Tom Leins

Actress on a Mattress

The first time I ever set eyes on Rosa she was gyrating on a wank-loop at Slattery’s Meat Market. At the back of the Market were three small ante-chambers known as ‘Lunacy Booths’. £20 bought you as much video nastiness as you could withstand. That day she was wearing nothing except cheap sunglasses and three-day bruises. I thought I could save her.

She told me afterwards that she had always wanted to be an actress. I told her that I had always wanted to be a drunk.

I guess both of us got what we wanted.

***

It is a Wednesday morning, and the Dirty Lemon is dripping with sweat and choked with smoke.

Meathook Mulligan is standing so close to me that I can see what brand of cigarillo he is smoking. Café Crème. Sounds like the name of a fucking brothel…

Meathook’s safari suit looks immaculate, apart from a few specks of stale blood on the left sleeve. He has a deep knife scar near his temple, and his skin is mottled.

He sips at his cocktail and leers at me, wordlessly. Some people call him a thug. He thinks of himself as a bareknuckle capitalist. Others call him a degenerate, but he sees himself as a hopeless romantic. People say that he learned all of his best chat-up lines in correctional facilities. I’m not surprised, but it takes more than a sick joke and a mouthful of second-hand smoke to get my trousers around my ankles.

He gestures at my beer bottle with the glowing tip of his cigarillo.

His mouth says: “Drink up, darling. We’ve got work to do”, but his eyes say: “I used to fuck men like you in prison”.

***

Meathook and I were introduced by a local pornographer called Caruso. He has a deep, chocolatey voice and a lazy, crooked smile. When I first met him he was organising gang-bangs for local politicians. He liked to have some hired muscle on site, in case anyone stepped out of line, and turned a blind eye after I snapped a fat man’s arm on my first day on the job. Last year he started producing one-off videos for anyone who could afford the asking price. Freaky shit, by all accounts, and I quickly distanced myself from his operation.

Last week he turned up at the Dirty Lemon one happy hour and he offered me a grand in cash to do a clean-up job for him, no questions asked.

As with most offers I receive these days, I was too drunk to refuse.

***

Caruso’s studio is actually the canteen block at an abandoned office complex on the outskirts of Paignton Yards. The building itself has been deserted since the employees started getting headaches from the slaughterhouse lagoon out back.

Despite the building being empty for over a year, the canteen still stinks of fried fat and stale piss. On the wall is a pornographic calendar, still turned to Miss January. I recognise her. She’s a local stripper called Cobwebs. Her picture is a full frontal shot, and you can see all of her tattoos – even the ones her mother has never seen.

The room looks like it has been abandoned in a hurry, and the lighting rig is still set up in the centre of the room. The camcorder tripod has been knocked over, and the lens is cracked.

Next to the tripod is a soiled king-size mattress.

The dead girl is lying face down. She has a deep suntan and a tattoo of an eyeball on her lower back. The mattress is splattered in viscera. The girl is wearing nothing except peach-coloured nylon underwear, stained at the crotch. Her left shoulder and a chunk of her neck have been ripped apart by a shotgun blast. I turn over the corpse.

Fuck.

Rosa…

***

“Friend of yours?”

I remove the half-bottle of vodka from my jacket pocket and take a deep slug. I don’t offer Meathook any, as I suspect he has Hepatitis C.

“More of an acquaintance, Meathook. More of an acquaintance…”

***

Outside, the waste in the slaughterhouse lagoon looks thicker than ever. It looks thicker than blood.

We finish loading Caruso’s equipment into Meathook’s transit van, when I start to hear voices.

A posse of dead-eyed, half-feral youths melt towards us across the tarmac. I scan the rogue’s gallery of deformed faces. At least one of these young men is a wrongly discharged mental patient. He’s big – wrestler big. He’s clutching a claw hammer and a burlap sack. They are all brandishing rudimentary weapons: pipes, bats and knives.

Things are going to get ugly. Quickly.

