the cacophony of night. I knew the time had come, there could be no hesitation.

He outweighed me by a great deal, so I would have to be careful not to wake him. He would certainly overpower me if I allowed it, but I would not. Brains over brawn, they say. My stomach grumbled again and the hunger pains drove me even stronger.

I blamed him for my hunger on several accounts. He was so massive that my only reasonable recourse upon discovering the emergency food supply in the jungle near the chopper was to bury it and keep it from him. He’d clearly not eaten responsibly back home; I wouldn’t trust him to learn the skill when my life depended on it. If I’d let him slap his gluttonous meat hooks on that box, we’d both have died of starvation. No sense in that.

Furthermore, he had been a hunter--trust me, he probably told a dozen such stories--and it had been five days since he’d killed anything. He told me the animals must have grown aware of us and decided to avoid the area. I suggested he travel farther the next time, but I don’t know that he ever really did.

The hunger struck me once more, louder than before. That’s how I knew for certain it was time. It wasn’t a pretty notion, but I was growing exceedingly weary of crackers and peanut butter, and after all it would be easier to salvage him than bury him. I wondered suddenly if he had already begun envisioning me as a nutritional source as well.

It didn’t matter. He was asleep, so I had the upper hand. But if he hadn’t been I’d still have had the advantage, I reasoned; he hadn’t had as much food as I’d had in the past several days, frequently went on daylong hunts, and even when sedentary a man his size would have necessitated nearly double my daily caloric intake. The way I saw it, I could have woken him up and tortured him a bit first, if I’d wanted to be completely cold hearted.

I quietly picked through a heap of burned metal until I found a favorable shard from the propeller. Serendipitous nature in all its deplorable majesty brought the thought to my mind, “I’ve managed to never come over to his personal area a single time, though he’s encroached mine every day.”

I thought it was a root when first I stepped on the crossbeam of the trap. I don’t know what I thought after that, as I went unconscious after falling into the pit he’d camouflaged with a lid of brush.

When I awoke, vines binding my body against a tree so that my feet could not touch ground, I couldn’t place the pain, oddly enough. But when I saw him chewing the last bit of meat from the bone, I became sharply lucid of the throbbing soreness where my right shoulder should have sat. I vomited impulsively, though I wish I’d not given him the satisfaction.

He turned and broke into some goddamned tirade. “I didn’t care that I was out hunting all day and you were here sitting on your ass. I didn’t care when I saw cracker crumbs all over your clothes. I didn’t even care when I followed your tracks and found your food stash.” Even on a full stomach he was as whiny as an infant crying for a teat. “All I wanted was someone to talk to. But I guess I’ll get over that.” He looked at me like
I was the disgusting reprobate from BillyBobsville, then he amended. “… in time.” Then he chopped off my left arm.

God help me, I know it’s a compliment, but the lummox actually did a fair job of patching the nubs. I apparently never lost much blood as, even after three days of consuming only rain water, I am still alive and fairly well aware… for the moment.

It was good luck. All of it. I wouldn’t have had the courage to kill myself, but they’ll never find us. They probably aren’t even looking. But the sweetness of my victory has made this dying day so very delectable. He ranted again about his Neanderthalithic sentiments; fortune drained my consciousness enough that his words were nothing but a garbled bunch of noises pouring from his untutored tongue. Naturally, he continued talking as he harvested another serving from me.

The pain from him cutting off my lower leg, believe it or not, revitalized me. As if drawing together for one final march, my blood gathered in my brain and tuned in as he continued preaching, the flesh of my flame-broiled limbs puffing out his cheeks.

“Show some dignity,” I snarled with great effort. “Don’t talk with your mouth…” I couldn’t get the rest out, but I could tell from his expression, he’d heard the phrase. He leapt up, indignant, stung, and vacant of any response. And with the same glory typically reserved for the choirs of Heaven, he chortled abruptly. My eyelids grew heavy but I found the strength to peel them apart.

Harper panicked; otherwise he might have found a way to dislodge the meat from his trachea. Flailing about for answers or intervention, he tripped and landed in the same fire where he had just cooked, well, me.

It can’t be long now. His body is already smoldering and he never got around to tying off my leg. So, here I wait in the beautiful silence I have striven to achieve for so long, confident I've indeed escaped with a tremendous bargain in the exchange.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

And Sin No More

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.” The man sat across from me his arms on his knees and head dropped so that I could see the barest spot of his head like a bulls’ eye.

Eight years since his last Confession--I rolled that nugget around, testing it in the flame of my mind, and finally decided, there was promise here.

An affair some time back, impure thoughts of course, lying, stealing, and then he started to cry, but only for a moment.

“It’s like… like a doctor, right,” he collected himself, “you can’t repeat this?”

