A Sick Man`s Dreams - Prisons Foundation

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A Sick Man`s Dreams - Prisons Foundation
A Sick Man's Dreams
(stories)
August 2015
There is no line between genius and insanity
Unleashed through the polyphonic vision of a sane lunatic, these 18 stories, "dreams,"
can be experienced as tiny gems of literary wonder set in parallel worlds; however,
when read in order, they ironically allegorize the limits of their own interpretation. A Sick
Man's Dreams is not a universe in its own lane—it is a multiverse without lanes.
Encompassing the subtle nuances of our emotional spectrum, A Sick Man's Dreams is
less a fiction anthology and more a semi-autobiographical puzzle—the pieces of which
the reader can only begin to connect upon multiple readings. A Sick Man's Dreams
proudly declares that we are greater than our worst mistakes and that by respecting
death we affirm life. It is a revolution of the Twitter generation.
Contact the author:
Peter M. Dunne DIN# 11-A-0671
Eastern Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 338
Napanoch, NY 12458
To my fellow
dreamers
When an old culture is dying,
the new culture is created by those
people who are not afraid to be insecure.
—Rudolph Bahro
Sanity is very rare: every man almost,
and every woman,
has a dash of madness.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
CONTENTS
Jisei The Darkest Nights Birth the Brightest Stars Phenom [Non-]standard Operating Procedure Knight of the Road 1
2-6
7-16
17-31
32
A Bottle of Wild Turkey & A Loaded Revolver 33-40
Astral Ejection 41-48
You and I 49-50
Solipsistic Hedonism & Other Fun Things in the Universe 52-64
Broken Windows 65-79
Exurbia
80-86
Imagine That 87-88
Wake Me Up Before It's Over 89-107
Year of the Rabbit 108-124
The Book of Canis 125-131
I Had a Dream Last Night 132-135
On This Metaphysical Detour 136-146
Soul Chrysalis 147-151
My Requiem 152-154
Space Capsule 155-165
Dextromethorphan 166-176
Exst 177
You Can't Be a Star in My Sky 178-182
Laughing in the Fishbowl 183-198
No Explanation Necessary 199-208
Transmission 209
p.m. dunne
Jisei
Fire in a cup;
blood for a brocade.
Wind as a staff;
dirt out a breath.
Above, mountains remain still;
below, rivers move silently...
no mountains to climb—
no rivers to cross.
Aiieeee
Dragons and snakes,
snakes and dragons—
is there really a difference?
Who hasn't met an oni or a koi?
Sun of enlightment...
moon of appearance...
space between thoughts.
Lord of the three worlds,
why aren't you smiling?
Ka!
Laughter echoes,
stars dance in endless space.
The Darkest Nights Birth the Brightest Stars
P.M. Dunne
The trick is to make eye contact without staring too long. Trust me, you don't want
to open any doors—social portals that once opened become impossible to close. It's always
good to be polite (but never cordial) and approachably aloof. No sense creating enemies
when your enemies are your neighbors, right?
Don't worry if their kids stop you out front, it's routine. You have two options: cough
up a dollar and be a sucker, or be a stingy bastard and look like a creep. Either way, the
baking soda connoisseurs hanging out on the front porch will notice; either way, you're
fucked. In that space of 30 seconds—after you've evaluated your life, or lack thereof, your
current disposition and your heavy-as-a-feather wallet then weighed those in light of your
waning self-respect—you will make a decision and stick with it. Be firm. Keep moving.
Don't look back.
When you walk up the stairs, they will stare at you like a foreign ambassador that
stumbled into the wrong embassy. Don't pay them any attention; just take out your keys,
jingle them a little (to let everyone know you "belong"), hold your breath, step over the
individuals passed out in their own vomit and head into the hallway. Try not to slip on any
beer bottles. Watch out for the cracked stems and used syringes; sometimes the glass will
lodge in the soles of your shoes. And, believe me, you don't want to drag that shit in. After
you feel the encampment of clouded eyes leaving your back you may exhale. Check your
mailbox. Don't bother using your key to open it, the locks were broken years ago. Pull out
some bills and junk mail. Shove the bills in your jacket pocket and throw the rest on the
floor (someone can use it to wipe their ass with later). When you try to unlock the door
leading up to the second floor you'll remember that the locks were changed while you were
at your "job," stealing old copper pipes from abandoned buildings to sell for cash, and you'll
feel stupid for not calling the slum lord to get a copy of the new key. The time on your
prepaid phone will indicate that it's too late to call (if you want to remain a tenant in a
lovely building with no heat or running water that is).
Now is the time to grumble and moan, curse, kick the door even—nobody cares,
everyone's either passed out or stumbling around on the front porch so don't worry. Knock
on the door of the nice old lady that's been living there since "blacks 'n' whites wuz drinkin'
outta dif rent troughs" and ask what she's cooking. You already know the answer to the
question but you ask anyway, it's routine. She'll tell you one of two things: fried chicken,
collard greens and macaroni and cheese; or oxtails, dirty rice and cocoa bread. After
making your selection, slide her $5. Be back in fifteen to twenty minutes or your stomach
will be doing the Texas Chainsaw Macarena for the rest of the night.
Turn around, head out the building—hold your breath as you walk by so you don't
catch a contact—and stroll down the block. The key is not to walk too fast nor too slow.
Don't bring any unnecessary attention to yourself. Assume a mixture of self-assuredness
with a little unenthusiasm in your demeanor. At the corner down the street from your
building are those three guys that always lean against the parked car with the music
blaring: approach with caution. Don't bother gripping the blade in your pocket, you're too
broke to get robbed. Nobody's paying attention to you and although it's 11:30 pm, you will
still feel as if a thousand laser-like eyes are piercing your back. Tell the guy with the tan
pit bull that you "need one." He'll casually nod and direct you to whatever doorstep it's at.
Wait a minute or two until a woman pops out from an alley, walks over cautiously and
presses a bag in your palm like a wax seal. Tell her you only have $4 (you need $1 to buy a
blunt wrap) but next time you'll get two. She'll go for it; she's knows you're a reliable
customer—most of the time at least—and not a fiend that plays money games, except for
nights like these. Don't get that confused with respect though. Thank her and quickly head
up the block.
There is a bodega on the next corner that's cheaper than the nice ones on the
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Boulevard. When you walk inside, don't be alarmed if wind chimes go off above your head
like cherry bombs in a soup pot. It's there so the owners know someone's entered (they
saw the movie on BET with the Asian man that gets shot by the black kid for saying "I
feel soory for yo' motha"); if you ask the last person who tried to rob them, they're not
'playing any games.' It's customary, if you're getting a deal, to buy extra items, even if
they're just frivolous items like Twinkles or a fifty-cent bag of chips and an Arizona iced tea.
You've built a rapport by now and you don't want to fuck up that relationship (trust me, it's
a relationship). Without you saying anything, the Yemenese man will put the $1 blunt wrap
on the counter and smile his half grin at you. Ask him how his day was. Maybe tell him
something funny about your shitty day. He'll laugh. Grab two 22oz bottles of Old English
and put them on the counter. He'll double bag them (because you're—somewhatfriendly), throw the blunt wrap with it, fist bump you then send you on your way with a
"tank you very motch, boddy."
You need to walk home now, but you can't go back the way you came since you now
have an attention-grabbing plastic bag, with a yellow smiley face on it, that's a target
saying, "Hey everybody, look at me!" Even though it's a further walk to go around the block
you should do so. The woman you got the bag of weed from might see you and tell the guy
with the pit bull; it's never a good idea to play yourself. And don't—I repeat, don't—let the
goddamn bottles clink together.
A young, distantly attractive woman who you know from the area—who everybody
knows, apparently, as you found out a week ago—with a raging case of Simplex 1 on the
side of her mouth, will ask "whatchu getting into tonight?" (if you're smart: your right hand,
or, even, the hole in your wall). Tell her you're "going through some shit right now" and act
like you're in a hurry. She'll pout and try to flirt with you, only, because she wants to drink
and smoke tonight Speed off. Keep moving. Don't look back.
If a gunshot goes off and it sounds far away, ignore it and go about your business. If
a gunshot goes off and it rings in your ear, drop immediately. After surveying the area—to
determine the direction and proximity of the source—you should run, while crouching, in
the opposite direction. Head straight for the nearest corner, turn and keep moving. If there
is no corner to duck around, the nearest alleyway will do. Limber up. You may have to hop
over a fence or two, unless it's a dead end alley—and in that case, you better hope the
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trigger-happy individual in the neighborhood (smacked off Angel Dust, bath salts and/or
1(2) is not imagining you to be one of the zombies from the Resident Evil game he's been
playing for the last eight hours or you're fucked. Big time.
Don't pay any attention to the crazy guy with the "jafaican" accent that stands
outside the liquor store with the illegible cardboard sign and asks for change. He's not
actually looking to change; he just wants change. If you give him money, he will follow you
around and talk to you. If you don't give him money, he will talk shit to you but not follow
you around. Choose your poison wisely. About this time he will ask you for a cigarette
(you're too broke to squeeze for change) although you've told him a hundred times that
you don't smoke anything that doesn't get you high. Pretend you can't hear him. Better yet,
pretend you can't hear anyone. Cut across the street—at a 90° angle—and turn at the
nearest corner. Ignore what the crazy guy shouts behind your back; don't take it personal,
he tells everyone to do that
When you arrive home (for lack of a better term), walk around the back of the
three-family building—converted by your slum lord into a $150-a-week rooming house
complete with community bathroom and shower—and put down your bag. While
stepping on a milk crate, reach up with both hands and grab the rickety fire escape ladder.
Don't worry. Even though it couldn't possibly pass a safety inspection it will, most likely,
support your weight, just be careful not to let it slam down too hard on your foot Slip your
wrist through the bag's handles to free your meat hooks and climb up the ladder. If it sways
a little in the night breeze, don't panic, just climb faster; stare at the point where the roof
and sky connect The bathroom window that you slip through will be unlocked because the
glass was "removed" months ago and someone replaced it with a heavy-duty garbage bag.
Be careful not to wake the montega aficionado that sleeps in the stand-up shower with his
eyes open. Act like you don't see him and quietly close the door behind you when you exit,
it's routine.
Around this time you will remember your dinner and run down the stairs to the
first floor. The nice old lady that sells home cooked meals to people in the building will be
arguing with one of the porch campers that frequents the hallways (and finds it perfectly
normal to relieve himself behind the stairs). For him it is normal and natural—in more
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ways than one. He will startle when you pull your knife and back off slowly till he is on the
porch, but before he disappears he will curse you out while clenching your junk mail in his
balled up fist There will be some commotion outside as the man attempts to rally those
lying on the floor to "beat yo' mothafuckin' pretty boy ass." The nice old lady will thank the
lord, first, then thank you and promise to introduce you to her daughter (the one you heard
died years ago in a drive-by gone wrong) because you're "such a nice boy." Smile, nod and
play along. The woman's had a rough life; a little denial is healthy for her. After you get
your food you should head upstairs to your room.
When you stick your key in the door you will realize the door is unlocked. Hold your
breath. Get ready. There may be someone in your room nodding out on dope or blinking
uncontrollably with a blackened stem hanging from cracked, bleeding lips. Kick the door
open and see no one. See nothing either. Your room has been ransacked, pillaged, robbed,
raped—all 54 square feet of it, empty. The few personal belongings that you own
are gone. Your life savings (about $125) are gone. Vanished. Even the Gatorade jug that you
piss in. Gone. Everything. After screaming and punching a hole in the wall, to go along with
the one from last week, you will notice that your window was popped open. You will
suspect the people outside or the dealers upstairs on the third floor. You will also have to
get over it because you know you'll never find out the truth. No one will talk Not even
the nice old lady downstairs (she wouldn't know anyway).
Eventually you will calm down and become numb, even, before the alcohol kicks in.
The blunt will do little to lighten your spirit—a spirit you don't have. You will feel light as
an anchor and dumb as one too. You are a dark cloud lost in a sea of gray. Empty. The
Styrofoam tray with your dinner in it is cold; it will be tomorrow's breakfast. Lay your
jacket on the floor, tonight it's your bed. As you stare out the window you'll realize you're
the only person in your building (besides the nice old lady downstairs) who is not a drug
addict. When you become tired of being the only person in your building who isn't a crack
head or dope fiend, you will do something about it. You will find a job, a better job, a real
job. Or if not that, then at least a way, any way, to make some money, real money, so you
can get the fuck out and move on with your life. And when you do, you'll be a success.
You'll be a star.
P.M. DIAh/NE
In eighth grade, I vividly remember my school counselor calling home to suggest my legal guardians allow a
certified psychologist to come and administer me an I.Q test. The administration needed to know if I would
remain in my new class or return to my old one. The fate of my academic career was in question. Recently,
I had been inducted into my school's "Hall of Shame"—the infamous "Resource Room." The Resource
Room was a small group of "troubled" students who, supposedly, functioned better in a nice, quiet,
"structured environment" away from the madness of the larger population of the student body.
And if I remember correctly (which I do because unlike my short term, my long term memory is
still intact and thriving thank you) most of the kids in the 10-student class were about one paint chip away
from "yellow bus status." In other words, we were considered retarded Or if you prefer political
correctness: "mentally challenged/handicapped." Basically just a fancy way of saying retarded (work with
me). But anyway, most of us were in there for "behavioral issues" and not a lack of raw intelligence (cannot
stress this part enough). However, we did have a couple "special cases" in the class that cannot be ignored
(goddamn long term memory) and if deleted from this story would probably be cause for an uproar from
the WWF or PETA. I remember this one kid with hard, plastic headgear and a mouthguard (so he wouldn't
bite off his own tongue [try to keep up]) who had multiple seizures a day and another kid who used to sit at
the side of the teacher's desk, staring at all of us wide-eyed, and making strange, angry noises that reminded
me of a gibbon's mating call. Those two characters had a "special assistant" at all times. We didn't really talk
to them too much (don't judge me)—I mean, would you?
During the day we (everyone except twiddle-dee and twiddle-dum) were expected to do the
homework that our teachers sent up to us in homeroom. Most days though we would escape to go hang out
in the bathroom and smoke cigarettes, do drugs or talk to girls (in their bathroom of course). The other
days we would sit around shooting spitballs, doodling, snoring or printing up paper airplanes off Microsoft
Publisher. Technically, there was no "classwork," just homework during class time—which kind of qualifies
for classwork...but whatever. That's public school rhetoric for you. They just wanted us to pass, not in the
grade sense (65% across the board was too ambitious) but rather the pass-for-someone-that-isn't-a-fuckingretard sense. As you can see, their expectations for us were pretty high. Or in other words, the limbo stick
was...
The bar was set....
The Resource Room "teacher" was really just a fat, hallway monitor with untamed eczema on her
neck and arms that had to attend an hour-long parenting seminar to get the position. And what a lofty title
it was indeed. She was the only teacher I knew that smoked two packs of Virginia Slims a day, curled 85-lb
dumbbells, stole random parts from other teacher's cars, used a walkie-talkie in class, drank Mr. Boston
vodka from a flask in her desk, and (you'll never believe this) actually gave two-shits about us. Ok, I'm
lying. At the end of the month, if we all did our dasshomework, or homeclasswork, and behaved, as
indicated by the amount of smiley face stickers on the bulletin board, we would receive a pizza party and a
movie of our choice (that, of course, never happened, but thank god for "hope" right?). Looking back I
think even then we knew that adults were full of shit. It was grade school hegemony at its finest, started by
our big, fancy, correspondence-course-educated, associate-degree-holding school administration. I mean
c'mon, everyone knew that if we really did have a pizza party, Headgear would just try to eat the little,
plastic table that comes in the box; or if he didn't do that, The Gibbon would probably get his furry, Vienna
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Sausage stuck in the VCR or something....Either way, somebody was going to "choke." So whenever
Headgear would have a seizure, The Gibbon got excited by someone (or something) or a fight exploded in
the classroom, we'd all sneak out on some Prison Break shit and run around causing havoc (what we did
best).
Good times.
The week before 9/11, we were in the bathroom killing some brain cells (another keyboard
cleaner marathon) when, suddenly, my name was called over the loudspeaker. Normally this wouldn't have
been too out of the ordinary (I was Top Five on the "principal's list" and I'm not talking Honor Roll), but
even then, with my brain in a state much like that of an unstable nuclear reactor, I could still comprehend
that- the message was "odd": Report, immediately, to the Counselor's Office...please. Was it a set-up? A form of
reverse-psychology? A Jedi Mind Trick to draw out the young Sith Lord from hiding? Needless to say, I was
intrigued. Against my better judgment and my friends' wise warnings, that I might get abducted by sexdeprived janitors (or if you prefer political correctness: "custodial engineer"), I eased my way down the
hallway with the utter finesse of Jason Bourne eluding the CIA and scoped the area for any indication of an
ambush.
The coast was dear.
Sitting in the counselor's office I looked at the cheesy, motivational framed-posters on the wall of
Magic Johnson, Michael J. Fox and Whoopi Goldberg and thought about nothing ("nothing": contemplating
which strains of marijuana were the perfect combination to smoke [with girls] on an old, rotting, train
trestle—after the period ended—to increase my chances of getting laid). An old man suddenly knocked on
the door and asked for my counselor. 1 told him the "cuntselor" was in the coffee room and he nodded thank
you before turning back and asking me my name After telling him, he squinted his eyes conspiratorially (I
was waiting for him to cackle like a mad scientist and say "yeeesss" while intertwining his fingers in a sinister
way) and told me to please join him in the conference room. All this please stuff was starting to scare me.
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9
Seriously.
After asking me a bunch of getting-to-know-you questions he laid it all out on the table: I am Dr.
Jorkhovski (sounds like Jerk-off-ski) and I am a clinical psychologist; do you know why I am here young man? I
replied that he was coming to take me back to his lab at Area 51 in order to train me to control/unleash my
dormant psychic abilities so that I could join the fight against the impending Y2K-alien invasion. He looked
at me, rather peered, through his little round glasses and cleared his throat in a way that allowed me to
sample the peanut butter-and-dog shit sandwich that he had probably eaten for lunch. I waited for him to
pull out a corncob pipe and stroke his beard but he didn't He just opened his handy-dandy (emphasis on
dandy) male-pocketbook (or if you prefer political correctness: "European shoulder bag") and removed a
stack of papers, a note pad, a timer and pen before addressing me in a robotic tone: You have one hour to
complete the entire test, seven sections all together. ifyou get stuck or confused, try to work it out. ..do not rush through
or ignore any parts but keep in my mind that once a section is completed you may not return to it later and when I say
'time' you are finished. I will be sitting here taking notes (drawing penises most likely) and keeping track of how long
you take to finish each section before moving on. Afterwards we will discuss the test and you may ask me any questions
that you have...as long as they do not deal with (cough) aliens. Young man, do you understand everything I have just
said? I think I responded by making a failing noise into my palm.
He nodded before tapping the timer to start the test.
If I remember correctly (which I do), the test wasn't all that difficult and I even finished with time
to spare which pissed off Jerkoffski—I mean Jorkhovski—and got his beard in a bit of a tizzy. You could say
he was a little flustered. He couldn't believe I was done and he looked at me with a mystified expression on
his, what appeared like, normally expressionless mug. You're finished...with all seven sections? Sheepishly, I
stared at him then asked if I could leave. The doctor took the test booklet, flipped through it to make sure it
was completed, then asked me a few more questions about school. I answered some questions truthfully
while the others I did not care enough to respond to were disregarded, with a wave, and the rest I lied
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about (to screw with his head). He fell for it, of course (they all do). Having an intellectual duel with a
behavioral science major can be about as fun as scratching your face with a cheese grater—
and less enlightening too.
After leaving the counselor's office I walked down the hallway and noticed that my friend Zach was
waiting for me in the cafeteria. We snuck into the library (I was banned for looking up "inappropriate"
images) to meet up with two girls, Cassandra and Andrea, that were in our crew (The Losers—before it
was considered cool to be a "loser") and to sneak out the window to "get some fresh air." Walking down the
trail that led to the train trestle (the spot where most of the high school students went to skip class and get
high) I was momentarily knocked unconscious by a flying rock and busted my ass. Stones flew at us through
the trees like mini asteroids screaming down on Earth. I immediately knew who was attacking us (Bobby
and Amir, mad because we "stole" their girls) and I knew that they had to die, or, at least, receive the
serious bodily harm which needed to be inflicted upon them. Me and Zach ducked for cover, while the girls
were standing there, screaming like banshees, and gathered up dusty rocks. We gave each other the
a good day to die
today is
look then charged with our "non-incendiary grenades" feeling as if we were two soldiers on
D-day, fighting for a cause we knew nothing about, while bombs exploded all around us. A huge stone
whizzed past my shoulder; I did a tumblesault and leaned against a tree. Two more flew by; one hit the
ground about a foot from where I took cover and the other hit Zach, hard. He groaned and I looked over.
His bottom lip was busted, blood oozing out onto his shirt collar. The sons of bitches were going to
die.
Zach threw three rocks in rapid succession, all missing but hitting close to the target. I quickly threw two
medium size rocks then picked up the largest stone I could hold in one hand and spun like a discus thrower,
launching the miniature boulder into the air. We watched with anticipation burning in our eyes as it
smashed against the barricade the enemies were hiding behind.
Fucking cowards.
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The dumb motherfuckers had no idea who they were up against. We were a deadly team on Golden
Eye for
the Nintendo 64—this was child's play. War was in our veins little did they know how many
jammed controllers we were responsible for. Hand signals were given, received and returned faster than a
dial-up connection and we were off. I took the left flank and Zach the right. This confused the creepazoids
who started panicking now that they realized the odds were more even. I hid behind a stack of rotting
lumber and Zach crawled around in high grass. Rocks continued to rain down. A large branch covered in
moss and mushrooms (not the good kind) called out to me as I watched five stones fly over my blockade and
smash the trees around me like homing missiles. I hoped Zach was alright. My head was throbbing. I felt the
heat rising up to my head as the thought of the females giving up on our plans and heading back to school
flashed before my eyes. The branch felt cool in my hands and moist from the early morning dew; I gripped
it so tightly my knuckles cracked. Zach set off the attack, hurling stones at a rapid rate to distract them
while I ran with the branch Amir (target acquired) noticed first and pelted me twice in the chest and once
in the hip. I held the pain silently. I absorbed it. I hated it...then I loved it. Amir's screams echoed through
the trees. His wrist bone jutted out at a weird angle like an acute triangle. I smacked him in the ribs,
although I would have rather hit him in the teeth, and he plopped onto some loose gravel, like the dead
lump of shit that he was, and curled up, moaning—then I chased after Bobby as Zach pelted him in the back
with rocks. After we caught the slimy little bastard, he begged for mercy before we pushed him off the train
trestle into the sludgy creek below; Bobby belly-flopped in the shallow water with a loud, splattering thud
and writhed in his well-deserved mud bath (target eliminated). When we walked back to the trail, the girls
were gone but we felt like a million bucks (before taxes) anyway. We rolled up and smoked in celebration.
Mission accomplished.
On 9/11, returning from an afternoon of "fresh air," I was speeding down the hallway—tripping
on mushrooms (the good kind)—and laughing like the "semi-special" individual that I can sometimes be,
when the principal's voice shouted over the loudspeaker to "calm down" (because that always works). I
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I
t
immediately looked up at the ceiling thinking, God is that you? And at that point, I really thought that the
world was ending; girls were running around crying, and everyone was being ushered into the
auditorium—for what I figured to be a pre-apocalyptic zombie virus-outbreak announcement. To my
disappointment, it was not; apparently, the Twin Towers were attacked (by the Illuminati, not zombies)
and America was having a conniption. Our parents (legal guardians) were coming to pick us up and the
losers, whose parents cared so much that they decided to stay at work, were told to remain in the hot,
stuffy, smelly, used-condom strewn auditorium until the school buses arrived to drive us home...in three
hours.
Guess what I did? Yep.
CNN as well as every TV station in America were covering the event live (I think) and I wasn't sure
if it was real, or if! was still hallucinating (little bit of both perhaps) but I knew that things were gonna change.
As the TV blared in the living room, I glanced over at the answering machine and noticed that the light was
blinking many times indicating exactly how many messages were saved—quite a lot. A shitload maybe. But
then again, I was on psilocybin after all. I pressed play, listened to the annoying screeching noise go off
before the automated voice activated (Sin's grandmother) and told me how many messages were saved
(before the birth of the iPhone, Sin's grandmother was the queen supreme of "bootleg Al"). Don't ask me
how many I actually listened to.
Seriously.
Most of the messages were from teachers or parents around the neighborhood but one caught my
attention. There was no mistaking the dull drone of the doctor's cyborg-sounding voice. One of the
messages was from Jerkoffski (Dr. Jerkoffski): Hello. This is Dr. forkhovski from parents of
. I am calling to inform the
that I have the test results of the intelligence quotient that I administered at week. Please get in contact with me. It is... um....lt i. High School last
urgent. Thank you
*BEEP*
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Urgent?! think I listened to that message about 100 times, trying to decipher the enigmatic
undertones, with my cerebral-Turing machine, but the algorithm was impenetrable.
A
month later, when most parents stopped caring about "the terrorists" coming to kill their kids,
we were all back in class. The whole gang. Back in the seventh ring of the infernal Resource Room. And as
usual, spitballs were shot, paper planes flew, farts were brewed, cigarettes smoked, reefer was toked and
the normal chaos resumed.
As I exited the bathroom on a boring Friday afternoon, an unknown force abruptly disturbed me by
calling my name. The principal? The Resource Room teacher? I froze in mid-waltz. The androids did it, I
thought. They finally took over. But no, it wasn't an android—just one of their failed prototypes that had
been discarded on Earth. Dr. Jerkoffski peered at me, while mopping his brow with what appeared to be a
very "vintage" handkerchief, and then asked me to please join him in the counselor's office for a quick chat."
In the conference room was, miraculously, my counselor and some doctor-esque looking persona that
hovered in the room like a methane cloud. My counselor asked me to have a seat. Something was up. While
Dr. Jerkoffsld babbled his psycho-jabber, I tried my best to not provoke the suspicious apparition gazing at
me, with dilated pupils; and, at the same time, read the expression on my counselor's broad brow, lowerjaw-protruding, Neanderthal face for any information it might conceal in its atypical hush. A blank page. I
looked back at Jerkoffski, hoping his inane chattering would cease, as he addressed the two other adults in
the room, before he unexpectedly, and without warning, blasted me with his dragon-breath attack. I
choked on the noxious fumes of his ethereal gingivitis for a moment before he bombarded me with
questions:
What books do you read? Do you read? What do you watch on television? Do you watch television? How long
have you been in the Resource Room? What are your grades like? Were you ever held back? Do you like your teachers? Do
you feel that their classes benefit you? Do you feel that their classes do not benefit you? Do you enjoy learning? How do
you think you learn best? Have you ever done mind altering substances, of any sort? Are you listening to me? He went
on like this,
without taking a breath, for what felt like hours before stopping to allow me to answer.
8
it
I don't like school. Books? I read a little bit. You know.. .stuff like...um...Atlas Shrugged, Choke, Monte
Cristo.. fun stuff TV? Yeah, I'm mostly into anime and sci-fi, not like hardcore sci-fi but you knOw.., urn, stuff like the
Matrix and The Cell. I loved Silence of the Lambs.. .did you catch that one? Of course you didn't...okeydokey. And I
don't really know how long I've been in the retard room—I mean Resource Room.. .probably a couple months or so.
After answering some of his questions, the most important one finally surfaced in my mind: what
the hell am I herefor? Jerkoffsld leaned back, fiddling with his suspenders (yes, in 2001A.D.) and looked at the
ghost floating near the window for help. The phantom spoke (I think it didn't know it was dead yet; it was
still holding on to its old life perhaps), rather mumbled, something indecipherable to Jerkoffski then stared
at me unrestrainedly. He reminded me of one of the janitors. I was "uncomfortable." My counselor finally
broke the piñata at the party (so to speak) and blurted out: you have a 148 1.(2,_ If her answer was in Sumerian
it still wouldn't have made a difference. You scored a 148 on the test Dr. Jorkhovski administered. Jerkoffski
chimed in with his blahblahyaddayadda-abracadabra-alakazam shtick. Since my counselor was a member of the
Homo sapiens genus, unlike the other two adults in the room, I was able to understand her translation:
you're a borderline genius. I thought I was a borderline schizophrenic, not a borderline mensa. Whatever.
So.. .1 guess that means I'm only half-retarded then, right?
Days, weeks, months, years and decades went by before I finally accepted the fact that I do not
relate to, most, people—I most likely never will—and I think that this may or may not have molded me
into who I am today. And all the times I was hit over the head and all the drugs I did in my life may or may
not have changed the fate that those Bene Geserit witches had planned for me at birth. That 148 may have
shifted to either side of the dum-dum /mensa spectrum (or for those that prefer political correctness.. .blow
it out your ass!). But I don't know. And I don't care. I don't worry about what others think about me
anymore; I'm just trying to figure "this life shit" out like everyone else. And I'm enjoying life—in the
moment (no matter how crazy it gets).
9
Is-
A lot has happened since eighth grade. A lot has changed. But no matter who I meet or what
happens in the future, one thing is for certain . I'm gonna keep doing what I always do best....
Being ME.
10
IL
[Non-jstandard Operating Procedure
PM Dunne
The only effect the Ambien had was to increase his agitation. Eyes open in the dark, Deadboy
tried, unsuccessfully, to put some order in his thoughts; memories, both distant and recent,
jostled about in his brain, refusing to return or leave home. They passed each other, brushing
against gray matter, sometimes collided, and impregnated his mind with lightning, before Slowly
dissipating. From this chaos emerged a smirk—slovenly stapled on his face—and an enigmatic
gleam that flickered in his eye. Perhaps the key to the universe could only be found inside the
head of a madman.
While thinking about his life, Deadboy considered that he was in need of peace and
stability; the thought was more fluid than static—all he found was space between the spaces.
After staring at himself for 30 minutes, contorting his face in comically gruesome expressions,
he walked out of the foyer and into the kitchenette to appease the reptilian brain He considered
making himself an omelet before remembering he used a dozen jumbos, the morning prior, to
paint some cars yellow. They shouldn't have been honking at 8:47 am. He recalled waking up
exhausted then pacing his studio with an absent and vaguely hostile air.
The clock on the stove read P12 am. "Too much sleep can be a bad thing," he mentally
noted Dead boy looked in the empty refrigerator—immediately wishing he hadn't—then
wondered why, ever since he was a child, picking off scabs and slowly removing bandages, he
enjoyed torturing himself. In the cupboard next to the sink was a box of ramen noodle soups,
seasonings, rice, beans and a few cans of Chef-Boyardee. Deadboy squeaked. He rinsed off a
plastic Chinese food container—thought about all the good PCBs that would contaminate his
17
food after nuking it—then emptied the contents of not one but two can of yummy goodness. It
was history in the making. Deadboy stood back and admired his creation (beefaroni and ravioli);
he was feeling rebellious.
About an hour and seven minutes later, his stomach gurgled Funny things happened.
After defecating, Deadboy thought, "I feel 10 pounds lighter." As he stepped out the bathroom
and looked for his iPad, he felt like a severed head driven around in a shopping cart by someone
with no legs. This momentary distraction led to him running and flinging himself against a waste
receptacle. It did not feel as good as he'd anticipated. After his outburst, Deadboy found his iPad
in his twisted bed sheets and squeaked: QTPie and Esperath Wraithling were in the Hikikomori
chat room. He signed in....
Wei5hau9t signed in 1:58
esperaTh wraithLINg: hello
dEaDb0o0y signed in 1:59
Wei5hau9t signed out 1:59
esperaTh wraithLINg: who the hell was that?
QTPie666: I don't know
QTPie666: hey db
dEaDb0o0y: whats up
esperaTh wraithLINg: chillen working on things
QTP1e666: ditto
dEaDb0o0y: HAJIME SORAYAMA IS GOD I just had an outburst
QTPie666: lol nice
esperaTh wraithLINg: so r u guys coming to my book party
Q'TPie666: hell yea
dEaDb0o0y:
dEaDb0o0y: yep
QTPie666: this is so cool were finally gonna meet
PRZemil23 signed in 2:03
PRZemil23: wtf is hikikomori
QTPie666: foreal zemi...
esperaTh wraithLINg: if you don't know ur prob in the wrng room brb
dEaDb0o0y: so wher is this book party @
PRZemil23: fuck you losers
PRZemil23 signed out 2:04
QTPie666: somewhere in LES check the email
dEaDb0o0y: I never got an email...
esperaTh wraithLINg: @ KGB 12/15
esperaTh wraithLINg: yes u did db I sent it to you
dEaDb0o0y: u realize were violating hikikomori rite
QTPie666: *sigh* sometimes it must be done
esperaTh wraithLINg: I violate it sometimes very rarely got 2 get groceries and attend book signings and stuff
QTPie666: true
dEaDb0o0y: * * me on mdma
esperaTh wraithuNg: haha nice im on a 30 mg adderall
QTPie666: lmao @[email protected] thats me on everything
dEaDb0o0y: !mac)
PRZemil23 signed in 2:07
2
IS
PRZemil 23: FUCK YOU!!! You thought I was gone but im back bitches hahaha you cant stop me
QTPie666: I <3 u 2
esperaTh wraithLINg: get a life
PRZemil23: shut up pussy
PRZemi123 signed out 2:08
dEaDb0o0y: this is crazy what the hell
MILF30/FL 22891200 signed in 2:08
XXXBritanny18/NJ 00913 signed in 2:09
QTPie666: omg sexbots
esperaTh wraithLINg: robosluts from mars
MILF30/FL 22891200: LOOKING FOR A GOOD TIME PRESS 69
dEaDb0o0y: fuck weve been invaded
XXXBritatmy18/NJ 00913: HEY BOYS! I'm horny, single and home alone. Come see what I'm doing on my
webcam now vvww hornylittlenymnhos.sex
QTPie666: lot 69
MILF30/FL 22891200: hey cutie pie <3
MILF30/FL 22891200: got any pics
esperaTh wraithLINg: am I the only one who thinks milf30/f1 is an overweight middle age white male perv in
disguise...pulsating...throbbing...
dEaDb0o0y: yea a pulsating uber-douche haha
QTPie666: @[email protected] 69 69 69
MILF30/FL 22891200 signed out 2:10
esperaTh wraithL1Ng: I knew it
dEaDb0o0y: we r under attack
Wei5hau9t signed in 2:11
QTPie666: hey
dEaDb0o0y: whats up weishaupt
esperaTh wraithLINg: what if life was a simulation program and every time u masturbated or had sex u were
actually being drained by sex bots who take ur sperm to seed colonies of clone-like beings
XXXBritarmy18/NJ 00913: HEY BOYS! I'm horny, single and home alone. Come see what I'm doing on my
webcam now www.homylittlenymphos.sex
QTP1e666: sometimes I feel disconnected from my body like my head is a balloon
esperaTh wraithLINg: u mite have a tumor pressing on ur pineal gland
dEaDb0o0y: maybe she has rabies
QTPie666: weve been socially euthanized
QTPie666: somebody please beat me like a piñata
esperaTh wraithLINg: *WACK!*
dEaDb0o0y: *Boing!*
dEaDb0o0y: brb
QTPie666: u guys r crazy Imao
esperaTh wraithLINg: I just found a pill between my couch cushions should I take it
QTPie666: only if u dont kno what it is
esperaTh wraithLINg: it looks like it mite be methadone or morphine or something in that family
KevorIcianfan47 signed in
XXXBritanny18/NJ 00913: HEY BOYS! I'm horny, single and home alone. Come see what I'm doing on my
webcam now www.homylittlenvmphos.sex
KevorIcianfan47: hey brit lets meet up ^_^
Kevorkianfan47: r u into s8cm
esperaTh wraithLINg: wtf 2 many nut jobs online
esperaTh wraithLIng signed out 2:12
Kevorkianfan47: cum c my mercitron baby
QTPie666: db lets IM each other weve been invaded
dEaDb0o0y: ok
QTPie666 signed out 2:12
Wei5hau9t: Hello?
3
17
Deadboy was reading an email from Esperath Wraithling—his invitation to the book party on
December 15 th—when QTPie instant messaged him: "I'm back, still want to chat? He typed
"yes" and hit enter. "I 'liked' some things on your Facebook page and I also read your latest blog
entry. It was really funny. I sent it to LW," said QTPie. "Nice. What did he say?" asked
Deadboy. "I don't remember exactly what he said but I know he enjoyed it. Oh yeah, I almost
forgot, EW's considering signing me to his small press. All he's seen so far are some poems. But
now he wants to see a longer work. I'm scared. I'm debating whether to send the short story
collection or the novella. I would like to make a good impression. What do you think DB?"
Deadboy hesitated then typed, "I'm not sure. I guess you should send whichever one you feel
stronger about. And congratulations, by the way, that's awesome he's considering you." "Thanks
DB. Right now, I'm too tired to do anything but double-clit my mouse. I can't think straight. I'll
decide by the end of this week and I'll send you a copy," replied QTPie. "Cool. I can't wait to
read it," lied Deadboy before yawning. After saying goodnight—or good moming?—to QTPie,
he finished reading his emails then checked his eBay account and Craigslist page. He tried to sit
still and read the Red Book (Jung not Mao) but found it odd that, even though, he'd slept for
almost 24-hours, he was still restless. He wondered if his connection to QT and LW was genuine
or if they were all using each other to gratify some impulse or desire for human interaction that
betrayed the American Hikikomori movement. He hated that he cared about things but
sometimes found it impossible not to—work was important; however, he knew that, one day,
he'd have to sever ties with his writing associates, his writing career, and cut off all attachments
like an umbilical cord. Maybe after his fifth or sixth book.
If he didn't have the heart to go out like a rock star, he knew he wouldn't want his fans—
all 8 of them—to see him fade into obscurity, no matter how wonderful that oblivion might be.
As an artist, nothing could be worse. Deadboy thought about his past mistakes and held back the
urge to scream "SO THESE LAST 9 MONTHS WERE A 'MISTAKE' HUH!?" in a belligerent
and megalomaniacal tone, but reconsidered in light of his neighbor, who was home, sleeping
most likely, and thought about how things could get more uncomfortable and awkward between
them than they already were. He recalled being about 7 or 8 at his grandparents' house and
running around, snapping his neck wildly from side to side, and slamming into furniture. Those
carefree days were long gone; his current lifestyle felt like a betrayal against nature, a
contradiction of his crazy gene. Speaking to his grandparents only reminded Deadboy of why he
4
2_41
didn't want to get old. He fathomed that his current lack of a girlfriend stemmed from his
cowardice—getting attached to one human being for life was scary enough, let alone losing that
person. Was it better for you to die first or for your partner to? Was it selfish to have such
thoughts? Being that his social anxiety killed his original dream of being an international snufffilm director, he settled for what he knew how to do best. remain an antisocial drug-user and
write shitty books that no one—besides overseas or defunct presses—would ever consider
publishing.
At times, he felt like life had taken a load of tyrannosaurus dung and smashed it in his
face. Thinking about EW's upcoming book party metamorphosed the cocoons in his gut—stress
fluttered up to his chest; suffocating in ordinariness, Deadboy's sole reprieve was the thought of
future fame and happiness which, ironically, perhaps paradoxically, stood as the antithesis to the
peace and stability that he—in his rare moments of clarity—yearned for.
Sitting on the fire escape, with his iPad in his lap, he watched movies until the sun came
up. He took a long shower and felt the heat penetrating through his back. After toweling off, he
closed the blinds then paced around naked for a few minutes while deciding what to do next.
Something felt itchy. Deadboy examined himself in the foyer, hoping the jock itch he had
unwillingly sustained, for over a year, was subsiding from the new cream he ordered online. He
applied a liberal amount—as the tube directed—and thought, "I'm thinking something
inappropriate and funny I should write a blog entry." After refreshing his desktop, Deadboy
observed that QTPie was still logged on but unresponsive. Esperath Wraithling was logged off
He clicked on an unopened email from earlier—a rejection letter. In that moment, reality was
transformed, in a more or less worrisome way, into something that had already been experienced,
many times. For Deadboy, everything converged on this general malaise: another disconcerting
day spent in his self-imposed exile, an adult life composed of a long series of ruptures with
scattered moments of denunciation as its fixed points. He was ready to make a scene on the
slightest pretext; his future seemed dismal like a cloud overcharged with ?marks. Caught
between rage and depression, he sat on his bed, immobilized, as he read the message scrolling
across the back of his eyelids: SYSTEM FAILURE.
Deadboy received an instant message from Esperath Wraithling. Not knowing how long he had
been staring at the wall, he was shocked to discover it was mid-afternoon. He read the message:
5
"I want to pour ammonia and bleach in my tub and lock the bathroom door." After typing a long
message, Deadboy erased it and simply wrote: "I want to ruin my life today." "I feel you," typed
Esperath Wraithling, "life sucks. That's why people invented drugs. They're, like, seasoning for
life. But I don't have any right now. I need something." "I agree," typed Deadboy, "sometimes I
need to express myself through unhealthy outlets. Sometimes it's the only thing that does the
job." Esperath Wraithling wrote, "I'm about to snort Chlorox right now." Deadboy laughed.
"Considering all the horrible ways that humans can die, I think I'm starting to find the notion of
overdosing attractive." Esperath Wraithling sent him a picture of a Chlorox label. QTPie instant
messaged Deadboy. He instant messaged Esperath Wraithling. They decided to meet in the
Hikikomori chatroom....
QTPie666 signed in
esperaTh wraithLINg signed in
dEaDb0o0y signed in
QTPie666: we have officially alienated ourselves from the world
esperaTh wraithLINg: alien-ation
dEaDb0o0y: alien nation
QTPie666: ftw @[email protected]
dEaDb0o0y: ftw *_*
esperaTh wraithLINg: ftw - dEaDb0o0y: I just screamed andpunched myself in the face
QTPie666: ow lol
esperaTh wraithLINg: outbursts can be fun.. .and painful its a good thing ur a writer tho or u prob would have blown
up a gov building or went on a college shooting spree or worse became a Lil John fan
dEaDb0o0y: DO I LOOK LIKE SOMEONE WHO READS P.M. DUNNE?!
QTPie666: lol ive never had an outburst b4
esperTh wraithLINg: damn
dEaDb0o0y: u should try it
esperaTh wraithLINg: it can be very therapeutic
QTPie666: ok I just bit my arm
esperaTh wraithLINg: did u break the skin
QTPie666: no
dEaDb0o0y: I dont know if that qualifies as an outburst what do u think EW
esperaTh wraithLINg: *in kung fu movie voice* u have dishonored the clan u need more training
dEaDb0o0y: *GONG!*
esperaTh wraithLINg: Im a 20 6 degree black belt my mind is a registered weapon
dEaDb0o0y: I got the eye of the tiger and king kongs nuts *Kapow!*
esperaTh wraithLINg: hahahahaa
esperaTh wraithLINg: asparagus makes me pee funny colors
dEaDb0o0y: wheres QT
esperaTh wraithLINg: QT r u there
QTPie666: iwhrgbygbdh no iin dead
dEaDb0o0y: where did u go
QTPie666: I didnt go anywhere I was holding a towel to my arm to stop the blood
dEaDb0o0y: a towel holy shit
esperaTh wraithLINg: jesus u actually made urself bleed
QTPie666: bleeding <3
dEaDb0o0y: ur sick
6
22-
esperaTh wraithLINg: im nervous im scared
QTPie666: *in mousy voice* h000ld meeee
Wei5hau9t signed in
esperaTh wraithLINg: o god
QTPie666: weishaupt r u a stalker
dEaDb0o0y: I just caught him typing it said he was typing something did anyl catch that
esperaTh wraithLINg: yep
QTPie666: busted
esperaTh wraithLINg: they say that micro penis disorder is the leading cause of mass virgin suicide
dEaDb0o0y: hahaa I just spit coffee on my screen its ok tho becuz its water proof
esperaTh wraithLINg: but is it... coffee proof
QTPie666: omg I <3 u I want 2 have ur baby
dEaDb0o0y: huh
esperaTh wraithLINg: who
QTPie666: I was talking 2 wei5
dEaDb0o0y:
esperaTh wraithLINg: damn *sob*
dEaDb0o0y: my novel is coming out
QTPie666: cool I didnt Imo u were working on a book whats it called
dEaDb0o0y: Untitled By Anonymous
esperaTh wraithLINg: thats flicking awesome I wish I thought of thought of that
QTPie666: lo! *typo: of thought* so whos ur publisher DB
dEaDb0o0y: vintage
esperaTh wraithLINg: *in official movie trailer voice* vintage contemporaries a division of random/penguin house
QTPie666: nice nicey nice
dEaDb0o0y: im lying
QTPie666: o wow lol
esperaTh wraithLINg: so ur book is NOT called untitled by anonymous
dEaDb0o0y: urn... no
esperaTh wraithL1Ng: WHAT THE FUCK IS MY LIFE COMING 2!?
