Judson Michael Agla

Walking Aberration

I set out around noon, I was feeling a little queasy but I didn’t think much of it then, ten minutes into my journey I got a filling sensation in my stomach, like a sudden gas build up came out of nowhere and began to expand. I continued on but the pain was increasing and it felt like I had a fucking boulder in my intestines, I had no clue what was going on inside me but it sure as hell wanted its way out one way or the other.

I turned back home and staggered down the sidewalk clutching the walls and fences, screaming bloody murder. People tried to help but the pain was so debilitating that I could only speak by howling at the top of my lungs; the people from the buildings came out on their balconies to check out the scene, families passing by stayed to see the show, the best show in town, a madman screaming in the street holding his ass for dear life.

I was half way across the street blocking traffic when the police and ambulance showed up to hear my deafening torturous wails, I could see that the crowd had formed a circle around me, keeping a good distance as if they were suspecting a bomb to go off out of my ass and blow a hole in the street, which wasn’t too far from what actually did happen.

I couldn’t take any more; and this thing, this gigantic enigmatic thing, was without question coming out now, with the grace and determination of a newly anointed Queen raging on PCP. I yanked down my pants and assumed the fetal position, I screamed louder than I ever have and pushed through that sphincter as fearsome as a kraken, I felt like my whole asshole was coming apart, I thought it was the end for my ass and I forever, so I prayed to the only god I knew might be listening; I chose the “BOSS” for some abstract reason.

Ah! The serenity that followed that torture was sublime but my relief quickly faded as reality moved in. What I just blasted out of my ass was a fucking donkey, a painted donkey, paintings of hippie shit like; flowers, peace signs, love the world, shit like that.

I stood up, pulled up my pants and joined the crowd, now focused on the donkey; it just stood there and didn’t seem at all distressed about the clusterfuck that just took place, however, he didn’t just shit out a medium sized horse like creature like I had. I pushed through the crowd and walked up to the donkey, I can’t explain where the urge came from but I had a certain need to pet the thing, almost like we were connected in some fucked up wrath of god cosmic slapping sort of way.

As the crowd eventually dispersed the cops and paramedics came over with expressions on their faces that would scare the hell out of small little children. None of them said a goddamb word; they just stood and stared like deer’s caught in the headlights. I was exhausted and thoroughly embarrassed, and really didn’t feel like trying to explain what happened, due to the fact that I hadn’t a clue about what just happened, I felt as though what I went through was quite personal as well. So, I took the fucking donkey and I went home. All the people remaining watched as I left the scene knowing in their hearts that they would probably never see something as fucking weird as what went down that day.

 

Leland Kirk

Pleased to Meet Me

A standard capsule includes photos, snippets of articles, and obituaries if applicable. This costs about $300 if you attend a timeshare presentation, and tends to be a popular graduation gift. The deluxe package includes everything in the standard capsule as well as a one-on-one interview with your future self. The price varies depending on the client, and baseball scores and lottery numbers are strictly off-limits. Discussions are meant to involve relationships, career choices, health, and so on. I figure most clients that can afford it merely want to see if they age well, as a sort of unprovoked expression of vanity.

The deluxe package is a bit less desirable than it once was. Rival toy companies now offer similar services, and clients are generally unhappy with the results anyway. My article about the process wasn’t exactly well received either, which I can’t imagine was helpful. With innovations formerly regarded as impossibilities, there’s a certain taboo towards journalists giving the whole thing away, as if the masses preferred magic as an explanation. My former editor insists this was the case as far back as the invention of the telephone.

I suspect censorship of being a more likely culprit than outright lack of demand, even if only because I can’t be the first to write about the whole experience. Most of which involved sitting on impractical, sculpturesque furniture in pastel-colored waiting rooms. The facility itself is actually quite large for being attached to a mall, and manages to stay empty on weekdays. Each room stays quiet, aside from the occasional fax, and the receptionist asking me to proceed to the next waiting room every half hour or so. Which happens to be more than enough time to get through the reading material of each room.

The reading material is fairly personalized, mostly consisting of photos and articles from the standard capsule, as well as inevitable things like natural disasters. Each room is a little smaller than the last one, and each stack of the reading material from a little further into the future than the last, and so on.

The first two rooms are the same as I remember, with the same reading material: a DUI, rehab, therapy, and a suicide attempt. The standout ones being performance and production credits on an album considered to be a cult classic, and a seemingly passionate article where I’m referred to as a “tortured soul.” The magazine in question used a blurry photo of me in a hospital gown, having a cigarette with a sickly woman in a Dead Kennedys tee shirt.

The third waiting room was roughly the size of a broom closet, which is considerably smaller than I remember it being. The reading material was entirely different this time around, too. There was a murder trial and an eventual formation of a cult, but I couldn’t justify forcing myself to read any further. I felt a sort of disconnect, as if it weren’t possible this could be me, since it wasn’t the same version of me I last spoke with. A document taped to a glass table served as a final warning, and something to sign if I wanted to leave without a refund.

At some point, the receptionist—an unremarkable woman in a pantsuit—gently opened the door, clutching a clipboard. Her light tap on the door might have meant to serve as something like a retroactive knock, and she may have said something to the effect of right this way, please but I was rightfully a bit beside myself. I followed her to the room where the interview was to be conducted, which was a little different this time around.

Pink pastel walls, a Persian rug, one-way mirrors, and reel-to-reel tape recorders; I’d addressed nearly everything else in the room, likely to delay the inevitable. Two red leather lounge chairs were positioned in the center of the room, with a small glass table between them, bearing two ribbon microphones and two cups of bubble tea. It looked like something between a late-night talk show and a fever dream, and I was being greeted by my own venomous smile.

He waved his finger at my chest, likely to keep me from talking, and asked me if the cigarettes in my shirt pocket were tobacco or green tea. I rolled both, and lately I was sprinkling green tea leaves over my tobacco. I initially thought the tea would help me quit, but at some point I acquired a taste for it. He scoffed when I told him this, but took one anyway. I didn’t notice the door was shut behind me until I finally took a seat, nor did I notice the barely audible hints of jazz piano with no discernible source.

I struggled with my moody brass lighter for a moment, before being handed a matchbook with an ad concerning matchbook advertising. Smokers do read matchbooks, you are doing so now, it said. I glanced over at him as I dragged on my cigarette, noting that it was like looking into a hazy mirror. Much of his features remained the same as mine, with silvered hair and tired eyes being the notable differences. His voice was a fair bit raspier than mine, sounding more like a recording of my voice than how I actually hear myself.

My focus shifted to the audio equipment as I briefly watched the tape reels spin. He told me interviews with him are elusive, and this particular one being recorded was the only reason these discussions have been so affordable. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him, but I was under the impression that it was meant to be something clinical or therapeutic. You absolute moron, he’d say, between disgusted cigarette drags and sips of bubble tea. Insisting that I was to blame for anything remotely psychological, as well as the meetings themselves. Narcissism is a hell of a drug, he said.

