A Ghost For Sammy (Jeremy Corter)

acoustic_guitar_wallpaper_hd_wide-t2

“I hear you made your guitar.”

Sammy looked up from his strumming to see a young lady looking down at him. He shifted uneasily in his seat.

“Folks say a lot of things.” He looked back down to his fingers, hoping she would go away. “Only music speaks truth.”

“Is that why yours sounds so pained?”

Sammy breathed in deep, the bitter smells of smoke, beer and ruin filling his nose. Goddamn it, even his favorite haunt was wracked with hurt. But he pretended not to notice.

The young lady sat down next to him. The dark corner he was sitting in made it hard to see her, but she seemed pretty. It was hard to pinpoint, but she also seemed familiar. Or perhaps it was his eyes. Being 89 and finding little use in doctors, he never bothered with glasses.

Doctors. Sammy scoffed as the music he played took a new hardness. What do they do besides fill people with pills and promises?

The lady’s stare forced him to look at her again.

“What do you want, anyway? I’ve got nothing for anyone.”

“You did. Once.”

Sammy nodded. Maybe, perhaps, when his guitar played angel songs. But she couldn’t have known that. That crowd was all gone, dead with his past.

He hid his tears behind a raised beer bottle. He’d take all night to finish one, if he even touched it. The staff never seemed to mind. Never charged him.

“Play like you used to. Back in those happy days.”

“Now listen here. The music speaks truth, sure enough, and the truth is there is no happiness to be had.” He took another swig of beer. “Not for me, anyway.”

“Don’t lie to me. You had it, alright. Just because it was fleeting doesn’t mean it wasn’t real.”

Grimacing, Sammy started up to leave. Who was she to say anything about it? What does she know? Try as he could, however, he found no true will to leave his chair.

“Those days are gone.” They died a long time ago. And yet, there was a stirring inside his brain. The face of his wife, her smile beaming and wide. He pushed it down. She was gone, too. Like everything else.

“Do you remember the happiest song you ever sang?” She moved in her chair, but a sound wasn’t made.

“What do you care?” A lullaby he sang, a melody he couldn’t stand any more, swirled around his soul. “And just who are you?”

The lady wouldn’t talk and Sammy could feel a tiredness in his body. It felt wrong to act so angry with her. She did nothing but talk to him. But he knew what the problem was. She was helping him to remember the nights long past. His life was made up of sadness and strife.

But only because he had made it that way.

More time passed. The lullaby still played. He couldn’t believe he still remembered everything about it. He remembered writing the notes down, the words. The joy on her face.

Through the laughs of the patrons, the clinking of glass, he could hear that song being played. For a moment, he feared he lost his mind. But, closing his eyes, his listened.

The lady was humming. She was humming his daughter’s lullaby.

“So,” Sammy said after she finished, “you’ve been dead for 60 years and now you come to haunt me, Bean?”

“You remember?”

“Of course I do.” Sammy put his guitar down and started drinking his beer. “Just didn’t want to.”

60 years ago. 60 long years of never giving up the past. And now, his past came back to him.

“I want to tell you, you don’t need to hold on to this any more.”

Sammy shook his head, glaring at his daughter’s form. “Listen to me, Bean. When the doctors told me everything would be okay with you, I didn’t say two words. When they told me something was wrong, but they’d fix it, I smiled. When they told me there was nothing more they could do but ease you out of pain until you went, I was thankful that they did the best they could. But I hurt, Bean.” There was no way to hold the tears now. The salty water that hadn’t run down his face in years wet his leathery skin. “I hurt so bad. And when your Mamma got my belt–” Sammy buried his face into his hands, wailing.

“Mamma’s at peace. I wish there was something more to say, but she’s at peace now. But you, you won’t ever be if you don’t listen to me.”

Sammy picked up his guitar and stood up. He couldn’t do this any more. He wanted to curl up into a bottle and drown in it. This wasn’t his past. It was all the suffering coming to do him in.

He felt a coldness on his hand. Timidly, he turned to his daughter.

A little girl sat there, her face bright. Black hair flowed past her shoulders and her smile was just like her mother’s.

She looked just like he remembered her. 60 years. She was as perfect as ever.

“Sit down.” She said. “Play me a tune.”

“I don’t play much any more.”

“Maybe this will help.”

As Sammy sat down, she stood up and walked over to his side. Settling the guitar in his lap, she stood on her toes and gave the sweetest little kiss he could have ever ask for.

A lightness came over him. Years of heartache, years of hate, just decades of sorrow lifted off him. His fingers did not wait for any command. The sound drifted into the bar. It was hopeful, filled with love.

As the music cleared the door, he heard an “I love you, Daddy,” drift by his ear.

The music spread, out into the city. For Sammy, it might have spread out into the world. All that matter was that it came from a place long thought gone. A bittersweet joy filled him now that he was able to put his past – and his daughter – to rest at last.

No one could tell how long he had been playing, but that night, everyone felt as if the world was right. For all the pain there was, there was just that much more joy.

Sammy went home that night, feeling like he finally got what he needed. The next night, when he didn’t show up at the bar, a waitress stopped by his apartment. She found him in bed, the biggest smile on his face.

© 2012 Jeremy Corter

Image © http://musicwalls.org

Jeremy Corter is a full-time writer, husband, and father.

If It Happens (Vinod Narayan)

enlightenment-1920-1080-4354

If every beauty
hidden behind a veil
were to come in the open
would our appreciation
of beauty change?

If every fact
unknown to man
becomes known
Will we be truly informed?

If every sorrow
known to man
becomes nonexistent
will we know happiness?

If every man
however knowledgeable
accepts his ignorance
Will mankind be enlightened?

If every question
asked in the future
can get answered today
Will we become extinct?

© 2012 Vinod Narayan

Image © http://www.ewallpapers.eu

Vinod blogs his articles, stories, reviews and poems at www.vinodnarayan.com

Sexed (Veronica Dolginko)

sexed lab pic

I saw a child playing under a bridge one time with his father, shouting up into the granite of the ceiling and tensing excitedly as he heard his echo. As I watched for a minute, I realized the child was starting to figure something out and each time he shouted, he looked around for where the noise was coming from. There was a moment of recognition, of logic being created and laws being explained inside that little brain and he discovered that the echo was coming from him.

Logic and rules are funny. Logic makes sense of things and rules make order of things and both can be challenged but rarely broken. We love using  this as “laws of nature,” what we can’t change or grow out of, chemicals in our brains, instincts, triggers and receptors that are innate in us and can’t be fought.

I was an experiment, I was a life that existed because of curiosity. The head scientist explained it as he accompanied me on my first trip outside of the laboratory. He had dressed me the way women dressed though I had no concept of it and told me to observe how people act.

“The women especially,” he said as we walked through the streets of the city. “You’ve never been exposed to women.”

“Those are women?” I asked, pointing at a group standing outside of a school. They looked more like me than like him and I was a woman.

Apparently.

“Those are girls. You’re a little older than them. Girls become women. Boys become men. Like the scientists.”

 

“Am I having trouble? Are you concerned that I won’t be able to fit in?”

 

“We’re just concerned that you’re spending too much time around men. You need to be exposed to everything.”

 

He would bring me into groups and introduce me, pushing me toward the women. Most of them knew where I came from and were

congenial and enthusiastic about showing me the ways of their gender. They were like clusters of mystics, they had all kinds of rules and

rituals. They presented me with their pleasantries and I engaged in them politely but I hated it all. Mainly, I was bored and confused.

 

“Do you have any interest in dating?” one of the women asked me. She had mentioned a cousin of hers to me the day before and I hadn’t known why.

 

“I don’t think I’d know what to do.”

 

“You don’t have to do much of anything. Men do most of it. Dating is pretty easy to figure out. You just have to let them approach you.”

Her suggestions sounded so odd to me. Being approached seemed menacing, an action that should have my back arched and all the fur

along my spine standing on edge. She continued to explain herself when she saw I wasn’t taken with the idea but none of it sounded

appealing. There were too many rules I had to follow, such a defined role one had to play to make everyone else at ease.

 

More of the women talked to me about my new found femininity. I’m assuming it’s a different experience to grow with norms rather than

how I came into them. Both women and men were unquestioning of what I saw as rigid and illogical practices. Some of the women were

genuinely trying to help in the way they thought best. A few of them told the head scientist that I was hopeless. I just couldn’t seem to grasp

simple concepts.

“They think you’ve spent too much time around men,” the head scientist said. “They say your mind functions too much like one of us.”

 

“How could my mind function any other way than it supposed to? If I’m a woman then my mind functions as a woman’s does.”