A small kid at the front of the group flashes us a skeletal bone-grin. Meathook dips into the pocket of his safari suit and comes out with a shotgun with the barrel sawed off. He levels the weapon at the kid and shoots him through the teeth. I look at him, disbelieving, and Meathook’s eyes seem to gleam with a lunatic sort of glee.

I feel the claw hammer judder against my ribcage as the sack is thrown over my head. I throw a wild punch and feel teeth crunch against my knuckles. I lash out again and make contact with bone this time. I hope it hurts him as much as it hurts me, because it really fucking hurts me.

I rip the sackcloth off my head in time to see Meathook blast the big boy through his left lung.

I retrieve a stray hammer from the tarmac, and turn it over in the palm of my hand. The handle already feels slick with blood.

I pass it from hand to hand, trying to work out who to hit first.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Judge Santiago Burdon

The Twice-Killed Cat

We became acquainted in a Mexican prison, where I was a guest for eight months. I make it a policy to never associate with people I’d met in prison once I was back on the outside, but in Johnny Rico’s case, he was the exception to the rule. Sort of like a mild virus you’re unable to shake, you know you’re infected, but you just learn to live with the malady.

Always with a bandanna around his neck, and most of the time its color clashed with his shirt. He says it serves as a fashion statement, but I’ve never been able to figure out what exactly he was trying to say. Then there’s his common practice of always wearing mismatched socks all the time. I’m sure he’s colorblind and I’ve tried to demonstrate the fact with simple a test numerous times, but he’ll never have any part of my experiment.

He’s very egocentric and will never admit to making a mistake or having a disability, but he’s my carnal and has always been there for me. My proverbial Colombian guardian angel. I gave him the last name Rico, which fits his personality hand in glove. Commonly translated as “rich” or “wealthy”, it can also mean exceptional, and for better or worse, that is Johnny all the way.

Cartagena, Columbia. A place so beautiful that even God couldn’t believe he’d created it with his own hands. If he vacations, I have no doubt this is his destination. Gorgeous women, true angeles sin alas, obras de arte (angels without wings, works of art). If god created a woman more beautiful than these Colombianas, he must have kept her up in heaven for himself.

Cartagena also happens to be the hometown of my lunatic sidekick, Johnny Rico.

There I am relaxing by the pool, working up an appetite for dinner with twelve-ounce curls, letting the sun have its way with me while recuperating from the night before.

“Excuse me, Mr. Bigotes,” says Raul, the concierge. “There’s a call for you. Would you like for me to bring the phone poolside?”

I’d made a request that I was not to be disturbed, interrupted or bothered in any way, but I guess the call must be important enough to disregard my request.

“Do you know who it is?” I ask.

“No, Mr. Bigotes, but he said it was an emergency.”

That’s all I needed to hear; instantly the mystery was solved.

“I’ll take the call on the phone in the lobby.”

I reach into my wallet and give him a healthy propina (tip), informing him that he never took this call for me. He nods to indicate his understanding.

“Diga me! Quien es?” says the voice on the other line. “Bigotes, I am very sorry to bother you…”

Which of course, he was not.

“It’s Johnny,” he says. “I have a big problem, and I really need your help!”

At first, I can only detect a faint quiver in his voice. Then, all at once, he starts crying uncontrollably. In all the time I’d known the man, I’d never known him to cry, and we had seen enough shit together that would have warranted it.

“Okay Johnny, find some huevos and meet me for dinner at Tesoro del Mar, 7:30 sharp. Entiendas pinche?”

“Okay Bigotes, gracias carnal.”

“Don’t thank me yet.”

Later, at the restaurant, I wind up dining alone. Wiping my mouth, I take a look at my watch. 8:15 pm. I swear, Colombians are more proficient at tardiness than even Mexicans. It’s a common and even accepted practice in this country to be late.

Just as I’m about to pay the check for my dinner and wine, in strolls Rico, looking as though his dog had just been run over.

“Did you order dinner already?” he asks dejectedly.

