Peter Clarke

Richard Dawkins By the Light of the Moon

Seven witches gathered at London’s Highgate Cemetery to cast a spell on Richard Dawkins. They were dressed in black with hoods and shawls. As the sun went down, they placed candles on top of nearby headstones, making long shadows dance and flicker on all sides. 

“Fuck you, Richard Dawkins,” they chanted quietly.

A special potion (wine with mugwort and other herbal additives) was passed around. One of the witches snuck away to pop open a fresh bottle of merlot while the chanting continued.

“Fuck you, Richard Dawkins.”

“Okay, it’s starting!” a witch named Ada exclaimed. She was holding a cellphone, which was streaming a live speech by Dawkins at Oxford University. The witches gathered around to watch.

“You are stupid, stupid people only fooling yourselves,” said the esteemed atheist and evolutionary biologist, his voice projecting authoritatively from the phone’s tiny speaker. 

On the screen, the audience came into view: a group of Wiccans, palm readers, fortune tellers, Ouija board enthusiasts, followers of Cthulhu, believers in Odin, and other fanatics of the occult and the esoteric. 

“There is nothing magic about the world, and there is certainly nothing truly magical about your spells, paranormal beliefs, prophesies, curses, and whatever else you have chosen to form your identities around.”

“Curse his eyeballs, that they might pop right out of his face and go rolling around on the floor, where he’ll step on them,” said a witch named June, holding the spell-casting broomstick.

She passed the powerful item to the witch on her left, a runaway teenage girl named Sammy.

“Curse his head, so that his hair might catch fire and for that fire to form a mirror in his soul so he has to look at himself in the mirror for all eternity, not able to see anything else except for how mean and ugly he is.”

Gina, a lifelong witch and equally dedicated punk rock girl, was suddenly caught between the wine bottle and the broomstick.

“Come back to me,” she said, dead serious, taking the wine bottle and letting the broomstick be passed along to Karen.

“Curse his luck,” said Karen, “so that everything he touches turns to shit, including his food.”

With each curse cast, the girls became increasingly excited. Another bottle of wine was popped open. One of the witches lit a joint mixed with suma root and Avena sativa for stimulation of the libido. Another witch burned sage. As Dawkins’ voice rose in anger and disgust, the witches began to undress and touch each other.

“To live successfully, we must engage with the world—with the world as it actually exists, not as we project it to exist based on unsubstantiated beliefs. If prayer worked, we would see the results of prayer. And yet there is absolutely zero evidence ever documented of prayer’s effectiveness. If you have two sick children, you give one prayer and the other penicillin, guess which child gets well? The answer, of course, is obvious. The same is true for casting spells and playing around with magic. By engaging with these things, you are not engaged with what is real in the world, and so you undermine the core of human progress.”

“Curse his soul,” said Georgia, holding the broomstick like a microphone, “I hope he burns for all eternity in hell!”

Ada took the broomstick next, rubbing it between her legs as she cried, “Curse his big, fat, self-important brain, that it might explode in his head and his old, grey cortex might splatter all over the witches in the crowd, and so they might eat his brains.”

June crept behind Ada, kissing her neck and caressing her thighs as Ada made good use of the full broomstick handle.

“Go ahead,” said Richard Dawkins, “cast a spell on me! Pray to your favorite god to have me expire in a puff of smoke! Sick the devil on me while you’re at it!”

“Aww,” moaned Karen, leaning against a headstone with Sammy’s head sinking down between her open legs. “Fuck you, Richard Dawkins,” she said between moans.

“Fuck you, Richard Dawkins,” said Ada, kissing June and fondling her breasts.

Richard Dawkins loosened his tie and took off his jacket. “Is it getting hot in here?” he asked the crowd, taking a sip of water.

The camera zoomed out again, showing the entire auditorium turned into a giant orgy of spell-casting witches and occultists moaning in ecstasy. “Fuck you, Richard Dawkins,” they chanted, until Ada muted her phone and flung herself, body and soul, into an unholy tidal wave of multiple orgasms.

Zoltergeist the Poltergeist, By Douglas Hackle

Jimmy Green is a middle-aged limousine driver and a devoted fan of the insane TV sitcom Zoltergeist the Poltergeist. Once when he was a boy, Jimmy had an impure thought about the lead singer of The Bangles.

After confessing his sin to a drunken priest thirty-five years later, Jimmy is sentenced to six months’ penance in an old, isolated house—dubbed Penance House—in the middle of nowhere in rural Ohio. There, sequestered from civilization, Jimmy must repent for his sinful nature or else endure the Everlasting Fires of Hell.

As if Penance House weren’t creepy, whack, and janked-up enough, Jimmy is forbidden to enter the room at the end of the upstairs hallway. Does something sinister lurk beyond its closed door? And what about that leprechaun he keeps seeing skulking around in the woods?

Lucky for Jimmy, he has all forty-nine seasons of Zoltergeist the Poltergeist saved to his laptop to distract himself from his unsettling surroundings. Toward that end, probably the only thing better than rewatching old Zoltergeist episodes would be a visit from the show’s enigmatic, titular star itself…

“The head honcho of the absurd, the governor of wackiness, the top dog of insanity is back! Intelligent and imbecilic, Douglas Hackle is one of the most unique voices in bizarro fiction. Watch out, ’cause Hackle’s brain tissue is coming to town in a sleigh carved out of mad puppets and pulled by alcoholic poltergeists. Dare to see what Douglasgeist Hacklegeist leaves in your socks!”
Zoltán Komor, author of Flamingos in the Ashtray

“Zoltergeist the Poltergeist had me laughing, tittering, chortling, and popping out guffaws like nobody’s business. It even had me dancing for some reason—like I was listening to the hottest new bizarro track out this summer. Your kids are going to love it and so are you.”
—Luke Kondor, author of The Run Fantastic

BUY A COPY HERE

Ve Wardh

Billy Chocolate Penis

No woman will ever be truly satisfied because no man will ever have a chocolate penis that ejaculates money.’

Billy snorted as he spotted the oh so familiar e-card clogging up his newsfeed again. It was almost as funny as the first hundred times he’d seen it – the first hundred times that it had delivered its brutal emotional gut punch. He scrolled up to see who had posted it.

Alas, just a generic girl from his schooldays.

Good going, he thought, eyes boring into those staring back from her profile picture, keep contributing to the misogynistic notion that women are nothing more than shallow, materialistic creatures. That will validate you.

Opening her profile he could see she hadn’t changed much from when they’d last met. Though she’d traded in her curls for a maroon bob, and her packed lunches for a bottle of wine (mommy juice) it appeared that, like most, she was yet another person whose emotional intelligence had peaked in childhood and had resigned themselves to a life of ignorance.

Billy slammed his laptop shut and knuckled his eyes. My differences are what make me unique, and I should embrace them. Strength lies in differences. I define myself. I am enough. There is more to me than my knob.

He took a gulp of tea as bile rose in his throat and focussed on his affirmations. His journey of self-acceptance had been a long, arduous one and he was proud of where he was today. A mortgage, decent salary, and enough leisure time to devote to both hobbies and friends, he was living beyond what he could have ever imagined possible for someone like himself.

Yet sometimes the ignorance of others was trigger enough to send him back into a spiral of shame and loathing. You see, Billy did have a chocolate penis which indeed, did ejaculate money. One may be forgiven for thinking that Billy would be a regular ladies’ man, swimming in cash – if the e-card were anything to go by at least.

But you’d be wrong.

***

It all started during the time most people can expect drastic, often embarrassing bodily changes – puberty. Billy had endured all the typical physical developments for a boy of his age and, being a somewhat sheltered only child, had no reason to believe any were out of the ordinary, including those of a penile nature.

As his penis grew from its initial light cream colour, deepening to a golden bronze before settling on a dark brown, his heart swelled with pride.

Finally, he’d thought, I’ve finally gone and grown my adult penis. Poundtown, here I come!

He paraded about with the cocky swagger of your typical teen who had just sprouted their first pube and thought they’d found water on Mars, that is, until a couple weeks later.

‘Dad?’ he asked, hovering in the doorway to his father’s study, ‘Why am I…it’s all weird down there. All hard, like.’

