Saturday, March 17, 2012


“Well, how’ve you been?” he said before taking a sip of his wine.

“Fine, fine,” she said, looking nervous. She thoughtlessly wringed her hands as she looked around the restaurant. He noticed.

“You seem agitated.”

She turned back to him and brought her hands below the table, out of sight. She said nothing.

“Is this awkward for you?” he asked her.

“A bit, yeah. Isn’t it for you?”

He smiled, grateful for the hydroquinone he took before coming. “Not at all; I was looking forward to seeing you again.” They sat there, she looking around the room, her hands, anywhere but him, while he tried to think of what to say next. He wanted to talk about their son, Chris. If he said “her” son, he might come across as too distant. “His” son might seem too overbearing and possessive. He certainly couldn’t use “Chris,” since that was the name of the lover she took while he was on assignment.

“What about our son? How’s he doing?”

“Chris is great. He’s starting to say complete sentences. They aren’t always grammatically correct, but you can tell what he’s trying to say,” she said with a smile. She started to feel more relaxed, and talked more freely. “He’s doing a lot better than Pam’s kid. Serves him right after what he did to Chris.”

She must think I already know what happened, that she already told me, he thought. Maybe she told Chris, her lover, about it, and is confusing the two of us. I wonder if he has a kid at the same pre-school, and that’s how the two of them met. I can’t really ask her about that, at least not yet. I want to try and get her back, not push her away.

“I’m sorry, what did Pam’s son do to Chris?”

“Well, it wasn’t just one thing, he just acted like a bully. You know, taking his toys away, pushing him down, that sort of thing,” she said after drinking some of her wine. Narrowing her eyes, she added, “Don’t you remember?”

In fact, his memory finally did kick in as she was describing it. He felt very embarrassed and reached for his glass. “Now I do.” He swallowed almost all of it and reached for the bottle to pour himself some more.

They sat in silence. He couldn’t concentrate on any one thing for more than a moment, couldn’t come up with something for them to talk about. He didn’t want to resort to brainless small talk, but that had to be better than just sitting here and not saying a word.

“The weather yesterday was just gorgeous. I walked through Stanley Park and–”

The waiter came out of nowhere and interrupted him with salad. Relief swept over him. He had ran into an old girlfriend at the park, which he only remembered after he had started talking. They spoke only briefly, but he had spent the rest of the walk thinking about her and how he should try and keep in touch with her. When he had gotten home, he decided that if this dinner with his wife didn’t go well, that he would call her.

After he was about halfway through his salad, she broke the silence. “Do you really think we can make it work again?”

He stopped and looked up at her. “I think so. I think we deserve another chance.”

She bowed her head.

“Listen. I talked to the newspaper and they’re willing to work with me to give me more time here at home.” His home for the moment was a hotel room, but he felt that was beside the point. “I think we can make it work.” He reached out for her hand. She simply looked up at him.

“I don’t.”

Friday, March 16, 2012


Painful throbbing in my jaws makes me think of nothing but itself. I feel like my head is exploding, no, not my head, not the whole head, just my nasal cavity. I feel like I’ve been punched repeatedly by somebody I’ve somehow wronged, although really I try and stay out of other people’s ways and agree with them at all times, even if I’m lying. As an aside, this has made me, again, a completely nice and wholly agreeable person, an extremely talented liar.

I feel like the only thing that can get rid of this pain is a cigarette, maybe a bunch of pills, that or grinding my teeth until they crack and shatter. I’ve already had one, two…five cigarettes, and I’ll need my teeth to chew on the overcooked chicken breast my girlfriend is currently preparing in the kitchen so I look for some aspirin, find it, take it, and proceed to look for something else to chew on while the medicine takes effect. Wandering aimlessly in pain, doing all of my searching subconsciously, I find some toothpicks. Toothpicks we bought last year for the appetizers we brought to her family reunion.

My mind returns and I find myself in the kitchen, staring blankly in the direction of, though not actually at, pieces of raw chicken meat, covered in…something, although shiny bits of pink still peek through. I curse my subconscious for bringing me here, to the attention of my girlfriend, who looks at me and asks if I’m going to help. Her tone is one of annoyance, as it has been for several days now. I tell her I have a headache, which isn’t entirely a lie, and that I’m going to lie down for a bit, lay down for a bit, lie down for a bit. She tells me that she hopes it’ll make me feel better in time for supper, even though I can tell by her tone that she doesn’t care if I feel better or not. As I leave the kitchen, relieved to be leaving her sight, I think about how I should find a new girlfriend, but the lease for the apartment we live at is in both of our names, and there’s still the better part of a year left on it, so I dismiss the idea. Besides, I’m not the kind of person to do the breaking up. I leave it to the other person to do it for me. It’s never surprised me, and I have yet to empathize with whoever said that breaking up is hard to do.

Before I go to the bedroom I head back to the bathroom to put away the aspirin. The mirror covering the medicine cabinet is open slightly, angling the reflection. I say to myself, “Wow, this really changes me perspective on things,” which amuses me, but I don’t even smile because I’m looking at myself and how fat and ugly I am.

The smell of the cooking chicken wakes me up, and I hope it’s done, because I’m very, very hungry. I reach over for my glasses and put them on. The light blinds me for a moment after I open up the bedroom door. Before I go to check on the food I quickly put my pants back on, not wanting my girlfriend to see me in just my underwear, still self-conscious despite our being together for over a year now.

Heading into the kitchen I see her sitting on a stool by the window, smoking a cigarette and reading a book. I can’t tell which one. She acknowledges me without looking up, flicking ash into an ashtray sitting on the windowsill. I walk over to the oven and open it up to check on the chicken. Overdone.

