Fiction#Apr/May/10

May 2010

 And The Music Lives On by u.v.ray
It had been boiling that morning. And later on, when a summer thunderstorm shattered the tense atmosphere, the rain immediately evaporated upon contact with the still hot asphalt. No money left. No smokes. No drink. I was out of almost everything.But I did still have some luck left.She was hitching a ride and she told me her name was Eve. She was wearing skin-tight battered old jeans, a leather waistcoat with nothing underneath, and a pair high heeled leather boots.I picked her up somewhere in Death Valley , California . I’d hired this old Plymouth Barracuda. The car started pulling to the left and thought I’d gotten a flat so I pulled over to the side of the road. I walked around the car but the tyres turned out to be a-o-k, I thought it was probably all the dust and cinder getting caught up in the wheels. I stopped for a moment to take in the barren desert views. It was like being on another planet. I was standing leaning with my back against the car.

And she turned to me and said, “You like girls who like to play dirty?”

“Yeah,” I shrugged. “I suppose.”

And right there in the dust by the side of the road, she unbuttoned my Levi’s and got down on her knees.

***

Apart from a tube of Juicy Fruit and a loaded Smith & Wesson in her hand-bag, Eve didn’t have anything either. A little further along the road we pulled over at a gas station. The place was deserted. We sat in the car for a few minutes checking out the territory. The fuel pumps looked like soldiers standing to attention on parade. Then Eve took out the revolver and said, “Let’s do it.”

Well, what else could I do?

She passed the gun to me and I stuffed it in my belt and covered it over with my corduroy shirt. We walked in the place casually, hand in hand.

The cashier was a pretty blonde. She was wearing a little old fashioned gingham dress that was pink and white. She had bright red lipstick and she was sitting behind the counter nonchalantly filing her nails. Her name badge said Marjorie. She didn’t as much as look up at us until I took out the gun and stuck it in her face.

“Open the register, Marjorie,” I told her.

She dropped the nail file on the floor and threw her hands over her heart. She stuttered for a moment and then said, “I can’t… you… you gotta buy somethin’ before I can open the drawer.”

Eve tossed back her black hair and blew a bubble with her gum. It burst with a pop, “Just open the till, Strawberry Lips, or he’s gonna spread that pretty face up the wall. We’re not fucking around here.”

I looked Marjorie in the eyes and cocked the hammer. “Comprende?”

Marjorie’s hands were shaking. She fumbled about tapping at the buttons on the till – bleep bleep bleep bleep – until finally she got it open. I reached over and shoved her out the way before grabbing all the notes and stuffing in them in my pockets.

“Oh and… hmm” Eve pointed at the cigarette cabinet behind Marjorie. “Give us three packs of Marlboro and some matches.”

“And then I’d like you to go outside and fill up the tank.” I added.

“That was cool,” Eve laughed when we were back in the Barracuda, gunning it along the road with a full tank of fuel. Eve counted the stash as I drove. We’d pulled $950. “I fucking love you,” she said. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Eddie Cochran, baby.”

Eve laughed again. “No really, what’s your name?”

So I told her once more – yeah, my name is Eddie Cochran. “What do you wanna see? My fucking tattoo?”

This time Eve just looked at me dead straight and said, “Yeah? And I suppose you wear a cobra snake for a neck-tie, too?”

“Nah, you’ve got that wrong, kid.” I put one of the Marlboro’s between my lips. “That was my friend Bo Diddley. Me? I don’t like snakes. Nasty things, snakes. I can’t stand them.”

***

We drove until we found a roadside bar called the Blue Monkey where we played Chuck Berry on the juke box while we sat at the bar drinking draught beer with whisky and jack chasers until we were both falling off our stools. Afterwards we rolled into the 49er Motel just a little further along from the bar. By this time it was dark and the motel’s neon sign was lit up. It flashed and shone through the thin fabric curtains in our room turning the bare walls blue then red.

I always liked the dark haired girls. Eve peeled off that tight leather waistcoat. She had perfect tits with cherry red nipples. I lay back on the bed toying with the revolver, spinning it round and round; I was just trying to act cool, as if I’d seen a million other girls like Eve before.  She still had on her faded jeans. She had her hands on her hips with one knee resting on the bed. And with her head cocked to one side and her hair hanging down she said, “You know you want me.”

I put the gun on the bedside table, wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her down on the bed with me.

“Yeah, come here, you little bitch.”

***

The tattoo on my arm was of two crossed guitars and between the two crossed necks it said my name – Eddie C.

Eve traced her fingers over it. “I fucking love you.” She said again.

I nodded “Of course you do, baby” and sparked up another cigarette. I reached over for the remote on the table by the bed and switched on the TV.  The world was waking to the news that George Bush had defeated Dukakis in the presidential election.  I flicked through the channels but they were all telegraphing the same damn news that I didn’t care to hear about.

“Come on, baby,” I told Eve, throwing aside the covers and rolling out of bed. “Get your clothes on. Let’s go and get some breakfast.”

I pulled the Barracuda back onto the highway and headed east. I drove for I don’t know how long but in the distance we could see the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then up ahead, shimmering into view in the rising heat, they’d set up a police road block. From nowhere another police cruiser appeared, speeding up behind us with all the Christmas lights blazing away and a gruff voice over the loudspeaker blasted, “Pull over!”

“Oh fucking shit!” Eve punched the dash as we approached the awaiting cavalry.

“Stay cool,” I told her. “One thing these bastards can never take away is your cool.”

I stopped the car and a cop with a loud hailer ordered me out of the car. I could feel the tension; their trigger fingers were itching. The cops behind us were stooping behind their car doors with rifles pointed at us. I swung open my door and tossed out my cigarette stub. I stepped out and crushed the burning ember with the heel of my cowboy boot.

“Get on your knees, put your hands on your head and keep ‘em there.”

One of the cops kept his .38 trained on me as he walked over. He came around behind me and said, “Don’t move, buddy, don’t even let me see you fucking breathe. Don’t let me see as much as your asshole twitch or I’ll put a bullet straight in your head. You get me?”

Another cop went around the other side and pulled Eve out. He cuffed her up and as she was being dragged away to one of the cop cars she turned and shouted, “I love you, Eddie Cochran.”

The cop snapped the cuffs on my wrists and said, “Alright pal, what’s your goddamn name?”

“You heard the woman,” I turned my head and faced him. “I’m Eddie fucking Cochran, man!”

The cop kicked me down on my face and put his full weight on me with his knee in my back. “Yeah?” he leaned down, putting his mouth close to my ear. “I’m Buddy Holly. And you see my friend over there – he’s Ritchie Valens, you fucking clown.”

“Sweet baby fucking Jesus – now we’re talking,” I laughed. “We’ve got ourselves an all-star jam.”

*

Over the last two decades u.v.ray’s poetry, fiction, and articles have appeared in numerous publications including Smoke, Dogmatika, 3:AM, Byker Books, Aesthetica and The New Statesman. His first collection of poetry was published in 2005 and he is currently seeking a publisher for his first novella.

Keep updated u.v.ray-style at:

www.uvray.moonfruit.comWhen You Want Me More by Jen Ricci

“Do you want to play a game?” Vanessa asked Guy, her beautiful legs wrapped around his waist and cock. She kissed him meaningfully, teasing his tongue and feeling his cock go a little bit harder. He moved a bit, but there was nowhere to move, really, on a chair. His movements were limited…Vanessa looked into his eyes and while doing so thrust her pussy on his groin.“Take your panties off” he pleaded.“No…we’ll play a game” she smiled, a naughty smile. Guy’s cock went rock hard, she could feel it down there…“So the game is…I kiss you like this…” and she started, slowly, deliberately, working her tongue in his mouth, licking his teeth and then reaching to his tongue, which sure enough responded…and while playing with their tongues for some time, she gently pressed her hips against his, again, aware of his hands caressing and grabbing her buttocks.

“…then I ask you questions…” and with that she slid down and while keeping eye contact, thrusting her breasts over the left knee and thigh, she undid his belt and zip, pulled down the trousers, she took out his cock in full erection.

Her hand started slowly massaging it, then she bent over and took the head in her mouth, sucking it…he emitted a long sigh of pleasure, very stiff, a hand grabbed Vanessa’s long honey blond hair.

At this she placed his big cock between her tits, squeezing it suggestively in between her breasts…

“The first question is, Guy…do you like me? Do you want me… Guy?”

“Yeah…now I want you now…take you panties off and let’s fuck on the floor” he pleaded, his hands caressing her shoulders. “Your skin is so smooth, Vanessa, I just want you there on the floor.”

She gave him a naughty smile.

“Look at this, do you like it…” and so saying she started sucking her middle finger, in and out of her mouth, working the tongue around it and liking the tip, then down all the way on the finger, her other hand on his stiff member; then down, she took the head in her mouth and more of it until it was all in her throat.

As he was so overcome by pleasure and excitement almost to the point of cumming in her face right there and then, she started licking his balls and cock, following the same routine she had for her middle finger: a fact that didn’t escape him…

“Do you want to be inside me?” Vanessa asked her willing pray.

“Yes…please, now, please” he moaned, with a pleading look in his eyes.

“…but you have to beg me…this is the game…” she licked from his balls over the length again, sucking his them for a while and quite enjoying it.

“First you kiss my feet” she continued “then you work your way up my legs, my inner thighs, then finally…” and at this she lasciviously licked her middle finger again, with a sexy smile “…you can kiss my pussy. But you cannot remove my panties, you have to kiss over it.”

She stood up and opened her shirt, so that now the silver bra was full visible. She let the skirt fall, revealing a silver thong. She placed a hand and gently pulled down the little triangle that covered her, only so that he could see it: then she put a finger on her clit and touched it for a few seconds, moaning and tossing her head backwards.

At this she stopped and lied down on the floor, her legs open, her pussy covered by the thong: Vanessa smiled at him…

“I don’t beg for anyone, but I’ll do it for you” said Guy. He stood up and got rid of his trousers and shirt. His cock was fully erect in his boxers…she eyed it with lust and licked her lips.

He started kissing her feet, sucking her toes then up the inner leg, kiss after kiss…until her reached her pussy.

“You can kiss over it…you can lick my wet around it” Vanessa said. Truth said she wanted him inside her.

Guy licked around her pussy and over her panties, then without asking he pulled the panty at a side and started eating her, around and in, more and more…she moaned of pleasure.

She was now lying on the rug, he removed her panties and his boxers, but left her bra on, not concerned with that apparently: or maybe he found it sexy…he spread her legs part and gave her pussy a good deep hungry lick, then no longer able to take this slow torture anymore finally penetrated her, his cock very very stiff…as he entered her, she emitted a loud moan.

Their bodies one into the other, united by pleasure, he went in deep in her many times and at increasing speed: first  rather gently then penetration became more territorial, passionate, as the hunger for this woman grew as opposed to diminishing. There in her, now he wanted her to be his.

Vanessa had now given him the lead, her legs wide spread and his cock penetrating her deep, she loudly let him know she did like this…she grabbed his buttocks and pushed him even deeper.

“Take me now…” she whispered “I am at climax…I’m cumming”

As she came, a loud moan filled the room and a  scream as he took her: having held his orgasm for more than an hour, Guy came too…their bodies and soul were united for a few more moments in an intense sexual pleasure neither had never experienced before.