His father froze. A moment later he turned to face Billy and grinned knowingly. ‘Don’t worry Billy, m’boy. It’s all natural. You see, when a guy is really into a girl–‘

‘Dad, no, no! I don’t think it’s…sexual…’

His father raised an eyebrow.

‘It’s just been hard for a while,’ Billy sighed. ‘Say about a week or so.’

His father’s grin disappeared. He motioned for Billy to stay put as he ducked out of the room and thundered down the stairs. Billy could hear the panic in his father’s voice as he exchanged hushed whispers with his mother. After a few minutes he reappeared, looking somewhat paler.

‘Right-o, Billy, let’s get you to the hospital then. No need to panic.’

They journeyed to the hospital in silence.

After running numerous tests, the medical personnel were still at a loss as to what had brought on Billy’s prolonged erection and it’s rich cocoa tint.

Billy and his father had all but lost hope. They sat wordlessly in the waiting room awaiting the results of a penile scan. Billy thumbed through old magazines while his father simply stared at the wall opposite. They jumped as the doctor returned.

‘Well doc, what’s the news?’

The doctor paused. His eyes flickered to Billy’s before focusing on the floor in front of him.

‘I…,’ he swallowed ‘I think it’s best you look yourself.’

Billy watched his father snatched the scan and held it in trembling hands.

‘What the fuck is this?’ he said, his voice cracking. ‘If my only son has dick cancer–‘

‘Chocolate,’ the doctor said. ‘It’s all chocolate.’

Billy’s father slumped back into his seat, letting the scan flutter to the floor.

‘You mean…’

‘Yes. Nothing but pure milk chocolate.’ A frantic laugh escaped the doctor’s lips as his eyes finally settled on Billy’s. ‘It’s hollow even, like an Easter egg!’

***

The next few months weren’t easy. His mother had cried for weeks, then upon entering some sort of acceptance phase made it a point to drill home self-love and body positivity into Billy’s head. He’d ploughed through stacks of self-help books at her insistence, yet no matter how deeply he read there was nothing close to anyone suffering from a chocolate penis, nor thriving with one for that matter. He eventually sunk into a deep depression.

It wasn’t until a few years later when he’d come to accept his chocolate member, more or less. Sure, skinny dipping was still out of the question, but it wasn’t something he’d actively wallow about any longer. He’d even landed himself a girlfriend. All was good.

Until he finally lost his virginity.

It started out in a relatively normal fashion: her parents out, awkward small talk, a clumsy kiss that lead to even clumsier pawing, until they found themselves undressed and under the sheets.

Billy had come prepared. Given his condition, he knew he had to be extra careful, and you can’t go wrong with double bagging. The lights also had to be off – complete darkness. Couldn’t risk her seeing.

He suppressed a grin as she voiced her surprise at his hardness.

Forcing all thoughts of his chocolate Johnson from his mind, he focussed solely on the entry. After some fumbling, he made it in. He breathed a sigh of relief, then relaxed. This is it. This is finally it.

‘Fuck!’

A white-hot bolt of pain stabbed through his groin as he pulled back with a scream. His hands shot to his crotch and his breath caught in his throat as his fingers landed in a hot, sticky mass.

His penis had melted away.

‘What the fuck?‘

His girlfriend jumped up and switched on the lamp before Billy could protest. Her eyes landed on the melted chocolate smeared below Billy’s navel, his manhood reduced to a little wet nub. She screamed as she recoiled at the sight of it.

A loud squelch silenced her immediately. The condoms plopped to the floor from between her legs. Billy’s penis, still encased in its latex cocoon, was now nothing more than a twisted, misshapen brown lump.

The last thing he saw before he passed out was his last chocolatey inch dropping off onto the bedsheets beneath him.

The aftermath was the most humiliating thing Billy had ever experienced, including the time his penis had been chipped by a rogue football to the crotch. His girlfriend’s parents had returned home not long after the incident to find their daughter crying hysterically on the floor, with an unconscious Billy sprawled out on the bed wearing nothing but chocolate from the waist down.

The hospital visit wasn’t much better. Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, the medics had salvaged most of the chocolate and shaped Billy a new penis, albeit an inch or so shorter than the old one (‘We scraped all we could from your body, but there wasn’t much we could do about what was on the sheets, you see.’)

They’d even rescued the condoms. Billy looked on in horror as they shook out the contents onto a tray at his bedside. The average man ejaculates about 4ml of cum per ejaculation, whereas Billy approximated about £5.23.

‘Explains the pain,’ the nurse said.

They’d gone on to say that any chances of Billy reproducing were basically nil, given that the typical English coin rarely contained any traces of viable sperm cells, though they allowed him to at least keep the money. 

‘Enough to get that girl a card to say you’re sorry,’ his father said, before bursting into tears.

They sent Billy home a few days later with a newly reconstructed chocolate wang and a prescription for a Clone-a-Willy Ultra Realistic Penis Home Cloning Kit should anything else like this happen again.

He’d come a long way since then. Yes, he was now celibate, but he’d gotten himself an education, a home, a career, and just an all-round wonderful life. Dare he say, he loved it.

However, he thought, as he scrolled the comments on the cruel, sadistic e-card that had so often plagued him while innocently perusing his socials, some people are just sick in the head. What sort of person would wish such an existence on someone in the first place? What a horrific life – and for what? Just a bit of validation. The cruelty of some people never ceases to amaze me.

He sighed and sipped the last of his tea. He’d never understand how someone could be so insensitive. If the original creator of this tasteless joke could fathom for even a second what life was like for the poor bastards with chocolate penises that ejaculated money, they’d likely think twice before making light of such misfortune. Ruthless bastards.

Phoenix DeSimone

Firetrucks

Dr. Williams walked to the next patients room and pulled the clipboard off the wall. He read over the write up and shook his head. Why does this have to happen at least once a month? He tucked the clipboard under his arm and opened the door. The man was sitting on the operating table, winced over in pain. He was wearing camo pants and a Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirt. Dr. Williams put the clipboard on the counter next to him and stretched out his hand.

“Hey there, Mr. Brown. What brings us in today?”

Of course Dr. Williams already knew the answer to this, but he always found it beneficial to let patients speak for themselves – you might learn something.

“I’m in pain, doc.”

“I bet you are.”

“I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Well let’s talk about it.”

“I don’t know, man. It’s kind of embarrassing.”

“Life is embarrassing.”

“Uggh,” Mr. Brown said squeezing tight at his stomach.

“I doubt there’s anything you could tell me that I haven’t heard before.”

“You sure?” “Positive.”

“Well I guess it all started yesterday when I started my vacation from work.”

“Right,” Dr. Williams said sitting in the exam chair and putting on some latex gloves.

“Billy came over with a 30-rack of Busch and we decided we were going to get drunk as hell before I left for the Carolinas this weekend.”

“Where were you going in the Carolinas?”

“Myrtle Beach.”

“Sounds fun.”

“Yeah. Well anyway. Billy and I got drunk as hell, to the point that we weren’t quite sure if leaving for Myrtle today would be the best idea.”

“That sounds like a smart plan.”

Dr. Williams scooted closer to Mr. Brown in the exam chair.

“Right. We decided we’d spend today curing the hangover and leave for the beach in the morning.”

“Re-hydrating yourself is always a good idea.”

“That’s not how us country folk do it, Dr. Williams.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I sent Billy to the ABC store for a bottle of Jack. And he came back with Kassandra and Lora Anne.”

“Sounds like a party.”

“Oh it was, doc. We got so drunk that we weren’t even thinking of how messed up we were last night.”

“Hmm,” Dr. Williams said picking the clipboard back up.

“Well none of that explains how you ended up here, Mr. Brown.”

“I’m getting there.”

“Okay.”

“So it gets to around noon and I can tell that the hangover from last night is gonzo. It ain’t coming back.”

“I suppose that is one way to do it.”

“The only thing we had to make sure of now was not to get too drunk. I was itching to get to the beach tomorrow and I didn’t want to miss out. I haven’t had a vacation in three years, doc.”

“That’s horrible, Mr. Brown.”