Ignoring the fact that he was the one that told me to come back soon, I believe I’ve only been here twice, or maybe three or four times at most. My memory of the first interview is distorted, to say the least, as I can almost remember it twice from differing perspectives. I can only imagine the same or worse must’ve happened to him, likely for each interview, as if new and old memories of the same event were competing. All I mentioned was the distortion, to which he nodded and stayed silent, aside from the rattle of his straw chasing unattainable drops of bubble tea.

He picked the microphones up and unscrewed them from their tiny tripods, handed me one, and held one to his face as if we were being filmed. He told me we should have the sort of interview they publish in magazines. Cheers, he beamed, slapping the microphones together. If someone was listening, it’s safe to assume they now have at least mild tinnitus as a result. He grabbed me by the shirt collar while the needle on the tape machine’s VU meter danced with the numbers in red. If you have any sense, you’ll steal one of those tapes and take on a new identity in another country, he whispered.

Several seconds went by at this point, and the more I thought about it, the easier it was to rationalize taking one of the tapes. It was one way to ensure I don’t come back for another interview, likely at least slightly preserving my sanity. If an interview with him is as elusive as he says, it’s also possible it could be worth something to someone at some point, regardless of what changes. I lit another cigarette, and nodded. It was all I could think to do to let him know that I’d actually do it.

He started doing this bit where he’d act like an obnoxious radio host, asking me questions about my childhood, and eventually promising to end the interview when we ran out of cigarettes. At times, he’d pretend to have a caller on the line, usually to voice complaints about the station not taking song requests. It took a while before he was willing to switch roles, and a condition of doing so was that he’d offer bad advice as he went along.

My initial assumption was that advice he’d give would pertain to things he wished he’d done differently, or not at all, and sometimes this was the case. I was told to quit trying to write for newspapers, as those articles get censored and turned into advertisements anyway. He went on to say that writing for zines is what got him into music, and interrupted himself to tell me not to trust banks or credit unions. My favorite piece of advice was this: if ever you feel like jumping off a building, he said. Do a flip.

We were down to our last couple cigarettes, and only a few seconds of silence passed before he chimed back in. He said the murder trial I read about was an overdose, and it’s best to just avoid those people altogether. People live on their own terms, he’d say. Because people are absolute morons. I hadn’t given it much thought, but I’m sure there are self-destructive people that aren’t entirely brain dead. Some of which are probably worth sticking around for, I’d say, but he disagreed.

I lit my last cigarette, took a drag of it, and stood up to admire the spinning tapes. He kept talking, mostly about how corporations function as a sort of shadow government. I’d nod every few spins or so, but at some point I just stopped listening. Not because I necessarily disagreed, it was more about no longer having the capacity. Until next time, I said, stuffing two tape reels down my pants. Until next time, he nodded.

It was a calm and casual exit, not exactly the high-risk stakes of a heist film, but I was anxious enough to get a safety deposit box anyway. I quickly realized I made the mistake of leaving the key at my apartment, however, when I stopped there to pack up. My first instinct was to abandon it. I spent a few days in a motel outside of town, who seem to charge more for using their phones than using a room. I had people I know ask around, but no one seemed to be looking for me. I didn’t see any harm in going home at this point, at least long enough to grab the key. I opened the door to find my elder doppelganger in bed, mounting and strangling a younger doppelganger. You absolute moron, he shrieked.

James Babbs

Time & Space

Six days after we had discovered the ship was no longer functioning properly and we realized we were nothing more than a hollow metal tube drifting through the darkness of space Halverson turned to me and said Barlow?

Yes I replied.

Barlow, I need to tell you something.

Okay, Halverson I said. But first just let me give you a quick update concerning our current situation.

Okay.

Well I said. First of all, I don’t know where we are. I’ve made some calculations but there are just too many unknown variables so, the bottom line is, I don’t know where we are.

Alright said Halverson.

And I said. I can’t be sure about how much air we have remaining. We could have days or, even, weeks or, it could be just a matter of hours.

Well, Barlow said Halverson. I’ve been having an affair with your wife for the last year and a half.

What? I said. You’ve been fucking my wife?

Yes said Halverson. And your sister three, no, four times last summer. I just wanted you to know. He leaned forward and pretended he was studying the instrument panel in front of him.

Well, hell I said. What do you expect me to do with this information?

What do you mean?

What I mean, Halverson I said. Is that we’re not going to make it. So what purpose does it serve for you to tell me about the affair between you and my wife.

And your sister said Halverson.

Will you forget my goddamn sister!

Okay said Halverson. He leaned away from the instrument panel and started looking out the window. I just thought you should know, okay? I guess I wanted to clear my conscience.

Well, hell I said. That’s fine for you, now, isn’t it? I turned and looked out the window on my side of the ship. All I saw were long stretches of darkness and pinpoints of light scattered here and there, too far away for me to make any sense out of them.

Hey said Halverson. Let me try the radio again. Okay, Barlow? Let me try the radio.

Okay, okay I said. Try the goddamn radio.

Halverson leaned forward and pushed a couple of buttons. Halverson to Earth Base One he said. Halverson to Earth Base One. This is ship HCB2094. HCB2094 to Earth Base One. Come in, Earth.

There wasn’t any answer only a dead silence that permeated the entire cabin before falling down on top of us like a heavy weight. Halverson looked at me then began his transmission again but this time his voice sounded a lot more desperate.

Forget it, Halverson. We’re sunk.

So what are we going to do?

Well, hell, Halverson I said. I got up from my seat and started rummaging around. I threw a couple of boxes aside. Here we go. I lifted up the bottle and showed it to Halverson. I opened the bottle and took a long drink. I handed the whiskey to Halverson.

Okay, Barlow he said. Halverson took a drink and handed the bottle back to me.

The ship drifted and we kept drinking the whiskey. It could have been morning or afternoon or three o’clock in the middle of the goddamn night. We had no way of knowing what time it really was or how much of it either of us had left. I felt warm. I felt more than warm. My face felt hot and I started to laugh.

Listen, Halverson I said. You goddamn son of a bitch. I’m gonna kick your goddamn ass.

I lunged at him and we spilled onto the floor. I was on top of Halverson punching him in the face. I saw his nose and mouth starting to turn bloody. Then, the next thing I knew Halverson was on top of me and I felt my eyes exploding. I saw a white flash followed by a myriad of pretty colors. We crashed into the instrument panel and I heard the sound of things breaking apart. I struggled against Halverson and felt something cutting into my arm.

Shit Halverson said.

Fuck I replied.

Earth Base One said the voice suddenly blaring from out of the radio. Earth Base One to HCB2094. Come in, Barlow. Come in, Halverson. Hello? Anybody there?

I stopped and looked at Halverson. Halverson stopped and looked at me. I crawled over to the radio and pushed the buttons. This is Barlow I said. Come in, Earth Base One.

