Better Out Than In
My grandmother stood above
as I vomited in my mother’s bathroom.
“I told you so!” she crowed
while the hot rum and apple cider
exited my body.
Nervous in her presence,
I soothed my guts with alcohol.
Her admonitions only made me drunker.
Thanksgiving was a tense affair,
filled with canned yams and rage.
Since I despised
the marshmallows’ artificial goo
and the prickly tang of aluminum,
I brought fresh sweet potatoes
all the way from Chicago,
only to upchuck them
a few hours later
into a Wisconsin toilet.
I hated it when
my grandmother was right,
because she derived
so much pleasure from it.
She could hold her liquor inside
for as long as necessary,
until her body absorbed the bile
and saved it for later.
It’s a good thing
I was never
that much of a drinker.
She says I’m depressed.
No shit. Really? No PhD needed for that diagnosis.
Even my Mom says the same and I only talk to her once a week on the phone.
My therapist suggests making new friends, trying new things… Maybe joining a book club or a wine tasting group.
I tell her it’s a Kindle age. I have no time to read and George Thorogood summed it up pretty good already, when he sang “I drink alone.”
I tell her I drink to make the day taste better.
She makes a note in her always handy notebook.
Long fingers, short strokes. Always a pencil, never a pen.
Sometimes she licks the graphite.
She favors green nail polish. Like the skin of some endangered rain forest frog.
I’ve noticed. At $35 bucks an hour, I’m paying attention.
She asks if I’m seeing anyone. That’s therapist code for dating/fucking/sharing my thoughts and feelings with another human being while NOT being charged at a professional rate.
I respond truthfully and say only my co-workers, who are all male, one step up from Neanderthal, and herself. I point out that she’s paid by the hour but so are most of my co-workers.
She looks at her watch, scribbles in her notebook, brings the pencil to her lips.
I’ve never seen what’s in her notebook. Never asked.
Therapy session over, we shake hands. She has a very delicate handshake, like her hand is made of porcelain or egg shells. Then she smiles, all pearly whites, saying I’ll see you next week.
I pay at the desk. The receptionist is young, 20-something, about 10 on the cuteness scale, and always smiling, always friendly.
Maybe she realizes I’m clinically nuts and doesn’t want to provoke negativity.
She’s attractive, knows it, and should be selling worthless products on late-night infomercials in a bikini, or else involved in local politics. I’d place an order and/or vote.
After paying for my session, I stop at the bathroom on my way out. I jerk off in the stall, imagining my therapist, her green nails carving into my hips as my cock fills that pearly white mouth.
I think the therapy is working.
Skyjacking Sleaze with Sci-Fi Chaser:
Charles Bukowski’s “Fly the Friendly Skies”
There’s no stroke mag like an 80s stroke mag. Long live big hair and bountiful bush. Also, this was a time when such publications featured fiction on a regular basis.
Throughout the decadent decade Charles Bukowski contributed a number of short stories to Oui. One of these, “Fly the Friendly Skies,” appeared in the January 1984 issue before fading into obscurity. Virtually forgotten until its reemergence thirty-one years later in The Bell Tolls for No One (City Lights 2015)—a collection of stories edited by notable Bukowski scholar David Stephen Calonne—“Fly” is a noteworthy piece in that it exemplifies the author’s Romantic tendencies, particularly his melding of stark realism with the fantastical.
This lurid skyjacking thriller features a trio of terrorists intent on diverting an L.A.-bound flight to Havana, Cuba. The plane is well on its way, boring through “almost clear skies” when Dak makes the first move, ensnaring a stewardess with “wrapping twine” and forcing her into the cockpit. This leaves Kikid and Nurmo in the cabin where the entire narrative unfolds.
Kikid is particularly sadistic as he attacks a mouthy male passenger with a can opener: “He gouged the pointed end into one of the young man’s eyes and twisted. The scream of pain almost shook the aircraft. The young man held both of his hands to his head where the eye had been . . .” As if this weren’t enough, the terrorist adds insult to injury (literally) by stepping on the eye, effectively “crushing it like a snail.”