I smiled and suggested he come to the font with me, that the church was empty and perhaps the sensation of the water washing over him would serve as a catalyst in seeking true, penitent reconciliation.

I could see he was scared and so I said, “You’re not the only one who makes mistakes, there is always a second chance.”

“I killed a girl,” he sobbed, “six years ago.”

“Shhh,” I comforted him and helped him to the water, “I know, I know, now shhhh.” His nose touched the water and I said, “But you forgot her boyfriend, huh, dipshit?”

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Delusion that Beauty is Goodness

I remember the shoddy little house with chipping white paint, its rear half hiding a dingy rainbow of embedded mud specks, a lighter ambiguously brown elemental congress, and grass stains from an unwieldy lawn which must have attempted a takeover some time before. Somewhere close by there was a cemetery, or at least a field with lots of concrete that my brother and cousin could convince five-year-old-me was a cemetery.

Between the two eerily equipped locales was a hiccup of forest; to my adult eyes it would most likely be a cluster of trees, which I could perhaps penetrate from both sides with my outstretched arms while standing at its center. The shadowy secret beneath the ever-brown canopy was a godforsaken, one-man boat, half digested by the soggy black earth.

Though he must have only visited us for a few days, I remember my cousin joining my brother and me for a lifetime of adventures in that dark realm. We snapped "clubs" from trees for safety when exploring the abandoned pirate ship and we prepared for battle with the vampires who had trapped my father in his own trunk, dragging him into the undead.

Well, we didn't see him go back in; what's your explanation? And, in case you're ever in the same predicament, here's how we made it out alive: we recited Grace--Bless us, oh Lord--over the stagnant pool in the hull of the ship, thus producing enough Holy Water for an army of darkness.

I also remember the gorgeous, big-ass a-frame with the lawn-care crew, pool guy, and fully stocked bar; respectively, where I got my cigarettes, where I bought my weed, and how at thirteen-years-old I made much older friends. By the time we fled that a-frame for a split-level in a bigger city, I could aspire for nothing greater than to break out and conquer my own shoddy wonderland, baptizing myself in its waters and shedding the iniquities of far too much beauty.

Every Heart Challenge: Waiting at Home

“Will you marry me?” In the rearview mirror the whites of his eyes only just slipped out from the night's veil. The street lamp dripped its light like a broken waterspout around his parked coupe, all else was darkness. He stared back at the porch continuing his hour-long cycle; door, mirror, door.

After a few minutes he asked the mirror again, “Will you marry… Will you mar… Will you marry me?” That was the one, he realized. His eyes broke course finally, falling into the pit of black at the floorboard.

The world traveled past him like a subway tunnel as he rode his body helplessly into the bedroom. The light from the fixture, clanging below the wild ceiling fan, seemed to have gained wattage tenfold when he dropped it
onto the hushed disaster of a room; a cacophony of clothes, garbage, dishes, and what can delicately be referred to as “other.”

It wouldn’t have kept her, he thought, even if he had been able to say it when he still had the chance, so very, very long ago.

The Darkest of Our Flock

"Y'know what the difference is between us?" he asked me, blasted to the hilt but somehow wearing it expertly.

For one thing, at least eighteen beers by that point, and I'm no slouch. With such a broad category, I didn't know where to start, or more importantly where to stop my smart-ass parade. But he was in the midst of recounting his glory days of prison, how he got there, and why he would probably be going back before too long, so I wasn't really expected to answer.

He continued after a beer--not a sip... well it was a sip for him, but a whole beer, "If it came down to it, you probably don't have what it takes to lop off a man's fingers with a pair of gardening shears."

"I just can't really picture the scenario where that's my only option," I answered but I could see he was disappointed in my reply.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Game On

"Freakin' Scalaxar, thanks for the ride," Steven grumbled as he pinched beneath his glasses and wrinkled his forehead so that his bushy eyebrows blended into his oily black mop of hair.

"What'd you say?" Rod spit out, his voice barely shy of angry.

Steven popped his head up, frightened from instinct. Rod hadn't been a jock at his high school, hadn't roughed up any of the local geeks, but from his physique and the way he strutted around with his Assistant Manager's badge brilliantly gleaming, Steven knew who he was dealing with... mostly.

"Oh, it's some uh... just a weird thing," he said, dropping his head and staring into the pavement once more as he pretended to wait for his ride, on whom he'd given up hope half an hour ago.

"Scalaxar," Rod said, proper intonation and everything, "the Realm Keeper."

Steven's lips flapped confusedly until he found, "You play Guardians and Guildmasters?" Steven was brilliant, so of course knew the answer to be affirmative; you're average Joe can't name characters from a role playing game as obscure as G and G. Still, he expected the answer to be no.

Rod shook his head and clicked his car unlocked from across the parking lot, gesturing as he said, "Where we're going, buddy, we don't play G and G."