Dr. Williams placed the clipboard down again and Mr. Brown let out a painful sigh.

“But none of that explains the situation you’re in currently.”

“I’m getting there, doc. So I told Billy that I was gonna lay off the booze for awhile. I didn’t want to wake up hungover. But by this point he and all the girls are really drunk. They wanted to do something fun. And at my house out in Partlow, there really ain’t all that much fun shit to do. The only thing I could think of was taking care of my raccoon problem in the back yard. I went and grabbed my slingshot and BB gun and the four of us headed out back. We started taking fire at the raccoons and throwing back shots of Jack Daniels.”

“Mr. Brown, I don’t want to sound like I’m not enjoying you’re story but–“

“Well the point is, that got boring after awhile to. The girls weren’t any good at hitting the raccoons and Billy was far too gone to be of any assistance to them. The girls decided we should go inside and play some drinking games, and the four of us headed in. We sat down at my couch and decided we’d play an old fashioned game of truth or dare.”

“That sounds like a good, sober, time.”

“Well the rules were that if you got dared to do something, and you didn’t want to do it you had to drink, and if you were asked a truth and didn’t want to answer you took a drink. So it was definitely a drinking game, doc.”

“Of course. But Mr. Brown, the point I’m getting at is how did you end up with–“

Mr. Brown let out an uncomfortable yell and squeezed tight at his stomach again.

“Well it was Lora Anne’s turn and she picked truth. Billy asked her if she ever took it up the rear before and–“

“Up the rear?”

“In the pooper, sir.”

Dr. Williams readjusted his glasses and shook his head.

“Well anyway, she didn’t want to answer so she took a drink. We all knew that meant she had, so we all bust laughin’. My turn was next and I picked dare. Billy thought about it for awhile. I guess his mind was still on the butt stuff. He dared me to shove something up my pooper. And now, I know that’s a stupid idea. I know that things aren’t supposed to go up there, but I didn’t want to drink. Like I said, I was itchin’ to get to Myrtle.”

“Mr. Brown, I –“

“And I remembered watching animal planet one time, and they said all animals have sexual receptors or whatever in their butt – including humans. And I remembered one time I was with this girl down in Tampa, and she tickled me down there, and it felt really good. So the way I looked at it – it was good, drunken fun. I thought about it for a minute and then walked off to the guest room. I found my nephew’s collection of hot wheels. Now the way I looked at it, something that little had to come back out. I went back to the living room, undid my belt, and let my trousers fall to the floor. I split both butt cheeks apart and then I started slid–“

“No lube?”

“I didn’t have any. But then I started forcing the fire–“

“Mr. Brown. I think I get the point,” Dr. Williams said putting the clipboard back on the counter and standing up.

“Believe it or not, I see this more often than you think. It’s actually… common. For lack of a better word. But your X-rays came back and I think it’s small enough that it’s gonna pass. You’re just going to be in some pain. I could prescribe you some pain killers and you can take some laxative and wait for it. Or we could operate. Remove it from the anal cavity.”

“That would be expensive wouldn’t it?”

“Yes it would.”

“I guess I’ll force the firetruck out.”

“Well I’ll write you a prescription and you’ll be out of here in a few minutes. Okay, Mr. Brown?”

“Okay.”

Dr. Williams stopped before pulling the door open.

“I have a question though, Mr. Brown. Why would you even think of doing anything like that?”

“You know, I don’t know, doc. I think life just gets boring sometimes. We all do the same things over and over again, consistently going nowhere and no one really knows why. It’s weird. Sometimes it’s nice to just mix it up, you know? Like when somebody gets their wife to pretend to be a nurse or something. Or when people just take off for the weekend not really knowing where they’re going. Life’s just plain shit, Doc.
You gotta mix it up.”

Mr. Brown winced and grabbed at his stomach again.

“I guess I learned I should make better decisions when I want to mix things up. Or something like that.”

“At least you learned something. But I guess you have a point. The nurse will be in with your discharge papers soon.”

“Thanks, Doc.”


Dr. Williams walked out of the exam room and shut the door. He wrote out a prescription for Vicodin and some over-the-counter laxative and handed it to the nurse.

“So what you think? Think he just came in for some pain pills?”

“I don’t know.”

“He sure looks like he would.”

“Maybe, maybe. But sometimes life just gets boring you know?”

“Huh?”

“So boring that you shove a firetruck up your ass.”

“He did what?”

“Give him this.”

Dr. Williams handed the nurse the prescription and headed off to the next exam room.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Top Shelf Dope

Bonsai Bonecki, a high school acquaintance, called it purple microdot LSD. And by the look of the tiny pill, the name described it perfectly.  

Bonsai was explaining the effects, the time involved to get off and the expected duration of the trip. He acted as though he were a doctor or pharmacist giving out information on a prescribed drug.  

“I think maybe I should take two, being they are so small,” I suggested.

“No man,” he said. “This is Owsley acid, it’s gonna get you where you wanna go. Believe me, this is top shelf dope dude.” 

It was 1971, and from what I knew, Stan Owsley was currently in prison. He’d been busted in 1969 and sentenced to three years for possession of three hundred thousand tabs of LSD. Given this, Bonsai’s claim was dubious at best, but I decided to play along with this future used car salesman’s bullshit.

“Owsley acid you say,” I said. “Where did you get ahold of this? Nevermind, I don’t need to know.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I scored it from a guy in Madison who was his roommate back in college. He just made up this batch last week and my buddy got it from him when he was just here in Chicago. Pretty groovy huh?”

I was never a big fan of the slang terms commonly used in the late sixties and early seventies. Whenever someone used those words or expressions, I felt as though I were in an episode of The Brady Bunch. ‘Far out’, ‘Can you dig it’, and the all-time cheesiest Greg Brady expression of all, ‘Groovy’. Okay, maybe I watched The Brady Bunch occasionally with my younger sister, but it was just to keep her company.

“Great story man,” I say. “You are a master of embellishment. Still, sell me a couple more for later. I may be inclined to up my dosage.”

“Sure Santa, how many ya want?”

“It’s Santi! You’ve been calling me by the wrong name since the first grade. You can refer to me as Santiago from now on. Give me four more. And I better get higher than Timothy Leary or we’ll have a problem. Understand?”

“Sure dude. I’m sorry Santiago. Who’s Tim Larry? Is he that sophomore kid with the long hair and the Camaro? I didn’t think he got high. That’s cool.”

According to the sales pitch street pharmacists have thrown at me over the years, I have been the recipient of a variety of exotic drugs from equally exotic places: Acapulco Gold, Michoacan Bud, Panama Red and various other strains of marijuana from as far away as Thailand. Cocaine from Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, every time it was “pure” uncut cocaine of course. Hashish smuggled in from Turkey, uncut heroin from Afghanistan and every country in Southeast Asia. LSD and mescaline fit for a connoisseur, medical grade speed and barbiturates. 

I however had tried the original Rorer 714 Quaaludes, so I may have known a thing or two about drugs myself. My cousin worked for Rorer as a salesman for a time. He stashed cases of Maalox and sample bottles of Quaaludes down in our basement. It didn’t take long for me to discover their value. I looked them up in my Physician’s Desk Reference. I started selling them at school but quickly had to stop after only two days. Kids were passing out in class, in the hallways and in the lunch room. It may have been  good advertising in a sense, but it was drawing the attention of teachers and school administrators as well. Seven times ambulances were dispatched to school in just those two days. Still referred to by students as the legendary ‘Quaaludes Class’ of ’71. After that, I only sold quantity to people I knew personally, letting them inherit the risk involved.

Truthfully, I don’t give a fuck where the dope comes from, so long as it gets me high. I’ve been disappointed more often than I’d care to admit, but my complaints always received the same response from dealers: “No one else complained,” “You didn’t do it right,” or “You’re full of shit!” In each case, the message was of course, “I’m not giving your money back.”

In this case, Bonsai may have lied about the origin of the LSD, but not about its potency. I verified as much shortly after taking my dose.

“Santiago what are you up to?” Bonsai asked. “Do you have any plans? I’m going to meet Lester, Joey, Janet and some others at the Plaza Theater to see Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Everyone is dropping acid for the movie. Ya wanna come with?”

