way out, by Casey Renee Kiser

WO_CRK

~ way out ~
Casey Renee Kiser

Artwork by Lydia Burris

Casey Renee Kiser writes an electric-sensually charged poetry, lyrical and alive with street language, her words strike like literary barbed harpoons: something intoxicating and illuminating, the hot dark moments of our time, enticing and alluring: this poet is a predator of nakedness, raw, the truth of us all; fearless and always feminine. This is a poet you should read. — John D Robinson

26 lettered copies: A-Z
Paypal: johndrobinson@yahoo.co.uk
$5.00 or £5.00 plus p&p

Published and edited by John D Robinson
Holy&intoxicated Publications

 

CRK

Photo credit: Jasmyn Taylor Givens

 

Mike Zone

Argonaut’s Agony

naked hydras
melting sexes
slithering form unicorn skin
husk is what you’ve got
full of radioactive gum drops
he-she chants in ironic devotion
semblance of the humane
in the realm of species splendor
mythos point
Saturn’s rings jumbled
in the trench of Hades’ rainbow
Neptune washes
none of it away

Rebecca Gransden

When the Dick Died Inside

I think I went
too far this time
when I said I’d flay you
and use your skin against mine.
Maybe you thought
it was to be close
but I see it
as funny.

I’ll wear you inside out
and your dick up me
until it putrefies
and I die of
blood poisoning.

Suicide by dick
just to show your
irrelevance.

Ben John Smith

the poem man

Sat down
late at night and
wrote two poems

They were both
shit

Drank a
whole bottle
out-of-date
port and
punched myself
in the side of the head

Until I
felt sick
and vomited
on the sofa

Wrote this poem
and went to bed

Woke up
and nothing had
changed

Nothing ever really does

Karen Heslop

Paid To Party

Tammy bobbed her head in time with the rhythm of the pounding beat coming from the club down the street. Partly because she liked the song and partly because she had nothing else to do. It was a slow night. The words from the LMFAO song floated towards her. In it, the singer denied practicing Tammy’s chosen profession.

The irony was not lost on her. She was desperate, not stupid. Though some who’d never been in her situation may beg to differ about the latter proclamation. The black Corolla sedan drove by for a third time. Tammy wondered what some of these men (and women too sometimes) got from window shopping. This business didn’t really facilitate a ‘try then buy’ option and there sure as hell was no refund policy. Finally the car came to a stop at her feet.

Woo-hoo! The red-head wins again!

The other women paused to look in her direction. There was always an uneasy relationship among the members of the oldest profession. They wanted to get as much ‘work’ as possible but it was understood that everyone needed to go home with some money. On top of that, they also knew that if something happened to one of them, it would affect the workload for all of them. People liked to conduct their illegal activities safely. The women looked on half envious of the attention and half curious about her welfare.

Tammy sauntered over to the car, working her curves for all they were worth. One good thing about being new to the streets is that she hadn’t started to lose too much weight yet.

“What can I do for you sugar?” asked the cashier turned prostitute trying to avoid sounding like every hooker in every movie ever made.

“How old are you?”

Oh goody. One of the freaks.

“How old do you want me to be?”

Oh God. I AM one of the freaks.

“15.”

Pervert.

“Well actually 15 turning 16.”

Uh-huh. Because THAT made it so much better.

“Okay. I can do that for you honey. It’s $50 for a handjob or blowjob. $200 for full sex.”

“What about all night?”

What the hell?

Some alarm bells went off in Tammy’s head but then she remembered that old saying about beggars.

“Uhm…$5,000.”

The man didn’t even flinch.

“Get in.”

They drove for about 20 minutes before he pulled over to the side of the road. Tammy’s alarm bells were at full volume now but he only took a package from the backseat of the car and handed it to her.

“You need to put these on.”

Please don’t be a Catholic school girl uniform…

It wasn’t. It was a pink blouse with frilly sleeves and a scooped neckline. There was a pink tulle skirt with pink leggings to match. Pink ballet slippers were at the bottom of the box. It may actually have been better to wear the uniform. She put them on anyway. They were an imperfect fit but she tried to make the ensemble work. She found it odd the man looked away from her while she changed. When she was done, he drove off again. Tammy was not surprised when he pulled up to a large two story house. She had found the bigger the house the lonelier the occupants. The multitude of cars in the driveway, however, did surprise her.

