Judge Santiago Burdon

Yucatan Sirens and Mission Bells

The siren on the ambulance wails, oscillating between rapid-fire cries and long, droning moans. The driver weaves in and out of traffic, honking his horn as yet another voice in our chorus, singing the city’s song of the night.

Raindrops pelt the windows and roof of the emergency vehicle as we careen through the city. I’m being tossed back and forth on the gurney, its safety straps having been left unbuckled. Flashing red lights reflect off of concrete buildings and the wet asphalt of the street flying by.

I can’t figure out why I’m being transported in an ambulance. Physically there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with me, no blood or broken bones. There must be some kind of misunderstanding.

“Hey, excuse me!” I holler in Spanish. “Where are you taking me?”

Up front in the cab, the driver and his EMT partner are startled by my sudden outburst. Both of them jump from the unexpected voice, yelling at them from the darkness. The overhead lights flicker to life, both men staring back at me with terrified expressions on their faces. 

“¿Santiago que haces ahi?” (What are you doing there?), the EMT in the passenger seat screams.   

I recognize the voice. It’s Beto, my friend from the hospital. Suddenly everything becomes clear to my foggy mind.

I’d been sleeping in a decommissioned ambulance waiting on repairs in the hospital’s parking garage. I must have taken refuge in the wrong ambulance that night.

“Santiago, what are you doing back there?” Beto hollers. “You can’t be in here!”

“Sorry Beto, mi culpa,” I say. “Where are we headed?”

“Barrio de San Sebastian, big car accident. You’ve got to get out there. I can get in trouble. Understand?”

“Claro, desculpe,” (Of course, I’m sorry,) I reply.

It must be one or two in the morning, and I’m about to be dropped off in an unfamiliar barrio in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

I had just gotten out of Valladolid prison after serving 14 months. I had absolutely no money, not even enough for bus fare. My cousin in Sinaloa was supposed to be sending some startup cash to help get me back on my feet. I’d been waiting for two days now already, my survival hanging in the balance. I’m hungry and in desperate need of a shower and some clean clothes. And now I won’t even have a roof over my head.

It could be worse, it could be raining as I always say. And of course there’s a rainforest deluge presently raging outside. Always another trying element added to an already challenging situation. Never has any such scenario been easy for me. Without fail, a secondary obstacle always presents itself.

We reach the scene of the accident where there are numerous police cars, fire trucks, and other ambulances already present. It’s a large pile up involving five, maybe six cars along with two large produce trucks. One has spilled its cargo of fresh mangos, oranges, bananas and lettuce all over the place.

Exiting the back of the ambulance, my first instinct is to snatch up a few pieces of fruit as they roll across the street. I still don’t have a clue as to where the hell I even am, but at least I’ll have something to eat for now.

Scurrying in and out from under storefront overhangs like a gutter rat, I take refuge from the downpour, making my way toward a cathedral down the street. The church bells ring out a short melody before clanging twice, announcing the ungodly hour.

Finally reaching its large, ornate doors, I’m hoping to find shelter within. My hopes are quickly dashed, however, upon finding the church locked up tight. Pounding my fists on the doors, I shout until my voice goes hoarse, but no one will heed my calls. I think how unfortunate it is that churches are shut down at night. Do they think that people only require the assistance of a priest or the power of prayer during daylight hours? Is God now available only from eight to five, with an hour free for lunch and the customary two fifteen minute smoke breaks? Did the Catholic Church form some type of orthodox union? There should be no question as to why I’m a recovering Catholic myself.

I notice down the street what appears to be a commercial area with bars and restaurants. Quite possibly there may be a business still open I could loiter about without having to purchase anything. I peel a banana and shove half of it in my mouth, once again dodging from overhang to overhang as I make my way toward the neon oasis.

My hair and clothes are thoroughly soaked by this point, but I pull up my hoodie anyway out of habit. A lot of good it does me in rainstorm like this.

Passing by a Chinese restaurant, I stealthily duck inside, hoping to go unnoticed. Maybe I can hideout in the bathroom for a while, at least until the storm passes.

I haven’t made it two steps through the door before another guy in a hoodie jumps over the counter and points a pistol at my head. An old Chinese man stands near the cash register with his hands raised in the air. I immediately follow suit.

Just my luck to wander straight into a robbery.

The robber orders the restaurant owner to lay down on the floor. A voice from behind tells me to lower my hands so as to not alert any passing cars that a robbery is in progress.

Clearing out the cash register, his accomplice grabs me as they start toward the exit, dragging me along with them. As we reach the door, they begin pistol whipping me in the head, swiftly knocking me unconscious.

I’m awakened by a policeman slapping me in the face, telling me to get up. The old Chinese guy is pointing at me, screaming I was one of the perpetrators that had just robbed his restaurant. The cops already have me in handcuffs, trying to pull me to my feet.

“Officers, I had nothing to do with the robbery,” I attempt to explain, blood running down my face. “The perpetrators attacked me before they fled the scene. I just came in to use the bathroom and get out of the rain.”

They don’t say a fucking word in response, instead they just load me into the paddy wagon.

On our way to the station, we pass by the scene of the accident from before. The cops stop to check out the damage, one of them exiting the vehicle. 

“Officers, can I get some help with the cut on my head?” I yell through the barrier between us. “I think I might need to go to the hospital.”

“We will have an EMT take a look,” the cop behind the wheel replies. The other one walks around the back of the vehicle, and I hear the door unlock.

He pulls me out into the rain and we start walking toward an ambulance that’s still on the scene.

“Santiago what happened to you?” Beto hollers, glaring at the cop as he marches me forward. “Why are you in handcuffs? Did the police do this to you? Come here, let’s get out of the rain.”