Song and Dance

The soulful licks of the electric guitar’s howl peeled layer after layer from him with each sonorous spank. The refrain had become cliché rhetoric—If lovin’ you is wrong, I don’t wanna be right—but tonight it had been rewritten and plucked from the airwaves by the hand of the Divine.

His insides sizzled as he poured whiskey over the coals of guilt that had grilled hand-squoze patties of self-loath into scorched stones even the dog would turn away.

He rolled down the driver-side window and the slope of angry rain avalanched into his face. The window to her bedroom was the only one with even a whisper of light sneaking around in the great big house. He chanted in his head that her husband would be on another trip in a few days and it would be his own shadow brushing across the curtains, and that was enough; he didn’t
want to be right.

The Accidental

"Alright, how do you do that with the rats, then?" the Mayor demanded of the street performer, with a good-natured laugh.

The Piper played on with a secretive shrug and smiled tightly around the mouth of the instrument, the rats zigging and zagging in an elaborate pattern at his feet until being dismissed one-by-one with a flat or sharp.

"I'm a bit of a piper myself;" the Mayor bit his lip and nudged at the air, already beginning to chuckle at his own cleverness, "at least two smokes in the morning and two in the evening!"

The Mayor's entourage guffawed obediently, their laughter carrying the Mayor on its back even further into his poorly-executed buffoonery. He started away joking over his shoulder, "Tell you what: send away the lot of 'em like that and I'll personally give you a thousand bucks!"

The Piper raised an eyebrow and paused his song for a moment, speaking from around the pipe, "Is 'at right?"


The set doesn't brag; it's not proud enough to lie. The wash of faint light crawls over it with my fingers, X1 through 9 sliding up as if riding a wave to safety.

Lights One is "Black to House," but I always bring up the cue for Places when I first reach the booth. That's why I get to the theatre early, just so I can do it, without one of the actors sullying my moment of Zen.

In an hour it will be ruined by life, born into a world of iniquity, but now--in my moment--the stage and I share a secret, swearing to each other that we will protect this sanctuary no matter what egos threaten to impurify.

A door creaks open below me--a door I haven't exactly "forgotten" to oil--and the stage goes dark; a secretive wink hush-hushing our pact.

Monday, March 1, 2010

For Dolls and Demons pt 2 - Join the Club

Part One

First time I went to The Leather Lizard, it was around two p.m. on a Sunday. Strange time to go to a strip club, I’ve been told, though I’ve often wondered, when is the “normal” time?

There were countless visits afterward, but I always go back to that first time. After I got hooked on Candy, I began working more and more to be sure that my place in the club would always be secure. Money might not make the world go round, but you sure won’t get far in a titty bar without it.

It wasn’t just the naked women I liked about it. It was like an X-rated Cheers; like a support group where no one had to admit they had a problem.

As a programmer, my schedule is fairly spastic, yet every time I came in the cast of characters was the same. Maybe the dancers changed, it’s hard to keep track of such things.

But, there was Lana, my waitress. If you don’t know, the waitresses at these establishments are one of two breeds; they’re so damn cute you’d trade a footfull of toes to watch her dance, or they’re the type who, with one look, you understand why they didn’t see necessary to have bouncers up front. Let me put it this way: I’d screw Lana before I’d screw her over, and I’d probably be just as afraid.

Petey B tossed bottles behind the bar. The kind of barkeep who never worried much with measuring out his shots, so that a two-fifty well could kick the ass right off any of the name brand mixes. He had three runners, two of them cute Asians. I took them for twins at first, but I’m a bit racist I guess because they’re not related, one’s Korean and one Vietnamese, and there’s a five year age difference. And, I can’t ever remember who’s who. It’s really dark in those places, in my defense. The other runner was a scrawny, squirrel-bearded metal head—my instincts said meth head too, but who knows—who looked like he must’ve gotten the job with a fake ID.

The main man with the dang plan—as he reminded the audience at least once per shift--was resident music magician DJ Operata tha Hot Potata. A white man should just not be able to have dreads so full and vast as his brown locks were, but judging from his marijuana tattoos and jewelry, I assume he’d given it a heartfelt, dedicated effort I could never appreciate.

Lana brought me my fourth rum and cola, round about six that afternoon when the first wave of A-teamers was beginning to take the stage. Petey B must have run out of cola on the second because I had a blazing fire stoking my chest, puffs of courage pouring out like the smoke rings I was trying to fashion.

A few dancers had stopped by, taking a seat on my left knee and asking for a cigarette or a light, sometimes both. One after the other, almost without fail, they would cup my hand in theirs and shove through my resistance with fire-lit eyes, sucking instead of dragging on the cig. What the technique lacked in originality it recouped with its effectiveness. It was a good thing I’d just gotten paid, because each set of flames melted another lap dance from my wallet.