 

“Society isn’t so cut and dry. You don’t understand the standards that are followed and you seem to be having trouble figuring them out.”

 

“I don’t fit in with them, do I? With women I mean. I’m never going to. I’m going to have to be in the company of men forever, aren’t I?”

 

“Don’t feel too bad. You don’t fit in that well with men either.”

 

Logical minds can’t understand how hurtful straight logic can be. He hadn’t said it to be cruel. He said it to assure me that one day I could be

as normal as any female, that my problems weren’t specifically with gender. I didn’t fit in with any group. The women thought I was a man

and the men didn’t fully accept me. They kept waiting for the appearance of what they thought was female behavior. They told me women

were ruled by emotion, women cried and experienced everything more intensely.

 

There had never been any intention among them to make a woman or a man. The goal was to make a life form. They had set out to create a

being from pieces of other ones, whatever disposed of genetic material they could find. All the doctor Frankensteins pieced me together, fed

me the chemicals, watched the construction. I was not conceived, I was crafted. I was sewn together. My mind was the only thing I would

develop without their manipulation.

 

Left to my own devices, I focused on building muscles and generating strength out of weakness. I began to feel intense competitive urges. I

had a drive to hunt and chase, to stalk animals through woods like an aborigine or pull men to the ground and have my way with them. The

introduction of a sex drive was unnerving. It exploded with anger and violence in me and I wanted to satisfy it in the same manner. The

women told me I had too much testosterone. They all had healthy, appropriate sex drives and they weren’t vicious. Fierce and forceful

erotic thoughts were from men. Not even all men, only the sick ones.

“Even among men, these kinds of thoughts are not expressed frequently,” the head scientist explained after I had a session with the women.

“I’m glad you’re so open with them but these are not really fantasies you should be sharing.”

“I wasn’t sharing them. I was asking who else has them. I think they all have them but they’re afraid to say it.”

“Most men don’t even have them.”

“You said they’re not expressed. You never said they didn’t exist.”

I was right, I saw it in his face. I wondered if he himself had thoughts like mine, if he had imagined any of the women he knew being

compromised by him, if he had ever imagined himself as being powerful and violent. My suspicions were that the women did too and they

hated that I brought it up. They hated that I was ruining the secrets our kind had spent generations hiding like the vile carnal designs their

minds fashioned that they repressed and tucked away. We all had the same chemicals. My flesh and bones were no different than theirs.

How different could my mind be?

“There’s always going to be the nature versus nurture argument,” one of the women told me. “Some people think we’re born as blank slates

and get molded. Others think we’re born complete and react to things through that perspective.”

“What do you think about me? Am I the way I am because of being isolated from my gender for so long?”

“I don’t think that’s it,” she told me calmly. “I think the experiment was flawed and the result is off from their predictions. That’s all.”

I was the experiment. I was flawed. Being the result of something didn’t bother me; from my understanding, all humans came as a result of

something trivial. At least I was the result of progress and curiosity. Still, I had not been a success. Not completely.

The funniest part of it for me was how alone I felt when I was with other people, more so than I ever did in the laboratory. The laboratory

shut me off from everything, kept me behind glass. I should have felt as isolated as I did when I was out among them but in there I was the

closest they were going to come to a woman and I knew that. Images they had of their wives and sisters, friends, neighbors, women they had

met only once or would see in passing around their old homes would become fragmented as they were remembered. I would be seen every

day. I could start to convince them that I was what a woman was, I was a girl, the archetype and epitome. Nothing ever stuck though.

I was uncomfortable in my skin. I spent all of the time I was alone staring down at a body that refused to comply with me and continued to

look and move and exist as a girl. That’s what I wanted to be though. I was a female, I wanted to be but my actions were viewed as boyish, my

reasoning and thought process deemed masculine. From where I stood, these were the thoughts and actions of a woman because that’s what

I was so what else could they be from? I had all the parts, all the pieces that defined one biologically. I never wanted to be a man. There was

no nagging voice telling me my true self wanted facial hair and erections. I was the right gender, I was in the right body. It wasn’t me who

was unsure, it was everyone else.

In public, I realized how poorly I fit in, how much of a novelty I was to the people who met me. They looked at me the way an adult looks at a

toddler repeating curse words, as if I was blissfully unaware of the things I was saying, the thoughts in my head. I tried so desperately to be

one of them, the complicated, the elusive, the ones that knew how to be coy and sensitive towards people. I wanted to desire as a normal

female did, I wanted to like what a normal female liked but I didn’t really. I just wanted to be accepted as the weird creature I was by one of

the sides. What I was after was not to be the definition we already knew of feminine. I wanted the definition to be me. I wanted feminine to

mean being the strongest and the toughest.

Surrounding the lab was nothing but woods. I was allowed to run all I wanted. They encouraged it actually though some of them commented

that my habitual exercise was neurotic. There was some lengthy explanation of disorders and control issues, concerns for my mental state

and how I viewed myself. I never told them why I ran so much. They never gave me a chance to and I had no desire to breach the topic. I

wanted to keep it to myself. I didn’t want any of them to know how complete I became, alone in the woods. There was no male or female,

there were no definitions. It was all instinctual. It was all behavior I knew and understood innately. My body had a drive to run. It satisfied

some primal response, some stone age residue of fighting and surviving. I wanted to tear through the rotted lumber and undergrowth with

prey in my teeth, with blood in my mouth. When I was finished, I would return to a world of comfort and safety but briefly I wanted to know

what I could do if I had to, what was ingrained in me and how deep it went.

I understood my body more when I ran. Not my specific body, not breasts and a uterus, not my exact fingerprints and DNA but the

mechanics of a body. I began to focus on breathing when I ran, following the path of the oxygen from the inhale until as long as I could

picture it. I began to complete circuits, the oxygen moving into the blood, that blood moving into the heart, the heart pumping everything to

the muscles. The muscles became an obsession. I could feel them engorge and swell then tighten and release, pressing odd shapes against

the skin from the inside of me. They would exist without my intervention but I controlled them, made them larger, more obvious. I wanted

to be bigger than every man I knew. I wanted all the scientists to be intimidated by my size and sprinting through the forest in blinding rain

or snow made it seem possible. Once I was done, I was back to reality where I was seen as smaller and still somewhat fragile.

I once ran so hard I urinated on myself the moment I stopped moving. Even in the short time I had been animated, I knew having no control

over simple bodily functions is something to be concerned about. Or at the very least, ashamed of. Still, there were too many vibrant

substances in my brain and bloodstream for me to notice. A boundless, intuitive warmth was flooding through me although in retrospect,

some of that might have been the urine. Of course, I told the head scientist for no other reason than to make sure there was nothing

physically wrong.

“You can trick your brain into releasing certain things,” he explained as I showered, bidding a fond farewell to the various salts I smelled

and tasted on me. “Your body was working so hard, your brain thought it was being chased and turned on the fight or flight mechanism.

Urine production stops completely. So does digestion. Then when you’re out of danger, the mechanism turns off and all production starts

up again but faster. Have you ever heard of someone being so scared they peed their pants?”

“Oh yes, once or twice.”

“It’s a little bit of a misnomer. You don’t urinate on yourself when you’re being frightened, you do it once you’re safe. Like a sigh of relief.”

“I feel like my brain in smarter than I am.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That makes no sense.”

“It is. My brain does all these things without ever being instructed or taught. I can’t even figure out which sex I am.”

He didn’t respond to me. He usually didn’t when I brought that up. I wasn’t allowed to use to the term “sex” when talking about my

difficulty. My problem was gender. Sex was an organ, sex was far more basic. Socially I didn’t fit in but I couldn’t be sure I would have

instinctually either. If humans were a primitive race that had to hunt or gather and the roles we fulfilled were decided on a more animal

level of bearing children and bringing home food, I think my problem would be the same. I wanted strength more than anything. I wanted to

be the alpha male, the one that no one could beat. There was no way to quiet the thought that I had the wrong compounds in my system but

I seemed right. To me at least.

My understanding of the differences between the sexes was that biologically we existed for separate reasons. I was told that it came down to

chemicals, hormones, inherent traits we didn’t regulate. I asked for more chemicals. Mine weren’t working. I was unable to relate to other

women and I was unmistakably marked. The gaping synapses in my brain needed more than what they were receiving, more of what made

things so clear to everyone else. The scientists told me my levels were fine and that my confusion came from misunderstanding the social

side of things.

“I’m sure at some point you might feel more comfortable when your body grows into itself,” another woman told me. “My daughter was the

same way. It’s very common. It just usually happens much earlier, around puberty or adolescence.”

“So I am normal,” I repeated more to myself than her.