Well, hot damn said the voice. Hang tight, boys. We’re monitoring your coordinates and sending out a rescue team.

Okay I said. Okay.

Halverson got up and went back to his seat. I didn’t look at him. I didn’t speak to him. I turned and looked out the window. I wiped the blood from my face with the back of my hand. The radio was silent again.

I found the whiskey bottle and took another drink. When I was done I handed the bottle to Halverson. He took the bottle from me and held it in his hand. He sat there. I sat there.

We both sat there and waited.

Rachael Biggs

Rainbows and Lollipops

The garden is overgrown. Low maintenance cacti prevail and a tangle of dried up vines threaten to swallow the purple door. I rip off the note hes scrawled: Come on in, the waters warm! and with it a large swatch of paint, which I toss in the sandy dirt.

I flip off my flip flops and walk down the hall.

I can hear the shower running and him singing Satisfaction by the Stones. Cuz I try and I try and I try and I try and I try and I tryyyy.

He’s trying too hard, as usual. Mick Jagger only tried four times before succumbing to the fact that he couldnt get no satisfaction.

He is in the shower at precisely the time I am scheduled to arrive to let me know that his chubby little cock is clean and ready to suck.

There are naked photos of a trashy blonde with balloon-like implants on his computer screen. I pretend not to see them because I know he wants me to.

I hear the shower door close and he lumbers in with nothing but a hopeful look in his eyes.

Hey, you! Lookingood as usual!

If this were what I usually looked like, it would be cause for concern. My hair is oily and and I have been wearing my T-shirt dress since this morning when I used the dirt Id pilfered from the community garden to plant the petunias that Id been collecting from the walkways late at night. No one would miss the flowers since they grew like weeds and the rich folks had their gardeners replace them every 6 weeks anyways.

I look good compared to him though, if we are basing his compliment in relativity.

Wide pink stretch marks criss-cross his gut, loose moles hang around his neck, his nostrils are flared like a bull waiting to charge and doughy kneecaps nearly buckle under his weight, making him a sight few would call good as usual’.

He wants a hug. I can feel it shooting from behind the pathetic longing that are his eyeballs. A hug is not what I have in mind though.

I’m thinking more of ramming the heel of my hand upwards into his nose and then laughing joyfully as he falls backward into the fireplace and I stomp on the four pounds of testicles that swing between his mushy thighs.

I set up my massage table, accidentally glancing at the twit on the computer screen, as he looks on expectantly.

You like her?he asks.

I dont know her.

Shes a friend of a friend. My friend spends time with her and thought I might like her. I think shes a prostitute.

Thats fairly evident, yes.

He’s doing two things: hes letting me know that he has other options thereby trying to get a reaction of competitiveness while also aiming to incite a conversation about prostitution. Hes hoping that maybe that will turn into some liberal-leaning heart-to-heart in which I decide thats its cool to fuck him for money.

I choke down my vomit to speak. Prostitutes are the safest people you can sleep with next to porn actresses.

Whys that?

Because theyre professionals. They always use condoms.

Do you like sex with condoms?

I’d like to pull a giant condom over his head and get my satisfaction watching him flail and choke to death because his fingers are too fat to find its edge to free himself.

Okay, hop on the table.I say with caustic pep.

There is no such thing as hopping for him though; there is only hoist and roll.

I stare at the metal filing cabinets as my reluctant hands move down his ample back. Stray hairs, a puss-filled whitehead and a scaly texture greet my fingers and palms as I apologize silently to them.

I will deposit the two hundred and fifty dollars to my account immediately upon leaving here and finally being able to pay the minimum on my credit card before being charged a thirty-five dollar late fee again. I can also get the oil changed in my car if that mailer I got hasnt expired. Will that make the light go out?

I get down to his ass and he moans and clears his throat. I make sure I wash real good every time before you come over in case you want to go deeper.

Is there a bat anywhere in this room? Anything sharp? Oooh, that metal ruler. That would work. Its an odd shape, but maybe if I put some of this oil on it first and use force…

Why would I want to do that?

Oh, in case you want to get deeper into the muscles.

There are no muscles in your butt crack.

You sure? Best to double check.

A bat would be better. A bat with spikes. Ill make one. Ill plan ahead next time. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

He laughs nervously, knowing not to push me again for now. Hes conveniently forgotten that hes encouraged me before to get closer to the most unfathomably grotesque part of his physique and that Ive given him a firm no.

It is time for the dreaded flip-over. His prick has emerged slightly from its rolls of blubber and drips with a translucent slime that nearly makes me gag. I wipe it roughly before getting a grip and focusing again on the filing cabinet.

I could puke all over him and this table and this room right now. I could drown him in thick, steamy vomit and get double satisfaction as he slides into its pool on the floor writhing like a puffer fish yanked from an aquarium.

Tell me what youre thinking about,he coos.

Rainbows and lollipops.

Youre hilarious!

It takes him a minute to get hard. If Id done his arms by pulling them up over his head and letting him fondle me with his sausage fingers, he would have been fully erect, but I dont need him commenting on my tampon.

I roll his four inches of flesh in my hands like Im making gnocchi and then grab it like my gear shift, as he exhales deeply and I bury my nose in my armpit in an effort to dodge the rancid odor.

Grab tighter,he whispers. Tight like your pussssy.

Would my hands be able to grab tight enough around his neck to cut off his air or would the fat get in the way? How hard would I have to squeeze? As hard as he is squeezing my ass right now?

I clench my cheeks together, so he cant slip his hand in anywhere and think about which ATM I will go to when my freedom is restored. The parking on Sepulveda is free, but will my car make it that far without oil?

You have the best ass in America,” he hisses.

He jerks and convulses on the table and I think maybe were getting to the end, but hes just being dramatic. Fucking L.A. with all of its unrealized actors.

Slow down,he says. As if your mouth is just pulling me up, pulling me up, pulling me up, up, up.

If I cant successfully choke him would he be able to get up quickly enough to defend himself? I could definitely run faster than him. Would he chase me out into the road? Nah.

I slow my tug obediently, desperately wanting this to end as much as my aching forearm does.

Squeeze my balls. Real tight, like.

I grip a handful of the hairy flab as it oozes between my fingers in rebellion, shifting my weight, stepping on something sharp. I look down at potato chip crumbs.

Tighter!” he grunts.