His voice echoed, repeating every last word, changing pitch from a screeching high to a low booming bass. Every sound — car horns, music playing, birds chirping — all resounding with reverb. I attempt to answer his question, but I’m momentarily distracted by the movement of my hands creating light trails. The acid was coming on strong, but I couldn’t think of a reason to refuse his entreaty. Besides, it seemed like a really bad idea, so of course I agreed to tag along.

“Better leave your car and I’ll drive,” Bonsai said. “You’re pretty high. Nobody will mess with it here. They know it’s your brother’s car and he’ll kill anyone that touches it. Why do you have his car? Does he know you’re driving it?”

I’d been driving my older brother’s Studebaker Hawk at the time. A judge had recently ordered him to join the military if he wanted to be exonerated on the assault charges filed against him. Better than being sentenced to prison.

“Ya he doesn’t have any idea,” I said. “He joined the Navy and got stationed in Norfolk, Virginia.”

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said as we hopped in his Volkswagen Bug.

“Okay, let’s giddy up,” I said. “Hey I’ve got a question for ya, how did you get the name Bonsai anyway?”

“You don’t remember?” he said. “It was you that started it. Show and tell, first grade, Miss Elkin’s class. I brought in a Bonsai tree from home and you started calling me Bonsai Bonecki. It stuck, then after that everyone called me Bonsai Bonecki. I’ve always like the name too, you know.”

“I’ve gotta tell ya, I don’t remember any of that,” I said. “I’m glad you like the name though. Do you have your own Bonsai tree? Do you talk to it? I read somewhere that plants enjoy music and conversation.”

Damn I was high. As we cruised along, I opened the vent window, watching as the gust of air swirled with brilliant colors. The sunlight’s reflection danced on everything it touched. 

“Now I’m starting to get off too,” Bonsai said after awhile. “I dropped mine ten minutes after you. My legs feel like rubber. Do your legs feel like that?”

“What legs are you talking about?” I said. “My entire body is like Jello. I’m about to leave it behind and astral project. This shit is righteous, it’s magic, I feel like I’m floating.”

“Don’t flip out man, I’m high and can’t handle it right now.” 

“Relax Bonsai, I’m not going to freak out, I’m having a great time.” 

I look out the windshield, not believing what I was seeing up ahead.

“Bonecki, look where the hell you’re going!”

I had no idea how we got there, but we were presently driving on the grass median of the highway, headed straight for the central pillar on the viaduct. 

“Bonsai, hit the brakes!”

“This music is driving me crazy,” he says while fiddling with the dial. “I hate the fucking Archies and this Sugar shit song…”

On impulse, I grabbed the steering wheel and pushed it to the left, causing us to veer into the oncoming traffic in the other lane. Miraculously, we weren’t killed right then and there, careening past every honking car.

Flying over the embankment, we exited the highway and landed in the bowling alley parking lot. Bonsai still had one hand on the radio dial and the other on the steering wheel, with my own foot pressed on the brake pedal.

“What the hell just happened Santiago?”

“I think you became distracted and drove on the wrong side of the road, but somehow we survived unscathed.”

“That was crazy man! We missed every car!”

“Maybe I should drive, what do you think?”

I wasn’t in any shape to drive myself, but I assumed I could do better than Bonecki in his state. He never answered back, just sat there with the engine still running, the radio blasting.

“Hey Bonsai, I think I’m gonna walk. We’re both too high to drive right now. I’ll tell you though, this really is top shelf dope!”

I closed the door and walked away singing, “Ah, sugar / Ah, honey, honey / You are my candy girl.” Why on earth was I singing this song? I hated the Archies too.

Dan A. Cardoza

Killer Good Looks

Certain things stick to you, like a drunken friend’s late-night sleaze bar zen. “Jack, good sex is like an out of control forest fire. The delicious irony is that you pass out wet, but in your dreams, it’s raining matches.”

Goodwill laid me off a good six months ago. You know the one on Sepulveda? Budget cuts and all, they said. I was their go-to fix-it man. I get why nobody buys fix-it shit anymore, except the Russians. Everything is easier to replace nowadays.

In order to salve my low self-esteem, I’ve stayed at home and milked unemployment for nearly three months. But free and money won’t cure your indigestion from watching endless Oprah reruns. So recently, I took a new job. I was so bored. Plus, truth was we were hurting for money, Mia and I. 

We’d been shacking up and rubbing two pennies together for almost six years now.  

We’d both won at karaoke the night we met. Me: Burning Love. Mia: Billie Jean. For God’s sake, she moonwalked a new shine across the dull floor of my heart that night. We ended up walking home to the edge of my king-sized bed.

I’ve been fired from seven short jobs now, four long years without a raise. I’ve never received a frozen turkey or fresh ham for the holidays, not from one single employer.

Mia is not at all happy with any of my career choices, my lack of any success. Who knew?

She says, “Jack, you’re clueless. Every syllable out of your mouth is total bullshit.”

“I bring home a check don’t I? How about the perks? I don’t see you asking me to return any of your sex toys, the ones I fixed at my new job? How about that $75 vibrating Buddha you use for your meditation?”

“What the hell kind of gift was that Jack,” Mia fumes. “For Christ sakes, and you gave it to me on Valentine’s Day to boot?”

Mia stomps off toward the bedroom, each step a war drum. The slams shut behind her, and next comes the damned click-clack of the lock.

It’s hard to forget that sound: a whip crack at the Midnight Garden of Good and Evil, Michael Jackson snapping his fingers. 

I am locked out once again.

***

I arrive early at work the next morning. It’s not so much that I’m ambitious. The sofa springs are twisting through the couch like sheet metal screws.

As soon as I step through the stock room door, my boss Jenkins shouts, “Hey you, I have a rush delivery, the bachelor physician at the Stanford Ranch subdivision.”

“Jesus, its only 7:45 A.M.,” I say.

 “What did you say? He’s a damned good customer. Why is time your business?”

His expression lets me know they’ll be no coffee first this morning.

“Dr. Bennington wants his new toy ASAP, understood? Now, go!”  

His mother’s blue money financed the business. She knows her son is a failure. But Blanche is a fixer like me. She repairs her son’s bankruptcies, settles his expensive divorces, and pays for his prostitutes, only she doesn’t know it. I fix the expensive broken toys of love and loneliness, program the gently used A.I. sex dolls, and repair Zen Buddha vibrators for women who feel empty inside.

The elderly Mrs. Jenkins lives in France. She has early Alzheimer’s. Her only son Carl has convinced her that Evil Pleasures is a horror boutique in downtown L.A. In reality, it’s a Hollywood A-list go-to shop for uncomplicated love, for sale or rent. But really, the clientele and location are not all that important. For the right kind of money, all love is for sale, anywhere. 

Carl Jenkins is a cruel, driven man, eternally angry. You’d think he wouldn’t be appealing to the opposite sex. But the kind of women he sees don’t seem to mind. After all, anyone can purchase the right brand of love.

And, with the amount of money his mother gives him, he falls in love a lot. Carl’s even been known to hit up on my Mia. Last time it was at the company Halloween party. I was a pack of Camels and she was a bottle of Jack Daniels. Mia and I never complain about Carl because we need the money.

***

A hardly known fact is that in Los Angeles, all the freeways hiss like snakes. But today, it’s rainy and windy, so all the thoroughfares are sizzling like butter on a hot sauté pan. I’m moving from fast lane to fast lane, and on the Artesia, all the lanes are fast, especially when you’re running late.

“Hang on Maverick,” I say to my passenger, stepping on it as I zoom into the commuter lane.

Maverick pays no attention to me. He’s auditioning for the hard-to-get role, channeling a moody James Dean as he stares idly out the window.

Maverick is dressed in a wife-beater and ripped jeans. His tan shoulders ripple and glisten, even in the dull light of morning. His arms and chest are inked with hot, expensive tattoos.

I imagine him asking me, “Jack, aren’t you going to call stud muffin?”

Maverick is new to L.A., a gorgeous specimen and oh, so very vulnerable. A sexy amalgamation of raw flesh and innocent morality. He’s made it all the way here from Kansas City, Kansas.