I crawl into the back of the ambulance once again, wet, bleeding, and exhausted. The church bell rings three times, indicating three o’clock, making it seem like not much time has passed. For me, this night has gone on forever, a never-ending pesadilla (nightmare).

I explain the events of the robbery while Beto attends to my injuries. 

“Officer, he is going to need some stitches,” he says. “You should take him to the hospital or I can transport him in the ambulance.” 

“No, he’s under arrest robbery,” the cops says. “We will take it from here.”

“What I know about Santiago is that he’s no thief,” Beto declares in my defense. “You should know he came here with us in the ambulance earlier. He wasn’t with anyone else. Tell me why would they have beaten him if he was part of the gang?”

“The owner said he was one of the robbers,” the cop replies, wiping the rain from his face and shaking off his plastic Poncho. “We had to arrest him.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with it, did you Santiago?” Beto asks.

“I explained what happened to them but they weren’t buying anything I had to say,” I say. “Of course I didn’t have anything to do with the robbery. Just another instance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Just then, the rain comes to an abrupt halt, the sky not spilling another drop. The clouds above part to expose a brilliant waxing moon upon a backdrop of sparkling stars, as though the cosmos itself was advocating for my innocence.

Taking me away, the cop begins walking me back to the paddy wagon. As we approach, the other cop gets out of the vehicle and motions to his partner to come over.

“They looked at the security video in the restaurant,” he says. “He’s telling the truth, he didn’t have anything to do with the robbery. The owner is in shock, probably doesn’t have a good memory. So we can let this guy go.”

“Do you have any identification?” the other cop asks.

I was hoping this situation wouldn’t present itself, but I pull an answer out of the dark like a magician.

“My passport, money, and everything I owned was in my backpack. The thieves took it. So my answer is no, I don’t have any identification. Is there a chance you could take me to the hospital? I don’t have any way to get there.”

“No, we’re not a taxi service. It’s only four kilometers (two and a half miles), straight down this street.”

“Great, thanks for your assistance. I’m touched by your kindness.”

Just then, Beto drives up with his partner in the ambulance.

“What is going on, Santiago? You need to get to the hospital or you’re going to bleed to death. The bandage I put on is already soaked with blood. It’s only temporary, you need to get to the doctor.”

“They’ve released me because the restaurant’s security footage showed I wasn’t involved. Now they won’t take me to the hospital. They’re just going to let me walk.”

“Walk! The hospital is ten kilometers (six miles) away. You could pass out before you get there.”

“The cops said it was only a couple of miles.” 

“They’re liars. We have two patients in the back already. I’ll get on the radio and see if another ambulance is available. If not, we’ll come back and get you, okay? Tranquilo jefe.”

He hands me a towel and a bottled water through the window and pats me on the back for reassurance. He then turns to the cops and gives them the finger with both hands. “Pinche cabrones, sin corazóns,” (fucking heartless assholes) he hollers as they drive off.

I watch the flashing red lights of the ambulance fade away into the city streets. I find a bench near the cathedral. A statue of Saint Michael vigilantly stands guard as I take a seat, leaning back in surrender to the demands of my exhausted physical condition. I drift off to sleep or quite possibly pass out. 

I wake up to bright lights, the sound of voices, babies crying and people moaning. The amplified voice of a woman paging Doctor Perez. I am warm and dry, and at what I assume to be the hospital. My head is wrapped in a gauze bandage. Beto walks up with a smile you couldn’t buy. He’s holding a large cup of what I hope is coffee. 

“Hey patron, you made it, you’re alive. Well there must be a God after all, because we both know it couldn’t be your luck that rescued you.”

He hands me the coffee and gives my shoulder a squeeze. Ordinarily I’d dispute his assertion that God was my savior, but I decide not to challenge him.

“How you feeling?” he asks.

“I just woke up. I must have passed out. I’m feeling fine so far. Not sure of how I got here or what happened after that. Anyway Beto, thank you for your kindness and support through all this chaos. You’ve been a great friend and I owe you.”

“Happy to hear you say that because your cousin’s friend came by the hospital garage this morning, asking for you and me. You must have given him my name I guess. I have to tell you, the muchacho scared me to my death. Where did you find this guy? Anyway, I brought him here but you were still out from the medication. So he left me some money and said for you to get a bus ticket to Mazatlan, Sinaloa when you are better. I have his phone number right here along with the money. There’s a lot of money here, Santiago. Who the hell is your cousin in Sinaloa? I have also a message for you in an envelope from your cousin.”

“Can you hold on to the money until I get out of here? I’m sure I already know what the message is, I’ll read it later. You don’t know how much I appreciate your help. I should be getting out of here today, don’t you think? “

I went to shake his hand and he responded with a puzzled look. “So, you going to tell me?” he asks.

“Maybe you could find the doctor and see when I can get released.” 

“Okay, but can you tell me, is he really your cousin? I mean for real? Him?”

“Unless one of us is an imposter, yes, he is my cousin. Now can you find the doctor please?”

“Okay patron, I’ll find him. Don’t go anywhere.”

“Don’t have any clothes on,” I laugh. “So pretty good odds I’ll be here when you get back.”

Sometimes the gods smile down on you and give you a break after all. Or it could be just a head start before the next ordeal begins.

David Centorbi

Such A Gorgeous Dying

Cigarette smoke hazing over your face, Clove. 
Sex smell because of you—sheets wet all over.
I remember our first time together:

“I never knew about that,” I said.
You pushed my face between your legs. 
Sweet, the taste of you, no longer a cliche.
You held me in your hand, slow and loose. 
Then fast until I came all over your stomach. 
You looked down, slid your finger through it, 
brought it to your lips. Then kissed me.   