“No one’s normal. That’s impossible. Your body will find normality.”

When my body started function more routinely, I began menstruating. The women I had met told me it was horrible but a mixed blessing of

being part of that sex. I loved it though. It validated me. Women menstruate, they bleed. It was something that couldn’t be stopped or

controlled and it was happening to me. The first time, I woke up on white clinic sheets stained red and purple. My thighs were streaked, my

clothing was soaked, I was ecstatic. There was no fear or concern. I had been told about it, I was waiting. Menstruation meant that at least

biologically I was female. Society and all that be damned, I had felt the lining building in me, I felt it being discarded. I felt the visceral pains

of muscles cramping between my hips, an area I couldn’t access.

This was biology, pure and simple. No amount of observing or acting brought around the shedding tissue, no attempt to be one of them

made me bleed like that. Every month, I waited excitedly tensing, realizing it was me that was doing this. The women who identified as such

hated this process. They rolled their eyes and complained. Menstruating made them weak and drained. They said they couldn’t do activities

because of it, of the pain they were in. Most people acted this way and told me when I felt cramping, I should take care of myself, take it

easy. Rest. I told them I ran. In fact, I ran better when I was menstruating. I had more energy and running with pain made me stronger,

made the pain have less power. They were quick to treat their biological problems delicately while I knew our problems responded to force.

These problems were only ourselves after all.

The men in the lab applauded my reaction to pain, sex, and weakness. They told me that women allowed themselves to be seen as fragile too

often and that acting the way I did made me more like one of them. The idea that I was seen as a man by the group despite my physical

appearance was apparently the highest praise they could give. A man’s brain in a woman’s body. Best of both worlds. As if not only did my

brain not work as a woman’s but that I shouldn’t desire it to. As if what men lusted for deep in their lingering primordial ooze was better and

not exactly the same as what women did. As if I was the only one who wanted to satisfy the side of us that was violent, competitive, and

sexual.

The world has to put things into order. Systems need to be established, patterns to be followed. An anomaly here or there was to be

expected but regarded as such; one lone little oversight. I knew it bothered the scientists that they had created me just a touch incorrectly,

that I had come to life and understood my conception but didn’t understand how to act like it. I had done the hard part. Or rather, they had.

They had animated dead tissue, taught it complicated coordination and detailed language. All I had to do was look at what they presented

me and repeat that I comprehended what I saw. No one actually understood it, they just followed it. The people who told me not to fight my

disposition knew nothing about true instincts or the devices we had in us to survive. Their norms were shaped by a world so far removed

from the natural order that they used clothing as a marking of male and female. Animalistic labels were defined using human judgments.

We were male or female because of superficial actions that the masses decided on. I was lost to instinct, I was madly in love with pulsing,

willing impulses. Nothing could truly validate me. Validation belongs to the masses.

© 2012 Veronica Dolginko

Image © 

Vanessa is broadcast journalist living in San Francisco who recently got back into creative writing. She once ran an online literary magazine with a friend from college and had a novel published in 2011. She currently hosts a Best of the Bay award-winning radio show out of the Mission District, Cannabis Cuts: The Next Generation.

In The Mood (Grant Wright)

in the mood

“Roy?”

“Yes?”
“I’m not sure I want, this time, to get in the mood.  For you.  You know — let go.  Let happen.  Go crazy.”
“Well Mavis — don’t sweat it.  You’re wild.  I was just thinkin’ the exact same thing?  Isn’t that somethin’? We’re, what?  – psychic twins?  Or somethin’.”
“Wait.  Roy?”
“Yes?”
“You’re saying — you don’t particularly — you’re not in the –?”
“The mood?  Well.  I’ll tell you, Mavis — I am, and I am not.  I could be.  Quick enough.  But — you know. Tonight?  I’m feeling kind of — what?  Passive?  Like — I know we should make love.  The whole shebang.  Right now. Right here.  No foolin’ around.  I mean, really go for it. You get that?  I mean — I guess I kind of wish it was out of our hands?  Like God decided?  Wouldn’t that be easier? I mean — you and me, we could just relax, mind our own sweet business, shoot the breeze, you know?  Nothing more, nothing less?  A little of this, little of that.”
“Wait, Roy.”
“Yes?”
“Let me get this straight –”
“No, Mavis, really — what I mean is — if God could handle this — you know, tell us when?  Not even tell — order us. Wouldn’t that be great?  No more —‘in the mood.’  Just God says —‘Okay, damn it, it’s moo-moo time –‘”
“Moo-moo time?”
“Well, whatever.  If good old God could just step in, take over, take you and me off the hook, just be folks, talking, lolly dollin’ around, sweet as could be, a little of this, a little of that –”
“No, Roy, I’m not hearing you.  Forget that God damn God business.  No, that ain’t it.  What I hear — is this what you’re saying?  You’re not in the mood, tonight?  What?  I got all dolled up for you — what?  Gave myself that feminine hygiene product three times?  Went to the bathroom twice – ahead of time?  To be ready?  Trimed my damn toenails — you complained last time.  Brushed my damn teeth till they’re  near fallin’ out — and — you sit there — tell me, you ain’t, you ain’t — in the mood — ? You say that?”
“No, no, no, no, Mavis, you got it all upside down, topsy turtle.  No, no.  Wait.  Listen.  See, I –”
“You ain’t in the mood –”
“No, no, Mavis.  I’m always in the mood.  For you.  You know that.  Ain’t I proved it a thousand times?  Remember that time I had the piles?  Bad?  Did I let that stop me? I did not.  Or –”
“No, stop it, Roy, you’re all running backwards or somethin’ – you’re –”
“Sure, Mavis.  Sure.  Only.  What counts is –”
“You ain’t in the mood.”
“No, no, no.  Look at me.  See my ears twitchin’?  You know what that means.  Whoee.  Yes.  Hey — I’m shakin’ just thinkin’ about it.  Look at me.  You get the picture.  Am I hot, or what –?
“You ain’t in the mood.”
“You say that, Mavis?  After all we been through?  That time about your period –”
“Don’t start that –”
“No, I mean, you and me, we’re always in the mood, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t know?  Mavis –”
“But maybe I could –”
“You could, Mavis?  Your sayin’ –?”
“It could happen.  I think I’m getting’ the ol’ buzz on.”
“You mean God’s talkin’ to you, Mavis?  Givin’ you the startin’ signal?”
“Maybe.  Or maybe it’s just you, Roy.  You maybe not bein’ in the mood.  Now that’s hot –”
“Really?  Really?  You know what, Mavis?”
“No, what, Roy?  You tell me.  I want to know.  Tell me.”
“I’m in the mood.”
“Really?  Well — that’s — interesting.  I’ll have to think on it, Roy.  You see, I’m not — not sure I want, right now, here, this time to — you know.”
“Well — we could rest, I guess.  This is a lot of work. Sure wish somebody else would tell us.  Then we can just rest, have fun.  You know.”
“I know, Roy.  That would be nice.  Sometimes a body just ain’t quite, you know –”
“In the mood?”
“Well — yes.  But more than that, Roy.”
“More?”
“Well – it’s more like being –”
“Being?”
“Not quite being in the mood for mood?”
“Jesus, Mavis.  We are psychic twins.  You wouldn’t believe it.  I was thinking that exact same thing.  Not in the mood for mood.’  You got it.  Mavis, you’re something.”
“Yeah?  Well.  I may be in the mood again.”
“You are?”
“Oh yeah, Roy.  I’m probably ready.”
“Ready?  You’re ready?  Really ready?”
“Oh yeah, Roy.  Catch me while I’m hot.”
“Well, I tell you, Mavis — hold that thought.  I just gotta go check to see if I left the car lights on –”
“Hurry, Roy.”
“Oh, you bet.  Wouldn’t want to miss this.  Mood time.”
© 2013 Grant Wright
Image from  http://hereshesat.blogspot.com/2011/02/manwomanfriends.html
Grant Flint has been published in Story Quarterly, The Nation, The King’s English, Poetry, Weber, The Courtland Review, The Sun, Slow Trains, Northwind, and 37 other print and online journals. He was nominated for the 2009 Pushcart Prize. Recently had flash fiction published in Hobar, The Molotov Cocktail, Monkey Bicycle, and Attention Span Therapy.

Wedding Season (Zander Lilly Fox)

midget wedding

Wedding season

is very lucrative
in the midget industry.
One by One
they gain a ring
me cynical? No…
I am just asking
if you are aware of the divorce rate.