“Not only did I already order dinner, JR. I ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and tipped the bartender, the cook and the waiter. Now I am on the prowl for some of Colombia’s finest cocaine, an angel of the evening, and an orgy of such depravity and lewdness it would make a porn star blush. A night I won’t remember. Are ya in, carnal?”

“I thought you were buying me dinner?” he whines.

“That was at 7:30. It is now close to 8:30.”

“Are you going to start with that ‘gringo time’ again, carnal?”

“Okay,” I relent. “Have a seat, I’ll buy ya dinner. Como pasando contigo? Que haces dime?” (What’s going on with you? What are you doing?)

He begins to regale me with the tragedy that has caused him so much pain of late. His lower lip quavers and his hands begin to tremble as he speaks. From the way he is acting, I’m sure he has either fucked up big time or fucked somebody over, earning him a spot on their list.

“She’s cheating on me with some cabron at work!” he finally blurts out. “She’s fucking someone else, I’m sure of it. My heart has been killed twice!”

Son of a bitch, I thought, it’s about a woman this time instead. This coming from a guy who would fuck a bush if he thought a snake was in it.

Over dinner, I note that his heartbreak sure hasn’t affected his appetite. Two plates of pescado frito, arroz, salada, sopa, and cuatro cervezas later, finally we are ready to commence this mission of restoring my carnal’s manhood.

As we exit the restaurant, Johnny is still talking rapidly, crying, and flailing his hands in the air.

“Johnny, shut the fuck up,” I eventually tell him. “So, what’s this master plan of yours?”

“Come on,” he says. “I’ll show you!”

I’m already sure I’m not going to like this. If I must be shown and not told, odds are it’s another one of Johnny’s demented schemes, one that I would never go along with if explained properly beforehand. Trust me, I’d been witness to and participated in enough of his adventures in the past, some of which would make a schizophrenic’s actions seem normal.

We reach his car and I slide in the passenger side, immediately noticing the odd assortment of items in back. Bottles of tequila, beer (undoubtedly warm), rope, flashlights, and what looks like a box trap of some kind. It’s similar to what my grandma used to catch raccoons in her attic.

Why I’m even entertaining the thought of assisting this lunatic in whatever he has in mind this time is far beyond me.

It is in this moment I have to admit, Johnny Rico, insane though he may be, is my friend. That’s a word I have never used lightly, and while my standards of friendship are extremely high, I reciprocate by the same set of standards.

In other words, guess I’m in.

“First, we are to stake out her house,” he begins at length. “Then, we will wait for her cat to come along and trap it. Then, we are going to stab that son of a bitch until it’s dead TWICE and hang it from her door. When she comes home and sees it, she will know that no one disrespects Juan Villanova Johnny Rico and gets away with it!”

Johnny always had to kill something twice. I’d never understood where that ritual originated from, and I’d never though to ask until now.

“Uh huh…” I say. “So, you think the best way to win her back is by mutilating her cat, killing it twice and hanging it from her door. What is this, some sort of Santa Muerta ritual, or an ancient Indian ritual kinda thing?”

“No, this is all my idea,” he confesses proudly. “I thought of it myself!”

Like I never would have guessed.

It is then that Johnny pulls out a bag of cocaine the size of his fist, gleefully shoving it in my face. It’s not like he has to force me to partake. I open the bag and snort a healthy amount through his silver coke straw, and he does the same. I pop open a warm beer for me and one for my carnal, take a large hit of tequila, and pass the bottle over to Johnny.

Together we speed off into the night.

It is 9:20 pm when we run out of gas three blocks from his girlfriend’s house. We have to walk two kilometers to a gas station, through a barrio I was not very comfortable strolling about in at night. Johnny, meanwhile, seems oblivious to the danger, trudging ever onward without fear. He assures me he has earned safe passage through almost every neighborhood in the city. I doubt his dispensation but don’t express my disbelief.

Finally, we return to the car and gas it back up.

Slowly we creep down Johnny’s girlfriend’s street, lights off, but for some reason he has got the radio blaring.