Impulsively, the words escape my mouth:

“I fantasize about you, Maverick.”

***

This rush hour, urgent delivery crap is too much. I’m pissed off.

So, my inner devil says, “To hell with it all.” Out loud, I say, “I need the tip, better buckle up Maverick!” 

How cool can he get? He just sits there, jutting out his pretty jaw just so.

“Hell yes!” I holler with abandon, creeping the useless Prius up to 80 miles per hour. Stink-eye headlights flood the rearview as we go flying past all those stuck in the L.A. gridlock.

Maybe we’ll get a big tip from Dr. Bennington after all. Then I won’t have to sleep on couch again tonight. Meanwhile, Maverick couldn’t care less about my crumbling marriage, let alone my sleeping situation.

On the same worn psychological sofa, in a dark corner of my mind, Alter-Ego-Jack smirks as he whispers, “We both know Mia is cheating on your ass, and not just with Jenkins.” 

There’s no evidence of that!” I scream at the top of my lungs, feeling increasingly reckless.

“Maverick, you are so damn hot,” I suddenly blurt out. I’ve kicked open the saloon doors of my vocal cords. I hope Maverick understands. I hope he doesn’t think I have Tourette’s or anything like that.

***

Weaving in and out of traffic, I manage to clip the fender of a shiny, new BMW. I barely miss side-swiping a limo that has a Harvey Weinstein look-a-like inside of it.

Maverick remains frozen in silence. He just stares straight ahead through all the madness. I can’t help admire his steely blue eyes, reflecting poise and internal strength.

“This isn’t going to end well,” Alter-Ego-Jack whispers. “You’ve picked a hell of a time to come out of the closet.”

“No shit Jacky-Boy!” I spit back at him.

I know Maverick must think I’m crazy by now.

***

“Passenger, slowly open your door and exit the vehicle, hands in the air.”

Maverick and I both sit frozen in place on the side of the road. It’s just like a scene from one of those really bad cop shows. You know the ones with the hot rednecks.

“Passenger, open your door and exit the vehicle with your hands up!”

Fear comes zooming in on me from the rearview mirror. It looks like Pinhead from Hellraiser, the sexy horror film, the one with the original director. A miniature voodoo doll prickles my throat. Outside, it’s a nothing but a creepy carnival of clowns with guns. Maverick sits stiff in my peripheral vision, somehow still radiating sexiness amidst the chaos of the situation.

“DRIVER, tell your passenger to exit the vehicle, NOW!”

For a nanosecond, I imagine the female officer on the megaphone as a thirteen-year-old girl. She’s one of those San Fernando Valley Girls, the type with a horny trigger finger. I imagine her rehashing our story for happy hour at the Blue Bar on Spring Street, where all the cops hand out.

“I am not going to die today,” I say to myself.

In a panic, I kick off my right shoe, peel off my sock, and stretch my leg over Maverick to toe the passenger door open. Next, I kick him in the side as hard as I can, sending him tumbling out of the Prius. He looks like the cartoon character, the Tasmanian devil, as he spins and rolls down the steep embankment.

So I’m selfish, whats new?  

As I slump down in the driver’s seat, my voice betrays me once again:

“Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie and Clyde! La la la, dah dah dah, I can’t hear you! La la la, dah dah dah!”

Suddenly, everything is in slow motion. Maverick continues to flip ass over tea kettle down the long hill to the bottom. Along the way, his shimmering body erupts in a hail of gunfire. The bullets eats away at him like shiny electric minnows. By the time he stops moving, he’s been reduced to a husk of silicone and circuitry.

Maverick hips mechanically unwind for the last time. Elvis has left the building.  

***

“You can’t make this shit up”, I say to my captive audience of murderers, thieves, and rapists. Today, I am just another someone, one of the crew, at the L.A. County Jail.

“Damn dude,” says an old man who left most of his sanity splattered somewhere in ‘Nam. “You may not get the death penalty, but this is Cali, you’ll get life for sure!” He laughs his crazy parrot laugh. “That’s for second-degree murder or manslaughter!”  

***

Four months slowly crawl by. 

Mia has moved to Florida. She’s supporting her new boy toy in college. She tells me what he lacks in bed, he makes up for in potential. He’ll have a future in computer programming, she says.

In the meantime, I seem to live here at the 7-11 Quick Mart these days. I’m pulling extra hours so I can pay for my bad side of town rent, plus restitution to Dr. Bennington for destruction of property.

Doug Hawley 

Dark And Stormy 

It was 10:11PM and the wind was raging, and the rain was frightful.  The house was shaking and creaking.  I could have tolerated it if I had felt better.  My stomach was rumbling, and I could barely keep my food down.  My intestines were as water and sweat poured down my face, even as I was chilled.  My head throbbed, though I hadn’t had a headache in years before this night. 

Even though it was taking my health both mental and physical, I must complete my task before midnight.  As much as I had tried to finish earlier and avoid the torture that would attend an incomplete job, I was thwarted by those who were supposed to support me in my quest.  Those that I had counted on were late and inadequate in their portion of the complex riddle that I faced. 

Even knowing the horrors of being late, I had to lose the torment caused by the contents of my stomach, but even that didn’t help.  My stomach continued to roil and now my discomfort was doubled by the taste of bile in my mouth and its foul stench in my nose.  Combined with the aura of my fear and horror, I was in every way a pariah. 

At 10:35 I thought that I would succeed, only to be plagued by diarrhea.  After an abbreviated cleanup, I smelled the wretched odor of my latest calamity.  By the time I could return to my task the clock showed 10:50. 

By 11:14 I felt short term triumph as I had succeeded.  Oh, but the results would ruin my life, even if I could deliver them by midnight. 

At 11:57 this broken man delivered his tax return to the post office, just in time to avoid late penalties.  In the process of finishing, I rediscovered capital gains that I had already spent.  With no time to find another tax preparer, my man Steve Hinson had to have a fatal heart attack.  With no experience in taxes, I was forced to take over the job.  I owed $5,678 to the Feds, and $2,897 to the state.  Why hadn’t my accountant warned me and why was my investment firm Grubber & Grubber so late with my tax forms?   

What bothers me most by this hit to my budget is lost time with Scherezade.  I’ve had her on retainer for several years now alternating her masochistic and sadistic sessions.  She costs a lot but is number one is so many categories.  BDSMagazine rates her at the top in all these categories – costumes, whips, dildos, vinyl, fur, torture, and pain.  Just the thought of her tightens my pants and makes my mouth go dry.  

There would be no upgrade to my three-year-old Mercedes, no dates at fine restaurants, and Starbucks visits would be cut back to four a week.  Has any man ever been as miserable?

Stephen Baily

Bet You Can’t Eat One

–So, madam. How long were you and your husband together before you left him?

We were married a little over two years, your honor.

—And prior to that? Did you live with him for any length of time before your marriage?

My religion forbade it, or I’d have discovered the truth about him in time to call off the wedding.

—In your petition, the reason you give for seeking release from your marital bonds is your husband’s vulgarity. Would you mind being more specific? How did this vulgarity manifest itself?

For one thing, in his way of disposing of his—forgive me, but I can’t think of a more respectable word for it—his boogers.

—Just to be clear, you refer to bits of solidified mucus picked from the nose?

That’s correct.

—And what did he do with these? Flick them on the floor?

Not that I noticed.

—Fix them to the bottom of his chair?

I never caught him doing that either.

—Then what? Surely you’re not going to tell me he ate them?

The use he put them to was even worse than that. Try to imagine how I felt when I discovered—concealed behind the curtain on the windowsill by his side of the bed—what I at first sight took to be a rather dirty ping-pong ball. Except it definitely wasn’t made of—whatever ping-pong balls are made of.

—Do I understand you to mean—?

You do, and not only did he threaten me with physical harm if I dared to throw the thing out, but he kept adding to it every day, till it grew to the size of a peach, then of a grapefruit, and finally of a basketball. It was all I could do to stop him from exhibiting it at the county fair, he was so proud of his creation.

—Something tells me this wasn’t the  extent of his offensive behavior.

Unfortunately, no. He proved to be similarly devoted to preserving his toenail clippings.