Wei5hau9t: hello
QTPie666: @[email protected]
dEaDb000y: HES ALIVE!
esperaTh wraithLINg: hell000... *echo*
Wei5hau9t: im not very happy
esperaTh wraithLINg: join the club
QTPie666: this is overwhelming I need 2 throw up
dEaDb0o0y: im so excited I could poop rite now
Wei5hau9t: I feel a pain in my chest.
Wei5hau9t: I feel like my body is going to cave in and implode.
Wei5hau9t: I feel like I am going to die soon.
Wei5hau9t: However, I am not going to see a doctor and get checked out because I might be sick, and if I die no one
will care.
Wei5hau9t: On the other hand, if I were to go see a doctor and found out that I am not sick and that! am not going
to die, no one will care anyway—not even myself.
Wei5hau9t: And I do not know which is worse.
QTPie666: I think im gonna cry its good 2 get it off ur chest
dEaDb0o0y: I know what you mean wei5
•esperaTh wraithLINg:
want to come to my book party
QTPie666: omg u so have to go wei5
Wei5hau9t: I don't know. That sounds extremely nerve-wracking indeed.
QTPie666: we can all be alienated 2gether
Wei5hau9r Perhaps I will go.
esperaTh wraithLINg: this is what hilcikomori is all about
esperaTh wraithLINg: hi
dEaDb0o0y: ki
7
QTPie666: ko
Wei5hau9t: mo
esperaTh wraithLINg: ri
dEaDb0o0y: he catches on fast
QTPie666: yea wei5 ur awesome r u a writer u write well
Wei5hau9t: No. I am a coder and video game tester for first-person shooters.
QTPie666: *BANG!* I knew it
Hours later, Deadboy signed out of the Hikikomori chatroom. After remembering to eat, he made
himself oatmeal with peanut butter then looked over an old manuscript that had been denied by,
at least, 20 publishers. Reflecting on his life, he thought, "I am a happy person and a good man
and I love everyone equally," then immediately modified the thought: "That's a lie." He
considered his fondness for parenthetical statements and his profound aversion to short, simple
sentences; the psychological ramifications of this self inspection eluded him—similarly to a
dream that fades upon awakening—until he recalled Esperath Wraithling's theory that some
writers overcompensate by exaggerating or diminishing certain aspects of their work, oftentimes
revealing childhood insecurities. The thought of others being able to see his naked soul, upon the
blank backdrop of paper, seemed about as comforting as an afternoon spent at the DMV.
Deadboy squeaked. It occurred to him that, perhaps, the literary industry was built not upon
blood, sweat and tears but, rather, a combination of connections and luck, a rabbit's foot up a
leprechaun's ass.
"Maybe it just isn't meant to be," he thought while lying on the fire escape After
adjusting the couch cushions underneath him, he slipped inside his sleeping bag and zipped it up,
feeling snug like a pupa. Deadboy noticed it was surprisingly warm for that time of year;
although dulled by the Manhattan smog, stars littered the sky. What he wanted, more than
anything in the world, was to be one of the greats—to set the bar so high only satellites could
pass it. If not this then what else? Perhaps the key to his mind could only be found in the cryptic
cycle of the planets.
"So what did you tell him?" asked Deadboy, while instant messaging with QTPie. "I told him to
eat a peanut butter and K-Y Jelly sandwich," she typed back. Deadboy laughed then typed,
"That's hilarious. I'm assuming that you're not dealing with him anymore." "No, I still am. But,
8
now, we're having sex once every three months. If he can't understand and accept that I am a
demisexual goddess then I'll have to tell him to kick rocks," typed QTPie. Deadboy doublechecked the word on the screen and typed, "A demigoddess?" "No, a demisexual goddess. I'm
demisexual. I told you this already" Deadboy squeaked. He pinched his scrowtum and typed,
"That's awesome. What the hell does demisexual mean?" QTPie typed something then erased it.
"Someone that rarely, if ever, has sex—unless they're really, really, really into the other person."
"So when did you come to this realization?" asked Deadboy. QTPie typed for a while, paused,
then erased what she wrote. Instead, she sent, "It's a long story."
An awkward silence loitered in the air.
"I finished reading American Psycho," typed QTPie. "Did you like it?" he asked "Yes, it
was disturbing, especially the parts about the prostitutes on pages 289-291, 303-306 and 327329." Deadboy typed, "Mutilation is good" and hit send. QTPie typed, "What about you? What's
your favorite part?" Deadboy pondered her question a moment then typed, "Tuesday' on pages
128-132; 'A Glimpse of a Thursday Afternoon' on pages 148-152; 'Killing Dog' on pages 164166; 'Paul Owen' on pages 217-219; and 'Lunch with Bethany' on pages 245-247."
The awkward silence lingered again.
"Wow, you know that book really well huh?" she asked. Deadboy leaned against the back
of his bed and typed: "What are you doing now?" "I'm watching the Devil's Rejects on mute
while listening to neo-soul music," answered QTPie. "That's one hell of a combination,"
Deadboy typed then laughed. QTPie typed, "A match made in heaven."
For the longest moment, neither typed anything as if paying homage to the ambiguous
charm of their conversation. As writers they both knew that, sometimes, words just aren't
enouglr they rarely know what to say.. .if they can't find themselves it's because they manifest
out of silence.
"I copied my favorite passage from your short story. I'm sending it now." Deadboy
looked at QTPie's message, typed "ok" and hit send. He waited a moment then looked at the
passage she selected:
Regressing to a state a hermitude, his life became a long game of Jenga—teetertottering on the edge, it was inevitable: Moore's Law. Lately, he had lost interest
in things that used to interest him; he decided to stop loaning time to
"normalcy." Liberated from human interaction, with its meaningless exchange
of social-credit, his past desire to establish and maintain relationships seemed
blasphemous while offering it before the shrine of apathy that he unrepentantly
9
ZS-
worshipped at. No longer viewing his animality as a sacred rite, his occasional
foray into the world of masturbation became the sexual equivalent of blowing
his nose into a tissue. Before rolling over to fall asleep, he'd compare the
prospect of overdosing to pulling a "Kurt Cobain," until everything suddenly,
and without warning, faded before turning black.
"So, on a scale 1 to 10, how autobiographical is this passage?" she asked. Deadboy
refreshed the screen and typed, "It depends whether '1' is the highest or lowest." "The lowest,"
typed QTPie. "Ok, than it's a 12.5." After a few moments: "DB, you shouldn't take mindaltering substances. You're a threat to yourself and others."
Deadboy felt shadenfroh and grinned.
"Listen, you're not killing yourself...not without me at least. I'm sending you my
manuscript to edit and I'm going to pay you so you don't get evicted from your apartment and
kill yourself." "How did you know about that?" asked Deadboy. As he hit send, however, QTPie
responded, "Your...blog." "Shit, I totally forgot," he responded. QTPie continued, "You said on
your blog that 'all the greats died at 27' and that it was your 'responsibility to your fans' to die as
a 'legend' and not as an 'old senile man.' You then expressed 'visceral revulsion' that you were
being 'denied that honor' as an unpublished author on the verge of his 28 th birthday. Supposedly,
if you died now it would be 'as pointless as your own existence.' You also made plans to kill
yourself after your 'fourth or fifth' book." Deadboy looked at the words on the screen and typed,
"You're doing a lot of quoting Ms. 'No-one-understands-me-as-a-demisexual author-I-refuse-toconform-I'd-rather-stick-a-pipe bomb-in-my pussy-and-detonate-it." QTPie typed something in
response then erased it, typed "Omg, limo, who are you?" and hit send. Deadboy stared at the
blinking cursor on his screen, typed "lmfao," erased it, typed "I don't know..." and hit send.
At Esperath Wraithling's book release party—for his novel Alienated from Myself—Deadboy sat
in the back of the bar, avoiding the occasional glance, thrown his way from strangers, by looking
at his phone. He was disappointed in himself for forgetting to take the two Valiums that he set
aside, specifically, for the occasion; by the time he realized, it was too late—his train was
already shooting off toward its directionless destination.
After the reading ended, he met QTPie by the bar and they ordered drinks. He
complimented her on the butterfly tattoo under her ear. A woman with a book in her hand walked
10
24
over and asked him if he was 'that P.M. Done guy.' Deadboy squeaked. He looked down and
whispered, "Get away, get away." The woman sucked her teeth then left. "I'm really nervous
right now. I haven't been outside in three months. This is overwhelming." Deadboy looked
around the bar—suppressing a squeak and the thought of screaming, "I WANT TO PISS ON A
PORN STAR AND BITCH SLAP MYSELF"—then nodded before asking, "Where's EW?"
QTPie shook her head. "I don't know He was talking to a couple of people near the back,
signing books most likely, when I went to use the bathroom. When I came out, I saw you over
here—"
Music started playing from QTPie's pocket.
Deadboy recognized the ringtone: "Freak on a Leash" by Korn. He watched her fingers
move rapidly across her phone's screen. As she read the message she nodded, her eyes wide as
an eclipsing vagina giving birth to imagination. She slid the device back in her pocket. "A
moment ago I felt like clawing my face, while clenching my vagina muscles, but now I'm okay...
EW's wailing outside for us, come on."
Across the street from the bar was Esperath Wraithling, waving his arms like an autistic
anime character. While greeting each other, Deadboy thought, "I just met a quasi-famous author.
This is awesome," then stored the thought in his "personal cloud" for when he got home and did
not have to suppress his excitement. He pictured himself sitting in his bath with a plugged-in
toaster leaning on the edge of the tub; perhaps tonight's memories would be the last thing he saw
as his life flashed before his eyes. "I feel like I'm about to have some sort-of outburst," laughed
QTPie. She ran toward a car and puffed her cheeks on the driver side window. The driver yelled
something and knocked on the glass. They laughed. Esperath Wraithling looked at her and then
Deadboy. "Do you guys have anything on you right now?" QTPie had Oxycotins. They each
took one and swallowed it without drinks. "I'm thirsty. I need something to drink. It feels like the
pill is scratching my throat. Let's go to my place. It's, like, 2 or 3 blocks away."
At Esperath Wraithling's apartment, they each took an MDMA capsule and watched
YouTube videos of homeless people doing crazy things for money. "That's going to be me in
February," laughed Deadboy, unsure if the drugs masked his blissful nihilism. He felt as if he
was being initiated into an isolated universe of abjection—a consciousness disembodied from its
original vessel and locked inside an alien entity that fissured into two beings, clashing yet jointly
existing in the same avatar. He then remembered being about 12 or 13 and running down the
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17
hallway, on the last day of school, and making gorilla noises with his penis hanging out of his
fly; back then, he wondered why he had no friends, but, now, he wondered why anyone would
want
to be his friend and-if he knew QT and EW during that strange, confusing era, would they
have ostracized him—like 99.5% of the school district—had as well? Was he worthy of
friendship? Now that it finally arrived in his life like a UPS package from an unaddressed
stranger, would he sign for it...open it?
"And so, now, I think come up with my best ideas when I'm on the verge of a straightfaced orgasm," said QTPie. Esperath Wraithling pet her head. "It's okay," he said before staring
up and to the left. After about 90 seconds he got up, walked to his bedroom and returned with a
plastic medication planner. Deadboy noticed that every day of the week was empty. With a blank
stare he muttered, "What did I go in my room for?" Deadboy and QTPie shrugged. "Maybe
you'll remember if you smoke with us." They smoked a bowl. Suddenly, QTPie blurted out, "Oh
my god, where's Weishaupt? He was just with us " Esperath Wraithling and Deadboy gawked at
her, unsure if they were confused more by the question or by Weishaupt's absence. In a dramatic
used-car salesman's voice, Esperath Wraithling announced that "Weishaupt is offline." He stared
at the screen, occasionally slouching further on the couch or rubbing water on his face, and
repeatedly uttered, "Why is this my life?" as if he were an android programmed with corrupted
code.
Glass shattered outside. A dog barked.
"I forgot to tell you guys that I updated the Hikikomori House homepage," said Esperath
Wraithling while arbitrarily clicking away at things. He turned his MacBook toward QTPie, who
gasped before throwing her arms around his neck. Deadboy congratulated his friend, which, he
felt, was sincere—regardless of the MDMA. "That's not all," said Esperath Wraithling with a sly
grin, "Check this out." He clicked on a different tab and turned the MacBook toward Deadboy;
on the screen was a selfie shot he sent QTPie a week prior.
The realization hit him like a drunk driver. His vision turned blurry as tears begged to be
freed, along with the large stack of rejection letters that mocked his dreams—happiness cascaded
down a mountain of anguish. QTPie squeezed Deadboy and cried. Esperath Wraithling placed
his hand on Deadboy's shoulder. "DB, you did an amazing job editing QTPie's manuscript. It's
obvious you have a real passion for the craft.. .but that's not what sold me. I decided to sign you
after QT told me you refused to accept her money—even though you're behind on your rent—so
12
she could pay her student loans. You're a good person DB. And that's why I started Hikikomori
House: to make art with good people. We might not have shit, except our books, but we're
happy. Alienated, but happy, because we're doing what we love." He paused, removed his hand.
"Welcome to the family."
The following afternoon, Esperath Wraithling ran into the living room to wake up Deadboy and
QTPie, who had fallen asleep shoulder to shoulder on the couch. He handed them each a
steaming mug of coffee. "Drink," he commanded. They watched him run into his bedroom and
come out with his MacBook. "You're not going to believe this," he said, mutedly excited.
Deadboy rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he watched an obese man, appearing to be in his mid30s, sing along to the Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt." Perplexed, he looked over at his new friends who
stared at the screen, not moving nor blinking. After finishing his rendition, the man climbed over
what appeared to be a large metal beam. Deadboy realized, with a queasy sense, where the man
was: the Williamsburg Bridge. "Holy shit," he whispered. The man waved to the camera, wiped
tears from his eyes and smiled. "I love you guys. See you on the other side," he said then
dropped over the beam Before hitting the water he grinned, looked at the camera and yelled,
"Hikikomori House.com ."
The screen went dark.
They sat solemnly for many minutes. Finally, Deadboy decided to break the silence.
"Was that.. .Weis?" Esperath Wraithling turned to face Deadboy and said, 'Mat was a live blog
post Weishaupt uploaded on YouTube this morning at 5:09 am. In 3 hours, it went viral. Since
then, Hikikomori House has been flooded with over a million visitors—and counting." Deadboy
stared at him, dumbfounded. "He did it for us DB. I just read the email he sent last night. He
wasn't kidding when he said he thought he was sick. He went to the doctor and found out that he
was sick. He had a terminal illness," said Esperath Wraithling, waiting for Deadboy to respond.
"Aware," said QTPie. They both looked at her. She stared ahead and continued, "It's Japanese
for 'sad beauty'.. .sweetness tinged with sorrow." No one said anything. "He looked happy," said
Esperath Wraithling. Deadboy stood up. "I think I'm going to have an outburst." "What are you
going to do?" asked Esperath Wraithling. "Yeah, what are you going to do?" echoed QTPie.
Deadboy smiled. "Celebrate with my family."
13
•••
It was an untimely implosion. It was a time when innocence died. It was a moment when the
future and past converged into the now. It was a soul's departure and another 's return—through
a revolving door of eternity. To remember, time needed to stumble back drunk from the present.
Things that used to interest Mr Gray interested him no longer and this scared him, which he
realized meant he was conscious of his "unorthodox behavior" and did not want to die, yet.
Although he wasn't actively pursuing it, death no longer held sway; it ceased to be an unknown
monolith looming over life's horizon, an ominous uncertainty, and became exactly what it was: a
new beginning.
After finishing the last paragraph, Deadboy leaned back and did some finger stretches.
His debut novel was complete. A deep feeling of achievement pervaded his soul. He squeaked.
He made himself an omelet with cheese and sat on his bed. He stared at the wall while he ate,
doing nothing, thinking nothing. A familiar noise emitted from his iPad, alerting him that an
instant message was received. QTPie: "Hey, what's up DB?" Deadboy finished his food and
started typing: "Just finished A Wonderful Oblivion. I'm going to send it to EW. After that, I'm
going to have an outburst and relax." "That's awesome. I can't wait to read the advance reader
copy," typed QTPie. Deadboy thought about killing himself after his sixth or seventh book. He
copy and pasted his manuscript then sent it to QTPie in an email. He emailed a copy to Esperath
Wraithling and checked his blog.
About 5 minutes later, QTPie sent another instant message. "You're nuttier than a
squirrel turd. This is funny, thought, I like the way it starts.
They say I'm an angry and depressed person but! disagree. I'm not an angry or
depressed individual. I'm a proud misanthropist. And you don't have to be angry
or depressed to be a misanthropist. I mean, do I have to like everyone? Why
should I pretend to? And for the record—I'm not racist; I hate everyone equally.
And I know I'm not perfect, by any means (I have a growing hit list). So in case
you haven't figured it out, I'm still retracing my steps through a sandstorm of
insecurity like everyone else...
"Thanks QT. I hope the fans enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it," typed Deadboy. "They
will DB, don't worry. You're an amazing writer. If I didn't have you to edit my novella, I don't
think it would have done as well as it did." Deadboy looked at the screen and laughed. "We only
moved about 1,500 copies." "It's a start," typed QTPie. "And I don't measure my success by
14
sales anyway. DB, I'm just glad you were a part of that project. You helped me out a lot. EW
said you did an excellent job too. You did what you could with my crappy writing—a feat in
itself." "Hey, don't say that. QT, you're a great writer," typed Deadboy before continuing, "I
have a good feeling that the next one's going o blow up with your new platform. And we have
more experience now. I just hope that when you become rich and famous, you won't forget about
the little people." She sent him a poop emoji. "If it makes you feel any better, you can rest
assured knowing that you sold more than P.M. Dunne That guy really sucks." "Yeah," she
agreed. "His last project was a flop. Just thinking about his books makes me want to have an
outburst." Deadboy laughed and took a sip of coffee. He watched the steam rise then stuck his
finger in the mug and held it there until the stinging sensation became unbearable. It occurred to
him that in less than 2 weeks he could expect to find an eviction notice thrown under his door.
On his calendar, under the red circle labeled "eviction" was a blue circle, labeled "live
blog/interview with magazine." His stomach gurgled. Funny things happened.
Before running to the bathroom, he typed, "The dismal days of hope are gone."
5
P.M. Dunne
Knight of the Koad
Where you headed off to stranger? Anywhere.
Anywhere? Yes. Well, that's not gonna work. Why?
Because I gotta drop you off somewhere. So tell
me, where you going? Same place as you. Well, I'm
going to Death Valley. Okay. Okay, so I guess I'll
just drop you off at the next town then. Sure. If you
don't mind me asking, where you from? I don't
know. You don't know? Nope. You been travelling
awhile? Yes. Alone? Yes. I don't get it, vThat were
you doing in the middle of the road? Wandering.
Well, I know that, you were walking 30 miles away
from town and it's hotter out here than the Devil's
ass on a Sunday night in Vegas. Say, what's your
name stranger? Angel. Angel? Well that's a mighty
fine name, if I do say so myself—and I do. The
name's Stewart, but everybody calls me Stu...not
"Stew." You probably ain't catch that one and that's
just Jim Dandy—you're A-ok in my book Angel.
You alright over there? Yes. Do me a favor will
ya'? Sure. You see that cooler behind your seat?
Yes. Reach in there and grab us two brewskis; one
for you, one for me. No Problem. Thanks Angel. It's
been about an hour since I had me a cold one, ya'
know? Yes. Yes, indeedy. I like me a little nose
candy too, how 'bout yourself? Sure, why not? Now
that's the spirit! I think me and you are gonna be
good buddies Mr. Angel...yessiree Bob. Probably
not. Ah, well, why the hell not? Because, as I speak,
we arellying over the edge of this cliff
A BOTTLE OF WILD TURKEY & A LOADED REVOLVER
Piot v.
'Then you wake up next to a chick that resembles a distant relative of the warthog,
that's usually not a good way to start off your day. Not good at all. It may sound cliché but I
really don't remember her name. It doesn't matter though. It's probably for the best. We'll
just call her CoCo the Crack Ho, or something creative like that. Splendid. Anyway, I go to
the bathroom to throw up then walk back into the room and look at the thing I was passed
out next to, for lord knows how many hours, and my stomach gurgles. Greasier than a gas
station mop, the thing is immobile and drowning in a fetid puddle of its own drool. Jesus. It
looks like it needs to be euthanized.
I go and throw up, again.
Today is Saturday, Saturn-day. Some people believe today is the "real" Sabbath—the "true"
day of rest. The day "he" sat. Whatever. Right now I am feeling anything but rested, restless
rather, and I want to get the hell out of here. ASAP. Should I wake Slumbalina out of her
coma first? I've never slept with anything so hideous before, I swear. I know I shouldn't
trash her like this, but goddamn if the gods weren't sucking on an oily crack stem when they
made humans that day.
Maybe it was a Saturday.
Probably.
It has a purse—a cheap, patent leather bag with like a gazillion key chains on it. One of them
is a pig. How appropriate. I give it a firm squeeze. It squeaks and a little brown bubble pops
out of it butt. The thing scares the shit out of me. Is it Slumbalina's proxy when she's out
cold, basting herself in saliva9 Inside the pink monstrosity of plastic-y cowhide is a wallet.
It has a name.
Santa.
1
So Sara, aka CoCo the Crack Ho, aka The Thing, aka Slumbalina, aka Ms. Piggy, how ever
did our worlds collide? She moves an arm, slightly. And fans.
Tell the Commander, ifs alive!
Commander, according to our radars, this gaseous planet shows signs of sentience! Shall we
deploy the gamma ray lasers in defense protocol D-1.7?
No. Retreat! Rocket boosters full blast ahead!
Go, go, go, go!
And I do. I throw my clothes on so fast that I look like a back up dancer for Kriss Kross.
Crashing around the motel (ho-tel) room, gathering up my belongings, I accidently kick an
empty bottle which smashes into the door and explodes, shooting glass back at me like a
pound of shrapnel. Jesus.
I spin around faster than a top with a rip cord, just as Ms. Piggy awakens from her snore fest.
What the hell was I thinking? And as I'm slamming the door shut behind me, I hear her
shout my name.
Asshole.
Well, that's not my legal name but it seems everyone in my life has adopted it the same way
movie stars do children from impoverished, third-world countries. It's in vogue apparently.
Milton—you asshole!
Hey everybody, it's Milton the asshole!
Milton A. Weiner, PhD. The "A" is for Asshole.
Bond, meet Asshole. Milton Asshole.
You get the point yet? I'm trying to figure out how I've become a manifestation of James
Bond's rectum. All Bond minus the cool cars, hot women, suave accent, unlimited bank
account, guns, spy gear, British attitude and memorable one-liners. Pretty much everything,
but I still got something he doesn't... .Hemorrhoids. I used to be a well-paid Anthropology
professor at Columbia University, now I'm just the living embodiment of humanity's
universal anal-consciousness—without any binary opposition.
2
31
As I shift my Taurus into reverse, I hear a loud thud on the roof. It's raining beer bottles on
my Ford. One smacks the hood then leaves a nice crack in the windshield. At this point it
seems everyone in the motel is awake and outside of their rooms to watch the show. You
know it's serious when people in the "2-hour rooms" step out early.
I've lost everything. Everything and everyone. When Lenore found out about Genese, the
19-year-old undergrad that I was messing with until we got caught by the janitor (little hard
not to when you're found together in your office with full S&M gear), she up and left. Went
and took the kids with her to her mother's house in Seattle. Great place to bring kids stuck in
the middle of a nasty divorce. It's not like it's the suicide capital of America or anything. A
week later, I lose my position at the Anthropology department. How's that for providence?
I find a .38 revolver in my travel bag. I don't know what to do with it so I wrap it up in a
shirt and bury it in the bottom of my bag. After that, I stop at the liquor store and buy two
bottles of Wild Turkey. Good stuff. Puts hair on your chest.
Mr. Weiner?
Yes.
Your room is at the end of the hall.. .number 13A.
Thank you very much, gorgeous.
For the last month-and-a-half I've been drinking more liquor than the Ilongot people of the
Philippines (Northern Luzon to be exact) guzzle snake piss. Guess we are not that different
after all.
I'm getting a nice room tonight. Fuck it. Tonight's my last night on Earth—might as well
live it up, right? It's decided. I close the door behind me and put the bottles in the
minifridge. I take the revolver out of my travel bag and place it on top of the Bible in the
nightstand drawer. I know it's a little dramatic
but these are the kinds of things you prepare
for.
If you fail to prepare then you prepare to fail.
3
That's the kind of corny shit I used to tell my students. They used to like my cheesy little
anecdotes. I miss them. I have to write some suicide letters before the night is over. You
can't just go and off yourself without at least tying up your loose ends.. .that would be
inconsiderate.
The hot tub and sauna feel great. Make that amazing. I just met a woman, late twenties, who
is an elementary school teacher on vacation. She is beautiful and dumb. I think I hit the
jackpot tonight. A little sex will be nice before I end it all—got to go out with a bang, right?
Not a bad way to end it if I do say so myself. We flirt for, about, an hour-and-a-half and I
swear she is eye-fucking me so hard I need a cigarette. And I don't even smoke. She believes
me when I tell her I am a doctor.
Like Dr. Oz?
Yes, just like Dr. Oz...you ditz.
My PhD was revoked the same day I was laid off. They discovered, "all of a sudden," that I
had been "borrowing" some of my student's dissertations to "fabricate" (I prefer "liven") my
curriculum. According to the president at the university it's unacceptable to borrow material
from students (the same ungrateful little bastards I taught) without citing the "source."
From what I heard, Genese's boyfriend was the one who blew the whistle on us.. .probably
around the same time she was blowing me. And now, 17 years later, I am a "plagiarizer."
Poppycock.
Hogwash!
Sometimes when I get angry I use British lingo.
I invite Miss Elementary School to join me in my room for drinks. She declines.
I'm married, sorry.
So why the hell have you been talking to me for an hour-and-a-half at the pool, and
the hot tub?
So much for that. I can't even get an elementary school teacher to come up to my room
anymore. When I consider that she probably doesn't even have her Master's degree I become
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34
more depressed. Shit. What have I become? I used to be the swim team captain then
professor ee5e.veu; at Colombia and now....
Back at the room I start drinking the first bottle. The view is spectacular from the balcony. I
soak it all in. The bell rings. In comes my steak; the last supper. I sit in porterhouse heaven
for a short while before drinking again, heavily, until the sun sinks below the city skyline.
Unlike the sun, I will not be waking up with the city tomorrow. I'm on the balcony with the
.38 in my lap. The stainless steel of the barrel feels cold against the bare skin of my thigh. It
seduces me with its icy stillness. I pick it up and grip the handle tightly.
Bam.
I point the gun at a window across the street.
BAM! I scream again. BAM, BAM, BAM!
A bottle-and-a-half in and I am completely wasted; I am teetering on the edge of insanity's
cliff. I'm ready to jump. It's either now or never.
Now.
Now, now,
now. NOW!
I flip open the revolver and check the chamber, for like the fiftieth time, then reload the lone
bullet; I spin the chamber and slam it shut, the way they do in the movies, and cock the
hammer back.
Now.
I sit there a moment, staring at people walking around on the street below.
Goodbye everybody, I laugh.
Goodnight.
Nobody hears me. I press the .38 against my temple. But I can't do it. Now. Instead of
squeezing the trigger, I poke myself in the head with the barrel. It doesn't work. It doesn't go
off. Fuck. The building across the street is tilting—or is it the balcony?
I put the barrel in my mouth...I squeeze. The hammer clicks loudly, rattling against my
teeth.
Nothing.
5
37
I'm still alive. The feeling of nausea overwhelms me. I throw up. My back is now against the
balcony wall. Slumping down till my behind touches the spot where the floor and wall
connect, the .38 returns to its proper place in my mouth. It is then that the sight of my kids,
Mark and Leona, standing over my closed casket, causes my whole body to quiver
uncontrollably from my convulsive sobs. Right about now I feel like.., an asshole. I have lost
everything. Everything and everyone. It's almost over.
Now.
After a long swig from the bottle, and the revolver back in my mouth, my mind races in that
split second. There are no scenes flashing before my eyes. There is now and only now; this is
not a movie.
Click...
Click...
Click...
Click....
The sun blinds me. I am grateful to be in heaven. It is nothing like what people think. The
afterlife is—
Oh my god.
It hits me all at once. Not only am I still alive but I have woken up to the worst hangover,
ever. This is the mother of all hangovers. It feels like Godzilla river-danced on my fucking
head. Jesus. I can't believe I'm alive. I'm too weak from the alcohol poisoning to move. I roll
over on my side and throw up again.
I sleep.
When I awaken, it is Monday (moon-day) morning. I feel betrayed by my brain for
remembering that I have work tonight. Shit. Am I actually considering this? Stop it. Right
now. I make myself a glass with the little bit of alcohol left in the bottle and toss it back.
Some splashes on my shirt and dribbles all the way down my neck to my navel. My pants
absorb the rest. Shuffling toward the shower, I see the revolver lying on the floor. The
morning rays bounce off its slick, metal surface. It looks as magical as it does sinister and I
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36
can't help but pick it up. I flip open the revolver. A solitary bullet stares back at me from the
chamber. We look at each other without saying anything We don't need to; we both share a
secret.
Now.
Not today.
I spin the chamber and slam it shut, unlike the way they do in the movies, then wrap it up in
a shirt and bury it at the bottom of my travel bag. I leave the hotel. I get in my car. I stop at
the liquor store and buy another bottle of Wild Turkey, then drive to a spot I like to hang
out at when I drink by myself. The cliff is huge and I get dizzy as I look over edge at the
train tracks far beneath me. With my legs dangling over the edge, I start to drink for a while
till I'm good and buzzed. I take the suicide notes out my travel bag, rip them up and throw
them over the edge. The tiny shreds look like white butterflies descending from Mt. Olympus
as they flutter in the wind.
Hours later, on break, outside my new job at Shop-Rite, stocking shelves on the graveyard
shift, my manager walks up to me while I smoke a cigarette and interrupts my equipoise.
Hey, Milton.
Yes sir.
In five minutes I need ya' to help that new broad in the back. She just spilt a whole
goddamn stack of pallets loaded with tomato sauce. It's all over the place—
Huh, who are you talking about?
I don't know.. .that new broad—whatsherface from whatchamacallit. The big one,
looks like she got beat wit' an ugly stick. You trained her a couple days ago; you should
know.
I haven't trained anyone in a month. I think I would have remembered training
someone, especially if it was a woman.
Listen, Milton, you got two minutes left on your break so you better enjoy it: 'cause
you two are gonna' be cleaning till the sun comes up.
Alright sir, I'll be inside after I finish my cigarette.
7
37
I put my cigarette out and walk to the loading dock in the back. It looks like a crime scene...
or an episode of The Sopranos. There is tomato sauce, everywhere. I grab a mop and bucket
then look for "the new broad." But I don't see anyone. Suddenly, I hear a loud cough from
behind me and turn around.
You'll never believe who it is.
Hey asshole...you still got my gun?
8
tto
Astral Ejectien
P.M. Dunne
Something snapped.
He could hear things rattling inside his skull like the tumbler of a broken combination
lock. Voices echoed in the far distance. Yuri spun around to find himself alone in the dark,
silent and immense dayroom with nothing but rows of tables and stacks of chairs. No one
was there. Who was it that had called his name?
Someone was playing tricks on him...what else could it be? With a firm resolve, Yuri
decided to search the entire dayroom, peeking under every table and behind every chair.
He found nothing except a large cockroach, which upon discovery remained inert as if it
were too proud to play dead. Yuri crept across the dayroom and checked the game
closet. Everything appeared to be as it was earlier that evening. Next, he considered the
med station. It was locked. He looked up; some of the ceiling tiles were loose —perhaps
someone was hiding up there?
Placing a chair directly underneath the loose tiles, Yuri reached up, stretching out on his
tiptoes and carefully slid one of the tiles off its track. He could easily see there was
nothing up there but insulation, wires and cobwebs. His head hurt; as he slid the tile back
in place, a familiar voice rattled the silence with its cacophonous pitch, forcing the
stillness to escape out the open spaces of the barred windows into the dead of the
predawn air.
Nadia muttered loudly to herself as she did her Thorazine shuffle across the dayroom, her
mind foggy as a skyscraper stifled in the thick smog of urban life. She coughed and
111
rubbed the crusty sleep from her eyes —thinking about cold sherbet —as she made her
way to the community freezer. It was locked. An animalistic howl emitted from her lips;
frustration overtook her and she shook the freezer door in desperation but the chain
remained, unyielding.
Turning away, conceding victory to the freezer, Nadia shuffled over to the game closet
and jiggled the handle, finding that it was locked as well, and headed back to her dorm.
Someone called her name. It sounded distant, and yet close at the same time. Unsure if
was the medication or her mind playing tricks on her, she placed her ear against the
corridor wall and listened —nothing but the usual noises walls made. No voices. She knew
she heard her name called. But where had the voice come from?
Somebody was playing a twisted mind game; Nadia knew it. There was something in the
air. The dorm room was quiet when she returned. Lying on her bed, she thought about
cold sherbet and watched her roommate drooling in her sleep. In the distance she heard
keys jingling and people running. Nadia thought about getting up to see what the fuss
was about then realized she was too tired to really care...herthroat felt parched but she
ignored it, closing her eyes momentarily before hearing one of the hospital staff's 2-way
radios echoing down the hallway corridor, In the opposite direction she had just returned
from.
Pierre sat up abruptly and wheezed. He noticed the bathroom light in his dorm was on.
After getting up to flip the switch, he heard his name called in a low tone. It sounded
surreal yet oddly familiar, like a distant relative on a phone with bad reception. Without
thinking twice, Pierre decided to investigate. He wondered if the person who left the
light on was also the one who called his name.. .what did zhe want?
Finding his musty jumpsuit rolled up in a ball under his bed, Pierre slipped his lanky body
inside and fastened his buttons. Two of his roommates stirred but did not wake. In the
icy, hallway corridor, some of the hospital staff were barking into their 2-way radios.
Mostly indiscernible to Pierre' s foreign ears, what they said flew over his head. None of
2
them even noticed him as they headed towards the staff's exit leading up to the second
floor. A nervous-looking nurse trailed behind them, hands trembling.
As the door started closing, Pierre quickly wedged his foot in the crack, stopping it from
locking; he could hear the steps of hospital staff echoing in the stairwell. It occurred to
him that the voice may have come from either the second floor or the basement. Making
sure no one was watching, Pierre slipped inside and quietly headed down the stairs
towards the basement's emergency exit, away from everyone. The basement door had a
blinking red sign above it that he could not read, but intuitively knew what it said. If he
pushed the door open an alarm would, most likely, go off —it wasn't worth the chance.
Quietly creeping up the steps, he stopped at the second floor and put his ear to the door.
Pierre couldn' t hear any voices; he did, however, hear an alarm screeching though. Even
with strong doses of antipsychotics, he knew no one could sleep through such noise as it
echoed throughout the entire building.
Yuri crawled out from his hiding spot, under the table, just as the fire alarm sounded. He
knew it couldn't be a fire drill —not at this hour. Exiting the dayroom, Yuri noticed the
hallway corridor and rotunda were empty. Keeping a steady pace, he headed down
towards the dorm area. Nobody was around. Where the hell were the hospital staff at?
He returned to his dorm room; his roommates were sound asleep in their beds, not
stirring, not moving. All the lights were on, which he found to be a strange occurrence,
considering the time. Yuri hit the switch —the cloudy bulb hung noose-like from the
ceiling, flickering for a moment, but remained as it was, blindingly bright. The
fluorescents in the bathroom did the same thing. Questioning his sanity, he walked back
into the hallway corridor. As he did, the sprinklers suddenly went off, spritzing water
everywhere. Yuri ran down hallway into the rotunda and towards the phone room.
Luckily, it was dry. He peered out and noticed the hallway corridor was dead, no highlymedicated life forms running around frantically for refuge from the sprinklers
onslaught.
3
There was nothing else to do but sit in silence and wait. Soon the hospital staff would
return from the false alarm, violently restrain whoever the individual was that started the
fire, get the nurse to stick him or her with a needle full of Haidol and then throw that
person into the 'boom -boom room' for a couple hours, or a couple days, depending on
how strong one's tolerance was. He waited. The water continued pouring. Yuri waited
some more...noone showed up. It would be impossible to stay in the phone room for too
much longer; thick smoke started clouding his view of the rotunda. Was the voice up to
this?
A familiar smell wafted into Nadia's dorm room from the hallway corridor. Smoke. She
quickly wet a towel in the sink and pressed it to her face. With her asthmatic condition
raging as it was, she knew her lungs could only take so much and would soon give up
their fight for oxygen. Both of her roommates remained still as she shook them, trying
desperately to wake them. Leaving the immobile lumps of flesh behind, she opened the
door and ran.
Getting doused by the sprinklers above her, Nadia sped down the hallway corridor and
turned towards the empty dayroom. Water sprayed down from every direction. She
yanked the door of the med room but it wouldn't budge, or show any mercy as if it
were an overzealous boot camp instructor. Nadia slammed her body into the door,
praying that it would be enough to save her; it wasn't. Her lungs burned as she gasped
for air, thick smoke slowly enveloped the day room — a gaseous boa constrictor
suffocating the life of all sentience With such intentional indifference, was this how the
Reaper ended it for everyone?
Again, she smashed herself against the door. It refused to give in. Her inhaler was just
behind the door, if only she could reach it through the crack. Trying not to panic, Nadia
distracted herself with thoughts of how soothing the Albuterol would feel in her winded
lungs, the relief it would provide. Her body became weak. As she lay on the floor,
drenched, she wondered if the voice was responsible for the painful and impending
death creeping up on her. What had she done to incur its wrath?
4
let
He banged on the door; hoping someone would answer so he could be rescued from the
• torrents of interior rain that saturated his Jumpsuit, causing it to stick to his bony frame,
Pierre continued slamming the door with his fists and screaming. At that moment he
could care less about whatever consequences awaited him. He watched as the dense
smoke leaked out from under the door of the second floor and filled the stairwell. If he
didn't get out soon he would die. He knew that he had to do something. The alarm was
already going off...would they notice if he dismeared down into the basement?
Pierre grabbed the rail as he stumbled down the stairs leading to the basement and
pushed open the door. Nothing happened. He tried again. As he examined the door, it
became apparent that something was wrong; it was fake. How could that be? Pierre ran
up the steps and pushed open the door — locled. The same with the second floor.
The sprinklers continued to douse Pierre. After banging the door to the second floor with
his fist, he started kicking yit as hard as he could. He was a patient locked up in a mental
ward; the hospital staff couldn't fault him for wandering into the stairwell, could they?
Plus, he was unfamiliar with the English language, which was also to his benefit. While
indiscriminate thoughts zipped through his mind like Random Access Memory, his feet
slipped out from under him. Grasping desperately at the banister next to him, Pierre felt
weightless. Like a bird. He looked up as smoke swelled out from under the door,
undulating off the top step and flowing towards him...a black cloud leading him to his
death. The ground disappeared —but not gravity. In that split second, Pierre realized he
might never have the opportunity to whoever, or whatever, it was that called his name.
He noticed her lying on the floor as soon as he entered the dayroom. It was the girl with
the high-pitched voice, the one who entered the room while he was searching the
ceiling. Yuri ran and knelt beside her. She moaned. After helping Nadia sit up, he asked
her what happened —a loud gasp was her only response. Something was wrong. He
followed her gaze straight to the med-room.
Yuri kicked the med-room door, feeling it rattle. After a couple more kicks, the molding
splintered and the door slammed open, leaving a hole in the wall. Yuri carried Nadia into
the med-room. With the last bit of energy left in her body she pointed to the plastic bin
with her name on it. He grabbed the bin and hastily emptied its contents next to her. She
picked up an inhaler and huffed it; precious air filled her lungs. After a few moments she
felt well enough to thank Yuri who hurried her to her feet
Together, they made their way down the hallway corridor to the emergency stairwell.
Nobody stopped them...therewere no hospital staff around. Perhaps they ran away out
of fear. Had the voice gotten to them as well? Who or what, besides the voice, could have
initiated such mayhem on the ward? Nadia covered her ears from the blaring siren as Yuri
pushed open the emergency door. Retook off one of his socks to use as a door Jam. They
entered the stairwell.
A man they both recognized, yet had never spoken to, was sprawled out on the floor
next to door. From the looks of it, he fell a great length —a whole flight of stairs. Yuri
rolled him over and Nadia checked his pulse; he was alive, unconscious, but, breathing.
Hospital staff screamed in the background. They looked at each other then up to the
source of the chaos. Everyone in the ward knew what the second floor was for. They
called it the 'shock roo m; It was much worse than the 'Boom-boom room.'
Nadia coughed. The smoke was getting to her, sealing her throat and blinding her eyes.
Yuri covered his mouth with his shirt but the smoke started getting to him as well. The
man on the floor wouldn't wake, even with water raining down on him. He wasn't
bleeding, externally at least, but he looked ghastly. The whole right side of his face was
swollen and his shoulder appeared to be dislocated.
While Nadia tried to wake Pierre, Yuri pounded on the door. The door before him was
thick metal, unlike the med-room which had a wooden one. There was no way he could
break it down. There was no way out. They would have to go back the way they came. It
suddenly occurred to Yuri to check downstairs, the basement level. It too was locked.
Turning around to run back up the stairs, Yuri was about to give up when something told
him to examine the door more closely. He couldn't put his finger on it, but he intuitively
knew that something was off the same way a victim perceives their attacker s presence
6
if6
at the last Minute. The border of the door was wrong, fake. .it was as if a counterfeiter
had purposely embedded a code revealing the fraud in the painting itself. But why? Was
it by design? Yuri felt along the border until his hand touched something. The door
opened. Instead of swinging open on its hinges, however, it slid sideways. A large
computer center sat before him. The large console in the middle displayed a few dozen
LCD screens. Yuri thought about pinching himself, althou gh he knew his eyes were being
honest.
Every patient on the ward could be seen splashed across a screen in the computer center.
All of them were sleeping. How could they possibly sleep with all the noise and smoke
everywhere? Yuri heard footsteps behind him, the unmistakable clacking of hardbottoms on tile, and turned around. Before him stood a diminutive old man wearing a
perfectly tailored suit and round-framed glasses. The man spoke. His lips didn't move;
however, Yuri could hear him perfectly. The voice was unmistakable.
Do you know why you're here?
Yuri opened his mouth, but the words he needed abandoned him.
You believe that you've been committed...
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Yuri stared back at-the man and nodded.
...for some time, now, you've been doing a lot of
thinking, wondering, questioning. But you know, as well as I do, that you're not insane. You did an excellent
job of hiding it these past nine months.
He tried not to think thoughts, but found the task impossible, even more so after
dwelling on it.
I know who you are, YurL I've been watching...all
three of you. I knew, eventually, you would reveal yourselves and you did —your kind always does.
But we got you.
The man's lips parted into a shrewd smile. Yuri spun around and ran. The smoke cleared;
the sprinklers were off. No alarm blared. In the stairwell, Nadia sat hunched over, sobbing.
Pierre was dead. Yuri slammed open the emergency door to the first floor and ran down
the hallway corridor towards the dayroom. A week ago he discovered a ripped screen in
the dayroom during the indoor recreation period. Someone had pulled back the thick
metal screen and it was never fixed. The hospital staff probably hadn't noticed it and if
7
they had, most likely, would have left it unrepaired and assumed no one could remove it
anyway. Yuri decided to take a chance, there was nothing to lose. He heard keys and
footsteps echoing down the hallway — they were coming, for him
We got you.
Yuri hastily peeled back the screen, barely stretching the small opening. It was just
enough to slip through. He saw an emergency ladder leading to the roof. Walkie-talkies
blared inside the dayroom. Eventually, they would notice the screen...only a matter of
time. Yuri climbed the ladder to the roof and looked around. There were no rooftops
nearby that he could jump to. For what felt like the longest moment of his life, he
watched the sun rising over the evergreens in the horizon. It had been awhile since he
saw anything so beautiful. He heard Nadia's agonized screams from a second floor
window. It was too late for her; there was nothing he could do. Yuri closed his eyes....
Something snapped.
111
8
YOU AND I
P.M. Dunne
Hey, remember me? It's been awhile since we last talked. You and I. Us. I'm your biggest fan,
critic and—if I may be so bold: soul mate. Remember when we first met? How young, carefree, and
malleable we were?! remember eighth grade English class and the poem that planted the seed. Was that the
start of it all? You were barely 14, with the light of galaxies emanating within, but I knew you were
destined for greatness; and, so, I followed you ever since, anticipating the time when your 12 year exile—
from yourself—would end and your literary powers—dormant in the core of your mind, like magma—
could finally explode, manifesting into writing with no form, except itself, like mysterious impressions
engraved in a soul: monumental.