Being a story in a hardcore mag, it’s only a matter of time before the assaults turn sexual. Kikid continues his reign of terror, forcing a stewardess to fellate him: “Tightening the twine just a bit about the girl’s throat, Kikid reached down and unzipped his fly. He pulled his penis out. It hung there, limp and ugly.” In typical “Roughie” porn fashion, Kikid degrades the woman as she gobbles his knob: “I love you, you cunt! Oh, get it, get it ALL! Swallow it, you bitch, get it all!” After having her ingest his wad, the lowlife compliments her oral skills.
Then the story shifts in a big way, veering abruptly into sci-fi territory with the arrival of a flying saucer. And it isn’t long before an alien materializes in the airplane’s cabin: “. . . before them appeared a creature quite globular, almost all head with eyes as bright as 500-watt electric bulbs.” The extraterrestrial makes short work of the villains, zapping both terrorists with a death ray: “. . . a beam shot out from one of the Thing’s 500-watt eyes.” Relieved passengers interpret this as divine intervention. One woman actually believes that the alien is God: “I had no idea you’d look like this!”
But there is no God in Bukowski’s universe, no God and no valorous hero showing up to save those in peril. In fact, the alien turns out to be just as cruel as Kikid when it uses mind control on the stewardess, commanding her to suck its “pole-like antenna” of a prick. No match for the space creature’s superior intellect, the poor flight attendant acquiesces and gives her second hummer of the flight: “She lifted the whole apparatus upwards, then stuck the end of it into her mouth. Her ears quivered and the saliva ran down her jaws.”
This over-the-top tale concludes with several loose ends. What happened to Dak, his captive stewardess, and the flight crew? More importantly, what will become of the flight as a whole? Clearly, these folks are not in good hands. The space invader eliminated two of the three terrorists, but it has definitely not come in peace.
Scales & Fur
The window was cracked; spirals dancing like a spider’s web singing. That’s when I knew. I reached for the door, found it standing open a hair’s breadth. The darkness radiating from inside was heavy, hot, the rank breath from something waiting, something awful just biding its time.
With the toes of my scuffed boots I pushed the door in. It swung on creaking hinges and met something that impeded its progress about halfway open. I squinted into the darkness.
“Can’t see shit,” I said.
I swear I could almost feel the room breath, a sucking in of anticipation, an electricity bordering on painful.
I put one foot in front of the other with careful hesitancy but it still felt every bit the mistake it was.
“Hello,” I called.
I could hear the trembles in my voice and gritted my teeth.
I knew there was but there was no answer.
Four steps inside the door, I stopped, held myself erect, muscles singing in rigidity, waiting for my eyes to adjust. A slithering gripped the room. I felt like the walls were twisting, gripping a little closer in the space around me.
I debated the merits of calling out that I wasn’t the police, that I was with the Homeless Youth Outreach Program but saw junkie teenage sneers and snickers and bit my tongue.
I could make out the dim shapes of things around me: a couch against the wall furthest away, a coffee table near it, a television sitting directly on the floor to my left. There was a gaping, rectangular hole to my right signifying a door to another room.
“Hey,” I called.
I made my voice as sharp and as cutting as I could, hoping to startle whoever (or whatever) into making a noise and revealing themselves.
I walked over to the couch and, with shaking hands and tingling fingers, reached down to pat the cushions to make sure nothing was lying in wait there.
God did I wish I had a flashlight or a cellphone or a lighter but the only flashlight I owned sat in the junk drawer of my little place in Ferndale, the city was too broke to supply cellphones and I quit smoking three years ago.
The cushions were stale, dusty coated and my fingers came away somewhat sticky but not in a wet way. I wiped them on my pants and made my way to the door, where a darker darkness yawned out.
That’s when I remembered the door. It hadn’t opened all the way.
Stupid. Stupid to forget something as glaringly obvious, right?
I spun on my heels and that’s when it happened. Happened as quick as they say it happens. Everything changed.
Blinding light, flashes and stars and noise, erupted from all around me. The room tightened its grip to a choking. I saw nothing save the light.
“Welcome,” it said.
I couldn’t breath. I couldn’t see. My ears felt plugged with barbed cotton. Panic sunk in like a searing knife.
I flung my arms wildly, connected with nothing, but kept swinging.
“Help,” I tried to scream. “God, help me.”
No sound escaped my lips.
My head began to spin and the light flickered like fading afternoon sunlight on rippling water.