“Johnny, the radio!” I yell. “Turn it off, pendejo!”

“Si si,” he complies, “I don’t like this song either…”

For Christ’s sake, if he’s going for stealth, it’s a lost cause already.

He parks the car across the street, in an alleyway with a perfect view of her house.

“I see that you’ve done this before,” I observe. “How long have you been stalking her, JR? This is not a healthy activity, carnal.”

“Only four or five times,” he confesses. “How else to make sure she’s not fucking around on me?”

Stepping out of the car, we quickly get the trap set up, and Johnny puts an unopened carton of milk inside.

“Johnny,” I laugh, “that’s never gonna work! Have you got any fish, maybe a can of tuna or something?”

“No, but that’s a good idea,” he says. “Come on, let’s go get a can of tuna…”

Half an hour later, we return with the tuna, bait the trap, and resume our surveillance mission.

“You know Rico, wouldn’t it have been easier to just send her a box of dog shit, like you did to that prostitute you were so madly in love with? What was her name? ‘Laura the Zorra’ (slut), if I remember correctly?”

“First of all Bigotes, she wasn’t a prostitute! That was a rumor started by some bitches, chismosas (gossipy women), only because they were jealous of her. So don’t you call her a zorra! Also, that pinche gato got into my Toyota and pissed all over inside. I could never get the smell out and had to sell the car for pennies, do you remember? So, the gato deserves what he has coming to him!”

“Isn’t that the car you sold your sister? And Johnny, with all due respect to working girls, she was a prostitute whether you want to believe it or not!”

“Ya, yo se carnal, I know she was a prostitute. And my sister never did figure out what that smell was, either!”

I start laughing uncontrollably and Johnny joins in, unable to catch his breath. There’s snot running from my nose, and the sight of it sends Johnny into complete hysterics.

There we sat laughing, smoking cigarettes and joints, drinking beer and tequila and snorting cocaine well into the night. We’re telling jokes, lies about women we’ve had, and exchanging stories of close calls experienced on dope runs. All while waiting on a cat that may or may not decide to show up.

Two hours later and it’s close to midnight. My speech has become so slurred, it is practically incomprehensible. I’m talking fast without punctuation, Chicago style, speaking total cocainese. I could run a marathon with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other, with Johnny on my back, I am so coked up by this point.

It is then I look outside the window, noticing the mountain of beer cans and cigarette butts that has accumulated on the ground beside the car. That’s when it occurs to me how bad I need to piss. Opening the door, I stumble out over the mess, and Johnny follows suit.

“Bigotes, mira playo (there’s her cat)!” he says, before I can even get unzipped. “Venga gatito, venga bebe…”

The cat walks right up to Johnny and start rubbing against his leg. What happens next isn’t pretty. I immediately grab the bottle of tequila, guzzling a monstrous amount.

“Now, I kill this fucking cat twice!” he screams, raising his knife yet again.

“Johnny, that’s enough!”

I almost can’t believe the sheer level of the brutality I’ve just witnessed. I never thought he’d actually go through with it. I nearly double over and start puking right then and there, but somehow I manage to maintain my composure.

Next thing I know, we’re standing on his girlfriend’s porch. Grinning maniacally, Johnny does the deed as promised, tying the poor creature’s carcass to her door.

“Okay,” I say, “let’s get the fuck out of here!”

“What!? No carnal, I want to see her reaction…”

My friend has proven himself to be a total psychopath, but I am far too tired, shocked, and fucked up by this point to offer much by way of resistance.

Johnny hands me a joint. I light it, take a hit, cough and follow him back to the car. He hasn’t even attempted to clean the blood off himself.

It is now close to dawn, and soon the sun will be shedding its light on Johnny’s heinous crimes, to which I have become an unwitting accomplice.

It isn’t long before a car pulls up to his girlfriend’s house. She climbs out and Johnny smiles wide, poking me in the ribs to make sure I’m still awake. He wants us both to see what happens next.