I envy you. With my own eyes I've witnessed your progress on this journey, your writer's block,
your writing frenzies, your passion and pain; I know the deception of your truths, the honesty of your lies. I
saw the stack of rejection letters that you collected in prison—enough paper to fill an encyclopedia. Those
countless tears and crumbled manuscripts, those shattered dreams scattered across your cell like white glass
slashing at your heart, I was there for it all. I'll admit, I often questioned your sanity and considered how
many screws you'd lose before the door fell off the hinges; lucky as 13 knots in a rope, you hung onto your
dreams like a crazy person chasing after his own shadow, like a writer. At first I wondered whether you
were more Melville, Kafka, or Hemingway then realized how foolish it was for me to compare you to
them. You're an entirely different creature, Homo sin generis—the emotion your pen bleeds could overflow
the moats of their castles in the sky. Those 40 foot walls—armed with guards in towers that surround you
on all sides—would have suffocated their artistry yet you survived—thrived even
in those conditions and
tore down those barriers. Who are you? What are you? They shackled your body, but not your mind; when
you were locked up, it never occurred to you that your words should be?—how supercilious of you to not
let them crush your spirit and grind it into ether dust! I know where that urge came from, you linguistic
phoenix, you poetic necromancer, you exorciser of words, and although I don't like you, I respect you.
That's right, I said it What don't you understand? You're not delusional enough to believe that your fans
like you, right? Let's get this straight: they enjoy your art not your personality. Watching you from a
distance and studying your work, I've discovered you're profound as a sage's prophecy yet shallow as teen
pacsion—a complicated contradiction of amorphous ambiguity. You're perfectly flawed, a Sonata in D
Major, a Symphony #59. You timid giant, what are you hiding from—your own monolithic shadow? Why
do you love and hate yourself in equal amounts? Are you stupid or crazy, or, just, human? Until you figure
out the answers to these questions, I suggest you sacrifice yourself to the fans, remain in hermetic silence till
you hear the Earth spin, and let the truth unfold, bit by bit, like raindrops rolling down bodhi leaves.
I'm your biggest fan and biggest critic. I know all your secrets, your doubts, your fears I know
what you hold above, the vacancies in your heart. And when you lay your head down to rest at night, my
pillow drowns in your tears, your Atlantian dreams and heavenly nightmares Yet, you never say you love
me. Don't you appreciate your fans? After so many unanswered letters I've come to the realization that,
although you've mastered the spirit of words, you're as empty inside as me. Sometimes I feel like I'm
talking to myself; perhaps the borders of my consciousness must fizzle out, like TV during thunderstorrn,
before the picture becomes clear: our destinies converge at this point. I'm not talking cryptically here. How
else would I know so much about you—we're soul mates, remember? You and I.. Us?
2
Solipsistic Hedonism & Other Fun Things in the Universe
Ounne
Jared realized, with a sense of awe, that he was counting the number of steps leading to his apartment. As
he ascended to the third floor, a loud creak echoed through the hall---unsure of what to do, he froze,
hoping that, by staying perfectly still, he would not be caught.' He heard a safety chain smack against wood
and a deadbolt click open. A thin stream of light filtered into the hall, casting a shadow off the banister,
similar to the bars of a prison cell. He concentrated on breathing normally.
Hello? a voice called out.
He recognized the voice; it belonged to his landlady, Marie. At times, she could be fair; other
times, more often than not, she could be quite tyrannical. Jared had grown accustomed to their late night
game of cat and mouse. It wasn't the first time and it wouldn't be the last. (Time: a succession of
immediate moments.) Tonight she sounded more inquisitive than belligerent. He considered his current
dilemma, carefully weighed his options: it was in his best interest to deal with her now rather than later No
longer caring if he made any noise, Jared stumbled up to the third floor.
Oh, Jared, it's you, she said, feigning surprise.
Yeah, he said, trying to appear distraught. He noticed she had a mean case of barkface. He avoided
her gaze; it disgusted him how easily she could make him feel like a frozen slab of beef. Normally, he would
have welcomed the attention—what man wouldn't want to be viewed as a sexual prize?—however, Marie
too closely resembled
his mother for him to be comfortable with the idea of her drooling over him.
1
She stepped onto the welcome mat in front of her door. Are you alright? she asked.
Not really, he said, unsure if he was telling the truth and if so to what degree.
You've been drinking, she stated.
He shook his head and moved—floated rather—toward his apartment. Marie followed him down
the hall, stopping him before he could knock on the door. Marie, it's late, he groaned.
That's right. It's late, she mimicked—the rent is late. Thank you for reminding me. Her breath
smelled like an ashtray.
Jared held his breath as she talked to him. He felt flaxen. His body was numb. He was floating in
place, like a hover board. I'm gonna pay you the other half soon, he said, emphasizing "soon." He watched
her cross her arms.
You said that over two weeks ago.
I know. I need a little more time.
No.
Marie, I need—
The most I can give you is a week. Any more and—
Why are you doing this? You know I'm gonna pay you, he said, realizing he sounded more
desperate than angry. What if I give you $300, instead of $500, on Friday and then $1,400 on the first?
That's an extra $200, he quickly added.
Marie uncrossed her arms. She appeared to be considering his offer.
Holding himself up on the wall, Jared tried not to pass out. He felt exhausted. More than anything,
he wanted to lie down and go to sleep.
I'll tell you what...$300 on Friday, the usual on the first—but I want some action tonight. Her
hand grazed his crotch.
It had become increasingly harder for Jared to pay his rent since his girlfriend lost her job
(Seraphina had held the management position at Wal-Mart). The money he made (working part time for the
D.O.T) barely paid the bills, let alone put food on the table. They didn't eat much anyway, but, still, Jared
wanted something more—besides financial stability, he wasn't exactly sure what it could be. Just something.
He knew Seraphina liked nice things; he knew his habit didn't help their situation but he felt powerless to
change it. The truth was that neither had seen anything wrong with their lifestyles till they realized how
much it cost to maintain them. (Denial: the grown-up version of closing your eyes to become invisible.)
The recent influx of credit card bills had turned their dining room table into an extension of the Dead
2
Letter Office. The pile sat collecting dust as a daily reminder of their irresponsibility—their initiation into
the harsh reality of "the real world."
Jared had been offered this "transaction" by his landlady numerous times, but had never seriously
considered it till that moment. He heard himself say: okay. He felt himself being led to the apartment down
the hall. He felt himself drifting off as he plopped down on her couch. He felt himself waking as she rolled a
condom down the length of his penis. He felt himself thinking he'd sold his soul for $200 as she rode him,
moaning loudly. He watched her eyes roll into the back of her head. He held his breath He felt her leaking
down the inside of his thighs. He felt himself cum He felt nothing. He saw Seraphina's face.
He saw his mother sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette then realized it was Marie.
Bath at his apartment, Jared stood in the shower with his head under the water and tried to drown out
Seraphina. He heard her ask him to unlock the door so they could talk—about what, he had no idea; it was
obvious that he was stoned, like Middle Eastern justice; it was obvious that he was exhausted and did not
want to talk. He felt a loneliness he could neither cherish nor reject. She continued knocking on the door
and calling him till he finished his shower. He opened the door to find her crying. She looked at his face,
told him she was scared.
You're turning into a junkie, she said.
He .told her that he was fine She followed him into the bedroom. He dropped his towel on the
floor, got under the cool sheets and blacked out.
000
The following afternoon, he awoke to a throbbing headache. He instinctively knew that his serotonin
reserves were expended. He popped four multivitamins and stuck his face under the faucet, coughing as he
choked on the water gushing out. After taking a cold shower to wake up, Jared checked the messages on his
phone. He read a text from Seraphina saying that she would be staying at her sister's place for a week or
two while she went job hunting. The message ended with: I still love you. It seemed like a break-up text
but he wouldn't know for sure till he spoke to her in person, or at least over the phone. But that could wait
till later.
He called Victor—his best friend since fifth grade—and waited. It went to voicemail. Jared hung
up. He walked into town and bought a six-pack of Molson XXX and a vanilla Dutchmaster (his usual
3
routine on his days off). At the express lane, the girl behind the counter eyed the items, asked for his ID.
Her voice was slinky, silky like a sundress in the breeze. Jared noticed she had a gap between her front
teeth; he imagined biting her plump lips, making her bleed. Even though she had on an apron, he could tell
she was holding up top. It made him wonder what she had below the counter. As she bagged his items, he
flashed his best if-you-only-knew-what-I'd-do-to-you smile. She smiled back.
Sir, is that all or would like something else? she asked.
Jared read her name tag. Yes, Sierra, he said, giving her his epoxy eyes, as a matter of fact I will
need something else.
Yes...she said, looking around nervously.
Your number.
What?
Your number, he repeated, handing his phone to her before she could respond.
She looked over to her friend who had witnessed the encounter and raised her eyebrows. Her
friend squealed before turning her attention back to an impatient customer. She put her number in his
phone. I get off in, about, 15 minutes—if you're not too busy, she said, trying to appear casual although it
was obvious that she was used to getting her way.
I can get you off in two, thought Jared.
000
Waiting for the light to turn green, Seraphina looked out the window of the taxi at a group of teenagers
standing outside a bodega. She remembered when she was innocent like them: the thrill of boys pursuing
her; the mystery of dating; the rush of love. Sex. It all came down to that three-letter word. As a teenager,
she had not realized the power dynamics underlying the act. She had always believed that sex was a special
and intimate "connection" that bonded two beings into a "complete" whole. She had naively believed that
love was the glue of relationships, of humanity.
Later in life, she understood that relationships were based not on amorous compatibility but on
personal interest, pleasure, security. ("You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.") It was confliction
within these spheres that led to break-ups and divorces. (Love: an illusion, a strategic veil, a form of
emotional blackmail employed in the war between the sexes and the selfish fulfillment of their desires—the
oldest form of currency.)
4
The taxi stopped in front of a neat row of brownstones. Seraphina got out and paid the driver. She
walked to Al's house. Al wore lots of jewelry and sold H; everybody copped from him. Before she had a
chance to knock on the door of unit 1066, the door swung open. Al pulled her into the apartment. She
closed the door behind her as they struggled to remove their dothes; their tongues violently explored each
other's mouths. Seraphina panted as Al lifted her and pinned her against the wall like a pull-out. He let his
boxers drop, stretched her panties to the side—ripping the satin material—and plunged into her
welcoming flesh.
Afterward they sat on the couch and watched movies in the dark. Seraphina found it impossible to
focus on the movie. She imagined what it would be like to live in opulence—contrary to her current living
condition. Things with Jared were bound to fall apart She knew this. He was a junkie; he never had any
money He barely had enough to pay the bills. Back when he'd had money—when they first met—he put
on as if he didn't, always making excuses to justify his stinginess. She knew that he only kept her around for
sex. A fuck doll, she laughed to herself, that's all I am to him. Why doesn't he just get a blow-up doll and save
himself the money? To get back at him she quit her job; she wasn't "suited" for work anyway: work was for
unattractive and dim-witted women who didn't know the power they had between their legs. Observing
her mother, and the numerous "boy toys" she had run through over the years, qualified her as a master of
the art.
She rubbed Al's thigh, felt his bulge grow; her long silky hair caressed his crotch as she went down
on him. She knew that this drove hirn crazy. He came quickly, filling her mouth with his seed. Man eater,
she thought, while swallowing it. I bet Si-Si doesn't do it like that, she said.
Al looked down at his lap. No, not like that.
Seraphina laughed. So you're admitting that I'm better than your girlfriend? She licked him before
he could respond.
Maybe, he groaned.
Smiling deviously, she looked up at him Maybe?
He smirked, shrugged his shoulders. She sat up and stroked him. Well, maybe, I need to show you
the difference between a real woman and a little girl.
I'd like that.
I bet you would.
5
53-
Al reached around and palmed her ass with both hands; she stroked him till his member stood at
attention, like a cadet. Again? her eager eyes implied. He reached around and rubbed her cit. He knew that
this drove her crazy.
I want you to hurt me, she whispered in his ear, as if she were blowing into a conch shell He
roughly inserted her. She bit his neck, gyrated her hips and rode him like a whitecap; he thrust back,
matching her rhythm. Seraphina couldn't help but notice that all the furniture—with the exception of one
piece—was from Ethan Allen. Al throbbed inside of her like a frog's throat; he was about to explode. She
clenched around him and felt something splash the inner chamber of her womb. Although it would never
happen, she laughed at the thought of Jared catching them, his mouth hanging open—angry, jealous,
betrayed.
Shit, said Al.
Don't worry, she soothed. I'm on the pill, baby.
000
He watched as Sierra got in her co-worker's car; before pulling out of the parking lot she waved to him.
Jared grinned. He turned around to walk back home. Victor's Jeep was double-parked across the street
from his apartment building. He knocked on the passenger side window. Victor startled, nearly dropping
what was on his lap to the floor; he gave Jared the I' d-kill-you-if-I-didn't-have-a-gram-in-my-lap look.
In his apartment they played a Final Fantasy-esque RPG, drank beer and smoked weed They took
turns slashing at a four-headed dragon. The afternoon felt nondescript, like white noise. The only sound in
the room was the occasional clicking of buttons; the remaining silence was filled with random thoughts
getting sucked into the void It's always bad when you feel blessed for making it through another day,
blurted out Victor while holding the roach out to Jared.
Yeah, said Jared, fumbling with his game controller. He finished the roach then took a long swig of
beer, some of which dribbled onto his shirt. He couldn't feel anything but he sensed that his funeral face
was drooping like a St. Bernard's.
Victor paused the game and tossed his phone to Jared. Check it out, he said.
New one? asked Jared. The girl on the screen was a tall brunette with smoky-gray eyes.
Yeah, what do you think?
Not bad. Not bad at all.
6
74
You see the tetas on her? Cubo for days too.
Jared gazed at the picture, unable to rip his eyes away.
Okay, said Victor, laughing uncomfortably. He put his hand out to catch the phone but was
ignored. Take it easy Romeo—don't hurt yourself.
Oh, my bad, said Jared, his eyes flickering in a grotto of envy. He tossed the phone bath to Victor
When you're done with her, just send her my way, he joked, although both of them knew he was as serious
as a heart attack.
What's going on with you and Seraphina? Victor asked, looking around as if it just occurred to him
that she was missing.
I don't know, groaned Jared. She went to her sister's place this morning to go job hunting.
Why?
I just told you, she—
No, no, no, I'm saying, why does she have to go to her sister's place to do that?
Jared paused.
Victor continued. I mean, is that normal? Has she done that before?
No.
Never?
He thought about it. Sometimes she'll spend the night over at her sister's but—
Not for longer than that, finished Victor
Right...
They sat still and closed their eyes. Victor scratched his thigh. He opened his mouth to say
something then paused. Jared looked over at him and raised his eyebrows. What?
Nothing.
What were you about to say?
It's nothing. Forget it.
Spit it out.
Victor looked at the controller in his hands and sighed. She's definitely fucking someone.
Bullshit, Jared scoffed and returned to the game. They played a few minutes before, suddenly, he
paused the game and dropped the controller on the couch. She's not messing around on me, she's hooked,
she's not going anywhere, but if she is—fuck it. I've had enough of her bullshit anyway, he blurted out.
7
Okay, jeez, forget I even said anything, Victor replied. He took two bumps off a video game case
and rubbed his nose. Jared followed suit, a slight burn followed by a wave of release. So what are you gonna
do—like, when she comes back?
I don't know. I'm not thinking about her right now I need money; if things keep going the way
they've been, I'm gonna have to find a new place. I've only been getting by because my landlady, Marie,
likes me.
You talking about that old washed-up-porn-star-looking lady down the hallway?
Jared laughed, tried to change the subject.
You should introduce us. She looks like she needs a wholesome serving of waz, courtesy of muah.
And I could use some vintage vagina, laughed Victor before finishing his last beer. He slouched in his seat
and scratched his chest. So are we going to Club Canasta tomorrow? You didn't answer my text yesterday,
asshole.
Yeah, I'm game. I've been on lockdown too long, said Jared. And I don't think I can take another
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
marathon.
Yeah, agreed Victor. Do you have someone you can take or do you need a little assistance from
your boy, the Ho Whisperer? he added, motioning toward his phone.
No, I think the Count of Monte Bicho—aka Le Creme de la Creep—can handle this one on his
own. Thanks though. This is getting out of hand, said Jared.
What's that?
This, he said, while bending over for another bump.
Yeah, me too. Victor held up his phone and smiled.
They looked at each other and laughed
Party like a rock star.
Like a porn star.
Charlie Sheen lifestyle.
Jared paused, swallowed. Minus the AIDS of course.
Naturally, Victor said with a lazy smirk. What do you take me for?
Later that night, while Victor snored away on the couch, Jared called Seraphina. She didn't answer. He
hung up and sent her three consecutive texts explaining how he felt—about everything, indirectly alluding to
the upcoming rent, by comparing their relationship to a house that they "built together." (Relationships:
8
like buildings, require maintenance; rather than doing it themselves, however, they merely hired cheap
foreign labor and then complained as the house decayed.) In the last text Jared offered her an ultimatum:
renovate or relocate. While nodding in and out of consciousness he waited, over an hour, for a response
then gave up and retired to his room, creeping toward his bed like a centipede in the darkness. He was on
his own; Seraphina had run out of the house while it was burning. The remnants fluttered down like gray
ash in a nuclear fallout.
Squirming in bed, feeling an odd combination of fear and contentment, he considered it wise to
stay awake, unsure if, in his current "condition," he would wake up the next day or not. For a long moment
the thought was uncannily near him in the breathing silence. Several minutes of internal deliberation passed
in this manner. Jared dosed his eyes and flirted with the voice at the bottom of that abyss, listening for a
heartbeat, any indication of organic activity; the only echo that returned was the silence in the room, which
weighed down on his eyelids, like tiny sandbags, and existed as a personal siren, an emergency alert for his
brain to violently jolt him back to consciousness, to reality, to himself, until, finally, it didn't and the voice
unleashed its dark ballad.
000
Seraphina left her sister's house. Some guys in an old model BMW pulled over and hit on her. She walked 5
blocks to Morgan's condominium. Morgan wasn't rich like Al; unlike Al, however, he was more than
willing to blow his meager paycheck on a younger woman—a much younger woman. The man was old
enough to be her father yet that didn't stop him from enjoying her body whenever his wife left to go food
shopping. He knew he had to pay to play. It was part of the game. Estelle didn't know how to do "the
things" Seraphina did, and, even if she did, she would never do them anyway. Many nights she denied him,
like reason at Kingdom Hall. She felt it was beneath her, as a Pentecostal, to subject herself to his "immoral
desires" She went to the same church as Seraphina's grandmother; Seraphina learned all of this from
Morgan—the very first time they fucked, on a Sunday morning, while lying in the bed he shared with
Estelle—and found it humorous that she had a married man wrapped around her little French-manicured
finger.
The man was completely hooked; unbeknown to his wife, half of his weekly earnings went to
Seraphina's bank account—direct deposit—and the rent was paid with the retirement fund. For Seraphina,
it was a good feeling. As long as she kept her end of the "bargain,"
9
Sn't
everything would be fine.
While Morgan "pounded" her from behind, she checked her text messages. She read one from Al, a
couple from Jared. He wanted to know how the "job search" was going; the part about their relationship
made her laugh.
I know you're faking it but do you really have to laugh? wheezed Morgan.
No, it's okay, I'm not laughing at you baby, she said, arching her back and letting out a soft moan.
Don't worry, you're a beast.
How many times did you cum?
Twice.
You're lying. I lcnow it.
She sighed dramatically and rolled her eyes. I wouldn't come over to see you as much as I do if it
wasn't good.
He pulled his now-flaccid penis out of her and removed the condom, semen dribbled off his shaft
onto her crack and slid down her bone-dry vagina onto the bedspread. He felt exhausted, physically, yet
was awake as sleepless hours of resentment. The young woman before him was more two-faced than a
Hindu deity. He knew this, yet it still bothered him that he could never please her. It's not like you're
getting anything out of the deal, right? You're here because you love me, he said bitterly as he eyed the
stained bedspread.
Stop being a baby. She stroked his manhood, nothing happened.
Morgan looked at the clock on the night stand. You gotta get out of here so I can clean up the place
before this bitch comes home.
If she's that bad, why don't you just leave her?
He shook his head and chuckled. Shit is expensive.
Outside a bodega, down the street from Morgan's, Seraphina withdrew $500 from the ATM. She checked
her phone: 12:30 am. In a cab, on the way to the mall, she responded to Al's text message- I'll be over
tonight. Love you.
She thought about responding . to Jared's text but decided against it—better to keep him in the
dark, for now. She didn't see the point in burning a bridge she might need to cross later. If she couldn't trap
Al she'd go back to him while she planned the next move. It made sense, literally and figuratively. At
Victoria's Secret, she bought lingerie then purchased scented candles and massage oil from Bath & Body
10
Works. An attractive man stopped her outside the mall's front entrance; they talked while she waited for a
taxi. She considered giving him her number until it occurred to her that he was waiting for a ride as well.
After making a few more stops in town, Seraphina spent the afternoon at her sister's place. They sat on the
veranda and talked over drinks while waiting for guys—"victims," the term her sister used—to blow up
their phones Whenever her sister answered a call, she'd put it on speakerphone; afterward, they'd laugh
loudly as they mimicked the men's voices, new victims who mistakenly believed that they were in
possession of serious "game." (Game: psychological tactics used by those who know that "love" is not a game
•but a war.)
As the Sun dropped and the sky burned a deep magenta, Seraphina couldn't help but think about
the time when her love was extinguished, like meteoric rock in the Arctic Ocean. She was young. It was a
fickle time, a brief epoch between adoration and irreverence. It was a fading memory that became easier to
ignore the more she shared herself with others, like a vast emptiness filling a gaping void. She smiled
inwardly, looked out the window of her sister's car; money, jewels, dothes and recognition—all the perks
4 affluence, all the things she deserved—were hers for the taking if she played her cards right.
With the bags she got at the mall hanging from her slender wrist, Seraphina walked up the steps to
Al's house.
000
He didn't know how long he'd been asleep but he could tell it was dark outside. He held the frame of the
bed as if to keep from levitating. The sides of his head pulsated under the skin; his eyes ached like they'd
been gouged. Jared rolled over to look at the time: 8:14 pm. It seemed unusual so he checked the time on
his phone: 8:15 pm. Almost 24 hours had passed yet getting up, still, felt like an immense undertaking. The
comedown was always depressing. Walking to the bathroom was torture, like paper clips jammed under
fingernails. The water streaming from the shower head shook him from his opiate-induced lassitude,
enough so that he could shuffle into the living room to check on Victor.
The living room was empty. Jared poured himself a glass of water and drank it in one gulp. He took
a vitamin cocktail, poured himself another glass of water and downed it as well.
read the text Victor left him: I'll be over around
9:30 - 12:00. I
back to life. My head is killing me.
11
He sank
into the couch and
left you a little something so you can come
Jared picked up a clear baggie off the coffee table and looked at it. It wasn't H—it was H's sexy
cousin. After finishing, Jared snorted drops of water and felt better. Much better. He felt good enough to
believe that he was happy. He texted Sierra, asked if she wanted to go with him to Club Canasta. She said
No, thank you then texted him back 30 minutes later and said she changed her mind. Jared laughed out
loud; he knew it was game. It was a test. And since he did not come off desperate, he "passed"—his "player
card" was reinstated. It felt good to be back in the game. Although it would never happen, Jared laughed at
the thought of Seraphina coming home to find him naked with Sierra, her mouth hanging open—angry,
jealous, betrayed. As he got dressed, a loud knock at the door startled him. Victor stood in the hallway with
a girl who had smoky-gray eyes and a body like a Maserati. She looked better than the picture.
They got intO Victor's car and drove to the address Sierra provided them with. Jared found it odd
that she wanted to be picked up downtown, outside the Four Seasons, but forgot about it as soon as he saw
what she was wearing: a black studded leather jacket, a red see-through blouse with a black push-up
underneath, a black miniskirt and a pair of black Christian Louboutin heels—red bottoms—with spikes.
The outfit was complete with a set of red hoop earrings and a small platinum clutch. She looked like a
million dollars, before taxes. Jared imagined her crawling around his apartment on all fours with a spiked
collar on. She walked over and hugged him. He immediately felt himself getting hard and wondered if she
felt his bulge wedged against her belly button. Of course she did but what did she think about it? Her smile
was unreadable; she carried herself like a poison needle threading a silk corset. Jared wasn't 100% sure but
he figured his chances of getting laid were pretty good as long as he didn't blow his load right there like he
wanted to. He couldn't stop looking at her. He could tell Victor was green-eyed. He laughed to himself as
Smoky-gray rolled her eyes at Victor as he snuck peeks at Sierra through the rearview.
Club Canasta was packed. The line wound around the block more times than a string of rhetoric at
City Hall. It was easy to get in, however, with two gorgeous women, one who looked like lust incarnate
and another who was related to security through marriage. Once inside Victor sold E-pills and coke to some
people he knew from another town. They each took a red star and a blue dolphin. Afterward they headed
straight for the bar. They bought drinks and sat in the lounge section, talking about whatever came to mind.
They did more coke. They ordered a round of shots as they waited for the E-pills to kick in They drank to
flood the holes within them. Jared leaned against Sierra and looked at their reflection in the fish tank. He
thought they looked good together. He could feel the heat from her body. He could feel her heart beating
fast.
Victor made a call on his cell phone. After he hung up Jared asked who it was.
12
That was AJ, my diesel connect. I told you about him, right? said Victor
I think so, said Jared.
Yeah, so, he and his girl are coming to chill with us tonight. I got to re-up tomorrow so I figured it
was a nice gesture to invite him, buy him a couple rounds, said Victor.
Spoken like a true humanitarian, laughed Jared. He was pleased to hear Sierra and Smoky-gray
laugh at his joke.
Fuck you bitch, laughed Victor.
Listen, I'm thinlcing about quitting my job—you think your boy would front me some work? asked
Jared. He felt somebody playing with his hair.
Victor blinked as if a gnat had flown in his eye and nodded while vigorously rubbing his eyeballs. I
don't see why not. Doesn't hurt to ask, right? What's the worst that could happen.. .he tells you No? He lit
a cigarette, passed it to Smoky-gray then lit one for himself. We'll see what he says when he gets here. He
doesn't live too far from Downtown so he should be here any minute. He blew a smoke ring at the fish
tank; it bounced against the cool glass and came apart, merging with the haze of lust hovering above them.
For awhile they sat there, enjoying the irresistible rush of the poison in their bodies. Sierra looked
down at Jared as she stroked his hair. He poked his lips out. They kissed. He sat up and they started making
out. She didn't resist as he ran his hand up the side of her blouse and caressed her.
Hey, put that on pause for a minute, said Victor. That's AJ coming down the stairs now.
Jared felt Sierra tense up He turned around.
What the fuck is going on Si-Si? said a guy with lots of jewelry, staring straight at Sierra then at
Jared.
Al? said Sierra.
You guys know each other? said Victor.
Yeah, said Sierra, avoiding eye contact with everyone in the room, as her face searched for the
nearest Exit sign.
You told me you were going to your aunt's funeral—what the fuck is this? Al snapped
AJ, bro, I didn't know you guys knew each other. I just called you so we could hang out, said
Victor with dilated pupils. He blinked and rubbed his eyes.
Shut the fuck up Vic, shouted Al. You little lying-ass fucking slut....I should slap the dog shit out of
you right here. He reached over the couch and grabbed Sierra by arm. Get your shit, we're out of here.
Get off me Al, yelled Sierra. I don't want to be with you anymore.
13
Jared stood up and balled his fists. She said get off her. It's none of my business what you guys got
going on but I'm not gonna sit here and watch you slap a woman. That's not happening
Al let go of her, raised his fists and stepped toward Jared. Motherfucker, you want to do
something?
Victor jumped between them with his arms out. Yo, guys, chill out. This is just a crazy-ass
coincidHe didn't see the punch but he felt it. He stumbled into two girls making out by the fish tank. Their
thinks splashed on them. A carnival mirror smashed on the floor. They started yelling. Everyone deared
from the lounge area. Jared threw a wide swing and caught a sharp jab to the nose. He felt the blood
rushing to his head. He threw an uppercut It connected They rolled on the ground and hit each other till
security broke it up. A large man bear hugged Jared from behind. He tried to push him off but the man
wouldn't budge. It's hard to move someone with no neck.
Jared looked over at Victor as he stood in the doorway rubbing his jaw. He noticed Sierra was
gone. The next thing he saw was Seraphina darting across the room to Al. Oh my god, baby, what
happened? The bartender just told me some asshole hit you. Are you alright?
Al struggled with the security guard holding him. He glared across the room at Jared. This ain't
over, pussy. You and your boy are dead.
Seraphina turned around. She looked shocked.
Jared probed her eyes, navigated the winding labyrinth of her being.
He found nothing.
All he found was his own reflection gazing back at him through the void
14
P.M. DUNNE
Broken WAIdOil
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Caleb said over his shoulder into the next room. Lydia stared at
the full length mirror in front of her then shouted back, "What if it is broke?"
"...nothing a little jab can't take care of," joked Caleb. Lydia laughed at him as he
stood in the doorway pounding his closed fist into his open palm with an exaggerated
grimace.
"What's going on in here—Liddy, you alright girl?" screeched Alonso as he ran into
the room, brandishing a wooden spatula.
Caleb broke out in laughter at the sight of Lydia's roommate wearing a '#1 MOM'
apron.
"We're fine Boobula, everything's okay. Thank you honey," replied Lydia while
smiling at Caleb mischievously.
He couldn't help but cringe at the pet name his fiancé had given her roommate.
Seeing them interact was like watching an episode of Real Housewives, an 'exciting' episode.
Caleb wasn't a fan of reality TV.
"Oh, thank gawd. You had me worried Boobula." Alonso noticed Caleb cringing and
continued, "but I see everything's copasetic here so I'm leaving." He turned to leave then
added, "I'll be in my room if you need me honey—don't be afraid to call me, okay?"
"Yes, of course, thank you," giggled Lydia.
Standing next to Caleb, Alonso looked him up and down with a 'lemon face' then
waved the spatula under his chin, "And you, mister.., you better treat my sister right." Caleb
raised his hands in mock surrender as Alonso continued his rant, "or I swear, I will come out
of my room and karate chop your debonair ass into a million sexy little piece—"
4!
"Oh my god Lonny, stop hitting on my fiancé," Lydia squealed as she hid her face in
her lap.
"Your roommate is deeply disturbed."
"Lonny's alright—just overprotective of me, that's all.., he means well."
Caleb laughed.
"What happened?" asked Lydia with a sly grin.
"#1 MOM," chuckled Caleb.
"Oh, that's nothing. You should see what he wears on Saturday mornings..."
"I don't think I want to know," said Caleb with schrecklichkeit in his visage.
"...my furry dog slippers—"
"No Lydia. I don't want to—
"and his 'birthday suit."
"Jesus."
Standing outside in the rain, peering at the school of cars lost in the mellifluous fog, they
hoped for a yellow cab to materialize until it became clear that none were available so they
sat in the stairwell.
"Cay... my shoes are soggy; I can't go like this. I don't want to go, Cay," whined Lydia.
Caleb knew when Lydia called him tay,' it could only mean one of two things: she either
wanted something or she wanted out of something. He could tell she was miserable and he
knew he was the cause of her misery, sort of.
"I thought you wanted to go with me to the award ceremony," he asked as casually
as he could without sounding too vulpine. "Everyone's gonna be there," he quickly added.
That was exactly the problem.
"Caybie..." she whined again as she adjusted her Ray Ban's for the umpteenth time.
He looked at her. It suddenly occurred to him that Lydia's diva-ish behavior stemmed from
her insecurity about her appearance. It started back in May (well, actually, it started in 314
2
grade, but that's another story for another time) when they had attended a banquet, hosted
by Caleb's publishing house, in celebration of another author's successful, bestselling, debut
novel. They had all been seated at the same table, along with Caleb's agent—who he shared
with `Mr. Bestseller—and another successful author who was also a bestseller and editor
for a small, yet well-known, press. Everything went smoothly enough; everyone ate,
everyone drank, and, for the most part, everyone got along. The night coasted along waves
of superfluous cajolery. But when Mr. Bestseller got up to give his little celebratory speech,
all hell's chancres broke loose, the masks were doffed, teeth bared and the claws came out.
"... yeah, well,
my
boyfriend wouldn't be caught dead publishing in any 'independent
magazines' or 'literary journals," stated Mr. Bestseller's girlfriend.
"Wow. That's mighty pretentious of him," said Lydia.
"I think people that use the word 'pretentious' are really just pretenders
themselves."
"That's why you don't get paid to think, and, for the record, that's not what
'pretentious' means..."
Some muffled giggles slipped out of those at the table ignoring the speech.
"Whatever. I don't talk to basic bitches anyway," snorted Mr. Bestseller's girlfriend.
"And that's, probably, because the 'basic bitches' can actually think for themselves,
unlike the 'advanced bitches' who attribute their boyfriend's success as their own," Lydia
shot back.
"Hey, I got an idea.., how about you go back to the Goodwill you crawled out of and
get a refund on that $30 nose job you have?"
Everyone at the table was quiet. Even those pretending to listen to the speech were
now watching. They wanted to see if Lydia had a good comeback for the low blow she just
received. It felt like junior high all over again.
Lydia looked at Caleb then turned to face Mr. Bestseller's girlfriend and replied, "I
actually paid $5o, but close."
Mr. Bestseller's girlfriend rolled her eyes dramatically and spun around in her seat,
banging her knee on the empty chair next to her.
3
47
Everyone laughed and resumed what they were doing. Caleb's eyes met Lydia's and
although he knew his fiancé 'won' the battle, it was obvious, by the look in her eyes, that it
was a pyrrhic victory. After the banquet ended, Caleb congratulated Mr. Bestseller, said
goodbye to everyone at the table, and then spoke to his agent briefly before leaving with
Lydia. In the cab ride home, she dabbed at the dark eyeliner running down her cheeks like
squid discharge and swallowed the pain in silence.
"Sometimes I'm, like, super motivated to succeed and achieve and accomplish things, and
then other times I'm like 'fuck it, what's the point'; in the end, we're all going to die anyway
and everything we've done will be utterly forgotten—"
"and blown away like dust off an old tome in Father Time's library?" interrupted
Caleb.
"Yeah... urn... so anyway," Chris mumbled before looking around nervously, hoping
someone would save him and change the subject.
"So anyway nothing," mocked Caleb. "You steal a beautiful fucking line from my
unfinished manuscript then have the audacity to publish it in that shitty excuse for a short
story you sent to Rolling Stone last month...are you fucking kidding me right now? Mark, this
slimy creep is nothing but a cheap carbon copy version of me. I swear—can't we get rid of
this dumb asshole?" Caleb turned to Chris, "you're lucky I don't break your goddamn jaw
you stupid bastard," he growled.
C.
Caleb's agent put his hand on Caleb's shoulder. "Take it easy Caleb; nobody's
breaking any jaws while I'm around alright? And as I told you two before: if you can't work
this out, in a civilized manner, then you should stay away from each other. It's that simple.
Now Caleb, no one read your manuscript, as far as I know, so you can't go around accusing
people of plagiarizing. That's a serious accusation. I don't want any animosity among my
clients...! need you guys to be respectful to each other, at least, in public. Please don't
embarrass me tonight; this is a 'literary award ceremony,' not an MMA title match at The
4
48
Octagon. Caleb, in the future, to avoid any further issues, just make sure you send me your
manuscript, first, so I can scan it on my—"
"Mark, I didn't steal anything from this megalomaniac. He's obviously delusional. I
never even saw his manuscript—"
"You're a goddamn lying piece of rat shit, you know that Chris?" said Caleb.
"Caleb," warned Mark. He turned to address Chris, "I wasn't accusing you Chris."
"It sure sounded like it," replied Chris.
"Shut the fuck up Christy," mocked Caleb.
"You shut the fuck up... pussy," retorted Chris.
"Go choke on a whale dick and die, asshole," shot back Caleb.
"Of my, Cayla, that was dark. You really t000ld me," Chris replied with a mocking
expression.
"Guys," groaned Mark, "How about the both of you 'shut thle fuck up?' If you want to
fight then you do it later, on your own time, not now—got it?" scolded Mark.
Caleb and Chris turned away from each other without saying anything. The award
ceremony commenced and the night went on. When it was Caleb's turn to give his speech,
for taking ed place in a prestigious short story award, he walked up to the podium and
shook hands with the president of the literary society that had granted him the award. The
president said a few words, announced Caleb's name, before leaving an anxious Caleb
fumbling with his speech paper. He carefully smoothed the paper out on the podium and
cleared his throat, into the microphone, causing the entire room to cringe. "Excuse me," he
said.
"Yeah, go Cayla," yelled Chris from the audience as Mark shook his head and glared
at him.
Everyone laughed.
The speech went quasi-well; Caleb was happy he only made three mistakes. And his
reading went well until the second to last line of the short story when instead of saying
'memory' he said 'melody.'
Everyone clapped.
5
"Good job kid, you knocked that one out of the park," congratulated Mark, patting
Caleb on the back.
"I slipped up a couple of times, but I recovered," said Caleb before giving Chris his
best 'death look.'
"Don't worry, most people in the crowd weren't listening anyway," replied Chris.
"Hey Mark, can you introduce me to the chair of that lit-journal you were telling me about?"
"Sure Chris," Mark answered, a little quicker than Caleb liked, as they left him at the
table sipping his drink. Caleb examined his award, pretending not to notice as they walked
off together.
"Oh my, this lemon and marmalade flan is to die for... absolutely fantastic,"
exclaimed a heavy-set woman, obviously 'suffering' from diabetes.
Caleb half-smiled then looked away.
"I really would have liked if you had come with me to the award ceremony," said Caleb as he
removed leftovers from the microwave.
"Caybie, I thought we talked about this already. I told you earlier, my shoes were
soaked and—"
"That's a bullshit excuse, Lydia, and you know it," he interrupted.
"No, I'm telling you..." she stammered, then stopped as she saw the look Caleb gave
her. She knew that he knew what she thought he didn't and there was no sense in lying.
Lydia sighed and sank down in the soft leather couch; she wanted to lose herself in the
detached embrace of the tapioca loveseat and disappear forever.
"What are you 'telling me," Caleb asked impatiently.
"Why are you, like, flipping out on me?" questioned Lydia.
"Flipping out'? Are you kidding me right now? This is not 'flipping out.' This is two
adults having a mature conversation—that's all. Stop being a drama queen, please."
"1 fucking hate when you get like this Caleb. You're being a real asshole right now—"
6
"Why? Because I'm telling you the fucking truth?" he shouted.
"No, because you're screaming like a fucking maniac," she shouted back.
"Drama queen, drama queen, drama queen—"
"Asshole, asshole,
Alonso walked into the living room with a bathrobe on. "I swear... I must be a queer
magnet for loose screws or something because you two are a special kind of crazy. Listen
up, you two really need to go get some couple's therapy, or—"
"NOT NOW ALONSO," Caleb and Lydia screamed in unison. After taking a horrified
look at both of them he gasped, sucked in his bottom lip, stomped out of the living room
into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.
"Now look what you did, you pissed off my roommate," accused Lydia.
"What I did? What I did?" yelled Caleb. A few drops of spittle flew out his flushed face
and landed on the phone in his hand. He wiped the screen on his shirt.
Lydia sat up quickly. "What I did? What I did?" she mocked while making demented
faces at Caleb. "Duh, duh, I'm Cay-lib" she continued as she stuck her tongue out at him.
"Oopsy, I made a boo-boo...duuuhhh." She pushed her face close to his and repeated,
"Duuuhhh, I had a widdle ac-see-dint, didn't I?" He put his arm out to block her. She could
feel the laughter welling up from deep within her stomach until it exploded out of her. Lydia
laughed. He watched her a moment, with his features distorted in anger, embarrassment
and pride until he couldn't keep the explosion down anymore. Caleb laughed.
They laughed together.
•••
That night, while lying in bed, they stared at each other as they listened to the fan in
the window. The hum of the fan's motor was a soothing background noise that reminded
Caleb of the remote-controlled plane he had as a child. Sometimes he wanted to fly away.
Lydia traced a vein in his arm with her finger. He held her hand in his and kissed it then rolled
on top of her. "Get off of me Caleb, it's too hot in here." He licked her face, leaving slobber
on it. She wiped her cheek off then said, "You're a filthy animal... now get off."
7
7/
"Nope," he replied, "not until you tell me the real reason you didn't want to come to
the award ceremony."
Lydia groaned and tried to push Caleb off. "Are we really going to rehash this,
again?" she asked.
"Yes, it's important."
She groaned again. "Okay...."
He raised both eyebrows, expectantly, although he knew she couldn't make out his
expression in the dark room. "Okay... go ahead. Talk."
"Those people are assholes, Cay. I don't want to be around them...."
"Okay, that's honest. But I'm an asshole and you keep me around," Caleb joked.
"Well, that's because you're a 'good asshole," she laughed.
"They're not all like that. In fact, most of them are pretty cool. You like Mark right?"
"Yeah, he's nice; I like him."
"I think there's more to it than what you're telling me Lydia," Caleb probed.
Lydia held his hand in hers and looked at their intertwined fingers. ) "Remember,
around our first year anniversary, the story I told you?"
"...about third grade?"
"Yeah, that one. Well, I never finished telling you what happened after Simon called
me Skeeter from Doug."
"I used to love that cartoon," said Caleb before catching himself, "Go on, I'm sorry."
Lydia hesitated and rubbed Caleb's arm.
"Lydia, you can tell me anything. I love you."
"I know that Caybie and I love you even more."
"I love you times a googol."
"I love you times infinity."
They laughed.
"Seriously though, after Simon said what he said, I stopped going to school. It got so
bad my father even had to pull me out of there and put me in an all-girls school—"
"Okay, I like where this story's going now," interrupted Caleb.
8
"Shut up you horn dog... listen okay? After my father sent me to the new school, my
'best friend,' Julia, introduced me to a boy that went to our all-boys affiliate. I really liked
him. I remember the whole school, boys and girls, going to the movies together and..." she
choked up.
"... and what happened at the movies?" questioned Caleb softly. Lydia was silent.
Caleb was unsure what Lydia was feeling until he realized his wrist was wet with her tears.
He dabbed her cheeks with a tissue then kissed her eye. "Don't cry," he said.
Taking the tissue from Caleb she wiped her eyes. "His friend, Simon, was there—right
away they started acting obnoxious and the boy I liked, whose name I can't remember,
dunked a bucket of popcorn on my head. Everyone from my school was laughing at me;
even the teachers were laughing, I think. And when I took the bucket off my head, I saw that
they moved to different seats, leaving me alone, and I noticed that somebody wrote 'dirty
Jew' on the bucket. And I found out that Julia, my 'best friend'.., was in on it the whole
time."
"Wow. Kids can be cruel," offered Caleb.
"Yeah.., it got so bad that my family wound up moving us to Vermont."
"Kids can be really evil," remarked Caleb as he stroked Lydia's back. "Listen, I know
those kids hurt you, but that was a long time ago; you have to let that pain go—easier said
than done, I know. But, honestly, you have no choice.., it's either that or go crazy," he
stated, before adding, "I'm here for you no matter what, okay?"
"Yeah, Caybie, I know."
"And I'm sorry I screamed at you earlier. I should have been more understanding. I
got into an argument with some creep at the ceremony and he made me look dumb in front
of Mark which pissed me off even more—"
"Are you talking about the guy who you said stole lines from your book?" Lydia
interrupted.
"Yeah, that jerkoff. Regardless though, I should have never taken it out on you. I
allowed him to get under my skin and I wasn't dealing with my own issues...."
"What 'issues' are those?"
9
73
"Well, when I was in... I think, fourth or fifth grade—or was it a little later? I don't
know, but, anyway, I was at some family event and my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins
and other relatives I didn't know too well, or cared to know, for that matter, were there and
my Tamagachi pet went 'MIA.' Turns out one of the neighbor's kids took it, but at the time,!
didn't know, so I stopped talking to all the kids at the party. By the end of the night I was
crying because somebody—don't ask me who—told all the kids that I was the only kid at the
party without parents. They were all laughing at me and one of my older cousins even riled
up the adolescent mob into chanting 'loser,' over and over, until I punched him in the nose."
"Oh Caybie," soothed Lydia.