I’m going to pass out, I realized.
I did but I caught a fleeting glance of the room before the lights went out. The walls were scaled, red and coiling. The floor was not carpeted. It was fur-covered. I saw it growing in lurid detail as I fell.
Time is a strange thing. It comes in leaps and bounds. It sticks with clumpy, sap-like tenacity, refusing to budge. It does what it does.
I don’t know how long I was out. When I woke the first thing I realized was that I couldn’t see. All was dark again. The next thing I realized was that I was bound, completely engulfed in fur. Little bristles of hair lined my body as snug as any coat I’d ever worn.
My breath was hot and close against my face bringing sweat to my pores and tears to my eyes. I could breath though.
Motion enwrapped me. The fur moved all around me. I had to close my eyes as the hair poked and stabbed in its coiling. Whatever it was, it moved from right to left, slowly unfurling itself.
I kept my eyes shut. I didn’t want to see. My body shook and I couldn’t stop it.
Why? Why did I have to choose this house? Of all the abandoned, derelict houses on the block–shit, in Detroit, for that matter–I had to go and choosethisone.
I steeled myself as best I could and slapped my eyes open.
I blinked and blinked and blinked but everything remained dark. I kept my eyes open and waited.
Slowly, painfully slowly, time as globbed sap, my eyes adjusted and I saw that I was in the same room. I was on the floor. I could make out the couch against the wall, the coffee table near it and the television to my left.
Move, I told myself. Get up. Move.
I jerked my hands into fists, feeling the hairy carpet under my arms. I wiggled my toes inside my boots and found them working too. I sucked in my gut and threw myself forward, the first sit-up I’d done since elementary school.
“Ok,” I said, huffing for breath. “Ok.”
I looked around. The front door, the one I’d come in through, was nowhere to be seen.
Must be shut, I thought. Shit.
I looked for its outline behind me but could see nothing. I got to my feet, stopping with my hands on my knees as the room swayed with my light-headedness, then made my way to where the front door of the house should’ve been.
It wasn’t there.
Nothing but a wall. I ran my sweating hands along it, searching for doortrim, a knob, the eery pane of glass I saw from the outside, a crack, something. My hands found nothing. Just the smooth but somehow lumpy-in-exact-patterns wall.
Red scales flashed in my mind.
I jerked my hands away and nearly tripped over my feet stepping backwards.
Window. There must be a window. You can leave through a window.
I forced myself to step back to the wall and place my hands back on it. I traced the largest loops my arms would allow, praying with each inch that my fingers found glass. I didn’t care if I lost a hunk of my finger in the process. I just wanted out.
I followed the wall towards the corner, taking half-steps as my hands searched. I was nearly to the corner, which I could just make out in the murk, when a sharp bark of pain leapt up from my right shin. I stumbled over something and hit the ground, barely stopping my face from smashing into the weird, furry carpet with my right arm.
I kicked my feet wildly and they struck something. It felt insubstantial, flimsy even. I sat still, waiting for my chest to quit heaving and squinting into the darkness at whatever it was that I’d kicked.
I saw the outline of it finally and laughed a little. It was a nervous thing, that laughter. It wasn’t forced but I could hear the tremble in it and knew it wouldn’t take much more to push me over the breaking point.
“Just the television,” I said, pulling myself up to all-fours. I crawled over to the television and ran my fingers along the top. It was smooth and cold.
There must cable cords in the thing, I thought. If there’s no goddamn window in this fucked up house, I’ll just pull the damn wall out where the cable comes in.
I moved to the backside of the tv, still on my hands and knees, and started feeling up the wall. My hands found nothing but the oddly lumpy surface.
I turned back to the tv and moved my fumbling hands along the backside of it. It was completely smooth. Not a port or cord to be found.
Time, bounding back to motion, reared its head. The television flashed into life. Light flooded the room on the other side of the tv. The couch and coffee table blossomed into view. I saw the wall behind to, indeed, be red and lined with scales. The carpet was unlike any carpet I had ever seen in my life. It was a dingy, off-white fur that shimmered and bristled in places like a cat’s arching back.
I felt paralyzed. I was behind the tv. I felt no cord, not even a power cord, but the television was on and beaming. I forced myself to crawl around and see what it was showing.