Wednesday was a long-legged Nubian number with the kind of tone-but-ample backside that oh so very few of my honkey brethren have learned to appreciate. For the early evening dancers, she was quite a jewel. She had deep, heavy eyes that blinked purposefully, and only every few decades of awkward chit chat. Even when I’m paying them to pretend they like me, I’m still nervous with women.

I believe I was explaining how the role of Green Lantern is dissimilar to, say, Superman or Spiderman when Wednesday mercifully interrupted, “Do you play pool?”

I thought about lying but realized she might call me out on it, perhaps inviting me for a round of billiards and brew back at her place where she roomed with several of the other dancers. Don’t stop believing, ok.

I compromised, “Well, I’ve played but I’m not very good.”

She smiled sensually, her cheeks glowing through the dark. As her cheekbones seemed to rise into her temples, she surrendered a laugh. She released my non-smoking hand, which I don’t know when she had grabbed, and put both of hers to her mouth trying to catch the runaway giggle.

“What?” I sighed, presumptively embarrassed.

“Pool. It’s…” she bit the inside of her lip, “a code of sorts.”

I tried to convey my facial expression as “Oh I see,” but she did see. She smiled sweetly and took my hand, and walked me to a back corner with a low, deep armchair. A techno remix of a couple of Southern rock hits, I know them but I don’t know them, came on and she went about her routine.

With each pass of her mouth near my ear she would demystify a bit more until, even my simple mind, surmised that for four-hundred-bucks, she would take me in the back and… Well, something really cool was going to happen. I never precisely figured out the specifics.

When we returned to the table, I excused myself to the restroom, where I counted my cash. I could get a private throw and about four more drinks, just enough to help me cope with what I had resorted to. But when I returned to the table, a quarter-smoked cigarette with a pinch of bright pink on its white butt sent up a smoke-signal, floating away like the Ghost of Call Girls Past.

I sunk back into my drink, which was now mostly melted ice, and scoured the room for Lana. When I spotted her, she was coming down the steps of a section so exclusive I hadn’t realized it was there. To my tax bracket, it may as well not have existed at all. After a few passes of the strobe, I could just make out Wednesday’s bare back as she replaced her top.

Lana came to me, a crowded tray from the VIP section giving her an off-balance approach. “Wednesday was called away, Sugar. Fella over there said he’s got your next drink. And dance.” She gave me a look that was a little embarrassing, as if to say, I know you’ll like that.

“Well, I’m waiting on Wednesday anyway, so unless he wants to share…”

“He picked out someone else for you. You’ll like her.” She started away from my table but stopped after a few waddling steps. “Ya want the dance or doncha?”

Of course I did, so I followed her, stopping briefly at the bar to cash in my free drink. “A Godfather.” Even Petey B didn’t know that one; amaretto in Scotch. “Dewars,” I corrected as he went for the well.

She led me into a room which had, much like the VIP section, been invisible since I’d arrived. I sat on a plush couch, afraid to look at the seats too closely under the black light. After a few minutes of bass shaking my greater head back into prominence, I decided to slam my drink and leave.

“Ok, gents we gottanother hot mother—What! Shut yo mouth!” prattled DJ Operata, “Why doncha whip it out and give it up! Easy guys, I mean the dollaaaaaaassss. Hey! And it’s getting’ a bit cuh-ra-ra-ra-razy up in hee-uh! Des-ti-neeeeee, got a switch in the rotation, move that moneymaka’ to the main stage, while Mrs. C-c-c-candy, gets dandy with one lucky guy! You too fellas, got the dolla they’ll make ya holla…”

Then Candy came into my life and everything else sort of disappeared. Right then and there.


Candy was out for at least twenty minutes and I was worried. I’m not around much trauma, but that can’t be how long you’re supposed to be out, right? She finally stirred, her body contracting then swimming headfirst across the couch, stretching like a cobra from a pot, with an obnoxious yawn. It was cute on her.

She looked about; at me, her stuff. “What the…” Her eyes froze in saucer shape. Then her irises ticked about the room, the rest of her remaining perfectly still. “You need to go.” She emphasized the word strongly enough I almost did.

“We’re ok. One look at my little buddy,” I raised my hand, the roly-poly exploring it, “and they turned tail and ran.”

“They don’t run, they regroup.” She popped from the couch like a magnet pressed against its own and crashed into me, her hands pelting me with gentle—though I think she was going for tough—shoves toward the door.

I pirouetted behind her, afraid that I might not have the upper body strength to resist her if I tried. “Candy, I don’t mean to be a dick, but I just saved your life and you’re really being…” I couldn’t say anything mean to those pretty green eyes, “Rude.”

Those green eyes weren’t nearly as pretty when she snapped back her lashes and fried me with them, hissing, “Fuller is an idiot,” she struck the d and t sounds like they’d done something wrong. “He kidnapped me because he knew Benny was looking for me.”