Jen Ricci is a horror and erotica writer by night, and an alternative health and pet care writer by day: she has been writing for over twenty years but professionally for only two.
She has written for Sex and Murder Magazine, The World of Myth, Positive Health, One up and Excite and she is based in South London UK.

Mass by Chris Deal

(For Henry Darger)
In the hours when the streets were crystals of dew, before the sun came and burned it all away and before I had to start my day at the hospital, I left my building and walked 133 steps to the parish and up the eight steps and through the vestibule to my pew they reserved for me in the back.  I never wanted to bother any of the other people worshipping and I always sat in the empty pew at the back.  The priest and the altar servers came out, the boys holding the great cross and swinging the incense and the priest went up to the alter and opened his book and we made the sign of the cross  The priest talked about the Lord and that was nice, he had a nice voice and said good things about how the Lord said to love your brother.  I listened closely even though I did not have a brother and I had not seen my sister since we were both little, before my father died but after my mother died when she gave birth to my little sister.  One day my sister was there playing with her doll and the next day she was not, and my father, he was a good man but his cough was bad and between coughs he said that Laura, my little sister and his daughter, was with a new family because he could not take care of both of us.  This was before my father could not take care of me either and had me taken to the home for children and before the home for children sent me to the farm.  I do not know if my sister had a brother in her new family but if she did I hope she loved him like the priest said the Lord wanted and you should always do what the Lord wanted.
I had to be at the hospital at seven so I could start cleaning up, first front corridor and then I would take the elevator up to the top floor and clean up there, the children’s ward.  Sometimes the doctors would call out over the speakers, Henry, we need you in the emergency room or Henry, could you come down to the burn ward but most days I would go up to the children’s ward and clean there while talking with all the children about their days and their dreams and I would tell them stories about Abbieannia and the seven Vivian girls and their war against the evil Glandelinians, and sometimes the children would call me silly but one girl, Elsie, she was there for a long time and she would always ask about what the Vivian sisters had been doing.  One day, I went to work and Elsie was not there, and I did not tell the children any stories that day.After the priest spoke the Liturgy of the Word, the corporal cloth was spread over the altar and the bread and the wine were brought out and we in the pews stood and the priest said Pray, brethren, that our sacrifice may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father, and we responded May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his Church and then we lifted our hearts up to the Lord and then we sang Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might, Heaven and Earth are full of your glory, Hosanna in the Highest, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the Highest and then we kneeled as the bread and the wine became the body and the blood of the Christ as we said the Pater Noster and the priest said Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever, we said.

When I finish my day at work I return to the parish for mass and then go home and have my supper, a cheese sandwich and a glass of pop and then the Vivian girls come by and we talk and I tell them about my day at work and the girls tell me about what happened in Abbieannia today, how they fought against the Glandelinians who would take the young children of Abbieannia and make them renounce the Lord and then they worked the children in the fields like I did when I lived on the farm and how the men of Glandelin would work the children and I told them that was wrong, that those children like all children, they had rights as children of the Lord and should not be treated ill as the Glandelinians do to them.  I tell the girls that I fight for them here on Earth and that I will never let a child be hurt like they are in Abbieannia.  The girls and I would play and then they would go home and I would write about the girls and then do some painting and drawing of the girls, and then I write in my journal about what the weather was like that day and then I think about the girls, like how one of them looked just like that girl from the hospital Elsie and she was happy with her sisters and with the fight against the Glandelinians even though it was brutal and there was much death and blood.

The priest called the congregation up to receive the host and I was at the back of the line, waiting patiently as a song started in the front pews, two rows of young girls singing a hymn, the music floating though the sanctuary like perfume on the wind, filling my heart with joy and taking it up to the Lord as I bow before the Host and when the priest places it on my tongue, the singing girls stand to their feet and applaud, screaming Long live Henry, the great, thank you Henry, and the priest applauds me and the congregation applauds and the girls promise to tell stories of me in Abbieannia and even though I have never had a good day here, I smile for them.


C
hris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina.  His debut collection of very short fiction, Cienfuegos, just came out on Brown Paper Publishing.  If you are so inclined, check him out online at www.Chris-Deal.com.  He recently found out he can successfully fry plantains without ruining them, and he feels the need to tell everyone about that.

Represent by Jason Duke

He follows me wherever I go. I sit at a covered bus stop, it’s the #10 bus route, and it runs through Phoenix from 27th Avenue and Durango Street to 28th Street and Camel Back Road. Forget everything you think you know – forget red, forget green, forget yellow. He’s a black man; sunglasses hide his eyes. He stands next to me, and he represents everything you think you know. Forget orange, forget purple, forget brown, forget blue – forget all the colors of the rainbow – all the colors of the rainbow. The world was never black and white, it was always shades of grey. The world was never about black and white – it was always about shades of grey.I squint to read Racism by Miles and Brown. The sun’s set. The limbo of orange-hued haze that eclipses the city is gone. A streetlight flickers on overhead. It hums and winks, off and on, not sure if it wants to do its job, a genuine public servant, and the bugs are already starting to swarm. The daytime heat lingers like a frying pan taken off the burner to cool. During the day, the heat ripples in the air like waves on the ocean.I read from the book; look up for a response. He stands still, fixed expression, no emotion, a living statue. If not for his breathing he’d pass for dead. Twin circles of light appear down the street. The lights of the #10 loom into view. He reaches into his pocket; pulls out a piece of paper. He gives it to me and there’s something written on it. The bus slows with a whiny screech. The glass and metal door opens with a hiss of air. It says I won’t like what I find.*****

I sit near the front of the bus. The interior is blinding, a lit box looking out on the quasi dark of the city nightlife, a purgatory between stops. I read from the book. Through the darkened windows, the city blurs in this perpetual motion trail of glowing colors and lights. I continue reading; peer over my shoulder. He sits straight and rigid at the back; stares straight ahead, denying me any hint of recognition. I flip through pages.

The rest of the bus is empty. The white bus driver, he’s curious, and he looks up in the rearview mirror. I read again; look back at him. He stares straight ahead, unmoving, unresponsive. I fixate on his sunglasses; try to pierce the black alien lenses for a glimpse into his eyes, but I can’t. I ask if he’s ever heard of Race Traitor?

The bus driver smiles and says: “Can’t say that I have.”

“What?” I say.

“Race Traitor? What’s that?” the bus driver smiles again.

I stare out the darkened windows and mumble treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity. The bus driver’s smile drops away.

“What’s your name, son.”

“Huh?”

“You mind repeating what you said… you know, that bit about something being loyalty to humanity? I didn’t quite catch that.”

The bus slows; pulls up to another stop. The doors open and people step inside, pay the fare, search for seats. I jump up and rush to the side door. He rises mechanically; follows behind me as I hurry off the bus.

*****

I walk along the street. He follows behind, stoic and rigid. Traffic whizzes by and the sounds of the city blare loud and obnoxious all around. I’m not distracted and read out loud. He stops as we pass a liquor store parking lot. He turns and faces the store. The store’s called Baja Market. An old homeless black man in a frayed tweed suit tap dances on the peeling asphalt, saying ‘I got the juice, I got the juice’ over and over. The homeless man’s oily face and hands glisten in the heat.

The heat is unbearable, the way God holds a magnifying glass over the city. An American flag and Mexican flag hang side-by-side from the store roof. A dust devil dances for a giant mural of Chicanismo spray-painted across the front wall. There’s a payphone out front, and in front of the phone is a deep blood stain in the sidewalk. I stop and read to him. The homeless man tap dances over to me, sticks out his hand, gestures for me to do the same.

“C’mon, get it out there, baby,” the homeless man smiles. “Show the Juiceman some love.”

I hesitate, then stick out my hand.

“Yeah, there it is.”

He slips me some skin and points down at my hand.

I look down at my hand, then back up at him.

“You got the juice now.”

*****

There’s a young black man at the payphone, maybe 25, he says his name is James, and he shoos the Juiceman away.

“Hey, man… you need help with something?” James asks.

James is young and proud, has a husky build, short afro and stubble beard. James says this isn’t a good neighborhood for me. He walks away; doesn’t follow me anymore. James says he hears me reading. I tell him whatever it is, we can work it out, I’m a person too, skin color’s made a mess of the world. He keeps walking.

James tells me I made a mess of the world – white people made a mess of the world. I’m just too ignorant to see it. I keep the black man enslaved; make it so that a brother can’t do. James points his finger up at the sky, twirls it around, and says my ideology’s floating around up in the clouds, then he points his finger down and says I need to come back down to reality because the world doesn’t work that way, it never has, it’s always been about color, probably always will.

I say please, let’s work it out, we can talk, you don’t have to do this, we can work it out. He walks to an alley and enters. I tell James maybe it will, but only if people keep looking at life racially the way he does, and he calls me an ignorant whiteboy. I say I may be ideological, but at least I’m willing to confront the issue, and James says if I really want to understand why people think racially, go into that alley.

“Are you okay, man?” James says.

“Huh?”

“I said are you okay? Did you need some help?” James smiles.

James is young.

James is proud.

James is black.

“You look a little lost? You sure you’re okay?” James says.

*****

I see a police cruiser drive into the alley. Some cruisers are all black, some are all white, this one is a combination of the two. The alley lights up in flashes of red and blue. I hear doors open and close; hear the police shouting. I run to the alley. It doesn’t smell of piss. It doesn’t smell of shit. It doesn’t smell of rancid garbage, or stale dog or cat, or any of those things you might think – only the stifling grit that’s blown in over the asphalt and wedged itself in the cracks and seams, drying into a thick build-up of crud along the edges. It’s not littered with trash either: no broken glass, no used needles, no beer cans, crack vials, plastic baggies, beer bottles, soda bottles and cans, or any of those things you might think. The alley’s clean and all the garbage is in a dumpster where it dead-ends at the back. The grit and the dumpster are its only character.

He stands at the back. The cops close in on him shouting, ordering him to lay face down on the ground, but he won’t move. The alley’s dark except for the disorienting red and blue flashes, and I can’t tell what color the cops are. They move toward him with their billy clubs out. He stands there, fixed expression, no emotion, a living statue. If not for his breathing he’d pass for dead. I look for the book, but it’s not in my hand. They beat him with their clubs and he falls to the ground. He shields his face with his hands, and he looks to me.

James runs up behind me and laughs, “Oh shit, they’re really fucking that nigga up!”

I look behind me, but James isn’t there. He looks to me, he’s reaching toward me, arms outstretched towards me. He opens his mouth to scream, but he has no tongue. The cops, they swing into his head, and the sunglasses go flying and break against the ground. His eyes are empty black sockets. He tries to stand and the cops kick him and punch him and beat him back down with their billy clubs. I watch them cuff his hands. I watch them hoist him up, drag him to the cruiser, throw him in the back. I watch them drive toward me, and I move out of the way.