The brightness was nearly too much. My eyes narrowed into slits and it took a few moments to adjust to the light.
The screen was a negative image of the house from the outside. The night sky was alive with a matte light and the house was lined in shadows and darkness. It looked ghostly, pale but shimmering.
My mouth hung open and I felt my breath quickening.
I watched as the shape of a portly man came into the lower left-hand side of the screen. He lifted one leg over the rickety fence, struggled for balance awkwardly, then swung the other leg up and over. The man readjusted his pants, picked a wedgie from his ass, then started up the overgrown yard towards the looming house.
“Oh god,” I whispered.
I watched the man pause before mounting the steps to the porch.
The television screen began a slow but steady zooming in at this point. The portly man looked around the porch, walked to both sides searching for a window but finding none, returned to the door and hesitated.
The screen was a closeup of the back of the man’s head now, standing at exactly the same level as the man.
The man reached for the knob but stopped short. His shoulders hunched and I watched as a shiver ran up the length of his spine. The man felt somebody behind him. The man swung around and I stared in open-mouthed horror at my own wide-eyed, sweating face in negative on the television screen.
I flung myself away from the television. I scrambled backwards and bashed against the coffee table.
“What?” I sputtered. “What is happening?”
I struggled against the coffee table but it backed against the couch and moved no further.
My eyes on the television screen scanned right and left but saw nothing. Did not see whatever it was that was filming me directly in front of me like the eyes of some invisible monster. I watched as I turned around and noticed the cracked window on the door. I watched as I noticed that the door was open. I watched as I opened the door with my foot.
Don’t go in, my mind screamed.
But I was already inside.
“What is happening?”
I felt the ground under me move. It jostled me, just a little at first, then with a power that cowered me. It lifted me up and sat me on the couch. I did not resist. I curled myself in closer, brought my knees to my chest.
The television was just light now. I was nowhere to be seen. The house wasn’t in view either. The screen vibrated with a light that danced like a candle in a gentle breeze.
It was captivating. I couldn’t look away even though it felt like the room was circling me, closing in.
I’m not sure when I noticed it, it must’ve been happening for a while, growing in intensity, slowly, until it was damn near deafening: a hissing, like a gigantic teakettle stuck at just the moment before it howls. A shaking like the kettle’s top bubbling on scalding water, everywhere and, for the moment, unseen.
It gave me the distraction to pull my eyes from the television set.
I sucked in breath and found no exclamation profound enough to utter. The room was teeming with movement. Hundreds, thousands probably, of strands of the wall, red and scaly, were slithering, coiling, just a few feet away. The room was wrapping itself around me with a strength of such finality there was nothing to do but let go.
I could’ve been anything. That’s what I like to believe. I say it, well I guess I don’t say anything anymore, I have no real voice, in disgust and regret. I could’ve been safe somewhere in an airconditioned, cubicled office, crunching numbers for a chain of dry cleaners. I could’ve been working the door at one of the scuzzy clubs in Greektown. Shit, I could’ve spent a lifetime passing out Gatorade to the Pistons.
But no, I had to be the do-gooder. I had to be the guy who thought he could make a difference. Shit. I like to think a lot about the Homeless Youth Outreach Program now. Was it even really a thing? When they came flyering up Wayne State, I thought they were about the greatest thing I could imagine. College educated helpers swooping down from their rising place in the social stratum to help the kids on the streets, the kids sleeping behind the tagged dumpsters downtown, the kids sleeping in the hundreds of empty shells of businesses and factories, the kids sleeping in the thousands of derelict, abandoned houses sprawled for miles and miles. I wonder how many houses sat silently laughing like this one, waiting, biding its time, hungry.
The turnover rate was astounding. They had to tell me. I took it with a grain of salt. I was young, eager, knew I wouldn’t burn out because I was going to make it happen. I was going to be a constant for these kids in a world of inconsistency.
This house. That’s all there is now. Me, the coffee table, the couch, the fur, the walls and the television. Red scales and fur and light. There is no time, time in globs or time as a whip. I am the bug in amber. I am in a place, seconds like centuries with teeth, without end.