Next time he leans in for a hug/grope I will stick him with a knife I have concealed in my sleeve. Maybe in the neck. I will research where the jugular is, so my efforts arent wasted on a surface wound and I will quickly step out of the way so as not to get blood on myself when it starts to spurt like a faucet needing its washer replaced. Then I will stand over him as he thrashes about, much like he is now, only dying and confused, and I will say all the things Ive been wanting to say. Dont ever ask me for a hug again motherfucker! Stop fucking pushing me. Take a hint! I dont want to touch your asshole! I would rather pour acid in my eyes than see you naked. Put some fucking clothes on! You make me sick! Do you see me? Do you see that even with my greasy hair and my gardening clothes that I would never ever, EVER be attracted to you? Are you fucking stupid? Are you a fucking moron? Yes, you are! You are a stupid, shallow, moron that likes me only for my body, but I hate you for so much more than yours. I hate you because Im here. I hate that partying became more important to me than high school and that I never had the urge to apply myselfas my teachers encouraged. I hate that I deserve so much better, but that eventually I wont if I keep coming here. Slowly this will become normal and as you continue to push or offer me more money, I might succumb. I will stab myself in the jugular if that ever happens.

He continues to thrash about on the table, getting my hopes up.

Do it! Do it now! Come, you fat fucking fuck!

Finally, one hundred thousand years later, he squirms on the table and his legs raise up stiffly as thick yellow snot exits his vile organ. He whinnies like a horse and before he can open his eyes, I am in the bathroom washing my hands with enough soap to drown in.

I dont look in the mirror.

Burrito Deluxe, by Joseph Ridgwell

1765262722

From the mean streets of East London to the intoxicating thoroughfares of Mexico City emerges a tale of two young men disconnecting from all forms of technology and society at large in a mad chase for freedom. Fed up with the monotonous trap of dead end jobs in the city Joe and compadre Ronnie need out, by any means necessary.

Burrito Deluxe tells of drunkenness, East End underworld escapades, thieving, prostitutes, drug-fuelled trips to sacred Mayan temples, psychedelic peyote visions, hippy lifestyles, romantic liaisons, and the search for the legendary Lost Elation at the mystical Beach of the Dead.

A study in pathological behaviour at close quarters, this is the first of cult author Joseph Ridgwell’s unique novels – the true story of two young men in search of freedom and adventure, but finding nothing but lies, dreams, insanity and death. Described by the author as a ‘cosmic road novel’, it chronicles the end of youth and idealism, and a total rejection of the modern world.

BUY A COPY HERE

Judson Michael Agla

Homicidal Cosmic Plush

I was chilling in my pad watching some war documentary on the tube; mildly stoned, and quite content, when I first became aware of the attack. All of a sudden strange furry things started climbing over my balcony, which was quite a feat as my apartment was on the seventh floor.

Fucking Teddy Bears man; they were Teddy Bears, with blood around their mouths and half eaten bones in their hands. As they got closer I could see that their eyes were jet black, as if I were looking right into the abyss itself.

The door and windows were shut but I was highly doubtful I could rely on that as a stronghold. What the fuck was going on and how do I handle it? There’s no Scout badge that prepared me for dealing with homicidal Teddy Bears.

I gathered as many knives; sticks, coffee mugs, cans of beans and soup, and everything that could make fire, which in retrospect was probably a very uneducated and reckless idea, seeing as how I’d more than likely burn myself up as well, no Scout badge for that either.

They were at the windows now which were starting to crack under the super-human strength they were yielding. Mindless; homicidal, born of some crazy childlike nightmare dimension, I hadn’t a clue what the hell to do, the blood stained and broken windows looked like they came right out of a horror show.

I could hear my front door start to splinter; they were coming at me from all sides, I could hear a rumbling coming from inside the walls as the drywall started to burst open, I was fucked from everywhere and I was shitting myself having the realization that I was about to be eaten by an army of Teddy Bears.

As I was standing facing the blood soaked windows; coffee mug in one hand and a cast iron frying pan in the other, weeping like a little girl, an explosion of glass, blood and a thousand Teddy Bears came shooting into the apartment, followed by a person swinging in on a rope, dressed like a navy seal or some shit like that.

This hero slash warrior was dressed in black and had a ghostbusters like nuclear back pack with all the bells and whistles; it was attached to a hose, which was attached to a big ass kicking gun which they immediately started firing out oceans of blue glowing slimy shit all over the Bears.

The Teddy Bears disintegrated in seconds; as did most of my apartment, which is in no way a complaint, as only moments ago I was preparing to become the horrifically gruesome lunch of a mob of children’s toys.

Once the show of a lifetime was over and the two of us were standing in the middle of a wrath of god type scene, this mega hero removed their head gear I was surprised to see that my savior was a chick, a super-hot chick at that, a stunningly beautiful warrior goddess. After my male ape-like evolutionary driven distraction, I did eventually get over myself and got to the situation at hand.

She explained that she was with T. A.T.H.T.B. (The Agency for the Termination of Homicidal Teddy Bears) and there had been scattered incidents with all sorts of stuffed animals for the last five years, it was only recently that they discovered the Teddy Bears were the kingpins.

Still slightly stunned and stupefied; I asked her why in the fuck they came after me? She started taking off my shirt, I thought we were going to get funky but she was looking for something particular that she found on my back, it was a tattoo that I never remembered getting, and it was in the shape of a Teddy Bear. She said I had the mark, and that I’ve been chosen; only one in a thousand had this mark, and the destiny that lay before me was to rid the world of homicidal Teddy Bears.

She explained that I would have to come back with her to headquarters and begin my training, some people might have reservations about this whole thing but when I found out the girl was single and I’d be wearing one of those nuclear reactors on my back, I was all in. 

Catfish McDaris

Red Hot Pussy

Porterhouse was adopted along with a little blonde girl named Summer. She was younger than Porterhouse and they didn’t get along. Summer wanted to be the star attraction, but their adopted parents treated them equally. As they grew older, they’d hear the moans of pleasure and take turns spying through the keyhole of their parent’s room. It wasn’t long before they were playing doctor and pleasuring each other. At first with manual stimulation. Porterhouse liked for Summer to masturbate him and he’d always promise not to shoot his load in her hand. He tried to hit her in her face or young budding breasts. Summer loved for Porterhouse to rub her pussy, it had some peach fuzz on it. Porterhouse learn how to coax her clitoris erect and suck on it, then jam two fingers up her pussy and one up her ass, as she came to an orgasm. Summer became adept at sucking Porterhouse’s dick. She’d deep throat, candy cane, barber pole, siphon sperm, cupping his nuts just right. As he came, she’d finger fuck his asshole like crazy. Soon it wasn’t enough, it never is. They figured since they weren’t really brother and sister by blood, fucking wouldn’t be incest. They fucked every chance they could. Summer liked heroin, Porterhouse preferred cocaine and they both loved weed. Soon their parents suspected their children were up to no good. They sprung a trap for them and caught them fucking in a room full of marijuana smoke. That’s when they discovered that they were one hundred percent blood siblings. They tried everything to break off their romantic relationship. They were hopelessly in love. Finally, they accepted their fate and said fuck it. They got into Porterhouse’s Thunderbird. Summer buried a needle in her arm. Porterhouse buried the needle on the speedometer. The moonlight blue Thunderbird hit a pothole, sparks flew into the inky black sky.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Florsheim On My Mind

What kind of diagnosis is this for a psychologist to tell a client? It’s not like I don’t already have enough shit to deal with. Now I’ll have this to think about on top of it all. Here is what she told me:

“You don’t use drugs to kill the pain, Santiago, you use drugs to feel the pain. It’s a self-destructive mechanism that you employ to suppress traumatic experiences from your past. Your addiction isn’t to drugs themselves, they are simply your way of punishing yourself.”