*I’m a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and served 15 months in Iraq as part of OIF 07-09. Before joining the Army I went to Arizona State University and earned a BA in Public Relations. My work has appeared or is forthcoming in Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler Magazine, Crimefactory, Pulp Pusher, Flash Fiction Offensive, A Twist of Noir, Darkest Before Dawn, The Hiss Quarterly, 3am Magazine, and Shred of Evidence, among others.*

Purge by William Blick

Eddie woke up and wished he was dead. Or at least wished he was someone else. The night before at Breen’s bar had been the usual bucket of blood soiree  with loose women, shots of sweet liquors, jukebox oldies, and stale beer. Now his tongue was on fire and his throat was parched.He rolled out of bed because had to be at the unemployment agency by 8:30. But first he needed to put something in his stomach. He went into the bathroom to take a leak and he stared at the swirling water in the toilet below. It wasn’t too long before he retched and heaved up the stale booze from the night before.. Regrets, mistakes, sin, redemption, carnality, materialism, greed, heartbreak. He released them all in one foul vomiting motion. He fell to his knees, sweat pouring from his forehead.Yes, he did wish he was someone else.Jake’s Diner was located on Maple and Vine. Right on the avenue. Right under his apartment. All he could afford was oatmeal and coffee. But it was just as well, because that was all he could get down. The oatmeal was lukewarm and he looked at the swirl of the creamy brown substance. Suddenly, he was filled with the urge to retch again. He ran to men’s room, but it was occupied, so he burst into the vacant ladies room and fell to his knees in the stall. He coughed and retched, but nothing came up. Nothing at all. He retched again, but this time something did come up. It was a ring. He looked at the little gold circle in the water below. He knew this ring. It was his wedding ring.

Eddie sat on the floor of the toilet stall. His wife. Adultery. An affair. Cheating. Lying. Sin. Carnal. Divorce. Venal. Left him without a penny. He let his children and wife and house and life slide right through his fingertips in one swoop.

He got himself together. Washed his face in the sink and went back out into to the dining room to face the world. He paid his check and looked at his watch. Shit! He was going to miss his bus.

He ran down the street to the bus stop and caught Q90 just in the nick of time. He went to the back of the bus where there was a mother with a child in a baby stroller, a young African-American boy on his way to school, and a drunk.

He sat back in his seat and breathed a sigh of relief. Suddenly and without warning, he became filled with the urge to retch again. He stood up and breathed deeply. What was he going to do? He felt like he would puke all over the orange city bus seats. He let a fierce heaving cough. Everyone looked at him, but nothing came up from the pit of his stomach except some saliva. He felt something caught in his throat. He gagged and choked until it came up in his hands.

He sat down trying to act like nothing happened. There in the palm of his hands was a little loose-leaf fragment of paper covered in mucus. He opened it. Numbers. As clear as day there were numbers scrawled on the paper. 25-32-16.

The union box at the union hall. Union dues. The heist. The robbery. The thievery. The misery. The desperation. He knew these numbers. Knew them well. The bust. The jail time. The regret. Oh, the regrets.

By the time everyone had stopped looking at him on the bus. Eddie was ready to get off the bus the stand on the unemployment line. He exited the bus and entered the large employment services office. There were mothers, and kids, and poor downtrodden, unemployed people. Everyone had the same look of desperation on their face. Times were hard.

He began filling out the paperwork when that familiar urge that had been plaguing him all morning filled his belly. He ran into the rancid, stale bathroom of the agency and threw up. Again, nothing came up. He heaved again. This time two dice lodged themselves from the back of throat and from the corners of his soul.

He looked at the swirling mass of mucus and bile in the waters below. The dice were staring straight up at him. Snake Eyes. As clear as can be.  Oh, addictions, debt, broken thumbs, bookies, lying, cheating stealing.

Again, he washed himself in the sink. Again, he went out to face the world. When it was his turn at the unemployment benefits window, he was turned down for aid, not surprising to him. He walked out of the agency and decided to walk all the way home out of fear of retching on the bus. When he got to his dingy, roach infested apartment on the 3 rd floor, he walked straight into the bathroom

Eddie looked in the mirror. A shell of a man. A man who had everything and now has nothing because of greed, lust, thievery, lying, stealing. A man who did not want to be who he was. He wanted desperately to be someone else. Something else. A fireman. A banker. A lawyer. A priest. He wanted to be young chasing butterflies.. He wanted to be retired and old with a crop of grandkids. He wanted to be French, Indian, Canadian. He wanted to be admired, respected. Not loathed and lonely. How did things come to such a pass.?

He felt that familiar feeling and started throwing up. He heaved and heaved. He retched for the pain. He heaved for the regret. He gagged for those things which he did not have. He wanted to expel this misery from his soul. He wanted to purge the very fabric of his being.

Eddie Longman let out one final heaving gag and he did it. He threw himself up. He was no longer himself, but someone else covered in ooze and slime swirling in the toilet below. He was new. Purged. He had escaped to be reborn.

Eddie climbed out of the filth and slime in the toilet naked and was a new being.

William “Bill” Blick is  writer and film critic from New York an MA in English literature from Queens College, and has published several film criticisms and short stories in Mysterical- e, Ascent Aspirations, Everyday Weirdness, Thrillers, Chillers, and Killers, Revisions, Alien Skin, Clockwise Cat, Inscribed: A Magazine for Writers, Bewildering Stories, Straitjackets magazine, Seven Seas Magazine, Underground Voices, Pulp Pusher, and Scribal Tales. He currently teaches writing for the University of Phoenix and is at work on his master’s of Library Science degree at Queens College . Recently, he was invited to present papers on international film and film noir at the University of Georgia and the Midwestern Conference for Popular Culture.

Good Neighbors by Charlie Coleman

Weston had two separate societies, one criminal, residing in the penitentiary, and the other, criminal, residing outside the penitentiary.Mick Lash, a certified criminal, had done time for a Social Security scheme utilizing his father and four other seniors to cash stolen Social Security checks.  Despite his best efforts to implicate his father and the seniors the court bestowed on him, as a parting gift, a sentence reflecting the bulk of the rap. Mick’s five senior accomplices received community service, ironically, at the Weston Senior Community Social Center.  His opportunistic attitude permeated back through college and high school initially surfacing in grammar school.  A criminal apprenticeship there involved hiring fifth graders to strong-arm lunches from third graders and sell them to fourth graders at a discount.  Cognizant of market conditions, he placed a premium on BLTs and PBJs.  Prison hadn’t eradicated his ethics. There wasn’t anything to alter in the first place.  A medicated prison life, however, did accessorize him with a new buddy, namely barbiturates.Lucille Jackson, an uncertified criminal, functioned in a dual role as the prison psychiatrist and the institution’s most neurotic individual.  She was a six foot, high-cheeked, raven-haired stunning beauty, but still neurotic.  Additionally, she functioned at the prison and now out of it as Mick’s therapist/drug dealer.  She felt that keeping Mick “barbied” reduced anxiety.  Mainly hers, she felt much better.  Who knew how he felt?  Her sortie in domesticity involved being the wife of Tim, the prison warden and soon to be criminal.  She was attracted both to Mick’s Cary Grant good looks and her husband’s Spencer Tracy good looks.  She was attracted to sex with two different men.  This reduced her anxiety even further.  Unfortunately, she absorbed like a sponge the daily ordeals of the former inmate and the current warden and served as their respective release valves.  Everything they offloaded ended up in her in-box, mentally and physically.  Capacity was being stretched.  If she wasn’t careful, she might eventually have a set of stretch marks from one or the other to match the ones already etched upon her psyche.  This effectively devoured any anxiety reduction.On the appointed Thursday, Mick’s therapy session began in her office located in her house.

“Do we have to talk about my father and his inadequacies and how they migrated and squatted in my personality? How about we just cut to the sex?  Let’s skip the bsing.  I get more out of the sex than the talking.  I know that after screwing you, I’ll feel better.  I can’t always say the same for the talking part.  Better laid than loquacious.”

“You seem to have forgotten that the original purpose of our sessions was your inability to relate to others, to show empathy or compassion towards them.  It wasn’t the gratification of your sexual urges.”

“What if gratification of my sexual urges makes me feel better?  Isn’t that, at the end of the day, the point of all of this?  I’ll be a more responsible adult or some crap like that?  Let’s take it from the sex part.  We can talk later.  If I’m in the mood.”

“I’m billing the state for your therapy.  Do you think that it’s fair that they should have to pay for our time together screwing.”

“Somebody has to pay you for screwing. It might as well be the taxpayers.”

As Lucille’s hand traversed the landscape of Mick’s face she replied, “You’re a hopeless pig, an absolute mother fucking hopeless pig, fuck you!”

Grabbing Lucille by the arm, Mick bellowed, “Don’t call me a pig you fucking bitch!”

Her knee made a pilgrimage to her favorite anatomical neighborhood, his groin.  He folded over like a beach chair.  Standing him up and pushing him backwards led to his head striking the end of a credenza with a resonant thud.  Blood gushed out resembling a crimson waterfall gracefully descending to the floor ignorant of its depriving humanity of one of its more radiant rebels.  She recoiled aghast as he trailed like a snake following the path blazed by his blood to his demise.  Lucille stood motionless, not quite adjusting to her actions.  After defrosting from the initial shock, she reached for her cell phone.  Punching in Tim’s number required three fumbling attempts.  Realizing that she didn’t know what she would say, except the truth, which was infected with infidelity, she halted and hung up.  Composing herself by breathing deeply several times, thereby sounding like an old train going up a hill, she thought about what to say. Standing there she was beginning to savor a sense of satisfaction.  Dialing exuded, “Tim, honey, we have a problem. Come to my office as soon as possible.”

Tim had worked in the prison system for twenty years.  This worked to his advantage. Inmates had wittingly and unwittingly taught him the tricks of their trade.  Because of his dual “citizenship”, he could function well in both societies.

When Tim arrived she met him in the foyer.

“One of my patients is waiting for you in my office.”

Upon seeing Mick’s lifeless figure lying across the floor like a misplaced throw rug, he exclaimed, “What in the name of God…”

“I had no choice, he was going to go to the police and tell them about the barbiturates that I gave him while he was in prison.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I gave him samples in addition to the prescription that he already had.  A practice sustained on both sides of the fence.  I addicted him and kept him hooked.”

“Sometimes I think that you’re hooked. We have to get rid of the body.”

“Why don’t we bury him in the backyard next to Rex?  What the hell, he always loved Rex.  Just think, they’ll be happy together. They’re both mongrels.  Rex was just better behaved than Mick.  Let’s set our alarm for three AM. With nobody around, we can get up and plant Mick.”

“How are we supposed to sleep?”

“How does anyone do anything in life these days?”

“Tell me, Doctor.”

“Medicated.”

With their alarm manually set and their bodies medically set they retired.  They awoke at three AM and set about their biggest landscaping project since Lucille potted rose bushes on the side of the house.  After dragging Mick into the backyard they quietly dug until a suitable depository was engineered about two yards from Rex.  Mick cooperated fully.  He would make a good next door neighbor for Rex.  Quickly, they covered him up.

“Lucille, do you want to say a prayer over him?  After all, he was your patient.”

“No, the hell with him. I do pray, however, that in the long run he doesn’t ruin my lawn.”

Next door to them resided Ronnie, a five-foot four, doe eyed, auburn-haired to her butt former archaeologist. She might as well have been criminal.  Ronnie was successfully divorced from a prestigious divorce attorney and wallowed in her opulence.  Her inherent problem was that she didn’t have any business to attend to, except everyone else’s, a business that she was quite good at.  Having been a former archaeologist, she was also good at digging things up.  That was evidenced by the fact that the grounds for her divorce were her uncovering her husband with his briefs down with one of his better looking clients. And that client was originally a guy to boot.  But, like gender, anything can change and usually does.