God, it was only a day ago, I realized.

“Benny’s lookin’ for the redhead, Petey,” said the scrawny bar runner, apparently convinced that the blaring club tune would keep his secret. “He says he’ll give fifty-g to anyone who brings her in. Seventy if she’s alive.”

My heart split into dozens and the pieces scattered to play bumper cars from my ribs to my ears. I felt like the throbbing from my blood must have been making my skin bubble. I guess not, as they kept talking.

Petey B pressed out a sarcastic laugh, and I swear he checked me out in his peripheral. “Someone snatches up Candy, they ain’t bringin’ her in alive. That’s fact.”

“Are you listening!” she demanded the rhetorical question, somehow, rather than feigning any sort of inquiry.

“No,” I hollered defensively. I’d missed the word I wanted to say, but hey at least I was in the ballpark. Usually I would’ve tried to get away, so I counted it as a small victory in and of itself. Baby steps.

I am,” thundered what I guessed was the voice of Satan’s meaner big brother, the sound flooding the house so that it seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Then I fainted. Only seemed fair.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Natural Selection

Originally posted at my 6 Sentences account, a social network for writers.

"They kill the ducks," hissed the scrawny young woman, leaning into the garbage can behind me, so that at first I could only see the forest green bandanna hugging her sweaty, dirt-blond hair.

I faced her with my trademark inadvertently-indignant eyebrow scrunch, which I never intend to come off as malicious as it always does. She squeezed her eyelids to retaliate my superficial intensity, latching onto my eyes as she mechanically ripped open the rings of my freshly discarded six pack, staring me down like a fighter, pristine blue icebergs beaming within.

She smelled like really good weed or very bad body odor, perhaps both, which was perfect because she was that unwashed, save-the-world hippie type that really cranks my engine. Sure, they like to pretend they want all of us Suits gone from "their city," the hipness of which my people--and our evil, icky money--allegedly diminish tenfold. But I knew upon first contact with my little eco-heroine, hours before we took turns burrowing one another's perspiring backs into the muddying forest floor, that all she really wanted was to set me right; make me see the light.

Swing and a Miss

In my dream, it was someone cheering at a baseball game while I was trying to have a conversation with my cat (if you think that part’s weird, you should also know I fucking hate baseball).

My first thought, as I awoke to hear his final cries for mercy, was of the last thing he had said to me before leaving camp that night: “If there’s grass on the field, play ball.” Now, if there’s one thing I hate as much as a twenty-something pedophile who hides behind the anatomical similarities between an impressionable teenage girl and a grown woman, it’s a slob who takes sports metaphors in vain.

I wasn’t sure when his screams had ended as I was too focused on walking silently toward their fire. Around it, the raucous group--who were very clearly not, as she had said, a group of friends on spring break--lauded the girl’s performance in trapping their dinner, as they passed portions of my buddy from grubby hand to grubby hand.

For hours, until they were all asleep, I hung as soundly as moss to the bark of that tree watching them with dumb, cold reason; a two-hundred-pound man, I calculated, couldn't satisfy a dozen haggard mountainfolk and I’ve never really been a “dessert” kind of guy.

Hallowed be What's-His-Name

The Almighty sulked ascetically in his throne, while the angels and saints tried not to acknowledge such, even though he would instantly forgive them.

Michael, in all his haughty glory, voiced without fear, "Oh God, what's

you're problem?"

Omniscient and thereby patient, He tolerated the irreverence--He'd tamed a bit since the fall-out with Luci--and reminded Himself of the promise not to "bottle it up" anymore.

The cork flew and He bubbled quickly, stung by the reminder of His own words, "Why don't they say 'please' in any of their prayers? And when they improvise, it's always 'Lord we

just ask...'; 'We just wish...'; 'We just!'"

Then as any good father would, He laughed it off and soldiered on, grateful to be beloved enough to be taken for granted.

Originally posted at my 6 Sentences account, a social network for writers.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Athrogarr the Fool

Athrogarr is the central character in a book that I've been working on for a while now. I'm trying to exercise his character in some settings where I can't rely on the strength of his adventures and the cool characters I'm surrounding him with.

Athrogarr sipped his warm beer at the bar, his massive frame supported by an arrangement of three stools. His skin was covered in a thin layer of mud, a mixture of his sweat and the dust from the trail.

Finril stopped behind Athrogarr and sniffed the air exaggeratedly, his pointy blue nose digging through the air like a spade breaking up soil. The slender Nymph on his arm, her skin tone similar enough for them to be a socially accepted couple but a bit greener, laughed deliciously at his show.

He stopped and took one final deep whiff above Athrogarr and painted a look of disgust across his face.