—What for? He could hardly hope to mold these into spherical shapes.

Of course not, but he was religious about storing them in an old shoe box he liked to open and sniff whenever he was feeling blue. 

—I see. And is that it?

Not quite. What repelled me about him more than anything else was—not so much the loud belches he was in the habit of emitting even in mixed company but the disclaimer he invariably followed them up with.

—Feel free to quote it for the record.  

“Pardon me, I meant to fart.”

—In light of all this, I wonder you managed to stay with him as long as you did.

What made things easier was that his job—he’s regional sales manager for Bumfree and Sons, the toilet-seat manufacturer—took him out on the road every other week. That left me ample opportunity to swap horror stories with Mr. Rubson, our next-door neighbor, who was trapped in an equally unhappy marriage.

—His wife specialized in vulgarity, too?

Just the opposite. In her morbid fear of fleas, she never let him enter the house or sit down on the sofa without vacuuming him first from head to toe.

—I assume your religion, that you spoke of earlier, prevented the relationship between you and this sympathetic neighbor of yours from crossing the line into impropriety?

Till the day we made the mistake of drinking a gallon of Chianti together. I don’t remember which of us took the first step, but Elmer had hardly begun to unbutton when we were startled by the sound of a key in the front door. 

—Why is it adultery is so prone to interruption?

I couldn’t say, but I managed to keep my wits about me and, in a flash, bundled Elmer into the closet, just before George—pale from the bug he’d come down with—entered in a sweat.

“Fix me a pot of tea, will you?”

When I returned from the kitchen with the tray, George was sitting on the edge of the bed in his BVDs, painstakingly clipping his fungus-riddled toenails.

“Do me one more favor.”

With my heart in my mouth, I opened the closet door and, crouching to remove the shoe box, observed with relief that Elmer had concealed himself so well behind the hanging clothes only the tips of his tassel-toed loafers could be seen, if you looked really hard.

“Ah, that does a body good. I think I’ll try to get some rest now.”

After I restored the shoe box to its place, I tucked him in and left the room. I was confident I’d be able to sneak Elmer out once George—ordinarily the soundest of sleepers—drifted off, but, every time I looked in, he was tossing under the covers, no doubt because of the fever he was running. Hours later, when I had no choice but to climb into bed alongside him, he opened a rheumy eye and looked at me wearily.

“Maybe if we talked a little,” he said. “Have you heard the one about the proletarian buzzard who inherits an old mansion and determines to join the upper crust?”

Like the dutiful salesman he was, George was always trying out new jokes on me, with a view to incorporating them into the line of patter he used on prospective customers. 

—That’s all very interesting, but if you could get to the point?

The point is that the first thing the buzzard does is to hire an old friend of his, a rabbit down on his luck, to help him revive the mansion’s neglected garden. 

“We’ll need fertilizer,” the rabbit says after tasting the soil. “I’ll take your new Bentley and get some.

During his absence, a camel in a tuxedo appears at the front door.

“You advertised for a but-laire?”

So aristocratic is the camel’s bearing that the buzzard at once puts him in charge of the house, before resuming his exertions in the garden. He’s busy clearing weeds with a hoedag when the rabbit, toting a heavy sack, returns and rings for admission.

 “Who the hell are you?” he demands when the butler opens up.

“I’m Mr. Ca-mel. I answer the bell for Mr. Buz-zard, who’s out in the yard.”

“Oh yeah? Well, do me a favor.”

“Certainly, monsieur, if I can.”

“Tell him Mr. Rab-bit is here with the shit.”

At this, I laughed so hard George took it for a tribute to his knack with a narrative, but the truth was I feared I’d heard giggling in the closet and was doing my best to drown it out.

—Did you succeed?

Beyond my expectations, because, soon afterwards, George and I both fell asleep.

In the morning, he was feeling so much better he let loose with a long contented fart.

“Pardon me, I meant to belch.” 

—That’ll do, madam. You can stop right there. The court has heard more than enough about your husband, and is persuaded to rule in your favor.

You’re saying my petition is granted? I’m free to marry Mr. Rubson?

—If he’s free to marry you. What happened to him anyway? Did he escape in one piece?

As soon as George bounded from bed into the shower—where I knew he could be counted on to spend at least ten minutes perfecting his yodeling—I hastened to extract Elmer from the closet.

“Poor darling, you must be starved.”

“Not a bit,” he assured me as I hurried him out of the house. “Those potato chips you smuggled in for me were delicious!” 

Judge Santiago Burdon

Los Sureños

LOYALTY is what we live by. RESPECT is what we die for.

I’ve never had an attraction to guns. I’m not against people owning them, I’m just not a big fan of them myself. In most cases if a situation requires you to carry a firearm, then it’s probably a situation you should reconsider. Most are familiar with the saying, “If you point a gun at someone, be prepared to use it.” Unfortunately, and I’m not proud of the fact, there’ve been instances where I’ve had to adhere to this motto.

Gator and Crazy Carlos were Chicanos I became acquainted with through my employment in the Mexican cartel. I had dealt with them on a number of occasions and they considered me a carnal (friend), accepting me even though they considered me a “guero” (white guy), ignoring the fact I was half Mexican. Side note: Mexicans and Chicanos are two vastly different cultural groups. Mexicans are born in Mexico, some having migrated across the border. Chicanos are born in the United States with a Mexican ancestry. Never should the two of them be thought of as the same. 

I’d gained the respect of these particular Chicanos because I spoke Spanish, and they found me quite hilarious, laughing at my almost every comment. Both of them had a fixation with guns; owning, buying, stealing and selling a large quantity of firearms. Between the two of them, they were in possession of enough guns and ammo, their stockpile could be considered a small arsenal. 

Gator was an ex-con, having done time in San Quentin. He was the quiet type, soft spoken, letting his facial expressions and body language do most of his talking. His message was often interpreted without him ever having to say a word. When he did speak in his quiet tone, you listened, his voice commanding your attention. His body was a tattooed marquee advertising his gang affiliation, girlfriends, children and an assortment of religious symbols; the Virgin of Guadalupe, Jesus, angels, etc. He also had a large drama mask with SUR XIII tattooed across his chest, which I learned didn’t mean he was a fan of the Ancient Greeks. He often commented on my own lack of body art, attempting to persuade me to submit to getting tattooed on numerous occasions. I politely declined, using a fear of needles as an excuse, which he grudgingly accepted although the tracks on my arms told another story.

Crazy Carlos was a character straight out of some dark, bizarre movie. In fact, the word ‘crazy’ fell far short of describing his general demeanor. He’d have to be clinically diagnosed as a psychopath. I had no doubt of his homicidal tendencies, although I don’t believe he was ever actually convicted of a murder. His rap sheet included multiple assaults, robberies, and almost every other felony on the books. It was rumored he had a collection of fingers he had cut off of rival gang members, stashed somewhere in a freezer. He had just been released from the Arizona state penitentiary in Florence eight months ago, but he’d never bothered reporting to his parole officer. Despite all this, he was surprisingly friendly and almost even likable. However, he had these crazy eyes… Oh, those crazy eyes! I was terrified by his glare, although never letting on to how much it scared the shit out of me.

In any case, I had just finished driving a load of cocaine up from El Paso to Los Angeles, delivering it to the Chicanos in question. They’d invited me to their house to kick back with a few beers while I waited to get paid for the run. It seemed like an extremely bad idea, so of course I naturally accepted their invitation. 

The house was located in East Los Angeles, a territory I would never entertain entering under any other circumstances. I felt it might’ve been taken as a sign of disrespect if I’d turned down their hospitality. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? My decision to accept their offer is a perfect example of why common sense is not really all that common.

The front yard and porch of the bungalow were guarded by a small group of ominous-looking vatos. Various athletic teams were represented by their jerseys with ball caps, but the common theme among them was blue, the signature colors of Los Sureños. For once I’d gotten lucky, wearing my Cubs jersey to fit in with the guys. Still, they didn’t attempt to conceal their menace as we approached. In typical moronic style I waved, greeting the crew in blue with a friendly “Como te va?” (How you doin’?)