The morning after Mick’s interment she let her dog, TR, short for tomb raider, possibly the only non criminal around, out.  Like mother like daughter. TR liked to dig things up.  Ronnie’s yard looked like the surface of the moon with craters scattered to and fro like so many daffodils thanks to TR’s self directed yard renewal project.  TR, growing tired of her territory, decided on an expansionist policy and dug her way below the fence and through to the Jackson’s yard.  True to her nature, she kept digging and unearthed a hand with an arm attached. She left it sticking out of the ground. It looked as if it was trying to be called on. Shortly, it was. Neither Tim nor Lucille were home to delight in TR’s discovery.  Ronnie however, was.  TR yelped in joy of her discovery attracting Ronnie.  After the initial shock triggered by flashbacks of Carrie, Ronnie dug further exposing enough of Mick to identify him.  Aside from the dirt, Mick, true to his good looks, looked great in repose.  After admiring him for a minute, she reburied him.  This struck her as somewhat remarkable.  In all of her archaeological digs, she had never reburied someone.  She usually had enough trouble finding them.

That evening she paid a neighborly visit to Lucille.

“Oh, hi, Ronnie, nice to see you.  And I see that you have brought a King Cake.  Please come in.”

“Thanks.”

“Why don’t I get some plates and forks for the cake?  I’ll cut it.  I already have some coffee brewed.  Sit down. Is this just a friendly call or can I do something for you?”

“I think it’s more along the lines of what I can do for you.  I’ll take the knife and cut the cake.  As you probably know, there is a Baby Jesus buried in the cake.  It is supposedly good luck to get the piece that has the Baby Jesus in it.  Between the two of us you would think that the odds are that we would not locate the Baby Jesus without several tries as we’re both lapsed Catholics.  That said, though, I think that I’m really good at this, better than most.”

“Why’s that Ronnie?”

“Having been an archaeologist gives me a decided edge when digging things up, especially when things are people.”

“Where is this conversation going.”

“You tell me. Anyone slumming in your backyard lately?”

“Just what are you driving at?”

“I stumbled over Mick a little while ago.  He didn’t say hello.  As a matter of fact he didn’t say anything.  He’s become really quiet, extremely quiet, dead quiet.”

“How in the name of God do you know about that?”

“Simple, you don’t know how to keep your secrets buried, my dear, that’s all.”

“Look…”

“No, you look.  This does not have to be a major archaeological find for this neighborhood.  It’s possible to keep it between the two of us.  In fact, it’s possible to bury the hatchet correctly, so to speak.”

“Just what do you mean?”

“Good question.  I have a good answer. I want your husband.”

“And just what makes you think that you can have him.”

“Simple, because I already do.”

“What?”

“That’s right, I already do.  I can’t thank you enough. You’re such a good neighbor. In the first place, you eliminated the one other person that knew. In the second place, you provided me with the means to get you out of the picture.  Unfortunately, I don’t subscribe to the good neighbor policy.  I suggest that you leave.  Tim knows about this meeting.  That’s why he’s working late.  He’ll be staying with me tonight.”

“Well, it seems as if you’ve thought of everything.”

“Let’s give credit where credit is due.  You helped fill in the blanks.  Please be gone by tomorrow.”

With that, Ronnie departed, returning home to await Tim.

About an hour later, after hearing Tim pull up in Ronnie’s driveway and enter her house, Lucille called the police.  “This is Dr. Lucille Jackson.  I’d like to report a murder.  I suspect that my husband, Tim, and my next door neighbor, Ronnie Bartlett, have murdered one of my patients, Mick Lash.  They thought that Mick was about to tell me that they were having an affair.  They didn’t know that he already had.  I found Mick’s body buried in my backyard when I went to place flowers on my dog Rex’s grave.  It’s his birthday.  He loved roses.  As I placed the flowers, I noticed that the ground was disheveled next to his grave.  That’s where you’ll find Mick. Please don’t disturb Rex’s grave.”

Lucille then sat down and cut the King Cake, and lo and behold, unearthed the Baby Jesus.

Charlie Coleman is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York.

April 2010

Spiders By Michael Treder

In a room full of spiders, there lived a queen, fat and overfed, like a round, black ball of glass. And she’d stare down from above, watching as her many children would capture and eat grey flies and ensnare the small beetles that walked upon the earth, and she’d watch them all with her many, many eyes from her silver, near supernatural web.“Just one won’t hurt,” she’d say to herself, “they won’t miss just one.” And she’d lower herself down, like a god from the machine, on a silken, transparent string and in her black, claw-like beak, she’d snatch up one of the smaller spiders and carry it back to her plate. “They never miss just one,” she’d say again, as she began to feed, “And besides, there’s always more where that came from.”
BIO:
Michael Treder is a playwright currently living in Montreal. His short-stories have appeared in Quantum Muse, Death Head Grin, Flashes In The Dark, and the Cynic Online Magazine.www.michaeltreder.blogspot.com


Mustard Man By Richard Godwin

‘Put a little pepper on it’, he said, a casual grin spreading across his face, his legs straddling the floor, hands on hips, pointing into the snake’s head buckle on his belt.Norm looked at him and said:‘What are you talking about?’‘Without a little spice, our lives are simply humdrum. Now, you been working all hours, bringing in little or no pay for a wife who screws you one way and not the other, while she’s giving her tail to any and sundry who may care to offer her a dime and a quick grin, so what do you say?’

‘You sayin my wife’s fuckin around?’

‘I ain’t saying nothing, except this. You work, she screws the money out of you like a drill, you go back to work. She ain’t here, your meals ain’t cooked she’s always got a smile and an  ex-cuse and lordy, what do you think put that smile on her face, crammed on top of her tight little skirt and pretty make-up? The simple pleasure of staying home waiting for you to return? No. I say she’s got what I call self-reflected attachment.’

‘Self what?’

‘She needs to know.’

‘Know what?’

‘Guys want her, her pussy smells sweet and right and lordy, I say she’s getting it while you work and what I say is there’s no point, you need to spice things up a little round here.’

‘Spice?’

‘And pickle.’

‘What sort of pickle?’

‘Something that’ll tickle the taste buds.’

Sheila walked in, carrying some shopping, shiny boutique bags and a smile as long as an all-night fuck.

‘Hi, fellas’, she said, looking at the mustard man with distant longing.

Norm looked at her as she bent her ass, tight under the skirt, putting something in the fridge.

‘Been shoppin?’

‘Sure have.’

‘Got anything good?’

‘Sure have.’

‘Like what?’

‘Girl stuff.’

‘Oh.’

She left them to talk while she went upstairs.

Outside a late sun bristled in the sky.

‘She wants a little spice, Norm.’

‘Yeah.’

‘So, let’s give her some.’

‘What do you suggest?’

‘Brill’s Bar.’

And they left.

Brill had been running the local bar for years.

He served good beer and food and sometimes attracted the custom of passing businesswomen.

Norm sat on a stool next to the mustard man.

They watched as some women came in.

‘Good looking, ain’t they?’

Norm looked across at them.

One wore tight jeans and a blue top, the other was buxom and a little obscene, and seemed to be telling a dirty joke which involved various hand signals and crude phallic gestures.

They caught snippets of it.

The woman in jeans said: ‘No’, and the other one ‘yes’, ‘that big?’, ‘filled me up like a big juicy steak’, ‘steak’s the word’, ‘and when it was over, he did it again’.

‘What do you think?’, the mustard man said.

‘I’ll take the big one.’

‘Come on then.’

And they went over to where they sat and started to chat them up.

Now it didn’t take them long, the mustard man being irresistible to women, and Norm having a certain way about him. You could say he was charming in an old school fashion that went as far as his shirt collar and ended at the bedroom door, where he turned into something altogether different, something some ladies like, and some don’t.

They bought them drinks, while at home Sheila worried what had happened to her husband. She knew when a mood was on him.

She changed out of her clothes she’d met her girlfriends in and into something a little more sober and went out looking for him.

By the time she got to Brill’s Norm had left.

‘Hi Sheila, what can I get you?’, Brill said.

‘My husband, he been in?’

‘Been in and gone out’, Brill said.

‘Know where he’s gone?’

‘Can’t say I do, Sheila. Everything OK?’

‘I hope so.’

He gave her a look.

‘You can talk to Brill.’

‘Well, it’s just Norm’s been acting a little strange.’

‘Strange how?’

‘Can’t put my finger on it, but he’s not been right since the incident at Macey’s.’

The image of Norm holding the store manager by the throat and almost killing him floated across the cigarette smoke and noise of the bar.

‘He was lucky to get away with that. What do you put it down to?’

‘He ain’t been right since they fired him from the pickle factory.’

‘He sure likes pickle.’

‘Was he with anyone?’, she said.

‘No. But he was acting weird, now you mention it.’

‘Weird?’

‘I’m busy, as you can see, so I don’t pay any customer too much attention, ain’t got the time, but I did notice something. Every time I looked over at him he was talking to someone.’

‘Who?’

‘There was nobody there, Sheila, he was sitting there waving his hands about and talking to himself.’

‘No ladies involved?’

Brill looked away and shook his head, but Sheila could tell he was lying.

Outside she met a couple of regulars. They were swaying and had been drinking all evening.

‘Seen Norm?’, she said.

‘Saw him drive off with a couple of ladies’, one of them said.

Sheila drove home, while over at the motel Norm was undoing the buxom lady’s bra.

The mustard man had taken his into the next bedroom, and Norm could hear him issuing instructions through the paper thin walls.

‘Strip her and do it, Norm, give it to her real good.’

So he got her undressed and the buxom lady looked a little doddery, her big tits bobbling about.

He got her down on the bed and gave it to her just like the mustard man said, and the noises were quite obscene, and just at the moment when she thought he was finished and

she could go, the mustard man yelled ‘Knife time!’, and out it came, a long handled sharp one Norm slipped out of his trousers down there on the floor and he carved himself a little steak.

She writhed about and he thought it gave her pleasure, and meanwhile the mustard man finished his one off and they drove back.

‘Now that’s what I call a little spice’, the mustard man said.

‘I’ll give some to Sheila.’

‘Make sure you do.’

‘With some steak.’

They pulled over and picked something out of the truck, something heavy and dumped it.

It was found by a passing police car: the mutilated body of the other woman, while over at the motel the dismembered buxom shape was discovered by the manager who went to investigate the noise his guests were complaining of.

Sheila waited till the early hours for Norm to return and finally heard his tyres crunch the driveway.

He staggered up the path, slamming the door.

‘Hi, darling, got you a little steak’, he said and started frying it up.

‘Are you OK, Norm?’

‘Sure am, honey, got just what a girl needs here in my pan.’

‘An what’s that?’

‘Sauce. This here’s a prime cut and you’s gonna eat it.’

‘I ain’t hungry.’

‘You will be when you see what I’m serving up, honey.’

And he served her a cut of meat unlike any other she’d eaten, almost raw and dripping in sauce with a hefty squirt of mustard of the side.

She sat down and forced herself to eat.

Her mouth was dry.

Cutting into the meat brought a rush of blood onto the plate.

It was soft and thready.

She chewed as a strand of white filament hung off her lip.

‘Nice, hah?’, he said.

‘What is it?’

‘A piece of fanny.’