Weird how a ring
can bring such great change
No longer are you one
you are two
no longer can I call you for a date
because you are permanently dated

I pick up the carton of milk in my fridge
It is dated too
with expiration
Look at this beautiful ring
but am I ready to be stamped
with expiration

So I pick up the phone book
flip through its old crisp pages
where can I find a midget?
And how much do you think it will cost
to get him to wear a whip cream bikini?

If you are going to expire
you should go out on a bang
So the once slut of my virgin duo
sits in her sash
while an erotic midget makes her think of her past
sending her well wishes
through a ring of expiration
into her future.

© 2013 Zander Lilly Fox

Zander Lilly Fox is a seasoned writer who began writing when she learned her ABC’s.  She is currently living in Santa Cruz and interning at McSweeney’s. She is originally from Atlanta GA, but most recently before moving to the Bay Area, she spent six years studying journalism and literature in Oxford Mississippi.

The Journals of Artemis Madoc da Vili (Part 4 – Final)

I woke up blind-folded in a moving van.

The men who’d kidnapped me were speaking Spanish and I couldn’t make out anything except for ‘del sol’ after hearing it a couple of times.

…The soul? I wondered.

Whose soul?

Mine? 

Good luck taking that from me.

I felt that my hands were tied together.

Come on Houdini…give me a break. 

Give me your own soul if you’re up to the challenge. 

…I dare you?

There was a gunshot and the van bounced down on the road.

The men began screaming out orders to each other but another shot sent them to the ground with me. I could feel the wheels scrape along the asphalt and then the van came to a stop. Its door opened and the men inside began hopping out to join in a firefight while I rolled around trying to cover myself.

A few seconds later everything was quiet, and I did my best not to contribute a sound.

“Good work,” someone said.

I started to hear others talking and then their breathing above me.

“Well look at this,” the same person said. “Almost tagged their cargo…”

He turned me over and ripped off the blindfold.

“No tape over the mouth,” he noticed. “Didn’t care to be found, did you?”

I shook my head.

“Too bad kid…let’s go for a ride.”

The man pulled me up by my hands and threw me out of the van.

I got up with the wind knocked out of me but someone smacked me across the face with something heavy.

“This way,” he led me, and then cut my hands free. “Should we blindfold him boss?”

“For old time’s sake I suppose; I just wanted to see his face. Here…”

The cover was put over me again and I was carried over to a motorcycle with another man at the wheel.

“Grab on tight kid,” this one said. “Anything stupid’s the last you thing do.”

The bike started up and I held on to keep from falling.

“Got the plates yet?” the man who’d found me yelled out to the others.

“We’re good to go boss.”

The bike took off.

Your whole family…your girl, I thought.

They’re all dead…

As the bike slowed down the hopelessness began to sink in.

I lifted my head and listened to a mechanical door opening.

I was grabbed and sat down in a chair where the blindfold was taken off and my hands re-tied.

“Welcome, welcome,” the boss said.

He was sitting across from me in another chair himself in this garage with only empty space between us and equipment on the walls behind.

“The name’s Griffith Rhodri…Griff to some but that doesn’t matter. What does is that I’m the Wheel King. Now you’ve been a good listener but I don’t mistake that for loyalty. That’d make me a bad Wheel King now wouldn’t it?”

He stood up and began to slap me around while appearing to inspect me for injuries just the same.

“Sometimes you got to break someone to build their trust,” he told me.

“Are we going to rape him boss?” another man said; a fat bearded pig. “Haven’t had a kid before…”

“We don’t have time for that,” Griffith said.

“Not all of us but just me; one quickie before we pass over.”

“I said no Shaylyn; get the plates taken care of and wire us up.”

Griffith looked back at me and sighed.

“A morale boost before heading into certain death…seems pointless to me…anyway…where were we…oh right; you were going to try to convince me not to cut your throat.”

“I’ll do anything,” I told him. “Just not that…”

“Don’t worry,” Griffith said. “No one’s going to touch you unless it’s me and it’s with this knife.”

He flipped out the blade and traced it along my neck.

“Just let me know what I can do,” I shuddered.

“No,” he said hitting me some more. “I said ‘convince me’. Last chance here kiddo.”

If it’s bullshit he wants…

“My name is Artemis Madoc da Vili,” I said. “I’m Welsh…Artemis like ‘hunting’, Madoc like ‘fortunate’. The Vili part is Icelandic; it means ‘encounter’. My name is ‘hunting fortunate encounter’…what do you say?”

Griffith rubbed the swastika on his shaved head while my wrists circled in the rope, burning them all around.

“‘Vili’ more means ‘cheap’ to me in Latin,” Griffith told me. “Kind of like your story…I guess we all come from shit though. Can’t go too far back on our roots or we’ll both be tree-swinging. What sticks out to me is that you’re Welsh like me. That’s good enough. We’ll put you to good use after all.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “You mean changed your mind about the rape?”

It can’t be that good that I’m Welsh…can it?

Griffith lit a cigarette and sat back down in his chair.

“I know you want to know why you’re here,” he said. “But first, I need to know why you think you are.”

I nodded.

“I was kidnapped tonight,” I explained, “first by some Latino gang then by you.”

“What did the spics want with you?” he wondered.

“I don’t know…I got some reward money. It was publicized. Maybe they wanted it or wanted to hold me for ransom…they killed everyone I care about in front of me…I have nobody left…”

I started to tear up.

Griffith moved himself up next to me and patted my leg.

“You have us now,” he said. “The last family you’ll ever need.”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a clicker, pressing the red button a couple of times and then putting it away.

“For a bomb,” I understood. “One that I won’t live through…will I?”

He shook his head ‘no’.

“You see that clicker doesn’t go off when you hit the button,” he told me. “It’s held onto.”

“That is until you get through some sort of clearance,” I said. “That’s why you need those plates. You want to get in somewhere cozy by switching them with another van’s.”

“That’s right,” Griffith smiled. “One similar enough…I hope they aren’t as smart as you.”

“Who,” I wondered. “Who are these people?”

Griffith threw his cigarette butt on the concrete.

“Weaklings,” he said. “Men who killed my best friend…he was just out of the cooler for moving in illegals. Tried a fresh start in some piss ant mountain town…I guess if a man’s a criminal, crime follows.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s my fault,” he told me. “He found me out here and asked for work…hooked him up with this Del Sol…”

That again…

“What does that mean?”

“‘Of the sun’, Griffith explained. “He goes by Rey Del Sol too; ‘King of the Sun’. We call him the Sun King of the Sun King Nation. ‘Del Sol’ is just how his men introduced him.”

“You haven’t met him yourself?” I asked.

“Sounds like few have…that’s how he works. He was new to us but his offer said he wasn’t new to the game. Anyone willing to pay so well to take out a biker gang must’ve had his reasons, and since we were in a losing battle with those guys anyway it seemed like a no-brainer…fucked up big time thinking ourselves lucky. This little gang of five here; we’re the last of what was thirty after an ambush. The Sun King was arming both our sides; sent us into a fuck pit. This is why we’re going to take out as many of as we can with what little we have left. There’s moving on for us. There’s no getting your loved ones back either, is there?”

“No,” I admitted. “All I want is to make this guy pay for what he did.”

Griffith cut me loose, guiding me to his other men.

“We’re all here to die,” he said. “Go ahead guys; tell him who you are.”

One of the bikers coughed and moved forward.

He was skinnier than me and puffing on some meth.

“The name’s Mike,” he said. “Mike ‘The Whelter Whip’ Seuss-Patrick-O’Flanagan. Real IRA before coming here…this gang saved me when I was double-crossed by my own brother and gave me new purpose. This is why I’ll die with it tonight.”

“Truman ‘The Campaign’ Strenner,” another said.

He was a tall man in his mid-thirties whose face had seen some battle.

“They call me ‘The Campaign’ for two reasons; one I killed a politician and two, I killed another,” he grinned. “It was more of ‘skirmish’ really but that don’t stick. Anyway, needless to say, I turned to who could hide me, and that was the Wheel King here’s best friend, who we mourn over now more than the others. This is why I’ll die tonight.”

“Now for the worst of us,” the last man laughed.

He was darker-skinned than the rest, his hairline receding, but he rubbed his head like it was full.

“Amon Gol,” he said. “‘The Suthain Cràdh’…means ‘the eternal torment’. I’ve been killing since I was younger than you; parents, drifters…never knew I could get paid for it until I met the gang. Tonight I’m told I’ll get to kill again, so that’s what I’ll do. Lose everything but what I am. This is why I’m here.”

Everyone looked to me for a response.

“I’m Artemis…” I said. “Artemis Madoc da Vili. Call me the True Light Advocate. I’ve been that since I was made to lie down and die. I’ll do my part in casting down the Sun King as a false god and crippling his nation. I’ll die with you gladly.”