I wanted to tell her the diagnosis was a complete and total fable, fabricated by her own imagination.

I use (at times maybe abuse) drugs because I like getting high. There’s no underlying cause to what she considers as deviant behavior. And the money I’m paying for this psychological evaluation could be applied toward more enjoyable activities, such as the aforementioned drugs. It was causing me to experience the trauma of client remorse.

“Santiago, have you heard anything I’ve said? Do you have any comments or questions?”

“I do have a question. Where do you think a one-legged person goes shopping for shoes? I mean, are there shoe stores that sell a single shoe? Or do they have to purchase a pair and then they’re stuck with a shoe that is useless? Possibly there’s a support group that introduces them to another one-legged person missing the opposite leg, and they shop for shoes together. Which brings me to another question concerning their taste in fashion. They would have to…”

“Santiago, please, stop this nonsense! Do you think this is humorous? We’re dealing with a serious situation here, and I need you to participate and accept responsibility for your addiction. Do you understand? Have you enrolled in the court-ordered anger management class?”

“I went to register for the class, but they informed me that I’d have to pay $250 to enroll. And that pissed me off and I became angry. And on top of that bullshit, the classes were scheduled on Saturday nights for eight weeks and were four hours long. That just added to my anger, and I figured that if just registering for the class caused me to become angry, they would ultimately prove to be ineffective. So I said forget it and left before I turned into the Incredible Hulk. And besides, don’t you think it would constitute a conflict of interest for me to receive counseling from someone else? It could possibly result in a complete anxiety disorder on top of all my anger issues.”

“You completely exhaust me, drain my energy. Have you always been a vampire, sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to assist and support you? So, I’m afraid to ask, but are you attending your NA and AA meetings? And they’re free, so don’t use cost as an excuse.”

“That’s not very professional to degrade me by referring to me as a vampire. If I wanted that kind of abuse, I’d call my ex-wife. She calls me names that are far much worse. And she doesn’t charge me $75 an hour, it’s free!”

“Your meetings, Santiago?”

“I’ve been going to meetings, but I’ve been asked not return to my NA meetings, and AA doesn’t appeal to me. I’m just unable to identify with drunks, simply because I enjoy drinking and don’t consider it a problem. Plus, I always have to go and have a beer after each meeting. I’ve been labeled as a bad influence, you see, because I always invite the other members to join me.”

I didn’t divulge that NA meetings are one of the best places to score dope. Whenever I was in a new or unfamiliar city, I would attend a meeting and was always able to buy drugs or get hooked up with member’s dealers.

“That’s enough for today, Santiago. This session is over. Let’s schedule our next meeting for next Wednesday at 2:00, and I’ll expect you to participate. Does that sound feasible to you? It’s not on Saturday, and it’s only for an hour. Let me write you a prescription for some more Klonopin and Depakote. Remember to go to the lab for your blood work. Take care of yourself, Santiago. Looking forward to seeing you again next week.”

I’ll admit, I wasn’t totally convinced of her sincerity.

When, I reached my car in the parking lot, I immediately did a large line of cocaine.

Ahhh… now everything was back to normal.

Matthew Licht

dd8 girl

A Hard Case (Part 8)

The voice was familiar, as was the tone Sheriffs Dept bulls use on people caught in the misery light. I got outta the car, hands up.

“Turn around.” Sheriff Johnson Brown went heavy on the get-in-the-position judo and frisked hard.

“Where’s your gun?” he said.

“Gone,” I said. “Didn’t need it anymore.”

“Your former secretary called to report that your private investigator license expired.”

Wanda always said I was a rotten detective, but dates and bureaucracy were an electron cloud spinning out of control in another, distant dimension.

“Things’ve changed,” I said. “I work for the government now.”

“Oh yeah? Then who’s this ginch?” Sheriff Brown shone his heavy flashlight on Doris behind the wheel. “She looks like the wrong side of a divorce case, to me. Which means you’re operating illegally.”’

“She’s my new partner.”

Doris flashed a Project X badge, which gleamed golden.

“She drives better than you, too,” I said.

Sheriff Brown saw his party was pooped, and threw in a surreptitious kidney punch. A call crackled in on the squad car’s radio. There was a hostage situation at the Nursing Academy.

Sheriff Pettet said, “We’d better go, chief.”

Their unmarked prowler crunched the gravel and broken glass in the alley and faded away.

Doris lit a cigarette, but crushed it out in the ashtray.

We drove to a beach in Ventura County. The sun came up behind us. The Pacific waves lived up to their name and reputation. We went in, with our clothes off. The day finished with a green flash at a point where the world was a blue line and the sky was a pink infinity.

Time to go back to work at Project X.

The last detail of a misspent career in private investigation was a courtesy call to a former client. “Mr Frawley, I found your wife.”

“Oh? Hey, that’s great. When…”

“But that’s only because you lost her.”

“Huh? Never had no complaints from any other…”

“She’ll send you a check for what she borrowed to fund her escape from a nowhere life.”

“But how…”

“When’s the last time you did something for your country, Frawley? Think of it that way.” Then I hung up.

fin

A Hard Case (Part 1)

A Hard Case (Part 2)

A Hard Case (Part 3)

A Hard Case (Part 4)

A Hard Case (Part 5)

A Hard Case (Part 6)

A Hard Case (Part 7)

Tim Frank

Concrete Jungle

At the centre of the Stonebridge housing estate in North London, no light could penetrate the shaded stairwells and the dirty net curtains. There were no views and inside the dingy flats cockroaches darted through bedrooms and the rank smell of blocked toilets wafted down halls. Those who knew the place said it was the darkest area in the city. And had the darkest heart. That’s where the undercover Officer Hislop patrolled daily, keeping his eyes on the neighbourhood hoodlums and arresting youths for drugs, knives and firearms offenses. He kept his distance, fighting any urge to sympathise with any of the kids he came up against. There was no point, they were on the road to self-destruction – empathy was a waste of his time. Except for one teenager, Gerald, part of the Skelter crew, who Hislop couldn’t help taking pity on.

One afternoon when some of the Skelter crew were rounded up and cuffed after a raid in the south side of the estate, rain lashing down on the concrete outside sounding like cracking knuckles, a small group of officers circled the gang who they’d forced to their knees by a wall. Officer Gauche frisked the crew. When he came to Gerald, he yanked his head to one side.

‘Hislop,’ ordered Gauche, ‘come over here. This kid’s cuffs are loose, I hope you’re not going easy on him.’

‘I didn’t cuff him, said Hislop, and I don’t go easy on anyone.’