She spat it out.

‘Norm that ain’t funny.’

‘Eat it up, mustard too.’

‘I can’t.’

‘You remember how I used to rub it into your fanny?’

‘Have you been out with women?’

‘I’m bringing ’em home to you, so you can savour the fanny.’

‘What is this?’, she said, prodding it.

‘It’s what I brought you to eat, that you may not wander and eat away from home.’

And as she looked down at her plate and ran to the bathroom and began to retch, Norm saw the mustard man walking up the path.

‘Sheila, hurry up’, he said, ‘mustard man’s here.’

She locked the door and reached for the window.

Outside in the hallway she heard the metal scraping of knives.

The air struck her face as she started to climb out.

And Norm began to laugh, fetching some pickle from the cupboard.

*

Richard’s stories are up at many vibrant sites such as Disenthralled, A Twist Of Noir, Gloom Cupboard and Danse Macabre & he has just had his first book launch.

More info can be found here:

http://rgodwin.wordpress.com/

Two Pieces Of Prose Poetry From Melanie Browne

The Loft Gang

I paid for everyone’s drinks once in a while

if I had the dough. They had to salute
the Loft Gang from On the Waterfront.  
Malloy!Mcguier!Hendriks!Padowski!Westerfield!   

Then I counted the Shots,  One!, two!, three!
But I lost my job, and one of the fellas
That used to drink with us, there was some trouble
with a girl who said he bothered herand it sounded serious to me
so I just bought a round for myself
and sometimes my good drinking buddy,
He doesn’t give a shit about the Loft Gang though,
He never heard of On the Waterfront
I don’t even think he ever heard of Brando,
He’s kind of a tough guy, though, just the same.
Betty Boop and Potato Pancakes 

My very next tattoo will be of Betty Boop. 
Her skirt will be obscenely short and she
will have on red heels.  The next tattoo
I get is going right here on my hip
and I won’t clench my jaw like I did last
time. 

I won’t tense my muscles
I will be so relaxed
that I will fall asleep and my tattoo artist
will have to wake me up with the smell of clove cigarettes
lingering on his shirt. 

The first time I got nauseous
and drank a sip of soda and sucked on peppermints. 

This time everything will go right
and I will go home and show Nicholas
and he will make me some potato pancakes
with lots of syrup and we will drown in each others eyes.  

Later I will take a look in the mirror
and Betty Boop will be staring back at me
with a gleam in her eye. 

We will wink at each other
and I  bet I will still smell like cloves and ink.

Melanie BrowneCo-editor of Leaf Garden press http://melspoemsandsuch.blogspot.com/ http://leafgardenpress.com
Heaven is a Giant Pawn Shop/ Poems by Melanie Browne http://www.erbacce-press.com/#/melanie-browne/4533546014/

Hound Dog By Matthew C. Funk

Even before momma got to knocking, Claire could hear the hound dogs start to howl.She could hear their heavy bodies sliding around behind the peeling red door. Momma put a hand on Claire’s head like it could never be moved away. Claire knew better, though.She could hear the bodies of the hounds colliding in daddy’s house. Their paws stomped the carpet and the places where the floor was just dirt. They milled up the beer cans and the paper plates and the blankets daddy had scattered around.“It’ll just be for the week, baby.” Momma said.“I know, Momma.” Claire said. She didn’t say that she couldn’t imagine any period of time that long.

“Come on, Dewey.” Momma knocked again.

And mixed in with the howls and collisions of the hounds, Claire could hear heavier footsteps staggering closer. They were no less animal.

The door yanked open. The hounds came out in a flood.

“Goddamn it.” Daddy said, hauling back the grey dogs with snatches of their necks. Their wet muzzles stabbed long at Claire and Momma. Their tongues and paws rose up. Their smell was as thick a hurricane as ever this stretch of Mississippi had seen in all its awful history of storms.

Claire covered her face and the hounds licked at it.

“Get you fucking hand down, girl.” Daddy said. “Don’t be acting like a scared little bitch.”

“Don’t you talk to my girl like that.” Momma said.

“You running your mouth real brave on my property, Marisa.”

“I’m here because the court says I have to be.”

“That don’t mean you can be a cunt up in my face and not get fucked for it.”

Claire lowered her hand and the faces of the hounds buried hers. The conversation was scraped into pieces by the lash of those tongues. She felt sick inside like that time she had the flu. This time, though, Momma wouldn’t pet her head and give her soup and read stories to her. The courts said Momma had to go.

“It means the law’s got an eye on you, Dewey.” Momma had to yell to be heard over the hounds.

“You damn right the law’s watching.” Daddy leaned out more from the door frame. “I called Hank and his deputies soon as I heard you was an hour away. They on their way right now, in case there’s a domestic, and whose side do you think ol’ Hank’s going to take?”

“You son of a bitch.”

“Come on in for a beer, Marisa. You make nice, and I’ll tell Hank he won’t have to use the cuffs this time.”

“I ain’t feeling anything close to nice about you, Dewey. You keep dreaming.”

“Better get on the fucking road then, cunt.” Daddy threw his beer at Momma, and it got all over her dress and all over Claire’s hair.

Momma took a step back. Daddy took Claire’s head in his hand and began to pet the suds from its cornsilk. Even at thirteen, Claire had only grown enough to have her face set against Daddy’s chest.

“You’re worse than your fucking dogs, Dewey.”

“You don’t know the half.”

“Oh, I’m well aware, even if the law won’t listen.”

“If you’re so keen on using that mouth, you just come on inside and set awhile.”

That got Momma moving, and fast.

“One week. Not a second more, Dewey.” Momma sounded far away now. The hounds were all around. Claire could already smell their sharp, beery stink under her skin.

“I’ll tell Hank to clear his calendar.” Daddy pulled Claire into the house. There were no doors inside, and the shadows slinked everywhere, piled up like the dog shit all around.

The door locked behind Claire before she could hear the sound of Momma’s SUV peeling away. There were no tears on her face. Only the saliva of the hounds glistened there.

Daddy’s hand pet harder.

“So damn good to have you back, Claire-Bell.” Daddy rumbled.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll cook you up some Mac N’ Cheese, then we can get to catching up on quality time.”

The third night, like every night, Daddy made Claire feed the hunting hounds.

She walked toward their chain-link cage unsteadily. It wasn’t the weight of the big steel bowl of wet food she carried. It was the feeling in her legs, like wet sand all the way to her thighs.

Claire shook. The hunting hounds weren’t like the others.

The others were house dogs. They were bought from breeders and raised to obey. They had names. Otis, the bulldog. Hap, the wolf hound. Dingo and Laddie and Grady.

The hunting hounds were once feral. That’s how Daddy liked them. They had to have a bit of the swamp in them for them to hunt there. Their eyes were the same swollen green of the lights that burnt between the willows at night.

“Hey.” Claire said to them. They answered with howls.

She stumbled the last few feet to the cage. The hounds were not so shy. They beat against the metal.

“Please be nice.” Claire heard her voice sunken under the scratch of paws on soil.

She reached out to open the cage’s latch. Her heart was kicking her throat.

She felt the food bowl teeter. Her heart dashed against the top of her skull.

Claire opened the cage. Her heart pushed free of her head and tried to run. She stayed put, though. The hunting hounds were muscled like dinosaurs from her biology books and they stank like fire and wherever they were open was wet and sticky with some stinking fluid. They terrified her. But the only thing that terrified her more was her father.

“Claire!” Daddy yelled from inside the house. “Hurry the fuck up or I’ll break these goddamn Disney DVDs right in front of you.”

Claire wanted to cry back to tell him not to. Her heart had robbed her of her voice before it took flight, though. All she could do was sway into the cage and try to keep the food bowl steady.

One step in, the hounds wound over each other in a rush for the door.

Two steps, and Claire grabbed at the door for balance as the hounds hit her in the bristle-haired storm.

Three steps, and Claire’s arms, her chest, her thighs were tight and screaming. She could not move fast enough to stop the food bowl from falling.

“I’m gonna break ‘em into four pieces each, I swear!” Daddy yelled.

Claire went down trying to catch the bowl. The food spilled. So did her legs. Her long, pink tank-top swung below her, exposing her belly to the moist air’s bite.

Every other inch of her felt buried by the hounds.

They were on her, all tongues and dewclaws. Their paws stamped into the ground meat where her hands were planted. Muzzles rooted behind her ear, against her shoulder, on her calves.

“Which goes first, Claire? Aladdin?”

A moment later, Claire shoved with all the prickly shaking of her body and failed to dislodge the hound’s chest from her back.

Two moments later, a barking muzzle banged her over onto her side and the pink tank-top was stained with the meat on the ground.

“Little Mermaid? Bambi?”

Three moments later, and the muzzle goring at her shoulder bit down.

Claire found screams she didn’t know could survive the strangulation inside her.

Daddy took a pull from the bottle of everclear he’d poured on Claire’s bitten shoulder.

“Quit your sniffling now.” Daddy told her, hate coating his voice like the alcohol.

“I’m sorry, Sir.”

Claire shivered fit to fall off the edge of the mattress Daddy used for her bed. She imagined herself slipping to the floor like a teardrop.

“Don’t say you’re sorry. We don’t say sorry in this family.” She would slip to the soil that was her bedroom floor and melt in.

“Yes, Sir.”

She would melt away right to the center of the Earth.

“Why you got to be such a little pussy, Claire? Such a little bitch.”

She would be warm there because she would be safe.

“I don’t know, Sir.”

Daddy’s hand didn’t hit her head. Not this time. He caressed it.

“Is that what you are? A little bitch?”

Claire shivered worse. Her nerves were like the hounds—unruly and huge. Her body felt too fragile, too slight to contain them. Something inside her was boiling up and burning.

“No, Sir.”

She knew Daddy felt it. Claire kept staring down. She stared right for the center of the Earth.

“You sure? You sure are acting it, Claire.”

“I don’t mean to. It just hurts.”

And it did. The bite of the hound was like a garland of fire. Its roots went right to her bone. It didn’t go as deep as the fear and the other feelings, though. Those were boiling up from a place that ran from where her heart used to sit, all the way down to her thighs.

Daddy grunted. “I’ll make it better. It’s alright.”

The everclear on his breath poured down over the burn of Claire’s skin. His hand poured down the silk of her hair to her bra strap.

“It’s alright to be a little bitch.” Daddy said. “That’s what you are. Did you know that?”

“No, Sir.”

The bra strap came undone too easy. The fire inside Claire was too smooth and too wet. It was like every story book she’d ever owned, burning up in her belly.

“I’ll show you, Claire.”

It was like the swamp fires.

“Here, baby, I’ll show you.”

It was like the tongues of the hounds.

“I’ll show you what you are.”

Claire felt the underside of her skin more than she did the surface, felt it crawling with tongues afire, burning worse and worse, as Daddy bent her forward on the mattress. The feelings burnt up and out of her, worse and worse, until he was done. And when he was done, and slept atop her, it burned all the way through the night, sleepless as the eyes of the hounds.

“I told you, cunt,” Dewey said to Marisa. “I don’t know where she is.”

“The Hell you don’t.” Marisa took a step back all the same when Dewey hauled his bulk off of the door frame and pushed himself ahead of the hound pack. “You give her over.”

“I got no reason to lie.”

“That’s never stopped you before.”