“Carnales, escucha yo!” (Homeboys, listen to me!) Carlos yells at the muchachos.

“This is Santiago, street name Bigotes, and he is family. He is to be treated with respect. Do you all understand?” 

He puts his arm over my shoulder, patting my chest with his other hand. 

“You fuck with him, you are fucking with me! Entiendas?”

They nod their heads, indicating their understanding.

“Carlos, venga ese,” Gator orders. “Quit screaming at everybody.”

We enter the house and I am completely taken by surprise. It’s not at all what I expected inside. It is absolutely immaculate with contemporary furniture, fine rugs, and Latino artwork adorning the walls. 

“You want a beer, Bigotes?” Gator asks. “Also, I have some cocaine that will make you so high, you won’t feel your face. You like cocaine, si Bigotes?”

“I don’t take cocaine to get high,” I reply. “I just like the way it smells.”

“You’re a very funny guy ese,” Gator laughs, slapping me on the back as he makes his way into the kitchen.

I take a seat on the plush brown leather sofa, admiring the artwork and the Mayan masks hanging on the walls.

“Bigotes, what are you doing, pinche guey?” Gator yells at me. “You can’t sit in here! Get up! My grandmother will beat the hell out of us both with a broom if she finds out. Follow me out the back door to the garage.” 

“Desculpe carnal, I had no idea. Your grandmother lives here with you?”

“Well, I live with her, really,” he confesses with a touch of embarrassment. “She raised me and my sister. My father was always missing in action, met him only once. Dear mom was a junkie and died of an overdose when I was six. Mi abuela (my grandmother) took care of us, and now that she’s older, I don’t want her to live alone.”

“You’re a good man, Gator. You’ve got a good heart.” 

We head out into the backyard, and in comparison to the house’s interior, it looks more like a military compound. The garage walls have been reinforced with bricks, and the yard itself is enclosed with an eight-foot chain link fence, topped off with razor wire. Up on the garage roof, there’s some type of crow’s nest or lookout point towering over the confines of the enclosure.

I enter the garage, following behind Gator. I can hear Carlos already inside, singing along to a classic tune by NWA. Unlike the main house, the garage’s interior is exactly what I’d imagined; three large sofas covered with colorful Mexican quilts, two enormous televisions, one being used for video games and the other playing porno, a stereo with four giant speakers in each corner, and two refrigerators with terrariums placed on top, one containing scorpions the other tarantulas.

Besides us, there are three attractive Latinas present, along with two other guys who appear to have no interest in them whatsoever. Instead they scream at one of the TV screens, deeply involved in their video game.

The aroma of marijuana fills the air; I’m sure I’ll get high by just breathing it. There’s graffiti covering the walls as well as nearly every other surface, street art in lettering I am unable to decipher. It’s a disability I attribute to my suburban upbringing.

I wait to sit down until I’m sure it’s okay to do so without causing another incident. Carlos slaps me on the back, hands me a beer, passes me a lit joint then pushes me down onto the nearest sofa.

“So que piensa guay?” he asks, dancing around with a grin on his face. “Pretty fucking righteous place, huh? This is our home, our place, our church. And you are the first outsider to ever be in here.” 

“Gracias jefe,” I say, coughing as I pass the joint back to him. “It’s an honor.”

“Bigotes, do you maybe want some fuckie fuckie, or a blowjob from one of the chulas?” Gator offers. “It’s okay, they’re not anybody’s novias. They’re members, so it’s part of their duties.”

“Appreciate the offer but I think we need to discuss my payment. I was told it would be ready for me upon delivery. And with all due respect, I would like to take care of business first if you don’t mind?” 

“Carnal, you need to lighten up. Tranquilo,” Gator says. “We were not expecting you until tomorrow, but as usual, here you are a day early. Just like you, Bigotes. You are never late and the count is always good. I know why you are El Jefe’s favorite.”

His words are flattering, but the soft tone of his voice still manages to carry a hint of menace.

“We don’t have the plata right now,” he continues. “It’s gonna take us a few hours to pull it together. I’m sorry, but we’ll have it for you later tonight.”

“Okay,” I accede, “but understand I need to call my contact and report all is well. Then return the rental van and get to the airport for a ticket to Tucson. Or should I consider a hotel for the night, taking care of my tasks in the morning?”

“Bigotes, you can stay here,” Gator offers. “We will take you to the airport in the morning. How does that sound?”

“I just think I’d be more comfortable at a hotel,” I attempt to explain. “Don’t want to be a problem for anyone. Plus, I’m beat from the run and could use a good night’s sleep.”

He sets a plate piled high with cocaine on the table in front of me. 

“Here,” he says. “This will keep you awake until the money arrives. Now relax and have some fun.”

He doesn’t have to twist my arm any further. I obey his suggestion, snorting up a righteous line of coca. After three minutes, my face is so numb you could pull my teeth. Damn, he wasn’t lying about the stuff. Unfortunately however, it puts me on edge, as I’ve never been quite comfortable getting coked up in such unfamiliar environments.

Moments later, two of the sentries that had been posted out front enter the garage, hurrying over to Gator with an urgent message. His expression instantly changes from the friendly guy from before into that of an enraged beast.

“Call every member!” he yells, louder than I’ve ever heard him before. “Every carnal, now! Those motherfuckers just shot two of ours. Pinche Norteños are gonna pay! Tell Calle 18 and the Playboys to meet us in 30 minutes. Death is coming to dinner. Let’s go, Bigotes!”

I could have sworn I thought I heard him say, “Let’s go, Bigotes!” That wasn’t what I heard, was it?

The garage is swiftly occupied by a large contingency of gang members. I rise to my feet as they begin to move the couches, pulling back the rug to expose the flooring underneath. Several sheets of plywood are pried loose, revealing a large hole in the concrete where their arsenal is stored. They start handing out a staggering array of weaponry — AK-47s, Mac-11s, Uzis, M16s, M14s, MP5s, and a variety of handguns as well — to each of the assembled gang members. Carlos pushes an AK-47 at me. I push it back, but he pushes it at me again, and I’m forced to take it from his hands.

Next, I’m handed a kevlar vest.

“Just in case someone gets lucky and shoots your ass,” Carlos laughs.

Now, you should know that bulletproof vests are not exactly bulletproof; they’re more like bullet resistant at best. Nothing is 100% bulletproof, and while the vests may stop a .44, .45, and small-caliber rifles, 9 mm and .357 rounds travel at a higher speed, often piercing right through. A well-aimed shotgun blast can penetrate the body armor like it’s nothing at all. So, what you see in the movies and TV shows… all total bullshit.

Carlos brandishes some pruning shears, furiously snipping them close to my face. “These are for dedos (fingers) to put in my collection,” he laughs, shoving them in his back pocket. “Now we have some fun!”

As for myself, I’m not at all excited to participate in this impromptu round of gang warfare. It’s not that I’m a coward; I’ve experienced a few gun fights in my life. As I’ve grown older though, I’ve developed a sense of survival by avoidance. This type of recreation is what I consider to be a very high-risk activity, but I’m unable to excuse myself without sounding like a pussy.

Meanwhile, Carlos is helping me with the kevlar vest, grunting as he tightens the straps around my sides. In this moment, I’m reminded why I always make “business first” my priority, but this time unfortunately I have failed to follow my own philosophy. Now I’m coked up, stoned, haven’t been paid or returned the rental van yet, and I still haven’t even reported my status to El Jefe either. I must be suffering from JRS (Johnny Rico Syndrome)!

Soon I’ve become just another body in the wave of warriors being pushed out the door, unable to fight against the current, forced to go along with the flow. As we reach the street, Gator grabs my arm and pulls me into a white lowrider with him.

“You better ride with me, Bigotes. You will be safer, the other members don’t know who you are and just might cap your ass.”

“Thanks Gator,” I say, “but I’m not quite sure I want to be a part of this little confrontation…”

“You’ll be fine. Just stick with me, okay?”

I squeeze into the backseat with three other heavily armed muchachos. As I attempt to get situated, I inadvertently point my gun at the driver’s head up front. Gator grabs the barrel and pushes it down, nearly causing me to pull the trigger on accident. 