“Oh!” he laughed, “It is you Athrogarr! I thought some fishermen might have left their day’s catch behind. “

Athrogarr poured the rest of his mug down his throat and slammed it down on the counter, banging for a refill. Melinor was swift to the rescue.

“Anything to do for you, Finril?” the stern old Hill Elf asked, as he poured Athrogarr a fresh cup.

“I’m just consulting the local vanguard, Elf. Thank you,” he said, shooing Melinor away with a dismissive backhand wave.

Melinor, who had other business to attend, did not move. He might have recognized tradition and obeyed reverently when called for, but he wasn’t listening to anyone--Nymph or otherwise--tell him what to do in his tavern. He simply leaned over the counter and glared.

“Athrogarr. Let me ask you this. I hired a guide--that is an actual guide; someone who knows their way around the mountain--to take my lovely here and myself on a little adventure some weekends ago. I think we paid thirty-five-hundred round for it.” He threw out the number as if he hadn’t complained about it for hours, at the time. “Tell me… You bodyguards, vanguards, whatever it is that we’re supposed to say… Do you make thirty-five-hundred round per trip?”

Athrogarr looked at Finril incredulously. “What would I do with thirty-five-hundred round?”

Finril laughed obnoxiously. “Anything you want, you brute!” He slapped the Barbarian on the shoulder and his hand bounced like it had smacked the head of a drum. “Go on a holiday! Buy some wine instead of that muddy grog you all seem to like wallowing in!”

“I like this beer,” Athrogarr reasoned.

Melinor smiled sarcastically at Finril, deflecting his insult.

Finril, guffawed again and started off with his woman in tow. “Alllll right,” he condescended.

As the two rode off on their self-satisfaction. Melinor and Athrogarr met eyes, a silent conversation swapped in mere moments. Their eyes and cheeks seemed to swell until they were both pouring raucous laughter across the bar.

“Can’t believe anyone would actually pay to go up in those mountains,” Athrogarr huffed, as soon as he caught his breath.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For Dolls and Demons

" 'Sgonna kill ya."

I nearly swallowed my cigarette, its tip not yet fully ignited as my broadened gaze slid toward the cartoon-witch voice coming from the shadows in the alley
behind me. The blanket of darkness split and peeled backward, as my confusion did the same, pitifully illuminating both the vagrant woman and her actual meaning: the cigarettes would kill me.

I snorted a single heavy, anxious laugh that made my head tilt back and my chest puff forward, like a six-foot-three PEZ dispenser in the flesh.
I shook it off and returned to my vigil.

If the door to "the Casino's" secret entrance were a pet, it would've been put down long ago. It grunted and groaned as it trudged open into the
alleyway, rather than in like a proper door. I had read the archaic concrete scrapes perfectly and the door stopped maybe an inch from my nose, the proximity affecting a reflexive wobble in my crow-footed stance.

My balance is always lousy, but if you factor in my nerves, the awkward stance--I could've just stood further back, hindsight has shown me--and the three hearty sips of
courage from earlier that night... well, simply put: I was screwed. I lost my balance completely and headbutted the door soundly. The collision swatted the inner doorknob into the kidney of one of Benny's two bodyguards; a bonus.

"What the..." Benny Delgado's shocked expression as I rounded the door was a far sight more intimidating than my toughest, most concentrated war face, I'm sure.

I almost shrieked in horror as I felt my left arm rear back and deliver a blow right between Benny "The Demon's" eyes, my index knuckle in his nose and my pinkie exchanging
loud cracks with his front teeth. The blood spewed across my fist, an odd reminder; this was the first nose I'd bloodied since fourth grade, and back then that kid--full disclosure--that chick tackled me and kicked my ass.

But Benny Delgado didn't kick ass, he made ass disappear from the face of the fucking planet. So I was already
hauling mine around the corner of the next block by the time his goons could decipher his bloody, screaming mumbles, "No naftner 'im, ya funkers!"

There was no time to waste. I grabbed the corn husk doll--you can take the boy out of the country...--from the pocket of my hoodie and pressed it against my
fist until it had sopped up more than enough to fulfill my purpose.

The hoods' fancy shoes, the spoils of money much bloodier than Benny's corn-husk effigy, rapped the pavement like a
heavy metal drum solo.

My guts plummeted into my pelvis. Faster than my conscious mind could navigate, I went from being horrified that I wouldn't get control in time, to mortified that I
had. No turning back now; the shit was real. I must have looked like a ghost when I spun to face my pursuers, because they simultaneously skid to a hault, their expensive heels chirping on the asphalt.

Never doubt the value of spectacle. The two oafs murdered offenders as routinely as you or I might say "Bless you" to a sneezer; just a habitual reaction, a
recitation. But when they saw a grown man, moments from an ugly demise, turn to them wielding a doll, they were thoroughly unprepared to respond. The doll danced through the air, hopping across before my chest like a game piece in my trembling hand.