The men praised me and began to assemble their plan.

I stood by myself while they loaded explosives into their van until Griffith came up behind me.

“You alright?” he asked.

“Yeah…just trying to pull myself together…”

“Help Shaylyn wire those bad boys.”

“…The one who wants to rape me?”

“Like I said he ain’t going to, so get with the program already,” Griffith ordered.

I nodded and walked over to the would-be molester.

He was lying on his side in the back of the van so I climbed in to see what he was doing.

“Shaylyn?”

“Jesus,” he yelled, trying not to move.

He looked up and saw it was me.

“Oh…the cute one,” he sighed. “What do you need? You want to hop on-board with me more than in the back of this thing?”

“A van’s not that atmospheric,” I told him.

“I bet a lot of other missing kids would disagree,” he said.

“Um…Griffith said if you needed help with the wiring that I should—”

“That you should what?” he asked. “Griffith doesn’t know shit about demolitions. Letting you touch anything here except for me would be a pity rather than a pity fuck. Like they say, don’t worry your pretty little head over anything…unless you’re going to give me head that is.”

“Stop it already,” I yelled. “I’m not some fuck toy.”

“Of course not,” he laughed. “You’re a fuck tool; big difference.”

“Yeah well call it like you see it.”

Everything’s a tool to biker mechanic; that’s my call.

“Not too far now,” Shaylyn said when he saw me leaving. “Griffith’s right about one thing; I do need you over here. Truman said we’re hooking you up to the clicker.”

Right…

I got back into the van and watched Shaylyn at work.

“So what do they call you?” I asked him. “The Rapesmith…the Grand Wizard of Charge-setting and Sodomy; which is it?”

“Shaylyn ‘The Grave Matter’ Meredith,” he told me. “When things get rough I’m the one who eases it in. Surprising huh?”

“Kind of,” I admitted. “I’d figure ‘grave matter’ for digging up and fucking the dead.”

Shaylyn rolled his eyes.

“They wouldn’t struggle the way you’re doing,” he said. “You’re here against your own will no matter what you’ve said to stay alive. The last thing I’ll see is you fight to hold onto that button, and whatever it takes, I’ll make you let go. Let’s just say the pleasure will be all mine.”

We’ll see about that, I thought.

Amon and Truman both came into the van with a handful of C-4 and added it to the pile.

They both took a seat on either side of me and began loading their guns.

“That’s all Shaylyn,” Amon said. “We’re ready when you are.”

I looked down at his rifle and saw its grenade launcher attachment.

“That’s an M203 isn’t it?” I asked. “My parents were killed by one I think…got that from one of the bodies, didn’t you?”

He shook his head ‘yes’.

“It’s a shame their leader never shows his face to open wide for one.  He’s the sun that never shines.”

“Maybe not yet,” I said. “Maybe he’ll rise as soon as tomorrow. We’ll never find out though.”

“That’s right,” Amon nodded again. “His men as dispensable to him, his money a means of destruction; we don’t care about our own lives the way he does; that’s why we’re not the same.”

Don’t I deserve to do more damage for my suffering? I thought.

Not to be blown apart in the belly of a Trojan Horse?

“Why not be patient and hit him where it hurts?” I argued.

“A real man dies for a cause when he’s called upon for it because he knows he can do the job,” Truman said. “It’s not about doing the most or being a hero. The sun can’t rise tomorrow if you don’t live to see it.”

In the meantime I suppose I have some growing up to do.

“It isn’t about getting ahead, it’s about getting even,” Amon added. “He killed our men, now we’ll kill some of his. Why wait to settle the score?”

“He’s taken everything we have,” I explained. “Tonight he had my whole family killed. They weren’t dispensable like his men. I want to make him feel what I have.”

“Our lives are pointless without our loved ones,” Shaylyn said. “The longer we live the more we suffer.”

“It wouldn’t hurt to shut up though,” Truman told me. “You said you’d die with us gladly and now you’re going back on your word. We’re doing you a favor; letting you die for a good cause you should appreciate. Instead you’re daydreaming your last few hours away, trying to put doubt in our mission. You do it again I’ll look the other way while Shaylyn has his way with you.”

I spent the next few minutes staring at the charges, wondering if this was really it; this was how I was going to die.

It didn’t seem fair.

I thought Shaylyn was the worst but they’re all the same. 

They all think I’m a fuck tool.

Shaylyn shut the back doors loudly and the van started.

“Go time,” he grinned.

We left the garage and were back on the road.

I thought of more to say, hoping it wouldn’t end in Truman’s indifference.

“That other van was yours too?” I asked Amon.

He looked up from a butterfly knife he was flipping in his hands, his bike lying down behind him.

“That’s right,” he said. “The day laboring banadoochies that killed our brothers stole the one they kidnapped you with.”

“Bana what?”

“Butt fuckers, that’s what I meant. After they told us it was time to flex and slaughter this other gang we’d been at odds with they stole that van from our garage. Thought they’d swing into town and grab you I guess…didn’t it check for a tracking device though…”

He scooted in closer to me with his knife still in-hand.

“Come to think of it…I don’t get why they’d ditch their trucks for a van of ours just to pick you up and head home…you a bio-experiment of theirs that ran off?”

I shook my head ‘no’.

…A bio-experiment?

“They probably just knew they could use the ride,” I told him. “If there are freaks running around like you say, maybe there’ve been some budget cuts for the average José.”

“Maybe,” Amon nodded. “Then again, maybe you’re one of those freaks already…or you’d like to be. Maybe you’ve got to prove yourself first…lead us into another trap.”

I gave him a look of disbelief but he quickly slashed his knife across my face and got on top of me.

He began ripping off my shoes and pants while Truman pulled my shirt from over my head, checking for a device.

“Where is it kid, under your skin?” Amon yelled. “Is it up where I think it is? Shaylyn why don’t you knuckle-burrow for some truth?”

“Get him to scream a little first,” Shaylyn said, showing his rings.

Truman began to tear my underwear but I jammed my shoed foot into his mouth, bringing him to the ground where I stood above him and began stomping his head into it, snapping his jaw. Shaylyn pulled out of his mouth by my chest.

The van stopped suddenly and we fell over, unsure of what’d happened.

Griffith and Mike opened the back door with shotguns pointed at us.

“They’re going to rape me,” I yelled. “You promised they wouldn’t.”

“We’re just doing a cavity,” Shaylyn clarified. “He can’t be trusted boss, I’m telling you. We need to check his—”

Griffith pulled out a hand gun and shot Shaylyn in the kneecap.

I jumped back, putting my hands up while Shaylyn spilled out in pain.

“The next is your head Shaylyn,” Griffith yelled. “Consider your need to walk decommissioned. You make sure the kid releases the button when the time is right. That’s it. Everyone keep your hands to yourselves. If I have to stop again I’ll shoot the C-4 and you can say goodbye to a better death.”

Griffith slammed the door and began to drive again.

I walked back over near the charges, grabbing a screwdriver that’d fallen off of someone with my foot and then stuffing it in the back of my underwear when I sat down.

Just as soon as I had, Truman turned toward me, holding his jaw.

He walked over slowly, grabbing a roll of duct tape.

“No,” I shouted, but I was silenced too soon.

He sat back for awhile after he’d taped my hands together in front of me as well.

“How many scars are there on him?” he asked Amon. “Aside from the one you made on his face…let’s see…what’s that—two? I think three…no that’s a birthmark there…where’d you get them kid?”

I breathed heavily, the tape at the line of my nostril sucking in and out.

“Help me,” Shaylyn cried.

Amon went to his aid.

“One from a bad day learning to ride a bicycle, huh?” Truman guessed of my markings. “The other…mommy clawed you with her nails on accident…tried to turn you around to spank you for spilling some chocolate milk powder. That’s that the one on your arm right there, isn’t it?”

I began to glare.

“You got it kid…three’s the answer. Three or four…five for that look…you know, come to think of it, you could use a big make-over in becoming a man. Seems a little silly don’t it; prettying you up to put some hair on your chest.”

I mumbled.

“What was that?”

I jerked to motion that he remove the tape.

“I said you talk a lot for a jaw broken pussy,” I told him when he had.

Truman laughed as best he could.

“Anything else?”

I nodded.

“Don’t put that tape back on if you’re testing my manhood. Don’t worry…I won’t scream none; not for you bitch.”

Truman put his hand on my shoulder in a paternal fashion and then began to cut away with his knife. I squeezed my eyes together as his it slid down my rib cage, catching on each notch. He lifted my chin then and started up in a straight line from my collarbone to the butt, making me feel a final pinch as it split-ended and released back toward him in a spew of blood. The next went through my scalp above my right ear but got stuck, resulting in a re-dig that followed over my cheek and into my lip.