Meanwhile, an old woman is sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house next door. She looks up as a scream pierces the stillness of the morning. Abruptly dropping her broom, she hurries over to where Johnny’s girlfriend stands screaming on her porch.

“My cat, my cat!” the old woman begins to shriek. “My baby! Oh, my poor little Tito…”

Johnny just stares straight ahead with a blank expression on his face.

“Wrong cat,” he says.

No Place To Be, By Tohm Bakelas

TB

No Place To Be, By Tohm Bakelas
Holy&Intoxicated Publications

Treading within the shadows of suburban tarmac, into a vanishing point that disappears upon each realisation that, there is No Place To Be. Tohm Bakelas finds a strange and confusing state between hope and isolation, where optimism decays in the perception of itself as a driving force to survive. A perception that is ever-present in our dead-end society.

— Lucy Wilkinson: editor/publisher of Death of Workers Whilst Building Skyscrapers Press

$5:00 / £5:00 / €5:00

Sales and inquiries:
johndrobinson@yahoo.co.uk

Bakelas finds the poems hiding in the quotidian, either skinning them alive to get to their core – or by picking them up and cradling them with a distinct tenderness. Although he maintains a strong voice when he hands these poems over to us, Bakelas does so in a way that takes a step back – allowing us to truly examine something and in turn even ourselves. No Place To Be acts as a taster menu for anyone not yet familiar with Bakelas work, or a much needed fix for anyone that’s been left craving for more.

— Gwil James Thomas: poet, writer, and inept musician.

Dan Hunter

Summer Stroll

It was just another summer day. The sun was high in the sky and warm on my face. The air was full of the scent of jasmine. The street was quiet. I was pretty much on my own and I walked. Then it dawned on me how quiet it was. Not just peacefully quiet. I couldn’t hear anything.

Nothing at all.

I raised my hands in front of me and clapped. Nothing. I breathed hard. Still nothing. Curious, I thought. Had I been struck deaf? When I’d left my home half an hour earlier, I had been listening to the radio. I had heard the slam of the door, heard my footsteps on the pavement.

How long had I been experiencing this silence? It must have just happened for me to have noticed it. In its way, it was like a sudden loud noise. But the complete opposite. Sudden, all encompassing silence.

It was horrible, I decided. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. What if it wouldn’t be over? Was I indeed deaf? I realized that I had lost track of time. I looked at my watch, but I had left it at home. Why? I never went anywhere without my watch. I looked around me and I realized that I had never been in this street before. I knew it was my neighborhood, and it was a perfectly nice suburban street with semi detached houses and manicured lawns, but I have never been here before. What was I doing here? Why indeed was I out walking? I never walked very far, unless I was playing golf. What had possessed me to go walking? And why was I in this damn street?

I turned around and headed back in the direction I had come from. The sun was getting hotter, it was starting to be a little uncomfortable on my head. It was funny but, this side of the street was like a mirror image of the other half. The houses looked identical, right down to the colors of the curtains, the rust on the mailboxes, the trees in the gardens. I realized that I had in fact completely lost my sense of direction. And still this drowning silence! I yelled in frustration. Just a quick burst – I didn’t want the residence of this unfamiliar street to think they had a lunatic in their midst.

Nothing.

I yelled louder, more out of frustration that anything. Still nothing. Where the hell was everybody? And why was this street so long? I wasn’t walking fast, just ambling really, but I couldn’t see an end to it. I was sweating now. And I was starting to feel light headed. God damnit! This was becoming a nightmare! In the middle of the day!

A day-mare!

As I walked I looked through the windows of the houses I passed, hoping to see someone I could call out to for directions or maybe a glass of water. But I couldn’t see anyone. Not a car had passed, nor a dog. I decided to knock on someone’s door. I walked up the garden path of a nice, normal house, not unlike my own, and rapped on the door. To me, it was a silent rap, but I knew it would have resonated inside the house. I waited a few seconds, and then I tried the doorbell. I rang it several times, then knocked again. I looked through the living room window. I couldn’t see anyone, just a couch and some chairs.