“I’m just going a little longer,” you said,
rolling over, fingers tracing circles
between your legs.

I laid next to you and watched.
Then, startling me, you sat up 
and straddle my face. 
“Let me see those bastard eyes,” you moaned. 
And came, covering my face, wet. 

“Give me your tongue.”
And you pressed yourself against it.
“You’re such a good boy,” you said
as you grabbed my hair and brought
me harder against you.
“Taste all of me. I want you to have it all.”  

You pushed my head away by my hair:
a hot, hard stream hit my face,
and I couldn’t help but open my mouth,
just a bit, and swallow.   

Julian Grant

Cold Cuts

This is how it all ended. 

Blyth’s Mom had stashed her dead husband’s service revolver in the cupboard up high once she found him playing with it as a kid. She drank a lot back then to deal with the stress of raising Blyth by herself and the whole dead husband cop thing – so we pretty much did whatever we wanted over there. His Dad bought it on the job, and she got his pension, a flag and his weapon, ‘cause back then cops paid for their own guns. Blyth didn’t remember his dead dad at all (he was six when he bought it) and once Mom sobered up and found out Blyth was showing all of us pre-teen kids who basically camped out in her rec room his revolver, it disappeared into her closet and we eventually all forgot about it.

‘Til last week.

“You think it’s still there?” I asked, as Blyth rolled. He’d mastered the art of navigating his Mom’s LTD, driving with his knees, as he built a joint. It wasn’t the type of skill that looked good on a job application but neither of us were applying for work anytime soon.

“Where else would it be?” Blyth answered, shaking his head at what was apparently another dumb-ass question from me.

Once his Mom got Jesus, stopped drinking and kicked all of us kids out of the basement, there was little reason to hang out with Blyth. The cool gun was gone, his Mom started handed out God comics and there was no more liquor cabinet to experiment with and steal drinks from.

But Blyth and I were in the ‘dead Dad’ club – a rarity in our neck of the woods. Divorces and separations were common, sure but only him and me had actual bonified for-real dead Dads.

“I checked the other night when she was out a prayer meeting. It’s still there. Plus, a box of shells. They’re all old – but bullets don’t go bad, do they?”

I shrugged, snagging the joint from Blyth as I torched the end as we sat in the car at the B-Mall looking at the Deli two rows over.

Piles of kids from Bloordale, the Middle School were lined up outside for the $4 Buck Special – a smoked meat sandwich, donut and soft drink – alongside a lunchtime sign stating only two kids at a time in the store.

Thick fragrant smoke filled the baby shit brown ride. Back then, we smoked Dumbos – Columbian bush weed nowhere near as strong as the shit out there now – but it got the job done.

“Bullets don’t go bad. Not that we’re gonna need any. He gets one look at the gun, we get the cash. In and out in two minutes…How many kids are out there right now?”

Blyth squinted through the salt-crusted windshield. It was cold as hell out there and the kids standing in line shivered as snow eddied around them. The big car we sat in rocked as a hard-arctic blast hit.

“I got at least twenty, and lunch is an hour. Look, two in, two out every minute. It’s a cash machine.”

I passed the joint back to Blyth as I did the math. 

Fifty minutes of solid business with two kids per minute times four bucks on average equaled four hundred bucks. Just at lunch. The old Italian guy who ran the place was making money. Money that was all paper. No credit cards or ATMS back then. In 1985, four-hundred bucks was a good weekly salary for someone. 

And this Guido was making this every day at lunch from a bunch of cheese-eating middle school kids. Who’d think of ripping that off?

“It’s gonna be a cinch,” Blyth said as he toked deep. 

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.


I can still hear the siren now. It’s was a way off and I didn’t think it would get here at the time – but that doesn’t matter now. I couldn’t feel my legs and my right arm was bent weird underneath me. I’m glad I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything. The thing that worried me the most was the sucking, wet sounds from my chest. Every breath felt like someone sticking a knife in me. 

But I was still better off than Blyth.

“I don’t want to stay in the car,” I argued that night as Blyth dropped me off home. Final count for the afternoon rush was 54 kids in total. Even more than we thought.

“It’s my gun. I want to do it. You drive. I’m going to call the car in stolen anyway and it won’t help if people see me driving, will it?”

Stoned as we were, it made sense at the time, he’d say that his car was jacked at our school, Silverthorne that was on the other side of town, and he only noticed after lunch when he came out on a free period. 

“We book right at lunch, nobody will notice ‘cause everyone wants to go to Apache or The Goof for burgers, we blend in with everyone and then haul ass to the B Mall and get it done just as lunch ends. I call the cops after we dump the car at Nielsen Park and we walk away clean.”

We’d spent all night doing the math, figuring how long we needed, the best time to hit – at the end, obviously and what masks to wear. Blyth thought that wool balaclavas were the best – but where do you even get those full-face ski masks anyway?

“We go to Consumers Distributing, it’s super close to the Deli, just down a few stores. Buy the masks there and go do crimes. What could be easier?”

Consumers, the catalogue store, now long gone had a mail-order-in-person collection of goods that you ordered up front and picked up your stuff from a conveyor belt out the back. It was all about shopping convenience meaning that you could stock a shit ton of stuff without any in-store displays. You just looked up the picture in the catalogue they had there, ordered your stuff and it came out of the back.

“But we gotta get ‘em before the day we do it, right?”

Blyth looked at me like I had two heads. 

“Of course, we go early. I don’t want a shitty color or not get the size I want.”