I close the oven without taking the chicken out and I’m immediately grabbed around the waist by my girlfriend, who had put out her cigarette and put down her book. She kisses me and looks at me, smiling. “I love you,” she says.

I gently pull her hands off of me, and say, “You’re ruining my perception of reality.” As I slowly walk out of the kitchen, I add, “I love you, too,” before sitting down on the couch to think about how much my life sucks.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

An Execution

“Do you know how they used to execute people in old Sri Lanka?” he asked as he wrapped his good arm tightly around her bare shoulders. His seed still clung sticky, warm, and white to her hand. Glistening trails in the hair and skin of his sex formed in the wake of her slow caresses. It twitched from the sensations, but she could see that it was collapsing, growing smaller and smaller, indicating that relations were at an end, as if the question he just asked wasn’t indication enough.

“No, master,” she said, politely enough. She was scared of him, but he had been kind enough to her that she had been able to maintain her composure around him. It wasn’t just his size, for he stood at least a head taller than any of the other men in the mansion she and the other girls lived, but his arm. She couldn’t tell what had happened to form the mass of scar tissue and bone that formed his left arm, but it couldn’t have been very pleasant. A harsh looking metal armature ran the length of it, secured to his shoulder with straps and ending in a three-fingered metal claw of a hand, reflecting the three fingers remaining on his natural hand. Secretly she wondered at the workings of the device, but even though she hadn’t left the grounds in years, not since men in three-piece suits and cheap masks had abducted her off the streets a few weeks before her 14th birthday, she still heard about some of the things he had done with that metal arm of his, and this made her afraid to ask about it. Afraid she might hurt him by reminding him of his disfigured arm, afraid he might hurt her by using that same arm. She was especially cautious recently as she was a month late and she could potentially be responsible for two lives now.

“They’d bring the doomed man out to where he’d meet his fate,” he said, “and laid him down on the ground, guards standing all around him in a large circle. Suddenly, a few of the guards would step aside, opening the circle to allow the executioner and his weapon of choice through. The poor bastard pissed himself when he would look up and see what was approaching. Perhaps he would get up and try to run, but the guards, with their long staves and cruel whips, would be ready for this sort of behavior, having seen it happen many, many times, and would beat him back onto the ground. The executioner would see all of this happening and smile a grim smile. He never grew tired of dispensing royal justice. He carried no axe, nor sword, nor any other weapon you might think of. That’s not how they’d kill this poor soul, oh no. The executioner rode into that circle of death on a large elephant, painted white, a god in the flesh.” Here he paused. “Let’s go to the showers.”

The showers connected between his bedroom and hallway where the girls slept and it was there where the girls usually saw their master. They’d come in, by themselves or with others, and, every so often, a simple bath or shower would end in the master’s chambers. Sometimes they wouldn’t even get that far.

They passed by a washroom used only by him. A mirror spread over most of the wall above the sink. As they passed she glanced at her belly in profile, hoping it was as flat as always, hoping there was no way for him to tell in the bright, piercing fluorescent lights that she was pregnant. She couldn’t see a difference and looked ahead at her master. He had grabbed a towel and was wiping at himself.

“The elephant would move forward, placing one foot gently on the man’s chest and…” He stopped for a moment, turning his head to look at her. “Do you even know what an elephant is?”

She shook her head no. He looked defeated, annoyed. She had heard stories and vague references to the extinct animal but natural history wasn’t her primary interest when she had still gone to school. “Imagine a four-legged animal with a long tube in place of a nose,” he said, continuing to wipe as he spoke. “Now, imagine that this animal is two stories tall, with legs this big around.” Here he put his arms in large circle. “For teeth they had large spears, but the executioner wouldn’t let the animal use them. That’d be too easy; too quick.”

He walked over to a large panel, stainless steel like most of the room, in the wall and pressed a small white button situated next to it. The panel slid open and the white towel he used soon disappeared into the gaping hole in the wall. She’d seen him strip and throw the clothes into the same panel many times when she’d come here to shower. The clothes he’d thrown in there were never seen again by her. She’d wondered if it was just her imagination and so she’d tried to get some of the other girls to keep track, but they weren’t much help to her. The chute for their use was nothing more than a hole in the floor at the end of their hall, covered by a simple plank, connected to the floor with a hinge. They always saw their clothes again. He moved on towards the showers without closing the panel. She thought about closing but decided to simply move on and stay close to him, rather than straggle behind.

They soon entered the shower area proper. Shower heads and water jets were arranged all over. A large tub, reached to by two small steps, was attached to the wall on her right. Straight ahead was the door that led back to her room. How badly she wanted to get some sleep, but she kept following him to the left wall.

He sat on a bench that had been built into the wall, and in a moment the sensors triggered the shower head above him. Hot water poured over him and ran down his body to the floor, sloped ever slightly to let the water run under a shorter bench and into a small floor drain a few feet away. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall as he motioned for her to sit in front of him on this shorter bench. She sat down in front of him, getting used to this ceremony over the years, and reached over to a small nozzle built into the higher bench and pulled, dispensing a pale yellow lotion into her hand. The amusing comparison momentarily flashed in her mind before she let go of the nozzle and began applying the lotion to her master’s body. He was getting hard again.

“The elephant would place its foot down on the man. It wouldn’t crush him, not yet, but it would roll him around on the ground like a log. If you can imagine the way the branches of that log might snap and break as it’s forcefully rolled around, so, too, would the man’s limbs.” He was fully erect now. “When the executioner tired of this, he made the elephant stop rolling the man around, but still keep him pinned. The command would be given and the elephant would wrap that long nose of his around the broken limbs, and pull. One by one the elephant would tug at his appendages and one by one they’d be torn off, leaving bloody stumps on a bruised and battered torso.” She moved faster. “He would probably still be alive at this point, maybe dead, maybe passed out from shock, but maybe not. Maybe he was awake this whole time, screaming in agony, begging for it all to end. With a tug at the reins, the executioner would grant him this wish. The elephant would put one foot onto the man’s head, with the other on his chest, and lean forward, crushing both. Blood and entrails mixed with his arms and legs.”