I turned and walked into the road, looking back at the house, hoping someone would answer. But nobody did. I continued in the direction I had been walking, not really sure if it was indeed that or if I wasn’t just back-tracking. I paused for a moment, glancing backward then forward again when I suddenly realized that I had just seen something in my peripheral vision when I had looked back. I thought I had detected something – (a person?) – standing in the street. Or had I? I wasn’t sure, and I knew I needed to turn and look again, but why did I feel a pang of fear in my gut? I should have been elated. Why wasn’t I?

I even had a sense of dread in just the thought of turning around to look.

But I did.

A man was standing in the middle of the street two hundred yards from me.

Staring right at me.

And the man standing in the street staring at me was dead.

I knew it as soon as I saw him. He was about forty and was wearing a suit. His face was ashen and gaunt with dark shadows under his eyes. He was standing rigidly straight, but his head was tipped at an angle. His mouth was open, and was a black hole just the hint of a smile there. His dead eyes were wide and staring. He looked pleased to see me.

He didn’t move. Neither did I. I couldn’t. I was frozen with fear. Funny really, considering how hot I was. Every cell of my being screamed that this apparition in front of me was not of my world, and whatever world it was from, I wanted no part of.

And then he started to walk toward me.

Not a slow, staggering trudge, legs dragging, arms outstretched like in a movie, just a straightforward walk, with his head cocked at an angle, and still the expression of pleasant surprise written across that most unpleasant face.

I still couldn’t move. I just stood, rooted to the ground, watching him stride toward me. I could smell him, I realized. It was indeed rotting flesh. He had halved the distance between us, and I still hadn’t moved. I could see his expression had changed. Now he looked positively elated, in a horrifying way. Because I was making whatever he had planned for me so easy, no doubt. He was just seconds away now. I closed my eyes and willed myself with all my might to move. And I did! My legs and arms sprung into action. I turned and opened my eyes. But I saw nothing, just blackness. I turned back to look at the man, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see anything. But suddenly I could hear! I could hear his footsteps. I could hear my gasps for breath. I could hear the pounding of my heart!

What cruel trick was this?

I turned and ran blindly, my arms outstretched, as I heard the man’s footsteps behind me. The smell of him was intoxicating. I staggered and fell to the ground. I felt his cold, clammy hands on me. I knew it was over. I screamed as hard as I could, although I knew it was worthless. It was over…

***

“God dammit Jack, not the scream! I hate the scream!”

I opened my eyes and I was looking at my wife’s beautiful but annoyed face. I was in bed, not in a strange street.

“Which one was it? The zombie in the street? The vampire cop?”

I looked around me, still disorientated.

“The zombie…” I uttered eventually.

She smiled that slightly disingenuous smile, like a concerned parent.

“Remember what Doctor O’Hara said? The night terrors are a symptom of the feelings you’ve had because of your redundancy. Basically, you feel inadequate because you lost your job, that’s all. Redundancy has made you feel vulnerable. And ass soon as you get a new job, these dreams will go away.”

She got up and walked to the bedroom door. She looked back at me and smiled, although there was something off-kilter about her smile, her eyes.

Then she opened the door.

The zombie from the street was there. So was the vampire cop.

“Morning fellas” she said as she walked past them, pausing to glance back at me one last time.

And then I realized the screaming I could hear was coming from me.

Aqeel Parvez

Pussy

some men will do
almost anything
for a fine piece of pussy.

some men like legs,
and would crawl through
shit stained barbed wire
if given the chance.
just to gaze at long legs
and shapely calves in
high heels.

other men like ass,
I am one of those men.
I like my asses round and
sculpted and jiggly when
spanked. I like something
to grab and keep grabbing.
now I wouldn’t get in the
ring with Canelo for 12
rounds just for a great ass,
but I would and do other
small things like
make slick jokes and
cook dinner once in a while
or wash the dishes etc.