“Uhm…I don’t do gang bangs.”

The man grimaced in disgust.

“That’s not what this is.”

He left the car while a confused and cautious Tammy followed tentatively behind. The door swung open to reveal an almost palpable darkness. As Tammy’s eyes struggled to make sense of the silhouettes of the room, they were blinded by the sudden brilliance of light.

“Surprise!”

Her patron pushed her firmly into the room even as her vision was struggling to adjust. When it did, Tammy’s confusion deepened. Strips of glitter splattered decorations drizzled from the living room walls, flittering and reflecting the harsh white light. A large pink and purple banner dominated one wall with its declaration of HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY!

There were several people scattered around the room. Most of the men and women were well dressed in tailored suits and extravagant gowns worthy of the fairytales Tammy had read when just a girl. At the end of the room, past the crowd, Tammy saw 4, no, 5 other girls who wore clothes similar to her own.

Tammy stopped a few feet from an enormous dining table that was burdened with a large spread of food. A monstrosity of a cake emerged from the centre, a visual cacophony of frosting and sprinkles. Before she could turn around and ask what the hell was going on, her solicitor started to clap his hands to get everyone’s attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen! If I could have your attention please? Thank you so much for coming to our special girl’s birthday party. I’ll be your host for the evening. Now that she’s here, we can begin.”

The man pulled out a chair at the head of the table for Tammy. As she took a seat, the other ‘girls’ took their seats at the table as well. Now that she could get a better look at them, she was sure they were in the same profession and predicament as she. The ‘host’ began handing out name cards so they could “get to know each other better’.

Awesome.

If she had known she’d have to play nice with others, she would have asked for more money. He had said it wasn’t a gang bang but clearly it was going to be some weird orgy deal. She grimaced internally. The only thing worse than trying to convince one person that she was having fun was trying to pull off a group delusion.

“Alright everyone! Our party guests will have their meal here while the rest of us mingle.”

The announcement didn’t seem to be up for debate so the girls picked food from the spread before them. Their eyes flicked about the table hesitantly, gauging who would be brave enough to dig in. Tammy poked at a large turkey leg with her fork.

Are they planning to drug us?

She picked a piece of the succulent meat from the bone and bit into it. Saliva sprang from her mouth as she chewed and the meat slid easily into her belly.

She nodded at the other girls and they slowly bit into the food they had chosen. Tammy washed the meal down with apple juice rather than wine before finishing her meal with a generous slice from the odious cake.

As the last bite of cake disappeared from the last girl’s plate, the host moved in to get them to a smaller table in the living room. Colourfully wrapped boxes sat before each chair. Being closer together allowed Tammy to get a size up the girls with her. She noted their name tags and tried to assess any qualities of note.

Maxine had the road weary look of someone who had been on the streets for a long time. She hadn’t always been a prostitute and she wouldn’t be one forever. She was clearly one of those people who did whatever she needed to from one day to the next. Maybe tomorrow the petite brunette would be a drug dealer.

Amy was even fresher than Tammy and looked to be the youngest of them all. If she had been asked the same question as Tammy, chances are she had answered honestly. With a change in clothes, the unblemished skin, blonde hair and stormy grey eyes would be at home shopping at the Gap.

How the hell did she end up here?

Darby was a drug addict first and a prostitute second, maybe even third depending on whether or not alcohol abuse was on her list of vices as well. Tammy didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Darby was in need of more than just food. She was fidgety and absent mindedly scratching at her skin like someone suffering from Morgellon’s Disease. In spite of that, she still kept her lanky frame in her chair.

Janet looked bored. Tammy could tell that it wasn’t an act either. They may have been close in age but clearly Janet’s experiences had been different from hers. This…thing, whatever it may turn out to be didn’t faze her. Not yet. Somehow those hazel eyes had seen stranger things. She was just minutes away from rolling her eyes and twirling the fringes of her afro.

Finally, there was Dora. Now why did Tammy doubt that was her real name? So she was not only likely the oldest in the bunch she was most likely the most cautious. She didn’t even want them to know her actual name and clearly wanted them to know that it wasn’t her real name. It hadn’t been challenged so Tammy guessed that it didn’t matter. Her vigilant blue eyes continued to scan the crowd. Whatever was coming next, she was determined not to be taken by surprise.