His head rolled forward with a moan and he looked down at her while she continued. “What do you think of it?”

She glanced up at him quickly. “It sounds horrible.”

He brought his leg up and swiftly kicked her hard between her breasts with the heel of his foot, sending her sprawling on the hard steel floor. It took her a moment to get her breath back. Her shoulder had scraped against the drain cover, and she couldn’t tell if it broke skin or not, but before she could even sit up he was already standing on top of her with one foot planted on her stomach with all of his weight pressing down. She tried reaching up to pull him off of her but before she could get a grip he grabbed one of her arms with his own mechanical one, and then he pulled. She screamed in agony, begging for it all to end. Soon, it would.


I alone wake to the sound of my alarm clock’s grating chimes. I suffer them everyday, not because there’s somewhere I need to be, but because I want to see her. After turning the alarm off I sit up and look around the floor for a shirt from my unkempt, twin-size bed. My fathers’ death and my subsequent inheritance could afford me either a decent place to live, or a temporary respite from work. I chose the latter.

At first I enjoyed the free time, but it wasn’t long before I felt empty. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I tried to pick up a hobby but none of them really stuck. Drinking was one of them. That’s how I first saw her.

After I quit my job I grew my hair out, but I couldn’t stop shaving. Tried to grow a beard but after a few days the bristly hairs would start to annoy me. They were all I thought about up until I could shave them off. For hours afterwards I would rub my hands across my face, my chin, my neck, gaining pleasure from its un-natural smoothness in comparison to the hairs that had so recently been growing there. They grew there still, but for now I was content to completely forget that fact. I placed the cap back onto the disposable razor and threw it into the waste basket next to the toilet. Look at myself in the mirror, still coated with a thin film of condensation from my recent shower. Stare at my short, brown hair while still rubbing my face with my right hand. Wondered if I would ever become bald. I still had a full head of hair, and neither of my parents were bald, but a grandfather and an uncle, both on my fathers’ side, were bald. Is baldness a recessive gene? Is that even how it works? I had been out of school to long to be able to answer either of these questions.

With long hair and a clean shave I looked much younger than I actually was. While I would regularly get carded with this look, I had no problem blending into college house parties. I had no friends who went to these parties, much less friends who were even in college. I have no charm or speak with any sort of charisma. What I did have was a case of beer, bought earlier from a convenience store, a legitimate retailer, by me, a legitimate customer with a legitimate form of ID. None of the party-goers knew this, or even cared. It was more beer. They didn’t even notice it was being carried in by someone they didn’t even know. The point was that it was more beer. Of course, I always brought the cheapest case in the store, offering it up to who I thought were the hosts of the party in exchange for my entrance. Once they were distracted, I would drink whatever else they had, which would either be as good or, in most cases, better than what it was that I brought. I did this numerous times at the same house for a few weekends in a row. Mostly it was to see if they would eventually recognize me. They’d greet me with a smile, alright, but it was always only for the beer. I tried starting conversations with people I’d seen there before but there was always this look in their eyes like they didn’t know who I was. I kept my long hair in front of my eyes, head tilted downwards, hiding my tears as I drank more and more of their beer. I was stumbling home one morning after a night like this that I first saw her leaving my building.

A fight broke out in the next room, something about drinking all their beer. I drunkenly panicked. I looked around the room for a place to hide my plastic cup of stolen beer. I’m sitting in a recliner, and I’m comfortable, so I can’t get up. I try and place the beer down next to me but the cup hit the lever and beer splashed onto my hand. I panic some more before I saw a can of the same beer I had brought.


Saw a car parked outside of the house with the vanity plate “KERETA.” Still have no idea what it means.
Before I’d left and seen the plate I picked up the can of beer. It was just barely within my reach from the recliner. My fingertips brush its rim and I watch the beer fall over. Its contents spilled out onto the stained carpet, but there wasn’t much left and the flow soon slowed to a stop. The can, now easily within reach, I picked up and filled with what remained in my cup. The cup itself was dropped behind the recliner. In hindsight I’m sure everyone would’ve seen it had their attention not been completely diverted by the increasingly heated argument, or if they weren’t drunk. Apparently I’d spilled quite a bit when I was transferring the beer, as my leg began to feel quite wet.

I felt quite safe wit my alibi as I heard the two men get closer. Watched them for a few minutes, and then felt very bored. I left, not caring if I’d gotten my money’s worth of their beer. A car was parked at an angle too sharp to have been made by somebody sober. Its license plate was “KERETA.”

I walked a few blocks to the nearest gas station with an ATM. There was still plenty of time before the bars closed and I wanted some cash to spend at them. All I had in my wallet was a few ones, an old condom, and my debit card. What happened to my ID? Must’ve left it at the gas station where I bought the case of beer. Turn around and head back, retrace my steps.

Walked by many houses playing loud music. Wasn’t really listening, too drunk to think about anything other than my missing license I hope they have it they’d better fucking have it if it’s not there I swear to fucking Jesus fucking Christ - somebody hits me. Somebody’s fist hits me. I didn’t see it or the person it belonged to coming through my long hair. On the ground, crawling away towards the road. There was a curve of flattened grass and XX XXXXX XXXX XXXX X XXXX XXX XXXX XXX XXXXXXX XX XXXXXX XXXXXXX. A sharp pain runs through my side. I get up and run in agony. What did I do? I run some more.