‘Yeah, I don’t need any help from no cop,’ said Gerald, the crust of dried snot plastered across his upper lip.

‘Shut up punk,’ said Gauche.

‘Yeah, Gerald, shut the fuck up,’ said Hislop.

Gauche forced Gerald’s head against the wall. Hislop lit a cigarette and played with it nervously as he stared at Gerald and the stupid look he wore on his face, like he was confused by some complex maths equation. That poor sap couldn’t count to five, Hislop thought.

The police found nothing on the gang and eventually set them free. They scuttled off like a mischief of rats into all four corners of the building. Gerald went home to the fifth floor where his grandmother was waiting for him in the kitchen, smoking a joint that alleviated the pain from her cancerous breast.

When he came in the door his phone exploded with text messages. It was Gerald’s gang leader, Reece, checking on him to see if the cops had found anything.

Gerald’s grandmother beckoned him to join her.

‘Put the phone away, I have to talk to you,’ she said.

Gerald slipped the phone inside his jacket pocket and took a seat opposite his grandmother. His stomach growled with hunger as he wiped his nose and reached out for the joint.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I need your head clear for what I’m about to tell you.’

She laid the joint in an ashtray, letting it burn out by itself as it nestled amongst a cluster of other roaches.

‘I’m dying Gerald,’ she said, ‘you know that don’t you?’

‘Yeah, I know,’ he said, watching a fly try to wrestle itself free from a spider’s web.

‘But I don’t think you understand. It means you’ll be all on your own with no one to look after you.’

‘But you can come visit though, right?’

‘No – what? Gerald when someone dies, that’s it, they are gone, never to come back. Like your parents.’

‘Oh, they just went away, they’ll be back one day. I get it.’

‘No, you don’t.’

‘I do, gran, and I’ll save you, I promise.’

‘Listen to me Gerald, I have nothing to leave you when I die except this flat. I need you to promise me that you will sell it and leave this God forsaken place when I’m gone.’

‘Leave? But what about my job?’

‘Gerald, you’re selling drugs for a gang. It’s not a job. I know you don’t understand but I want you to find a way out of here.’

Gerald smiled and said, ‘It’s going to be alright gran, you’ll see.’

Gerald’s grandmother sighed, sparked up her joint and said, ‘You can go back to your phone now. Please try to think about what I’ve said.’

That night Hislop returned home to his wife and child late. As he searched his pockets for his keys he almost tripped on the front step. His wife, Marie, opened the door and said, ‘Jesus Patrick, this is the third time this week you’ve come back wasted.’

Hislop aimed a kiss at Marie’s cheek and brushed past her into the living room.

‘I’ve put Stanley to bed. Would you at least like to say goodnight to him?’

‘Can’t it wait?’ he said. ‘I need a cup of coffee.’

Marie placed her hand on her hip and gave him the look.

‘OK, OK, I’ll be up in a minute.’

Stanley’s room was illuminated by a night light that spread a gloomy fog. As Hislop entered, closely followed by his wife, he saw the boy, three years old, in Spiderman pyjamas, standing in his cot gently crying. Hislop scooped him up into his arms and whispered into his ear, rocking him back and forth. Hislop looked into Stanley’s eyes. The boy held a glazed expression.

‘He still doesn’t recognise me,’ Hislop said, as Stanley began to wail.

‘Give it time,’ Marie said.

‘Right. Time.’

***

A few days later Hislop was patrolling one of the blocks when he caught sight of Gerald dealing by the motorway that separated the estate from the rest of the city. The crackhead jetted off before Hislop could catch him but he managed to corner Gerald.

Hislop cuffed him and said, ‘Come with me,’ and he led the boy across the motorway where they found some semblance of civilisation. They stepped into a burger and beer joint.  Clean lines, white decor with splashes of red.

‘I didn’t do it, OK?’

‘Take a seat Gerald, I just want to talk.’

Hislop released Gerald from his cuffs and the boy rubbed his chafed wrists.

‘What would you like?’ Hislop said. ‘Pick anything, it’s on me.’

‘Is this a joke?’

‘No one needs to know Gerald; this is between us. I want to help you. You are hungry, right?’

‘Well, yeah.’

A waitress wearing her hair in a bun and an apron with a picture of a bull etched on the front came to serve them.

‘Give us a double patty diablo with the works. Fries and a chocolate milkshake too. I’ll just have a light beer, thanks,’ said Hislop.

The waitress jotted down the order but before she could leave Gerald said, ‘What are you looking at?’

‘Excuse me, sir?’

‘You know what I’m talking about. What the fuck are you looking at?’

‘Go easy Gerald,’ said Hislop. ‘Nobody’s judging you, right miss?’

‘Look,’ she said, ‘If it’s all the same, I think I’m going to let someone else wait on you.’

‘Fine,’ said Hislop, ‘but I’m sorry.’

Another waitress soon joined them and Hislop repeated the order. He flicked through the mini jukebox that was positioned on the side of their table.

‘I’ve been watching you Gerald. You may not know it but I’ve been looking out for your wellbeing.’

‘Looking out how?’

‘Just… Looking out. I know your grandmother.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Gerald said, all cagey.

‘We speak sometimes. She’s a good woman who cares deeply for you.’

‘I don’t want to talk about my gran.’

‘OK, we won’t. But listen, I don’t care that you deal drugs. I know you are a good person too.’

‘How?’

‘How what?’

‘How do you know I’m a good person?’

‘No idea, Gerald. Call it instinct.’

‘You don’t know the things I’ve done.’

‘Maybe so but I want to help you.’

The food came and Gerald tucked in ferociously.

‘I want to get you out of the hood,’ said Hislop.

‘I don’t need any help, I’ve got plans,’ Gerald said, manoeuvring his mouth around his burger then biting down hard.

‘Oh yeah? What plans are these?’

‘None of your business, and don’t worry about me. I’m going to be just fine.’

‘Right, of course.’

What, you don’t believe me?’

‘Honestly, no I don’t see it.’

‘Well, you’re wrong.’

‘Enlighten me.’

‘Fuck you, how about that?’

‘Now play nice, Gerald.’

Gerald wiped his mouth and sighed.

‘I’m going to save up for university, get a degree and become a doctor or something.’

‘There’s so much wrong with that sentence I don’t even know where to begin.’

‘I don’t have to listen to this bullshit. If you want to arrest me, arrest me. Otherwise, thanks for the food, but I’ve got to go.’

‘No wait, I’m sorry, please just hear me out.’

‘Why do you give a shit about me?’

‘Don’t ask me that question Gerald because I really don’t know.’’

Gerald stood and said, ‘People think I’m thick, well they’re wrong. I can achieve whatever I put my mind to.’

‘That’s all very well but if you stay here, in the hood, dealing for Reece you’re going to end up dead or in prison. You have to get out of this city where the Skelter crew can’t track you down. Please take a seat and let’s talk about it.’