“Gifts and more gifts for guests!” the host declared, “Our guest of honour has the largest gift as per tradition and she will open hers first.”

Tammy cautiously unwrapped the long box, thoroughly determined not to be shocked by whatever depraved sexual favours the perverts had put in front of them. Her hand trembled above the soft paper lining the box. If this were a sexual favour, she didn’t want any part of the type of sex they had in mind. She pulled the 10” hunting combat knife carefully from the box. It glinted menacingly and she hefted its weight while wondering if she had the strength to wield it. She didn’t know why she would need it but Tammy vowed that it would only leave her hands if her breath had left her body as well.

Everyone else at the table stared at her. The knife had even gotten Janet’s attention. A hush fell over the room as the other girls picked at their presents. Maxine tossed her switchblade expertly from one hand to the other and settled back into her chair. She was clearly at home with the weapon. Amy held a large bottle of pepper spray gingerly with two fingers as if she had been given a grenade and was deathly afraid of blowing everyone up. Darby held a small dagger, pushing the end against the tip of her finger. Tammy couldn’t tell if the disappointment on her face was because of the sharpness of the blade (or perhaps the lack thereof) or the fact that there were still no drugs.

Janet frowned at her box before dumping out a handful of throwing blades.

Finally Dora took the lid off her present. Her mouth hung open. She appeared indecisive about taking out her weapon. Tammy could almost feel the expectation of the crowd pressing against them. Dora reluctantly pulled the weapon out. She had gotten a gun.

Why the hell did she get a gun?

“Goody! Now that everyone’s opened their gifts, it’s time for the really fun part of the evening to begin. We have a series of challenges lined up for our lovely guests and fabulous prizes for the winners!”

Why did this guy suddenly sound like the announcer from The Price is Right?

“All of you unsuspecting prostitutes, come on down!”

“At the beginning of the night all of you would have negotiated a little fee. Well if you emerge as the winners of the game, we will multiply that figure ten-fold. If you lose, well you get what you deserve. If anyone tries to leave…there will be consequences.”

He paused to point at the armed men standing by the door.

Where had they come from?

“Ladies, our first game is an old party favourite. Truth or Dare. You may refuse to complete a task but there will be a price. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded. The man stopped pacing the length of the table and stood beside Tammy’s chair.

“Maxine. You first. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Very well. How many men have you slept with?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “47”.

He scanned her face for almost a minute then apparently decided it was the truth.

“Amy. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Where are you from originally?”

“California.”

“Hmmm. I almost wish I had added a Part 2 to the question. Nevertheless, we’ll move on. Darby. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Of course. What drugs do you take?”

Darby looked around nervously and cleared her throat.

“Uhm…heroin. Cocaine sometimes.”

“Ok. Janet, please surprise me. Truth or Dare?”

“Dare”.

“Oh thank God! Janet, my saviour! I dare you to use one of your blades on a target of your choice.”

Janet picked up one of the blades and held it in her palm trying to gauge the weight of it. Giving up any pretense of familiarity, she threw the blade into the wall behind her. It seemed to stick for a little while and then fell to the ground. The host retrieved it and tossed it back into Janet’s small pile while patting her on the shoulder.

“And now you know. Dora! Truth or Dare?”

“Truth”.

“What’s your real name? We’re all curious.”

As if lending merit to his words, the small crowd of spectators leaned closer.

“I change my mind. I choose Dare instead.”

Really? Over a name. Was she undercover royalty or something?

“Ah well this is even more interesting. Are you willing to pay the price for the change Dora?”

“Yes?” She cleared her throat. “Yes, I am.”

“Splendid. Duke?”

A tall young man left the crowd and went into a separate room. Unlike the rest of the crowd, he was dressed casually in a red shirt and black pants. He reappeared with a glass canister the size of a large chocolate tea tin which he placed in front of Dora. He pried the lid off with gloved hands.

“Now Dora. Before you is a tin of mildly concentrated acid. Since you have declined the first challenge, your dare is this. I dare you to hold your right hand in the solution for 30 seconds.”

Dora sniffed at the canister and stared at the host with widened eyes.

“I…uhm….think it would be better for me to answer the question.”

“Another switch Dora? If you wish. Take this pen and paper. You can write it down for us. Duke?”