I'm pretty sure the fella on my left was about to laugh, the one on the right about to draw, when they heard the unnatural clicking of much nicer shoes than their own; both heels
coming down at once, then toes coming down at once. Rat-tat, rat-tat, rat-tat.

Thugs love to brag. And, no story could ever top the one about the guy who broke out the doll right before they shot up his knees and tossed him in a trunk,
and then... But they wouldn't get to tell that story. Their boss bounced toward them as if riding the world's greatest pogo stick, each bound taking him fifteen feet up and out.

With the goons distracted, I had time to concentrate, but barely. I closed my eyes and pinched the doll's arm. As I bent it from direction to direction,
Benny likewise groping about in response, I tried to find his thoughts--namely the thought "Where is my gun?" His mind was like a steel cage, though. Couldn't make out a thing. Luckily, on the doll's third reach, "The Demon" Delgado caught hold of his pistol and whipped it around front.

The befuddled thugs had plenty of time to draw down on their boss. But, they wouldn't and I knew it--I didn't have to make him kill them. Without their boss, they
were as good as dead anyway. Those types don't really function properly on their own; I'm sure they were as afraid of losing their orders as they were their lives.

I shook the doll's arm, visualizing firing at the other two men, until I heard several clicks from his empty gun. I had complete control of his limbs, but I wasn't taking any chances with a monster
like that; I wanted that gun empty. I stepped over the goons, but stopped just on the other side. Entranced or no, I still couldn't stand face-to-face with the head honcho.

Angrier than courageous, my voice quivered, "You ever hear the name Candy Ferrari?"

His eyebrows wiggled, struggling against my control. A hot coat of fury wrapped around me and before I knew it, my puppet was pistol whipping himself into

I took his keys, ran to pull his car around, and shoved him into the trunk of his own sedan. I slammed it shut with a loud sigh of relief--no, respite. I shivered off the heebie jeebies, like I'd just
plucked a brown recluse from my hair.


When I reached Mr. Fuller's mansion, the guard at the gate asked me to pop the trunk, "Just need to check."

I clicked the already-locked doors, for effect and rolled my window only half way. "I'll let Mr. Fuller check. Thanks, though." Rude wasn't my usual approach, but I was almost done. I was ready to be done and if he didn't open that gate so I could go through, I was going over it.

The guy sighed, I'm sure reminding himself how grossly underpaid he was. After rolling upward in frustration, his eyes fixed widely on the pistol in my hand.
As he realized the butt was toward him and the business end aimed at my thigh, he remembered to breath and took it with a loud, visible gulp.

platinum-plated handle had the engraved head of a laughing demon on one side with "Benicio" inscribed below in an elegant script, on the other side was the crying face of another demon above "Delgado." The guard swung behind him, keeping his eyes locked suspiciously on me as he slapped at the wall until making contact with a faded gray button. The gate clicked and then hummed and rattled aside for me to pass.

I've been a conjurer since I was knee-high to a duck, but until that moment, watching that tough guy lock his eyes on me like he was worried I'd do something to him, I never really felt powerful.

I sat on the trunk, my plaid high tops swinging back and forth with a soft tap of the bumper. I was in baggy blue athletic shorts, and an aging red hoodie
that said "Dragon Slayer" with a faded-but-colorful illustration of a beheaded dragon above the pocket.

The wind carried a chilly haze of water from the
massive fountain centering the driveway outside Mr. Fuller's front door. Every few minutes my glasses would begin to slide from the moisture or the lenses would fill with specks of water and I'd have to remove them and wipe them off.

I hate fidgeting with my glasses. I feel it draws unnecessary attention to my nerdiness. Talk about fueling a well-stoked fire.

At his leisure, almost as though he'd just happened across his driveway, Mr. Fuller approched the trunk wearing a silk smoking jacket--and I believe nothing else--and carrying a highball. He
was the portrait of ill-gotten gains with his perfectly manicured mustache and falsely black semi-circle of hair.

"Let's see it," he grinned impishly. He looked like he expected a trick; maybe someone dressed up like Delgado, or maybe an out-and-out double-cross
ambush. Or a mermaid, any damn thing but The Demon Delgado.

"I want to see the girl." I tried to sound like the hero in the movies but I could tell from his laughter that I had failed.

"Fuck you, buddy," he chuckled, his harsh words almost dispassionate, and motioned for me to hop up and pop the trunk. I did.

"Well God damn, boy!" he beamed into the trunk at his opponent, tied up in bungie wires and the string that should have been holding up my shorts--you work with what you have.

Finally he looked up at me. When he did, I saw a look I'd never seen; not directed at me anyway. He was impressed and he didn't have the words. His lower lip
protruded slightly and his head bobbed slowly in an approving motion. He sized me up, trying to figure out whether it was worth asking how I did it. He must've decided it wasn't.