I sat in a chair by my door, looking at a cheap wall clock. It was a battery operated analog clock, black and white. I like analog clocks over digital. Something about seeing the hands move.

80 90

I should pick up a wind-up alarm clock. I can afford it for now. I look online at some random jobs that are available around here. I don’t anything interesting, other than a gun. I don’t need a gun.

After my father died I burned all the pictures I had of him. Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about doing that, drunk, crying.

5:42. I get up and look through the peephole. The sound of my own breathing becomes extremely obnoxious. I can’t hold my breath. Slowly stroke my crotch. My breathing becomes harsher as my hand moves faster. There she was. She walked past my door, quickly and quietly. I make my way to the bathroom and continue stroking with my eyes closed and my underwear around my ankles. I think about her.

We’re in somebody else’s bedroom. The smell of pot still lingers in the air from the others who were here. A new smell arose as we smoked from a hookah that had been set up earlier in the corner of the room. I had thought it’d be funny if the hookah pipe was passed around the circle in the opposite direction of the joint, but I didn’t bring it up, I just giggled and smoked and laughed and smoked and grew quiet. I put my hand on her leg, slowly caressing it with my middle finger. Now we were alone. It isn’t long before we’re on the bed. I’m kissing her hard and fingering her just as viciously. Without any prompting she undoes my fly and begins sucking me off while I fall back and get in a position to still finger her, ending up almost in a 69 position but not quite. I’m glad; I have mild claustrophobia.

I finish cleaning myself up and pull up my underwear as I get off the toilet seat. I wash my hands and walk from the bathroom to the kitchen. My stomach wants me to eat something. Tired.

I wake up and go back to the kitchen to pour myself some cereal. I need more milk. There’s nothing on TV, but I watch it anyway.

My hair sticks to my face now walking away from the attack. People call to me. I hear them. I don’t listen.
My heart is beating too loudly and I’m breathing too harshly. All I want is my ID. I get it.

It’s a Tuesday. My slow day. I step outside with the TV still on and the door unlocked. The city seems empty as I drive around. The fridge was always empty. I buy things to fill itshutupjustshutthefuckup
Sitting on the toilet with all of my clothes in a pile next to me I reach over and grab a small knife I’d placed on the edge of the sink after washing it. Its edge drags over my skin. Faster and faster. Red lines on my thighs. I smoke another joint, then shower. I should grow my hair out again. No. Fuck that.

“You should grow your hair out,” she says.


I told her I quit my job so I could take some time off for my grief. Really I just didn’t want to work. For some reason she wanted me to grow my hair out. I hadn’t had long hair since high school. I didn’t care either way.

For the first few weeks she would come over quite often, knowing I’d be home, that I had nowhere else to go. We didn’t fuck, hadn’t fucked in a while. She was just boringbored. I had shit that wanted to do but she didn’t care. I broke up with her before the first month after I quit ended. I still grew my hair out.

The first time I was with my new "friend" was at a party. I’d seen her a few weeks earlier. I followed her the next few weeks. I knew her. I knew some of her friends by name. Followed her to a party. This party. She kept disappearing. I’d find her again looking drunker and more dis-sheveled each time. I give her a shot and slowly put my hands on her as we talk. I kiss her. Her tongue is numb and rough and tastes of alcohol; her breath reminds me of a fruity mixed drink and semen. I didn’t care about any of that. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been kissed with this much passion. We find a room and fuck on the carpet. I’m on top at first, but she’s on top by the end. She keeps riding me even after I cum. I can’t stand it and want more.

I don’t ask for her number. I don’t need it.

We see each other at parties and fuck. Nothing official.

I visit my dad where he’s staying at now that my mother divorced him. He’s doped up on the pills the nurses, I don’t know if they’re really nurses, gave him. I can’t tell if he knows I’m here or who I am. He opens his mouth and a line of spittle falls to his shoulder. I’m too disgusted to clean it up.
I feel the trigger carefully in my pocket as I walk down the street.

“I’ll shoot somebody,” I say to nobody and everybody.

Not a head turns toward me.

“I’ll shoot myself.”

The Dying Man

He might have looked as if he was already dead if I'd only taken a glance at him, but I knew he was only dying. I stared at him and his eyes stared right back. That was how I could tell he was still alive. I had never seen a dead person before – though I was sure that would change soon enough – but I felt that if he really was dead he wouldn’t be seeing me, seeing through me, that way. A dry wind blew around us. My eyes flickered while his remained steady. I tried to comfort myself, control my unease, by noting that the wind came from a direction almost directly behind where his body was lying, and there was a large piece of anonymous machinery, rusting to nothing, which blocked some of the wind as well. However, a part of me knew that he wouldn’t have blinked even if the warm wind had blown directly into his face.

Maybe he’s the source of the wind.

This thought ran through my mind and I tried focusing it away, squinting my eyes and looking at him as an object, not another human, a thinking, reasoning person, but a simple object, nothing more nor less. His features, no, its features, its shape, its texture, its color; things that combined to make it up.

The eyes.

His, yes, I decided, his eyes looked straight into mine. I kept wishing for him to look away so I could get up from my increasingly painful crouch, so I could leave him to die, so I could think of something, anything, other than those god-damned eyes.

I thought I heard a noise come from his mouth; not quite speech, only a breath. A harsh, disgusting breath. Whether the air had been going in or out him I couldn't tell for sure; other than the sound I heard there was no telling that anything had occurred between five seconds ago and now. No rise or fall in his chest or stomach. No movement whatsoever. Had he ever blinked? I didn't think he did. Otherwise I wouldn't still be staring at him. I'd be anywhere but here. Had I even heard that sound, whatever it was, or had my brain been playing a trick on me?