Once again the young man stepped forward as Dora reached for the pen and paper. She quickly scribbled her name and handed the paper back to the host. She had barely relinquished her grip on the paper when Duke splashed some of the contents of the canister on the right side of her face. The host was unfazed.

“Hmmm. Meagan. That’s a much nicer name than Dora.”

Initially even Dora was too shocked to react. Tammy looked around frantically at the persons surrounding them. Their faces were aglow with glee. She could tell they had been expecting something like this. Dora clawed at the patches of her face that sizzled and burned. Her high pitched screams echoed as skin melted to expose bone. No-one moved until the host summoned Duke again with a flick of his wrist. He applied a creamy solution to Dora’s wilting face and her scream simmered to a whimper. She reminded Tammy of a wax figure slowly melting in the summer sun.

“Okay. Now for the birthday girl. Tammy. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“You sure? I wouldn’t want you changing your mind like Dora over here.” He flashed a smile at the crowd. “Or would we?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Tammy swallowed. She could lie but Dora’s perforated face was a very persuasive argument against that course of action.

“I stole some money from my workplace when I was a cashier. I framed another girl for it and she was fired. Eventually they found out that I had lied and I was fired too but they never re-hired the girl I had set up.”

“Hmmm.”

Tammy held her breath as the man gazed at her. Finally he clapped his hands and moved away from her.

“Well that was certainly a scintillating start to our night’s activities. Let’s move on to the next game shall we? This is another one you may have heard of. It’s called Seven Minutes in Heaven. Ours has a little twist of course.”

Of course.

“For this little adventure, two of you will go into the adjoining room for 7 minutes. All you have to do is survive. The winner will be whoever can walk out of the room unassisted. Judges?’

Duke stepped forward accompanied by a young girl in a light blue shirt and matching pants.

“First round: Maxine and Darby.”

Both girls got up and headed towards the room. Maxine paused at the door for Darby to precede her. Foolishly Darby complied. Maxine quickly jabbed her switchblade twice into Darby’s side before she had even crossed the threshold. Darby yelped and grabbed at her side. Her legs gave way as blood spurted out darkening the bright pink skirt she wore. Duke and his companion carried her into an adjoining bedroom.

“Bravo Maxine! Well done!”

The crowd applauded with the host. Maxine rewarded them with a crooked smile and a small bow before returning to her seat.

“Round two! Dora and Janet.”

Janet looked pitifully at Dora while Dora’s one good eye flitted across the room. Janet started to protest.

“Look. I don’t know about this. I mean…”

The sentence died on her lips when a bullet from Dora’s gun burrowed through her brain.

Tammy waited expectantly for the host to call the proceedings to a halt. Instead the entire room broke into thunderous applause. Tammy could have sworn there were tears in the eyes of some of the women.

What was wrong with these people?

“Oh my God! Excellent work Dora!”

He raised his hand in an obscene high five which Dora feebly returned. Duke and the young woman dragged Janet’s body away smearing the floor with her blood and brain matter. Tammy stared numbly at the splatter left on the nearby wall.

“Well this is going even better and faster than I had planned. Let’s go Tammy and Amy. It’s your turn to dazzle us!”

Amy grasped her pepper spray for dear life while Tammy gripped the hilt of the hunting knife until her knuckles ached. She didn’t want to hurt Amy but she had no plans to die tonight. Not in this hell hole. She headed to the room well before Amy so there was no chance of Maxine’s type of cheap shot.

By the time Amy found her way into the room, Tammy was already standing to the back of it, knife in hand. Amy walked slowly towards her and then gave Tammy an almost imperceptible smirk. In a flash, Amy had cart wheeled her way to Tammy. She wasn’t even out of breath when she started swinging. Tammy could barely keep up with trying to block the punches without losing her knife.

She struggled to remain vigilant since she knew Amy still had her can of pepper spray but her hand slipped under the unrelenting onslaught of Amy’s little fists. Her eyes started to sting before she heard the tell-tale spray. Tammy wasn’t playing anymore. She started to slash the knife wherever she thought Amy might be. She was always one step behind.

She forced herself to calm down and focus. Before long she could pick up a pattern in Amy’s movements. The next time Amy hit her, Tammy shoved the knife in the next place she knew Amy would be. She expected Amy to yelp from being nicked but was rewarded with the unmistakable squelch of the knife piercing flesh.