"Every since then I've had some trust issues that have ruined good friendships and
relationships. I don't want that to happen to us. I would lose it if I fucked up what we have
together over something stupid that happened in my childhood... .1 think that's what set me
off tonight and everybody laughing at me probably didn't help either."
"I should have been there for you tonight. I'm sorry," said Lydia.
"Don't be sorry. You're not to blame. It's okay—you know why?"
"Why?"
"... because I have to find that 'strength' within myself. I have to learn to deal with
my past in healthy and constructive ways that are not damaging to myself and my
relationships. That's why it doesn't matter whether you were there or not because those
issues would have, still, been bubbling underneath the surface. I'm starting to see that they
don't just 'go away,' even when we think we've forgotten them. Our past follows us like a
lonely pervert."
"Wow, Cay. I'm proud of you," Lydia said before reaching over to kiss Caleb. "But
don't you think that, maybe, we forget things from our past because they hurt too much?"
"No," said Caleb.
"No?" Lydia asked.
"We don't really 'forget,' Lydia—we deny. And when we deny a painful event in our
lives and choose not to deal with it, the problem only magnifies....So if we 'forget,' the only
thing we're really forgetting is the simple fact that fear can destroy us—if we let it."
10
"Wow, we are so fucked up," stated Lydia.
"Yeah," agreed Caleb.
Lydia tried to focus on Caleb's face, to discern his expression, but she could not; it
was too dark. She was talking to a familiar stranger. "I understand a lot more about you now
and it gives me a greater appreciation of the man I'm about to marry."
"Yeah?" asked Caleb.
"Of course. I mean, who else—besides another fuck up—could deal with such a highmaintenance drama queen, with loads of emotional baggage, such as yours truly?" offered
Lydia.
"I don't know if that's a complement or what... but thank you."
"Anytime, Caybie."
"Nobody's perfect—and everybody wants to feel accepted, but we have to accept
that others will only accept us when we learn to, first, accept ourselves. And then maybe
we'll come to accept that other's acceptance is not all that important after all."
"Who said that?" asked Lydia.
"I don't remember," said Caleb.
"That's deep, Cay... and true."
"Yeah, well, I have my moments," he laughed.
The phone rang early the next morning. Caleb picked it up and spoke for a moment before
hanging it up as he stared at Lydia apprehensively.
"Who was it Coy?" she asked.
"It was the secretary from Dr. VOlker's office, calling to confirm your 'appointment'
on Friday."
Lydia looked at Caleb then walked to the bathroom and looked at her nose. She
hated how the bridge was slightly crooked. She hated how the tip of her nose ended in a
point, giving her the beak-like appearance of a Galapagos finch. Skeeter, she thought as she
11
7 Se
covered her nose with her hand, visualizing what her face would look like if she wasn't a
relative of Big Bird—a name the girl's at school called her—and wished that she could be as
'perfect' as the women featured in magazines. They didn't have problems like she did; how
could they possibly relate? A soft knock on the door startled her.
"Lydia, you alright in there?" asked Caleb.
"Yeah, I'm just...freshening up," she called.
"I'm going to a lunch meeting with Mark and my publisher."
"Okay."
"And I have to go to a couple book readings so I probably won't see you until Friday
night."
"Friday? But that's four days from now, Caybie..."
"I know...I have to fly to Seattle tonight, but I promise: I'll make Skype time for us
when I'm at the hotel. Now come out here and give me a kiss goodbye."
Lydia opened the door, hugged Caleb and gave him a kiss before seeing him out the
building. Alonso was coming through the door as Caleb was walking down the stairs. He
gave a Caleb a furtive glance before checking his mailbox.
"Hey Alonso...food shopping?"
Alonso said "yeah" but avoided eye contact with Caleb or Lydia. "Lydia, I'm going out
so please make sure you feed my Japanese Fighting Fish this afternoon okay? Thanks," he
muttered as he tried to hurry past them and go up the stairs.
"I'm sorry about last night Boobula; me and Cay were just arguing. We worked it out
though," said Lydia.
Alonso looked at her then Caleb and sighed, "Okay, I'm not going to take it personal.
I still love you girl."
Lydia poked out her bottom lip and spread her arms for an embrace, "Come here
Lonny." They hugged. As they stood there holding each other, Caleb stood off to the side,
awkwardly, looking at an invisible watch on his wrist. Alonso noticed the uncomfortable
look on Caleb's face and called over his shoulder, "Bring it in honey." Caleb glanced at Lydia
12
74
who gave him a stern look and laughed. Caleb walked over and gave both of them a hug.
"Oh my," laughed Alonso.
"What happened Lonny?" asked Lydia.
"I don't know if I'm just happy, or if it's all this love I'm getting right now, but...."
giggled Alonso.
"... But what?" Lydia laughed, relishing the moment.
Caleb looked at them with a puzzled expression before groaning.
Four days later, Caleb got out of a cab and rang the buzzer to Lydia and Alonso's apartment.
After getting buzzed in, he walked into the building, noticing it had been about three
months since the elevator was wrapped in orange tape which read 'under construction,' and
took the steps up to apartment J6. Lydia was waiting at the top of the stairs for him with a
gauze bandage on her face. "Missed me?" he asked then kissed her.
"Not really," she replied, before adding, "Jusfkidding Caybie; of course I missed you
silly."
"Did you get it?" he asked.
"Yes. It was sitting in my inbox for, like, two days before I realized that the video clip
was attached to an email...you know I'm not computer savvy like you. After I opened the
attachment yesterday, Lonny and I watched it."
"No, I'm talking about the... um, 'form' that we talked to Dr. Volker about."
"Oh...yeah," she hesitated.
"Does it still hurt?" he asked.
"No, not anymore."
"Huh?"
"So... about those book readings..."
"How did I do?" he asked.
13
77
"You did an excellent job. I loved your 'bedroom voice," she said in as deep of a tone
as she could muster.
Caleb laughed. "Any constructive criticism?"
"Maybe just a little more eye contact...but other than that, it was perfect... .Oh, wait
a minute; now that I think of it, Lonny did point out one mistake that you made."
"Oh shit, what part?" he asked with genuine concern.
"I'm not sure, somewhere near the end I think," she replied. Lydia turned on her
laptop and opened the email attachment. After fast forwarding the video clip, she stopped,
and motioned with her finger for him to be quiet. "Right here," she stated matter-of-factly,
"Listen":
—with its busted out windows, the emaciated building resembled the eyes
of a once-hopeful corpse. Silenus raised the bottle to his parched, cracked
lips and took a large slurp; blinking several times, with his physiognomic
Etch-A-Sketch, he wished that he could erase the melody; however, deep
down in his essence, he knew a shooting star nor a genie had the power to
erase his past... as much as he sometimes dreamt that they could, and so he
raised the bottle high and shouted in front of the villagers: 'Time is not a
woman to fall in love with, rather, she is a whore to be paid and sent on her
way.'
"Did you catch it?" Lydia asked as she paused the video clip.
"Yeah," replied Caleb with a defeated sigh.
"It's really not a big deal, Cay, but I know you hold yourself to a higher standard so I
figured you'd want to know for next time. Don't let it bum you out."
"You know I appreciate it and you're absolutely right; 'it's not a big deal," he said
before giving her a kiss. "What's going on with the bandage? How long do you have to keep
it on? I need to know these things so when we have crazy XXX-rated sex we don—"
"Hey, I can hear you two in there," Alonso yelled from the kitchen.
They laughed.
"I think I'm going to remove the bandage now," stated Lydia.
"Are you sure that's okay? Caleb inquired.
14
7'4
Before Caleb could finish his sentence, Lydia started removing the gauze. Caleb
watched in awe as she peeled off the medical tape and rolled the bandage into a ball.
"Holy shit you heal fast Lydia," Caleb exclaimed.
"I never got the work done Cay," Lydia said with a broad smile on her face.
"You know, I thought you looked the same—"
"Shut up," she said while rolling her eyes, "I know you love me."
"I love you."
"I love you more."
"I love you times a googol."
"I love you times infinity."
"... oh my god. Get a room you two," Alonso laughed as he walked into the living
room with three Coronas-and-a-lime. "Dinner's in the oven, you staying over tonight?"
Caleb took one look at Alonso's apron and burst out laughing.
15
P.M. Dunne
Exurbia
If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?
I'd be Patrick Bateman.
Why?
Because he's handsome, filthy rich and
brave enough to kill what he's incapable of loving.
At the corner of 1st and Dubois is my first victim. He's nice and fat. Not morbidly obese or
super fat—just your average can't-see-his-own-dick-when-he-pees kind of fat. I am
disgusted by his overindulgence. With skinny arms and legs, his gut makes him look ten
months pregnant...like he's about to pop.
I crouch in the shadows and wait, bide my time.
My prey stumbles around, drunk, talking to himself. It appears that he is walking
home from the bar over on Johnson Street I lick my lips as I tightly grip the piano wire in
my gloved hands. Whether it is the thick leather of my Zegna gloves or my nerves that have
me sweating, I do not know. He kicks a can and laughs. Leaning against the side of a church,
I can see across the street, to the left and right, as well as behind me if the need arises. A
stream of steaming piss shoots in an arc next to a dumpster. Without zipping his pants he
saunters up the street, in my direction. He stops—something has caught his attention. I
back up, slowly, receding into the comfort of the darkness. There is something on the
ground he is inspecting. I sigh to myself and look around; the quiet, guileless streets are as
empty as love. He drops whatever it is he has picked up and heads back up the street in my
direction. I inhale deeply and hold it. My prey approaches. Before he even notices me, the
wire is coiled tightly around his neck
I squeeze.
In his inebriated state, with his airways constricted, he will lose consciousness
quickly. He struggles even though it is obvious I am the physically superior specimen. It is
in these fleeting moments, when death is dawning, that it becomes apparent man is an
instinctual creature, a biological animal and not a superior being that has transcended
nature. Desperately clawing at my arms, he resists the shade. He is scared to embrace Truth.
The wire becomes an extension of my being as I clench. He starts to fade. A light trickle of
blood wets the inside of my wrist...our pulse is one. It is a pity I must dispose of these
gloves. I ease off pressure, just enough, allowing oxygen into his brain so he may regain his
sensibilities before I resume his transition into the
Shade, our
secret. His self-preservation
impulse diminishes after his final stores of adrenaline are expended; there is no more
resistance, no more struggle for power. I ease his slumping body, slowly, to the ground,
before pulling him into the craving darkness of the alley behind me. Most of his body has
gone limp, except the fingers of his right hand, his strong hand, which open and close as if
grasping for a flicker of light. Cavernous eyes stare back at me, echoing spiritual credo, and
I know the Shade has claimed another lover as its own.
I stare at the lover as he lies on the cold, hard concrete. A stray cat's emerald eyes
glisten in one of the window sills of the abandoned church. It mewls, at what or whom, I do
not know. Reaching inside my jacket pocket, I extract my 19th century daimyo knife and
slowly remove its sheath. The blade is only nine inches but it has a serrated edge, which is a
magnificent feat of Japanese ingenuity—a work of art. I crouch before the lover's bloated,
stubbly face before sliding the blade from the right side of the forehead to the left then
working my way down the jaw line and stopping at the chin. It glides as effortlessly as the
planchette of an Ouija board.
The shade guides it.
I inspect my handiwork momentarily before completing my near-perfect square.
After returning the blade to the right side of the forehead, I lay the knife • on the lover's
stomach. So serene. I lick my lips in anticipation before carefully removing the mask of
flesh concealing the Shade's prize. It comes off neatly and with minimal blood spilt Picking up
the knife, I wipe the blade off on the lover's shirt before placing the mask over the stomach.
My work is done tonight.
I must return.
After sheathing the knife and stashing it in my jacket pocket I leave the comfort of
the darkness, the shadows. Dry leaves blow past my feet into a ditch. Traffic lights blink
II
21
although there are no cars around. A group of scrawny adolescents huddle in front of a
Laundromat, drinking and smoking. I sigh. One of them calls out to me; however, the sintle is
satisfied.
For tonight at least.
Everyone must embrace the shatie—it is Truth; it is inevitable. The system is. elegant in its
simplicity, beauty, perfection. Unmanufactured, it is the only "system" without design.
Shale
is one.
There is no good. There is no evil...only Shade.
I spot my second victim near Sycamore Drive as she returns home with a van full of
children. The six homes of the cul-de-sac are as quiet, dark and lifeless as the night air. It is
late. Everyone is sleeping. Unbeknown to them, they are flirting with the shadows. I watch
as her and the children exit the van and enter the house with the plum shudders.
I crouch in the darkness and wait, bide my time.
Eventually, as expected, she returns to the backyard, whispering, with her phone
pressed to her ear. My heart beats still and I can faintly make out what she speaks of but it
is enough to know. To know what I've been summoned to craft. I am disgusted by her
covetousness. With her pheromones permeating the dry air, her cervix makes her smell
like a floundering harlot—a tail-wagging cum-filled bitch in heat. All she wants is a bone.
My prey brags of her sexual prowess as she lights up a cigarette and laughs. Other people's
vanity offends us, only, when it reflects our own; I know this to be true, although it has been
many years since I extinguished the flame of ego. But years later, something remains within
the chaoplasm of my subconscious like an onyx-colored cloud in the compressed void of a
black hole. I find that everything returns to the center, the singularity—the
Shade.
Suddenly my prey stops...and laughs. I lick my lips as she tries to muffle her cackle
in the thick wool of her sweater. A hand slides down the inside of her pants. I hear a low
moan. Crickets chirrup in sync with the short blink of fireflies in the woods behind me. The
back yard is surrounded by a red wooden fence. I tightly grip the ceramic cane in my gloved
III
hands and move along the side of the above-ground pool. She is now sitting in a lawn chair,
next to the pool, and is facing towards the house, away from me. I remove the chloroformsoaked rag from my pocket and quietly submerge it into the pool water, to reactivate the
chemicals, before wringing it out. She has no idea how severe the judgment is which has
been determined for her by the executive orders of fate. It is I who must carry out her
sentencing. The rag fills her mouth as I wrap my left arm around her throat and hoist her
up to my waist level. She kicks backwards, hitting me in my groin and shin, before losing
consciousness. I feel a Slight tingling sensation. Taking a tissue out the pocket of my jeans, I
reach into my pants and wipe the drip of pre-cum that has formed at the tip of my erect,
blood-engorged penis. My head is throbbing„ pulsing, when I view my victim lying in the
plush grass next to the overturned lawn chair beside the pool.
The Shade will claim another lover.
I crouch in the grass over the lover and cut off her clothing with a butterfly knife,
rolling her over so I will be able to see the look in her eyes when she wakes. I quiver with
anticipation. With the hooked end of the cane I poke her vagina as I rub her clit with the
cool ceramic. Slowly, she regains consciousness. We make eye-contact, briefly, and in that
split half-a-second of abject horror, I have jammed the un-lubricated cane a quarter of the
way inside her—about a foot-and-a-third of its entirety—and using the hooked end as a
crank, I twist. She gasps, or at least tries to, but the only noise that escapes her lips is the
darkness, the shadows, our secret.
The lover's body convulses—from pain or fear, I do not know; her eyes bulge nearly
out the sockets as she arches her back while writhing in the grass clutching the impersonal
metal of the lawn chair for support. She's received her fair share of comfort in the past but
tonight the Shade will caress her emptiness and coax it back to its cradle.
I pull the cane back, a couple inches, and then jam it back in her...all the way up to
the curve of its hook. A guttural, animalistic paroxysm explodes blood from out of the
lover's mouth like a syphilitic geyser as I watch her ripped innards leaking out of her
vagina in a peaceful, velvety ooze. I get up and snap the cane with my boot, shattering it
inside the lover's shell. Lights flood the driveway, wildlife most likely, but it is time to go
anyway as my work tonight has come to a close.
IV
23
I must return.
A car leaves the neighbor's driveway and I watch from the darkness of the tool shed
as the Shade whispers its gratitude. Letters fall out of an overstuffed mailbox. I snap the little,
red flag off and throw it on the dew-covered lawn.
The night is pleased and I am its loyal sentinel.
CD
The Shade calls. It summons me to acquaint it with new lovers, my victims, our secret
My Malthusian visions rebel against the very boundaries they once erected. Within the
citadel of the shade, lovers are protected from themselves.
There is no other way.
My next two victims—#'s three and four—live in a gated community together. And
this time, things are a little more personal. It is an honorific degree conferred upon me by
the Shade.
I must
comply.
When I arrive, the security guard lets me in, without any issue, and I coast along the
fresh blacktop smiling at the gaudy mansions as I pass them by. There are 13 estates in this
prominent gated community. Most of their owners are authors, professional athletes, club
owners, tech CEOs, musicians and movie stars. They fill me with a deep sense of
hollowness—all is lost in the vacuous nature of society's fast-paced routines; a time of
immortality-seeking beasts whose reign shall soon end.
It is inevitable.
The front light is on when I pull into the long driveway. I park and get out. The fresh
gravel crunches under my feet I can feel the trickle of water that spews out the mouth of
the bronze baby cherub, splashing in the middle of the fountain. Even without genitalia, the
angel is more real than the emasculating out-of-place-ness of the house before me. My fists
ball up. I listen to the domestic trill of the door chime's theme and lick my lips at the
thought of what I will do tonight, what I must do, and who I will be doing it to. A slender
woman opens the door and kisses me, asks me how my day was. I quickly shoot her the
V
how-the-hell-do-you-think-my-18-hour-day-was look and she scuttles away like a roach to
start dinner. A young boy—about 11—runs up to me and gives me a hug; the
Shade
whispers
into my ear. I walk into the kitchen. The woman smiles as she removes something from the
oven and calls the boy who stomps into the dining room with my Fratelli Rossetti's on. She
tells him to put them back and he runs off; the clack of the shoes on the tiles causes my left
eye to twitch. The woman asks if I am alright. I smile, outwardly, inwardly knowing we
shall soon share a beautiful secret
We sit at the table speaking about the movie "stars" I worked with on set today.
Mostly, I am silent The
Shade
compels me. I know I am less a product of my environment
than my environment is more a product of me...the darkness, the shadows. And regardless
of the "how," the transition is always magnificent, rewarding and necessary to the
maintenance of perpetual congruency, eternal suchness.
In the reliquary of life, there is death; in the conflagration of death, there is life.
And in the wake of chaos, there is order—shade.
I watch as the woman drinks the wine I have poured for her. I watch as the boy
drinks the juice I have poured for him. My prey look happy, blissfully ignorant to the true
nature of things. I wait as the forbidden fruit slowly takes over, filtering their bloodstreams
with the dialysis of the shadows, the darkness. Suddenly, the boy bends over at the table,
drops and the woman screams, running towards the boy before she herself bends over and
a tranquil convulsion inundates the selflessness remaining in her shell as she crawls over
to the boy, falls again. Holding him in her arms, she coughs violently as blood leaks out of
every orifice, every crevice. At the conflux of understanding and betrayal, she slowly turns
to face me, as I stand over her, and sobs, blood diluted with tears, before slumping flat on
her face next to the boy—two lovers drunk in the noisome waters of childlike faith.
The Shade deems them a worthy sacrifice and takes claim to their essence.
My reward shall be great. I can barely contain my excitement as I walk up the stairs
and sit on the bed, knowing I will not be able to sleep. Tonight I must prepare for the final
transitioning. The Shade will manifest Truth for all mankind by this time tomorrow. I lick my
lips as I hold the vial in my sweaty palm and stare at it. The clear liquid bubbles inside
before settling.
VI
Sif
I lay in the darkness, bide my time.
Perhaps, in the far future, an advanced civilization will pick up the pieces left behind
in the atomic dust of humanity and thrive under new conditions we cannot even begin to
fathom today. They will be greater than us and may continue to be so. However, it will not
be their choice—that decision will be the
little'S
and the Sllade'S alone.
The Shade strikes swiftly and without warning.
It is impartial in its final judgment.
Silt reigns.
Everyone must embrace it; it is inevitable.
And for those that think there are no objective truths in this world,
you will come to know Truth.
One day, soon.
If you're reading this then it's already too late...
VII
intagine that
Imagine
Imagine if
Imagine if I
Imagine if I never
Imagine if I never woke
slept
lived
died...
Imagine
Imagine if
Imagine if I
Imagine if I passed
Imagine if I passed all pain
hate
love
tethers...
Imagine
Imagine if
Imagine if I
Imagine if I transcended boundaries
distinctions
phenomena
Imagine if there were none...
Imagine...
Imagine if...
Imagine that.
Wake, OWe 'Up Before It's Over
P.M. Dunne
"No, I'm sorry. I never heard of him," said Professor Schaumberg. She waved to a professor
walking toward the parking lot.
"Do you actually expect me to believe that a college professor, with a PhD in Greek
lit, doesn't know who Morpheus—the Greek god of dreams—is? I must have 'Stupid' tattooed
on my forehead," said Mel before turning back to Vianna. "What planet are we on again?"
Pretending not to hear, Vianna glanced over Mel's shoulder at a group of students
walking along the sidewalk in the other direction and called out to them.
Mel watched as Vianna ran after them with the arms of her oversized sweatshirt
dangling behind her like a ripped straightjacket. She looked back at him nervously then ateFted
showed one of the students—who, with an expression of slight disquiet, glanced behind and on
both sides of the group before returning his attention to—a poetry book she had been working on
over the summer. Mel couldn't hear the conversation but knew it went something like: 'Hey, just
play along. I'm trying to avoid my friend over there. The crazy guy, with the long hair,
screaming at the professor. Yeah, that's the one. Don't make it look too obvious that we're
talking about him. Act like your checking out this book. And, by the way, I am an aspiring poet,
so if you want to read a little, and maybe offer a critique, that would be cool. Thanks'
"So, Mr. Williams, we're finished here today, correct?" asked Professor Schaumberg
while looking off into the staff parking lot. "I need to drive home now."
1
Mel tried to remember the crux of his argument but the memory faded like a night at
Vegas. He stared at his copy of The Oresteia hoping that some telepathic epiphany would
occur—a divine message from Calchas or Pylades—a secret transmission from paper to gray
matter that would spark something, anything. Nothing.
Professor Schaumberg nodded, to no one in particular, and walked to her car. She
reminded Mel of an old lady from his hometown, notorious for giving pennies out on Halloween.
For a brief moment they made eye contact as she pulled out of the parking lot. He cursed at her
under his breath and walked to his dorm room.
Alone with his thoughts, Mel stared at his face—which resembled a stranded planet floating in
the dark space of his dorm room—in the bottom right hand corner of his computer screen.
"Why are you sitting in the dark like a weirdo?" asked Nevaeh.
Mel looked at his sister, shrugged his shoulders, grunted.
"If we weren't related I'd be really uncomfortable right now. Why are you dressed like a
bum? You look like one of those dirty grunge rockers."
"Grunge ended in the '90s, when you were in college, Nevaeh."
"Apparently not. I'm looking at its second coming right now."
He watched his sister shift uncomfortably in her office chair then light a cigarette. "I wish
you wouldn't do that," said Mel. "You should stop.. .it's nasty."
"I'll stop when you start washing those nasty clothes that you have on—actually, now
that I think of it, you should probably burn them." She stopped to take a drag. "Yeah," she said,
matter-of-factly, "that would be better."
They sat in silence. He watched his sister scribble things on a notepad.
"So how long till you go on break?" asked Nevaeh.
"The semester ends in less than two weeks," said Mel.
His sister's face disappeared momentarily then reappeared on his screen. "I'll bet you're
excited about vacation. You got a girlfriend...or a...F.W.B?"
A loud sigh escaped his lips. "No. And what the hell is a
"C'mon, you know: Friends with benefits. That's what the kids are calling it, right?"
"I'm sorry I asked. Nevaeh, don't use that terminology again, please."
2
Nevaeh leaned closer to the camera. "What happened with that girl you were talking to
during your first year—Vivian, right?"
"Her name is Viarnia. And we're just friends."
Nevaeh laughed, put out her cigarette. "Last summer you talked about that girl non-stop.
I couldn't get you to shut up about her. Now, all of a sudden, you're 'just friends."
"That's all we've ever been.. .sorry if I misled you." Mel scratched his arm, fixed his
glasses. A Neff dart flew across the screen. He watched his sister leave, listened as she screamed
at her sons and then returned.
"You sound like a neutered cat. Mel, you seriously need to get laid. You're in college—
attending one of the biggest, if not the biggest, party schools on the East Coast—moping around
and sitting in the dark on a Friday night. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Go out, get drunk, act
stupid, have fun and get laid. That's what you're supposed to do at your age. Just make sure your
wear a condom or Mommy will kill you."
Mel zoned out, fixated on the light underneath his Alienware keyboard.
•
"Mel, are you listening to me?"
"Yeah, yeah, I heard you: 'condoms."
Groaning dramatically, Nevaeh looked up at the ceiling and clasped her hands together.
"My little brother is too young to be stressed out over one girl. God, please help him get laid so
he does not die a virgin.
And, please, tell him that he shouldn't worry and that he'll have the rest of his life to regret
throwing in the towel after he's married. Amen." She swiveled in her seat, threw a lighter to
someone off screen, and turned back. "Listen, Mel, you have two options at this point in your
life—three, if you include 'not being a loser and doing what your big sister tells you to'. one, tell
Vanna how you feel and put it all out in the open, or, two, play the friend zone and continue to
live with regret. Listen, if it's meant to be, it's meant to be; if not, move on." She swiveled in her
seat, again, sighed, and turned back. "Jeff just told me to tell you: 'shit or get off the pot."
"Really? Well, you can tell Jeffrey to—"
"Hey. Be nice to my Jeffrey. You guys should be friends. You have a lot in common,"
said Nevaeh. "He's not getting laid either."
Mel heard Jeff grumbling in the background as his sister laughed.
3
"Listen, Mel, I gotta let you go. I'll talk to you next week. Make sure you call Mommy.
Take my advice and get off campus tonight. Stop stressing out. And change your damn clothes.
Alright little bro, I love you."
"Yeah," said Mel. He closed Skype. He clicked on his college's student resource center
and did some research. He looked at his calendar: Winter break was less than two weeks away.
He dreaded the thought of flying to his mother's house and spending 'quality time' with his
extended family. Last Christmas, his mother, drunk on eggnog, went off on a 30 minute tirade
about how Christmas could not be celebrated in states 'with palm trees and no snow' then
expounded on the 'evil nature of the masculine sex.'
Music blasted as a car screeched into the student parking lot. He heard people laughing.
Mel moved the boogie board covering the window and watched as his dorm mates staggered into
the building. He waited until he heard a set of knuckles rapping against the door and opened it.
An apollonian light flooded the room, unlocking a portal to the hallway's universe. Mel's dorm
mates, Yoni and Guy, laughed. The girls leaning on their shoulders giggled.
"Hey, Melon Head, what's up dude?" said Guy, slapping Mel on the arm. The girls
giggled. Mel moved to the side, allowing the party to enter. "Why is it so dark in here?" asked
one of the girls. Yoni hissed and pretended to bite her neck. "Because my dorm mate is a
vampire and he wants to suck your blood," said Guy. One of the girls flopped down on Mel's
bed with a loud flump.
It occurred to Mel that he should say something in protest Perhaps by lying on top of
her and shouting "HELP, MY BED IS MOVING," they would get the point.
Guy motioned toward Mel's computer. "You've been working on that essay a lot, huh?"
Mel could smell the alcohol on his dorm mate's breath. He looked at the computer then
turned back to meet the desperate gleam in Guy's eye. "You didn't finish your paper—did you?"
he posed, more as a statement than as a question. Sitting at the desk, with the other girl on his
lap, Yoni poured a red substance in a bottle of, what appeared to be, tequila and shook it. Guy
looked down, sighed. "You didn't, even, start it," Mel groaned as the realization dawned on him.
"It's due Monday and the final's due right after that. I can't believe you didn't—"
"Mel, I got caught up; I thought I'd have time to do it this week," said Guy. "I can't find
anything online that fits the—"
4
"Assignment," finished Mel. "Yeah, okay, so now you expect me to write you a 12 to 15
page essay, over the weekend, while I'm working on my own?"
Even without words, Guy's somber expression said everything. The girl on Mel's bed
grabbed the bottle from Yoni, took a long swig, flopped down and laughed. "I'm gonna pay
you."
"Double," said Mel.
Nodding in agreement, Guy motioned for Mel to step out the dorm with him A group of
students partying in the hallway asked if they had any drugs. They said no.
"It's double or nothing Guy. I got a shitload of—"
"That's not a problem," said Guy, swapping masks as if he were in a party store. With a
sly grin, Guy arched his eyebrows toward the door.
Mel read between the lines: "How long?" He watched his dorm mate shake his head from
side to side and imagined the left and right hemispheres of his brain on a seesaw. It was
obviously a difficult decision.
"I don't know. We have about two and a half to three hours till they have to go back to
their dorm so..." Guy trailed off.
After the first two minutes, that leaves you with the next two hours and fifty eight minutes
to apologize right?
"Whatever Guy. Just keep her off my bed, alright?"
Guy winked.
Above, the fluorescents were headache-inducingly bright. Mel threw his hood over his
head. As he turned to leave, Guy called him:
"Don't stay out too late Melon Head."
Mel flipped him the bird.
The cafeteria was quieter than a library when Mel walked in. He purchased a slice of carrot cake
and a hot chocolate then took a seat near the back. He recognized a girl from one of his first year
classes, who, sitting at the table with her knees at her chest, remained oblivious to any presence
outside the world of her phone--even her friend, who appeared frustrated that she was being
ignored. He thought about approaching them and striking up a conversation but decided against
it. Although he could overcome his social ineptitude, it felt like a monumental task to do so, and,
5
more often than not, he found that the benefits rarely outweighed the risk. The carrot cake was
dry; he washed it down with the hot chocolate. An acidic aftertaste lingered as he recalled the
events that occurred the last time he was "kicked out."
The night began much like this one—except that, instead of being alone, he was
accompanied by Guy. After leaving campus, they met up with some of Guy's friends—two girls
who attended the community college three towns over—and walked to the beach. They lit a
bonfire, smoked marijuana and drank absinthe. They chased the girls across the beach into the
ocean and went skinny-dipping. They walked to opposite ends of the beach and had sex with the
girls. He remembered having sex on top of his flannel shirt then drinking more. He remembered
holding her hair as she threw up; he remembered the copper-like taste of wormwood and aniseed
as he retched next to the nameless girl. They all met back at the bonfire, told stories and laughed.
Their dionysian revival continued as the night drifted by, in sync, with the rhythms of the
summer tide.
Less than a week later, Cecilia dumped him after discovering pictures of that night—
which he had no recollection of taking, yet had made faces for, or had given the finger to, almost
every shot—floating around on Facebook. For months, he sat in the dark, despondent, and
dragged his feet to class while operating on autopilot. Somewhere in that nebulous blur of self
pity and regret emerged Vianna.
The girls in the cafeteria got up and walked out. A guy muttered to himself as he spilt
coffee in his lap.
For some odd reason he couldn't understand, the silence felt portentous. Mel finished his
hot chocolate, threw out his trash and left the cafeteria. He walked around campus. Garbage blew
across the courtyard like tumbleweeds as the swirling wind rippled the lake of his thoughts. He
tried to forget Cecilia, the good times that were and the ones that would never be.
Professor Schaumberg entered the lecture hall, put down her bag then leaned against the side of
her desk, casually surveying the faces seated before her. Everyone shifted nervously as they
attempted to discern the class' average by the professor's mood. Her poker face remained
indecipherable, like Braille without fingers.
6
"Excuse inc professor," said a student near the front of the class. "Have you finished
grading our papers?"
Without turning toward the student, Professor Schaumberg asked, "Are the Erinyes
daughters of Night?"
Everyone remained quiet as the professor laughed.
Mel raised his hand. Viarma shook her head and groaned.
"Yes, Mr. Williams?"
"To answer your question—"
"It was a rhetorical ques—"
"Yeah, but, I was gonna say that—"
"A joke, Mr. Williams. I was being facetious."
Laughter erupted in the class.
"But, professor, according to—"
Professor Schaumberg raised her hand, commanding silence. "We are all aware by now
that multiple translations and versions of the same myths existed simultaneously in ancient
Greece. And we are aware that Hesiod's Theogony, alongside the Homerian epics, provided the
legendary tragedians with their education and inspiration, which, of course, was also shaped by
the times that they lived in. Is there anything else you would like to add to this summary,
something that you, in one whole semester, have discovered—something I may have overlooked
in my mere 25 years of teaching.. .or can we move on?"
Mel looked over at Vituum, who slid down in her seat and gave him the stop-whileyou're-ahead look. He realized everyone was watching him, wailing to see his next move. He
cleared his throat, gathered his thoughts, "Actually, I was gonna say that the goddess Night—
along with all the chthonic deities in the Greek pantheon—symbolizes the ancient Minoan
culture, a matriarchal society, and that the Erinyes—the personification of revenge as justice—
symbolize the transition, or transfer rather, of the ancient 'family curse' from the divine realm to
the mortal world when Kronos castrated his father and gave 'birth' to the Erinyes in the Pleistos
River beneath Parnassus—a meeting of heaven and earth. The Titans represent the Mycenaean
culture while the Olympians represent the ancient Greeks,a meeting of heaven and earth...and
that's.. Alm...."
"Mr. Williams, you're talking in circles again."
7
More laughter erupted.
Professor Schaumberg waited for the class to calm down before continuing. "You've
made some valid points, but how do the connections you've made coincide with the actual
course work?"
The room was silent
"I'm getting to that," said Mel, wishing his thoughts would organize themselves and save
him the trouble. Someone near the back made cricket noises. Most of the class, including the
professor, laughed.
Ruminations flooded Mel's mind, like commuters at Grand Central, before speeding off
in opposite directions. He wanted to express out his mouth what was in his brain; however, at
that moment, it would have been easier to pull iron out of sand with a refrigerator magnet.
Battling against these cognitive distortions induced upon him a soporific effect which he
eventually conceded victory to.
Professor Schaumberg—secretly relieved to have control of the class again—interpreted
this as her own victory. "Now that we've returned from our detour, perhaps we can continue with
today's lecture." She looked at Mel, who remained impassive, and continued, "I'd like to
Segvvay into an analysis of the Froma Zeitlan article—that I'm assuming you read last week—
but before we do so, I can briefly address your concerns about the essay."
Everyone shifted in their seats. Murmurs echoed down the aisles. Papers rustled. A cough
could be heard nearby. They watched as Professor Schaumberg uncapped her mineral water and
took a long sip.
"As a professor, with no life outside of academia, there is absolutely nothing that would
make me happier than to say you guys have blown me away with your original, well-researched
and brilliantly crafted masterpieces..."
Mel drifted off at 'masterpieces.'
Another sip of water.
"...but that would be about as true as saying that humanity, in the 5 th century BC, was
any less fucked up than it is today."
Everyone sat still, perplexed at the implications of her direct indirectness until, finally, a
few nervous laughs, snorts, and groans broke the silent cacophony of the lecture hall.
8
"Sadly, after 25 years—a life sentence in some states—I find that times change but
people don't. End of class I will hand back your papers. Now: Froma Zeitlan..."
Mel put his hood up, popped in his ear buds then selected a song on his phone
(ShineDown: "Cut the Cord"), and hit play, he gave Vianna the get-me-up-at-the-end-of-class
look, slouched in his seat and closed his eyes.
At the end of class, everyone looked over their grades. Mel noticed Vianna checking out the
comments on his paper with a disgusted expression. "It's that horrible, huh?" he asked.
"I think I should hold this until after class," said Vianna.
"Let me see it."
Vianna sighed. Although she didn't want to see her friend flip out, she knew it was
pointless to deny the inevitable; once unleashed, his wrath was awe-inspiring. She watched his
grip tighten as he reviewed the essay, flipping the pages as if they were on fire—this only served
to further fan the flames. She imagined what was going on in his head: homicide, suicide,
genocide, patricide, matricide, feticide, filicide, fratricide, infanticide, parricide, regicide,
sororicide, tyrannicide, uxoricide, and even vaticide—hell, anything with a –cide in it. On the
last page, he started shaking; he cursed with all the passion of a whorehouse madam. Vianna
touched his arm, reassuring that the grade was not enough to ruin his GPA.
"Yo, Melon Head," said Guy.
"Not now," warned Vianna.
"Hey, what's your problem?"
"Not now," she repeated, firmer.
"I was just gonna thank him for getting me an A-," he said looking distracted. "So how
did you guys do?"
Vianna's eyes narrowed into slits.
Guy made a missile noise, mouthed the word `stressbox,' and then spun off to talk to a
girl with a see-through top.
"This lady is trying to sabotage me. She's gonna single-handedly destroy my GPA. I'm
gonna be put on academic probation and lose my scholarship and—"
9
ti
7
"No, you're not," said Viazum. "I did you average. As long as you pass the final with, at
least, a B or B+, you'll only go down to a 3.7. Maintain you're A- in History and A in
Philosophy, and you'll be alright." She looked around and sighed. "Don't let her get to you Mel."
Mel dumped his books in his backpack and walked toward the exit with Viarma.
"Mr. Williams."
Yes Clytemnestra?
"I'd like a word with you please." Professor Schaumberg waited until the lecture hall
emptied out before addressing him. "Mr. Williams, you went way over my 12 to 15 page limit
and—"
"It was only 20 pages."
"That's correct. However, I said you could go over, a little, if it merited more
explanation. No essay in this class merits 20 single-spaced pages. That was not the assignment.
Next time, I suggest you follow my directions or—"
"I'm confused. You penalized me in the last paper for being," Mel paused, made
quotation marks with his fingers, "too succinct'; and, now, you're penalizing me for being—as
you wrote on my paper—gong winded."
He swallowed, looked up at the ceiling.
"Professor, I don't know what you want from me. I don't think anyone in the class knows
what you want. By the looks of your syllabus, it doesn't seem like you know what you—"
"A page of bullet points, followed by three double-spaced pages of theoretical musings
and bold claims, without the use of any evidence from the primary sources, is not 'succinct,' it is
lazy. You're capable of much better work, Mr. Williams. Much. Better. You may blow through
your other classes—not this one. I do not tolerate mental laziness in this class, especially not
when I'm aware of a student's potential. A professor's duty is to gauge a student's capacity,
work ethic and grade accordingly. For whatever reason, you have not followed my directions
and—"
"Is this because I said that thing about Morpheus—"
"I'm not finished," she snapped before reaching into her bag and pulling out a folder. It
slapped loudly as she let it drop on the desk, echoing through the empty lecture hall.
"What's that?" asked Mel.
10
12i
"This," said Professor Schaumberg, placing her hand over the folder like a pink spider,
"is proof that you have been very busy this semester.
Inside the folder were essays from Yoni and Guy. Mel's mouth went on a vacation.
"Melvin Williams.. .speechless? I don't believe it," Professor Schaumberg snickered,
smoothing out the front of her suit jacket. "Mr. Williams, in less than three months, I've seen
you go from one extreme to the other—figure out what those extremes are. I'm sure if you use
your imagination you'll come to a realization of some sort. Perhaps you should try to find the
balance between those extremes, as you suggest that Aeschylus did through the ambiguity of The
Oresteia—which, of course, was right on the money; however, you didn't provide concrete
evidence to validate that theory. You merely alluded to it in your existential inquiries..."
Mel watched as Professor Schaumberg's lips moved; her words floated over his head like
a plane banner. He thought, blahblahblah I'm a sadistic psycho bitch with a PhD is Greek
literature blahblahblah, as she continued, occasionally pointing at a paper in her hand. He saw
himself sitting in the dean's office with his head down; he saw himself packing his things; he
saw Vial= hugging him, crying; he saw Yoni and Guy waving bye as he sat in the passenger
seat of his sister's car and waited to leave; finally, he mentally prepared himself to face the
disappointed look in his mother's eye—the same look she had after returning home from divorce
court when he was a child.
"...and that's why I'm not going to report this," she said, sliding the paper back into the
folder.
"You're not?" Mel felt a bead of sweat roll down his back.
"No. As long as this doesn't happen, ever, again," she said, pointing to the folder.
"Um...thanks, professor." He turned to leave.
"Mr. Williams."
"Yes?"
"It would behoove you to remember that academic scholarships are not a charity—they
are an investment."
"But what was her reason?" asked Vianna.
11.
"I don't know," said Mel.
"So I'm good, right?" asked Guy, passing a blunt to Yoni, who paused the game long
enough to take a few drags and pass it back.
"Yeah, we 're good. But I can't do anymore assignments for you because—"
"Dude, are you serious? All this because we got caught cheating once?"
Mel looked at Vianna then to Guy. "Guy, I can't keep doing this. I could lose my
scholarship if I get caught again. I can help you brainstorm but I can't—"
"C'mon, Mel. It's really not a big deal. Next time, we'll do a better job of making it look
like—"
"Guy. I'm not doing it."
"Hey, Guy, have you ever considered actually doing the assignment?" asked Vianna.
Ignoring her, Guy got up quickly and threw on his backpack.
"Where you going?" asked Mel
"I'm going to class," mumbled Guy. He stopped at the door. "You changed, Mel. I
thought you were my friend." The door slammed behind him, knocking the electronic dart board
to the ground.
Mel sat there, dumbfounded.
"It's all good Mel," said Yoni. "I completely understand. If I was here on a scholarship,
I'd do the same thing." He unpaused his game.
They sat quietly for several minutes. A cordial awkwardness remained between them,
like strangers in a public restroom.
"What's that on your shirt?" Vianna asked, pointing near Yoni's belt.
Yoni looked down. "I don't know—probably not what you think it is."
Mel laughed.
Seeming amused, Vianna probed further, "So what do I think it is?"
"I don't know," he repeated, looking squeamish.
"I think you know. And I think you know that I know what you know," laughed Vianna.
"No. I know...! mean,! don't think you..."
"Yeah," said Mel. "He knows that you know that he knows what we know what he says
he doesn't but does know."
12
Slouching down into his beanbag chair, Yoni mock-screamed, "I DON'T KNOW
WHAT'S HAPPENING," then got up and changed his shirt "Seriously. It's not what you think,"
he said. He stood there with his shirt halfway off, noticing, for the first time that afternoon, that
Mel and Vianna were sitting together on the bed.
.."Hey, urn do you guys want me to. ..leave?" he asked before spraying a cloud of Axe
above him and walking through the mist.
Mel and Vianna stared at him, with their faces scrunched up, then looked at each other.
"No, why?"
Yoni said nothing.
Like two arrows meeting in mid air, the thought connected and both understood. Vianna
blushed. Mel laughed uneasily. With his car keys swinging around his pointer finger, Yoni
turned and asked, "I'm going to town, you guys need anything?" Neither uttered a word; Mel
coughed, Vianna shook her head. They watched him leave. They listened as his Honda Civic
screeched out of the parking lot; the thunderous bass of his subwoofers faded into the distance
like a faint heartbeat.
"Well, that wasn't awkward at all," joked Mel.
Vianria laughed. "Your dorm mates are weird."
For a moment they sat there, basking in each other's presence, unsure if making a move
would further complicate their simple friendship, turning it into something more messy and
unknown: a relationship. They were startled by a knock at the door. A girl asked for Guy. Mel
told her that he was at class. Looking unconvinced, she snuck a peek into the room and walked
off. Vianna asked who the girl was. Mel asked if she was jealous, then immediately hoped she
perceived that he was joking, although he wasn't. Her expression gave no indication of her inner
world, which Mel found odd since she, usually, wore her heart on her sleeve like a nicotine
patch.
"You have any plans tonight?" she asked. "With all these girls kicking down the door, I
don't know how much longer we'll have to hang out together. Most girls don't like their
boyfriends hanging out with other girls, you know?"
"I don't think you have anything to worry about," laughed Mel. "They're not kicking
down the door for me." He took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt.
Vianna smiled. "Whatever, playboy, let's take a walk."
13
Outside a pizzeria, eating Italian ices under a large umbrella, Mel felt protected from the world
by the mushroom-like canopy above. A light drizzle glittered across the sunny sky like a
kaleidoscope.
"This is nice," said Vianna. "I can't remember the last time we hung out like this."
"Yeah," agreed Mel. "It kind of feels like..."
"Like what?"
It suddenly occurred to Mel that he was still stuck on Cecilia. Although he thought of her
daily, until that moment—or perhaps, over the last several months, through a slow series of
personal revelations which culminated, like a leaky faucet, into what he perceived as that
moment—he had never been able to view their relationship objectively. Like a warped
microscope slide, his lens was distorted. They were never in love; they were in lust. Mel wasn't
sure if he believed in "love"—a four letter word cherished by hopeless romantics and conflicted
poets. He recalled numerous missed opportunities from his months of sulking, and as he shared
with his best friend this realization, his appreciation for her only deepened as she uncorked the
words bottled in his heart:
"Don't stress over things you can't change. The past has passed and the future may never
come."