Impossible to tell.

I can't believe that, though, or even allow that as a possibility. Otherwise, what else was I imagining? Was I really crouching down in the middle of the wasteland over the shelter staring at this dying stranger? Of course

I was.

Why do I need to keep reminding myself of this?

His eyes moved slightly, breaking his stare. I breathed a sigh of relief and put my head down, relaxing my stiff neck muscles. How long had I been staring at him, as motionless as he? Looking back at him I saw that his head had turned away from me. His mouth was now as wide open as his eyes, which stared up at the dull, yellow clouds of sand and sky which constantly hung over the dull, yellow rocks and rusting hulks that covered the only bit of Outside I'd known all my life.

His head slowly rolled back.

I had time to get up, but I shouldn't have looked back at him at all after he had quit staring at me. I should have run, but I didn't. I can't remember now if I really could, can't remember that his stare had even been broken, all I can think of is his eyes and what they were trying to tell me. I was scared, too scared to have gotten up and gotten away. Yeah, that's it, scared.

His eyelids twitched, a hint of a squint. I felt a bit of relief and finally realized that he was scared as well. That's what they were trying to tell me, what he was trying to tell me. He was a human being and he was dying. I might have been sharing in that fear before, but fear is fear, and I don't know if there really was a difference between what I felt before and what he was feeling now.

His eyes seemed like the last bit of him that was still holding on to life. The rest of his body still hadn't moved. The only bit of movement was simply a flap of cloth moving in the breeze. A small creature, one I couldn't recognize in my peripheral vision, began pawing at his fingertips. Either he didn't notice or didn't care because his eyes remained as still as ever.

Another twitch. This one didn't seem like a squint against the sandy wind.

He felt to me like he was giving me his permission to look, so I did. The creature, still unrecognizable in full view, something that looked like it could be either some kind of mouse or chipmunk, was chewing his finger. A bit of blood dripped onto the sand and was quickly absorbed by it. I could see the pink of his flesh poking through a layer of red before it was covered by the things head as it began to chew off more. He didn't move.

I looked back into his eyes one more time, staring, keeping my eyes open through the tears. I don't know if they were from keeping my eyes open so long in the dry and dusty air or if it was because I felt sorry for him. His eyebrows moved slightly together and he squinted tight. I knew what he was saying. I knew he wanted to crawl over to me, grab me, tell me everything, every regret, every person he'd ever loved, every lesson he'd learned, but he couldn't. Slowly his eyes drifted. He died, and I saw it happen.

I stood up slowly, knees stiff. The creature looked up at me for a moment with its black, emotionless eyes, blood covering the fur around its mouth, then went back to its meal. I'm sure more would be coming later, among other animals I was more familiar with, but I wouldn't be here to see them. It crossed my mind to capture this creature and bring it back to the shelter with me to find out if the others knew what it was, but I knew I shouldn't even bother with it and to just get home as quickly as possible. I took one last look at the now dead man and headed home.

The paths I used to get through the wasteland were ones I knew very well. The network of trails that covered the grounds above the shelter were set up to try and mislead anyone trying to look for us and to prevent any random passerby from stumbling upon the entrance, not that the entrance wasn't already disguised, or that there were many people that came this way.

Metal hulks whizzed by as I ran around and sometimes through them. Strange symbols covered most of them, but I doubt anybody still alive knew what they meant. These things were all that was left from the Great War that drove my ancestors underground. The elders would tell us kids stories about the war but as I got older I began to doubt them more and more. I still listened just as intently, but only because the stories themselves were so fascinating: Kadrekya, the Tower, who could smite armies with his huge hammer; Shatra, the Beautiful, a magician who used his powers to slay many evil men and their pet abominations; Boteg, the Defiler, a disgusting wizard who cursed an entire kingdom so that all of the plants there would die and none of its animals could give birth. Just stories.

It takes a bit to get home, even taking the fastest way that I can. I can't go straight, this is drilled into us before we learn any other phrases, long before we are allowed to go outside. They know we will go outside before we are old enough, but the one rule we never broke was to never go straight home. The people from Outside would do anything to have what we have, like the man I was running from. That's why I had to kill him.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Waiting in Line for the Shaman

I’m sitting on a dusty wooden bench, staring down at my foot. The left one. Two weeks ago, me and the rest of our town’s militia fended off an attack from a neighboring tribe. One of them swung at me with an axe, a downward stroke he put all of his energy behind. I was able to avoid getting killed, but the bastard chopped off the ends of the first three toes on my left foot. My wife, Sani, applied the usual herbs in a poultice, but it refuses to heal. That’s why I’m here, waiting to see the shaman in the next town over. He’s known in lands farther off than I’ve been to. A miracle worker, many call him. I don’t need a miracle; I just need the stubs of my toes to stop oozing blood and pus.

I’m still staring at it. The ends of each of the wounded toes are wrapped up tightly; Sani did that right before I left. The skin around those toes, and the undamaged ones, as well, are red and swollen. Bending my toes and walking are painful affairs. I press down on the top of my foot. The skin turns white around my finger, and stays white after I release, but only for a moment. Then it goes back to red. Under the bandages the flesh is pink and wet, with bloated pockets of white and green near the surface. The bones, which had been even with the flesh, are starting to stick out as the flesh slowly recedes back. The smell is terrible.

I look up and see the man who brought me here, a farmer, talking to somebody. I can’t hear what they’re saying, but I can tell they’ve known each other for a long time. They start to laugh. There were a few other people he’d brought along with me, but I can’t see them anywhere. I don’t know what business brought the farmer here, it’s neither planting season, nor harvest, but he did not charge me or any of the other travelers any silver, so he must’ve been coming here anyways. We live in a small enough town I would’ve heard if one of his animals died or if one of his pieces of equipment broke. Maybe I’m witnessing the reason for his trip right now: a social call. Maybe I’ll ask him on our way back.