Shit! I can’t see!

Tammy couldn’t tell what she had done.

“Amy? Amy!” she yelled.

Tammy let go of the knife and heard a dull thud. She dropped to the ground and felt around for the body. Her fingers brushed against the tips of Amy’s boot. She ran her hands slowly up Amy’s body starting at her legs. The knife was buried in Amy’s stomach. Warm liquid slithered under Tammy’s hand wherever she touched.

The timer went off and she could hear feet coming towards her. She had no choice. She yanked out her knife knowing the serrated edges made more of a mess coming out than they did going in.

Sorry, Amy.

Duke’s companion escorted her to a bathroom to rinse her eyes. Her vision was still a little blurry but she could see Amy’s blood on her hands well enough. She still saw it when she took her seat back at the table even though her hands had been scrubbed raw. The host gave her a sombre look.

“Well that concludes this game. Congratulations to our winners. You’re one step closer to your prizes!”

Duke brought Darby back to her seat. She cradled her heavily bandaged side while shooting angry looks at Maxine. Maxine just shrugged and smirked.

“Alright ladies. Our next game is our own very twisted version of Spin the Bottle. Don’t worry, you won’t have to kiss anyone.”

There was a chorus of ‘boos’ from the crowd. Tammy tried not to glare in their direction.

“Instead, I will place a few cards on the table with tasks to be carried out. I will spin the bottle and the person selected will choose a task. Unlike Truth or Dare, completion of the task is mandatory.”

The host placed the cards on the table face down. Tammy counted eight possible choices. She tried not to guess what they said.

“Whoops! It seems we’re missing a bottle for our little game. A little help please?”

One of the guests poured the last of his champagne into a glass and handed the empty bottle to the host.

“Thank you sir.”

He spun the bottle and it stopped at Tammy. Crap. She slowly reached for a card.

REMOVE A BODY PART OF YOUR CHOOSING.

Tammy had to read the card four times to make sure the pepper spray wasn’t still interfering with her vision. The host read the card over her shoulder.

“Ha! Talk about the luck of the draw.”

That drew some snickers from the spectators. Tammy made her decision quickly. She had come this far, she would survive this game. Everyone watched as she removed her left shoe. Without hesitation, she hacked off her small toe with her hunting knife.

She bit her lip against the pain flaring in her foot and her stomach clenched at the sight of blood squirting unto the floor. Still, Tammy wouldn’t give them the pleasure of enjoying her pain. She inhaled deeply, dammed her tears behind firmly closed lids before gathering napkins on the table to wad against the wound.

“Wow! What a girl, ladies and gentlemen!”

There was a smattering of applause.

Guess I didn’t make them too happy this time around.

The host spun the bottle again and it landed on a pale, shivering Darby. Tammy didn’t know if she was shivering from drug withdrawal or blood loss but could tell that each movement caused pain to radiate through Darby’s body. She had to grasp her card with both of her trembling hands. A sob escaped her lips. The host read the card above her head and smiled.

Darby gingerly grasped her dagger and took a deep breath. She moved swiftly though her face was contorted in agony. Her dagger was in and out of Maxine’s thigh like a machine pulling the core from a ripe apple. Maxine screamed obscenities and her hands moved frantically to staunch the bleeding but blood spilled through her fingers. Tammy leaned over to read the card.

COLLECT A CUP FULL OF BLOOD.

Darby held her drink cup under the squirting wound while Maxine barely held unto consciousness. As the cup filled with the crimson liquid, the crowd muttered about who the ultimate winner might be. It all made Tammy sick to her stomach especially as her toe stub continued to throb. Finally Darby put the cup on the table, her face a mask of defiance aimed at anyone who might judge her.

“What? It didn’t say it had to be my blood.”

Maxine muttered, “Bitch.”

“Indeed it didn’t Darby. Indeed it didn’t.”

The bottle spun again and found Dora. Her hand was already wrapped around her gun. She chose a card without hesitation. Her mutilated face no longer allowed for much movement so it was impossible for anyone to guess what she may have been thinking, Her hands touched her face gently and a collective gasp was heard around the table as she ripped off her right ear.

Though it had been only somewhat attached since the acid attack, it was still a sight to behold. The singed flesh tore away easily as if were a simple broken nail to be removed. The area barely bled. Dora held the bit of flesh in front of her good eye before tossing it on the table. Darby looked away and dry heaved to the side.