He realized he was inadvertently praising someone, someone he would just as soon have seen fed to Delgado's Rottweilers. He snapped out of it, with a sigh of
disapproval--which he pretended was for me--and slapped his eyes across Delgado. Rage filled him like a balloon. "Go get the whore," he shouted to any of his men, sending his misguided hatred my way.

"She's not a whore." I felt that sense of power again and from the look on his face, he could feel my power too. We both knew I didn't know what to do with
it anyway.

Laughing away his concern, be it ever so mild, he regarded me like a child. "Sure, she ain't. Good to know." He might as well have patted me on the head and
called me "little fella."

They brought Candy out of the front door, her curly red hair pinched by the black tie around her eyes. Her hands were untied, but either elbow was held by a
man weighing no less than two of her. They released her hands and she untied the blindfold. She looked at me apologetic but grateful. She scuttled down the stairs and to my side. As she passed Mr. Fuller, he looked at her with a smile that made my insides sizzle, my chest and ribs pressed out to their limit until it felt like my skin would rip. He winked at her and raised his glass. I took the black tie from her hands and rubbed the rim of his outstretched glass, distributing a bewildered pause to all around.

"With just your saliva, I can do much more than I did to him. Leave us alone." Now that I wasn't trying to be hard, only granting fair warning, I think I sounded much tougher.

His face shifted from anger to a sort of pity to a disgusting amusement. His gross smile returning, he taunted, "Well, alright, hero. Hope you and your princess live happily ever after." His
laughter was a rumbling chuckle as he looked back and forth between us. As my face hardened his amusement grew until he could hardly speak the words, "Fuck off, you moron." He shooed us away as he began directing his men on proper Delgado disposal.

Candy started off without a word. I followed her, clumsily as I always am, and finally caught up with her at the gate.

"You shouldn't have come here," she said shaking her head and averting her eyes. She looked pitiful, miserable, at her wit's end. But, she didn't look like she would cry.

"What are you talking about? Those men were going to kill you."

"So?" She looked almost mad; sympathetically disappointed. "What does it matter if they were going to kill me? Now you crossed Benny, he's going to kill you."

"I don't think he's going to get out of there," I felt the morbid smile creeping in and disguised it quickly by contorting my mouth from side to side. The improvisation, as usual, made me look much more foolish than the smile would have made me look cruel... or whatever I was worried about looking like. Dammit, I'm a nerd.

As I berated myself quietly, Candy started to walk away again.

"Wait!" I shouted.

"He's going to get out. And he's going to get you. And then, he's going to get me back. It was sweet of you to try," as she said this a shit-eating-grin built in my heart until she continued, "but you're a goddamn idiot. You shouldn't have involved yourself." She started away once more, her high heels squeaking with her gait.

"How can you say that? We're..." I didn't know what to say.

She stopped, spun and stared daggers through me. "We're business associates. You pay me, I dance."

I tried to at least look like I shrugged it off, "Pay you well." I could tell from the look on her face she didn't have the heart to contradict me; our understanding of money was quite different but she wasn't the type to make someone feel bad over a thing like that.

There was a clamoring mixture of shouts, gunshots, and profanities. Then, from beyond the gate came the loud, moan of bending metal. From the darkness and confusion, the sedan shot into the air and landed on the fountain, sounding like a train wreck caught in an avalanche.

"Oh no," her voice collapsed.

"I'll protect you," I swore.

She looked at me, dumbly, her beautiful lips parted silently as she watched me as though expecting me to go "Just kidding!" She took a deep breath and her ample breasts distracted me with their ascension. When I looked back to her face, I saw the fugitive tears finally making their way home. She tried not to look at me, "They aren't after me. Benny's already got me. I'm not like... one of you."

From the smoke cloud engulfing the front lawn, I saw the form of seven or so men and women, their path apparently ending where we stood.

"But they are." She looked from the figures to me urgently. She was frightened, but unsurprised, as though she'd known exactly what was going to happen. "Go, please."

I could see in her eyes that there was something. Maybe not feelings--not real, actual romantic feelings. But, there was something. And that was enough.

"Wanna see something cool?" I smirked at her. I could feel her anxiety as I stooped and dug around in the foliage along the gate. Finally, I found an agent, and it was a good one: a pill bug; roly poly; man's original best friend.

I held the little fella in my right hand and grabbed her hip with my left. It was hard to stay focused and ignore the remarkable sensation of touching her hip, finally; the club has rules, you see.

Then with a few words that I can't spell and you wouldn't know what to do with anyway, I channeled the tiny agent's might and matter into a towering black dragon. I looked at her and for a moment I swore she was going to laugh delightedly at my skill, but then she just fainted.

Oh well. I may not be smooth, but I get the job done.

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