“You’re doing well,” Truman admitted. “From a kid to a teenager…the type I hate most.”

The next cut flew up my face, nearly gouging out my eye.

I almost noised but I bit my lip.

“How about your tongue?” he asked, grabbing my cheeks.

I spit in his face.

Truman wiped the salvia away from his eye with the knife.

“You’re right…that’d be rude.”

He held open my upper lip, exposing my gums, and dragged the tip of the blade from one side of them to the other. I pulled away when he’d stopped; not realizing he’d kept the knife in my mouth, making me cut my lips from the inside. Truman grabbed me like he had before he’d started and watched me drip for awhile.

“Well, look at you now,” he grinned, standing up to leave. “Ready to die a man…who would’ve thought it possible…Shaylyn, get over here and set him up.”

Shaylyn crawled to me, picking up the roll of duct tape and prepping me to suicide bomb.

“It’s cold for now,” he told me. “I’ll turn it on when the time’s near and then all you’ve got to do is let go.”

I shook my head to tell him I understood.

He sat back against his side of the van while I stared at the explosives, fighting off the urge to sleep that I eventually lost.

When I re-awoke, it was because my head was being shaken.

“Rise and shine,” Truman whispered. “We’re outside the gate.”

I moved a little to see if my ass was sore from anything, discovering that it was only my tail bone hurting from sitting on the screwdriver for so long. I was freezing and covered in goose bumps that popped their heads through the dried blood.

“We’re hoping they open for us based on the plate,” Amon explained to Shaylyn who seemed concerned. “If the wetbacks read off their numbers already, an overhead camera will give us the OK.”

“That’s assuming a lot,” Shaylyn said.

“If it comes to it we’ll bail out with you; leave the kid and shoot to detonate everything. That’ll at least get us in.”

We heard the gate open.

“Well what do you know; a last bit of luck.”

As soon as there was the room for it, the van sped up for a second and then came to a stop.

We heard Griffith and Mike’s doors open and then Amon and Truman jumped out of the van with their rifles, beginning to open fire. Shaylyn had dropped his handgun when the van halted and stooped over to grab it.

“Don’t even think about it,” he yelled out.

I thought I’d missed my chance but bullets began to tear through the van, sending Shaylyn to the ground to avoid being shot. I began tearing away the tape with my teeth, working quickly so that he wouldn’t see me and then stopping when he was looking up again, pointing the gun at my head. It appeared to be on fully but I’d freed my left hand a bit from the bottom.

“Okay…making you hot now,” Shaylyn said, lighting my clicker green. “No going back now, got it?”

There was an explosion near us, moving Shaylyn closer to me.

While his gun was lowered I ran into him, my finger pressed down hard on the button and the other fighting the tape. Shaylyn grabbed me into himself from behind and laughed a little, but I threw my head back into his and then turned to face him, jabbing the screwdriver through his throat. He tried to lift his arm to point the gun at me but I twisted the handle in another direction to make him jolt, my elbow deep in his shoulder and busting his shattered cap with my own knee. I pushed the steel through his circuitry, scuffing it apart and covering myself with his blood.

“I’m the fuck tool?” I screamed in delight.

I left the screwdriver in and let him fall forward, rushing to Amon’s bike.

Okay…keys… 

I ran back to Shaylyn and picked up his gun, sliding outside of the van onto my bare feet and looking for Amon. I was inside of a massive walled compound filled with sand and there were guns firing down from above from what seemed like every direction. I quickly got underneath the van and tried to look for the bikers. I saw that Griffith and Mike were dead, the front of their bodies exploded, but the other two were further up, using a strip of cement wall as cover; one that was soon to close-in on them.

I have to make it to them first…I have to.

I made a run for it, the fifteen feet it must’ve been feeling like fifty.

There was another explosion from behind and I turned for a second to see if it was the van. It turned out to be much closer, and by stopping, I saved myself from a hail of bullets that came down in front of me. I fell backward and then got up again to run. Amon looked back too and saw me just as I came up and shot him, followed by Truman in the back of the head.

I ducked then, seeing that there was a group of men below the cement firing.

The bikers had been standing above a stairwell leading underground.

Have the keys…have the fucking keys, I thought, searching Amon’s jacket while he gasped.

Something jingled from inside of his pocket.

Got it.

I never turned around or looked up again after that but through my whole serpent run to the van I felt the eyes of the whole world watching, ready to destroy anything to get to me.

I came to the back.

Amon’s bike was heavy but I spun it around in a fit of adrenaline, starting it up while bullets barely missed me and the explosives.

Here’s to being an action hero.

I burst out of the doors of the van; recovering from the landing I was crouched into to keep my head on and seeing the gate was wide open still.

This is it. 

Just don’t—

I hit a rock and the speeding bike came out from under me, making me fall face-first to the ground.

I knew I would soon see the men who were coming to kill me.

Play dead, I thought, trying to recover inconspicuously.

You ought to be…just let them get a closer look.

I watched the men rush in toward me, my head sideways in the sand.

They became bunched together, looking in at the explosives or running right past them.

Perfect.

I finally let go of the button.

The fifteen or-so of them were suddenly gone in a metallic ball of fire; their limbs and the scraps of the van lit up in the night and then gone just as quickly as the charges blew. The lower half of the vehicle was left as a remnant flame with smoldering chunks scattered around it.

I stumbled over to the bike, ripping the rest of the tape, and gave it a second try.

This time, I flew out of the compound and into an open desert where I took hard right, unsure of where I was going.

Not over death yet, I realized.

Not even close…and just imagine what’ll happen if they catch up to you. 

I looked down at the gas gauge and saw it was almost full.

Amon must’ve wanted more fuel to the fire.

Now that’s what I call luck a last bit of luck.

I could see every obstacle ahead of me with the head light, but I began traveling downhill quickly, losing control over my speed.

Brake, brake…

Oh no, not again.

The motorcycle caught on a large black mass and I went flying forward this time.

I covered my head as I rolled down the hill, wondering what treachery would stop me until my arm came upon something strangely familiar. I’d grabbed it without thinking, using it stop my descent, but when I’d caught my breath I decided to put both hands up onto it, wondering what it was.

Denim…

…And inside of it…

I ran off.

It’s just a body, I told myself.

Lots of those, even here…

I lifted up the bike when I’d reached it and illuminated the valley below.

There were at least ten men, all crucified to cacti in all sorts of conditions; some skeletal, but mostly rotting.

…Especially here, I shuddered.

I wheeled backward then wondering what I’d hit.

There were two dead Saint Bernard’s, one’s entrails I’d spilled with my spill, and something else.

Another man…

I put my kickstand up and walked over to the body, nudging it a little with my foot to check its pockets for something useful.

They were empty.

Well…lucky bastard among your peers, I turned to leave.

Everyone else got hung out to dry. 

What made you so special?

I heard a cough.

At first I threw myself to the ground but then I crawled back over to the man.

I reached out slowly and felt for a pulse on his wrist.

Still alive…

I turned him, my stomach doing the same on me when I saw how badly he was mutilated. There was an uneven slab on the left side of his face missing—his eye included—and his bicep on the right arm had been ripped off by fangs. My nerves calmed when I came across a sharp bloody rock in his hand.

You’re a survivor…you’re going to make it.

I took the rock and put it in his pocket; unsure if he’d want this souvenir, though personally I was glad I’d left the screwdriver in kid-screwer’s neck. I took off his shirt and dragged him by his arms, setting him up on the bike after a few failed attempts. I got in front of him, working the shirt over the both of us and un-slouching him by working his spine with my hands. I pulled his legs up and crossed them around my waist as I started the bike, wondering when the balancing act when turn to a shove.

A survivor, I told myself.

Special; just like me.

© 2013 James Robb

“Journals” is an excerpt from James’ novel Achieving the Golden State - a collection of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Tarantino-esque crime fiction/fantasy stories about the terrorist group called the Sun King Nation and the group of gifted young men who bring it down by uniting the gangs of California and the Irish mob under the flag of the True Light Advocates.  The entire novel is downloadable here.

The Journals of Artemis Madoc da Vili (Part 3)

By nightfall producers, publishers and agents had flooded my voicemail, leaving me unsure of who to call first until I recognized the voice of the girl from the library. Within the hour she was on my lap lighting a blunt and asking me how I planned to spend my half of the money.

My parents sat around me; my mother the termagant and my father the sycophant.