now some men they like
a big jiggly pair of tits.
bouncing pillows,
pink nipples,
cleavage.
and these men may be
the most hungry,
they would sniff n lick a
homeless fellas balls
to cop a feel,
or shove a hedgehog
up their ass
just to have one breast
in their mouth
let alone two.

there are many other
things men like about
women’s bodies. their
faces, stomach, feet,
eyes, lips.

and some men let the
pursuit of women consume
their lives. some men
have a thirst that is
unquenchable and they
go through women like
Messi dribbling through
the lines.

all in all. it’s an elemental
tangle. two bodies, two hearts
one cock, 3 major holes to
insert into.

endless bodies. countless
women. boundless
opportunity.

it’s all quite a rush
to be honest
to talk about
to think about
to do.

Beau Johnson

Saving the World, One Appliance at a Time

“Can you hear me now?”

I know. I know. But we only get the one go-round, right?

We’re at the place, our special place, and my work face has replaced my everyday face, lack of hair included.

“I’m only going to tell you why they call me ‘The Arm’ once, so do yourself a favor and listen up. You do that, all three of us can get to where each of us needs to go.”

I look over to Randy, offer him the megaphone. He shakes his head, pulls his pants up and over his ever-expanding gut.

“I ever once take that thing when you ask?”

I smile and look back down at the man of the hour; the man whose name was Paul. He’s wearing skinny jeans and a ratty flannel shirt, trying over and over in vain to run up the sides of the empty pool. Sliding back down, nothing changes, the man coming to rest amongst the beer cans, wine bottles, and other, less distinguishable waste.

“It was an accident, really, how I got that nickname. Me and my brother here just doing our bit the day it went down.”

I go on, my voice echoing down from above. I tell him all about Marty Barnes and how he and that particular piece of shit shared the same strain of dirt-bag; middlemen to monsters who used children like toys.

Taken by surprise, Barnes had gotten past both Randy and I that day, but Randy, his abdomen nowhere near the unstoppable expansion it would become, was up and after him before I could pull myself from the floor.

“Everything happened fast after that, Paul. I mean, really fast…”

In boxers and a beater-T, Barnes was catching his breath behind an old, rusted-out Ford down below. To my left, on the concrete, was the air conditioner I would become famous for. I picked it up, heaved away, and called out to Barnes two or three seconds after the leaking machine had left my hands. Now, I have never been the best of shots, not on the best of days, but I will admit to being somewhat lucky in life. It’s the only reason Barnes broke cover when he did, I think, and why he’d looked up at just the right moment.

“I saw his eyes too, there before I took them away. Not fun. Not how you’d think. Every last bit of bone, hair, and gray matter parceled out into something like a nine foot radius. This doesn’t even include the blood puddle his neck creates.”

My little speech done, I finally release the bowling ball I’d been promising. Lob it like the weapon of destruction I want it to become. Paul screams as it descends toward him. Continues to scream as the concrete beside him cracks, relents, and comes to hold the ball like a big black eye.

Behind me, Randy sighs. “You know you have a problem, right?”

I want to ignore him, I do, but sometimes a brother is the only friend a man can have.

“It’s only a problem if you can’t stop. I’ve read the books. Pretty sure you should read them, too.”

He eyeballs me hard, just like our father used to do. It doesn’t do half of what he thinks it does but it’s a game neither of us can quit. Not if we wanted answers.

I turn back around, drop ball after cinderblock after microwave oven. The balls I found on sale at SPORTCHEK, everything else being me adjusting to the environment I’d been given. So you know, either way.

Paul dances and rolls, shucks and jives, and still I come close to hitting him more times than not. I can’t quite hear the words pouring from his mouth, not really, but a pretty good bet would be he knew we were done with fucking about.

Last bowling ball deployed, I straighten first my holster and then my badge. Randy does the same.

Time to see if our incentive took.

Time to see if our bird was ready to sing.