Looking around me at the other folk sitting on the benches outside the shaman’s tent I see the group of sick and injured I’d expected to see: old men with crutches, mothers holding their children, the blind staring at infinity.

I wonder what it would be like to be blind. Closing my eyes I hear people chattering, the birds chirping at each other, the soft flap of cloth in the wind. I try and orient myself, but I feel the onset of dizziness despite being seated the whole time, and quickly open my eyes. What a punishment that would be! To be given sight by the Great Maker only to have it taken away from you. I think death would be preferable. I should bring this up to the town elders as an alternative to execution.

The others turn their heads in the direction of the tent, and I follow their gaze. A woman comes out, all tears and smiles. I’m glad for her, but I’m more curious about what’s in that tent. I try to look past her, into the tent, but it’s too dark, and the flap closes behind the woman too quickly for me to see anything. The man sitting closest to the tent gets up slowly and hobbles in. He barely opens the flap, preventing me again from seeing anything inside.

The others start to get up to fill in the space left by the man who went in. I steel myself against the pain I know will come from putting pressure on my foot. Once there’s room, I quickly get up, grimace, shuffle over, and sit down. Unfortunately, I didn’t look at where I was sitting, and I catch only part of the end of the bench I was sitting on. It tilts slightly, as there was nobody seated to counterbalance me, and then I fall to the ground painfully. The man to my right, with one arm in a sling, gives me his good hand, and helps me up. Carefully, I sit back down, more squarely on the supports this time.

“Thank you,” I tell him.

“Don’t mention it,” he says in response.

We sit in silence for a few minutes before the urge to speak becomes overwhelming.

“The name’s Walur,” I say, turning to him. “Walur Fraalich.”

“Ged Blavisol.”

Putting my right hand out to shake his I realize to my embarrassment that it’s his right arm in the sling. I give a nervous laugh and bring up my left hand, which he gladly shakes.

“So, do you mind if I ask what happened?” nodding toward his arm.

“Me and some of my workers just finished corralling my herd, and I was standing there talking to them on the outside of the fence with my arm hanging on the inside.”

He goes on for a few minutes. I don’t really pay attention.

“The bones aren’t setting proper, so I’m gonna see if this guy can help. What about you?”

I tell him my story, embellishing a bit to try and impress this stranger.

“…and then they all ran off. I threw the man’s head after them to show them what will happen if they try to attack us again.”

“Well, you’re a regular hero, ain’t you?” he says with a smile on his face. I can’t tell if he’s being genuine or sarcastic. Just in case he is being sarcastic, I draw back a bit.

“Not really. If I was I wouldn’t be here with a rotten foot.”

He was being genuine, and wouldn’t be deterred. “Still, your wife musta been proud of you.” His smile widens. “I’ll bet you got some action that night!”

I smile. “I sure did.” I didn’t.  I didn’t chop off the head off the man who cut off my toes. I didn’t even have anything to could’ve chopped off his head, or any other part for that matter. All I had was a stone club with a simple wooden handle. As that man stood there with his axe head embedded in the ground, toes on one side, the rest of me on the other, I hit him on the back of his head as quickly as I could. There was nothing there to protect his skull besides his long hair, which didn’t do much to cushion the blow. He let go of his weapon and fell face first into the ground. Terror and anger and pain and joy went into every swing after that. There wasn’t too much left of his head left after I was done, just a bunch of bloody hair sitting on one end of a dead body. That night was spent in a painful fever, vomiting every so often, thinking about what I had done and the sight of his brains sticking to my club, dark from the blood. I’d never killed anybody before then. I didn’t think I would have that kind of a reaction before it happened, and I still don’t know what it was that made me so upset. Thinking about it afterwards, even now, doesn’t make my stomach turn. What does is the thought of me red and sweating as I recline on my sofa, retching into a basin my wife is holding.

I push that out of my head and look back at Ged. “Do you think he can really help?”

“I don’t know.” He becomes very serious. “I’ve heard a lot of things. Never seen any of his fixes personally. Still, he can’t have stayed this popular if he was a sham. My guess is he at least knows some things other people don’t, and that’s good enough for me.”

The man on the other side of me turns and speaks to Ged. “He’s a blessed man! Blessed by the Great Maker to help His creations. No less! To say otherwise would be a slight against the Maker!”

“Whoa! Settle down. I didn’t mean any offense. I just don’t hold with a lot of hocus pocus. It doesn’t sit right with me.”

“What are you even doing here, then, if you don’t believe?”

“My arm’s broke, and if he can fix it, then I’ll believe, not before.”

The other man is obviously still angry, but he simply turns his back to us without saying another word.

“Can you believe that guy?” Ged whispers to me.

We don’t say any more for a while. I can’t seem to find the farmer who brought me here anymore. What was his name? For some reason, I can’t seem to remember. Hopefully I can find him again once I finish up here.

“Wup, he’s coming out,” Ged says, looking past me. I look over to see the man who had almost waddled in walk out as if nothing was wrong, huge grin on his face. Everyone moves over one space again after a woman leads a scrawny boy into the tent. “Watch yourself,” Ged jokes. I sit back down and the throbbing pain slowly fades away. I try and count how many times I’ll have to repeat this process, but it’s hard for me to tell who’s with somebody else, and who’s by themselves.