“How could you possibly think this is okay?” my mom asked me. “Your first day home and you’re smoking marijuana on my couch. You have this girl on your lap who I’ve never seen. You should just be thanking God that you’re alive.”

“In a couple of years I’ll have an estate,” I told her. “Private beach houses, a mountain resort; that’s how I’ll be saying thanks.”

“You’re day dreaming,” my father replied smugly. “Publicity won’t make your music any better.”

“I’ll take care of this family more than you could ever hope to, you just watch,” I challenged.

My mom rose from her seat to lecture me but my girlfriend got in her face instead.

“Stay away from him,” she yelled. “He doesn’t need this right now.”

“You think you know what’s best for him?” my mother yelled back. “Ask him something then you skank; does he remember who was up night-after-night with him in the hospital crying while he rested? Does he remember who had to ignore his constant insults as the pain and drugs removing his filter?”

The room was energized by my mother’s eyes alone.

“Whatever I said or did, I’ll make it up to you,” I muttered.

A loud burst came from the front of the house.

Suddenly the walls exploded from above us and I hit the ground, lying still in the smoke and dust of the drywall.

When I looked up I saw my family dead around me.

A group of armed men pulled my girlfriend off of me and shot her too.

They beat me with their guns before I could even yell and I found myself being carried away.

“You’ll pay,” I whispered to myself. “I promise…”

Part 4 will be posted tomorrow.

© 2013 James Robb

“Journals” is an excerpt from James’ novel Achieving the Golden State - a collection of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Tarantino-esque crime fiction/fantasy stories about the terrorist group called the Sun King Nation and the group of gifted young men who bring it down by uniting the gangs of California and the Irish mob under the flag of the True Light Advocates.  The entire novel is downloadable here.

The Journals of Artemis Madoc da Vili (Part 2)

…And then there was a light.

I stepped out of the automatic doors of the hospital that would’ve opened for me even in electrical dead state. There was no question of my presence as news teams with cameras rolling ascended the stairs to get closer to the podium I was approaching. The star-Governor himself introduced me like apple pie just before taking his seat at my left like an eager imp of mental illness; awaiting the words I’d prepared while droning in a daze of sensory-fantasy.

“I return from weeks mirroring a torture chamber,” I said into the microphone. “Yet…there’s grief still that threatens to destroy me, for I have killed those involved in a misguided act of youth. I stand here now not to restore the system they challenged, but to contend progressive change. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this moment to rock and roll, and announce the beginning of my career. Your attention has turned to me, and now I will use it to keep our loved ones, such as Tycho Miyazaki, in our thoughts forever…thank you.”

I moved away from the podium and congregated strength from the clapping.

There I was; a standard of men more than a man. 

No going back now, I thought, watching the Mayor begin her own speech.

“Very passionate words Artemis,” she said. “They do not however meet the city’s need to compensate the forth-spring of heroic action. Local community fundraisers, our beloved School Board and donations from my campaign to be re-elected as your Mayor have come together to reward you $25,000.”

The Mayor grabbed a giant check from the hands of one of her younger supporters and held it up for the camera before handing it to me and posing for more pictures.

“I gladly will give half of this to the Miyazaki family,” I said to the film crew. “Too often do we falter to petty self-righteousness and forget our common goals.”

Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.

© 2013 James Robb

“Journals” is an excerpt from James’ novel Achieving the Golden State - a collection of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Tarantino-esque crime fiction/fantasy stories about the terrorist group called the Sun King Nation and the group of gifted young men who bring it down by uniting the gangs of California and the Irish mob under the flag of the True Light Advocates.  The entire novel is downloadable here.

The Rainbow Experience (Daniel Thibodeaux)

trippy-1-rainbow-concentric

Paul is shoved into a room and for a brief moment his hands are unbound. He looks around, but can see only darkness.

How did I get here? he thinks. The two men handling him force him into a chair and bind his hands to the arms.  Peering through the darkness, he can scarcely make out the room around him. It appears to be empty except for the chair in which Paul was bound and two peculiar columns in the front of the room. They are suspended by metal wires at the top and bottom and seem to be connected to the front wall by a small elastic bar.

The two men strap Paul’s feet to the chair, cutting off his only means of escape. Paul is a marathon runner, and surely, if he had the chance, he could have outrun any of his captors and still made it to today’s race. But alas, that opportunity had been lost.

When did they get me? Was I drugged?

The two men exit the room, leaving Paul in a panic.

They’re going to kill me, I know it! As paranoid thoughts race through Paul’s head, a third man enters the room.  Despite the white coat he is wearing, he appears to Paul as more of a beast then a doctor.  He has disheveled, untamed hair with only sparse streaks of black in the gray mane. Beneath his full white beard, the man’s face is sunken, almost skeletal in appearance.  Most stunning are the eyes: even in the darkness they emanate a fierce red glow.

After what seemed to Paul to be an awkwardly long silence – even in such unusual circumstances – the doctor speaks.

“So tell me, Paul…what do you think we are going to do today?”

“Tell ghost stories?” Paul asks.

At this quip, the doctor chuckles. “Good good. You will need a sense of humor today.”

The doctor bends down to his knees in order to get down to Paul’s eye level. As he does, Paul can’t help but notice the stench on the doctor’s breath – a combination of stomach acid and the color purple.

As the doctor leans close to Paul, he sees the doctor’s eyes are not red, but rather a violent ever-changing rainbow.

“Today, Paul, we are going to do some important work.”

The doctor flips a switch behind him and the two columns come to life, emitting a rainbow light straight at Paul’s legs.  Paul’s calves begin to tingle, slowly at first, then with intensity. As his toes begin to curl downward from the painful sensations, Paul asks through clenched teeth:

“What are you doing to me?”

“What any good father would do,” the man with the sunken face replies as an even sharper pain shoots up Paul’s right leg before all feeling below his knees is erased.

Across town, the doctor’s son stretches his hamstrings in preparation for today’s race. He intends to win.

© 2013 Daniel Thibodeaux

Image © 2013 www.layoutsparks.com

Daniel Thibodeaux is a Modern English Graduate from the University of Santa Cruz, California.

The Journals of Artemis Madoc da Vili (Part 1)

Lying in a $4000 mattress covered in red satin sheets and blankets in a room with same-colored lamps; I was like a pinup hooker waiting to get fucked in an opium tent. The words I wrote spit out on the pages, staining them like the bad memories that drew them out of me had, and yet it was all for the power money could buy.

The first show I played was at a rock bar in Venice Beach.

The lights were too dim for me to see the faces of the unknown staring back at me and so all I could make out was the sound of the bar. One strum on my guitar made with my fingers and a head full of swinging memories was released. Back and forth they scraped down like a pendulum until all had dwindled except the single thought that I was, despite their attention now, forever alone with the harbored past.

“Play the fucking song,” a man called out.

Okay, I thought, maybe not forever.

I muffled the drawn out hum and struck again, but was washed even further from the room.

I found myself in a wooden seat at a table in my high school library.

A group of valley girls were laughing here amongst themselves because of my clothing; a heavy metal t-shirt that reeked of nug and split mixed drinks and a pair of jeans covered in grass stains. My sickly white configuration was far from impressive.

What’s the big deal though, I wondered.

Sexual performance over spectacle foreplay, I could be a charm.

In truth however, I felt I’d seen too much in my short time to seek out dates or dress nice or do much of anything but drugs and exhaust my ego more than I had already; so much that it could fill buckets as it sweat with self-awareness. How could I, the daily-using shell of a person running to deny the existence of childhood, possibly interest even the most desperate girl once holding me in long enough for a conversation brought them to their senses?

“Are you all bi-sexual yet or waiting until college when one of you has some tits?” I yelled out at the group.

“Suck an asshole,” one of them snickered. “I didn’t realize you had the chromosomes to form a sentence.”

“Let me guess; you stretch your words out because they were taught to you with an enormous erection in your mouth,” I shot back.

The stand-in for the absent teacher, a gym coach named Mr. Montoya, dropped his coffee on the dry-erase attendance clip board in his hands and washed away the x-marks he’d been putting next to the names of the present with the fluvial rush of the bone-baring drink.

“Artemis, meet me out in the hall pronto,” he directed in his own language.

I grabbed my things and began to follow him when an alarm sounded.

“Well that’s just great,” the coach mumbled.

He turned around and faced the class.

“You heard it right folks, that’s the code 99 alarm. Get under cover and stay away from the windows until I figure out what’s going on.”

“Is it a drill?” The librarian wondered.

Mr. Montoya put up his hand to ask for her patience as he toyed with his walkie-talkie, but as he did, a not-so distant breakout of gunfire overwhelmed the sirens. The library erupted into yelling and crying until the coach slammed his fist on a table and projected the voice he usually pegged behind his megaphone.