They sat quietly as they watched two children, a girl and a boy, chasing each other in the
mostly empty parking lot, not caring that they were getting wet, followed by their mother, who
tried to scold them while juggling three large pies, obviously upset that they were all getting wet.
An elderly couple got out of a white Oldsmobile and shuffled into the pizzeria. A red Suzuki
drove by and honked. Viamia waved. Mel asked who it was. She asked if he was jealous, he said
no. She threw her plastic spoon at him and ran. He chased after her until they were both bent
over, at the knee, gasping for air. They stared at each other Vianna opened her mouth, said
nothing. Mel noticed her hair was the shade of a sun-bathed newspaper, her eyes like two drops
of coffee. He wanted to taste her lips, her psycho candy voodoo. Something held him back.
They left the. boardwalk and headed back to campus, finding it humorous that the rain
stopped as they headed indoors.
•••
14
101
A paper plane flew over Professor Schaumberg's head and crashed into the chalkboard behind
her. Everyone laughed. "Thank you, Mr. Carter, for that lesson in aerodynamics," said Professor
Schaumberfrstaring straight at Guy. "Perhaps if you had put that much effort into your final
paper, you would have known that," she paused, flipped through the stack of essays on her desk,
then continued, "the protagonist, Orestes, did not 'run to Athens to avoid prison time' and you
also would have known that The Oresteia was not 'based off of the movie Troy."
The class erupted in laughter. Guy slid down in his seat.
"Okay everyone, I'm going to hand out your papers now. Since today is, unfortunately,
our last day together, all free from the academic chains of Tartarus. If anyone wishes to consult
with me, you may do so before leaving," said Professor Schaumberg before taking a sip of water.
"I hope you all enjoy the holiday break."
The lecture hall quickly cleared out. Only Mel, Vianna and another student remained.
Mel decided to go last. Professor Schaumberg looked up as he approached her desk.
"Mr. Williams, what would you like to talk about?"
"You gave me a good grade."
"That's correct."
Mel stared at the woman seated before him, half expecting her to reveal herself as the
Pythia. "Why?"
"Because you earned it," she said as she packed her things. She got up and walked toward
the exit, motioning for Mel to follow her.
"But I didn't follow your guidelines," he said as they weaved around students in the
hallway.
"No, you didn't," she agreed before smiling. "You weren't supposed to."
Mel stopped. A student crashed into him from behind. Professor Schaumberg kept her
brisk pace. He caught up to her. "I don't get it. What do you mean?"
"Mr. Williams, I've told you before: A professor's job is not to teach their students but to
guide their students, to help them to teach their selves."
"So.. .you've been messing with me?"
"You make it sound overly sinister—but, in a way, yes."
"You drove me to the brink of insanity..."
15
"And you ended the semester with a fantastic essay, the best essay I've ever graded from
a sophomore—or any student to be honest."
They exited the school building behind a group of students chattering away about their
plans for the next two months. They walked to the staff parking lot. Professor Schaumberg
stopped abruptly, looked at Mel. "If you don't mind, I'd like to include your essay in next year's
course reader.
Mel stared at her with his mouth open. She seemed eager and genuine. Something was
different about the look in her eye. With so many thoughts racing through his mind, like sperm
toward an egg, he found it hard to isolate one. After a while, he settled on, "Am I dreaming?"
"Perhaps the questions you should be asking is: will you wake up before the dream
ends?"
The cafeteria was packed. After waiting on line, for what felt like an hour, Mel purchased the
California wraps, fruit salad and lemonade then looked for a seat. None were available. He put
his lunch in a plastic bag and walked out.
Sprawled out on blankets in the grass, scattered groups of students talked with each other
while enjoying the sun. Mel walked to the center of the courtyard. A couple exited the gazebo as
he approached; he watched as they walked away holding hands. Eating alone, he went over his
mental To-Do list:
1) Skype Nevaeh
2) Do laundry
3) Order plane ticket
4) Eat dinner
5) Meet Viarma @ Cyber-café
6) Watch Game of Thrones
7) Bed
He left the gazebo, threw out his garbage and walked back to the dorm.
16
(09
"I told mommy to Western Union you the money," said Nevaeh on Skype.
"Well, I don't have it,"
"Are you sure? You didn't spend it on drugs did you?"
"Nevaeh, I hate when you ask me stupid questions like that."
"I'm sorry, Mel, it's just that.. .I've been hearing a lot of crazy stories on the news lately.
All over America, college kids are dropping dead off 1(2 and bath salts." She paused, shook her
head. "I don't get it. What the hell would possess someone to smoke that shit? Yesterday, they
said a guy in Nebraska bit off his friend's face after smoking—"
"Nevaeh..."
"Yes, little brother?
"You're starting to sound like mom."
"I'll send you the money." She stopped suddenly, hushed Mel. Her eyes widened. "Oh
God, hold on."
Mel listened as his sister attended to her son, who insisted she put two quarters in the
'Swear Jar' for saying 'naughty words.' She returned a few moments later.
"I see my nephew's got you on lock," said Mel.
"Fuck you," laughed Nevaeh. She lit a cigarette.
"Still smoking like a chimney, huh? When are you gonna quit?"
"I don't know, Mel, I'm working on it. Jeffrey switched to vaping so I might try that." A
blue cloud billowed out her nose and mouth.
"What are you gonna do when you catch Nick and Jeremy smoking in the backyard?
You gonna tell them to try vaping?"
"Hell no. I'm gonna break my foot off in their asses."
"Do as I say—not as I do?" laughed Mel.
"Exactly." Nevaeh took a drag. The door bell rang. "I think that's Jeffrey, hold on." She
got up and came back.
"So how was your last day of school?"
"It was fine until I got into a fight with my dorm mate."
"Oh no, what happened?"
17
Mel sighed. "I don't know. When I came back from lunch, he started flipping out,
accusing me of taking his weed and saying that 'we should room with other people.' He's mad
because I'm not helping him to cheat anymore." He paused then continued, "I sent an email to
the main office to request the move so, hopefully, that will happen before the winter semester
begins I kind of knew something like this would happen eventually—better now than in the
middle of the semester. Anyway, I think this will be a good change."
"I'll bet he was on that Molly."
"Nevaeh."
"Sony."
"Can I ask you something?"
"You just did."
"Do you urn think that sex complicates a relationship?"
"Mel, are you trying to tell me something?" she laughed. "Before you do, I want to tell
you that I accept you for who you are. You're my little brother and—"
"C'mon, Nevaeh, be serious. I'm asking you for your advice."
"I don't know I guess it depends on the relationship. It's hard to answer your question
though, because no matter how much communication there is, at least one or the other, if not
both, will eventually catch feelings. It's almost inevitable. But whatever boundaries you have,
they should be established in the beginning."
"That doesn't really answer my question."
The door behind Nevaeh opened and Jeff stepped into view. She swiveled in her chair to
face him. She asked him how his day was. Mel heard him grumble as he walked out of the
camera's view. He thought he heard him yell something about 'socks.' He watched one of his
nephews fly across the screen, followed by the other with a wiffieball bat. He heard something
crash. This time, Jeff ran by followed by Nevaeh. He heard his nephews crying. More grumbling
about socks. Finally, Nevaeh returned. She cradled her head in her palm and sighed. He waited
for her to light her cigarette before speaking.
"Thank you," said Mel.
"For what?" asked Nevaeh.
"I think you just answered my question."
18
After doing a load of laundry, Mel packed a week's worth of clothes and left the dorm. In three
days, his mother would be expecting him to arrive at her home in rural Washington State. The
week would drag along like road kill but he knew he'd get through it; the real problem he faced
would be staying preoccupied until the next semester. He could easily get lost in his thoughts and
never find his sanity.
Night approached as the sun drowned in the sea. Mel saw this as a good omen. He
imagined how things would play out over the evening—three possible outcomes: Mel Hefner,
Mel Montague, or Mel Williams.
Whenever he felt himself drifting off—to the outermost regions of the ether—he'd recall
the time when his parents were together, when heaven and earth were one, and, clinging to that
tether, he'd dwell on the memory, as if to keep time from passing, sensing deep within that an
imperceptibly rapid deviation was occurring—like a wave-particle model—which he could
neither control nor stop and so he did the only thing he could and let the thought go—dropped it
rather—leaving it behind as he walked in the direction of the cyber-café.
19
Year of the Rabbit
Amine
A CAR DOOR SLAMMED OUTSIDE. Key's jingled. Heavy footsteps could be heard nearby.
Zachary ran to the window and looked out onto the street below. After sighing in relief he tried
to distract himself, lose himself rather, in his computer game. However, much like a corrupt,
non-profit organization, it was a lost cause.
Hearing another car door slam outside, he ran to the window again and looked around.
The neighbors were home. It could be hours before he came arrived. Zachary felt nauseous. His
clammy t-shirt clung to his chest, in the way midges do to flypaper. His testicles ached as if a
girl kicked them. Suddenly, the phone rang. Zachary flinched. His heart thumped a trillionbeats-per-second as he stared at the cordless phone in the living room. Did lie know?
He swallowed, what felt like a cannon ball stuck in his throat, before picking up the
phone in his tremulous hands.
"Zachary?"
"Yes?"
"What are you doing?" his aunt demanded.
"Just hanging out...."
"Did you finish your homework?"
"Most of it," he lied.
"How was school today?" she asked in a cheery tone.
"Fine." He shifted the phone nervously from one ear to the other and scratched his knee.
"You wouldn't be lying to me—would you?"
Zachary's heart pounded. He had less than half-a-millisecond to decide...lie or confess.
He decided to try his luck—either way, he was taking a chance: life is about chances. So why
confess when there's still hope? "Nope," he replied.
109
His aunt cleared her throat. "I'm very disappointed in you Zachary.. .last chance to come
clean. Think carefully before you answer," she warned.
While considering her words, he held his breath for a moment and stared at the phone's
cradle. Was she bluffing? Did she really know? If she didn't know and he told her the truth, at
this point, it would look worse and he would be punished anyway. If she did know, he would be
caught dead-to-rights. Either way, he was lying his ass off like a dusty rug. Past the point of
no-return, Zachary intuited there was no going back—only forward. And he would not be
made a fool. Not now.. .not ever. "I already told you: No," he replied, sounding more assured
than he felt.
"You're sure?" By the tone of her voice, it sounded like she knew, but he couldn't be sure; Zachary
quickly shook the thought from his head and went with his gut. "Yep," he answered.
"Oh yeah? Then tell me why I received a call from Mr. Reinburg today—at work.
Explain that, smart guy."
"I-I-I di-didn't...." Zachary tripped over his words like a quadriplegic track star. There
was nothing to say.
He was busted.
The phone in his hand, a foreign apparatus; the voice on the other line, an apparition. I
Forgetting that his hand held something, he watched as the phone clattered on the floor,
shooting the battery under the entertainment center. Standing there, shaking, Zachary saw his
life flash before his eyes, frame-by-frame, like watching the numbers on a digital stopwatch
counting down to zero. On instinct, he ran to the next room and snatched up the kitchen phone.
"Hello?"
"Zachary, what the hell happened?"
"I dropped the phone, on accident."
"Yeah, well, it better not be broken or you know `somebody's' going to have a fit," she
said. He heard a man ask her something. She typed away at her keyboard and sighed.
"It's okay," he assured her, unsure if what he said was true. "There's nothing wrong
with it." Zachary walked out the kitchen into the living room then back into the kitchen again.
"You better hope so—for your sake."
"You're not going to tell him, are you?" he begged.
A low snicker escaped her lips. "Of course I am."
2
WI
"Why?" he whined.
"Because you lied, again. And I gave you plenty of opportunities to own up to it but you
decided to betray my trust. You just never learn, do you?"
"I can explain," stammered Zachary
"Oh I know.. .you're gonna explain alright. But not to me," his aunt stated before
adding, "your uncle will be home tomorrow afternoon. Try not to get in any more trouble and
make things worse for yourself than they already are."
"Okay," he responded, absently.
"I'll be home in an hour with dinner."
"Okay."
The line went dead.
That night, he tossed and turned till morning.
Waiting at the bus stop, Zachary noticed an army of ants along the curb. He watched as they
marched towards an empty can of soda and entered it. He waited, but they didn't come out.
Cassandra, a girl who went to school with Zachary, turned to her friend Erin.
"He's, like, so disgusting," she whispered.
Her friend looked over at Zachary examining the soda can then back at Cassandra. "I
know. Can you believe Bianca actually has a crush on him?" she giggled.
"Oh. My. God. No. No, please tell me you're joking," Cassandra laughed.
"Hey, I can hear you talking about me," shouted Zachary.
Cassandra and Erin looked shocked for a moment then fixed their faces. "So what, we
knew you were listening," said Cassandra.
"No, you didn't," challenged Zachary.
"Mind your own business, loser. We were talking about you, not to you," Erin chimed in.
"Whatever," he said before returning to the soda can.
"Whatever," Cassandra mocked.
"Yeah, 'whatever,' you freak," added Erin.
"Loser."
"Weirdo."
3
'IC
He ignored the girls and watched as some of the ants marched out of the can in a
straight line. The girls walked closer, cursing at him and laughing. "Fuck you," he growled.
"O000h," they laughed.
With his fists balled, Zachary threatened to hit them.
"I'll get my big brother, Arnold, to kick your ass. He's in high school so you better
watch how you talk to me you dirt bag," yelled Cassandra.
"Oh yeah? You want to see what I'll do to your punk brother, huh?" Zachary screamed
before slamming his foot down on the soda can and stomping all the ants on the curb. "Oh look,
there's Cassandra running away...00ps, sorry. Erin, is that you heading for the grass? Don't
leave, the party just started," he laughed maniacally as he continued killing all the ants near the
bus stop.
"Psycho," whispered Cassandra. She looked over at her friend. Erin watched Zachary
with her mouth open.
The bus pulled up.
***
Holding his breath, he waited until the silver SUV drove into full view before he exhaled again.
False alarm. It looked similar except the black trim on the side. Zachary thought about running
away. He wanted to get away.
Where would he go?
He climbed on his Mongoose bike and rode down the street. At the corner, a group of
children played kickball. The red ball rolled towards him. Out his peripheral, Zachary saw a
silver automobile approaching. The SUV stopped at the corner, made a left and drove off. Same
one as earlier. A popular model. Zachary looked back In the middle of the street was the ball—
flat as road kill. One of the kids, a scraggly-haired lice-infested boy, yelled as Zachary rode off.
With the pedals under his feet he felt free, unstoppable. There were times when he wished his
bike could travel at light speed and take him far away. Where to, exactly, he didn't know.
Just far away.
So far, it had been a mild summer, barely reaching into the 80s. Zachary loved how the
cool, valley breeze tickled his hair follicles as it ran through his scalp. He rode without
thinking. He pedaled hard up steep hills and closed his eyes as he drifted down the other side.
4
It
Enjoying the ride, the freedom. Cars flew by at an intersection. He noticed that most of the
houses in the neighborhood had yet to install their air conditioners. He fiddled with the gears
on the handlebars. The spokes on his bike spun vinyl-ishly as he continued to coast past
buildings he no longer recognized. His knees quivered. He gulped. Suddenly, like a dog that
tired after chasing a squirrel into a dense wooded area, Zachary hit the brakes and looked
around. Where was he? Where was he going?
He had no idea.
An older teenager sat in a near-by car while puffing on a cigarette Zachary rode up to
the car and approached the driver side window. After speaking briefly, the teenager walked into
a convenience store and came out with a pack of Newports. The teenager pocketed the change
and handed him the pack. Zachary quickly shoved it into his pocket, got back on his bike and
rode off. It cost him $10, for a $5 pack, but it was well worth it. He rode awhile until he got
tired and stopped behind a gas station. Zachary savored the 'fresh pack smell' a moment before
removing a menthol and lighting it. He loved the lightheaded feeling it gave him as the smoke
filled his lungs. He coughed. As he viewed his surroundings, it became clear that he had ridden
to the next town over, a small village nestled in the woods by a lake; a lake surrounded by
trees—trees suffocated in ordinariness.
The temperature dropped as the day passed away, allowing the night to creep across the
sky like a planetary body bag. Zachary shivered and zipped up his hoody. He looked at his
watch; whole hours had flown by, eluding capture. His aunt would have been home for awhile
now, certainly pondering his absence. Would she call the police? Send a search party? Or
worse, tell him? If his uncle was home then he'd know of course. He pictured him driving
around for hours with bloodshot eyes. Zachary's body ached. There was still a chance to go
back. There would be consequences, but also an opportunity to escape with a well thought-out
plan. He had no food, no money or even a change of clothes—where would he go? To live with
a friend? That might be hard to do considering he had none of those either. Even though
everything in his soul screamed in defiance of his brain's command, he listened to his mind
instead of his heart and hoped for the best. After smoking another cigarette, Zachary rode home.
Or rather, the place he rested his head at.
A little under two hours later, Zachary arrived at the house with the brown siding and
tan shutters. He dumped his bike near the garage and walked around back. The door was
5
locked. So was the front. Zachary held his' breath as he rang the bell, waiting for whatever
would meet him on the other side.
"Where the hell were you?" his aunt yelled.
He sighed in relief, temporarily.
"You had me worried sick about you, I thought you'd run away, or worse, gotten
kidnapped. What the hell is wrong with you? You know you're not allowed outside at this
hour—especially not while you're punished. Get in the house," she commanded.
"I'm sorry—"
"I don't give a shit how sorry you are. Where the hell were you?"
"Just riding around," he answered with his head down.
"Just riding around," she mimicked. "That's your answer? Oh, your uncle's going to
hear about this.. .wait till he gets home." His aunt stormed out of the foyer and into the kitchen.
Zachary watched as she poured herself a full glass of wine then slammed the bottle down on the
counter. He jumped. "Your dinner's sitting in the oven; I made pot roast. The potatoes and
asparagus are in the dining room. They're probably cold by now... make yourself a plate then
go upstairs to your room. I don't want to see you for the rest of the night—got it?" she asked.
"Yes.
"Good. Now get out of my face."
He woke up to a bloody nose and a man screaming over him. Halfway between sleep and terror,
Zachary struggled, trying to make out the words stabbing the air, puncturing the soft silence.
Looming over him with spit flying out his mouth stood his uncle. Grasping a handful of
Zachary's collar in one hand, he slapped him repeatedly with the other.
"You little shit," he screamed. "I should beat the living shit out of you. What happened
in school, Zachary?" His uncle yelled while Zachary covered his face with his hands, blood
smeared on his shirt. "I'm talking to you. Look at me when I'm talking to you—stupid son of a
bitch." Another open-handed blow to the side of the head curled Zachary. He could feel his eye
twitching. "What happened in school?" he repeated between clenched teeth.
"I don't know," whined Zachary.
6
I I!
"What do you mean, you don't know?" Another blow, this one to the back of the head.
Zachary's vision became blurry as his eyes drowned in the salty fluid leaking from them. His
uncle grabbed his shirt again, tighter. "So help me god, Zachary, if you don't start explaining
real soon—"
"Mr. Reinburg, he said...," Zachary whimpered, struggling to breathe as blood leaked
from his sinuses into his throat. He choked and swallowed it.
"Said what?" his uncle growled.
"That I was ta-talking in cl-class and be-being disrup-disruptive," Zachary replied,
curled up in a ball.
"Why?" his uncle screamed.
No answer.
"I come home from work and I gotta deal with this bullshit from you?" he screamed,
more as a statement than a question.
"I don't know, I just—" he yelped before blacking out after the next blow. He could hear his
uncle's voice drifting away. Before he heard the door slam, his uncle said, "I'll deal with you
tomorrow—got off for the next three days. Just me and you, buddy."
Just me and you. ..
After school Zachary prayed that when he made it to the house, his uncle's SUV would be gone.
It was an unrealistic dream. His uncle waited for him in the driveway with a pair of heavy duty
work gloves and a large industrial bucket.
"Me and you are gonna have a nice, little talk later. I'm going into town to pick up a
couple things for the house. While I'm gone, I want you to fill up this bucket with them rocks
by the mailbox," he said pointing behind him, "and drop them off in the back and then do it
again until the pile is gone. I don't give a shit if it takes you all night. You're not coming inside
until you're finished. And you are not to leave for any reason. Do you understand me?" he
asked.
"Yes," Zachary said with his head down.
"Yes, what?"
7
"Yes sir," he said. He watched as his uncle got in the silver SUV and backed out the
driveway. When the vehicle was out of sight, Zachary lit a cigarette and sat down. He felt the
minty smoke fill his lungs as he puffed on it, taking deep drags off the filter till he became
lightheaded. He walked to the mailbox and put the work gloves on. The sun shone brightly in
front of the clouds, blinding him. Zachary closed his eyes and saw a circle. Whether it was blue,
green, yellow or orange he did not know. He blinked several times till it went away. Feeling
woozy, he flipped the bucket upside down and sat on it. He practiced blowing smoke rings.
Several minutes later he started his work. After filling the bucket, he walked to the back
yard and dumped it. He went back and did it again. And again. And again until his palms
blistered from sliding around inside the oversized work gloves. He regretted ripping off one of
the blisters, almost as soon as he did, when he felt how it burned upon contact with the inner
lining of the worn out glove.
In the backyard was a wood pile. Zachary moved one of the logs to reveal a family of
mice huddled together. As soon as they noticed his presence looming over them they scurried
around frantically, squeezing under logs and running for cover. One of the smaller mice, a baby,
too young and inexperienced to escape, squeaked, realizing it was trapped in the wood pile.
Zachary laughed and grabbing a large rock from the bucket, brought it down on the mouse as
hard as he could The mouse squeaked, again, differently this time, as Zachary pounded it into a
bloody ball of fur and mush.
He watched proudly as its tail twitched.
Unaware of the time, he hadn't realized that his uncle returned and went inside while he
was in the back dumping rocks. He finished as the sun faded behind the valley. "You ain't
finished yet?" his uncle called from the backdoor.
"Yes, sir, I just finished," he replied.
"Took you long enough.. .get in the house."
Shortly after, his aunt returned home from work with dinner. Zachary sat in the dining
room eating while his aunt and uncle spoke in the kitchen. He could overhear some of the
conversation. His uncle entered the dining room and sat across from him Zachary tried to
focus on his food while his leg shook under the table. He waited to be berated by the man at the
table. Yet his uncle sat there, quietly, observing him as he picked at his food. His uncle moved a
plate on the table.
Zachary flinched.
8
II
"Hurry up and finish. We need to talk and I don't got all night."
Zachary acknowledged his uncle and with trembling fingers picked up his glass. The
glass stung as he clasped it in his blistered hand. He brought it to his quivering lips, took a sip
and felt some of the water dribbling down his chin onto his shirt.
"Watch what you're doing, slob," his uncle reprimanded before leaving the dining room.
"Sorry," said Zachary. After finishing his meal he got up, washed the plate off in the sink
and set it on the drying rack. He walked into the living room where his uncle sat watching a
football game on TV.
"Sit your ass down."
He complied.
"You're tired, huh?" his uncle asked.
Zachary nodded. "Yes."
"Well, you better get used to it if you don't buckle down in school and get better grades.
The way you're going, you'll be lucky if you have a pot to piss in and a cardboard box to lie on.
Is that what you want? To be a bum like your mother?" His uncle scowled at him.
Zachary looked at the man before him. He often fantasized about killing him when he
got older, bigger, tougher. He imagined how good it would feel to choke him, punch him, or,
even, stab him in the eye... what it must feel like to be free. "No sir," he replied, blankly.
"Explain to me what happened in school," his uncle said, without taking his eyes off the
TV screen, before adding, "and it better be the truth."
"I already told you—"•
"Lose the fucking attitude before you lose your head; I swear to god, I'll knock you right
out your shoes Zachary," his uncle interrupted.
Zachary's leg started shaking again. "Mr. Reinburg accused me of talking in class and
being disruptive but I wasn't."
"So Mr. Reinburg is lying Is that what you're telling me?"
"Yes. I think he mistook me for someone else and—"
"What reason does your teacher have to call your aunt at work, again, complaining
about you being a pain in the ass? You expect me to believe that he's making this all up to ruin
your life? Who the hell are you? You're not that important...."
"No.. .1 don't know. I wasn't talking though," Zachary said.
The referee blew a whistle on a play leading into a commercial break.
9
ItG
"You got a week of 'In School Suspension," his uncle screamed at him. "And you weren't
doing anything wrong? I'll tell you what, Zachary, if you're innocent, we'll drive to your school
tomorrow and talk to Mr. Reinburg and the principal to clear this up—I'll even apologize for
not giving you the benefit of the doubt and tell the principal to make sure Mr. Reinburg leaves
you alone. We'll get you moved out of that class... .But if I find out that you're lying to me,
which I think you are, then there's going to be hell to pay. Right now, I'm going to give you a
chance, one chance only, to come clean and not waste my time: did you or did you not talk in
Mr. Reinburg's class?"
Zachary considered the situation before him. He knew he was innocent, this time, but
there had been plenty of times that he wasn't. And his teacher was sick of him. The truth is that
Zachary wasn't stimulated by Mr. Reinburg's class, any of his classes really, and found it hard
to learn in such a chaotic environment. He got in trouble so much that his teacher just assumed
that Zachary was the cause of every problem. There was nothing to gain, fighting for the little
honor he had, by defending himself, against an adult, when it was he who had built the
foundation of his school career upon a reputation of notoriety; no one else could take credit for
that. It was his word against his teacher's. Zachary sighed. He couldn't win.
"Well, I'm waiting," his uncle pressed.
"I was talking?
"So you were talking, huh? I knew you were lying—you stinking son of a bitch."
Zachary saw his uncle's jaw tighten before he felt the blow to his mouth.
"When are you gonna learn? When I beat you into a fucking pulp?"
Zachary covered his mouth, muffling his cry. He tried to get up and leave. Where to, he
didn't know. His uncle pushed him back down on the couch.
"What the hell are you crying for, huh? What are you...a fagot?"
Something came over him. He stared at his uncle a moment, sucking in his fattened lip
and said, "Fuck off asshole." What happened next was expected, somewhat. His uncle jumped
up, grabbed Zachary by his collar, picked him up and slammed him into the wall above the
couch. The dry wall caved in, under the pressure of Zachary's slender frame, leaving an imprint
similar to a chalk outline at a crime scene. A picture on the wall fell, shattering glass on the
hardwood floor. Zachary felt his uncle applying pressure on his throat. He couldn't breathe. His
aunt came running down the stairs screaming. As she distracted his uncle, begging him to stop,
he took advantage of the opportunity and punched him in the nose as hard he could. Looking
10
1I ?
more shocked than vexed, his uncle gathered his senses before dropping Zachary on the floor.
Zachary darted for his room and slammed the door.
"Are you insane? You could've killed him," she shrieked.
"I should've killed that fucking kid. He's out of line—way out of line. He's gonna learn
some respect around here, if nothing else," he screamed before punching a hole in the wall and
stomping out the house.
He watched from the window as his uncle's silver SUV screamed down the street.
***
Months later, Zachary sat alone on the school bus staring off at the endless line of trees in the
distance. From his perspective it appeared that the bus wasn't moving When he looked down
at the street, however, he realized how fast they were travelling. The yellow line made him
dizzy so he looked up.
The back of his seat smashed into his spine, shocking him. Someone was using his seat
for karate practice. Zachary spun around. It was Cassandra and her giraffe-neck boyfriend,
Ronald.
"Can you stop that, please? I'm not in the mood today," he said.
"Okay, tough guy, take it easy...we don't want any problems," Ronald laughed before
looking at Cassandra who giggled in amusement.
"You're right, you don't want any problems. Now leave me the hell alone."
Cassandra kicked the seat again. Zachary gritted his teeth and tried to ignore them. When he turned back to the window
he felt something wet against his cheek; Cassandra smeared lipstick on him, drawing a red X on
his face. He spun around, snatching the lipstick from her hand and threw it out the window.
"Hey, you piece of shit. What do you think you're doing, fagot?" she yelled.
Zachary slid his hand in his pocket, gripping a lock.
Ronald made a move to sit up, but before he could, Zachary smashed him in the teeth
with the lock. Cassandra screamed. The bus stopped and the driver yelled, threatening to call
the police. An explosion went off in Zachary's head. Everything went blank. All he remembered
was grabbing Cassandra by the hair and smashing her head against the window until the bus
driver finally ripped them apart.
11
'It
"When are you gonna learn, Zachary, huh?" his aunt asked. He stared out the window of his
aunt's navy blue Impala and ignored her. After their meeting, the principal decided to have him
expelled from the entire school district. Zachary looked at the middle school he would never
attend again. He couldn't care less. With a wry expression, he watched as a couple kids that he
knew, but never befriended, stared at him in dread. It was a feeling he could get used to.
"I didn't do anything. They attacked me," he said.
"You put those kids in the hospital Zachary," she shouted at him. "Are you gonna pay
their goddamn medical bills?"
Zachary sat in silence, stewing.
"Of course not. But you know who will, right?" she posed, rhetorically.
"I'm sorry but—"
"I don't want to hear it," his aunt screamed in• his face. "I don't want to hear your
cockamamie excuses anymore. What are we gonna do with you?" She put the car in reverse and
pulled out of the school's parking lot.
"I don't want to live with you anymore. I want to live with grandma and grandpa,"
Zachary stated.
"I don't care what you want. I want a lot of things too, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna
get it: living with grandma and grandpa is not an option. When you're 18, you can do whatever
you want, but until then—"
"I have to be your slave," Zachary interrupted, regretting it—although he meant it—as
soon as it slipped off his tongue. His aunt slapped him across the cheek, leaving a small gash in
the flesh where her nail snapped. After looking down at her ruined manicure she screamed at
him like a caged animal Zachary felt his eye twitching. He turned and looked out the window,
feeling her, hand print on his face. It took all he could to not strangle her with the driver side
seatbelt strap. He didn't plan on waiting another six years for his freedom. Eventually he'd
have to take it.
Grab it from the sky and hold on for dear life.
When the car pulled into the driveway Zachary ran into his room and hastily packed an
overnight bag. His aunt sat in the kitchen smoking a cigarette and caught him just as he walked
down the stairs.
12
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" She didn't wait for a response before
lunging at him. He felt her nails digging in his throat. She wouldn't let him go. He threw an
elbow, making contact with her chin Stumbling backwards, she crashed into a bookshelf and
knocked over a stack of CDs. "You son of a bitch. I swear, I'll kill you if you ever come back," he
heard her scream as he ran out the backdoor. He hopped on his bike and took off. Where he was
taking off to, he had no idea. None whatsoever. If only he could get away.
Far, far away.
The police caught him almost 24.-hours later as he rode along the highway-20 miles
from the George Washington Bridge—and brought him home. His uncle thanked the police,
closed the door and rolled up his sleeves. Zachary dropped his overnight bag off his shoulders
and put his hands up. Never before had he challenged his uncle. Thirty minutes went by before
his uncle realized he needed to rush him to the nearest emergency room.
Everything was a blur.
***
A light dusting of snow coated the front lawn. Zachary waited for his ride to show up. His
aunt's friend—whose son went to a school in a neighboring district—was on her way to pick
him up and drop him off at his new school. He tried rolling a snowball but found that the raw
material wasn't sticky enough to form the proper shape he needed; it crumbled in his hands like
confetti. Three days out the week his aunt's friend would drive him to school, and the other two
his aunt or the neighbors would. In the afternoons, someone that worked at the school, who
also lived in their town, would bring him back home.
Only a month passed, and yet Zachary made a full recovery. Both ribs were healing
nicely along with the shoulder blade and fractured chin bone. His aunt and uncle noticed a
different look in his eye. They noticed he became more introverted and listless. And this scared
the hell out them.. especially after they found the dissected cat in the driveway and questioned
him about it—that he said nothing in response terrified them more. Most days they left him
alone; and others they treated him kindly, for the time being, which Zachary found strange.
Things were dfferent
It'
Zachary stared at the placemat in front of him. The colorful paper displayed 12 animals around
the border and in the center the corresponding year. He flipped the paper over and read the
generic profile. His sign was, supposedly, one of the luckiest in the whole zodiac. Zachary didn't
feel very lucky though.
"Hey, wake up," his uncle said, startling him.
Without making eye contact, Zachary lifted up his head in acknowledgement.
"Hey, you, look at me when I'm talking to you," his uncle said, voice elevated. "What the
hell is wrong with you?"
Zachary's bottom lip quivered as he fought back the tears that had for months begged to
be freed.
"Leave him alone Aaron, he doesn't want to talk," interjected his aunt. She looked
around the restaurant nervously before reminding him under her breath, "We're in public right
now."
Dismissing his wife with the wave of his hand, Zachary's uncle continued, "I've been real
easy on this kid lately, but now he's starting to push the envelope—enough is enough."
Turning to Zachary, "You think can test the waters because we're out in public?" he accused.
Zachary shook his head.
"I don't know what this means," his uncle said, imitating Zachary's gesture.
"No," said Zachary, clearing his throat.
"No, what?' his uncle pressed. The family at the table next to them stole glances at the
three of them then quickly looked away, distracted by the young Asian woman bringing them
steaming plates of Chinese food.
"You're embarrassing me," muttered Zachary's aunt.
"Shut up, Rosalyn, don't undermine me."
Looking down at her plate, she forked her Lo Mein in silence. Zachary sighed. The
waitress walked over to their table and, in broken English, asked if the food was alright. His
aunt ordered another soda. As she walked away, his uncle snorted loudly as he watched
Zachary pushing a piece of broccoli around his plate.
"Why aren't you eating?"
"I'm not hungry."
14
1 2. 1
"Well, we're not leaving till you finish every last thing on that plate. I don't give a shit
if it's your birthday.. .you're not wasting my hard earned money—"
"Aaron..."
"Shut it Rosalyn."
The soggy piece of broccoli resembled a lump of regurgitated grass. Although he was
full, he popped the slimy lump onto his tongue anyway. He didn't have a choice. He swallowed
the lump and washed it down with a mouthful of soda.
"Take it easy on that soda—that's your last one tonight."
Zachary looked over at a picture of the Great Wall, understanding the importance of
erecting barriers big enough to be seen from outer space.
"Hey, dummy, I'm talking to you."
"Aaron..."
The waitress returned with his aunt's soda. After she left, his uncle put down his fork,
took a long swig of his drink and scowled at him. "Finish all of it," he said, gesturing at
Zachary's plate with his chin.
Zachary sucked his teeth and looked over at his aunt who avoided his eyes.
Reaching across the table, his uncle gripped his arm and squeezed. Wincing under the
strength of the sinewy appendage, Zachary attempted to rip his arm free, but like a Chinese
finger-trap, the hold only tightened. "Listen to me you ungrateful little bastard...." Zachary
could smell the boneless spareribs on his uncle's breath. "You disrespect me, in public, one more
time tonight and I swear to god I'll knock you right out that seat. Do you understand me?"
"Yes."
"Yes, what?'
"Yes sir."
His uncle released his arm and leaned back. For the rest of the night, Zachary said
nothing while his aunt and uncle talked about purchasing a timeshare in the Poconos. The
manager of the restaurant argued with one of the waitresses while a group of teenagers did
tricks on their skateboards in the parking lot. The manager walked outside to confront them
only to be laughed at and given the finger. Zachary watched longingly as they pushed off,
coasting down the boulevard in a rapture of carefree adolescence. He folded up his placemat and
pocketed it. After leaving the restaurant, Zachary sat in the car while his aunt and uncle
smoked outside. And argued.
15
112.
He rolled down the window to listen.
, '—so we're going to give him underwear and socks for his birthday?"
"Yes, Rosalyn, that's correct." He takes a drag.
"Aaron," she whined. "He's 12."
"Yeah, so, I know how old the kid is. What's your point?"
"I don't think it's fair to treat him like that on his special day."
"Like what, a man?" Smoke billows out his' nose and mouth. "I'm not listening to this
nonsense anymore. We got him presents for Christmas—five days ago. I mean, c'mon, the kid's
got to learn what it means to work and earn things at some point, don't you think? Are we
going to baby him forever?"
"He's 12."
"I heard you the first three times you said it. What do you think, I'm stupid? When I
was his age, I had a job on the paper route; and by the time I was—"
"I can't believe you," she interrupted, taking a deep drag and crossing her arms.
"I can't believe we're even discussing this," he shot back
"He's family, Aaron, what the hell is wrong with you? He's my sister's child."
"Exactly. And look how she turned out, Rosalyn. He's going to grow up to be a fuck up
just like his mother if we don't nip this in the bud. I mean, what the hell do you want from me?"
Smoke escaped out the side of his aunt's mouth as she finished her cigarette and flicked
the butt. "Whatever Aaron."
A few minutes later, they were driving across the Bear Mountain Bridge when
Zachary's uncle turned down the radio and addressed him.
"Zachary."
"Yes."
"Listen," he paused, sighing as if tuning into the proper emotional frequency. "I didn't
mean to lose it earlier, but you really need to learn some respect... If I yell at you, it's for your
own good. But no matter what, don't ever think, for one second, that I don't love you, alright?
You understand?"
Zachary remained silent in the darkness.
His uncle looked at him through the rearview mirror before returning his attention to
the road. "Hey, Zach, did you hear me buddy?" he asked, looking over at his wife with a
concerned expression papier-mached on his face.
16
In that moment, if the car's brakes suddenly stopped working, causing them to crash
into the rock wall beside them, it would have been the greatest present Zachary ever received
in his life. They sped along, listening to the radio.
Three strangers.
A single tear rolled down his cheek. He decided to save the others for later. Or never.
He removed the folded placemat from his pocket, ripped it into tiny shreds then slipped the
pieces out the window. Lucky sign, he scoffed.
Looking up at the cloudless sky, Zachary watched as the pale moon chased after him.
17
P.M. Dunne
The Epic of Canis
THEY JUST SEEM TO KNOW. Whenever there's a storm brewing, they'll start to howl their asses off
or tuck their ta'ils between their legs and hide. Shaking, growling and quivering while their huge pupils
gleam like little black diamonds buried deep inside a cave of primordial wisdom, they possess the souls of
reincarnated Shaman, their instincts are to know. Omniscience confirmed and glorified by the tribes
centuries ago, the wooden figure is erected on the first new moon of the new year—in accordance with the
oldest known calendar, Anno Lucius, A.L.—and then ignited in a furious spectacle for all to see. Like the
Zoroastrians, long extinct since over five millennia ago, the inferno is tended to by the high priests. The
fire bums for one full phase of the moon, way after the figure is gone, then the ashes are collected and
scattered throughout New Pangaea to seed fresh life.
According to Eidolon, the eldest of the high priests, centuries ago, all of humanity was interconnected
through the power of the Sky Dwellers—metal dragons orbiting New Pangaea. But I don't believe him. If
the Sky Dwellers existed (which they didn't), why would they leave us so suddenly, without warning? It just
doesn't add up. Eidolon claims he was around when the Sky Dwellers guided us and gave us knowledge,
years before the Bone Kings' reign began. He even says it was a time of peace. Nonsense. New Pangaea has
always been this way: always fighting, always conquering, always renewing.. always. There has never been
any peace, or unity or interconnectedness. Eidolon is strange, but I think he knows a lot more than most of
the villagers though. His days are spent at thc Grand Temple reading all day. I would love to see what
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P.M. Dunne
those books say; I think they hide something. Eidolon offered to show me some of them, if I ever become a
priestess, but that would be pointless. I can't read.
Now, the Bone Kings, well, they are something else entirely. They are real. Very real. Since even before
Eidolon was born, they have ruled New Pangaea. And they have ruled this world with an iron fist—an iron
fist in a razor spiked glove. They control everything; all of the rations, fresh water, medicine, housing,
transportation and weaponry are in their callous hands. They decide who gets to have children and they
even decide who gets to live.. .or die. They have all the power and knowledge now. Like I said, they have
everything. We all do our best to avoid trouble, but sometimes you can't stop the lightning from striking.
Last week, me and my caretaker, Agatha, were at the square paying our unit's dues when a young man
started arguing with one of the Bone Kings' fee collectors.
That's a no-no.
He carried on about the fee being "unfair," in light of his recently deceased wife's funeral costs and "urged"
the fee collector to let him off easy by paying the other half he owed, which he could not afford at that
moment, the following week. The fee collector peers at the man through his beady, little pecan eyes.
Everyone has problems, young man, but that's never an acceptable excuse to not pay your dues.
Sir; please, I'm begging you. I can't afford it tight now. I just buned my wife....
Pm SOITy young man. Rea* Jam. But I don't make the rules; I just follow them like everyone else.
The young man continues to complain while the fee collector does everything in his power to not bring any
unwanted attention on this unfortunate member of the community, but the argument eventually catches the
ear of a nearby Bone Soldier and he walks over smelling like a barrel of firewater.
What's the problem over herehe says, poking the young man in the chest with his electric rod.
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P.M. Dunne
Nothing, replies the fee collector, just a small misunderstanding. He wants to avoid any issues
tonight.
Reallfithe soldier snorts and commands the young man to empty his pockets.
As he empties his pockets, out falls a satchel of coins and a photo. The soldier grabs the satchel and tosses
it to the fee collector who looks at it as if it contains a child's stolen innocence. He wants no parts of this.
The soldier picks up the photo and stares at it. The young man watches him intently.
Please, sir; that's a picture of my recently deceased wife.
Yeah...and?
I would appreciate it greatly, if you could please return it.
Oh yeah?The soldier says before ripping it in half, crumbling it and tossing it in the young man's
face. Next time, you pay your dues like everyone else.
He laughs and starts to walk away. The young man crouches down to salvage the remains of his wife's
violated image. Everything is fine, perfectly fine, until he does the unimaginable.
Coward, he cries.
That's a major no-no.
Everyone is silent. We all hold our breath. We do so because we know just how this will turn out. The
soldier does an about-face and swings his electric rod. The young man covers his head with his arms to
protect himself, but it's no use. And although I'm about SO feet away from him, I can still hear the bones in
his forearm snap—you can hear them separate from the ligaments and fracture into a 1,000 shards of
calcareous tissue—as well as those only an arm's length away. He whimpers when he sees his mangled arm.
He turns around to run away and stumbles as the soldier pursues him like a crocodile would an arrogant
lion foolish enough to traverse his swamp. And this is his swamp. Why did he do it? What did he have to
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12.7
P.M. Dunne
prove? How did he think this would turn out? Did he even consider it? I'm only 4,482-days-old and I
know better than to mess with a Bone Soldier.
Agatha says that I'm "bright." She says when I'm 4,745-days-old the Bone Kings will send someone from
the city, someone important of course, to the village to see if I'm worthy of relocation. She says those that
are chosen receive a position, with benefits; some girls become caretakers, some become procreators, some
become doctors or priestesses, and some work in The Towers. I told Agatha I'm going to be a caretaker—
just like her. She's funny; every time we talk about it, she gets real serious and her face scrunches up a little
before she says:
I hope so Kannon. God I hope so.
Awhile back, my two best friends, Hialeah and Ceres, left the village and we haven't seen or heard from
them since. But I'm not worried; I know we'll meet again after I'm relocated. I'm so ecstatic that I can't
wait. I'll be, finally, leaving the village for bigger and better things—less trouble. Can't. Wait.
Put the rock down, NOW screams the soldier as he slowly steps toward the young man.
The man's eyes are bloodshot and as lifeless as the large stone clenched in his hand. He knows he's a dead
man. After his beating, he may have had to only serve 3,650 day in the work camps, but now...he's in too
deep. Attacking a Bone Soldier, with a weapon?
It's over.
He looks around at all of us, his eyes pleading for help from anyone without a firm self-preservation
instinct, but he finds none. Nobody's soul meets his wild expression in an ecstasy of brave compassion. No
interconnection between two human spirits. No spirits. Only relief, elation, that we're watching the shark
tank through the glass and not doggy paddling further out into them frigid waters. Waters as cold and lost
as his pale blue eyes. With his good arm, he hurls the stone. He hurls it with all his might, all his anger, all
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P.M. Dunne
his...everything. He transfers his consciousness into the stone hoping, as one, that they will avenge the
memory and honor of his loved one. But what is love worth when it only gets you killed?
The soldier dodges, not quick enough though. Seeing the front of his black and gray uniform drenched in a
thick splotch of burgundy, he reaches up to touch his face and realizes a chunk of flesh from his cheek is
gone. He screams in a primal rage and charges towards the poor, young man. The young man just stands
there though, laughing. He's so happy his suicide mission was "successful." I'm glad somebody's happy.