When I was lying on the cold cement bleeding out, my ski-mask long gone, I laughed as best I could as the blood pooled on my jacket. Consumers had them alright – just extra-large only and Blyth was definitely not a XL.  Let me tell you, dudes can be just as vain as women when it comes to what they want to wear.  Especially to a robbery.

So, Blythe got his XL red ski-mask and I got the black balaclava and we pulled them on when we rolled into the B Mall when we finally picked a day. The day was Wednesday.

I pulled right up front to the Deli as the Guido inside was taking down the lunch special sign. He got one look at Blyth, bopping out of the car with his old man’s service pistol in his hand and he hauled ass back behind the counter. We were busted before we even started. I stayed, hunched down behind the wheel, praying even though God’s not for me.

“No bullets, no problem,” Blythe had said as he winked at me when we left his place. “See?” But somewhere between his place and me pulling up in front of the Deli, he’d pulled a switcharoo and loaded up anyway in the backseat. 

Now I could only see everything from where I was sitting and Blyth had his back to me once he raced inside – but I sure as shit heard the gun go off.

One. Two. Three. WTF?

I glanced about the Mall from inside the car checking to see if anyone else noticed the sharp staccato cracks. Winter tends to keep people moving fast when they’re outside and the wind and snow was kicking up still, so I hoped that no one had heard.

We were in luck. Outside, nobody had twigged to what was going down. Just people down by the supermarket and coming out of the convenience store. No witnesses.

I whipped back to the Deli, my foot revving the LTD in place, juiced by the noises as my mind raced. I didn’t figure that Blyth lied to me about the bullets but I guess he changed his mind. I had to pee bad.

The condensation on the Deli window created this porthole, you know, with tinsel and Xmas shit everywhere making it hard to see, like I said.

“C’mon, Blyth. C’mon.”

I was too scared what with the shooting and stuff to be pissed about him lying to me about loading the gun. My heart was smashing away, my mouth tasted like pennies and I still had to piss.

That’s when the alarm went off outside as Blyth raced out holding one of the cold cut sandwich bags the middle schoolers used stuffed with cash, 

When the front window exploded, Blyth took the hit in the back as I ducked down in the car. I felt him slam into his Mom’s ride as he howled in pain. 

And then nothing.

I jack-rabbited up, looking at the Deli guy behind the shot-to-shit window with a big-ass shotgun in his hands. He was bleeding with two holes in him already as he wobbled on the spot, trying to keep his scatter-gun on us.

I remember screaming for Blyth, looking down at my buddy who was slumped down on the ground, the whole back of his head just gone. 

“Blyth! Blyth!” I hollered, already knowing that it was pointless. 

It was when I opened the door and slid down next to my buddy that the window in the car blew out as the Deli guy shot at us again. I remember feeling something hit me, a hard slap in my coat as everything went grey for a second. 

People started screaming, closer now as I watched the Deli guy, still standing, crack open the gun and start reloading these big-ass shells.

I grabbed the wet bag out of Blyth’s hand and started to run.

In retrospect, I should have probably just jumped back in the car, hauled ass and dumped it like we planned. But I wasn’t thinking straight, Blyth was gone and I was scared shitless. I wasn’t so out of it that I didn’t grab the money though. I was scared – not stupid.

The B-Mall is one of those low-rise suburban motor courts with dry cleaners, a convenience store, a bank and a chain supermarket. We’d looked at all of them trying to figure out the best place to hit figuring the Deli was the easiest. We nixed the Family Restaurant and the Value-Mart as too many people and we had no idea how much shit Consumers actually sold – so the Deli with its big lunch cash run just made sense to us.

I looked back over my shoulder, tearing off my balaclava as I ran. This was another mistake as I saw the Deli door open and the bleeding guy with the gun stagger out. I’d left Blyth’s gun on the ground too and had spun backwards to track the guy, still hauling forwards.

I ran right off the stairs that lead to the lower basement area where a locksmith had his little shop. Two stories down. Forty-four concrete steps. My feet didn’t touch one of them.

I felt the arm break as the bag burst as I fell into the cement pit. I’d never paid much attention to this place before and I got no one to blame but myself for how this ended up. My head hit the wet cement and everything went white for a moment as I saw the money Blyth had grabbed floating in the air, a cascade of bills and coins.

I suppose it was the people too busy grabbing the money that kept the Deli guy from shooting me right there on the spot. I could hear him screaming in Italian and heard the cops screeching up as people slip-and-slided everywhere scooping up the lunch money from the ground and in the air as it floated down. 

After that, everything gets fuzzy.

So, I lived. Took a lot of work and hospital time but I live in Canada so it didn’t cost me anything to get patched up. Blyth was dead and my lawyer argued me down to a year in Juvie as I didn’t actually rob the guy and we claimed that I had no idea Blyth was going to rob the place. I’d lost my balaclava and they had no real proof against me as no one saw shit. My lawyer even put forward the idea of counter-suing the family once the Guido died of his wounds – but it didn’t feel right. The Crown knew I was guilty as shit but all they had me for was grabbing the stolen money on the ground which ended up getting thieved by everyone passing by at the mall. I lost a lung, got a busted arm and had to repeat Grade 11 because I was off sick so long what with the injuries and all.

Still, it could have been worse. I could have ended up dead like Blyth. 

They don’t offer the lunch special at the Deli any more. 

I don’t blame them.

Tohm Bakelas

cum stains and cat litter

with one final squeeze 
she pushes me and 
all my cum out of her
and lays on top of me;
everything drips down my leg. 

the sun burns through
the turning autumn leaves
my dirty window
my cat litter bedsheets
my heart. 

everything upon this bed dries up:
time, love, cum; only cat litter remains. 

i leave her to pick my kids up from school.

after dinner they’ll slip into dreamland.

and soon i’ll stand before my bed, 
contemplate changing the sheets, 
forget it, lay down, and go to sleep. 