“Who’s fucking side you on, pinche guey?” he says. “You gonna get one of us killed!”

“I’m sorry carnal, it won’t happen again.”

“Vamonos jefe,” he orders the driver.

Just as we begin to pull away from the curb, however, a police cruiser pulls up and parks in front of our caravan, blocking the street ahead. Two more cruisers pull up behind us with their lights flashing.

A unmarked black car pulls up alongside us. Two detectives exit the vehicle and motion to Gator to come with them. 

“Damn, it’s Detective Graham from the gang unit. I guess they want a pow-wow. Everyone just be cool, let me see what they want.”

Gator exits the vehicle and walks toward the two detectives. Meanwhile, the uniformed cops have taken up positions behind their cars with weapons drawn. The tension grows thick as we wait to see what happens next.

After a few minutes of heated discussion with the detectives, Gator returns with a disappointed look on his face.

“They arrested the three Norteños who shot our brothers,” he tells us through the window. “They don’t want to see any revenge in the streets. They’re armed and ready to put down a gang riot. Graham said all that’s going to happen is that a lot of people are gonna get arrested and killed. So we’ll wait for another day to get blood for blood. Head back to the house, I’ll be there in a minute. Gotta tell the other vatos.”

I’m so damn happy with this development, it takes all my will not to let it show.

As we file back into the garage, someone turns on the stereo, and we slowly begin to restock the armory. I open the refrigerator, grabbing a beer and pausing to check out the scorpions on top of it. When I turn around, there’s a group of muchachos standing behind me with angry looks on their faces.

“Hey gringo,” one of them says, “you just go in people’s fridge, take what you want without asking? You weren’t raised with any manners?”

“Who the fuck you think you are, guero?” says another one. “You don’t give us no respect.” 

“Desculpe carnales,” I say. “Gator told me to help myself, and since I wasn’t going to ask one of you to get me a beer, I got one for myself.”

They all start laughing, slapping me on the back and giving me high fives all around.

“It’s okay, we were just fucking with you,” one of them says. “You were ready to go to war with Los Sureños, now you are one of us.”

I laugh it off and help them put the room back together. Gator returns with Carlos close behind, walking straight up to me without a word to anyone else present.

“Bigotes, I have to let you know that you showed me the true person you are today. You were ready to come with us and defend our honor. I want you and everyone here to know you are family para seguro (forever).”

He places his hands on my shoulders as Carlos hands me a blue bandana.

“Escucha jefe, I have to go and pay respects to the families of our dead brothers. Luis will drive you to a hotel, and I will come by with your money later tonight. Is that okay with you?”

“Sure patron, absolutely fine. Who is this Luis that’s going to drive me?”

“The carnal you almost shot in the car. He will take you, I hope?”

Gator laughs as he walks away.

James Babbs


STORY TIME

Barlow lifted the bottle to his lips and took a long slow drink.  The beer was cold and he thought it tasted especially good today.  Barlow kept glancing up at the ceiling fan and watching the fan blades spinning around and around.  He lifted the bottle again and took another drink of the good beer.

Barlow had been trying to write a story but he couldn’t get the words to cooperate.  Barlow kept seeing bits and pieces of the story in his mind as if it were a movie playing on a screen but putting it into words on the page had Barlow hung up.  He decided he was better off just drinking a few beers as the heat of the late afternoon sun began to wane.

When the doorbell rang Barlow took another long drink before putting down the bottle.  He went to answer the door and found a pretty woman with long dark hair standing in front of him.  Barlow covered his face with mock disappointment. 

“Oh,” he said.  “It’s only you.”

“Ha, ha.  Very funny.”

Barlow laughed before hugging the woman and pulling her into the room.  “Gwen,” he said, “how have you been?”

“I’ve been good,” she said.

“Well,” said Barlow, “you look great.  Care for something to drink?”

“Oh,” Gwen said.  “I thought you’d never ask.”

Barlow led Gwen into the kitchen and sat her down at the table across from his place.  “I’ve been drinking beer,” said Barlow, “but I think I have some wine up in the cupboard.”

Barlow went over to the cupboard above the stove and pulled down two bottles of red wine.  “I was saving these for a special occasion but for you I’ll make an exception.”

Gwen laughed.

“Ah,” said Barlow.  “At least I could always make you laugh if nothing else.”

“Sometimes,” she said, “that’s all I needed.”

Barlow opened the wine and poured Gwen a glass.  He sat down across from her and picked up his beer.  He raised the bottle toward Gwen.  Gwen raised her glass and looked at him.

“What should we drink to?” Gwen asked.

“To death,” said Barlow.

“To death?”

“Yeah,” said Barlow.  “It hasn’t found us yet.”  He touched Gwen’s glass with the bottle and drained the rest of his beer.

Gwen took a drink of wine and smiled at Barlow.  “Is this that same cheap stuff you were always so fond of?” she asked.

“Of course,” said Barlow.  “Only the best for you, babe.”  He went over to the fridge and pulled out another beer.

“So,” Gwen said, “you been writing anything, lately?”

Barlow sat down and took a drink of his beer.  He leaned back in his chair with the bottle still in his hand.  “Now, Gwendolyn,” he said, “you know I don’t discuss my writing.”

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “I forgot.”

Barlow took another drink and studied the label on the bottle.  “I was thinking,” he said, “of writing something about two old friends.  You know, a man and a woman who’ve known each other for a long time.”  Barlow took another drink.  “Maybe they were even lovers at one time but for whatever reason it didn’t work out.”

“What happened?” asked Gwen.

“Well,” said Barlow, “maybe the man was a fool.  Maybe he didn’t know how to be in a relationship.  Maybe he had been alone for so many years it was hard for him to relate to another person.”

“That’s sad,” Gwen said.

“Well,” said Barlow.  “Maybe there was something wrong with the woman.  Maybe she was crazy or something.  Beautiful, but crazy.”

“No,” Gwen said.  “I like the other explanation better.”

Barlow laughed.  “Yeah, well, sometimes they still get together.  Sometimes, they still get together and drink and talk about old times.”

 “Speaking of drinking.  I could use some more of that cheap wine.”  Gwen turned, looking for the bottle.

“Oh,” said Barlow.  “I thought it was on the table.  I guess I left it on the counter.”

Gwen laughed.  “That’s okay.  I’ll get it.”  She got up and brought the open wine bottle with her to the table and sat back down.

“You know,” said Barlow, “it isn’t much of a story.  Something unexpected needs to happen.”

“Like what?” asked Gwen as she refilled her glass.

“I don’t know,” said Barlow.  “Maybe the man gets up and suddenly kisses the woman.”

“What if she doesn’t want to be kissed?”

Barlow took another drink of beer.  “Maybe the man gets up and slaps the woman across the face.”

“Maybe,” Gwen said, “the woman slaps the man across the face and then storms out of the house.”

Barlow held the beer bottle in front of him.  “If she was going to do that,” he said, “why’d she come over in the first place?”  Barlow looked at Gwen.  “She’s probably just sitting there, waiting for the man to kiss her.”

Gwen drank some more wine and then set her glass back on the table.  She sat there for a moment studying her hands.  “Okay,” she said.  “What if the man gets up and comes over to the woman and he grabs her and pulls her close to him?  What if he brings her face right up next to his and she can smell the beer on his breath and maybe, even, what he had for breakfast that morning?  Then he kisses her.  Not in any kind of gentle way but a really rough kiss.  Almost violent.  And then the woman pulls out a gun and shoots the man dead.”

Barlow leaned forward still holding on to the beer.  “What?”  He said.  “Why the hell would she do that after they’ve known each other all of those years?”

Gwen was touching her glass with just the tips of her fingers.  She shrugged.  “I don’t know,” Gwen said.  “Maybe it was something that had been building up for a long time and she finally just snapped.”

Barlow finished off the beer and put the bottle on the table.  His hand was a little shaky so the bottle fell over and hit the table.  Barlow picked up the bottle again.  “Hey,” he said.  “What if the woman suddenly got up and kissed the man and he didn’t want her to kiss him?”

Gwen laughed.  “Nobody would believe that.”

“Yeah,” said Barlow still holding the empty bottle.  “You’re probably right.”