“Take it up with Hank.” Dewey was making fists already. “Little bitch ran off, just like her mother.”

“You got her. I know it.”

“Take a look around if you’re so sure.”

“Just give her over, you fucking animal. She’s our daughter, for Jesus’ sake.”

“Jesus knows what kind of a whore you is. Same goes for that little cunt that came out of you.”

“I’ll be back with some real law in the morning, Dewey.” Marisa shot a look toward the rear of the house. Something was making the hunting hounds howl like nothing she had heard before. They made a red sound so loud it seemed to flood the house, the yard, the whole county. It made her stomach turn over.

“You just try it.”

Marisa bit her lip. She wanted to dash over to the cage in the back right away to see what was making the hound so crazed. At the same time, she didn’t want to see. Not without a gun and cuffs at the ready.

“Oh, I will. I’ll be back and they’ll put you down.”

And he rushed at her.

She made it to the SUV just in time for him to spider the glass with his fist.

“They’ll put you down like the mad dog you are, Dewey!” She peeled out.

Through her tears, through the sobbing that ran not wet, but like hot sand, up from her chest and down her cheeks, Marisa saw Dewey slink back into the house. She saw the bestial hate searing out of the stare he drove her off with. She thought she saw something else there.

She thought she saw fear.

Part of her felt that was too much to hope for. The other part felt worse. It felt terror at the notion of what could make a beast like Dewey afraid.

Sheriff Hank Duchesne hefted up his gun belt to keep in the sick that was trying to rip his belly out.

“What a King Hell mess.” Hank said. He took a few steps around Dewey’s bedroom, or what passed for it, to remind his blood how to move.

“It sure ain’t the Ritz.” Clark, his junior Deputy and a fucker from the Big Easy, said.

“I don’t mean his house, dipshit.” Hank rubbed his neck to warm his spine. It didn’t work. “I mean what the dogs done to the body.”

“Oh.” Clark muttered. “Right.”

For a spell, both men stared at what was smeared around the bedroom, from where the mattress on the floor vomited its sheets in a gory trail, all the way to the open doorframe to the hallway. The silence made the cold despair inside Hank feel all the worse. Even the hunting hounds were silent. That wasn’t natural. None of this was. When Clark finally spoke, it was a mercy to Hank.

“So you think the dogs did him in?”

“Don’t see as how they would.”

“Their tracks are all over.”

“Not these around the body, though.” Hank pointed down. There, splayed out like a pile of trash and butcher’s leavings, was Dewey’s body. It was circled by paw prints in the bare earth. “These here are too small.”

“They’re dog tracks, though.” Clark wrinkled his nose at the prints clustered about Dewey, each gleaming with blood.

“Yeah, but all his dogs are too big to make tracks like that.”

“You sure?”

“I hunted with Dewey since before our balls dropped.” Hank put a lid on his stomach’s contents by swallowing hard. He reminded himself not to look at his friend’s face again. He focused on the bloody prints. “These are little puppy tracks.”

“Not hound tracks?”

“Little bitch tracks. Dewey don’t own no little bitch.”

“It weren’t no dog killed him, though, Sheriff.” Clark pointed just where Hank refused to look. He leveled his flashlight at Dewey’s torn-out throat. “Take a look.”

“You’re here so’s I don’t have to look. Just tell me.”

“The bites, Sheriff.” Clark’s voice was flat. “The bites all over his face and through his throat…”

“What about ‘em?”

“They’re little, too. A little human mouth.”

And now the feeling inspired by the silence of the hunting hounds was no longer despair. Hank stared at those little bitch tracks, at the little bites that had eaten away the features and the life of Dewey, and felt a fear in him as deep as the center of the Earth.

Matthew C. Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of Noir; Six Sentences and his Web domain.

Different Sacrifices (Part Two) By Frank Duffy

It took a walk through the town’s tidy narrow streets to clear Henry’s head of the wreckage that remained of the meeting. He hardly noticed he was staring at his own reflection in a toy shop window until he touched the crown of his skull; childhood had left him with numerous quirks.He’d been too busy replaying the last argument Brice and Jones had sparked in response to Paul Bromley and Karl Water’s proposals to even notice somebody stood behind him. He looked into the window, past his reflection, and froze, the stranger’s hand almost upon his shoulder. When he turned round he was too late. It could have been any one of the half dozen people pushing past him, though a woman with long straggling hair floating away between the crowds might have been suspect if he had felt like catching up with her.He pulled away from the toy shop and continued to walk  in the direction of his original destination: the funfair.It had clearly been sabotage, that’s what he’d decided while he’d stood gazing at the old fashioned toys exhibited beyond the darkened glass of the shop window. Brice and Jones, along with Emily Loft, had deliberately set out to stop any chance of the meeting progressing in anyway agreeable to his superiors. He blamed himself. He should have known better than to think his success the night before would have guaranteed defense against their conniving.

The funfair was not much in the way of modern technology, its battered dodgems and empty spinning children’s rides, sat among an arcade of dulled lights and slot machines. The few people he could see consisted mainly of it’s attendants, their scuffed boots kicking at the litter which looked like unstable walkways between the different rides. Last year he’d brought a woman to the funfair, convinced that his nostalgia for the days when his mother would bring him here, would perhaps stir in her what it always managed to arouse in him.

“Henry?” Paul Bromley came walking out of the arcade with the old-fashioned video game machines, a stick of candy-floss in hand. Trailing after him was Corrine Taylor, a corner of her mouth smudged, her handbag thrown across her chest like a target.

“I didn’t take you for the kind,” said Corrine, taking the candy-floss from Paul and sticking most if it into her mouth, some of which clung to her face like a fake beard.

Henry laughed, afraid he’d misunderstood.

“Kind?”

“Funfairs,” she said.

“Me, too, to be honest, Henry,” said Paul.

Henry shrugged. “I used to come here when I was a kid, especially when I’d had enough of sitting on the beach watching my mother prance about all day.” He’d said too much already, his colleagues hesitating long enough to stop themselves from glancing at each other.

“Not my thing, either. These places always seem so small when you go back.”

“I’ve been coming here since I was a child, so I guess I don’t see it that way” said Henry.

Corrine smiled politely, and Paul took back what remained of his candy-floss to hide his discomfort.

“Listen, about Brice and Jones…”

“Oh, you forget them, Henry,” said Corrine, “we’re used to them by now. It wasn’t your fault what happened. Everybody knows that.”

Henry wanted to say, ‘do they’, but knew how it would seem to them. He just nodded.

“What you two up to now?” he asked.

They looked at each other and pointed to the high-street. “Get a spot of pub lunch, if you want to join us?” Paul might have meant it, but Corrine didn’t look so sure.

“If you don’t mind, I’ll have a nosey round here for a bit.”

He watched them as far as the end of the high-street, the pair of them stopping every so often to window-shop. They weren’t bad people, far from it, but just like Mrs. Thompson, Henry couldn’t help but feel that he made them nervous, mindful of his presence.

Henry picked his way through the funfair, the suddenness of the wind blowing litter against his legs, a darkening atoll of clouds, heaped one upon the other, settling above the funfair. It seemed a fitting tribute to the person he was going to see. At the far side of the funfair, between rows of mud spattered trucks was a squat caravan. Knowing who was inside felt like a cliché, yet he felt nothing like amusement as he mounted its steps and knocked on the door.

“Yeah, I’m up,” said a man’s voice from inside the caravan.

This was the signal to go inside, which Henry did, but cautiously, as if he feared whoever had spoken would repel him the moment they saw who it was.

“Had to be you, Henry, this being that time of the year. Wasn’t sure you’d be back after that scene with that lady friend of yours. Thought she’d proven too much, even for you.”

The man who was standing at the back of the caravan had his back to the door. He hadn’t even turned around to confirm it was Henry he’d invited inside. Not that he had needed to.“Come in, and shut the door properly. This place leaks a good draught as if born to it.”

Henry did as he was told, and almost wished he hadn’t. It was dark inside, and the place had a stale unwashed smell to it, though in the gloom, its source might have been any number of things.

“How are you, Gordon?”

He could see him more clearly now, that familiar grey nest of hair lit by a single tiny light above the sink of the narrow kitchenette.

“As you can see,” said Gordon, casting a pained smiled over his shoulder as he raised a bottle of wine in one gnarled hand, and a corkscrew in the other. “Been trying to get the damned thing open for the last ten minutes.”

“Here, let me have a go.”

Henry stepped into what he hoped was a pile of sodden clothes, but could have been any number of things, all of them indescribably unpleasant.  He took the bottle and the corkscrew from Gordon, telling himself it was only his imagination.

“You should see a doctor about that,” said Henry, meaning Gordon’s arthritis, and not the soft malleable mound he saw when he glanced behind him.

“Look again, Henry, your mind’s working overtime.”

He didn’t want to but did as Gordon instructed (Gordon always had instructions to give), and saw that his suspicions had been right first time. It was just a pile of clothes.

“I haven’t called anything up in a while, Henry, thank the Lord, if the good chap happens to be listening,” he motioned Henry to a stool by the door, and added, “though I daresay he’s not interested in my work anymore than he is in my laundry.”

In the dark Gordon’s face appeared to swell as if the insides of his cheeks were stuffed with pockets of trapped air.

“I  know, Henry, I know. I’m not the handsome fellow you remember, isn’t that right?”

Henry knew not to answer. He opened the bottle and looked for a glass among the clutter, but Gordon grabbed it out of his hand, and threw himself into an armchair that reclined too much to be realistically comfortable.

“Put the corkscrew somewhere I can see it, Henry, or you know me, I’ll spend all of tomorrow on my blasted knees looking for the damned thing.”

“Is there anything you want me to get you?” asked Henry.

The old man sitting in the armchair took a long purposeful drink from the bottle. The wine animated him, his head going back as if yanked, his face flushed with patches of color.

“I don’t think so, Henry. I’ve got all I want for the time being. You want a drink?”

Henry shook his head, watching as the specter of the man his mother had introduced to him so many years ago, cradled the bottle and let out a laugh that was undeniably discouraging.

“So what is it now, Henry? Woman trouble?”

“No, nothing like that.”

Gordon let the bottle rest in his lap. “Then what is it?”

“I need some of the things my mother left.”

Gordon moved forward, then backwards, as if he were sitting in a rocking chair, the bottle grasped between the frozen remainders of his fingers.

“I thought you said it wasn’t woman trouble?”

Henry blushed. “It isn’t. But I need them anyway.”

“You keep on going like this, Henry, and they’ll all be gone in a year or so.”

“I know, this is the last time.”

“You said that last year.”

There was no point in Henry arguing. Gordon might not be the best judge of person, God knows he’d done his utmost to make sure he wasn’t, but the old man wasn’t stupid.

“Will you at least give me something to get me through?”

“You beginning to sound like me, Henry. You sure you don’t want some of this?” Gordon lifted up the bottle, but didn’t proffer it beyond the territory of his armchair.

“No, I’m fine.”

“How many of them?”

“Enough.”

“That isn’t exactly helpful, Henry.”

“Three,” he said reluctantly.

Gordon placed the bottle on the floor by his feet, an act which pained him, but he didn’t complain, just straightened up and looked Henry straight in the eye.

“You offering them up?”

There was no point in lying, not to Gordon.

“Yes, I am.”