Noel Negele

At the Hospital

It is infuriating
how the fear of death
makes you so pathetic.

How you suddenly like life,
enjoy sadness,
regret the wasted days.

The peculiar thing is,
as they say,
that when you lose something
you understand
how important it was,

but when having a near death experience
you haven’t lost anything,
not yet

but the mere possibility
of losing
this life you have

this unimportant little life
with these few romances
the bromide blood ties
the ideas and contemplation
the fun and the years
and the mistakes
and the small acts of kindness
and the small efforts of creativity

it all coruscates
into a total
that in your mind
is so beautiful
that besides feeling
incredibly ungrateful

you also feel irritated
by the cowardice
you are washed in

precisely because of the beauty
precisely because you are not ready
to leave
not until you grow old
and the quality in your life
lessens enough
for you to become proud enough

to be ready enough to go.

And you are hungry suddenly
to live, to try
to climb towards the goals
and you don’t care as much
about the relationships
that went bad,
about your dissatisfying paychecks
or your appearance
and you almost pray
for another shot

and all the stupid sadness you had
appears so wasteful
like a meal run cold
over an argument.

Care less or care more?

A. Elizabeth Herting

Blood Waltz

The skeletons were dancing. 

Their bleached appendages clacked and scraped together in a jumble of ulnas and tibias. They moved gracefully, in as much as skeletons could move at all, in perfect synchronicity. Harold Freeman stared at them in open-mouthed astonishment, a vague recollection of his schoolboy days dancing around the corners of his memory. 

There are 206 bones in the human body. 270 at birth, that is, until the extra bones fuse together into the final number of 206. Harold, write this down, please! 

Harold had never been much of an academic, but that random fact from Sister Mary Bernard’s third-grade science class lingered in his mind as he watched the animated bones glide across the polished floor. This simply had to be some sort of dark dream, a wispy figment of his excellent dinner come back to torment him. 


Harold was an elegant man of large appetites, the author of his own destiny who believed that moderation was for imbeciles. The way he saw it, you were either a victim or a predator and Harold had no desire to be someone else’s lunch. He dined on the weak of mind, a first-class con man and thief. Dealing mainly with the old and infirm, the force of his larger-than-life personality always drew them into his various schemes and elaborate plans. That last old bird had given him $52,000, the entirety of her life savings for his once-in-a-lifetime land deal before shuffling off this mortal coil. Although, she was helped along to paradise by a healthy regimen of poisoned herbal tea, served with tiny little finger sandwiches by none other than Harold himself. No one was ever the wiser–they never were. He had lost count of how many had met a similar fate, preferring not to dwell on the unpleasantness of his chosen occupation. 

He had a refined palate, voraciously inhaling life’s pleasures where and when he found them and needed a healthy income to keep them coming. Food was usually the first item on his list, followed by a taste for fine wines. At six-foot-five and tipping the scales at a hearty 377 pounds, Harold barreled through life eating up every second he possibly could. He wondered darkly if his own skeleton would dance on its own, buried as it was in layers upon layers of Harold, itching to shed him like a corpulent cocoon.


He was so engrossed with the skeletal couple, that he failed to take in the music that served as the backdrop for their ghoulish swaying. He chastised himself for the oversight. Harold was also quite the connoisseur of music, the classical pieces of yore tickling his fancy. He’d played the French horn in his school orchestra and could always pick out its plaintive, haunting sound in any performance. His ears perked up as he closed his eyes, feeling the crest and swell of the music. When he opened them again, he rubbed at his sockets furiously, not wanting to believe that what he was seeing was even remotely possible. An entire demented orchestra loomed before him, rotting, decaying corpses with instruments that appeared to be made of bone, muscle, and gore.

The conductor was something ripped from the pages of a Gothic novel, his left eye dangling down his desiccated face, wild brittle hair framing a countenance that would have been welcome at the very gates of hell. Over seven feet tall with his tuxedo moldering off of his half-rotted frame, the conductor held a large, razor-sharp femur bone in his right hand while keeping tempo with his left. He was very passionate about the music as pieces of him flew off in every direction, plopping softly onto the floor.

Harold knew that he had heard this music before, was trying to identify it as he also gazed in disbelief upon the orchestra. They ranged from skeletal to fresh, and every stage in between. The violinists were raw and angrily red, splashes of blood and carnage flying in their wake as they sawed away at their strings of sinew. 

The flutists were delicate, mummified creatures, which Harold found endlessly amusing, for every flute player he had ever met in his band playing days was exactly that way in real life. Their brittle fingers worked upon the keys and he wondered how they could blow so well into their flutes, without a lip or nose to be found in the entire section. 

He noticed that the trumpet players were a thing of macabre beauty. Black as pitch, they appeared horribly burned and disfigured. Hunks of charred flesh oozed off of their faces as they played, smoke billowing from red-hot instruments. Harold experienced a moment of ghoulish fancy, imagining the entire brass section engulfed in flames. There were many occasions when he’d wished fire and brimstone upon trumpeters, for they were a notoriously arrogant lot.

The rumbling of percussionists briefly caught his attention. A Lovecraftian vision, enormous slug-like apparitions with countless eyes were gripping their mallets in slimy tentacles, pounding away in fury. In between movements, they would reach out in their horrific grasp and snatch away pieces from the half-decayed woodwind players seated directly in front of them. Harold watched in disgust as one of the supernatural slugs gobbled down a mangled ear, slurping and smacking away in gruesome ecstasy without ever missing a beat.