Gerald stared out of the diner window, across the motorway and over to the looming presence of the estate. It seemed to look back at him, saturated in all its grey haunted glory. He sat back down.

An hour later, after an in-depth discussion, Hislop and Gerald went their separate ways. As Gerald crossed the motorway and approached the estate, he felt eyes on him, peering like black opals embedded in the concrete. As he jiggled his keys in his front door a text pinged from his phone. It was Reece.

The message simply read, ‘My flat, now.’

Gerald climbed the four floors to reach Reece’s apartment. He texted Reece to say he was outside his door. He was shown inside by one of the crew and the smell of high-grade skunk stung his nostrils. The living room had a couch and a coffee table next to it. A selection of guns was laid out on the surface and beside them was a mound of cocaine with tubs of detergent and baby powder to cut the drug. A one-year old baby with a soiled nappy roamed around the constricted space, dried tears on her face. The flat was hot and Reece wore a shirt cut off at the sleeves. But he was lean and had no muscles to expose.  He indicated to Gerald that he should take a seat.

‘Why did you text me, you idiot, if you’re just outside the fucking door?’’

‘Um,’ stuttered Gerald.

‘I’m not going waste time Gerald,’ Reece said, as the baby tugged at Gerald’s trouser leg.

‘You’ve been seen with… Wait, pass the little tyke over.’

Gerald picked up the baby and caught a glimpse straight into her eyes. He saw purity.

‘OK,’ said Reece laying the baby on one side of the couch, beginning to change her. He stroked the side of her face and made some goofy noises.

‘Gerald, you’ve been seen with Hislop. We know he’s been helping you. Let’s face it, any fool can tell you would have been locked up a long time ago if it wasn’t for him.  Honestly Gerald, do you actually like that shitbag?’

‘No, uh, he just wanted to talk and I listened.’

‘Talk about what?’

‘Well, you know, I guess, my plans to go to university and that. He said he could help me.’

‘University?’ Reece cracked a smile, chortled, then fell about laughing. After he’d settled down and picked up the baby, resting her on his chest, he said, ‘And what about your commitments to me and the gang? You have a lot of important work to do. And I’m sure you know what it means if you talk to the police, right? Listen to me now and listen well. I’m going to give you one of these guns and you’re going to take Hislop out. Pop pop, OK? It’s the only way I can be sure you’re on our side. I have to be able to trust you one hundred percent from now on. Otherwise you’re no good to me. Now I know this is a big thing I’m asking you to do, fuck me everyone knows you’re thick as two short planks. But I believe in you. I want to believe in you anyway. Prove to me that my faith is well placed. This is your last chance. Am I understood?’

Gerald gave a sullen nod and took the gun.

‘I’ll text you with instructions when the time is right.’

Gerald went home, his mind swimming with visions of death. That night he dreamt of his grandmother being strangled with a rope. He saw her blood vessels bursting out of her eyes, her bulbous tongue sticking out of her mouth. He couldn’t see who was murdering her but he felt it could be him. He woke in a cold sweat and checked his phone. Still no orders from Reece. He would have to wait.

***

After saying goodbye to Gerald outside the diner, Hislop went to the pub, but he didn’t stay long. Instead he journeyed home to spend some time with his family.

‘This is a pleasant surprise, to what do we owe this honour?’ said Marie as Hislop took a seat at the dinner table. She doled out some casserole for him. The baby sat in his chair and squinted. His lazy eye shifted about in its socket.

‘Just, you know, want to make some changes,’ he said.

‘Well great, about time,’ Marie smiled. ‘Wine?’

They finished the meal, put Stanley to sleep and climbed into bed. As they switched off their bedside lamps both of them remained wide-eyed and deep in thought. The night outside seemed to hiss with venomous intent.

‘You never bring your work home with you,’ Marie said, ‘but for once I want you to talk about it with me. Let me in. I know something is going on.’

‘I thought I could keep it from you. That was the plan. But you’re right, there is something. There’s some boy at work. He needs help Marie.’

‘And you think you’re the one to give it to him?’

‘Maybe, yes, I mean, I don’t know.’

‘Let me tell you what you do. You steer clear of this kid as much as is humanly possible. You don’t talk to him; you don’t think about him.’

‘But you don’t even know who he is and what his situation is like.’

‘I don’t care. I know your job and the scum you work with. They are animals, degenerates. Keep away, do you hear me?’

They were quiet for a while and then Hislop broke the silence, saying, ‘I’m having dreams, nightmares. I’m afraid I’ve already let him in and I can’t push him away. I’ve opened the door and now I can’t shut it.’

‘The only door you need to open is for Stanley, no one else. He’s the one who needs your help and attention. Can’t you see we’re losing you to this job of yours? And God knows what danger you’re putting yourself in by associating with some crackhead.’

‘He’s not a crackhead. Marie he’s actually given me hope. I can do something worthwhile for once in a job that’s been meaningless for years. If, that is…’

‘If what?’

‘If he doesn’t screw it up.’’

‘Please, I’m begging you, stop this madness and focus on what’s important – your family.’

That night Hislop couldn’t sleep so he took a pillow and a throw and crept into Stanley’s room where he laid down on the floor. Hislop finally nodded off an hour or two before dawn. He slept beside Stanley every night that week. He and Marie didn’t talk about his new routine and why it was happening because, although Marie wanted to feel happy about it, she wasn’t completely sure if she liked the motives behind his new behaviour.

***

The week after, Gerald was taking a snooze late in the afternoon. His dreams incorporated the sounds of an audience applauding from the television set next door. He was woken by a text from Reece. It spelled out the details of when and where the hit was to take place. Reece signed off by saying, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’

Gerald wiped the sleep from his eyes, slipped his feet inside his trainers and picked up the gun from inside the dresser. The weapon glinted in the shaft of light emanating from the half-open door. He swallowed. He reached out to his ashtray, took a couple of puffs from a spliff and then tried to sneak out of the flat before his grandmother could notice. As he opened the front door it creaked and alerted her to his presence. She was sitting in the armchair in the living room watching a game show shrouded by a cloud of weed smoke. Buzzers and ticking clocks frayed Gerald’s nerves.

‘What, you don’t want to give a kiss goodbye to your gran?’ she said.

Gerald’s shoulders slumped and he shuffled back inside.

‘What’s wrong Gerald? Don’t hide anything from me. Grandmas always know when there’s something up with their boy.’

‘It’s nothing gran. How are you feeling?’

‘I’m coping darling, I’m coping. I don’t know if I should tell you this but that nice police officer paid me a visit the other day. What’s his name? Henry? Harold?’

‘Hislop.’

‘Yes, that’s it. Well we’ve been talking about you, and me, but mostly you and I have to say he really does speak sense. He seems like a good man and I truly believe that he has your best interests at heart. One day soon I’d like us all to sit down and have a chat. Now, I don’t want to keep you, I just need my kiss and I’ll let you be on your way.’