Before the soldier's electric rod makes contact, for the second time, the young man spits at the uniform in a
last desperate act of rebellion. He crumbles like a weak tree struck by lightning, his jaw hanging like a door
off the hinges. The soldiers enjoys, really enjoys, the sound of the crunch—a noise you can't get out your
head, a noise you can never forget, ever—and watching the young man twitching on the ground, legs
kicking as if trying to stay afloat. He wipes the spit off his uniform's Bone insignia. Then he snaps. He
starts to beat the body; the ribs crack and the skull caves in under the weight of the electric rod. I wouldn't
say I'm shocked (I've seen it all), but this is disgusting. He continues to decimate the body into a bloody,
gelatinous, lifeless heap while we all stand there.. .and watch. There are small children around. Their
caretakers cover the children's little, innocent eyes. Why, I'll never know; they're only delaying the
inevitable. He should have known better. Why couldn't he just tuck his tail in like the rest of us? I want to
know why. I have to know why.
Tonight is the Canis Festival.. ..What a wonderful way to bring in the New Year.
Eidolon leads tonight's services, as usual. He tells us all the same story, as he does every year. About how
the final World War on New Pangaea started and why. About how the loyal Canis saved us, brought us
safely to the underground city while the Sky Dwellers rained down lightning from the heavens. About how
we resurfaced centuries later to find our world destroyed. About how the Bone Kings civilized us and saved
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P.M. Dunne
us from ourselves so things could change for the better. If this is better, I can only imagine how it was
before.
The tribute is raised and set over the sacred pyre. Eidolon and the other priests perform the holy ceremony
with its intricate rituals and complicated liturgy. We all stand and watch. No one makes a sound. The
night is so silent I swear the locusts will cause my eardrums to implode. It's too quiet. Something is
different; there is a tension in the air. It is 'so thick you can't breathe it in—you have to cut it up into tiny,
little pieces in order to digest it. If only we had such a luxury. I can't help but think of that poor, young
man at fee collection earlier this afternoon. Why did he do it? Was he stupid? Yes. Fustrated? Yes. Brave?
Very. Crazy? No.
As Eidolon's voice resounds up into the cloudless sky, everyone bows their head in prayer.
...the loyal Canis, who brought us out of the darkness and into the light...
...the Almighty Bone Kings of the four corners of the world who...
We have a love-hate relationship with the Canis. Supposedly, it saved us (if you believe in the legends), but
I think it's all nonsense. It doesn't add up. Why would the Canis lead us to safety if our destiny, all along,
was only to be "rebom"—as Eidolon proclaims—into a life a misery? Me and Agatha, we have our good
memories but sometimes I think we'd have been better off if that mangy mutt had just let us die...like we
were supposed to. What am I saying? It's all fantasy anyway. Only elders and children believe such stories.
The only thing that keeps me happy now is the thought that I will be embarking on a new journey—a life
of my own, finally. I know I will miss Agatha though. We are holding hands. She squeezes my hand in hers
and I squeeze back. Everyone holds their breath.
VI
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P.M. Dunne
They are about to light the Canis figure. The high priests carry their torches and touch the base of the
pyre. When they do, the figure goes up in a blaze. Whether it is a blaze of glory or shame, I don't know. It
lights up the night. It is so hot you have to step back a little, and it is so bright you can't stare at it too
long. But I can't help it. Agatha says it's in my nature to be "hardheaded." The burning Canis is telling me
something...I just don't know what it is, yet. Sometimes I wonder whose side the Canis is really on. Who
is its real master? Eidolon says the Canis represents all of New Pangaea, the four corners of the world; the
whole world. But I don't believe him.
As the figure burns and falls down piece after piece, we watch as embers shoot up into the air, soothing the
village's mood with the sweet scent of poplar kindling, along with the abundance of palm wine flowing
from pewter casks behind us, and I sense that I am one of the few to gaze up at the heavens and wonder: If
the Sky Dwellers were up there watching us (which they're not), would they think we were burning a
tribute or an effigy?
VII
IT,
[dreamed that I woke up and screamed "fuck" to start my day off
right Then after lying in bed for about 5 minutes I got up and took
a long cold shower. In the shower I listened to FICA Twigs and
thought "this girl is insane" then thought about tweeting "I'm in
love with a bohemian succubus from England" but decided against
it I walked back into my room, butt naked, and flopped face first
onto my bed, It smelled like sandalwood, and other things. With
my arms straight at my sides I humped the bed while making
dolphin noises and thinking "dolphin-free tuna." It was then that I
realized I had a half-smoked joint in the ashtray next to my bed. I
lit the joint then turned on the TV. A guy who wasn't really a guy
talked about marrying a girl who wasn't really a girl. I smoked the
joint Two black women with scary looking pamphlets in their
hands rang my bet They commented that I was naked. I said "I
don't know what that means" then I told them I had silk boxers
that I got 30% off at Macy's. After that I invited them over but
they said "no thank you" and walked away quietly- While they
walked away I thought "Arson in the I d degree." My neighbor was
in the hallway with a small dog. The dog said "hello" and I said
"Vote for Joseph Kony."
Standing in front of my fridge, I wished for Goya mango juice to
appear then banged my head on the door, 3 times, and drank a 22oz of beer with a golden label on it I thought "kill Willy Wonlca"
then threw the bottle out my window into the alley. It shattered
very quietly, which was nice. At that moment I wanted a man in
black tactical gear to smash through my ceiling and scream "get
down" real obnoxiously and do upside-down pushups with nothing
but his fingertips then realized "this is America" so I sat calmly
and introspectively. I thought about going on the intend. People
were using social media. I don't know what to think of social
media because everyone has a love-hate relationship with
prostitutes from Costa Rica. Ads for "erectile dysfunction" were in
my inbox so I clicked on every one but there were no pictures of
hairy vaginas. Then I realized the ads were not targeting my age
group or demographic so I just ate some sunflower seeds that were
1
! "!#$€/0848e #
'
stuck in the keyboard instead. The sunflower seeds would have
told me to "go outside, be happy" if they could talk but that would
be really stupid even though it would fill me with eternal bliss. I
knew I wasn't properly dressed for a Laotian wedding. I don't
know- anyone from Florida. If I did, Tao tin's small press would
probably accept submissions from beavers in the Andromeda
Galaxy, but it does not After writing a 10-page essay on the
intertextuality of Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, I screamed
ftnt of
"Why" in a-nielcdrainatic way. I did 25 full pnistratituas ni r
my mirror and then chanted long mantras' for about 15 miniS. I
hoped that my computer did not have a virus. That would suck
Cars were driving themselves outside so I threw a brick through
the windshield of one of the cars then realized it would be fin if
Slcynet took over San Francisco so people would stop making
stupid aps that don't actually serve a purpose in real life. At the
-supermarket I saw a girl who working as a cashier. She was
wearing' clotha. She smiled at the so I smiled baek. While
scanning the barcOde on a case of beer, that I had no fide& of
purchasing with American money, I asked if she thought the
barcode was the "mirk of the beast" and she said "no, Billy
Graham is the beast" and I laughed. She asked if I was PIM. Dunne
and I asked how she knew. Apparently she read my blog that
• doesn't exist yet, in any dimension lower than the '5 th, and I knew
Book A of Aristotle's Metaphysics made More sense than those
scary-looking pamphlets with evil, smiling robot aliens on them so
we exchanged numbers. I forgot her name: Maybe she didn't have
one I immediately thought "stock photography is evil" and asked
"how much can you get paid for stock photography of your
genitalia?" She said "genitalia" and laughed. .I didn't understand
why.
I thou.ght about cyber-bullying someone I went to college with
while I smoked a joint outside of a pizzeria. I saw a guy drive-by
on a moped and thought "who the hell rides a flicking moped?"
After jumping on the hood of a taxi, I dropldcked the guy on the
moped, in the throat, then asked "why did you make me do that?"
very loudly. An obese pigeon crapped on the bench I was sitting on
so I said "I concur" in a British accent and it flew away. I walked
down the street and got on a bus. The bus smelled like mothballs.
Mothballs sniell better than urine and feces. About 45 minutes later
2
13%
th
I found it interesting that My novel sold more copies than the 6
edition of "How to Grow Psilocybin in your Basement in 24
Hours" but less copies than the 100 th book in the Alex Cross series.
Goddamn you James Patterson, you filthy little whore. I called my
agent after that and told him "the next time I go to Walmart at 401
am I'm going to buy an air title and walk around the parking lot
asking people's opinions on controversial topics like 'breast
reduction' until security arrives" and he said "don't do that because
you'll violate your parole. Just go home, get naked, and roll around
on some bubble wrap—you'll feel better." It was then that I
realized I don't really need an editor anyway. After about 1
minute, 30 seconds I realized it was a stupid realization and my
agent sent me a text message saying "it wasn't a 'realization' but
rather a 'brainfart " Then he sent another text message saying
"you have a chemical imbalance in your medulla oblongata's
anus" so I texted him back "is it in the DSM5?" An old man on the
bus asked if I was a "Ken Kesey Fan" so I told him "you ain't the
bull goose loony around here no more' and he laughed. Well,
actually, it was more of a chuckle than a laugh. Old people don't
laugh, they chuckle.
When! got off the bus a guy and a girl were standing at a bus stop
smoking cigarettes and looking really cool Their clothes were too
bright so I ran until I got tired, about 10 seconds later. The girl
walked up to me and told me she was flout Amsterdam At Electric
Zoo,-I took 3 Ecstacy pills and screamed "the New York Lotto
Jackpot is now $200,000,000—before taxes." And then I,. woke up
in a sleeping bag in a tent in the desert somewhere The water
bottles cost $18 and everyone was running around and laughing
while loud electronic dance music blasted out of an RV with naked
people dancing around it. I don't know why I was covered in glow
paint but it did not taste "non-toxic" like it said on the tube. I
curled up in fetal position and kept telling myself "enlightenment
• is the space between two thoughts" until I was on a plane flying
over a large ocean. Then my parole officer called to tell me that I
"tested positive for MDMA a week ago" and I told her "it's okay, I
have a , prescription to all kinds of fun stuff' and she said
"whatever." I hung up the phone and thought about phone sex
operators licking their lips in suggestive ways. She called me back
and I asked if she was a "phone sex operator" and she said "no, I
called to let you know that you're officially off parole" so I said
3
ol" and she Said "you need to come by to sign- your release
' The lane crashed into the parole bitilding. I ianckt Out
of the burning remains of the plane and signed the paper*: $/15;
parole officer did -a cartwheel into a busy interseetioq-,a4d10. tut
by a truck With talking cows ‘ in it. All they ittitires I
slapped the Cow in the face and when the fanner gskeft. Why I did
it, I told him "I'm lactose intolerant; bitch." After that,thitehed
ride with the farmer and asked him to not slip a Rufenol in my beer
and tape me like a-College student. He was Silent the Whole Way.
., I
aintftaxl a joint.
•
Back at my 'apartinent ti coup of neoLhippies sat -outside Ifiy:Ateop protesting. I don't know what they were protesting about. " Alt I
could think was "Why is everyone protesting?" then "I'ritgOing to
'protest all this protesting" but realized that week]: make me just as
-stupid. I don't Went to be stupid. I want to write things and 156 left
alone. I noticed my inbox was full of old emails. I typed something
witty and memorable then erased it. Then I typed something my
Grandmother would not have approved of and sent it to everyone
on my inallingliet. After that, I got a binich Of hate mail -back go T.
made EI copy of rii5i1Cetycle Bin" hild itithedle-litt:tile.r ilien - deleted the original. A small deg Was lying On my bed. r don't own
a dog. We stared at each other for a While. When I woke 'up I
realized that I had not been dreaming because there is no
difference- between our dreams and reality (I don't know if that
Makes any sense) so I just screamed "fuck" to start my ft gy off
right and did it again...
4
P.M. Dunne
ON THIS METAPHYSICAL DETOUR
We each have a story to tell, a story unlike anyone else's. And although our unique
storks are tiny universes juxtaposed beside each other in a cosmology of emotion, a multiverse
of experience, we paradoxically forget that we traverse this ephemeral landscape not to find
what is on the other side, but to discover that there are no sides—only segments in a ubiquitous
circle, endlessly spiraling with no beginning nor end. We realize that the story is the journey and
that the journey is the story. Your story. My story. Our story. The story...
Quentin paused at the three dot ellipsis and stared at the blinking cursor on his screen, the
life pulse of creativity, the rhythm of his beat. It was his personal reminder that the life of an
artist is a work in progress: edit, edit, edit.
"Jun Jun," Felicity shouted.
Giggling. Feet scampering across the living room.
"Jun Jun," she shouted again, louder. "Come here—right now."
More giggling.
She walked into the guest room, which, for the last 6 months, had existed in a mancave/office limbo, constantly remaining in the liminal phases of change rather than the static
empiricism of progress. Quentin glanced up at her, said nothing. She stood in the doorway with
her hands on her hips.
"You're really gonna act like I'm not standing here?"
"I thought we discussed this, Felicity."
"Discussed what?"
1
He sighed. "We established 6:00 to 8:30 as my office hours, my time to focus on my
writing—without any distractions."
Felicity's eyes grew as if under a magnifying glass. "Well, excuse me, it's not like I'm
doing anything important. I'm just trying to get ready for work while your son destroys the
goddamn house. No big deal."
"How come every time you're heated, he becomes my son? It's funny how that works."
"I'm not mad," she snapped.
Quentin stood up. "What is it that got you so riled up this morning?"
"Look for yourself," she said, pulling her hair into a bun and snapping the scrunchy.
"Behind the couch."
On the wall behind the couch was a mess of rainbow scribble. Or so it appeared until
further inspection revealed the blur for what it truly was: a family of dinosaurs in rocket ships
shooting through space. Quentin admired his son's Crayola collage while Felicity hovered over
him, scowling at the domestic graffiti. "You need to have a talk with him," she said. She watched
his lips curl up at the ends. "I don't believe it," she screeched. "I'm stuck in a house with two
kids."
"Take it easy Felicity," he said, touching her elbow. "At least he did it behind the
couch.. .and the art is nice; I think we should nurture that talent, not suppress it—"
She pulled away. "This is insane. Why am I even listening to you?"
"Felicity, no one's gonna see it. You're overreacting a little, don't you think?"
"Quentin, you are so irresponsible it's ridiculous. Your son is out of control and you're
not helping the situation. You're not helping me. At all. Not one bit. Sometimes I feel like I'm
your mother too. When the hell are you gonna grow up?"
"My son," he said, absently, while staring at the wall.
"Yes, 'your son," she repeated.
"I really don't see what the big deal is. It's just a marker. If it's such a big issue I can get
some paint at Lowe's and—'s
"It's just marker,"it' s just marker," she mocked. "No, Quentin, it's not 'just marker.'
Jun Jun needs to be disciplined. I can't do it, he won't listen to me. He needs a father—not a
playmate. And I need a man—not a little boy. I need support. I'm at work all day; you have no
IL-
idea what it's like to raise a child on your own. With no help. You have no idea what I went
through all those years you were away. You have no idea—"
"What the fuck do want from me, huh?" snapped Quentin. "You want me to say sorry?
You want me to apologize for the rest of my life? You think I wasn't stressed out all those years
away from you and Jun Jun? You think I didn't cry my eyes out every night?" He felt his blood
pressure climbing. He walked into the guestroom. Felicity followed him. He looked up at her
from his desk. "I have work to do."
"Work?" she screamed. "You call what you do 'work?" You don't have the slightest
clue what it means to work. What you do is a hobby. Hobbies don't pay the bills, work does.
You've been home 6 months now and you still don't have a job. I'm stuck paying everything
while you lounge around—"
"That's not fair Felicity. I told you when I came home I'd need some lime to finish my
book. I told you if it didn't work out I'd find a job. We talked about this. I need you to believe in
me. This is going to pay off in the long run. We just have to be patient. It's not gonna happen
overnight—"
"Overnight?' It's been 6 months Quentin—"
"Yeah and I told you it would be like this, over a year ago, so it shouldn't be such a
surprise. You know what you signed up for. Please, I need you to have my back on this one."
Felicity stood in the doorway with her arms crossed. "You know what you are Quentin?"
Quentin raised an eyebrow at her, felt his jaw tighten. He braced himself for what he
knew was to come, what he had experienced in the state penitentiary, 5 years worth of visits
from Felicity and Amber, the mother of his first child.
"You're a con artist," she stated, matter of factly.
"Thank you," he said. "I've been called worse."
She continued, "You might as well be a preacher or a pimp the way you sit around doing
nothing while I bust my ass working full time and—"
"Somebody's busting your ass and I'm not getting paid?" joked Quentin. "I must be the
worst pimp ever...so much for that theory."
"Fuck off Quentin."
"Twat did you say? I cunt hear you."
3
13--
"Grow alp." Felicity spun around to leave then came back a moment later with her coffee
mug. She always had to have the last word. "Sperm donor."
Quentin snorted, pretended to ignore her as he typed a few words. He found it impossible
to concentrate. Her rants were about as soothing as nails dragged across a chalkboard—a
relentless barrage from her oralmatic could wear down any man's defenses; the noise was
deafening, like laminated sheets amplified a million times. He closed his eyes, waited for the
stonn to pass.
Finally: "Do I look cute in this pantsuit?—be honest."
He watched her turn in a circle. "No. ..you look radiant."
She stopped, gauged his features.
'Radiant," she repeated, unable to keep herself from smiling. "You sure you're not just
telling me what I want to hear?" she paused, pensively, before continuing, "I have to be careful:
you're a writer."
Quentin laughed and got up. He pulled Felicity toward him so their bodies pressed
together. He kissed her. She kissed him back then pulled away. "I don't have lime for a quicky. I
have an hour to drive to the office and prepare for a meeting with the Chinese investors. Sorry Qbear." She kissed him. He moved to kiss her back, but was stopped. "Don't think you're getting
off easy—father of the artiste," she quickly added. He groaned."Don't worry, I'll talk to him."
While Felicity got ready for work, Quentin thought about how he should address his son without
discouraging his creativity. He mused over this while playing with the Slinky on his desk. He
watched it coil and stretch as he moved it from one hand to another. Coiling and stretching.
Expanding and crunching. Opening and closing. Back and forth. Over and over again. A timeless
moment lost in the Mobius strip of the universe.
He got up and walked into the kitchen. "Did he eat yet?"
"Yes, I made him breakfast," she said. "Think you can handle lunch and dinner?"
Quentin slapped her behind.
"Okay, I'm out of here," she said over her shoulder as she headed for the door. "Jun Jun.
Come give mommy a hug and kiss." Jun Jun ran into the living room. He jumped into her arms.
"Ahight, little man. I'll see you tonight, okay?"
"I love you."
"Mommy loves you too."
'3'
"Jun Jun."
nresr,
"Make sure daddy behaves," she said looking across the living room at the couch,
probably visualizing the masterpiece behind it. Smirking, Quentin stood in the doorway of the
kitchen. He loved watching his son laugh, even if it was at his expense.
After getting off the phone with his parole officer—who had "strongly recommended" that he
get a "real job"—Quentin took Jun Jun and drove to the mall. They went to The Art Shoppe.
Quentin purchased coloring pencils, markers, paints, drawing pads, canvases and an easel.
"Oh my god, he's adorable," squealed the girl behind the counter as she rang up the art
supplies. "What's his name?"
Quentin picked up his son so he was at eye level. "Tell the nice girl your name."
"Jun Jun," said Jun Jun.
"No," corrected Quentin, "that's your nickname. What's your real name?"
Jun Jun looked at the girl, to Quentin then back to the girl. He turned and buried his face
in his father's chest. "Dinosaur."
"That's not your name, silly," he laughed. "He's being shy."
The girl smiled and took a lollipop out her apron. Jun Jun's eyes lit up.
"If you tell the nice girl your name she's gonna give you a lollipop," said Quentin,
regretting the ambiguity of the situation, as he realized the danger of giving mixed messages to
his son. Felicity would kill him if she found out. He made a mental note to explain why it is
unacceptable to give personal information to, or take candy from, strangers—even if they are
young, pretty and friendly—unless approved, first, by the parent. He was a parent. From his
limited understanding he supposed that being a parent included being a role model and
teaching his son "right from wrong," a concept that he—as an "adult"—sometimes doubted the
validity of. How could he explain to Jun Jun that he needed to be cautious of other adults? How
could he explain to Jun Jun that there are some "grown-ups" in the world who get off on
harming children, that the world can often be a cold hard reality? What effect would it have on
Jun Jun coming from his father, a man who killed another adult, a man he barely even knew?
Before he could react, Jun Jun took the lollipop.
"What do you say Quentin?"
5
"Thank you."
"Oh, you're welcome, handsome," she said. "That's a very nice name...Quentin." Jun
Jun turned around. She looked up at Quentin and smiled. "How old is he?"
"He turns six this June."
"He is so cute."
"Thank you."
She sighed, her eyes lost in a future point in time. "I can't wait to have one someday."
"Yes, you can," laughed Quentin. "Yes. You. Can."
At the food court, they sat at a table near a faux-palm tree and ate. Or rather, Quentin ate while
Jun Jun played with his food. He watched him use his Jurassic World toy to decimate a helpless
chicken McNugget.
"Raaah," yelled Jun Jun, ketchup covering his face.
"If you kill it, you gotta eat it," laughed Quentin. "Dinosaurs need to eat if they want to
grow big and strong"
"N000. I don't want no more. I wanna ice cream."
"I thought we made a deal, buddy. You finish everything and you get an ice cream."
"Okay you little monster, finish your food." He watched his son eat a few fries and cover
the rest with his tyrannosaurus. "C'mon, finish."
"I'm not hungry."
"I guess that means you don't want ice cream then, right?"
"N000," Jun Jun whined. He looked at Quentin—who pretended not to pay attention—
then cleared off his tray, apple wedges and all.
Quentin smiled. "Smart man," he said before taking out his wallet. "Chocolate or
vanilla?"
Back at home, Jun Jun ran around wild while Quentin painted the wall. He felt a deep sense of
_regret at having to cover up his son's art with a coat of white paint. "Come here little man," he
called. He heard something clatter on the hard wood floor then waited as the feet scampering
down the hallway stopped at the living room entrance.
6
"Raaah."
Quentin pointed at the wall. "See this?"
A head nod.
"This is not for drawing. If you draw here, mommy will be very upset with you. These,"
he said, pointing at the drawing pads on the floor, "are for drawing. Whenever you want to make
a picture, you use these. When you fill these up you tell me and we'll get you more. Sounds
good?"
Another head nod.
As Quentin spread his arms for a hug, the bell rang. He got up and checked the front
door. He cursed under his breath; it was his parole officer—a "surprise visit." Quentin liked
, how are you?" the
surprises about as much as he liked chewing on tinfoil. "Hello Mr. man said, looking past Quentin into the house.
"I guess I'm alright.. .what's going on? I thought you said you were coming tomorrow,"
he said, fully aware that his place of residence was subject to random searches, 24-7.
"Anyone home?"
"Yeah, my son."
"Well, I'm gonna take a quick peek around—if you don't mind," he said, with a crooked
grin.
Quentin knew his parole officer was a master of disingenuousness. He knew the man
could care less about him and about what he wanted, or did not want, or how his presence at that
moment could complicate his relationship with his son. The man was there to do his job, to
continue the work of the "correctional" officers, to provide a reminder: You are not a person.
You are a number. We own you.
The parole officer stepped into the living room. His stern face—pink as fish eggs—
looked down on a wide-eyed Jun Jun. Quentin watched the man crouch down and ask Jun Jun his
name; Jun Jun turned and ran down the hallway into his room.
"He's just shy," said Quentin. He wished he could grab the intruder by the scruff of his
neck and throw him out on his ass
"Oh, that's alright. Got two of my own," the man said while snapping on latex gloves.
After checking the kitchen garbage he looked in the refrigerator. He uncapped a juice carton and
7
sniffed it. "Nothing in the house you wouldn't want me to know about, right? No weapons,
alcohol, drugs or drug paraphernalia?"
"No sir."
"So you don't mind if I check the bedroom?" Like a gold plated steel chain, he coated his
disingenuousness with a fine layer of formality. He walked into the master bedroom, checking
under the bed, in the closet and in the dressers before addressing Quentin. "Well, everything
looks fine here...s00000," he said, dragging the 6, "I'll be going now. End of the month we have
to go over your hi-annual case plan. Be prepared for that...." He paused, looked up. "I almost
forgot: have you been going to your drug counseling and anger management meetings?"
"All of them?"
"Well, I missed one last month," said Quentin, "but I called in to let them know I was
sick"
"Did you get a doctor's note?"
, "No. It was just a flu-bug; my son brought it home from daycare—"
"You know that's unacceptable, Mr.
. Next time, get a note or I may have to
violate you. You don't want to go back to prison, do you?"
"No sir, I do not."
His parole officer looked at him with a sadistic smirk. Out of his peripheral, Quentin
could see Jun Jun hiding behind the couch in the living room. The man standing before him was
the final barrier to a normal life, freedom. He wanted to close his eyes, blot out everything
wrong—there was no escaping himself. Had he been living at Amber's, the same thing would
have happened. Jasmine could probably handle it better than Jun Jun; but, then again, Quentin
realized he prbbably knew less about teenagers than small children. His daughter was like an
alien species he could not communicate with nor had knowledge of she refused to speak to him
since the early days of his incarceration. He had grown accustomed to receiving generic, drug
store cards with his daughter's picture and a small note in Amber's tiny scrawl. It wasn't much
but he was grateful nevertheless. The last time he and Amber spoke on the phone, she told him
that Jasmine had an 18 year old boyfriend. She also told him that she wanted to get back
together. His response: "I'm happily married." Quentin seriously wondered if Amber had
orchestrated the fall out with his daughter. It was improbable but not impossible.
"Make sure you go to your meetings, they're for your benefit."
"Are they really?" asked Quentin. "Do you really think they would still be around if they
didn't generate money for the State?
His parole officer smiled, his eyes like smashed roaches. "I don't know what to tell you.
Everybody's gotta do it; it's just part of the program."
"You mean pogrom?" shot Quentin.
A forced laugh escaped from the man's lipless mouth. He fixed his tie. "If that's what
you prefer to call it."
Hours later, while watching cartoons with Jun Jun, Quentin thought about Malachi, his friend
who violated his parole by breaking curfew. It was over three months ago, but it still felt like
yesterday's tomorrow. He was grateful for Jun Jun, Jasmine—they kept him motivated and
grounded; without them he may have ended up like Malachi: shackled and chained on that long
bus ride up to the mountains. Perhaps they would have ended up in the same prison. Perhaps they
would have been bunkmates again. Perhaps.... Quentin tied to ignore the thought, as if merely
recalling it was cause enough for it to manifest in reality. From somewhere deep within, a
subterraneous corridor of his psyche, he heard a little boy screaming as the room shriveled into
shadows.
Jun Jun watched intently as Quentin cracked open the windows He waited fill he was
seated again before speaking. "Daddy."
"What's up buddy?"
"What is a crime? That man said you made a 'crime."
Quentin stared at Jun Jun, slowly released the air out his lungs like a popped tire. He
picked him up and set him on his lap. His first instinct as a parent was to protect his son, to lie, to
conceal the truth, to sugarcoat the situation and make it more "digestible." But who was he trying
to protect.. .Jun Jun or himself? He didn't want that sort of relationship with his son—he'd
experienced enough of that from the adults in his life. Now was the time to break the cycle, to
start over with a clean slate, to look forward to a bright future without the muted colors of his
past and become what he had always dreamed of, but never dreamed of becoming true: an artist.
He owed it to his son to tell him the truth. He was bound to find out anyway. More importantly,
9
Isp
Jun Jun deserved the truth—about everything—the truth is the soul's canvas devoid of the
world's illusions. It was Quentin's job to provide his little dinosaur with enough space to realize
this for himself, to realize that he could create anything he imagined in the universe—even
himself. Without the artist, there is no center of the universe; there is only beginning and end,
dark and light, good and bad.
"Crime is when somebody does something selfish that harms themself and others."
"Why?"
Quentin cleared his throat. "Well, sometimes, things can happen in a person's life that
makes them think a certain way. Sometimes they may get very angry or greedy—or both—and
they lose control."
"But why, daddy?"
"Because they are hurting inside. They have a lot of pain and they can't get it out."
"You have pain daddy?"
"Yes, Jun Jun, but you and mommy make it better," Quentin said, before kissing Jun
Jun's forehead. He thought about Jasmine, felt himself starting to choke up.
"Daddy, you made a crime?" asked Jun Jun, his eyes searching.
"Yes, a very bad one."
"Why?"
"Because daddy was very sick. Daddy had a lot of pain.. .daddy was confused."
Jun Jun sat still, musing. He was certainly his father's child. After a long bout of silence
he blurted out, "But you're daddy."
As Quentin looked into Jun Jun's auburn eyes, unsure if he should relish in his son's
current obliviousness to adult imperfection, he recalled the deep sense of disappointment that
came with the realization of his own parent's humanity—like learning the truth of Santa, it was
an anti-apotheosis. "Sometimes even daddies do bad things. Sometimes daddies commit crimes.
Sometimes daddies take other daddies" and mommies' lives. Your daddy took someone's life."
"You take life?" Jun Jun asked, seeming equally intrigued yet baffled
"Yes. I killed someone and it was very bad and I must never do it again. Ever."
Jun Jun reached up and touched Quentin's cheek, running his hand across its rough
terrain. "What is 'killed'?"
Tears streamed down Quentin's face, stopping at his chin before dripping onto Jun Jun's
10
it=
head. He wiped his face with his sleeve before Jun Jun could see. He did this not because he was
ashamed but because he didn't know how to explain grief as well as he did anger and greed.
"Killed' means someone dies and ism more."
"No more?"
"No more."
"Do daddies die?"
"Yes, Jun Jun."
"Do monunies die?"
"Yes, Jun Jun."
"Do.. .dinosaurs die?"
"Yes, Jun Jun, even dinosaurs."
"But I don't wanna die," cried Jun Jun.
"I know buddy. Nobody does," said Quentin, pulling his son closer. He could feel his
son's heart beating against his own. He marveled how well his son handled the truth and how
each generation is more advanced than the one preceding it. This gave him hope. "Jun Jun."
Two watery eyes looked up at him.
"There is a way you can live forever. I can show you. Do you want to see?"
A head nod.
Quentin reached behind the couch and grabbed one of the drawing pads. He set it on Jun
Jun's lap. "Right here, little man, on the paper." He pointed to Jun Jun's head, "In here," he then
pointed to Jun Jun's heart, "and in here." Jun Jun looked at the drawing pad and whispered,
"Forever?"
After making dinner and giving Jun Jun two baths—the little dinosaur left an "egg" in the
tub—Quentin worked on his novel while Jun Jun painted on his new easel. It occurred to
Quentin, as he started a new chapter, that he should of let Jun Jun paint before giving him a bath.
(He hadn't thought to buy a smock.) He laughed to himself as he envisioned Felicity coming
home from work to find father and son passed out on the couch with the TV on. She would, most
likely, wait fill the next to morning to run into the guest room and curse him out then stop
suddenly and gasp as she witnessed the canvas sitting proudly on the easel—something she
thought she's seen the last of—and smile at the family of space dinosaurs holding hands on the
mother ship.
11
W_
Mary Mackey Short Story Category
in the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition
Soul Chrysalis
P.M. Dunne
I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I GOT HERE; I have no idea where I am. I don't know how long I've
been here nor do I know when I'll leave, if ever. All I know is that I am floating
somewhere—my conception of reality is an amorphous dream. Suspended between
uncertainty and nothingness, equipoise is an unknown realm that I vaguely remember but
find the more I try to grasp, the more it eludes capture. Perhaps the harmony I seek, so
desperately, is something that cannot be captured but rather revealed. I don't know, yet.
You are destined for greatness...
A vision of an unpolished diamond in a rough thicket of paradise streams through my
primordial consciousness. Enigmatic voices emanating from souls I feel deeply, but cannot
touch, call out to me. I wish they would manifest as something other than this crescendo of
chaos; however, they do not I want to scream out to them...if only I could. I am weak I am
powerless. I am nothing and yet! am...something. If I was not, then it would be impossible
1
for me to even fathom. I chase this reverie until a soft tune envelops me in it warm
embrace—where it derives from, I have no idea—and I fade into a serene oblivion. It would
be nice to stay, or so I feel at the moment. I am completely in the now. Everything is perfect.
Quiet
There is no before or after; there is only now...
Suddenly, and without warning, my world jars my surroundings from its once peaceful
anchor, violently throwing me back into the realm of time and space. It is then that I realize
I am a living being. Everything is imperfect. I desire to remain in Elysium although it is
evident I must return. The last thing I can remember was a man shaking his head and a
woman hunched next to him with tears streaming from her large, innocent eyes as if they
were siamese rivers separated from birth and flowing through a valley of pain—to return
to the ocean of humanity's heart. And I remember being confused. Why did their words not
match their emotions? I believe their soothing, compassionate words did less for me than
themselves; perhaps they were providing assurance for each other. I listened quietly; hope
•had embedded itself within my being years ago. I intuited that these people were my loved
ones and I knew that the throbbing pain which constricted their souls was mine as well.
There was no profound separation amid our worlds although we could not have been more
intrinsically unique. I shed a tear. Goodbye my loved ones, I am departing from this world.
Sic itur ad astra...
2
'Hi
Was this not a cause for celebration—revelry in the everlasting nature of absolute
emancipation? Is it not the only a bsolute? The overwhelming bliss, for which I sought
throughout my whole existence, revealed itself as I spoke these parting words: I am
returning to the eternal oneness. The days of my posthumous existence have finally
expired. I am now free. So, please, I beg of you, erase the sorrow that burdens your spirit
and allow the omniscience of Apollo to continue its cosmic undertaking unperturbed by
your loss at my early ascension. It is not the destiny of mortals to preserve but to create.
Fear not.
Nosce te ipsum...
I remember sailing across vast seas accompanied by a friend. Who I was with and where
we were going, I have no idea; but from what can be recalled, it was a long and arduous
journey that nearly destroyed me. And although I was physically shattered, my soul soared
on high like Icarus and, suddenly, like Icarus, my wings too had melted. Down, down, down
I fell....So far was my descent into the seas of Pluto that even the Morning Star could not
envy a wretched soul as mine. Memories of a woman I had once loved quickly evaporated,
along with any hope for our reunion, when I realized where I was lying. Why had Elysium
disowned me? I promptly discovered that I had landed on the steps of the Temple of
Moneta. It is said that she receives only those who cannot forget the miseries of the
world—those forever lost in the vale of tears. The auriferous steps winded deep into the
womb of the earth like the serpentine abyss that my heart had plunged into when I first lost
my dear lover, my soul mate. St. Agnes, forget not the warmth of your passionate exile, gone
3
astray in boundless solitude, for the nightingale has always been a castaway, a lone wolf
running wild in the forest of thine eye.
You will be certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth
of imagination...
Regret plagued me, worse than the Hinds that eradicated my kin, and I dared not enter the
domain of the prophetess, the sibyl of Olympus, the necromancer of divine inspiration, for
fear of my fate in the afterlife. The promethean flame of the temple pyre could be seen from
where I stood outside the gate. It shimmered in the darkness like the jewels of Morpheus'
diadem. What I took to be an apparition, a phantom in the blazing inferno, gazed back at me
and our eyes met. She called out to me though, softly and melodiously: I have the keys to
night and day, death and immortality...the almighty ambrosia of the gods. Arise, young
poet, and enter. Your birthright awaits.
To soothe the cares of Selene, and lift the thoughts of Endymion's children...
Someone is holding me...I can't believe I am alive. I realize that I am a living, breathing
being. But am I residing in a nightmare or a dream? I have no idea how I got here; I have no
idea where I am. I don't know how long I've been here nor do I know when I'll leave, if ever.
All I know is that it is too loud and bright—I am swaddled in a coarse cloth that feels like
sandpaper against my soft skin. I scream. People are standing all around me and smiling
warmly. Their identities are revealed when they speak sweet words to me; I recognize their
voices from whence I came. I know them. And I would love to tell them everything that they
4
IA*
must know about soul-making...if only I could. I am weak. I am powerless. I am nothing and
yet 1 am something. Slowly, my memories fade....The more I struggle to retain my
connection to the ethereal realm, the further it vanishes into the breath of Apollo.
Human beings die, but the art they make lives on.
5
p.m. dime
MY REQUIEM
AN UNEVENTFUL EVENING. That's what everyone will be thinking, though won't have the heart to
admit. I find it tragically ironic considering whose attending: My "fans", my "friends", my "colleagues"
These are the people who claimed to love me when I was still alive — alive, but dead inside, like a vampire
at church.
I will float above the congregation, angry at the solemn air I took for granted and can no longer breathe. I
will feel betrayed by everyone's lack of enthusiasm, their reserve. The music will suck. It won't be the
playlist I created for the event. When I was alive, my will was disregarded, too, so this shouldn't come as a
surprise. It doesn't. But it still vexes me nevertheless. The catering service will suck. Everyone will be
drinking fancy wines with unpronounceable labels and they will be eating various hors d' oeuvres, caviar,
sushi — hoity-toity bullshit I never developed a palate for. Everyone will be wearing black suits and dresses
that complement the inside of their hearts.
My eulogy will be given by the strangers I met toward the end of my life: authors, editors, publishers and
other influential people in the literary industry. Although they're there to "pay their respects," they will
certainly be receiving their ROI on tonight's "investment" — their main objective. The vibe of the room
feels more like a writer's conference than a wake. In front of the cameras they will drone on about how
great of an author I was, how great of a person I was and they will fondly reminisce about That time when...
Dabbing their eyes periodically, the individuals giving the speeches will babble on about how well they
knew me although everyone in attendance will know it's a lie, including the person at the podium. After
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containing their sobbing fits and pausing to blow their noses, they will look up at the ceiling and close their
eyes while "talking" to me — comforting me in "heaven" — reassuring the congregation that I am looking
down on them from above (which is true, even though they don't believe it), and proclaiming like a
wannabe Joel Osteen that ye does not end with death. They will make a show of mopping their brows with
the silk pocket squares that they got — 75% off— at Men's Warehouse. (If someone asks, they'll tell them I
only wear... [insert sophisticated/pretentious brand name here] and act as if it's no big deal ) They will conclude the
service by showcasing their linguistic "genius" with witty anecdotes that no one cares enough to listen to
because they're, themselves, envious of the speakers' success in the literary universe, 15 minutes of fame
and fancy M.F.A degrees (which they're still paying off loans for). After the speeches end, more drinks —
maybe, even, a little nose candy in the bathroom. The old men will push up on the young journalists as they
furiously scribble down their notes. The camera men filming my biopic will use all of this footage later; I
hope their camera's capture me in my spirit form flipping them all the bird.
A slideshow presentation will hover over my casket like Obi Wan's hologram while everyone networks
with each other, giving birth to business relationships. I will listen in on their conversations while they
mercilessly slander my name. I won't be able to defend myself; but, since I'm such a glutton for
punishment, I'll hang out and swallow my pride. They will call me a thief, a liar, a theater, a substance
abuser, a murderer, a jailbird, a narcissist and a raging dickhead. I will poke every one of them in the head
with my phantom phallus and induce a seizure in a famous actor. As they rush him out of the funeral home
— only to return, days later, looking like a porcelain doll — a homeless man will sneak inside, stuff himself
with lobster tails (shell and all), pour a bottle of wine on himself and scream cock-a-doodle-doo. After
throwing him out, they will resume their conversations as if nothing happened. They will say my awards
were paid for and my reviews were debts cashed in.
Locked outside of the funeral home are the maniacs who will honor me justly. Held at bay by retired and
off-duty police officers — hired by Universal Studios — are my true fans. They are the ones I smoked with,
drank with, laughed with and made love to; it is precisely for this reason that they were not let in tonight.
They can see right through the soul of the inebriated bourgeoisie who snicker at them through the windows
as they scream and jostle for better camera stake-out locations. My heart will twist like a wet rag as i
recognize some of the faces in the sea of lunatics standing outside in the downpour. I will listen as they
account the times we shared at conferences, campuses, signings and parties. They will declare their loyalty
2
to the movement that manifested upon my "untimely" death. Some of them will know me intimately
enough to remember the times I cried during movies like Good Will Hunting; Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless
Mind; and The Pursuit of Happiness; and they will take pride in the fact that they know the reason why. As
well they should. They will affectionately recall the times I was broke and asked for help — without shame.
They will evoke memories of me sharing my dreams with them in secret, knowing, deep inside, that when I
became famous and successful it'd still be us against the world. With their rain coats shielding them from the
storm, they will show each other the notes I wrote in the first-edition books I signed for them and the long
letters we wrote while I was in prison. They will cry since they were there with me from the beginning and
will be there to witness my canonization in the pantheon of literistic gods. Marijuana will be legalized that
day and a rainbow of unidentified pills will crowd-surf the horde in a kaleidoscope of trip-fuck proportions.
I will pump my fist in the air. I will laugh and cry as my tears of ecstasy fade into the foggy mist blowing
through Manhattan. Standing in the middle of the crowd, I will close my eyes as I dematerialize into trillions
of vibrating atoms. I am gone but not lost, like a metaphor in a book you'll never appreciate.
3
Space Capsule
P.M. Dunne
WHEN I DIE I WANT TO BE CREMATED. I don't want to rot in a casket for all eternity. I
imagine that that would suck, really bad. But then again, I would be dead, so I guess it wouldn't
really matter what happened to my body either way. Still, I don't like the idea of maggots and
worms squirming through my putrid, rotten carcass until the day the Sun blows up and life, as
we know it, is no more.
Three months ago, I met Athena at a cybercaft on the West Side. We shared a mutual
friend who "recommended" that we both hook up considering "how alike" we were. I almost
threw up when she uttered the infamous "two-peas-in-a-pod" cliché but listened to her spiel
nevertheless. I decided to give it a shot. What did I have to lose? Mariel was a good friend; I
trusted her with my life. She was the type of friend to pull the car over on the side of the
highway and give you a blowjob because she "sensed some sexual frustration in you" and there
was nothing awkward or sexual about it. For 2 weeks me and Athena played phone tag, going
back and forth with rounds of text messages (she wasn't ready to hear my voice yet) which I
found odd because—I feel—the best way to get to know someone is through actual human
interaction, but I could be wrong. Anyway, when we finally did speak on the phone, we decided
to meet up on a Friday afternoon and get some coffee.
I looked around the small café but saw no one who fit Athena's description. Jesus, I
thought, I'm out of here. As I turned around to leave I heard a voice calling my name. There was a
/St
woman at the table by the bathroom door. She had blue hair. A cute, pixie face. I walked over
and sat down across from her. Hey, what's up? she greeted. Not too much, I replied with a smile, How
long have you been sitting here? Oh, only about 10 or 15 minutes, she replied. Athena took a sip of her
cappuccino and we talked for a couple minutes, about the cafe mostly, before I excused myself to
get up and purchase a cup of tea.
As I approached the counter, I noticed that the barista was biting the inside of her cheek.
About 20-ish and very nervous, about one order away from a full-blown panic attack, she asked
if she could help me in a timid peep although we both knew she was more in need of it than I.
Trying my best to ease the tension, I smiled warmly. First day? I asked. Yes, she answered, then
nodded as if she were shaking encouragement out of her brain. I ordered a cup of ginseng and
macha green tea. Although it kind of tastes like a root (probably because it is a root) ginseng is
my all-time favorite. Love the stuff. I drink about five cups a day. After paying for my tea, I told •
the barista that Friday was "bra and panties night" at the café but not to worry... she'd get used
to it. Her face turned pale. Oh my god, are you serious? she gasped. With a straight face, I looked at
her a moment then replied in the negative. We laughed and then I wished her luck. She stopped
gnawing on her cheek and thanked me
When I returned to the table, Athena was gazing out the window at cars in the street. So,
I said. She continued staring—temple pressed against the window—in a forlorn way which, sort
of, reminded me of those chemically imbalanced bird ladies who watch the neighborhood from
their cramped, cluttered apartments and call the police on kids whenever they're not fueling
pigeons to crap on unsuspecting tourists. So, I repeated, a bit louder this time Slowly, she
turned her head to face me. Yes? She inquired. So, what do you like to do? Got any hobbies? I probed
enthusiastically, hoping for a reciprocation of my energy. I like stuff, yeah, was her simple answer.
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Was it really an answer though? I wasn't so sure. It was certainly different than what I was used
to. Most of the girls that I talked to were so bubbly I would sometimes feel an instinctive urge to
seal their mouths shut with rubber cement or caulk--especially in bed.
After five minutes of awkwardness, we finally broke the ice. More like cracked it, but
still. The usual topics came up: clothes (Her: "anything at Journey's"; Me: Polo), books (Me:
Colorless Tsukuru Tanaki and his Years of Pilgrimage; Her: I, Ripper), movies (Her: Old Boy; Me: Lucy),
music (Me: Incubus; Her: Jhene Aiko), food (Her: grilled hibachi; Me: chicken-cutlet pizza with hot
sauce), color (Me: grey; Her: blue) and our friend Mariel of course. Mariel told me you lucked her a
couple months ago...that true? Athena questioned abruptly and in a non-discreet tone. The couple at
the table to our right, as well as most of the cafe, looked up at us. It was so quiet you could hear
a mouse jerking off in a hole in the wall.