The skeletons doubled back again, surprisingly nimble on fossilized feet as the waltz played on and on behind them. Harold had a moment of clarity, finally placing the name of the piece. Of course! It was the “Wiener Blut,” the Viennese Blood Waltz by Johann Strauss II. We played this many times in my orchestra, I should have recognized it immediately. 

In a display of pure fancy, Harold closed his eyes and began to move along with the hypnotic music. For such a portly man, he was incredibly light on his feet, twirling around the floor amongst the ghastly ensemble. The waltz moved along to its stirring conclusion, a timpani drumroll with a full brass section that Harold was just itching to play again. He hadn’t touched the French horn in years, but somehow he knew that he could do it, pick up right where he left off. 

Faster and faster he spun, one-two-three, one-two-three, waltzing his imaginary partner around the floor as the skeletons struggled to keep pace with him. He was free, filled with glorious abandon as the music carried him along. As the very last notes washed over him, Harold paused and noted an empty chair in the brass section, exactly where he used to sit all those years ago. An enormous, blood-red French horn sat on the chair, glistening in bits of gore and huge, wriggling worms. One of the tiny creatures managed to extricate itself and began climbing up the leg of the player in the next chair. Harold took in the fact that his fellow horn player appeared to be half skeletonized already, the worms apparently doing their work all too well. Pieces of flesh still lingered (upon him? Her? Harold really had no idea) except for a full set of pulsating lungs that inflated and deflated like a balloon. It finished the final movement and gently placed the horn, bell down on its non-existent lap, turning to Harold expectantly.

He could hear the last notes of the piece still floating through the air, the hellish orchestra observing him, awaiting his reaction. The skeleton dancers stopped moving and stood completely still in anticipation. Always one to give credit where credit is due, even in the most distressing of situations, Harold began to applaud. At first tentatively and then with gusto. He cheered their efforts, for it truly was a masterful performance. 

The conductor turned and took a final bow, his red eyes piercing Harold with malevolence. “Bravo! Bravo!” he said over and over as they basked in his admiration. The conductor stepped down off the dais and came face to face with him, close enough for Harold to detect an earthy, rotten smell with just a faint hint of sulfur. Harold could see, hidden in his unruly thatch of hair something he hadn’t noticed before. Suddenly, everything clicked into place as he finally identified the knotted horns on the conductor’s horrific head.

Harold had a sudden vision of a restaurant, an entire Chateaubriand all to himself with an impeccable bottle of a full bodied, 1985 Medoc Rouge. He raised a toast high into the air to celebrate the death of his latest mark, followed by a sudden, eye-watering chest pain. After that everything was a blur. Or was it? Harold quickly took stock of his life and knew that his prospects at the moment were greatly diminished, to say the very least.

He had only the briefest of moments to ponder his many sins before the conductor lashed out with his femur shiv and sliced cleanly through Harold’s windpipe. Raising the bloody bone high into the air, Hell’s orchestra rushed forward and slowly began to tear Harold apart.

It took them quite an age, for there was a lot of Harold to digest. They fell upon him in waves, feeding by each instrumental section until the entirety of the ballroom was covered in blood and discarded offal. The flutes and oboes each daintily gnawed upon a limb, pairing them down to the bone quite nicely in seconds as the bassoonists and trombones started in on Harold’s ponderous stomach. The string section went in to liberate his well-worn liver while the slimy percussionists looped his large intestines around and around their hideous forms like shiny pink coats. The remainder of the string and brass sections fought over the scraps and Harold thought it only appropriate, since they were always jockeying for position within any ensemble. 

Their grim task nearly at an end, the worms were unleashed to do their duty as they pruned Harold’s considerable form down to the bone, leaving only his lungs untouched and in their proper place. He was grateful that he had never smoked a day in his life for his lungs appeared pink and full–ready to play for an eternity. The orchestra moved back into position as the skeleton dancers considered this updated version of Harold, unencumbered as he was by gobs and gobs of superfluous flesh. They held out their hands to him as he rose from the floor, reborn into his true self at long last. He carefully made his way over to his new chair on bony feet, swaying wildly as he found his balance. He joined the dancers as they moved across the floor and back to their starting point. 

Harold picked up his new French horn, the worms falling to the ground as he lifted it up to his freshly made skull and got into ready position. The conductor tapped his grisly baton onto his music stand, then raised it high into the air, signaling that they were ready to begin. Once again. 

They would play the Blood Waltz. The creature that had once been Harold Freeman knew that it would always be the Blood Waltz. On and on in an eternal loop, as the orchestra played and the skeletons danced around them. As he took his rightful spot in the ensemble and began to play, Harold could feel the first pangs of gnawing, insatiable hunger as Hell’s orchestra anxiously awaited its next inductee. 

Harold might not dine well this night, but he knew that he would never dine alone again.

David Owain Hughes & Natasha Sinclair

Horny Dead Fucks

Ruby Anya moved from one laminated card of ink designs to the next, scouring the walls of the Glaring Graffiti tattoo parlour, searching for that special piece of work to be ripped into her smooth, syrup-coloured thigh.

She huffed, not finding anything close to what she wanted. This place is a waste of time. There’s nothing of interest, Ruby thought, about to give up. Unless they have more— 

“I love your hair,” the voluptuous girl working the reception desk said. “It must take you hours to get it to stand up like that.” 

“Thanks,” Ruby said, without taking her eyes off the design sheets. “I’ve always loved multi-coloured mohawks.”

“You’re a punk, right?”

You think this is a costumeIt’s a way of life! Ruby thought, laughing and turning to face the girl, exposing the tight, tits-enhancing Misfits tee she wore beneath her waist-length leather jacket that sported a cacophony of pins and patches. “Punk’s dead, right?”