Gerald dutifully bent down and gave her a peck on the cheek. He was close to tears. He walked out of the flat and told himself under his breath, ‘Fix up, look sharp, you can do this.’

Reece’s text had directed Gerald to wait in a stairwell on the second floor. The message said Hislop was expected to arrive, one flight of steps lower, in the hall by the elevators around five pm. Gerald leaned up against the cold wall with his gun held aloft, resting it near his cheek. He noticed his shallow breaths. In out, in out. He noticed the sweat dripping from his forehead. Then he heard voices echo below. Calling him from hell.   It was a conversation between Officers Gauche and Hislop. He eavesdropped.

‘I gotta say, I’m getting a little tired of this place, said Gauche. Frankly I don’t know if I can carry on much longer.’

‘Who do you think you’re fooling? You’ve said the same thing every day for the last ten years,’ said Hislop.

‘Nevertheless. And what about you? You seem to have a new found spring in your step.’

‘Really? No, I don’t think anything’s different.’

‘I have a feeling I know what’s going on.’

‘Oh yeah, what?’

‘Do I have to spell it out?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid you do, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘OK. It’s Gerald isn’t it. Tell me, what have you got yourself into?’

‘Come on Gauche, I’ve told you a million times I have no connection to that kid. Now lay off me.’

‘I wish I could but this is too important to be brushed under the carpet.’

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Say you’ve been having secret meetings with Gerald and his grandmother. Say you’ve been looking the other way when he’s dealing on the streets or beating up crackheads. For chrissakes, say you’re obsessed with him.’

Gerald knew it was time to act. But the words of his grandmother reverberated through his mind, ‘He wants the best for you, he’s a good man.’ Gerald remained frozen in the stairwell, caught between two worlds. The darkness and the light. All he could do was continue to listen into the cops’ conversation and delay the inevitable.

‘You really want to know what I think of that retard Gerald and his crippled nan?’ Hislop said. ‘I’ll tell you. He’s degenerate scum just like the rest of the bacteria in this hole of an estate. Yes, I thought I could help him, yes, I thought I could fix him somehow. But I was wrong and he and his gran can rot six feet deep for all I care because they have brought me nothing but misery since I met them.’

‘Jeez,’ Gauche said.

‘OK?’

‘OK, OK, I believe you. I never knew you felt that way. I just thought…’

‘You thought what?’

‘Never mind. It’s history.’

Gerald leapt out of his hiding place and aimed his gun at Hislop’s temple. He fingered the trigger lightly but couldn’t bring himself to shoot.

‘I believed in you,’ he howled, the anguish and confusion painted on his face. ‘You said… you said, and my gran she trustedyou. I’m going to blow your fucking brains out!’

Just then the sound of trainers squeaked on the concrete from behind him.

‘Gerald, watch out!’

A gun fired and Gerald collapsed, his blood and brains splattered against the elevator doors as the lift descended past. Down the hall, a figure raced off and disappeared into the maze of the tower block. Gauche immediately gave chase after him.

Hislop knelt down next to Gerald’s body and wiped blood from his cheeks. His eyes were open, grey and gone.

‘Shit Gerald, you idiot, what have you done? I didn’t mean it; I didn’t fucking mean it…’

It wasn’t long before Gauche returned to the scene with the killer in tow – Troy, one of the  other Skelter crew.

‘You certainly do a good impression of not caring for the retard,’ Gauche said, observing Hislop’s grief.

Troy had a blank give-a-shit stare plastered across his face, yet it was clear he was trying his best to avert his gaze from the dead body before him.

‘Looks like Troy here just saved your life, Hislop,’ Gauche said. ‘And now we’re going to take him to the station to find out why.’

‘No need to wait, I’ll tell you right now’ Troy said, ‘It was a warning – to mind your business and leave the Skelter crew alone. Gerald crossed the line, there was no helping him. So, now you know that if you want to get involved again, you can expect the same thing to happen. Without question.’

Hislop flipped. He grabbed Troy by the back of the neck and forced his face up against Gerald’s.

‘Look what you’ve done!’ he cried. ‘Don’t you care what you’ve done?!’

‘That’s enough Hislop,’ said Gauche. ‘Let him go.’

Hislop released Troy who staggered to his feet, shaken.

‘Better him than wiping out some cop. We’re not that stupid,’ Troy said.

‘OK that’s enough out of you,’ said Gauche. ‘You’re gonna be in a world of pain. Do you believe in karma? Hislop go see Reece.’

‘Reece can wait until tomorrow,’ said Hislop, ‘he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be waiting for us, he’ll be clean. But someone’s got to tell the grandmother. I don’t think I can do it.’

‘I’ll get Rawdon to pay her a visit. Go home, have a shower, try and forget about today. Gerald’s not your responsibility, never was.’

Instead of going directly home he decided to walk a lap around the estate in an attempt to clear his mind. He saw rival gangs loitering here and there, continuing to go about their business, not even scared of dealing in front of him. A statement had been made. He hated them and yet he realised Gerald was once one of them too. Maybe Gerald was the same as all the rest. But maybe they were all like him – just kids who needed proper help and guidance. Or they were all psychopaths. Hislop took one last glance behind him as he left the estate and caught sight of two rival gangs, ten on each side, formed in a huddle, hurling punches at each other, grunting and groaning. Hislop let it pass. Not today. And what did it matter if he got involved anyhow? They’d only be at each other’s throats again the next day. It was insanity.

He hit the pub – propping up the bar, still, quiet, throwing back pint after pint as punters buzzed around him. Laughter rang out intermittently as strangers bonded over the pool table and old drunks slept in booths.

Then he went home and tried his best to be quiet as he entered the building. Something told him his wife knew he was there but was giving him a wide berth because, as he crashed about the kitchen searching for coffee, she made no appearance. He was relieved. He gave up on the coffee and with a shaky hand drank five glasses of water. He grabbed a bag of tortilla chips from a cupboard and climbed the stairs. He walked into Stanley’s room, closed the door, and took a seat on the carpet by the cot.

He prised open the crisps and began stuffing them in his mouth, crumbs falling from his lips, scattering around his feet as he sat cross-legged. He put the bag to one side, still munching away, got to his feet and arched his head over the cot to peer in at his son who was ensconced in a blanket, fast asleep.

Hislop picked up Stanley and carried him around the room on unsteady feet. Stanley opened his eyes and yawned. He pawed at Hislop’s chin and looked straight into his father’s eyes. The baby seemed to smile.

‘You see me,’ said Hislop in astonishment. ‘I don’t believe it, you see me.’

He hugged the baby. He hugged him tight. Too tight. Stanley wriggled around and tried to cry but his breath was trapped in his diaphragm. He began to turn blue as his father continued to squeeze the life out of him.

The sun began to rise on another day, a day like all the rest, where the weak were swallowed by the strong and no one dared to think twice.