I thought there’d be heaven or, a remote possibility, hell but there’s nothing. I’m not sure if it’s the house, taking whatever essence, call it core or soul or being, and holding it over my head, trapping me here, or if there just isn’t anything else. My thoughts twist around these ideas like the “walls” of this place, shifting in a circle never ending, grinding to what seems like a stop only to shift, as if for comfort, then to pick up right where it left off. Round and round and round it goes.
It doesn’t speak to me. It doesn’t even really acknowledge that I’m here. It keeps me, forgotten, unattended, neglected, like a nest egg, some dragon’s fortune that it has no use for but won’t give up.
I know it’s terrible but I hope somebody from the Blight Commision makes their way here. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, it’ll trade me out for someone new, someone alive. There’s nobody else here but me so it’s not hoarding.
I just sit and watch the television hoping for flickers of life and a shot of somebody that isn’t me coming up the overgrown yard to the door with the spider-webbed window.
Parting Ways on Pizza Night
before you said
I should go
with the traffic
for a while
and walked away,
as you called
the delivery man
finally arrived –
to reveal a
and like ham
and pineapple pizza,
I knew then
that only a fool
think that we’d
And From the Heads of Babes
Dr. Emanuel Kokoschka had long since been denounced as a crackpot and a quack but the controversy surrounding reports of his latest research was quite unlike anything I’d ever seen in all my years of scientific journalism. He welcomed me at the iron shutters of his latest clinic (in reality an industrial unit on the outskirts of Tipton) and ushered me into his office. We walked past lines of iron shelving that ran the length of the warehouse, cardboard boxes containing babies and toddlers of various ages, some of them crying, some babbling incoherently.
His office was bare apart from a plastic garden chair, an aluminum desk, a large throne-like chair of leather and polished gold, and a tatty Sunday Sport calendar from 1992, perhaps leftover from his “clinic’s” previous occupants. He bid me sit on the plastic chair as he eased himself into his throne.
“Ah, yes,” he said, “My work into the development of human consciousness has been most enlightening, raising questions about the most fundamental aspects of the nature of human awareness.”
He sat back in his throne, clearly relishing this opportunity to explain his work in detail. “For you see, awareness is simply the ability to attend selectively among a range of perceived stimuli and then combine and hold these attended items in a short-term memory store. By placing babies in sensory deprivation tanks directly from birth, I found that prodding them with pointy sticks elicited a reaction that clearly demonstrated an awareness that pointy sticks were bad and so something to be avoided.”
I stopped scribbling in my notebook, shocked.
“So awareness can therefore be found in solitary animals and is not an aspect of social intelligence. I had proven that non-conscious babies may be aware of their surroundings. However, awareness of inner body states is surely unique to conscious beasts.”
He sat forward and leaned on his desk. “So I attempted to determine how this awareness of the inner body state would be affected by manipulating the outer environment. One group I kept in their sensory deprivation tanks, another group were subjected to overwhelming external stimuli – constant flashing lights, Skrillex at 120 decibels and the like – while another had their subjective awareness distorted through round the clock administration of LSD. Four years later and the results are overwhelmingly conclusive. Idiots. Absolute idiots, the lot of them!”
He beamed at me, obviously proud of what he considered his ground-breaking research. “But then, there is the question of the nature of language in human consciousness. Freud argued that for an idea to become conscious it needs to be attached to language and language learning involves learning associations between objects and words. I tested this hypothesis by placing the little tykes in a controlled environment and then showing them objects before repeating random words. So I would show them a banana and say, “Dongle,” or give them a doll and say, “Binoculars,” for example.”
The door swung open and a young boy of around four years of age, a bloody bandage wrapped around his head and only an old bin liner around his loins, scampered in and rushed to Kokoschka. He looked up imploringly as he tugged at Kokoschka’s stained, white coat. “Kipper jam shot fizz tea!”
“Yes, yes. Be quiet now.” He paused. “They are annoying, aren’t they?” Kokoschka patted the child on the head. “And while they did indeed show a certain level of consciousness, I was faced with the issue of human language acquisition itself. In a social milieu a child wants to communicate social information and tries to talk because it is so useful in the social environment. It is this drive that elevated humans, who are indeed fully conscious, from apes, who demonstrate only awareness. So by placing these children together in a room, I observed how being with the other children affected their development of language.”