For once the host had no comments. He spun the bottle again. It landed on Tammy.

What the hell?

She was about to protest but decided against it. What would be the point? She said a silent prayer and picked a card. She held her instinctive reaction in check. She needed to be stealthy. She removed her other shoe and stood, trying to avoid putting pressure on her injured toe. She drove the tip of her knife into Dora’s right eye.

A hush fell over the crowd as Dora screamed and Darby sprang from her chair with the speed of a deer who knew it had been spotted by a hungry tigress. The host picked up the card and showed it to the crowd.

“You were right Jeffrey. It is more fun if the cards aren’t specific. Imagine the boredom of having to watch her remove her own eye!”

The man who had supplied the champagne bottle raised his glass in acknowledgement. Tammy threw up all over the table as she removed her knife from Dora’s eye. She wanted to say she was sorry but she wasn’t sure it would be true.

The bottle was in motion again. It landed on Maxine but she was now unconscious. The host slapped her lightly on the cheeks but there was no response. Her chest rose and descended slowly so they knew she was still alive.

“Ah it appears that Maxine is having a little trouble picking her card so dealer’s choice then eh?”

The host flipped over the card closest to him. A smile crossed his face.

“Well now I think we all know that if Maxine were able, she wouldn’t do this to herself. Unfortunately for her she has no say in the matter but the task still needs to be completed. Any volunteers?”

Nobody moved. Nobody even breathed.

“No? Alright. Maybe if we sweeten the pot a little bit. An incentive so to speak. Whoever completes the task will get a well needed bonus in our next and last game. Any volunteers now?”

There was a flurry of activity around the table but Tammy had the advantage. With two swift hacks of her hunting knife, one of Maxine’s hands had been separated from her body at the wrist. The rest of her hand slipped lazily from the table leaving a thin trail of blood. The wound dripped into the already murky puddle by her chair. The savage action only elicited a brief moan from the barely aware Maxine.

“Congratulations to the birthday girl! Doing what had to be done.”

The host cast a glance at Maxine. Seemingly satisfied that she was still alive, he continued.

“Alright. I think it would be best to move on to our last game while Maxine is still tethered to this mortal realm eh? This game is a personal favourite and all you ladies have to do is cast a vote. Tammy, as promised, you have an advantage. You get to vote for Maxine so any vote you cast will count as two.”

He paused for that to sink in, Tammy could feel the hard stares from the other girls but she didn’t care. She needed to survive.

“The game is called M/S/K. Basically you ladies will vote for who will endure the challenge that each letter represents. These will be explained on the ballots you are about to receive.”

Duke appeared and handed out the papers and pens. Tammy of course received two ballots.

“Vote well. You have 60 seconds to decide.”

There was the click of a timer. A key on the voting paper revealed the letters M/S/K stood for MAIM, SCREW and KILL respectively. The seconds ticked by and Tammy wondered if it really mattered who was voted to endure what.

Her stomach roiled at the thought. She quickly wrote her choices.

She would maim Dora.

How much worse could things possibly get for her anyway?

Kill Maxine.

She was gone whether they killed her or not.

And Darby would be screwed.

Hopefully only in the manner she was already used to.

The other ladies scribbled furiously just in time to meet the shrill bleet of the timer.

“Okay. Ballots please.”

The host took a moment to mentally tally the votes.

“Firstly, there’s a tie for the MAIM category so I will have to be the tie-breaker. Tammy, in spite of your efforts, you have been voted to be maimed.”

Tammy glared at Darby and Dora.

Bitches.

“Secondly, Darby has won the SCREW category.”

A murmur went through the crowd. Tammy hoped it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

“And for our final category…”

He summoned one of the guards with a wave of his hand. Dora gasped and started to cringe but the bullet wasn’t meant for her. A perfectly round hole appeared in the middle of Maxine’s forehead. Tammy sighed. At least all the girls had been on the same page with that.

“Alright ladies. You’re next.”

A man from the crowd approached Tammy with a shiny scalpel.

“Choose.”

She almost didn’t hear him over the thundering of her heart.

“What?”

“You have to choose where I remove the flesh.”