I think I see one of the people from my town who came over with me, but realize it’s not them once I get a good look at them. I look up at the sky. Cloudy. The sun’s already past its zenith. Wonder how long it’ll be before I can see the shaman. Will the others wait for me? Do they know where to find me? I told a couple of them I was coming here, but I don’t think I told the farmer. Maybe I did. Maybe he saw me sitting here in line when he was talking to his friend. He wasn’t facing in my direction, so maybe he didn’t see me. I start to panic. Will I have to spend the night here in this town? I don’t know if I have enough to cover a room, food, and to hire someone to take me back. If my foot’s healed, I should be able to walk back. What if it’s not healed? What if there’s nothing he can do? I really need to relieve myself. I don’t want to walk around trying to find somewhere to do that with a busted foot. I can ask Ged if he knows where I can go. He could hold my place for me, as well. Yeah, I think I’ll do that.


She keeps telling me she has a boyfriend, as if by that saying that it nullifies everything she has been doing to my friends and me all night. If I was a good person I would’ve scolded her, told her she shouldn’t be doing this, and take her home so she can get some rest. If I was a good person, I would’ve done that, but I‘m not, and as I spent myself inside her eager mouth her boyfriend was the last thing on my mind. I feel her swallow and I slowly sit back, watching Evan finish fucking her, slightly jealous. I play with her nipples, stiff on her bouncing tits, but she doesn’t seem to notice. This makes me suddenly angry. I pinch, to the threshold of pain, heightened by the twenty-five-year-old distraction pumping in and out of her. My hand moves up to her throat and wraps tightly around it. For a moment her eyes turn to me, her face in a kind of grimace. I smile, wanting to tell her, “I don’t want you to cum. I don’t want you to derive any pleasure from this.” I release her neck, caress her sweaty cheek and forehead, and allow my hand one more pass over her body before I get up and start to put my clothes on. I do it quickly; I don’t want to see my friend cum, either.

Outside, Joey’s already smoking, staring out into the night. I go out and join him, asking what he was looking at as I carefully pry the cigarette from his hand. He says he isn’t looking at anything, that he’s just got a lot on his mind. He always gets like this after one of our group jobs. Come to think of it…

“Do you ever have sex outside of us?”


“I mean, this. These.” I somehow can’t say it, and can only allude to what just happened.

“No, I know what you mean, but why do you ask?”

He brings his hand up, silently asking for his cigarette back, but I ignore him and take another drag.

“I’m just wondering if you ever have sex where it’s just you and one other…person,” I say, using my words carefully. I have a feeling he’s homosexual; I always see him checking out Evan or myself. I wouldn’t mind trying it out some time, but not Joey, or Evan, for that matter. Maybe somebody who looked just like Joey, without those ears. They stick out too much.

“Of course, why?” He gives me a fake smirk, obviously irritated, and reaches again for his cigarette, which I again put in my mouth. I can’t tell if his humor is deadened by his lack of nicotine or his shame.

“You shouldn’t feel ashamed if-” you’re gay “-you don’t.”

He gives up trying to get his cigarette back and lights up a new one. “What makes you think I can’t? I can get girls to do us easily enough when we go out.”

I want to tell him that it’s not him they want to fuck, but Even, and that once every two or three months is not “every time we go out,” but I just toss his, my, cigarette on the ground and stamp it out. There’s a sound coming from inside the house, but I’m already headed to my car so I can get out of there, so I never figure out what actually made it.

Driving, I think about that girl. Did she say she had a boyfriend as a pitiful defense against us? Her nature? Whatever, it doesn’t matter.

Home again. This place makes me feel like what just happened was a dream. I’m actually happy. Half a bottle of whiskey later, I begin to feel normal again.

I wake up with a start the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing by my head. It takes me a moment to realize I’d slept on the couch again. Reaching above my head to grab the house phone I see that I had neglected to take my watch off and that it had rotated during the night. The face is now on my wrist, slightly off-center. It’s a little after eleven o’clock. Shit.

“Hello,” I answer, knowing my angry girlfriend, Josie, is on the other end, angry because I was supposed to meet her for lunch at eleven. As soon as her familiar pitch kicks in, I let my mind go blank. I try to remember if there was any weed left. Once I remember I don’t, I feel like telling her about last night, but she doesn’t give me a chance to speak. She tells me she’s sick of me, and never wants to see me again. Before I can hang up the phone, she does the same, and I hear the dial tone for a moment before the phone hits the receiver. It doesn’t quite stay hooked, and clatters to the glass end table it’s sitting on. The sound pushes me over the edge, but by the time I sit up to throw the whole thing against the wall my anger is gone, and all that’s left is a desire to eat some shitty Chinese food.

I’m sitting in my car looking over the weed a guy I know at Lou’s Chinese packed in my carry-out bag along with a container of General Tso’s chicken. I immediately see that it wasn’t worth what I paid for it, but there’s enough to last me the next few days until my regular guy can get back to me. He said he was out this week, which may be a lie, but I don’t know him well enough to try and push the issue. Maybe if I did, though, he wouldn’t have held out on me in the first place, but every time I meet with him his body odor cuts through the smell of even the best grass. Plus, he listens to really shitty music.

The full repercussions of Josie breaking up with me hit as I sit at home alone with an empty container of Chinese food and my second bowl of weed sitting in front of me. I don’t know if I can be truly happy outside the context of a relationship. Half of the fun I got out of my nights with Joey and Evan came from my having a girlfriend to run around on. Could they be fun in and of themselves? Maybe. Probably. I don’t know. That’s what scares me. Can I continue, if it’s strictly hollow pleasure-seeking? Do I need to change my habits, try and make a “better” life for myself? These are questions I know the answers to, but don’t want to face right now. I load up another bowl to smoke by myself. I don’t know what else to do right now. I don’t know how to change. I keep falling back on my old routines, what I’m used to, what I’m familiar with, but she was a part of that routine. Without her, I feel lost, empty. The desire to go back out to the bars is increasing, almost manic, and it’s only two in the afternoon. Only regulars and drunks are out at this time of day, and I know I don’t want that. What do I want? What do I really want? Honestly–


–I just–


–want to be close to somebody right now. Not emotionally close, or any of that shit, just physically close. I want to feel their warmth. I want to be able to reach out and feel their skin and not have them shy away in revulsion. I want to hear them breath, put my head on their chest and listen to their heart beat. I should give Joey a call.