“Down from the windows—now…”

A spray of bullets shattered the main glass doors he was standing near and killed a couple of freshmen in their tracks.

The shooters moved in as we scattered and riddled Mr. Montoya with bullets.

I dove behind the counter as they drew in, taking the cash register with me and crashing with it on the floor next to the doe-eyed last moments of the librarian, whom I’d littered with loose change and dollar bills. I held her clammy hands as she struggled to grip onto the world she knew and then peered over the counter once they’d released open. The group of girls was crouched in an isle of magazines, but they were going to need the right time to make their escape. I hopped the counter while the shooters opened fire underneath tables and bolted at them.

“Run,” I screamed, pushing them to the side door exit.

Just as the last of them filed out, I felt a burst of pressure in my side and fell woozily into the rack of mixed modern fashion and tribal life, barely noticing it all crash down on top of me. When I’d regained consciousness, I coughed up a heap of warm blood, noticing my legs spasming.

My last sensory embrace, I groaned.

However, a minute passed, and I didn’t cease, nor did the shooters come to claim me. They were taking more lives instead; busting into classrooms and using their victims as mere martyrs of the terror possible by those pushed too far.

I have a philosophy of my own, I told to myself, working up to my feet as my back pumped out streams and I began walking.

…That I’ve never known a single thing about myself; not until this moment. Not until near-smeared. 

I’ve downed a frantic mix of favorite shows and icons. 

Mastered how to act; how to drown quietly in a deep unchartered sociopathy. 

…And now…like from a nightmare to a midnight orgy, I awaken to my own prospects.  

I found our dead resource officer in the teacher’s lounge.

She wasn’t far from the vending machine, a melting candy bar still in-hand.

I relieved her of her handgun and took a deep breath to think of what I was up against. The principal on the intercom informed my thoughts just then by saying he believed there were three assault rifles moving through the school held steady in inhumane hands. I knew that soon a rush of cops who’d learned from the public’s reaction to the Columbine incident would swarm the shooters and kill them if they hadn’t killed themselves already.

“You’re really hurt,” I heard from behind me. “What are you doing?”

It was the girl I’d argued with.

“Go home,” I told her.

To my surprise, she clung on to me, shaking.

“I came back for you. I followed your blood from the library. I felt terrible for leaving you…you can’t just go out there and die. Come with me.”

A wonderment, I thought.

Every sure decision complicated.

There were times where I thought people like her deserved death for how they’d treated me based on superficial clause. I held that opinion of the officer for example, who’d been enraged with bitter loneliness in her lifetime. Mr. Montoya had his gym class favoritism, and even the librarian had perhaps triggered this inner voice in me at some point with the simple annoyance of a malfunctioning book scanner.

I didn’t feel this now.

It was I who was superficial, and in the case of the girl from the library, it was impossible to ignore that I wanted to live to be with her and show her my best.

“In the next few minutes I add worth to the wasted years,” I said on my way out. “Whatever could’ve been between us wouldn’t be as good as if I came out of this alive.”

I began to follow where others took flight.

The presence of death in the hallways was decorated in bloody ornament; a hunt for an un-popped seed of sanity in a burning hearth.

I hit myself in the face a couple of times to desensitize, but soon I was stumbling and bleeding over heaps of bodies with every couple of steps.

“Fucking no decency,” I cried out.

There was no pity or preference of killing.

It was randomized; the chaotic nature of life taught to me with no dilute.

The gunfire became louder with every turn made in the fresh-fed catacombs until I came upon one of its tenders.

He was jiggling like he had to piss, readying up to enter a new classroom.

Poor timing, I thought.

“Fuck face.”

I waited for him to turn his head.

His eyes met my sights and I introduced my clip.

The holes left were large enough that when I walked up I saw fragments of skull floating in his head as if they were broken dish plates losing buoyancy of the blood beneath them while the brain held in the rest of the filth like a strainer. I stared at the dripping ceiling above in awe at what I’d done, beginning to work the rifle off of the corpse.

When I came into the bawling room of students, everyone seemed certain I was there to collect them for kill count.

“Relax,” I said, “I’m here to help. I have a handgun for anyone who wishes to seek their own justice as I have mine. When I did so, I had my cupeth over runneth; quite literally, if I were to stand beneath the ceiling drip.”

I held out the gun with the hot barrel pointed down and waited for a volunteer I could trust. Of the two who walked forward, I picked a Vietnamese kid named Tycho Miyazaki to be my companion. As an excess hand, he was intended to draw the bath for the blood countess of my minds’ eye.

“Stick close and follow my lead,” I told Tycho as I re-entered the halls with him.

Tycho nodded and remained at my side as we went through the band hall.

It was a gruesome zone that trounced the rest.

Instruments and sheet music surrounded their musicians whose still-frame faces wore anguish while others endured fits of paralysis to a losing-battle.

“I know them,” Tycho moaned as we tip-toed the carnage. “There’s Rebecca, there’s Trevor…”

“Just names,” I reminded him, “power words to draw emotion when the cause is feet away and felling more…focus on your posture.”

We continued the mind-deadening advance to the auditorium where the remaining shooters had contained the students.

“They locked them in before they began firing,” Tycho said as he tried the door.

I examined it and saw that there were bars at the bottom lodged into fitted holes in the concrete.

Tycho shook the door wildly.

“All of those fucking people,” he cried.

I grabbed him up off of his feet and tossed him away.

Once he got up I held out my rifle to him.

“Let’s switch weapons,” I said.

He hesitated to hand over his gun but eventually gave in.

“I need your cooperation,” I told him. “Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good; now here’s the plan…I want you to start firing rounds into that door’s window 15 seconds after I turn to leave. It’ll be less bullet-resistant to the rifle so you can put on some heat while I enter in backstage from the other side of the auditorium…got it?”

“Yes.”

I ran as fast as I could.

I’m counting on you Tycho; your binding principle riding the backseat of my thirst for blood.

I entered in backstage and stepped over the impaired in their theatrical make-up.

Pushing away wheeled racks of costumes and prop boxes became like cutting through a web until I finally had my hand on the edge of the stage curtain and could pull it away.

I noticed first that Tycho wasn’t shooting—his window post abandoned, and then looked up at rows of people running and hiding, getting plugged by life-plucking gunfire.

I winced from my injury as I held in my breath to shoot.

A few bullets were missed on smoking up the interior seating, but one finally caught in the neck of my target and he performed a stop, drop and roll on the stage he was standing, thinning the thick of his blood with every motion like a churner. The other gunman rushed over to a crowd and prevented me from shooting. When it’d dispersed, all that remained was his smirk and a single hostage thrashing inside his locked arm.

“Let him go…this is just you and me,” I told the shooter.

“It’s so much more than that,” he called out.

He began to approach me with the hostage.

What is this, I thought.

“It’s easy to see that…” he continued, “that you and I have very little to do with anything. That everything belongs to this moment. Some kid of the people you are, ring-leaping; lapping the shit from their boots. Me…I’m a moody godsend, drunk on the impossible.”

I steadied my aim.

“Trust me, all of this is happening,” I assured him. “Factory hands or not I’m happy to pick up a shift.”

The shooter rubbed the gun barrel on the kid’s head in large pressing circles.

His glasses moved up and down with the motion, making him choke for air and whimper.

“You die inside from delusion while I live on as a truth,” the shooter said. “Go ahead then…inherit woe as I unearth.”

He pulled his trigger before I could speak.

No second thoughts crossed my mind as I clenched my finger and took apart the shooter’s face and shoulders like flying clumped mâché.

Rest with your tedious words, I thought.

I went back to the main entrance and saw that the key that had kept it locked was still in the hole. I turned it and opened the door, seeing that my fears for Tycho had come true. I knelt down by him quietly. His wounds were mortal but he said nothing and only pointed at my side with the last of his strength.

“I’ll be alright,” I said. “Just look at me…you did it…you saved their lives. Not bad for a little corner of the world…right Tycho?”

Tycho was gone.

“Right…” I said, collapsing my head on his chest.

I listened to the rush of the late task force assigned what I’d accomplished and closed my eyes; unsure if they would open again or if I’d been pinched for my relentless arrogance.

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

© 2013 James Robb

“Journals” is an excerpt from James’ novel Achieving the Golden State - a collection of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas meets Tarantino-esque crime fiction/fantasy stories about the terrorist group called the Sun King Nation and the group of gifted young men who bring it down by uniting the gangs of California and the Irish mob under the flag of the True Light Advocates.  The entire novel is downloadable here.

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