I sat in stunned silence but Kokoschka, now fully enthused in being able to describe his research to someone else continued. “And absolute gibberish it was; complete cacophony. But still, that brings me to the latest stage of my research, which is undoubtedly the most exciting.”
I was so stunned by his catalogue of atrocities that I could barely croak out a response.
“For you see, it is probable that consciousness is crucially dependent upon neural circuits located in dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex – the upper-outer lobes of the front of the dominant, language-containing, hemisphere – for this is the most recently evolved part of the human brain. So my current research involves opening up their little noggins and applying powerful electrical current to the various parts of their exposed brains.”
The frightened child continued to tug at his coat. “Fob win nostril courgette,” it whined before starting to wail.
“So…” I gasped. “What… what have you discovered?”
“Well, very strong findings! Very strong! Groundbreaking! They don’t like it. They don’t like it all. Do you, poppet?”
The child continued to cry, as rain started to pelt against the corrugated iron roof.
I Awoke With My Face in the Dirt
I awoke with my face in the dirt, aching beneath a pile of dead fish, tin cans and candy wrappers.
I struggled up into sitting position and wiped the grunge off my face. It was cold by the shore that night, and the fog covered everything in sight. I could just barely make out some dead hedges in the hazy darkness behind me, but I could only see about ten meters or so down the misty beach. The waves came in black, glistening like oil in the moonlight.
The moon was a shy one that night, only occasionally peeking out from behind the clouds. Illuminated by this meagre light, I espied a murder of crows feasting on what appeared to be a pile of dead fish near the water’s edge.
I had no recollection of how I had gotten there, where I had come from, or even who I was.
Standing up, I decided to check myself over for identification, finding nothing in the pockets of my ripped, soiled shorts. My only other article of clothing was a running shoe about two sizes too large, and, judging from the pain in my foot, there was evidently something else inside it.
Kicking off the shoe and shaking it out, I was surprised to see two gold coins fall out onto the ground before me. They appeared to be quite old and worn with no discernible markings.
Still covered in fish guts and assorted other beach debris, half naked and freezing with no recollection of anything, I attempted to assess my situation. My only assets being a pair of torn shorts, an ill-fitting shoe, and a couple of strange gold coins, I concluded that I should probably get on the move.
I was sore as hell as I made my way down the shore, stumbling off to god knew where.
Passing the crows from before, I made a grisly discovery – what they were feasting on was not dead fish at all, but rather the remains of something human, judging by its bones. I quickly lurched on by, relieved that at least it hadn’t been me.
It was then I caught a glimpse of something in the distance, a shrouded figure I thought, but at this point I couldn’t trust anything, least of all my senses. The one thing I was sure of was that I’d prefer not to meet the same fate as my unlucky friend I’d passed along the way.
Eventually I came upon the cloaked man. There he stood beside his boat, a single long oar laid across its gunnel. I couldn’t see his face beneath his dark hood.
As I approached, he stretched out a long, skeletal hand as if to receive something. I assumed he didn’t want my shoe or my shorts, and so I gave him the coins instead, watching as they melted into the night.
I don’t recall much after that.
Murderers I Have Known
The first time I see Lucius Lamont he is wearing a nylon stalking mask and a pair of greasy jeans. There is a snail-trail of fresh semen down his right leg. At best, he looks like Tailgunner centrefold material on a particularly bad month. At worst, he looks like the kind of guy who advertises his services at the back of the magazine, and ends up handcuffing you to a radiator and stealing your wallet. Hell, what do I know? I only buy it for the fucking articles…
My claw hammer craters his nylon-sheathed skull as he opens the door, and I bundle him into the dingy hallway, away from the prying eyes of the other sheltered accommodation shit-bags. The sagging floorboards feel as soft as shit beneath my boots. I kick him down the dank passage and he moans like a fat hooker, curling into a foetal ball on the exposed wood.
I don’t see the switchblade until it is wedged between my ribs, turning my sweaty t-shirt the colour of cheap lipstick. He laughs, but through the mangled bone and fabric it sounds like someone wanking into a verruca sock. Me? I don’t have too much to fucking laugh about…
Four days earlier.
The sky above the Dirty Lemon was the colour of diseased lungs. Fat clouds swirled above the pub, and the bronchial sky erupted as I pushed through the double-doors – bullets of rain thudding into the wheelchair ramp behind me.