“Let me give you a piece of advice, Henry. You don’t want to go offering up every time there’s a problem, I mean it. You can’t go through life like that, especially knowing what might be waiting on the other side.”

Henry had seen some of the things Gordon had brought through from the ‘other side’ before. They didn’t enter his dreams or keep him awake at night, but they sometimes troubled his thoughts when he least anticipated their arrival.

“As I said, this’ll be the last time.”

Gordon hauled himself to his feet, wiped his mouth with the back of sleeve and said: “Okay then. What do you need? Same as last time?”

Henry nodded, the old man already in the cupboards at the back of the caravan. His mother had never told him what she’d planned to do, but now, all these years later, when he remembered the objects she’d collected and deposited in the name of sacrifice, he was left with no doubt that she wanted him to give up more sacrifices, even unwilling ones.

“Let’s start with the head of the toy, shall we,” said Gordon, chuckling to himself in the dark of the caravan.

*

The party lasted until the early hours of the morning so that looking out the window of his room a faint bluish tinge had appeared on the horizon, a line against the black slate of the ocean, denoting the finality of the objects he’d arranged on the beach.

Now the hostel was quiet, except for the soft murmur of beds creaking, or the dull repetition of somebody snoring. Below in the car-park a figure walked slowly towards the building, a silvery trail of water lighting their approach.

Henry tapped against the window, and the figure raised its head, the pelt of hair drawn down and over its face, punctuated by a mouth which might have moved in answer. Gordon had thought he’d come for the objects to not only sanctify the sacrifices, but to call up his mother to do the work. What Gordon didn’t know, and must never know, was that his mother didn’t need summoning at all.

The week after his mother had walked into the ocean, Henry discovered her instructions waiting for him in a box placed at the end of his bed. His aunt had wanted to take the box before he’d even had a chance to open it, frightened that her nephew would find inside the kind of note or letter people sometimes left in the wake of their suicide. What it had contained were calculations and conjuring equations designed for all manner of unimaginable propositions, if he so wished to ascribe to them at some later date. The last of the instructions had told him were to get hold of the objects she’d used on the beach that day, not the exact same ones of course, as those were long gone, but a collection of pieces she’d worked on, experimented with and finally given her blessing to. These she had given for safekeeping to her longtime friend, former lover and chronic drunkard, Gordon Walton. His aunt had failed to acquire the box and had dismissed all attempts when she saw how much it calmed her one and only nephew.

Henry saw the figure cross the car-park, only its shadow left skulking, and then it too was gone.

He lay back on his bed, and waited for the sound of footsteps on the stairs. When he finally heard that familiar comforting tread, it was as if she were coming to say goodnight to him. The footsteps passed outside his room, might have even paused to listen in at the door, but they carried on up the next flight to the top of the hostel where the three of them were sleeping.

*

There were still several police cars outside the hostel, but the officers had stopped questioning the guests almost an hour before. Most of Henry’s team sat inside the dining room, drinking coffee or tea, though Brice, Jones and Emily Loft were not present.

“Suicide pact,” said somebody.

Henry listened to the various theories which occupied his colleagues, but there was nothing in his demeanor to suggest he knew anything. Suicide pact? It sounded as good a reason as any.

“Who was it? One of us?” asked Corrine Taylor to nobody in particular.

Henry wanted to say it was a man collecting driftwood for a fire for the barbecue he was planning for his wife and kids later that day. He also wanted to tell her that he’d seen the man’s reaction, a young man with  terrified, sickened eyes who’d stood and stared at the three bodies draped across the rocks at the foot of the cliff as if they were just sunbathing. But that Henry had been in bed at the time, sleeping, meant to do so would incriminate him.

He got up and walked out into reception and crossed the car-park. Nobody tried to stop him, not even one policewoman who glanced at him warily as he approached the safety rail of the cliff-top. He didn’t look down at the beach, or the rocks onto which the three of them had been thrown, but out to sea, out to the ocean, across its hardened colorless surface. If he’d been anyone else, he might have liked to imagine that perhaps something of his mother, however remote, however inconclusive, still existed. But he was not that someone else, and besides, it was a morbid thought.

At that moment he heard someone approaching, and turned to see Brice and Jones with Emily Loft walking back up the path from the beach. He had no doubt they’d been down to the rocks at the foot of the cliff to watch the paramedics bring up the bodies.

*

Three Months Later

Henry closed Sand Hill for the Christmas period. It wasn’t because of the locals gossiping about the suicides, or that Gordon had warned him off (what had the old fool expected?), but that he wanted the place to himself.

He stood on the balcony of the room he’d begun to think of as the best place to watch the ocean, wondering if she would visit him tonight. It’d been three weeks since he’d last spotted her. Was she hiding from him? Maybe she was ashamed of what he’d made her do?

He half wished he’d done it sooner, but he guessed it was sentimentality which had held him off for as long as it did. Mrs. Thompson had been good to him, but her suspicions, plus her overly nervous daughters, had finally driven him to offer them up.

Henry had waited a whole month before finally contacting the local estate agent’s in Langley. His contacts through Ashley and Hall had guaranteed him a starting price he could cap if anybody else had bothered to bid for it, but it proved unnecessary. Sand Hill had gone quickly, and so had Henry once the money had transferred.

It didn’t really bother him too much that without his mother or guests he might feel lonely. He’d been lonely all his life, and even when last year he’d managed to bring someone to the hostel, a woman he’d thought he’d loved, a woman who had dismissed his advances once she’d set eyes on Sand Hill, a woman he had only too willingly offered up once he’d realized she had no intentions but to hurt him, the loneliness had felt more like familiarity than defeat.

As if answer to his questions, a figure drifted up from the path onto the cliff-top. It was his mother. She didn’t move, not even when he called her. That was okay, he thought. He’d let her rest tonight because tomorrow he would send her to see Gordon. The old man was planning something and Henry thought it was about time to introduce Gordon to the delights of the other side.

The figure on the cliff-top was still there, a statue of cold dead flesh which had lost all sense of itself long before now.

“Go and sleep, mother,” Henry shouted, but she probably heard him no more than when she’d walked off into the ocean leaving him behind.

Henry returned to the room and climbed into bed and was asleep before the figure on the cliff-top vanished. He slept peacefully.

*

Frank Duffy’s work can be found here : http://coaction.wordpress.com/

Arts & Crafts By John Eisenhower

I’m not sure how aware people today are of what we were doing and as I look back, I’m not sure many people at the time realized it either. We, however, thought of ourselves as a pretty substantial group. A strong niche movement in the sciences. We were fighting back against the bureaucracy and politics of medicine. We were there for everyone who dreamed their entire lives of helping others, of restoring health, but never had the money or connections to gain admittance to a top University. These people were on the outside,but they were smart enough and without question they were more passionate. We planned to challenge all the structure, all the degrees, all those God damn letters trailing doctor’s names. It wasn’t about the prestige or the money. We performed surgery for the challenge and the thrill and because we could. We didn’t need anything other than our own intellects to permit us to..I don’t like to say there was a specific point when I got into home surgery; I like to think I always did it. As a kid, I frequently carved open various segments of my anatomy. I searched beneath my skin, exploring the contents of my body; unfolding tissues and prodding at bones. As I grew, the incision in itself became my artwork. I made incisions several inches long and stitched them together so neatly and perfectly, in days they looked only like scratches. I was always a surgeon. However, it was after college, when I joined SHM and had the opportunity to really influence the medical world and display every man’s surgical talents. Surgical Hobbyist Magazine was a new extension of the leading internet source of information for at-home non-professional surgery. The cost of medical school and competition for entrance had crowded out a generation of medical artists, but we were bringing them back to the trade and, in many cases, these self-taught surgeons were developing techniques to exceed hospital standards. The best case of outstanding new technique came from a young contributer, Evan Archer.Dr. Archer was a twenty year old biology student at James Meyers College in New Hampshire. A year earlier, he had developed the method for home-rhinoplasty using an equipment kit that cost only $85 and just $50 of anesthesia. We, at the magazine, were impressed by his talent, but Archer floored us when it was found he performed the initially operation on himself to repair his own deviated septum. From then on, he was a surgical legend. As it can be imagined, I was thrilled to learn that the magazine had selected me to travel to New Hampshire to interview him for a special issue. I anticipated him revealing the next progression in personal surgery.Archer had a modest college apartment, where he lived with a zombie-like Business Management student that Archer was keeping on an intense regiment of mushrooms and MDMA in order to cure his ADHD. Immediately he stacked a pile of notebooks and journals into my arms detailing the results of his roommate’s treatment. “Surgery is a passion of mine,” he explained to me, “but my medical approach extends much further.” Archer explained he had an ill brother that had been staying with them as well, and that his brother Franklin had been the inspiration for his surgical accomplishment.

“I honestly respect what you do and what the magazine does,” he told me, “but I think we need to push the movement further, expose more people to this opportunity. The only people who read SHM are already in the hobby or H.P. Lovecraft nerds that like the novelty of it.”

“I know what you mean,” I corrected him, “but we do have limitations-”

“Stop it! Stop what you’re saying. You’re a hobby writer and you write what people want to hear. Some one needs to start telling everyone else. The science is the same, but the application has been made more accessible and affordable. This is a cause we need to stand strongly behind, if not for the American health care industry, than for the less developed world.” He declared, waving his arms and stomping about the tiny apartment. He saw great depth in our field and I was excited to hear more of his thoughts.

“If you don’t mind,” I asked him, “I’d like to start by asking you where all this passion comes from.”

“I’ll show you. And you can show the world in your magazine!” He pushed the coffee table to the wall and kicked some clothes and other objects aside to make a clearing in the center of the room. He stood atop the couch and looked around the room as if viewing a great audience. “Years ago, I was blessed with a little brother. A beautiful soul, but it was carried in a flawed vessel. He has his weaknesses, undoubtedly, and his intellect is developing slowly, but these can be overcome in time. He has suffered from worse though, not by his genetics, but by his society. One that laughs and mocks, that both stares and turns in fear.” His roommate rose from his stupor and stumbled down the hallway to stand by a closed door. “I’ve cured him. I given him a chance to walk amongst everyone as an equal. I present to you,” he motioned to his roommate who slowly opened the door, “Franklin Archer! The first man to be cosmetically cured of Down Syndrome and without a single hospital procedure.” A tired, wrinkled, young man strutted quietly through the hallway to the spot before Evan. He looked at his older brother with eyes of sad pride. His face was scared, reshaped. His hairline was rigid and manufactured. His thin eyes looked swollen, as did his lips. A thin, sharp, discolored nose protruded out from his face. He stood awkwardly straight and walked with bowed legs. He fixed his eyes on a spot on the wall, tilted back his head and posed as if I were to paint his portrait.

I finished the interview asking simple, practical questions. I asked about his other interests, favorite movie, restaurant, website. I took his picture and several of Franklin. On the way out I dropped my notepad in the street. I took my camera to the police station.