Um..yes, that's true. I don't know why she would tell you though, I answered with raised eyelids,
why do you ask? Athena turned and stared out the window. Matiel tells me everything; we share the same
spirit animal, she replied, as if that actually meant something. Enraptured by the world outside
the window, in a whispery voice she asked, are you aware of your spirit animal? I replied in the
negative and found myself observing a small crowd of teenagers crossing the street. I don't...um,
what's a spirit animal? I asked, half-interested, half-bored and completely confused. After a large,
dramatic exhalation, she turned back to me and took another sip of her cappuccino, finishing it.
So, you got blue hair...that's pretty cool...I thought you said your hair was auburn though; did you dye it recently?
Again she looked at me, in what I later found out was her "thinking face," before replying yes. last
Friday, I dyed it indigo. I noticed that she put a lot of emphasis on "indigo" so I changed the subject.
As you can tell we were really hitting it off well.
3
ifl
I asked if she would like anything else and she squinted as if she were trying to crush my
skull with her eyelids and made a clucking noise that reminded me of an opened Snapple bottle.
I felt a little awkward. Okay, maybe replace "little" with "very." By the way, you have a cool name;
Athena is the Greek goddess of wisdom, right? The light in the cafe felt too bright. Yes, you're correct, she
answered, and what does your name mean? My tea cup felt cool when I brought it up to my lips.
Nelson? Um, gosh, I don't bow; I don't think it means anything special.
Playing with the cappuccino cup in her hand, she glanced over at the man next to us on a
laptop before saying, There's a river in Eastern Canada called 'The Nelson'—maybe your parents named you
after it. I wasn't sure if that was true, but I found it strange that she would have such useless
knowledge readily available for me. I'm American, I blurted out defensively.
We stared at each other while saying nothing. Doing nothing. For a moment, our eyes
probed each other's inner-worlds...intuiting that we spoke different languages, had different
customs and ways; and yet, we desperately sought the universal thought patterns that might
exist anyway, hoping that, perhaps, through our differences, we would discover a civili7ation
willing to merge and create whole galaxies of passion with.
Canada has a lot of marijuana, said Athena. I was starting to get used to the whole
spontaneous thing and its effects were wearing off. Randomness suddenly seemed more
"normal" than the schedules, plans and formalities that infected my daily life Yeah, so I've
heard..you smoke? I asked.
Stupid question.
After finishing my tea, using the bathroom, separately of course, we stood outside on the
sidewalk deciding what to do next. It was still early. Kids were returning home from school,
hopping off the bus in packs, and running straight towards their living rooms to relieve their
4
15Z
cartoon cravings and to overdose on technology. Most people don't enjoy their lives—that's sad,
remarked Athena. Before I could respond, she continued, We should all be more childlike...likeChildren? I interrupted. Yes, like children, she repeated absently.
We walked down Fourth Street talking about life, death and random things until we got
to Washington Park where we sat and smoked. My eyes watered from a large hit when Athena
blurted out, I've never had a menage a quatre before. I rubbed my eyes and laughed. Don't you have to be
French to participate in one of those? A Snapple pop was her response to my obviously rejected joke.
But no squinting this time, thankfully. Don't feel bad, I assured her, I've never even had a threesome. I
watched Athena mouth the words "menage a trois," to whom I don't know, then look at two
pigeons fighting over a lone crouton next to a metal garbage pail.
About a week-and-a-half later I found myself at a house party in Williamsburg that
Mariel was hosting. She was sashaying through the two-family house, a little more than tipsy,
and bumped into me as I walked into the kitchen to raid the fridge, for what I don't remember,
and she slurred out, hey Nelson you finally made it I left like 23, no, I mean 2 or 3, messages on your phone and I
didn't know if you would show up but now I see you're here, so now I'm like 5lay! Mariel tipped a red cup up
to her mouth and spilt some of the drink down her shirt. Yeah, well, I'm here, I laughed. You've been
drinking a little. And you didn't save me some? She laughed and took a bottle of Malibu rum out of the
freezer and some crushed ice and poured us both a drink I gratefully accepted the cold drink.
Just then, a guy, who I didn't recognize, entered the kitchen. Mariel turned around, squealed in
delight, ran and hugged him. Hey, what's up, I greeted. The guy nodded and sat at the table with
Mariel who babbled like a teen at a Bieber concert. I took my cue and as I walked out of the
kitchen Mariel called out to me. What happened? I asked while peeking my head back in the
5
doorway. She looked at me strangely while the guy arranged things on the kitchen table, I'm
getting something for us... where are you going?
On the small wooden table were baggies and pill bottles. Mariel handed the guy a few
bills and he left after giving her a hug. Who was that? I asked after he left. Oh, that's Leo. Didn't I tell
you about him? The look I gave probed her for more info; He's my E-connect. I shook the bottle in my
hand; that's a shitload of E-pills. The multicolored pills in the bottle reminded me of Skittles—my
second favorite candy after ecstacy. Oh, that's not all, she announced dramatically before emptying
the contents of a jewelry envelope on the table. A stack of tiny papers sat in a pile. Mariel
hopped up and started dancing: It's electric...doodeedoo-doodoo-deedoodoo. I watched her do her little
song and robot dance then broke out in laughter. You're not doing both tonight are you?
Yep, we are doing both tonight, she replied. At that point, I had never candy-ffipped (Ecstacy
and LSD) before and the thought of mixing methamphetamines with potent hallucinogens made
my sldn fed itchy, and not in a good way. What's this 'we' stuff? I asked. Mariel made a pouty face
and whined, C'mon Nelson....Leaving her alone in the kitchen, I walked out of the room, with my
drink, and talked to some people in the living room. The living room was crowded and thick
smoke filled the air, hovering—a solitary black light and some neons were mounted on the walls,
bathing the swarm of strangers through marijuana clouds as their rays rained down an electric
orgy of ultraviolet ambiance.
I tried talking to a group of college girls sitting in an oversized beanbag chair but we
couldn't hear each other over the music—The Foo Fighters' "Everlong"—so I smoked a blunt
with some frat-looking guys instead and walked back into the kitchen. Mariel and the drugs
were gone. I poured myself another drink while a couple made-out in the hallway. The weed
kicked in and enhanced the buzz I was starting to feel from the rum. My phone vibrated in my
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41C
pocket, which felt pretty good hit I won't say why. I looked at the screen: Marie]. Where the fuck
are you? the text message read. I texted back: I'm in the kitchen. Where the fuck are you? The next
message said something about "upstairs" but I couldn't read the rest of it so I walked up the
steps to the second floor. I checked the door to the bathroom and found it was locked. I knocked
on the door. No answer. As I turned to check the bedroom door the door to the bathroom
creaked open and Mariel's face appeared in the crack. After looking down the hall to make sure
no one was around she allowed me to slip into the bathroom.
In the small bathroom was Mariel, of course, and an Indian-looking chick I didn't know.
Oh, I'm sorry, I said, turning away as I noticed that Mariel's friend was sitting on the toilet. I'm not
using the bathroom, she laughed. You're an idiot, added Mariel before laughing as well. Holy shit, I
laughed. Not a bad way to meet someone. Mariel sat on the edge of the tub as I leaned against
the wall and introduced us. I found out that Tara was not Indian—she was Sri Lankan—and
that she had gone to Bard College with Mariel. We immediately hit it off and after smoking a
hall-smoked blunt, Mariel pulled the envelop out of her cleavage. Oh no, I said as I went for the
door. Stop being a girl, Nelson, she coyly demanded as Tara giggled. Don't feed into her craziness, I
warned Tara as the two inspected the drugs. You got work tomorrow? Tara asked. Defensively I
blurted out, No, it's Friday night, who the hell...
Five minutes later, the three of us were on an ecstacy pill and a hit of acid each. We
talked about nothing while we waited for the drugs to kick in. While Mariel and Tara told
stories about their college days, I was freaking out about how some people "don't come back,"
after taking LSD, and stressed about how the chances of "going flight-deck" now increased since
we mixed it with another powerful drug and then things started feeling strange and I forgot what
the hell I was complaining about. The lights in the bathroom felt really bright; at one point, I
7
"4
swore I could control it with telepathy, like a human dimmer-switch--or dim-wit switch. The
girls watched me and laughed as I splashed water—hot or cold? No due—on my face and
groaned. My face looked distorted in the mirror over the sink, wavy as if it were painted by a
lunatic with a missing ear. The girls giggled. My body felt warm. I took my shirt off and threw it
over the shower curtain. Mariel whistled and Tara laughed. After moth-flexing at them, Tara
reached up and touched my arm, running her hand down my side to my stomach. Tara—you freak,
leave my friend alone. He doesn't like slutty girls from Sri Lanka, shrieked Mariel while suppressing a
laugh.
Boy was she wrong.
So are we going to stand in this bathroom all night or go somewhere? I said, a little louder than
intended, as I was unaware of my decibel level. You guys want to drink some more? slurred MarieL
Tara looked at me, smiled then faced Mariel and shrugged, it's whatever. I looked at both of them
and in that moment I sensed that they were sending some sort of subliminal girl message, more
advanced than Morse code, between each other and I had no idea how to translate it. I don't know
if I'm tripping or rolling right now, but I'm for 'whatever' too, I said with a cheesy smile on my face. You're
the one who said you wanted to 'go somewhere', laughed Maria Did I? I asked. Mariel nodded her head,
duh.
We decided to go to outback to her tiny yard.
I noticed a trampoline in the middle of the small concrete patio. Mariel ran and dove onto
the trampoline and laughed. I didn't know you had a trampoline, I said. My dad got it when he evicted some
frat guys in ueens last month, she replied. Holy shit guys, I'm tripping really, really hard right now, Tara
muttered quietly, almost to herself. Me too, I laughed as I jumped on the trampoline, causing
Mariel to bounce up. The light from the back door suddenly grew till it was a humongous halo
8
1t?
encompassing the entire night sky. I couldn't blink if I wanted to. We jumped on that
trampoline—for how long I have no idea—cackling like post-menopausal witches, until some
people from the party stumbled into the backyard and fucked up the whole vibe with their sober
antics But then again, we were beyond high and there was nothing that any mortals could do to
bring us down from that cloud we were suspended from. We kept laughing while they watched
us like kids gaping at masturbating chimps at the Bronx Zoo.
Back in the house we danced for hours, to music we couldn't discern the genre of, and
didn't care who watched. It was then that I noticed someone with blue hair with their back to
us. I think that's Athena, I said while Mariel and Tara grinded up on me. They didn't hear me. I
walked away and they kept dancing, oblivious to my missing presence. I tapped her—it was a
girl, I hoped—shoulder and she spun around with eyes wide as Betty Beep's, if Betty Beep took
mind-altering substances of course. Hey, what's up, Nelson? she greeted. Wow, this is so coot You're here
hanging out at Mariel's and Pm here too...at the same time, I added smartly, or so I thought. She looked
me up and down, as if for the first time. Sometimes that happens...when you share a mutual friend, she
added. Yeah, I laughed. Holy shit, I got to introduce you to my friends, I said. We walked over to Mariel
and Tara in the middle of the living room ana they all hugged while I looked at them
thoughtlessly. They grabbed me and we ran back upstairs to Mailers bedroom—a couple were
having sex in the bathroom—and sat on the bed. Athena lit up a bong with hashish in it and we
smoked. The room was spinning slightly so I lied on my back. I closed my eyes—I think—and
heard Tara whisper something in my ear. What happened, I yelled as I sat up, almost smashing
heads with Tara. Come to the bathroom with me, she repeated.
In the bathroom we stood in front of each other saying nothing until she removed two
pills from her inside pants pocket and offered me one. I took it without question and washed it
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1 C;
down with a stale bear sitting on the hamper next to the shower. She kissed me. I kissed her
back, feeling her tongue squirming inside my mouth. Put this pill in my ass, she said. What? I
laughed. Just do it; I get really nice like that Someone told me it goes straight to your blood stream that way, she
quickly added. Okay, I said as she bent over the sink and spread her legs. I took the little, red,
star-shaped pill from her and stuck it in her then pushed it in all the way with my index finger.
Oh my god, I'm so wet right now, she said then turned around and we started making-out. This
is crazy, I'm lucked up out of my mind, I mumbled as she pulled down my pants. I helped her remove
her pants and then she roughly inserted my penis in her. Kissing on her neck, I eased my torpedo
deeper into her love canal and we had sex until both of us felt an explosion although nothing
came out.
The bliss of Tantra couldn't compare.
Mariel and Athena were sitting on the bed, petting each other, when me and Tara
walked back into the bedroom. Some random guy tried to barge into the room and we slammed
the door on his arm before pushing him out. Who the fuck was that? they both said in unison. I don't
know, you invited him, I answered. I don't know that motherfticker, she mumbled back. Mariel's head
was nodding as her body rocked like a sinking ship. Athena eased her back down and lied next
to her, petting her hair. I sat next to Athena with Tara behind Mariel. We could hear voices
outside the bedroom door in the hallway. The voices drowned out, however, in the cacophony of
subconscious urges as our dog pile evolved from a can of limp sardines to a barrel of restless
monkeys. This occurred in a matter of seconds. I don't know if it was the petting and sweet talk
that led to the dry humping and kissing but the night quickly flowed into an erotic stream
which we drowned in unrepentantly. Whether it was the ecstacy, the acid, the rum, the weed,
Athena's hash, the combination of them all or just the moment that translocated my senses to an
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ei
ephemeral plane of homeostasis, I do not know—and I may never figure it out; but I do know
that any sense of "normalcy" I had experienced prior to that night was a chimerical realm, the
zenith of which I had transcended and would never return.
I went "flight deck" and I loved it.
Sometime in July, months after our little romp, the four of us lay on a hilltop, preparing
for a fireworks show, and the topic of death inevitably popped up into the conversation. It went
something like this: When I die....
After we all spoke our peace, except Athena, who was staring up at the naked sky in
silence, I managed to break her from her meditation and repeated the question. She looked at all
of us and smiled—the first time I had ever seen her smile—in a way that made me appreciate her
attitude towards life; and I realized her attitude towards life was identical to her attitude
towards death. She told us that when she died she wanted her urn to be put in a space capsule
and rocketed up to the highest level of Earth's atmosphere and detonated so her ashes would
spread all over the world and sow new life. Just as she finished, the fireworks started and we
cheered. We all took two hits of LSD and an ecstacy pill then I fired up a pregnant-looking joint
and passed it around. We gazed at the fireworks in amazement and awe at human existence. I
looked over at my friends and took a deep breath of the night...I exhaled the beauty of the next
day and smiled.
life's a trip ain't it?
11
14s
Dextromethorphan
PADmne
...it's
usually a good sign when you can't feel your face. It's even better when you can't
feel the ground beneath you.
We sat in medicated silence, mouths gaping—our brains dormant as an
unplugged vacuum in a moth-ridden closet; Winona Rider was speaking to Keanu
Reeves iii a car while he made expressionless faces, reminiscent of a lobotomized
Ken doll, sporadically interrupted with the occasional groan or desultory scowl.
Half-animated characters babbled mindlessly on the screen as they plotted to harm
one another in paranoid incongruity.
"What the hell are we watching?"
"I told you already... A Scanner Darkly."
"A Slammer Darky?" asked Xavier.
"No, 'A Scan-ner Dark-/y'; how retarded are you? Jo asked with semirhetorical finesse.
"This movie is insane. I feel insane," replied Xavier.
"That's because you are," I responded.
Xavier slowly rotated his neck till he was facing us and with his head slightly
tilted, "Yep. I am a raging lunatic." With his eyes almost bulging out of their
sockets, Xavier looked like a pug on crystal meth. "And I am tripping my fucking
ass off," he droned.
"I'm tripping face," agreed Jo.
"I'm tripping balls," I added, somewhat robotically.
"How many days has it been now?" Xavier asked as he turned back to the TV.
"Two weeks," estimated Jo.
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"Oh, god, don't even play around like that," I warned, "It's only been three
days, I think."
"It feels more like two months. And I get higher as the days go on, which was
awesome, at first, but now I'm like: 'when will it fucking end?"
"Xavier, stop being a girl, bro; it was your idea to take that shit in the first
place."
"Uh, uh, Jo," Xavier said as he shook his fiat-backed head, "that honor goes to
you, buddy."
"How do you figure that?'
"Yo..." I mumbled.
"Because after we stole the shit from Price Chopper, you decided to pop all 16
instead of the eight as we planned. Had you stuck to the plan—"
"What a surprise.., you're putting this off on me. Wow. For the record, I didn't
decide anything for you; I merely 'encouraged' you guys to 'go hard for your first
time' so you could really feel the effects and—"
"Mission accomplished, dipshit. We haven't slept now in, what, 72 hours?"
•"Why do I get blamed for everything?" Jo sighed.
"Yo..." I mumbled again.
"Yeah," responded Jo.
•"I'm getting my 'second wind," I wheezed.
Xavier looked at Jo, "What the hell is he talking about Jo?'
After looking at me, Jo slouched in the three-seater and put his feet up on the
coffee table, "He's fine. The DXM is just running through his system—that's all
He's peaking again. It's normal, now chill the fuck out and enjoy it."
"We shouldn't have smoked that dust blunt," Xavier stated.
"Will you stop it? That was almost 24-hours-ago... you're killing my fucking
high, bro, for real."
"Yeah, but it amplified the effe—"
"So fucking what? That is a beautiful thing; I wish I was as fucked up as you
two right now."
2
147
"Yo..." I mumbled as I slid off the couch and plopped onto the brown rug.
Xavier and Jo laughed.
"I was supposed to go to work today. I had to call in sick because of you. And
you're not as fucked up as us because you're a garbage head."
"Thanks," replied Jo.
"It wasn't a compli—hey, what the fuck is going on?" Xavier laughed as he
watched the movie on the screen. "This movie is bugged-out. What the hell do you
got us watching here?'
I mumbled something inaudible as the voices of Robert Downey Jr., Woody
Harrelson and Benito del Toro drowned me out. Was I speaking through them or
were they speaking through me?
"You okay down there?" asked Xavier as his eyes bulged out at me. "Goddamn
you're wrecked...."
"He's fine, leave him alone. You should never bring unnecessary attention to
someone that's robo-tripping...they could have a bad trip that way," admonished Jo.
"He looks like he's having a 'bad trip' right now—oops," Xavier said, clamping
his hand over his mouth, "My bad."
At that moment I wished I had the plasma gun from Doom so I could blow
both of them away—just clear the whole board, the whole level, the whole goddamn
dungeon. The shadows on the wall next to the TV vibrated, flickered, vanished and
reappeared as they danced on the wall like black flames. A demonic-looking Keanu
Reeves stood in a field—of poppies?—before bending down to pick something up off
the ground. I looked at the white lighter I was holding in my hand and gulped.
"White lighters are bad luck. Don't you know that?"
I looked up at Xavier.
Jo fidgeted with something in his lap.
"What happened?" he asked as he looked back at me, "How are you holding
up over there?"
I shook my head and chortled.
3
KIS
"Oh, he's fine," laughed Jo. "Matter fact, I'm starting to feel the effects
creeping back on me too. I'm thinking if we smoke this little blunt here, it might
bring us down some...."
"Spark it up, Sparky," laughed Xavier. "Hey, Jo, thanks for putting me on to
this movie—the director is a fucking madman, pure genius; I love it," he exclaimed
while looking at his hands in awe. "I have claws," he snarled.
"Yeah, it's a pretty good flick—definitely makes you consider some strange
possibilities. If you think about it, our perception of reality is—"
"Oh, no, don't start that crazy shit. I can't handle that kind of talk right now.
I'm starting to lose it as it is."
"Man, you've been lost it."
"...how can you lose what you never had?' Xavier whispered cryptically with
wide eyes.
The room suddenly felt really small, impersonal, controlled and clinical—as if
the singularity had compressed all the matter in the known universe down my
throat; and pounding at my ribcage, it attempted to force its way out my chest. "I
think I'm having an anxiety attack," I said to myself, breathing shallowly. A
thousand needles pricking my lungs would have been a relief at that point. My
throat burned and I found it impossible to swallow as my saliva had dried in my
mouth like a dehydrated oasis.
I frantically grabbed a glass off the coffee table and dunked whatever
substance was contained inside down my throat, splashing most of it on my face. My
joints felt stiff, no oil for the Tin Man. Burping loudly, something that tasted like
mercury bubbled up over my tongue and dribbled onto my collar.
"Oh shit, don't hurl on the fucking carpet. My mom will kill me. C'mon brorun to the bathroom," yelled Jo.
Xavier just sat there laughing as I supported my body on the couch, pushing
myself up. The bathroom seemed light-years away. I burped but held the soupy
liquid in my mouth, against my instincts, gulping most of it, which burned as it
travelled back down my throat. My stomach hurt even
worse. Jo's cat dashed out
the bathroom and ran between my legs, screaming as I stepped on its fluffy tail,
which caused me to stumble then fall, crashing into the stairs. Images of cartoon
characters screaming "N00000," in prolonged monotone, flitted across my eyes
End it, almost, pained me to know that the two idiots who I was currently
hallucinating with would be the only ones at my funeral—possibly but not probably,
and most likely not. A more realistic possibility would be the cat reading my eulogy.
Xavier wobbled over and stood next, to me. "I saw you falling. But I couldn't
make it in time... I'm too fucked up right now, sorry."
"That stupid cat tripped me."
"It looks like you got shot."
"Huh?" I rolled over. A puddle of Thousand Islands-ish looking goop covered
the thick, absorbent carpet beneath me.
"I think I see some pills in there," Xavier said, leaning close to examine the
specimen that came out my body. "Nope. just a chunk of pepperoni," he said
disappointed. He grabbed a towel out the bathroom closet and dropped it on top of
the vomit then looked at me wide-eyed, without blinking, and confidently stated,
"Nobody will ever know."
My partner-in-crime and I stumbled back into the den. Jo looked at us
suspiciously. We looked at each other. Then back at him.
"What's up? You alright now?" he asked.
I looked over at Xavier who looked away hastily. "Yeah, I'm good," I affirmed
as confidently as I could. Consciously forcing myself to not look to the right as I
devised a good story to quell his suspicion, I seriously wondered if our emotions and
thoughts were interconnected through our copious drug use, and, if they were,
whether he would know if I was lying or not.
"You made it to the bathroom?"
"Yeah.. .I'm starting to trip harder now."
"Sometimes that happens after you throw up." Jo picked up his cat and held
him against his chest. The cat glared at me knowingly. "What do you guys want to
do tonight because this is lame," he said with his arms out.
"The movie's over. Let's go for a walk. Maybe run into some girls," suggested
Xavier.
I would have responded or offered a suggestion but I had more pressing
matters to attend to, as there was no dichotomy between the ground and the sky
which I could logically discern anymore... 480 mgs of DXM and a gram of PCP will
do that.
"Run into some girls' huh?" mimipked Jo, "you two can barely walk and you
think you're going to 'run into some girls'? I know as soon as this shit wears off and
my shriveled dick returns to normal size, I'll be 'running into something,' but,
realistically, that ain't happening tonight..."
After 15 minutes of arguing we decided to go outside and explore "the world."
Our neighborhood was a hodgepodge of apartment complexes, supermarkets, large
retail stores and small businesses jammed together in 5-miles of experimental,
suburban development located next to a major highway—a breeding ground for
future sociopaths. Only a mastermind could have devised such an anti-idealistic
setting. But why? And why had I never noticed before? It seriously made me wonder
if the enigmatic neighborhood developer was on mind-altering substances when zhe
decided to compress residential and industrial excess into one insignificant,
capitalistic blur, unnoticed by most people as they flew by in their cars and headed
nowhere, or if community detachment was actually part of a sinister plan,
manufactured by an ancient, reptilian species, to turn humans into disposable
commodities.
"How are you doing over there?" Jo asked, before dumping cigar guts onto the
sidewalk.
"My joints are locked up," stated Xavier, stiffly reaching into his pocket to
remove the bag of weed and hand it to Jo.
"It's all in your head; you must fight it young grasshopper." Jo took the bag
and sprinkled its contents into the open cigar leaf and started rolling it.
I continued observing bodies as they entered and exited stores, wondering if
there were other "extraterrestrials" that thought about life the way I did, or if I was
6
the only "weirdo" around. Sometimes, I'm proud to be a human being; and other
times, I want to smash my simian face through a fucking mirror and scream This
was one of those times. I looked over at Xavier who took his hits; the blunt came my
way. "Why are you holding it so low? I can't reach it," I cried out, jaw aching.
"I don't know; my claws are not working properly; I'm in full robo-mode."
"Fight it young grasshopper," chimed Jo.
Trying to reach the burning blunt, I crouched down slightly and hearing my
knees crack drew still, unable to straighten my body back to its normal position.
"Oh fuck. I'm stuck."
"Ahh, it burned my fucking hand—evil little thing," screamed Xavier before
throwing it on the ground.
"What the fuck is wrong with you bro?" asked Jo.
Xavier started moaning and through grinding teeth muttered, "You evil little
thing." As this went on, a couple was exiting a car; however, when they saw us, they
closed the doors and stared at us with slack jaws. Jo picked up the blunt, blew dirt
off it and reached in his pocket for a lighter. "Goddammit, I lost my lighter; you
guys got one?" By 'my lighter' he really meant my lighter.
"I told you that thing was bad luck," yelled Xavier.
•
"Chili out you idiot," scolded Jo.
"There's no such thing as luck," I replied, still in a crouched position, trying to
figure out a way to coax my defiant brain into obeying the command to stand up. I
watched as Jo waddled over to the car and knock on the window. The couple inside
the car just stared at him. "Hello," he called as if he were speaking to someone from
a foreign country. No answer. "Hell000," he repeated. The car roared to life as the
guy inside turned the ignition. "It's an emergency, bro. We
need a lighter. Please."
Jo backed up as the car reversed, almost running over his foot, did a 180 0 turn and
sped off, kicking dust into our faces. "Cocksucker," screamed Jo at the top of his
lungs, "come back and give me a lighter before I rip your little raisin heart out your
chest, put it in this blunt and smoke it you filthy bastard."
"How are we going to smoke it without a lighter?" asked an absent Xavier.
"Shut the fuck up retard. This is your fault."
"Take it easy guys, chill Let's just go to the K-Mart parking garage and have
a seat. I'm sure there's someone there with a lighter."
"That's a marvelous idea but how are we going to get there with you in
crouching-tiger-hidden-jackass mode right now?" asked Jo.
"It's not my fault. I can't move. I'm comfortable right now; let me hold this
position for a while," I replied.
Xavier lay stretched out in a grassy area and moaned, "The ground is
bubbling guys. This shit is re—"
"You and Xavier need to stop being babies and man-up. It's all in your head,"
he motioned with a finger and pointed at his temple before adding, "Now put on
your 'big boy pants' and let's go."
A large, silver van full of kids drove by; one of the boys leaned out the window
and yelled, "losers." "That's why I kicked your daddy's ass in high school you little
bitch," Jo screamed at the flying bullet as it seemed to slow down to a complete stop
before whizzing by and blasting off past the corner we stood at. Finding the
strength within myself to stand up, my knees quivered and I suddenly felt as if the
laws of physics no longer applied, gravity and electromagnetism were moot subjects.
Desperately, I clenched the stop sign next to me and held on for dear life, praying
that I did not shoot up into the sky—lost forever in a sea of dark energy.
Fighting an internal battle, which I was losing, and wrestling with my
untamed imagination, I gripped the rusty, metal pole till my hands resembled the
immaterial appendages of a disembodied force that was unaware of its own death.
It's all in my head, I thought, hoping that I could trick myself into believing that the
Earth would not turn upside down and shake everyone off of its impersonal face like
tiny dust mites.
Jo grabbed my arms from behind and pulled me off the pole. I held on
frantically until my grip slipped and we tumbled down into the grass next to Xavier
who was talking to some dandelions.
8
17:
I laid there, solemnly, thinking that I had already died and was stuck in
limbo. "This is the realm of the dead. I'm dead. If you can hear me then that means
you're dead too... can you hear me?' I asked with earnest in my heart.
"Oh my god, I'm dead," Xavier cried while writhing in the grass next to his
dandelion friends.
"Stop being stupid—you're not dead. If you keep fucking around though,
you're going to be dead in real life."
"That doesn't even make sense; and nothing makes sense when you're dead,"
I argued.
"Oh, god, we all died," moaned an inert Xavier.
I rolled over on my side and watched the sun disappear behind the
mountains "Guys, we've officially crossed over into the realm of death now," I
stated almost joyfully, "It's not at all how I imagined it."
Jo groaned.
I continued, "Look on the bright side; at least were here together. Things may
look the same, but don't be fooled—we're definitely on the other side. I say we get up
and explore this place."
Jo shook his head.
Xavier continued to lie on his back as Jo and I got up and dusted ourselves
off. "The darkness...darkness all around. Darkness everywhere.., swallowing me
whole," he rambled incoherently.
"Get up you lunatic," said Jo.
An elderly man with a slobbering Great Dane trotted by without stopping,
perhaps out of fear of making eye contact, when Jo called out, "Can I ride your dog?'
They both ignored him, not missing a step in their leisurely pace. Jo barked at them
until they evanesced into the shadowy distance.
I felt as if a dog was tugging on my pants leg until it occurred to me that the
wind was kicking up, throwing mounds of dry leaves into the air—an autumn
collage.
"You see?" I exclaimed, "We are dead."
9
"The guy didn't even say anything to you Jo, "Xavier said half-agonized halfawed.
"That's because he couldn't hear him. He couldn't hear or see any of us; we're
in another realm."
"I'm leaving. You two are fucking up my high," Jo droned. As he waddled off,
• I thought I heard him muttering something about "lighters"; and watching him for
that long, drawn-out moment, I couldn't help but wonder if it was really the year
•6006 and we were all just failed products of ectogenesis.
Everything looked gray and lifeless. I turned around and helped Xavier to his
feet. We walked as far as our robot legs would take us. "Let's go sit down at the KMart," I suggested. Xavier nodded. The parking garage seemed like our best bet. We
sat on some milk crates, leaning against the wall, and waited. For what, I don't
know; maybe we we're waiting for life to have purpose. Or now that we we're on the
other side, maybe, we were waiting for "purpose" to find death.
"My ass hurts," Xavier complained.
"I can't feel my ass," I responded. "Do you want to keep walking?'
"No, not just yet.. .we're going to be stuck like this for an eternity. I'm not in
any rush."
I closed my eyes.
•
"Being dead sucks," Xavier stated, staring at me with his bug-eyes.
"It's not that much different than when we were alive," I observed.
"My head feels heavy."
"So lay down..."
"I can't"
"Why not?'
"Because if I do, then I'll melt into the ground," he stated matter-of-factly, "I
think our bodies realize that they're dead. And now that we've accepted it in our
hearts, they're ready to go back into the dirt."
"Who's 'they'?" I asked.
"Skeletons."
10
17:
The ceiling of the parking garage felt low, too low. My neck cracked as I
turned to face my friend, sending muscles spasms down my back. I could hear a dog
barking in the distance, somewhere.
"Bro, you alright?" Xavier asked as I twitched on the ground. We looked at
each other, staring at our own reflections through vacant eyes. "I knew it. It's
happening," he moaned, "bones turning back to dust...."
"Nothings happening—I'm fine," I managed to spit out as my body convulsed
on the cold, hard concrete.
"I don't know what the fuck is happening right now," said Xavier as his
monotone whir tickled the bone in my ear. I could feel it in my throat, my nose, my
eyes and even the nuclei of my almost-incalculable amount of atoms.
I curled up in fetal position and listened to an owl hooting geometric patterns
which echoed in the parking garage before returning back to its owner, back to
nature. I rolled over. Xavier was gone. Being alone wasn't what scared me... not
knowing was. Like a discarded cicada shell, my skin crackled as I gasped for breath
and black smoke emitted from my orifices. Slowly and mechanically, my extremities
were separated from my limbs—an unknown force had taken control.
It's all in my head.
Everything hurt. I wondered how it was possible for me to feel pain when I
was dead. It was then that I, finally, understood what Keanu saw when he stood in
that field.
How was it that no one else knew, except me?
...it's never a good sign when they come for you. It's especially worse when they come
for a reason. Those in power remain so because they're fearful—afraid that someone
will eventually catch on, and they don't want that...
11
17,
m.
21.
EXIsT
...be gone.
Leave me alone.
I need to be free.
What is freedom if I want?
I dwell in existential madness,
theoretical manifestations of neural ambrosia.
I drink.
I love.
I hate.
When will I stop?
I wait for the hands of Father Time's clock to disappear,
spiraling down an hourglass of abstraction.
I create.
I hurry.
I pause.
Where does the boundary end?
I stretch out until a solitary photon encompasses the cosmos' infinite loops,
returning to nothing,
manifold emptiness of illusory subconscious.
Return.
Never become.
Join me.
Who?
Nobody.
No one.
Nowhere.
Now here.
Am I?
I don't exist...
P.M. Dunne
An excerpt from Sleeping in Last Night's Clothes & Tomorrow's Dreams
IT AIN'T EASY BEING A STAR.
Every time you enter or exit a building, whether it be your house, your friend's house, your
business associate's house, the bank, the bar, the club, the supermarket or even the fucking
hospital you got somebody up your ass. They crawl out the gutters, pop up around corners
and jump down from balconies just to gaze at you, ask stupid questions and stick
smartphones in your face.
The leeches surround you.
What are you doing at the hospital, Jackson?
Colonoscopy....Get lost.
Mr. Baghdad, when does your next movie hit theaters?
Whenever the fuck it comes out, jerhoff.
Hey Jackson, was that a stunt double in your last flick?
Yeah, but he don't look as good as me though.
Mr. Baghdad, tell us about your relationship with Angelica.
She's a leech, just like you.
Jackson. Jackson, on TMZ you were caught...
See what I mean? Leeches.
If the leeches ain't trying to suck your blood, then the fans are. And that ain't the only thing
they want to suck. Give a groupie some action, let her bask in the omnificence of yours truly,
and the next thing you know, your bank account's getting sucked dry. Swallowed too. All
that because you were foolish enough to think you could mingle with "the others." Tsk-tsk,
ain't you learn shit from your book writing days?
14
P.M. Dunne
To make things even more suspenseful, try getting barraged with a shitstorm of
interrogations from "the ol' bitch." It's not raining cats and dogs; it's raining diarrhea and
corn kernels.
Who the hell is Baghdad? I didn't name you that.
You still taking drugs? You still fucking whores?
What would grandma and grandpa think if they knew how you were behaving on
national television. They're looking down on us from heaven, ya' know?
You need Jesus. Pray to him to save you.
I don't need Jesus. I need a lobotomy, a fat bundle, a bottle of Cuervo, a loaded Mi6, an
underage illegal immigrant from some obscure South American country, and a goddamn vacation.
It's un-fucking-believable. You can't make this shit up. That's all I hear: Jesus, Jesus,
Jesus, Mary and Joseph...and Lucifer. Can't forget about him. The funniest part of it all
though is that she was a menace her whole life. I got to get my life together? I make zo mil a
flick and you've been on Section 8 over zo years now. Give me a goddamn break lady. It was
around the time when I was just old enough to buy cigarettes that she decided to show up.
Just barged right into my life when I stopped giving a shit. Just when I'd stopped taking
people's shit and started dishing it out—a hot, steaming plate of fuck you. When we finally
met, she acted as if it was nothing...no big deal. No apologies, no tears, no soft spoken words
between sobs of repentant grief; just a cold, obligatory, robotic hug and a peck on the cheek;
then a "past is past" speech with a "let's move on" as if she had always been there for a
motherfucker (probably not the most appropriate synonym right now); as if she had the
liberty to enjoy the luxury of a lovingly, nonchalant attitude towards her past transgressions
like many mothers can afford to; and even though I'll admit that I was a, little, angry with
"the ol' bitch," I never once thought about pushing her down a zo-flight staircase, smacking
her upside her head with a jagged brick nor roundhouse kicking her in the ass.
Nope, never even crossed my mind.
She is, after all, the one that spit me out the ol' cuntbucket.
This shit is crazy. Hollywood is insane, maybe even more so than publishing. These people
will drive you cuckoo, if you're not already. Even though they're supposed to "work for you,"
most agents just want you to kiss their pale, slimy asses. Half of them want a finger up their
2
171
P.M. Dunne
ass; and the other half want to finger fuck you in the ass while you sign your life away on the
dotted line (cliché) then pull it out and make you sniff it.
Take a whiff kiddo, smells like money don't it? I'm gonna' make you a star.
Nope, can't make this shit up.
I'm a winner. Supposedly, I'm "losing touch with reality." What the hell do you mean losing?
You don't know the half of it. It started with my literary career, then a long bid, and
escalated into a full blown case of Hollywoody, my rise to A-list stardom. Them flaccid dick,
stiff jointed bastards pushed me over the edge with their nitpicky, eccentric, micromanaging
bullshit. Well, let me back track a little bit here. I told my editor that I write better in the
first person narrative and he told me something to the effect of yes, of course you do, you're
a fucking sociopath Jackson. Well, as they say, you can't spell sociopath without the I, can you?
Jackson, why did you justify this here?
Jackson, you need to indent that paragraph.
Jackson, a sentence needs a subject and a predicate.
Jackson, a lot of people are going to feel alienated by this line...take it out.
Blah, blah, blah, blah and blab blah fucking blah Mak.
On and on and on and on. Who the hell did this little pimple-faced twerp, fresh out of
community college, think he was? I've written bestsellers, national bestsellers, inter-fuckingnational bestsellers. You're a goddamn editor getting paid jack shit to hate on my artistry you
bottom-feeding waste of carbon matter. Pull over on the side of the rode and...matter fact—
open the passenger side door, while doing 125 on the interstate, and kiss the asphalt you
unimaginative little prick. You're nothing. I sent him a nice quote from Nietzsche in a
holiday email:
Insects sting, not from malice, but because they want to live. It is the same with critics—they
desire our blood, not our pain.
Oh, I get it. You just want to get close to greatness. Be in the presence of greatness. Absorb
my greatness. Nope, not happening buddy. I am an atomic bomb in your medulla oblongata,
an intelligasm. You're a wham-bham-thank-you-ma'am, a hit and run situation, in the
literary world. My old domain. After arguing with the publishing house for a week, they
fired the insufferable little prick. And guess what? He blew his brains out. Blew a pint of
cerebellum juice all over his boyfriend's kitchen table. How's that for irony? The boyfriend
3
P.M. Dunne
gets mad, real blazing mad, and goes to my agent's house demanding to see me. The audacity
of this jerkoff. We finally run into each other. We exchange words. He swings on me. I get
mad. He's in the ambulance with a broken neck...in critical condition. The bastard croaks.
Jackson Baghdad?
Yes?
I'm gonna' need you to put your hands behind your back sir. You're under arrest.
Fuck.
At trial, your lawyer, who you paid six figures, six figures you can't really afford, is a
blundering, senior citizen wannabe-freemason kook exiled from the vicious world of
Madison Avenue. You are facing 3 counts of Ai felony.. He mumbles and objects but the
judge grumbles and rejects. He does his stupid little song and dance then flashes some signs
in the court room like the septuagenarian jackass that he is. Eehaw.
I guess he don't respect the compass and square, Mr. 33 degree, huh?
Apparently my life is in the hands of 12 of my "peers" and an old, miserable creep wearing a
black nightgown (with probably nothing underneath) and a serious Napoleon complex.
"Your Honor" is a fat, racist and power hungry prick (ain't we all?) and your fate basically
depends on whether the old shitbag had his little, wrinkly pecker inside of his 21-year-old
mistress's freshly shaved twat or his wife's dusty, musty, sourdough factory with her saggy
utters in his face. You better pray his prescription to them little blue pills was filled and his
wife is allowing him to play "golf" with the hot D.A. this weekend—a "playdate." Hole in
one motherfucker.
How did it get to this point Mr. Baghdad?
Tenacity, your honor. Ten-ass-city.
I sentence you to no less than 7 but no more than 15 years, in a maximum correctional
facility, with 5 years post release supervision. Society needs to be protected from monsters
like you Mr. Baghdad. Do you have anything to say for yourself?
Yeah, F-U-G-K-Y-O-U. Fuck you.
Life is peachy, ain't it? I'm a monster. I killed one person, accidently. This low-life prick has
killed hundreds. 25 to life. Poof! Life without parole. Poof! 75 years. Poof! Goodbye. Adios.
Sayonara. See you in some riot scene on an episode of Gangland. Better get used to Palmela
Handerson and Handy Moore because those are your two bottom bitches for the next
4
IS'!
P.M. Dunne
decade-and-a-half. Get you a tuna can top or ice pick or scalpel, shit's going down in the yard
tonight. Tie the curtain across your bars, tight, so the C.O. can't rip it out and see you on the
stainless steel throne with the sink connected to it. Stuff your plastic mattress with some old
clothes so you don't wake up with a pinched sciatica or slipped disk. Wrap your food in a
plastic bag then put it in a net bag and hang it up on the wall so the cockroaches and vermin
can't get it. Hide your shit in a locker so nobody fishes it out your cell.
Nope, can't maize
this shit up.
5
It!
Laughing in the
EighbOv.v1
P. M. Dunne
And that wise ol' serpent was the most cunnin' of all the creatures in the garden, the
televangelist's face turns red as he screams at the crowd, just like our 'riginal parents, he
wants to take us from the Lawd and hurt us. You need to believe in the Lawd; you need to talk
to • the Lawd; you need to pray to the Lawd; you need to accept him into yo' life. You need to
ask him to save ya'—and yo' soul from eternal damnation. The last two words are emphasized
to great dramatic effect. Sweat trickles down the faces of various audience members as they
look up at him, begging for the scraps of exploitation which the televangelist happily carves off
the metaphorical carcass of a half-naked man's utopian fantasy, and throws out to the gaping
mouths of their lost souls, the sacrifice of its dripping flesh.
I turn away from the TV-screen and look at the receptionist. Smiling at me perfunctorily
as she answers the phone, I can tell she is in a rush to go home. I walk down the hall and
purchase a can of Lipton's and a bag of Planter's while I wait. Outside, the sky is pissing frozen
rain onto the slush-covered streets. People hustle about as they duck for cover from the cold
downpour while running errands. I slurp my drink and stare at the fire house across the street
and wonder what the hell would make someone want to put out fires rather than start them.
A mother sits with her child in the reception area when I walk back into the room. The
child kicks the bottom of the chair while the mother keeps repeating 'You're embarrassing me.'
I laugh.
Say it with me now: Lewd, I am yo' little lost lamb and! need yo' help; please provide
me with yo' everl asting guidance. I know deep down in my heart you sent this good ol'
1.
reverend down here from the seven spheres of firmament to help save my sin-ridden soul. Al/!
need to do is donate $312 in order—
"Sir?" the receptionist calls.
—to plant the heavenly seed of the Lawd's love which will grow in your heart when....
"Sir?" she calls again.
"Yes," I reply.
"The doctor is ready to see you now."
"Okay, thank you."
"Woah, woah, slow down. You're glossing things over. Now, start at the beginning."
"For what? I already told you."
"It's important. You need to work through this."
"It's not that important," I remark as I shift uncomfortably in the gray leather recliner."
Dr. de la Concha clears his throat, takes a sip of whatever is in his cup, and jots
something in his notebook before looking back at me.
"What is that?" I blurt out.
"What is what?' His eyebrows raise, glasses slide down the bridge of his nose and his
lips suck in.
"That." I point to the notepad on the desk.
"Oh, this?" He says, tapping the notepad with his pen.
"Yeah, what's that all about? You're not writing something about me, are you?"
"Oh no," Dr. de la Concha chuckles, "it's just my 'To-do List,' that's all—want to see?"
I shake my head slowly before I realize I've already taken the notepad from his
outstretched hand and am reading it. It is, mostly, a shopping list except the 'Return Storm
Squirters 5 DVD to Amazon' reminder at the bottom of the page.
"Storm Squirters 5, huh?" I laugh.
2
It
"I beg your pardon," he asks as he crosses his legs and his glasses slide further down the
bridge of his nose till they're almost hanging from the tip.
"I didn't take you for the 'toilet-fetish-kind-of-guy' doctor."
"Oh, really, why not?"
I stare at him incredulously. I can't believe he's asking me this. "I don't know...I guess it's
just a little weird that's all."
Dr. de la Concha chuckles and starts chewing on his pen. "What's so 'weird' about it?"
he asks.
"Are you serious?" I burst out, laughing anxiously. The doctor's eager expression
remains, unblinking. It seems he is serious.
"I don't know too many doctors who—well, I don't know too many doctors at all, but I
would imagine the few that I have known were not into something like..."