“Not by looking at you, it isn’t!” 

Girl’s bi, Ruby thought, watching the chubby gal undress her with her heavily made-up eyes. Pretty, mind. “Goth?”

“When I was younger, yeah.”

“Do you have any horror designs? I’m looking for a splash of sick zombie ink, and I can’t seem to find anything on the walls.”

“Yep. I’m pretty sure we do. Hang on.” The receptionist bent, retrieved a large book, and slapped it down on her counter. Dust exploded off its cover and spine. “We should have loads of horror, gothic and creepy stuff in here.”

“Do you mind?” Ruby asked, holding a hand out, her green nails looking Krueger-like. 

“No, go ahead!” The woman gave Ruby the book. “Have a seat over there. And please, take your time. Coffee?”

Ruby nodded. “Please,” she winked before taking the large portfolio over to the plush-looking sofa. With a ‘humph’, she sat and began to peel through its pages, a ‘wow’ and ‘awesome’ escaping her as her eyes fell on the horrific images within. “This is more like it,” she said aloud. 

“Oh, good,” the woman said, causing Ruby to look up, standing with a mug of coffee.  

Ha!” Ruby bellowed, laughing at what was written on the porcelain, accepting it into her hands: ‘Tattooists Prick You All Year Round.’

“Yeah, it’s not mine – it’s the boss’!” 

“I hope he’s as good as his word,” Ruby winked, taking a mouthful of lukewarm coffee. Christ, that’s strong enough to wake my ancestors, she thought, placing the drinking receptacle on a small desk by her side. “Lovely, thanks,” she lied, trying not to pull a face as though she’d swallowed her tongue. 

“Call if you need anything—”

“Wait!” Ruby jumped out of her seat. “This one!” she said, her mouth beginning to loll, pointing at a large image of a black and white, Hammer Horror-esque graveyard scene filled with mist, a new moon and zombies that poured out of the shadows and earth alike. “It’s… breath-taking…”

“Aye, that is pretty badass,” the girl agreed. Would you like me to book you in for that one?”

“Yes, please,” Ruby said, her gaze glued to the image. “Wow…”

“We have next Tuesday available?”

“That works for me.”

“All day session?”

“Please,” Ruby said. 

“Cash or card?”


“Great. I’ll only take a deposit today – anything over forty pounds.”


“And where are you thinking of putting the tattoo?” the girl asked, jotting everything down.

“My thigh,” Ruby said, grabbing the hem of her denim skirt and raising it, showing off her stocking-tops, thighs and the underside of her knickers; a jolt of pleasure throbbed through her, stirring her juices. 

“I think that’s a great idea.” After she took the rest of Ruby’s details, she handed Ruby an appointment card and smiled. “We’ll see you next week, bright and early.” 


When Ruby returned home from Glaring Graffiti the next Tuesday, ignoring her five flatmates, she stormed upstairs and went straight to her bedroom and stripped off in front of her full-length mirror. Beneath her punk band, horror film and undead posters, she eyed the gory, unorthodox bandage hugging her thigh like a fucked-up lover. 

I need music, she thought, hitting the play button on her retro tape deck, filling the room with 45 Grave. 

“Fuck yeah!” Ruby said, stepping before the glass again, slipping her bra off to the sway of her hips and arse wiggling. She loved the way her rear looked in her pink Horror Sleaze Trash knickers; perfectly peachy and tight. She unclasped her spiked collar and let it hit the floor before sliding her favourite panties down her legs, kicking them from her. 

 She was lost in her music, eyes closed, her hands wandering over her large, golden-coloured tits down her abs and sharp hips. 

45 Grave was replaced by The Cramps singing about the Surfin’ Dead. 

Ruby’s hand continued down the valley to her shaved cunt, and she bit down on her pierced bottom lip; a soft moan escaped her as she came upon her perfectly sculptured pussy lips.

It had been a few years since the bottom surgery completed her transition to becoming her true self, the wrapping matching her gloriously feminine interior. She always hated her body before; the thought of touching it — down there — made her vomit. Now she had finally become whole with her body, and every inch of it couldn’t be more perfect.

As the music pumped her eardrums, she thought back to her session on the chair. Getting inked was such a hot rush, the continuous prick of so many needles at once; the gun may as well have been a little fuck machine for her skin. It really was the ultimate foreplay, even if she was going home to fuck herself. Clicking off two of her nail extensions with her teeth and spitting them to the floor, Ruby sucked her fingers, then moved back down, throwing her head back as she dipped two wet digits into her soft cleft… how very far she’s come from that depressed little boy of her childhood.

“Can you turn it down a bit in there, Ruby!” someone said, knocking on Ruby’s door, which Ruby didn’t hear. “Ruby?” came the voice again. Ruby?! Jesus Christ,” the person said, opening the door, gasping. 

When Ruby opened her eyes, she smiled. “Come to help, Amy?” 

Amy laughed. “You’re such a bad girl. Why don’t you stop fucking yourself and show me your ink?”

“Is she playing with herself again?” a guy yelled from downstairs. 

“Okay,” Ruby said, stopping what she was doing, her hands going to the bandage. “You know, I thought there would have been a lot more pain at this point, but there’s nothing. If anything, it feels numb.”

“Odd, considering how long you were there.”

“Maybe it has something to do with the Chinese he was mumbling as he rubbed lotion over it helped?” Ruby laughed as she unwrapped her leg before gasping, her thigh black, save a load of running ink, blood and gore. A huge chunk of her flesh thudded to the floor with the bandage, “What the fuck?!” 