Remy Cornish was sat adjacent to the cigarette machine, perched awkwardly on his mid-range mobility scooter. He chose the meeting place – the only pub in Paignton with a ramp – but it was no hardship on my part – I was coming here anyway…
I ordered a pint of Kronenbourg from Spacey Tracey and sat down opposite Remy. A thick, pissy stench hung in the air above him, and even the pub’s cigarette fug couldn’t mask it. Presumably showering has been a problem since Franco Moretti took his fucking kneecaps…
He made half-hearted speech-marks in the air with his sausage-like fingers as he told me that his “niece” Claudette was missing. Wanted me to find her. He passed me a photograph. It was a typical small-town glamour shot: badly lit and barely legal. She was a toothy brunette with small, uneven breasts. She didn’t so much have blowjob lips as gob-job gums. I felt my cock twitch, took Remy’s money and finished my pint. In that order.
I didn’t find Remy’s “niece” – the harbour master did. Wedged behind a dumpster that was overflowing with fish guts. The Herald Express nicknamed the killer ‘The Cartographer’, because he carefully wrapped each one of his victims’ bodies in old maps. Claudette was the fourth victim. She even looked pretty in the autopsy photo. No tattoos. No piercings. No life in her dead eyes. She had been wrapped in a map of Paignton; her spine was very slightly curved – just like Hyde Road.
I tried to give Remy his money back, but he decided to renegotiate our contract instead. Find the motherfucker responsible and deliver him to his portakabin up at Paignton Yards. His bloodshot eyes were so red-raw that they look like flesh-wounds. I nodded and slipped the money back into my jacket pocket. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
The lead landed right in my lap, just like a cracked-out lap-dancer…
I met David Cummings outside Foxy Booze. He was wearing a denim jacket with a sheepskin collar. He had the word ‘Mum’ tattooed across his throat. It looked new. And infected.
He chuckled when he saw me.
“I heard you died.”
“You look disappointed.”
He laughed even louder.
He smoked two high-tar cigarettes in quick succession as he spilled the beans. Said he was in the cop-shop being processed for affray – he had been caught on CCTV beating a man with the metal bar from a dumbbell – when he heard the story.
While he was in the holding tank a guy named Lucius Lamont was cut loose due to a lack of evidence. The desk sergeants – Benson and Hedges – had been drinking brandy, and blabbed to Cummings that the skinny prick re-lacing his shoes in the police station lobby was the fucking Cartographer.
When I rip off his nylon mask, I see that Lucius has grey hair shaved to stubble and a few pubic-looking beard hairs along his crooked jaw. He is skinny like a stray dog, and it is hard to believe that a man so frail could be responsible for those strangled, mangled bodies.
He glares at me through his left eye – his crumpled right eye socket is already matted with dark, drying blood. He grins nastily, as I probe the knife-wound in my gut.
“You’re so full of doubt I can fucking smell it,” he lisps.
I shrug. The only thing I can smell is the wet stink of shit and blood.
“Is there another girl in the house?”
“If you move I will kill you, you know that, don’t you?”
He shrugs again.
“I’m not afraid. Death is something that happens to other people.”
I trudge out of the room, checking the rest of the house as quickly as possible. Inside the third room I try is a teenage girl. She has been handcuffed to the rusty iron headboard. A stack of mouldy looking ordinance survey maps have been stacked neatly on the bedside table beside her.
She screams silently when she sees me, eyes pleading. Her left eye-socket has been broken and a single bloody tear slides down her badly bruised cheek.
I place my blood-soaked hammer on the floor and hold my hands up, trying to make myself look as unthreatening as possible.
I rip the parcel tape off her mouth, and remove the stained Y-fronts that have been wedged inside her mouth.
“Wh-wh-who are you?”
I consider answering, but grunt instead. Then I turn sharply and stomp back towards the lounge.
Lamont has replaced the nylon mask, but removed his filthy jeans. He is slumped against the wall, trying to masturbate with bloody fingers.
I weigh the gore-streaked hammer in my left hand, holding my pulsing guts in with my right. I swap hands and the hammer feels blood-slick against my palm.