———–

BIO:  Jack Eisenhower is a new author from South Eastern Pennsylvania.  He writes horror with biological and medical influences and other speculative fiction themes.  Despite want anyone else thinks, he will not consider a career in accounting.

jack.eisenhower@yahoo.com

There’s Something Odd About Jerry By Julia Madeleine


Gavin examined the stain on the ceiling above the kitchen table. It was bigger since yesterday, maybe ten inches in diameter. It spread darkly across the plaster like a Rorschach inkblot test. He thought it looked like a giant moth or possibly a bird being choked by an eel. He lost himself for a moment in his imagination as he pondered the viability of this. Just then, Harvey howled from the balcony and Gavin craned his neck to peer through the screen door. And that’s when he saw what had the cat so upset.
The son of a bitch from upstairs was at it again! He felt his heart kick against his ribs as he sprinted across the floor to rescue the cat. Harvey, their grey-haired tabby, who enjoyed sunning himself in the afternoons safe on their balcony, too old to leap up on the wooden railing and too fat to fit between the rungs, was being hoisted off the ground. He dangled by one paw, caught in a fishhook.
“Are you kidding me, man?” Gavin yelled as he scooped up the meowing cat and unhooked his paw.
He looked up at the kid’s puffy face on the second floor balcony above. Jerry. Over the railing Jerry leaned, feverishly reeling in his fishing line as if a shark had leapt at him from the depths of the sea.
“You want me to kick your ass?” Gavin said, spit flying from his lips as he scowled at him. A burning mid-day sun blinded him for a moment. Then everything had that bleached look to it, like an over exposed photograph.
Jerry said nothing as he pulled in his fishing rod. Seconds later he was gone and the sliding glass doors on the balcony above banged shut. Gavin caught a trace in the air of something foul from their apartment. It was a rotting smell, reminiscent of the stench pervading the city last summer when Toronto became a landfill, with mountains of garbage bags piled in parks and on roadsides left to rot in the summer heat.
Gavin’s heart continued to pound. He looked out at the small strip of grass at the back of the house, just beyond the parking lot. There were two giant holes in the earth as if someone had dug up trees, yet there had never been trees there. Who the hell had done that, he wondered? And why?
He showered, sculpted his dark hair into that messy just-got-out-of-bed style, scrubbed and shaved his face, and put on a clean but wrinkled short sleeve shirt, buttoned up to the neck. He dressed in his new work pants and sneakers, and he left the apartment he shared with his parents on the first floor of a converted century home, stepping out into the late day humidity. It was a short walk to catch the bus that would take him along Wilson Avenue to Bathurst and then another short walk to King Kosher Pizza where he worked the evening shift of his summer job.
The sweltering air enveloped him like a warm blanket as he looked out at a cloudless blue sky, the colour of tranquillity. He walked down the sidewalk, passing the other historic houses along the street and came up to the sub shop on the corner where he sometimes got himself a toasted meatball sub. Then he caught sight of Jerry. He was leaning over with his entire arm stuck inside of a trashcan. When he pulled it out, he had a wrapper clutched in his chubby fist. He quickly opened it and examined the contents. Gavin felt his stomach lurch as he watched the kid open up the bun, sniff the inside of the partially eaten sandwich, and then tear off a huge bite.
When he thought about his cat’s paw caught in that fishhook, a spill of adrenaline flooded his veins and he marched toward Jerry.
“Hey, you bugger!” Gavin said. “What’s your problem?”
Jerry paused with a mouthful of sub. The curls of his auburn hair stuck to his scalp in wet clumps. Two expanding circles of sweat darkened his dirty white T-shirt that was too small for him. It exposed his sagging belly like the pizza dough Gavin moulded into take-out for people too tired to make dinner.
“You want me to knock you out?” Gavin said and slapped the sandwich from his hands. It crashed to the pavement; salami, sauce and mushy lettuce exploding across his sneakers. Jerry flinched and backed up like he was about to receive a rain of blows.
“No,” Jerry said. His puffy lips pouted, slick with grease from the sandwich.
“You’re just a—a…” Gavin’s body shook. He could hear his own heart beating hot in his ears. His ability to form words seemed to have eluded him, as if the connection between his tongue and his brain had been severed.
“An antagonist?” Jerry said as he regained his composure.
“Yeah, and you’re a—a…”
“A loser?”
Gavin sighed.
“A fat slob?”
He gazed into the kid’s sad eyes; standing so close that he inhaled his garlic breath and at the same time, caught a whiff of that rotting stench he’d smelt coming from his apartment earlier. Gavin’s insides vibrated as he continued to study the kid and then a cold sensation veered into him. It wasn’t from the anger or disgust he felt. It was something else; like walking down a dark alley in the middle of the night on alert for something that might jump out. He could feel, just then, deep inside his gut, a tearing that threatened to break him wide open with an aguish so deep like a river flowing through him. Where had all this emotion come from?
Jerry stared at him intently as if he wanted to tell him something. And Gavin, shaking his head, turned his back and walked away, pondering that creepy feeling that left him struggling for breath.
When Gavin finished his evening shift at work, he returned to the apartment to find his mother, Susan, lying on the sofa in her nurse’s uniform. She was watching television, eating at tub of vanilla yogurt. Her permanently rosy cheeks swelled when she smiled. Gavin pictured her as a school girl looking almost exactly the same in the faded snapshots from her youth, her blunt cut hairstyle, her sunny smile never diminishing–a milk fed, farmer’s daughter raised on bible stories and peach pie, growing her own pumpkins for Halloween, dreaming of marrying a city boy.
Gavin looked up and inspected the stain on the kitchen ceiling. It had morphed again over the evening. It’s sepia tentacles extended outward, ribbons of fuzzy pigment looking like a rendition of a squid in a child’s painting. Gavin told his mother about catching Jerry fishing off his balcony for their cat.
“That poor kid,” Susan said and shook her head, a spoonful of yogurt held in mid air.
“What do you mean poor kid? He had Harvey’s paw in a fishhook. And it’s not the first time either. I caught him at it last week.”
“There’s something wrong with him, Gavin. He’s had a hard upbringing with that mother of his the way she’s treated him no better than a dog. I saw it myself when I had to go up there and care for her when she developed the necrotizing fasciitis. You know, the flesh eating disease she had after her surgery?”
Susan swallowed a mouthful of yogurt and then continued. “She abuses that boy. Calls him a retard, says she should have aborted him. She’s got a pad lock on the refrigerator and on all the pantry cupboards. She was only allowing him three cans of Slimfast a day, that’s it, that’s all he gets. Can you believe that?”
Gavin recalled the shrill sound of the woman’s voice as it tore through the air from upstairs on the days their windows were open. He thought of the way Jerry had flinched today, afraid he was going to be hit. And he thought of the darkness that reached out to him from the depths of Jerry’s eyes, consuming him, so desperate like a silent scream; it left him bewildered.
“Well, where’s his dad?”  he said.
“Don’t know. It’s just him and his mother as far as I can see, and she’s a real battle-axe. Even when she was sick with diarrhea she’s yelling at him and insulting him about his weight. I might still call the CAS and have them look into it, he’s just a kid only twelve. But I sure was glad when I didn’t have to go take care of her anymore.”
Days later the stain was enormous. It’s expansion crept across the ceiling, now looking almost like an ominous figure from a horror movie, a shadow behind the curtain of an open window. He wondered what had caused it. Did they have a plant upstairs they were routinely over watering?
“What the devil is that?” Mack, his father, cocked his bald head and squinted at the ceiling.
“I think it’s a spontaneous image of the Virgin Mary,” Gavin said. “Maybe we should call the papers. We could charge a fee for people to come and see it and make a fortune. If people can believe the Virgin appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich, then why not on our ceiling?” He scooped spoonfuls of Cheerios into his mouth as they both gazed up at the stain and Mack laughed.
“They got a leaky pipe up there or something. Think I’ll knock on their door and see what’s up with that,” Mack said and set his coffee cup on the kitchen table. Gavin looked at his sausage fingers, the crevices around his nails permanently blackened from seventeen years of working on cars–just about the time Gavin was born and his Dad had to sell his motorcycle and become a man at the age of nineteen.
Gavin thought about Jerry trying to fish their cat off the balcony. He thought about how Jerry’s mother pad locked their refrigerator and only gave him Slimfast. Is that why he was trying to take Harvey? Was he planning to cook the cat and eat him? No, that was insane. Yet there was something odd about Jerry that words failed to describe.
“Nobody’s home,” Gavin’s father said when he came back down. “I’ll ask your mother to go up there later today and see if she can get to the bottom of this.”
Harvey stared out the glass door of the balcony as if pinning for freedom, but now forced to digest his life of imprisonment.
By evening the plaster on the kitchen ceiling was peeling back in long curling tongues, slick with moisture and paper thin, to reveal a rough texture underneath as dark as blood.
Finally, that evening as Gavin and his mother stood in front of the apartment door upstairs, their knock was answered. Jerry peeked a frightened eye through the two-inch gap secured by a chain. Susan spoke to him in her calm lilting tone, asking if he was okay and if his mother was okay.
“Can I come in for a moment, Jerry?” she said, her eyes gentle, smiling.
They both watched spellbound as a solitary tear welled up unexpectedly and slipped down his cheek. The door closed and the sound of the chain sliding back in its lock echoed into the hallway. Then the door creaked open and the odour of earth and rot rose up to swallow them. It was dark inside the apartment. The only light came from the blue glow of a small television in the living room. Gavin had that same creeped-out sensation that made his stomach tighten, and his legs want to turn in the other direction and run.
“I couldn’t find where she put the key to the locks on the fridge and the cupboards,” Jerry said from somewhere in the depths of the apartment. “I gave her the rest of the Slimfast and then some water.”
Susan turned on a switch in the kitchen. Yellow light gleamed over the violet painted cupboards, reminding Gavin of cotton candy–a peculiar colour for a kitchen. The light revealed the source of the stain on their ceiling and the mystery of the holes in the back yard.
There was a vegetable garden growing right on the floor. But rather than the plants being in containers, dirt had been hauled in and spread over the linoleum tiles. There was a dozen or more tomato plants about six inches high, and a few romaine lettuce plants that looked like they were flourishing. But the string beans zigzagging up the cupboards, appeared wilted as if they had been dug from someone’s garden and didn’t survive the transplant.
Gavin couldn’t control the urge to laugh. What the hell was wrong with these people? The absurdity of it rushed through him and he released peels of laughter. But when they went into the bedroom where Jerry led them, waddling down the narrow hallway, floorboards protesting under his weight, Gavin’s joviality turned to horror. He gazed silently at what remained of Jerry’s mother. A stench thick as mud loomed in the air and made him choke. The window shade was drawn, except for an inch where the streetlights leaked into the room and cast an eerie shadow over her features giving her a hollowed out look. She was like a husk, a mummy dug up from it’s tomb the colour of clay, sitting up in bed, frail hands clasped together over the blanket as if waiting to be served. Her mouth hung open–a bottomless cavern where you might fall into and never surface.
Because of the silence surrounding them, Jerry’s laboured breath emerged like a chainsaw and Gavin turned to stare at him. There was a blissful look in his eyes, his round face sweating and glistening in the darkness, as if his heart had split wide open and released him from the torture of his own personal prison.
Gavin shivered and he knew, suddenly, this was the one moment that would define his youth. He would look back on this time and it would eclipse every happy moment of his life. It would soil everything like the stain that had demolished their white ceiling.
Julia Madeleine works as a tattoo artist in Mississauga, on the outskirts of Toronto. When she’s not busy hurting people, she spends her time writing nasty little tales of mayhem and suspense. Her fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir and is scheduled to appear in upcoming issues of Crime Factory and Powder Burn Flash.

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