The room began to rumble, followed by an onslaught of groaning, moaning voices. When Ruby looked up, she saw her posters depicting the undead ripple and coming to life – a fog rose from the ground, engulfing her and Amy. 


Ruby’s eyes fluttered open to a haze of eerie smoky darkness; wails surrounded her, and she was no longer in the warm comforts of her flat. She felt her body in some sort of motion as her vision bumped up and down; friction cold and hard at her back, she felt her skin shredding. Pulling her hands up to rub her eyes, then her head, she squeezed her lids shut and opened them again, blinking to clear her vision. On top of her, a gruesome, heaving, macabre beast was frantically gnashing its teeth; a nightmare? As she further came to, she realised she was being mercilessly fucked by a giant zombie looking fucker; its stink was beyond words. Half its face was gone, teeth glistened like diamonds within its ripped cheek as it furiously chattered and grunted. That’s when the bottom half of her body woke up, and she felt the pounding of her life, frantic, animalistic. No human could fuck this fast, closing her eyes away from the horrifying face she submitted to the feeling… “uhhhh, mmmmm, fuck…”

She was in pain, horrified, confused, and at the same time, she knew she was fast heading towards the orgasm of her life. Her pussy was screaming for more, as did she, eyes closed tight, “uhhhh, fuck! Fuck me! Yes! Fuck!” She reached out towards the hips of the beast; its flesh felt firm, highly muscled – evolved for speed and furious fucking. As it continued to hammer into her, she was soaked – a puzzler, considering her inability to produced natural lubricant… maybe it was his…

She ventured to open her eyes again, the sight was ghastly, but the stimulation coming from it was hard not to appreciate; just go with it, she thought. She peered down — her tits swinging back and forth like volleyballs. For a second, she worried her implants may burst out. She continued to eye down her body with the stallion zombie-like beast’s hulking form raised over her. His monster cock drilled her cunt, a jackhammer. Her thighs and lower abdomen were blood sodden. It was tearing her apart — after how long it had taken her body to become one with her womanhood; this horny dead fuck was, literally, screwing her out of it. Then, his fevered pace halted, and he looked down from such a height, his eyes full of a cold-dead-fire she’d never seen in the living, he licked the air with his long tongue (one that rivalled Gene Simmons) and laughed — the sound was deep, reverberating through his body, so she felt it within her own. Then he let out an ear-splitting screech; the moans that surround her in the dark shifted to other screeches, seemingly, in response.

Pulling out of her and dragging her up by the hair, he threw her onto her knees, narrowly missing smashing her head off a headstone. How did I get here?! She wondered. It was then she saw her thigh bone — the flesh where the tattoo had been was gone, yet it was painless. She felt his large bony fingers grasp her hips as he stuffed his meat into her arse. She gasped, letting out an involuntary whimper, eyes watering. She threw back her head in sharp ecstasy as her body let the beast in (not that it had a choice) and finally managed to see where the other noises were coming from; she was surrounded by an orgy. Though most of the participants were deceased, it was like a horror movie set turned porno. Some had a vague semblance of beauty, but most were grotesque; half skeletal monsters banging away, grunting and groaning from decaying throats, skin hung from some, showing raw muscle and dried fat, innards now ‘outards’. 

Then she saw Amy — screaming as her arm was being ripped from its socket and eaten by the dead thing having its way with her. Well, I can’t exactly do anything to help, Ruby thought. There was a ghostly faint echo of music, she could just about make out Rob Zombie’s infectious gritty vocals over the wail of guitars. And beyond that, the distant chatter of friends in her flat… a dimension away? The fog rose, caressing tombstones and the frisky reanimated fiends. Flesh battered into flesh, ghoulish tongues licked, and teeth gnashed and tore into lovers as they cavorted, possessed. Ruby could feel it too; all she wanted was to be fucked to death. The air was thick with sex and dead things…and she realised she must’ve been with the real stud of the pack, the king of the horny-fuckin’ dead — as they were centre of attention with a harem of zombies touching themselves and groaning desperately as they watched him pummel her. Ruby had never been more turned on; she was his living dead girl. His Trash. She came so hard and so fast, her life flashed before her, in a display of flickering lights. The orgasm rolled through her body, pumping her heart as fast as he did her; she felt the organ explode in her chest, she choked, spluttering blood, unable to breathe and collapsed bleeding out onto the grass…

Aimee Nicole

Sunday Service 

I want you to chain me
to the bed like a cross
fallen sideways.

Wind blew hard, lips pursed,
knocked Christ right over.

That tongue better start
singing hymns to my skin.
Wrap your beads around
my wrists until blood
draws in sacrifice. 

Reach hands up
high in worship.
This holy water
we blessed fogs
every window. 

Service only lasts
an hour before
we break bread.

Willie Smith

When Death Calls

Love opens the door inside the dream 
we call today. In eases Death. 
I sit the freak on the sofa. 
Slip into the kitchen to fix drinks. 
Hear Love invite our guest to leave. 
Death mumbles something I can’t make out 
above the seltzer fizz and the cubes clinking. 
When to the living room I return, 
hand each a cold sweaty glass, 
Love stands at the window, 
watching a cloud eat the sun. 
Death, on a cushion slouching, accepts the mix 
of bitters, lime, soda, spirits. Grins into my face 
he hopes Love and I are well enough making out? 
Opening the door to tongues tangling 
anxious poetry; fingertips brushing breasts; 
never closer to meet. And it’s me at the window, 
watching both guests dissolve in a squall of hail, 
ticking at the glass its tiny watches, 
making the world out to be cold and intimate – 
alone and alive as a thought 
seeking in a picture to hide.