Tammy pointed to the inside of the upper part of her arm. She had yet to meet a client who cared about anything below her chest or above her waist. Later in life, a scar in that area wouldn’t matter to anyone.

He rinsed the area with an antiseptic solution and started his incision. Tears ran from Tammy’s eyes and halting screams hiccupped from her throat. She closed her eyes but eventually morbid curiosity won out and she watched the man remove a precise 1-inch wide line of skin and flesh that ran from the top of her armpit to the beginning of her elbow. Already blood was running down her arm and pooling on the floor. He wrapped the area loosely with a crude bandage.

Having watched Tammy’s challenge, Darby was led into an adjoining room to complete hers. Four men went in shortly after. It didn’t take long for the screams to start but at some point Darby went quiet. Only the men’s grunts could be heard through the door.

Tammy didn’t know how long it took, but eventually the men left the room. She got a glimpse inside before the door swung closed. Darby’s naked body laid spread eagled on the bed, her arms restrained with handcuffs. Real handcuffs, not the flimsy things you can get at the kinky stores. The sheets were soaked in blood.

“Ladies and gentlemen! It’s been a long night but we have our winners! Ladies, thank you for participating and please enjoy your prizes! Duke?”

Tammy listened to the thunderous applause and didn’t want to think about everything that had happened. Everything that she had done. She stayed in that state of disassociation as Duke cleaned her wounds more thoroughly, gave her a bath, dressed her wounds and then finally dressed her. When he was done, he led her to an adjoining room where she saw the host again. He embraced her warmly as if she were a long-lost relative.

“Tammy! I had certainly hoped you would make it! Here is your reward as promised, as well as an extra something for being such a good sport.”

Tammy wondered if he had said the same thing to Dora. She looked at the stack of cash on the table beside him. Her days as a cashier told her that it was at least $150,000.

In the movies, at this point, the main character would feel a crisis of conscience over taking the money. In Tammy’s reality, however, she wondered how much money she would have ended up with if she had asked for more to begin with.

“There’s a car outside waiting for you. It will take you wherever you want to go. Enjoy your prize, Tammy, and all the best for the future.”

Tammy nodded her head, stuffed the cash in the bag provided, and stumbled out the door.

Outside, the sun was already starting to come up.

As promised, the driver took her home. On the way there, she began to make a list of all the things she would finally be able to afford.

Once inside the house, Tammy dropped the bag of cash and slumped against the door, heaving a deep sigh of relief.

Man, what a night…

“Hi Mommy.”

It was then she turned to see her daughter there beside her, still rubbing the sleep from her little eyes.

“Hi Baby!”

She knelt down and wrapped her in a tight embrace, the light of her life, her reason to live.

As she held her daughter close, she tried to forget all about the horrible people she had met the night before.

She wondered if giving them her home address had been so smart after all.

Johnny Scarlotti

Drunk

I curl up on my favorite bench
in my disgusting blanket
I take another swig of the rancid liquid
A car rolls by playing a familiar song
with that catchy chorus:

I just died in your arms tonight,
it must have been something you said

I sing along as best I can—

I’m
Just
Dying

I’m
Just
Dying

Then everything fades to black

Justin Hyde

these boots

have outlived
six pairs of laces
a wife
and the
banal affections
of seventeen other
wax
suitors.

they’ve seen me though
a suicide attempt
three minor stays in jail
and stints as
a door to door
vacuum cleaner salesman
and hired man
on a hog farm.

they were there
the day my grandfather
died on a hospice bed
from cirrhosis
of the liver
and the evening
my ex said
she was pregnant
and i tried talking her
into an abortion.

before that
they spent ten years
under my father
as a bug man
for presto x.

this morning
my three year old son
gets them
on his feet.

trudging
across the living room floor
of my apartment:

look daddy
look at me
i’m a big boy
just like
you.

Jon Bennett

What Happened to You?

I’m pretty desperate
so when she calls
I say OK and go to Pinole
because she was hot ten years ago
and not entirely insane.

“I’ve been arrested
12 times,” she says at the bar
and then calls the police
to ask them if I can park overnight
in a tow zone
because I’m drunk.

Her spine has gone crooked,
she’s partially bald, and
she claws at my chest
when I try to leave.

I get home, shaken,
thanking God I’m not her
as I look in the mirror,
but then I wonder
if she’s thinking
the same thing.