I raise it high above my head, hoping that I don’t kill him – mainly because Remy will want his fucking money back…
He looks up at me expectantly, but doesn’t bother to stop playing with himself.
Death is something that happens to other people…
I’m lying down, watching my prick wilting, fingerwalking my hand down to scratch at my pubes. She’s on her back, legs pulled up, facing the headboard. Eyes at half-mast, but she always looks like that, a bored teenager in an adult’s body. Clicking away on her phone, me still breathing hard. The only sounds in the world.
She puts her phone down and wrestles herself up on her elbows. Her eyes find the ashtray on the bedside table, and she groans and leans forward to grab it. While she’s sparking a good-sized roach, I swing my feet over the side towards the other table where my shit is. There’s maybe sixty milligrams of Percocet ground up on a torn magazine cover, and five more tens still to go. She passes the joint and blows a cloud of smoke that surrounds my head. I take in a lungful and hold while I break out two lines with an old credit card.
It’s a proper kick, what an old friend from school called a Perc shotty—take a hit of weed and do a bump. I’m lightheaded from holding my breath, and now the pill hits my brain along with the bud. I fall back into her lap, smashed and grinning like a spastic. She smacks my forehead and gives herself a kick.
“Silly little boy.”
Her eyes always tear up when she snorts shit. I first noticed it watching her do a bump with black eyeliner on. For some reason it got me all hot and bothered. Maybe next time I’ll give her the makeup and put a choke chain on her. God knows she’d get into it.
I love watching her smoke. One eye closed like a wink, sucking it down so slow and rolling it around in her mouth, digesting it, drooling it out. The same way she sucks cock. My eyes wander to the tattoo on the meat of her thigh, an Oriental dragon crawling up towards her prize. I’m sure she doesn’t know shit about Oriental mystical whoosits. Silly bitch. I love her.
Christ, I could live in this lap. It’s something you see a lot in the city—scrawnyass man with a fat girl. It’s that cushion, that tender loving care you can only feel when you’re pressed up against all that warm flesh, and when you fuck you can watch her whole body ripple, see that small patch of zits bounce around on her funhouse ass. I think it’s some misplaced maternal shit. Gimme something to squeeze up against on a cold day. A good solid ride.
“We should get a bounce house.”
She coughs and sticks the joint between my lips. “What?”
“Yeeeaaaaah,” I say, stretching the word out with my smoke. “One a those big inflatable bitches that kids jump around in.”
She lights two cigarettes and gives me one and I drag deep, arching my back to open my lungs.
“Why a bounce house?”
“Think about it.” I draw a picture in the air. “Fuckin’ in one a those things.” I giggle. I’ve always hated the sound of my laughter, too high pitched like a kid’s. And I can never control a laugh.
“Shit,” she says, “we could get one an’ charge people to fuck in it.”
“You’re a genius, babe. I’m picturing it now—evening with the sun going down, us stepping out into the twilight, fishbowling and fucking in a bounce house. Then we put up a sign on the sidewalk, Open For Business. Ten bucks a throw, two-for-one Fridays and Saturdays. Group discounts. Maybe even make enough to hire some poor kid to clean up the spunk in between customers.”
“You’re a motherfuckin visionary,” she says.
“What can I say?”
“Shit.” She slaps my shoulder. “I saw one a those, on that street by the Big Y.”
“Yeah, some kid’s party I guess.”
“Is it still there?”
Her eyes go distant for a moment, computing. When she’s stoned like this, you can look in her eyes and see the machinery at work.
“I think I saw it this morning. So yeah, could be.”
I’m picturing it now.
I take the magazine and divvy up the lines. She might be the host, but it’s my shit and I’m doing the cutting. The powder burns my sinuses and I snort it back and run a finger under my nostril. A blob of mucus comes away thick with medicine, and before I can move she’s got her mouth on my digit, milking up every grain. Later, I think I’ll put some on my dick.
When she’s got her line up and away towards her brain, I slide off the bed and find my clothes.
“What’s up,” she says. I’m pulling my boxers on and grabbing a stained undershirt.
“Get your clothes on, babe.”
Her eyes are so pretty, squinty and red but bright, too. There’s still some real, untarnished beauty in there. Like, I wanna fuck her eyes.
“We goin’ somewhere?”
“Let’s go get us a bounce house.”