Niklas Stephenson

Questions

did you see the star die inside
when the vein crushed
and there was nowhere to push?
did you make a wish?
did you hear the applause
of the dripping blood?
Did you know that suicide
is a work of art,
an expression of resistance,
and your tragic ending
was the begining of mine?
Did you know that when we fucked
I felt every bone shake and shiver
and I wanted to tear off your skin
to see how your insides work?
I am not sure if you really existed
or if you’re just a fantasy
of my induced deliriums,
but why couldn’t you come save me
from the things you put me on,
the needles,
the pipes,
the plastic bags,
the bloody steering wheels,
rusty razors and stolen cars?
Wasn’t it love?
Will I ever be brave enough
for freedom

Alyce Absconded

Scatter

I feel fingers grasp my forearm and I am swallowed by the crowd.

Smiling faces surround me like circling sharks; neon signage and stage lights burning my retinas like sea salt. The dirty, sticky floor of confetti, glass, and trampled beer cans like jagged coral. I am drowning in a claustrophobic ocean of sweat and people, and I just want to swim back to shore for a single breath of cool air.

I scream, but I am stopped from being heard by the pounding of the bass.

Fingers grip tighter and yank at my wrist. I follow a trail of black chipped nail polish, light brown arm hair and a cascading shoulder tattoo of a male peacock to see a browned face giggling at me — crooked teeth barred with nicotine stain yellow. I have no idea who this person is but she pulls me on to the seat of a Ferris wheel and lowers the steel bar to lock across our waists.

Finally my arm is free and my forearm feels cold with the cooling patch of sweat made by a grimy, clammy hand. Before I take a moment to breathe, the Ferris wheel shifts upwards and the arm grabber looks out across the festival — a reflection of the lights below caught in the beads in her brown dreaded hair and making her look like a Christmas tree.

“Hey,” she says in a friendly tone as she turns her head to the left to face me.

“Are you okay?”

My furry brain tingles with chills of confusion and I say “P-Pardon” with a stutter.

“You look worried,” she says “Your forehead is all crinkly.”

“Oh… no… I’m fine,” I say, still having no idea who the fuck is sitting next to me.

“Good” she says, and her olive shaped green eyes squint a little as she widens her uncleaned smile and makes her fatty cheeks look like half-toasted marshmallows dropped in to a pile of dirt by the campfire, “Have you had a good day?” she asks.

She sounds so friendly and casual but I can’t remember her face at all. I blink my eyelids together hard and hope that I wake up somewhere else, somewhere not trapped with whoever this is, wherever I am, climbing higher and higher above the crowd that now looks like a mob of poisonous jellyfish bobbing around under fluorescent light.

“When was it day time?” I respond. “It feels like day time was forever ago.”

“Oh Jesus,” she says. “…You are fucked up.”

She leans in to kiss me and I pull my head back as her big, puckered, red lips come towards me like a loose vagina, flakes of chapped skin looking like fish scales on labia. I have nowhere to go but back down in to the ocean of monsters so I must kiss these scaly lips coming forth. I purse my lips together and squeeze my eyes closed. Her peeling skin tickles against mine and soon it is over. I re-open my eyes and she is still there, a loose thick dread drooping over her acne scarred forehead.

“How cool is it up here?” she says, as she peers over her feet at the crowded festival below and the vast blackness of empty fields that expand beyond it.

“How the fuck did I get up here? Why am I up here?” I shout, my heart thumping out of my chest and my brain spinning in circles. Suddenly I can think of nothing better than being on the ground. It’s as though I was never even down there. Who is this person who brought me here and why is she kissing me?

“Yesterday was nice, wasn’t it?” she asks in a half-rhetorical tone that makes no sense to me.

“Yesterday? What day was it yesterday? Why can’t I remember yesterday? It was just yesterday…”

I realise that I just said that all out loud and I turn to face this girl staring at the side of my face.

“We met yesterday,” she says. “…You were pretty scattered.”

“Oh,” I say, and I become transfixed on the pretty fairy lights below — they look like golden stars…

“Fuck. I don’t ever want to go home,” I mutter.

“No-one does, babe,” she says.