“Hey. I, uh, was just wondering what you were up to…this afternoon. Tonight. Get back to me once you get a chance. This is Chris. Um, bye.”

That was disappointing. I text him on my cell just so he doesn’t feel like he has to call me on my house phone, but after an hour of smoking and drinking and waiting to hear back I give up and take a drive down to the mall. I feel lost. Why did I come here? I wander back to the movie theater, but the only good movie that’s playing is one that I’ve already seen. Before I realize what I’m doing I’ve already bought a ticket, and I’m walking towards the concession stand to buy a soda because my mouth is dry from smoking too much.
I find a place to sit where I can be by myself, which isn’t hard considering this movie’s been out for a few weeks now. I end up watching my phone more than I’m watching the movie. I light up a cigarette, not caring. Before I’m halfway done with it, I see somebody get up and head for the exit. The paranoia from all the shitty weed I’ve smoked kicks in, and I feel like they’re going to the management to complain, rather than going to the bathroom or the concessions, which they might very well be doing, but I quickly stub my cig out on the floor and head out. I duck into another theater where a different movie is playing. I stay. It ended up not being as bad as I had expected, for as much as I saw of it.

I leave the theater and start to drive out of the mall parking lot. After some time I get on the road, and my phone starts buzzing. I get it out of my pants pocket only to drop it on the floorboard in front of the passenger’s seat. Reaching down to pick it up, my car stops. My head hits hard against the dials of my car’s radio. My sight goes blank for a second. I look through my windshield to see a blue SUV sitting far too close to me, and a red light suspended right above it. I put my car into park and get out, not really thinking about what I’m doing. The adrenaline pumping through me makes my arms and legs feel partially numb, and I have to force myself to keep steady. Maybe that weed was better than I thought.

I really can’t think straight right now. A woman in her 40’s comes out of the SUV. All I can really tell about her is that she keeps herself in shape, but is far too tan for my taste. She’s speaking, yelling, actually, but none of it’s getting through. I tell my hand to reach back and get my wallet. The best it can do is land on my hip and slowly crawl to my back pocket. I finally have me wallet open in front of me after what seems like an eternity. Staring down at it, I can’t seem to find my insurance card. Turning my head back up to the angry woman, thinking I’ll just hand over my entire wallet and let her find it, I see that she’s now pointing at a spot which I think is behind me and to my left. I turn to look at what she’s pointing at but there’s nobody, nothing. She keeps pointing, this time adding a motion, her hand sliding down her face. I still can’t hear what she’s saying. I look again, still nothing.

Maybe she wasn’t pointing past me, but at me, at the side of my face. I force my hand to mimic the motion she made. It feels wet. I bring my hand back in front of me and see more blood than I’m used to seeing. My shoulder suddenly feels very wet and I panic for a moment before my head goes light. I’m dizzy. My legs tingle, then go numb entirely. I can’t tell if it’s the loss of blood, the knock I took to my head, or all the weed I smoked, but I’m falling. I hear the light slap of my wallet hitting the asphalt right before I fall to my knees. Feeling returns to my legs, and that feeling is pain. Somehow that triggered my brain into remembering what pain was, because now the entire side of my face explodes. All I can do is lie down as my eyes well up. I want to just die. I want to…

My mother is telling me that her and my father are moving to Arizona. She’s telling me they’re taking my younger sister and leaving me the house. I’m watching something on TV. I’m angry with her, I can’t remember why, and I turn up the volume. I don’t even look at her once while she’s speaking, but I can tell from the sound of her voice that she’s upset. Her disappointment pierces right through the sales pitch of somebody I don’t know trying to sell me and the rest of America something we don’t need. I ignore her until she leaves.

I’m waking up to a grid of tiles and lights and a throbbing pain in my head. I start to look around, and I see both Josie and Joey sitting next to the bed I’m lying in. It takes me a moment to realize I’m in a hospital and not a hotel room; the curtain rail tracing its way around my bed and rails on the bed itself gives it away. They don’t seem too thrilled to see me wake up, but they’re familiar faces, so that doesn’t bother me too much. What does bother me is that his hand is on her shoulder, with the other one on his lap. I see that both of her arms are angled toward him, and I can only assume she is holding his hand, but the bed’s blocking me from seeing it and knowing for sure. I put my head back on the pillow and close my eyes, clenching my teeth, rage blending with pain. I don’t want them together. I don’t want that at all.

“They called me and told me what happened,” she’s saying.

“Yeah,” Joey confirms.

“Were you doing anything important?” I ask, trying to bait them.

“Not really,” she says, a vague response if I’ve ever heard one.

“That’s good.”


“They said you weren’t hurt too badly. I don’t know if they’ll let you leave tonight, still.” She gets up. “I’ll go tell somebody you’ve woken up. Come on, Joey.”

He follows her out without saying another word, like an obedient dog. Why did they have to call her? A nurse comes in and does a basic checkup. The light she points in my eyes hurts like hell from my headache. I’m not really paying attention to what she’s saying. All I can think about is Josie and Joey fucking. Josie and Joey. The similarity in their names makes me laugh. The nurse gives me a strange look, a nervous smile, then leaves. I want them to stay together. I want them to get married. I want them to get monogrammed towels. The doctor comes in with my x-rays and I can’t stop laughing about monogrammed towels.