"Like what?" he probes, gently.
"Like that," I add, a little too forcefully maybe.
"And why do you think that is Miguel?"
"I don't know."
He looks at me, stares through me, and in a tone that penetrates straight to my bone
marrow, states, "Sure you do." The little bit of confidence I clung to in the spacious, peachcolored office shattered like tinted glass under the wrecking ball of his self-assurance—could he
read my mind? I adjust the strap of my baseball cap to press the tinfoil shield underneath closer
to my cranium. It was then that I knew this would be our last encounter, last appointment—I'd
make sure of it. I'd show him, that old perverted bastard.
"It's...it's...It's considered..." I pause.
Dr. de la Concha pushes his glasses higher up the bridge of his nose before reaching into
his desk and pulling out a Koosh-ball. I scoff at the purple and orange porcupine toy in his hand
as he squeezes it.
"Is something the matter?" he asks.
"Are you making fun of me?"
"I beg your pardon?"
3
"What kind of game are you playing, doctor?"
"I'm sorry Miguel, but I'm thoroughly confused."
"It's Mr. Ramos, and you know exactly what I'm talking about," I accuse.
Dr. de la Concha grabs the notepad off the desk and scribbles something hastily. I glare
at the notepad then at him as I feel the anger sharks swimming in my head. I know I'm about to
explode when my sinuses burn.
"I'm talking to you," I growl, trying to suppress the detonation. However, I know I've
revealed too much of myself when he finally answers. The look in his eye is different.
"Yes Mr. Ramos, I hear you." After finishing with the notepad he clicks his pen, twice,
which annoys the hell out of me and says, "You sound a little flustered...are you alright?"
"I'm fine."
"You don't sound 'fine."
I glance around the room and look at my surroundings. There are pictures on the wall of
serene environments: a Zen rock garden, a rustic mountain scene, a river in the plains and an
island festival. Places nothing like the world that I live in—the real world. Allowing myself to be
• captivated
by the world on the other side of the window, I notice that it is starting to get dark
and the freezing rain has turned back to flaky snow. All I can think is, by the time I leave the
office and drive home, the street will be covered in a nice, thick sheet of black ice. I hate winter,
especially the snow. People say snow is pretty, but that's until the day their car—which does
not have 4-wheel drive, or, at least, some salt in the trunk—slides across a snowy overpass and
hits a single mother pushing a baby carriage, causing them to tumble over the side into the
frozen water of the river below and you're sent to jail for vehicular manslaughter because you
tested positive for Xanax—a prescription from a certified psychiatrist—and alcohol, a selfprescription not granted by a certified psychiatrist, which unfortunately is what the DA calls the
'icing' on the cake to put you away, and then, suddenly, snow is not so 'pretty' anymore. Now it
is ugly and you want it to die, but, unfortunately, it is not a living being you can kill; it is an evil
force of nature, a wolf of misfortune and death concealed in the white cloak of a naïve lamb.
It is the sacrifice of your innocence and a thrust into the cold world of the Department
of Corrections and Parole where you are forced to speak to a maniac, with the whole-gamut of
4
1L-
perverted fetishes in his warped psyche, twice a week, hour long sessions, for five fucking years
and you can't do shit about it besides kill yourself, but you know you are too much of a coward
for that so your only hope is to become insane instead, get committed, curl up in a snow-white
straight jacket and melt into nonexistence like a Popsicle on Venus.
"Mr. Ramos?"
"What's with the notepad?" I burst out unexpectedly. "What are you writing now? I
know you're writing something about me."
"Mr. Ramos—"
"Stop saying it like that."
"Like what?" he says before tossing me the Koosh-ball, catching me off guard. The fibers
of the ball tickle my palm and feel soothing. For a second I even forget why I am mad. "Count to
ten," he tenderly commands.
"I don't want to." I shift in the chair and cross my ankles.
"Breathe in...one. Breathe out...two. Try it, it works for me when I'm angry," he assures.
"You got to be kidding me," I complain.
"Squeeze the Koosh. Become one with the Koosh."
"You're insane. How the hell did they let you become a psychologist?"
"They probably figured it was safer than letting me be a gynecologist," Dr. de la Concha
jokes.
I laugh, against my will, and throw the Koosh-ball up in the air and catch it. "So, what
were you writing?"
"A note for my wife to pick up our daughter from Karate," he answers.
"Oh," I say. "I took some Karate classes when I was a kid."
"Cool. Want to talk about it?"
"Maybe another time then."
"Maybe."
5
127
The next week I drive to the doctor's office for our mandatory appointment. I sit in the
reception room and stare at the TV. In my country all the women have beautiful round butts,
the man in the excessively tight Spandex leotard enthusiastically declares. In Brazil we take
great pride in our butts. Our women have the greatest butts in the wh000le w000rld, he drags.
I have trained many women, in Brazil, on how to tone their juicy butts to perfection, and now,
for the very first time, I am offering that perfection to the women of America with my new
fitness program: Brazilian Butt-lift
I look over at the receptionist's rear as she walks down the hall to the soda machine.
She notices out the corner of her eye and turns away, embarrassed at her behind, which I think
resembles pancakes hanging off a plate or mud flaps on a pickup. They're not a complete turnoff—I've seen worse. C'mon ladies, let's get those saggy tushies back into sexy, bikini shape
with my new choreographed Brazilian dance vide000...
It occurs to me that I have four-and-a-half more years of therapy sessions with Dr. de la
Concha as part of my parole. I know it is in my best interest to be on my 'best behavior.' The
doctor will have to sign off, reporting that I've participated for five years, and make a
recommendation whether I should remain in therapy or not The last six months were a
complete waste of time. And I know it is going to be a long four-and-a-half years ahead.
A young couple is sitting together. Flipping through a magazine, they laugh at whatever
is on the pages. I consider asking them what they are looking at, but decide against it. Normal
people don't laugh in the reception area of a psychologist's office.
Up, down, up, down...tighten those sexy buns and move around. Shake it, shake it,
shake it, the Brazilian man yells, his face about six inches from a woman's jiggling gluteus
muscles. I sit transfixed for a few minutes and wonder why they only play infomercials on the
TV in the reception area—most likely, it is part of the plan to make you think you're crazy
before you see the doctor so he can say you're crazy and you feel justified giving him more
money?
"Sir?" calls the receptionist.
6
lIT
"Shut the fuck up retard This is your fault."
"Take it easy guys, chill. Let's just go to the K-Mart parking garage and have
a seat. I'm sure there's someone there with a lighter."
"That's a marvelous idea but how are we going to get there with you in
crouching-tiger-hidden-jackass mode right now?' asked Jo.
"It's not my fault. I can't move. I'm comfortable right now; let me hold this
position for a while," I replied.
Xavier lay stretched out in a grassy area and moaned, "The ground is
bubbling guys This shit is re—"
"You and Xavier need to stop being babies and man-up. It's all in. your head,"
he motioned with a finger and pointed at his temple before adding, "Now put on
your 'big boy pants' and let's go."
A large, silver van full of kids drove by; one of the boys leaned out the window
and yelled, "losers." "That's why I kicked your daddy's ass in high school you little
bitch," Jo screamed at the flying bullet as it seemed to slow down to a complete stop
before whizzing by and blasting off past the corner we stood at. Finding the
strength within myself to stand up, my knees quivered and I suddenly felt as if the
laws of physics no longer applied, gravity and electromagnetism were moot subjects.
Desperately, I clenched the stop sign next to me and held on for dear life, praying
that I did not shoot up into the sky—lost forever in a sea of dark energy.
Fighting an internal battle, which I was losing, and wrestling with my
untamed imagination, I gripped the rusty, metal pole till my hands resembled the
immaterial appendages of a disembodied force that was unaware of its own death.
It's all in my head, I thought, hoping that I could trick myself into believing that the
Earth would not turn upside down and shake everyone off of its impersonal face like
tiny dust mites.
Jo grabbed my arms from behind and pulled me off the pole. I held on
frantically until my grip slipped and we tumbled down into the grass next to Xavier
who was talking to some dandelions.
8
C.
"Let's continue our talk from last week about my choice of pornography," he offers.
"Let's not and say we did," I counter.
Dr. de la Concha chews on his pen. "Last week we were close to a break-through. You
mentioned something about Storm Squirters 5. I think we should explore that a little bit."
Laughing out loud I shake my head and ask, "Why are we going back to that? You love
awkwardness don't you?" I look at him, hoping he is embarrassed, but he is not. Of course not,
why would he be?
"You said you 'considered it'..." he drags, letting the sentence dangle over a cliff of
vacillation.
"Deviant," I finish for him.
"And why do you consider it depraved?"
"Because it's weird and disgusting...and probably unhealthy."
"Physically or emotionally damaging?"
"Both."
"What's so weird and disgusting about exploring your fantasies and expressing your
sexuality through mature outlets? Would you suggest that I act out these fantasies in real life?"
"No, I'm not saying that, but.." I pause, look out the window. The snow starts coming
down harder.
"What are you saying then?"
"I don't know," I mumble.
"Don't you have any sexual fantasies? Aren't you human?"
"Okay, this is getting weird now." I tighten the strap on my baseball cap and adjust the
brim to subtly shade my eyes.
"I thought it was 'weird' already—isn't that what you just said a minute ago?"
I stare at the doctor and wonder how many children he has chained up in his basement
then fantasize about shooting him in the teeth with a round of frozen paintballs. That will have
to wait till our next appointment. The sucker fish makes a slurping noise and I turn around in
my seat, more than I need to, to avoid eye contact with the doctor. Detaching itself from the
glass, it drifts near the bottom of the tank, slurping up more algae, and then glides slowly over
the minnows' pirate castle before slumping into a pile of sand. The minnows ignore the sucker
fish's theatrics and continue their late-afternoon synchronized swim.
"Are you with me Mr. Ramos?" he sighs. "Even though you're state-mandated to visit
me, you know this is for your benefit, right?" After more pen munching, "You might as well get
the most out of it while you can."
"Will you share anything I say with my parole officer or is this strictly confidential?" I ask
hesitantly.
"Off the books; he replies with a smile before throwing me the Koosh-ball. I catch the
porcupine toy and hang it inbetween my index and middle finger by one of its purple fibers,
letting it twirl under my palm. "I was looking at your file before you came in. Do you know what
Kalagupta, your doctor at the prison, diagnosed you as?"
"No," I say solemnly before looking up, waiting like a condemned man on top of a hill for
the firing squad to arrive.
Looking at the contents of a manila envelope, "Three diagnoses: dissociative identity
disorder, clinical depression and post traumatie anxiety disorder; which it says here you were
prescribed medication for, is that true?"
"Yeah, but I didn't always take them;' I answer.
"Why not?" Dr. de la Concha asks as his glasses slide down.
"I don't know. I guess I didn't like how they made me feel."
"Yeah, me neither."
"Huh?"
"I never liked taking meds either, besides what I prescribed myself of course," he
chuckles.
I laugh along before building up the courage to ask, "You used to take medication?"
"Yeah, for years, until I got tired of walking around like a zombie."
"Oh," I reply.
"But every now and then I'll have a little anxiolytic to take the load off, you know?"
"Anxiol-what?"
"Anxiolytics...you know, like, xanax and Klonopin."
9
II
I stare at the red numbers on the coffee maker's clock next to his desk and mumble
"Yeah."
"Mr. Ramos, you know what I think of these diagnoses?"
I am afraid to hear.
"...I think they're bullshit."
His eyes meet mine as he leans back and clicks a button on the arm of his office chair.
The cushions of the chair contort as they perform their mechanical message. I am shocked.
How does he know?
"No, you're not exactly dealing with a full deck, but then again...who the hell is?" he
chuckles. "Your mental faculties are sharp and you exhibit a full range of normal emotions
grounded in reality. I see nothing wrong with you; you're certainly not a sociopath like Dr.
Kalagupta believed you were. It's obvious to me that she misdiagnosed you."
I sit there stunned, unable to say anything. Dr. de la Concha is unlike any doctor I have
ever dealt with before. Removing a medicine bottle from his desk, he shakes out two pills.
"Would you like one," he offers. He must have intuited my bewildered expression because he
immediately tries to palliate my paranoia, "I'm not the police Mr. Ramos; there are no cameras
in here. You have a prescription to these don't you?"
"What are they?"
"Klonopins. Want one?"
I shake my head before I realize that I am washing it down with a cup of water from the
cooler in the office. "I was on Xanax and alcohol that day on the overpass and you're feeding
me anxiolytics. What kind of doctor are you?" I accuse half-awed half terrified.
"Ask me that question again in four-and-a-half years," he replies with a conspiratorial
wink.
I lean back in the leather chair and sigh out loud.
"Don't worry Mr. Ramos, you're not crazy."
"So what am I then?"
"Whatever you want to be."
"What the hell does that mean?"
10
17'
"Whatever you want it to mean."
"Alright then, I am a functional misanthropist and I secretly want the whole fucking
world to burn."
"No, you are a dysfunctional knucklehead; you want peace and serenity in your life,
more than anything, and you're hurting inside."
"Is this how a normal psychologist should act with their patients?" I ask.
"What is
normal? How do you define such an insecure term?" he retorts. "Look, Mr.
Ramos, if you really want help, you need to start being real with me—and stop with the
pseudo-intellectual, anarchist bullshit. I have a PhD and I grew up in the worst part of Jersey
City so you're not getting over on me, in case you haven't noticed."
After slowly slurping my water, I stare at my reflection in the cup and think about the
sucker fish. Considering that I have three MH diagnoses, will I be in violation of my parole if I
chloroform Dr. de la Concha and inflict bodily harm with depraved indifference? What if I just
chloroform him but don't inflict any physical injury with depraved indifference? "So if you're
impervious to
a
bullshit, why did you become a psychologist then? Everyone knows psychology is
bullshit career path. Just a bunch of bullshit-artists pretending like they give a shit while
preying on desperate, emotionally unstable—yet, 'conveniently wealthy'—basket cases. I think
that's
bullshit. You know what else I think is bullshit?"
Dr. de la Concha stares at me and clicks his pen, twice.
"That I have to come here twice-a-week and talk to a wannabe Oliver Sacks
bullshit-
artist who thinks he's got me all figured out."
"Do you value your life?" he asks abruptly.
"Huh?"
"Then don't ever, I repeat
ever, use the name of Oliver Sacks in vain or I will slap your
big head off your skinny little neck do you understand me?" Dr. de la Concha screams before
removing the pill bottle from his desk, shaking a pill out and washing it down with his coffee
before offering me another which I gladly accept. "I think we should count to ten now."
I stare at him and plot how I can lace his coffee with Mercury during our next visit. Our
visits are starting to become fun.
I II
"This is good," he says leaning back in his chair and closing his eyes. "We just had a
break through."
0
A few days later, me and Dr. de la Concha are sitting in his office mellowed out on Klonopins
and Benadryl. Motioning to the table next to his desk, he offers, "Coffee...Chai tea?"
"Sure, I'll have some tea. Thank you." I watch as he pours the liquid into an auburn
colored tea mug and the steam rises. The sucker fish is, once again, making love to the tank,
gulping greedily at the algae on the glass and flapping his fins. The minnows glide and spiral
gracefully through the water, leaving trails of tiny bubbles, ignoring the sucker fish as if it is an
immigrant with Ebola. I wonder why the sucker fish is genetically predisposed to being a
scavenger and what evolutionary roadblock has caused it to remain a bottom-feeder instead of
developing into a predator. Its fate is that of an aquatic Roomba —sadly, its true purpose in
life—destined to be a loser forever.
"Tell me about Karate," says Dr. de la Concha. He reaches into his desk drawer.
"Koosh?" he offers.
"Sure, why not." I bounce the ball from my right hand to my left then from my left hand
back to my right I do this for about five minutes without saying anything.
"I can't help you if you don't work with me," he says calmly.
"I thought you said I don't need help," I reply.
"No, I said you aren't 'crazy'....You're not the sociopath that Kalagupta described you as
in your MH case file. But you do need help."
"Help with what?"
"Unlocking your potential," he announces, in what I perceive to be an overly
enthusiastic, yet somewhat mysterious, infomercial-ly tone. "You see, Mr. Ramos," he
continues, "your problems in life lie not in your drug use nor your relationships with others,
but—"
"But what?" I interrupt his proclamation. I mean, I had to; he was on a roll.
12
Ifj
He closes his eyes before continuing, "But...yourself."
"Okay...." I mutter, feeling the combined effects of the Klonopin and Benadryl. I take a
sip of my tea—it's slightly spicy, bold—and feel the warmth flow through my body. The clock on
the coffee maker indicates that I have, almost, a whole hour till I am free again. In that moment
I imagine a Paul Revere-esque man on horseback galloping through the streets, in four feet of
heavy snow, with an anarchist flag clenched in his gloved hand and screaming FREEDOM at the
top of his lungs...
"—you are your own worst enemy. It all starts with the mind. Meditation is a tool that I
personally recommend. If you can learn to control your mind then—"
...while the villagers look on in reverential admiration, one woman faints at her doorstep
as her jealous husband catches her and shakes his fist at the horse's behind; the flag flutters in
the snowstorm; pure, blemished, yet impure and unblemished, like a- cracked beacon in a
lighthouse of empowerment for those caught in an ocean of ignorance without a captain to
navigate the waves of those tumultuous—
"Are you following me Mr. Ramos?"
"Yeah," I lie. "Control my mind, right?" I adjust my baseball cap.
Dr. de la Concha sighs. He looks at the time on his coffee maker. "We have 15 minutes
left, anything in particular you would like to discuss? Karate, maybe," he beams.
I sigh. "I used to take Karate classes."
"You told me," he reminds me. "Did you like it?"
"Not really," I state, blankly.
"Oh, well, what didn't you like about it?"
"I don't know. The teacher, Mr. Hong, was kind of an asshole."
"Why is that?"
"He used to ride me about my grades all the time and he always pushed me to be like
the other kids."
"What's wrong with that?"
"I didn't want to be like other kids..."
"Why?" he probes.
13
17(
"...because I just wanted to be myself."
"And he didn't accept that?"
"No, not really. I wound up getting kicked out of the dojo after three or four months
because I was tired of hearing about how 'great' the other kids were and how they had moved
up and I was still a white belt and one day I got pissed and just beat the living-shit out of this
snooty black-belt kid. And I guess the kid was, like, Mr. Hong's 'star pupil,' who won a couple
tournaments, so that really pissed him off."
"A real fight is much different than an organized sporting event isn't it?" he asks.
"Hell yeah."
"I try to tell my daughter that all the time, but she won't listen to me because I'm 'old."
"That sucks," I offer.
"Yeah," he agrees. "I just remembered I need to feed my fish."
"Want me to do it?" I offer.
"Sure. Be careful that you don't give them too much though; they're not like us Mr.
Ramos."
"Okay...." Thanks Captain Obvious. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, for starters, they live their daily lives without a single care in the world. Whatever
they do, be it swim, eat, or shit, they do just that and nothing more—only the activity they are
engaging in. Just that and that alone."
I turn toward him then back at the fish chasing after the tiny flakes of food floating at
the surface and watch them. Only the sucker fish remains on the glass, flapping his little fins.
The minnows are going crazy and I enjoy watching them dart to and fro and I wonder what will
happen if they do not get food. Will they eat each other? Or will they eat the sucker fish?
Looking at me over his glasses, Dr. de la Concha probably realized that what he was
saying went straight over my head. "That Mr. Hong guy sounded like a real asshole by the way,"
he chuckles.
"Yeah," I agree, laughing along with him.
14
in
Walking back down the stairs to the reception area, I am extra careful not to touch the banister.
The receptionist smiles at me and I smile back. As I start to head out the front door, she calls
out to me. I do an about-face and walk over to her desk.
"Yes, um, sir? The doctor just called my line as you were heading out and asked me to
hold you for five more minutes."
"For what?"
"I'm not sure sir; I think he wants to talk to you."
"Okay," I mutter, mystified at the strange occurrence.
The TV is blaring and a tall man, with a receding hairline and prominent chin, is
screaming over the roar of the picket sign-displaying clan in front of his stage. He surveys the
crowd, dramatically, before declaring to everyone, So when you and all your loved ones go to
vote, next month, remember one name ladies and gentleman...one name: Rapscallion—John Q.
Rapscallion Jr. for President Vote for me and, together, we will end poverty in this country,
this great nation. Vote for me and, together, we will end this economic void that we have
fallen into. Vote for me and, together, we will CHANGE THE WORLD, he bellows, to great
effect, for the crowd's amusement. An elderly lady, appearing as if she may collapse and speak
in tongues at any given moment, fans herself with a sign that reads 'Rapscallion for Real
Change.' A short, husky man claps his toddler's chunky hands together as the crowd goes wild. I
laugh out loud. The receptionist rolls her eyes.
"Mr. Ramos?" calls Dr. de la Concha.
"Yes?"
"Before you run off, one moment of your time, please," he proposes, more as a
statement than a question, as he leads me into the hall near the candy and soda machines.
"Look, I know you have your own life and you don't want to be bothered with this," he says
gesturing with his hands toward the walls, "but I think it would be beneficial for you to really
open up during our sessions and internalize the conversations—"
"Doctor, I understand my obligation to the state and I plan to fully comply with—"
15
17.
"You interrupted me," he says.
"Sorry," I say before fidgeting with my baseball cap.
"Don't be sorry...just listen."
"Okay."
"You don't have to come here if you don't want to...if you don't want help I can't force it
on you. You have to want it. Forcing you to come here is a waste of my time and yours. I don't
believe the parole department understands that, so when you stop by just tell Karen—"
"Who's Karen?"
"My receptionist...."
"Oh, okay."
"Just tell Karen that you're 'checking in' and sign the log book then you may go about
your daily business—fair enough?" he suggests with his hand extended. I grasp his outstretched
hand and give it a firm shake. "Fair enough," I repeat. The doctor turns around to head back up
the stairs and I call out to him.
"Yes Mr. Ramos," he says.
"It's Miguel by the way. And thank you doctor," I smile.
"Okay, Miguel, take it easy." With a weary, but genuine, smile he pushes his glasses up
to his eyes before turning around and walking up the stairs.
Standing behind the front door, I look out into the world and watch as people dart
across the streets while running errands. Nothing weird or unusual.
Outside, the snow is tumbling down in thick dandruff-y flakes.
I shiver inside and put my jacket on before heading out the door.
16
NO EXPLANATION NECESSARY
You have a new friend. The introduction is unceremonious: you meet in the bathroom. While taking a
dump—the afternoon following a long night of cheap vodka and CrunchWrap Supremes—you hear a splash
underneath your underparts. The first thing you see is a miniature head, gray and flaky like old sheetrock,
then a pair of tiny paws clawing their way out of the hole, wrestling with your chocolate dragon. After
screaming like a schoolgirl—you didn't know you had falsetto in your octave range—you hit the flusher.
When you look inside you discover that your friend is gone. You are relieved. Your conscience is clear: he
didn't belong anyway, toilet-matter out of place. You get to thinking. The process of defecation is a
conducive environment for psychological evaluation and existential enquiry.
Lately, you've been losing the ability to relate to three-dimensional beings. All four-dimensional
beings ignore you. The pain is unbearable. You're starting to notice that people, frequently, ask you
questions like:
Are you alright?
Are you on meds?
How many times have you been hospitalized?
You answer:
Huh?
No, well, sort of, yeah I can't answer that without violating my parole.
About four times—that I remember.
It's becoming routine, natural. Humans are creatures of habit.
In
The Girlfriend looks at you strange whenever you talk to yourself, especially when you answer
back. Your monologues are dialogues She writes genre fiction. Her books, unlike yours, make money. She
doesn't understand that you're an artist. She doesn't understand that your brain doesn't stop just because
you're asleep. There's no On/Off switch. When she tells you it scares her, your eyes turn to pinpricks. She
accuses you of cheating—she marshals the "evidence" for her accusations from your writings—and she
wants you to see a hypnotherapist and go to Sexaholics Anonymous meetings. You tell her there's nothing
wrong with you; you're not into false modesty—the reader can see through it anyway. Going against you is
literary seppuku. Your pen is sharper than a million zanpalcu-t6; you mastered bankai in your first semester
of college. That's not the only thing you mastered: masturbator, master debater, master linguist, fluent in
shit-talking and cunnilingus. No need to bullshit. You know you're great, like the Grand Puba on a
palanquin. You're really feeling yourself. If you could get off looking in the mirror, you'd do it. The
Girlfriend knows this, knew it the day she met you. Irony runs in her veins; she hates that you spend more
time on her with your pen than with your tongue. You believe there is a thin line between love and hate.
She doesn't understand that, unlike her, writing is your life. She yells when you don't listen, as if this will
command your attention. Her feathers are ruffled. She is flustered. You retain your moth-like reserve in
the presence of passion because the fiction you read doesn't feel real.
How do you explain this?
She threatens to leave. The front door is unlocked. You tell her that you don't handcuff women,
that you're not a cop. She slides the safety chain till it clicks then tells you that she loves you but hates your
friends. You have lots of friends. Too many friends. More friends than you want. More friends than is
probably healthy for you or any mammal. You realize you need to stop lying to yourself. You have no
friends: you have family, acquaintances and associates. Friends are dangerous, family too. You have no idea
who these "friends" are that she's referring to.
It occurs to you that she could be talking about Associate #1, a fellow writer, with a fondness for
English words that slip off the tip of your tongue yet scrape out the inside of your heart, who proofreads
your work sometimes, a guy who lives life on the rim, a guy who's equally familiar with String Theory,
Zeno's Paradox and Thomas Malthus, a guy who makes exaggerated porn-star-orgasm-noises at random
times in public. He thinks it's hilarious. You regret to admit it but so do you. It's a bromance. It's possible
that, like him, you never matured. And it's, entirely, possible that you've neither honed nor upgraded your
humor past dick and fart jokes due to some childhood neglect. His fiancee has asked you several times in the
last 6 months if he was ever sexually abused as a child or has any homoerotic fantasies that you know of.
2°'
You said: I can tell you, but it's going to cost you, and coughed into your dosed fist like an
opportunistic maitre d'.
When she blinked in consternation you laughed out loud, lightly touched her elbow and muttered:
I don't know, probably.
You told her about the time, at that pool party in New Jersey, when he shot that cop in the testicles
with a potato gun. And at rehab, when you guys got tipsy on Listerine and smoked loose tobacco rolled in
the New Testament. You spared the Book of Revelations—in case the summer was burned into your
memory, forever. You decided "forever," like "never," should never be said, ever. When you got out of
rehab you smoked and drank and popped pills till you forgot everything you couldn't rememberAmen!—and then you started swapping things like manuscripts and women, most of whom were shaped
like the number 8.
Things were good till they weren't. Your partner in crime had an "epiphany," decided to "settle
down" and pick up hookers, only, on the weekends. You met The Girlfriend around this time. You can see
why she might not like Associate #1, especially in the context of the strange interactions between you and
his double-D-packing fiancee, the steamy-affair-potential glinting behind her pupils like miniature dwarf
stars. Last New Year's Eve you, Associate #1 and his fiancee drank Bacardi 151-spiked eggnog in a
Raymond Carver-signed flask at The Girlfriend's book release party. The only problem with this is that:
1) You did it while The Girlfriend was reading on stage
2) You did it without her
3) You were discovered, alone, with Associate #1's fiancee in the Sci-fi section of the library
4) The fiancee is a poet
5) The Girlfriend writes psychological/crime thrillers and mysteries
Fortunetly, you dissembled slower than you reassembled. She accused you of "disseminating" everything
but ideas. The situation insinuated itself, in the present, like a convoluted time-warp scenario; this was the
second time you were caught in a year—not a bad record for you. Horrible for someone else, for a
"normal" individual. You told her you were drunk. You told her the fiancee said something about your nice
eyelashes and it sounded too poetic to resist.
When this didn't work you tried reason and told her that: Simians are polygamous creatures, as if
this would appeal to her mercy and sense of perspective.
And she told you: They stone people in the Middle East for the infidelities you've committed!
You think about saying: Don't bring Jesus into it!
But settle for: And that's why I'm an atheist.
For two weeks she is inconsolable, a word that—only--menopausal widows that attend Sunday
night Bingo sessions at the local church, every week at the same time, should be able to relate to. You hid
all the sharp, and blunt, objects in the apartment—in case she suddenly realized she enjoys playing Bingo.
For awhile things were awkward and, although, you're every move was monitored closer than the NSA, she
still forgave you and accepted your apologies, your empty promises and your loving smile, sincere as a
tweet with proper punctuation. Intimacy existed but distance lingered perversely....
How do you explain this?
The two of you argue in the living room. Now is not a good time to mention your new friend; you
make a mental note to buy Drain-0 later. When she stops screaming—you're perplexed that she writes
genre fiction and not literature—you can't help but smile and laugh. She's beautiful when she's vexed—
even when she's irrational, like 423. She wants a baby, yet, less than a week ago, she called you a baby. You
stare at her naked face; observe her eyes, her nose, her lips, her freckles that connect like constellations.
You wonder what your kids would look like. You wish you could immortalize this moment and slip the
memory inside one of the various slots of your heart—but that would just be stupid. You're a loser but
you're not a stupid loser. You don't want to lose her. You pull her dose and kiss her.
She says: You're out of your mind.
You're a philosopher, so you say: Consciousness exists outside of the mind—it merges with others
through the physical
And then you steal another kiss. You may be a bit of a poet as well. She loves this about you. She
hates this about you. She thinks art is meditation; you know art-is-try. She's been nominated for a Pulitzer.
You scoff: Real artists don't win Pulitzers. Pushcarts, maybe.
A fiction writer and a lit-major under the same roof is like putting a poodle in a cage with a lion.
She's the bitch but since she pays the bills, you're the pussy—which is ironic because the only pussy you've
gotten recently was the mercyfuck on your birthday. Won't say how long ago that that was. Your
relationship has reached uncharted territory. Other than family, you've never lived with a human being for
longer than a year. You're unsure if you should be embarrassed or proud about this fact. She suggests
couple's therapy with a friend of her's who's a shrink. You find the term "shrink" appropriate since most of
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them aren't, exactly, "mental giants." How can they help you do something you can only do for yourself?
You amuse her by pretending to muse over your bemusement.
You say: Let's not and say we did
She asks: Why do you have to be so difficult?
You respond: Because if I was easy, you wouldn't love me as much
Touché is plastered across her delicate features. As casually as you can, you tell her that you don't
need to see a shrink because you already know what your problems are—you're just not willing to work on
them...at this point in your life anyway. She loves your honesty. She hates your honesty.
She asks, melodramatically: Don't you love me?
You break into a rendition of a famous Tina Turner song.
Your new friend comes back. While shaving, you hear a splash beside you. Your neck snaps 90 0 in panic.
Luckily for you, you were tapping your razor in the sink or you would have slit your throat open like
Sweeney Todd. You swallow. Hanging halfway out of the bowl is your friend. He looks at you and hisses.
Like a cat. He is the size of a fucking cat. A small cat, but still; you're completely unprepared for this—
you're a tax-paying citizen. Without taking your eyes off of him, you slowly step away till your back
touches the door. The Girlfriend is banging around in the kitchen. You can hear something being slid into
the oven. You hope that what's lying in the pan was slaughtered humanely because karma's a vindictive son
of a bitch. Water is dripping from your friend's facial fur. He looks like a newborn demon, a malnourished
Gremlin Your hands tremble. You can imagine a critic—the one you met at a writer's conference last fall;
a follower of Anton LaVey as well as a fan of minimalism—standing behind you, telling you that this sewage
diver is your "Familiar"; it's not a reassuring thought. You grab a broom and grip its handle as tight as your
writer's hands will allow. He hisses, sensing your resolve to kill him. You swing. Your friend is long gone.
All he's left behind is a puddle of sewer juice and an ominous foreboding that crawls in the pit of your gut,
like a tapeworm.
After eating, you try to center your chi and get some work done but you can't come up with
anything that doesn't sound Dr. Seuss-ish. An obnoxious game show buzzer goes off in your head. You take
this as a sign. You check your submission tracker; nothing but electronic rejection letters that deny you the
pleasure of tearing them to shreds. On the bright side: Neverheardofya' Publishing in West Boombafucic
wants your manuscript. You need a Xanax. Maybe two. You check your email, read one sent from
Associate #2. Associate #2 is a New Age adherent, a bohemian-chic masseuse who moonlights as a
6
playwright, a woman who resides in the nebulous region between jilted lover and fuckbuddy: The Ex. You
can see why The Girlfriend might not like Associate #2, especially after that time when you told her you'd
stop seeing her, that time when you came home from a session looking like you came home from a
"session." For you it was an obsession, for her it was a service that hides behind professional pretenses and
pretexts like "appointments" and "clientele." "Service" sounds too dirty, too slcanky. Don't call it a service.
She asked: There are hundreds of spas in the city, why must you go to that one?
You wanted to say: I'm not good at breakups.
But you really told her: Because I still have money on the gift card your father bought me last year.
She probed you, like little green people from outer space, till you finally admitted that you're
familiar with the term "happy ending."
She's a free spirit, you said: What was I supposed to do, say No?
The Girlfriend looked at you, like the Girl Scout troop leader that she used to be, and in a chilling
tone said: You have no morals.
The best you could come up with was: How would you feel if I cut you off?
She knew about the history you shared with Associate #2, the animal energy that exploded
whenever your pheromones crossed paths. She asked you about the kinky stuff you used to do together so
she could please you and you'd be content, wouldn't feel the urge to wander. Even offered to let you pee
on her—in the shower only—and bite her all over. You tried it but it didn't feel natural. It wasn't anyone's
fault; it wasn't anything in particular but the "ferocity," just, wasn't there. Poodles and lions aren't as
compatible as you once thought. The Girlfriend doesn't have a freaky bone in her body. She's more the
grounded, traditional, ABC Family-type. And that's okay. But, sometimes, you really need to choke
somebody when you're doing the nasty (John Stagliano could probably relate). The Girlfriend was mad that
you cheated on her with The Ex but she found it more disrespectful because you did it with a "junkie
whore." She's in awe that you were ever a couple; apparently, you and Associate #2 are "completely
different people."
Although the hippie era was long over, you and Associate #2 used to take copious amounts of
entheogenic substances anyway. The two of you were found near a neo-hippie commune in Vermont,
crawling around on your hands and knees, searching under piles of cow dung for Papa Smurfs. You took a
lot of mushrooms. You smoked a lot of weed. So much weed that the commune chose you to be their
patron saint of cannabis. You came down in a white padded room. After that, The Girlfriend got nervous
whenever you'd talk metaphysics and quantum computing. What really flustered her fillies, though, was
the night you came home bloody, bruised and disheveled after a "chance meeting" with Associate #2's
current boyfriend—a heavy-weight MMA fighter, a guy who probably mistakes sandwiches for croutons, a
guy who popped your face like bubble wrap—and needed to be rushed to the hospital for 1S stitches, a
broken nose and two cracked ribs.
Lying on your back, drugged enough to wish you were sober, with a doctor sewing your face back
together, you slurred: I would have kicked his ass if I wasn't tripping so hard.
She said: Of course you would have baby.
So supportive. So gentle and caring, yet you still went to see Associate #2 at work, to "align your
body, mind and soul." The Girlfriend forgave you, again, but, this time, she not only refused to talk, but
banished you to the couch, put you on Pussy Probation for an entire month and deleted your extensive porn
collection. Whenever you'd make a move she'd glare at you, tell you she wasn't in the mood, like a wife in
a wholesome sitcom. You even snuck in the bedroom late at night. But she was y_igilant. Those 30 days, 7
hours and 46 minutes were about as exciting as an intense solitaire marathon at a nursing home; you hadn't
played with yourself that much since you discovered your little man could do more than just spit out urine
and get caught in your zipper. During that time you saw changes in her eyes: hurt, anger, betrayal. Things
you never saw before. Things that scared the shit out of you. You were grateful when she, finally, let you
hold her, kiss her, love her and you swore you'd never make her cry again, but, as usual, you resumed your
unofficial mission of destroying everyone's lives. The half life of gratitude: the moment you realized you
were forgiven.
How do you explain this?
Maybe you need some fresh air. You decide to go outside. On the front stoop you lose yourself between the
blue and white of the sky. Your inspiration has abandoned you, like your parents did in '86. You were born
in '87. You were born a couple blocks from Riker's, which itself was built over a landfill; perhaps that's
why you weren't surprised when they sentenced you to a shitload of time. ironically, you had to do prison
time to find out that "time" doesn't exist, that it is a succession of immediate moments and nothing more.
The past and the future were lies that robbed you of the present, like burglars at Christmas. At this
moment, you are in the here and now. It is an indescribable feeling—liberating like skydiving, no ripcord
on the parachute. You try to hold on to it for as long as you can but the realization of what you're struggling
against translates to this: you are returning to the world of lies, your domain as a writer. The truth smacks
you in the face with a white glove. You'd like to be more honest, with yourself and others. You'd like to be
205
more brave, not look at your watch so much. But you're a lying coward. You're scared of the truth You
have few redeemable qualities, yet, people are still pulled in your direction, like a black hole. The world is
a two-way mirror. You're stuck in a room with a chair chained to a table. If only you could see what others
see, feel what others feel Others. You wave, knock, scream and puff your cheeks on the glass. Nothing. All
you see is the future and the past—and whatever other fantasies that float around in your head.
You stare at your hands; they look like someone else's. Someone else's that someone else wants
you to hold her's with. She opens the door and, with her hands jammed in her hoodie pockets, sits next to
you and rests her head on your shoulder. The Girlfriend. You place your palm on her thigh. A guy walks by
with a blanket-covered canvas. You close your eyes.
She asks: You want to go out tonight?
You say: No, I want to take MDMA and go skydiving.
She laughs, thinks you're joking. You talk about books and movies. You talk about your upcoming
projects. Her eyes are wide as she listens to you—innocent, beautiful, effervescent. You try to be
interested in what she's saying but.. .it's genre fiction. She talks about her family in the first person. You
talk about your
in the third person. She finds it silly and endearing; you find it natural and terrifying.
The two of you are complete opposites, like Michael Jackson and Michael Jackson. After arguing over your
plans for tonight, you settle for a quiet night of movies, a sappy rom-com for her and an action-packed
mindfuck for you—anything but take-out and a night of Netflix on the couch. You owe her for yesterday,
last night. While you were staggering your way home—returning from a "quick stop" at the bar hosting one
of your blogging associate's book party's after party—The Girlfriend called. She told you to activate the
Facetime feature on your iPhone and wave it around so she could see where you were at, what you were
doing and who you were doing it with. Normally, you would have refused, but since you had nothing to
hide—for once in a change—you willfully complied. Just your luck, you were standing next to a sorority
house. You tried to explain. She didn't want to hear it. She could tell you were wasted; it never occurred
to you that killing brain cells was a "waste." You weren't wasted though—just detached from inhibitions.
You opened your mouth, to spew out the excuse that your inebriated brain formulated, but the line went
dead The welcome screen appeared: you were stuck talking to Siri. She didn't offer any concrete solutions
to your abstract problems but she did tell you how many blocks you were from the nearest bridge. In
retrospect, maybe she did offer a solution. As soon as you stepped in the door you got screamed at. She
smelled your clothes. She accused you of getting drunk and fucking Ivy League whores.
You told her: That's not fair. I don't know their names but they seemed like nice girls.
She said: You're a pig.
Your response, in a rich baritone: No, I'm a writer.
She crossed her arms.
Eventually, you persuaded her: I'm too intoxicated for perfidy.
She believed you. You still went to sleep with your hand in your velour pants though.
At IMAX, you pop Klonopins like Good and Plenty. You're feeling nice, unanxious. She looks happy. She
even hooks her arm around yours like she did when you first met. You watch her watching the previews,
excited as if they were the feature presentation. She notices and kisses you. You go for tongue. Denied.
Some kids toward the front are acting like immature brats. You hit them with Good and Plenty. The first
movie sucks, you fall asleep. You go to the next theater. The second movie's awesome, she falls asleep. You
walk around the place and look at the movie posters. You play an arcade together. You slide down the side
of the escalator and some kids laugh. On the way home, you pick up a bottle of Drain-0 and a bottle of red
wine—although you don't drink anything less than 80 proof—some chocolate covered strawberries and a
few pink roses. It's not a holiday but you're trying to score serious points with The Girlfriend. And get laid.
She goes Valley Girl in, like, 0-60. OMG. You're, about, 75% sure that Pussy Probation is officially over.
You're ready to pop all the discount champagne in the apartment and celebrate like a professional sports
coach or a NASCAR driver. You're so excited you have to go....
You stare at the toilet. You're paranoid. You're terrified of it like an apprehensive toddler. Before
squatting—sitting is out of the question—you poke the broom inside and flush 2 or 3 times. You wait.
Nothing. You dump the Drain-0 inside. You flush again. All you can think about is a little monster, your
new friend, popping up out of the bowl. You don't like large rodents in dose proximity to the narrow
confines of your sphincter. You're not Richard Geer. The Girlfriend is feeling the wine; you can hear her
singing in the living room. She's no Adele. But you love her voice though. You love everything about her.
She's a beautiful woman, inside and out. You don't deserve her. But you're grateful, at least as much as
your genetics allow. You want to spend the rest of your life with her. You want to tell her. Maybe get on
one knee—or both—and propose, fly to Vegas, tonight. Your new friend, the best man. Alcohol, drugs,
sex, and rock and roll. You're more afraid she'll say yes than no. The possibilities slosh around in your brain
like a Magic 8-Ball. If she said no you would fight for her—do whatever it took. You know this. You
respect her enough that you're willing to not be yourself, as much. For others, for "normal" people, that's
crazy, backwards. But for you, that's love. Or whatever you want to call it. You both love each other—in
2.67
10
your own ways—and if things fall apart, if you go your separate ways, you know you'll want the other to
keep the memories. Memories. You're not sure if it's the meds, the booze, the end of Pussy Probation, or a
combination of all three but you just know that tonight is going to be explosive. The best sex of your life.
Tonight: you're going to make love. So congratulations, asshole, you found a woman that loves you more
than you love yourself.
How do you explain this?
No explanation necessary.
P.M. DUNNE
Enter the gateless gate
if the lightning strikes—
rain drops reflect
neon veins
in the
sky.
Bang!
Listen
to the sound
of life crying
without death its twin—
dualities merge now.
Candles in the sunlight,
blowing in the wind,
say much more than
any words
by a
god.
If
you think
you owe me
anything...don'tjust thank me later
if I kissed your third eye.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
I would like to thank everyone that has supported me on this journey—those who I've ever shared smiles
or tears with. Thank you for allowing me to dream.
My spiritual advisor, Grandmaster Lian Sheng, Sheng-Yen Lu: Om Mani Padme Hum.
My loving grandparents, Alex and Mary: thank you for always allowing me to be myself.
My mother, Christine: thank you for my literary inheritance.
My brothers behind bars: Joshua Lopez, Robert "The Kali Lama" Williams, Filiberto Gonzalez, Mario
"Castronova" Castro, Armando "Seam" Montero, Antonio "Conscious" Pegues, David "Buddha" Robles
Lamar "Starkim • Little, Joseph "Bang Bang" Wallace and Daniel Malak (www.thetruthofmalak.org ).
Jarvis Jay Masters: brother, that bird's got all our wings. Keep your head up.
Bard College: Leon Botstein, Max Kenner, Megan Callahan, Paul Schaefer, Gretchen Dykstra, Nicholas
Wright, Christina Mengert, Joe Vallese, Donna Grover, Rosemary Corbett, Graylen Gatewood, Jesse
Mishra, Ian Sicurella, Horton "Hoot" Fisher, and Antoinette Kane. thank you all for giving me a chance to
prove that I am greater than my worst mistakes.
Jennifer Top from
Tulip Tree.
Kim Winternheimer and Kevin Brockmeier from the
Masters Review.
Herbert Leibowitz from Parnassus.
Mary Elizabeth Parker from the
Dana Awards.
Bill Clegg, Tao Lin and Megan Boyle from Muumuu House, Alex Shakar, Rivka Galchen, Mark Doten from
SoHo Press, Junot Diaz, Chuck Palaniuk and Haruki Murakami: thank you for unknowingly providing me
with inspiration—may our paths cross one day.
Raymond Verdaguer: Please don't sue me for stealing your artwork for my cover! (I don't have $hit
anyway:)
My exes.
Coffee: the almighty ambrosia of the literary gods, the only thing that can possess you to write a short
story collection in three months.
Thank you all.
Peter M. Dunne's literary career began at 14 when his first poem
was published in a New Millennium Writings anthology. While a
temporary resident of the NYSDOCCS he received an academic
scholarship to Bard College. Since then he has amassed a
substantial body of work online and in print that has been
received with equal amounts of love and hate. He lives wherever
his creative zephyr takes him.

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