Matthew Licht

Sucked Into the Cult

Harry Doss was in a foul mood when he got off the flight from Houston. Fat passengers had crowded him from both sides. Infants shrieked in the rows ahead and behind. A stewardess spilled coffee in his lap. Aside from the pain and the un-businesslike stain, his cell-phone was ruined in the accident. The plane landed nearly two hours late.

He fumbled his pockets outside a phone booth in the Arrivals zone. He didn’t have enough change to make an urgent call. Harry was about to miss the most important meeting of his career.

A hooded figure swathed in sunset hues chose this moment to approach.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry Doss saw someone shove a book in his face. He wanted to lash out, or at least be verbally abusive. But when he saw her, he was paralyzed and struck dumb. He forgot his business appointment. He forgot his struggling electronics corporation. He wanted to kneel, surrender his soul and devote himself to the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

“Have you accessed the godhead today, sir? For a small donation, the Ultimate Truth can be yours. If you would only give me a few minutes of your valuable time, I can explain…”

Oh Hell yes. Harry Doss put down the germ-laden receiver he’d intended to use as a bludgeon. Instead of telephone change, he pulled business expense cash from his pocket. Twenty, forty, sixty bucks was a small price to pay for Ultimate Truth. Each additional banknote made the woman who was proof of God’s existence to shake and jiggle in surprised delight.

Harry Doss went from harried businessman to horny Everyman, eager to cheat on his wife.

Betty-Sue Doss was a good homemaker. He’d kept his promise to forsake all others, but the godhead had given a sign that his fast must end.

Harry and the cult woman went to sit in a quiet spot. She opened the book Harry had so expensively bought to a picture of a bald-headed, prune-faced gentleman with flowing gray nose-hair.

“This is Swami Vishnaswoti.” She sighed at the name, and pulled back the hood of her orange sweatshirt.

Harry looked to see whether she was blonde or brunette, and was shocked to discover she was as bald as the dude in the picture. He pictured her nude, being shaven by other saffron-robed figures in some initiation ritual, with muted drums and a droning chant.

If there was a God, Harry wondered, why should some codger with excess nose-hair get to stare at, and probably fondle, his most glorious creation.

Harry’s previous attempts at infidelity were a history of failure. Women he met on business trips and at conventions always declined his invitations to come back to a hotel room for meaningless, wonderfully mechanical adultery. One of them, when he asked her why not, said, “Oh, come on, darling. You’re the kind who always says, ‘I can’t do this. I love my wife.'”

What followed was a kiss that made Harry Doss wonder what might’ve been for months.

This time,’ he thought, ‘it’s not going to go that way.’

He dropped his voice to interrupt the flow of Swami-blab.

“What’s your name, young lady?”

“Kryst…I mean, Davadip.”

“I’m Harry. Listen, what you’re telling me is just what I wanted—needed—to hear. Our meeting is no coincidence, it’s synchronicity. I’m in a spiritual crisis. I’m lonely, Davadip. Lonely and scared of what lies ahead. Perhaps you and Swami…”

“Vishnaswoti.”

“…can relieve a troubled soul.”

Sales meetings be damned. Hello, bankruptcy court. Goodbye, wife and kids. Harry Doss, minor-league business manager, was gonna grab him some cult cunt.

They exited the airport and got into a cab.

“Kranepool Hotel,” Harry told the turbanned, bearded taxi driver. “Step on it.”

Harry’s head buzzed with visions of nude Davadip in a hotel shower stall.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Oh my God mister, I didn’t say I was going to a hotel with you.” Davadip sounded like she was about to cry.

Harry Doss felt his spirit drain. “Oh I’m sorry. Of course not. But I swear I only want to talk to you. Tell me where we could go instead.”

“Driver, take us to the Ashkanoma Ashram. It’s at the end of Crapper Boulevard.”

But the driver refused to go to that outlandish address unless he got extra cash up front. Harry took out his wallet and was bled further. He’d have a tough time explaining these additional expenses, on top of the missed conference.

They entered a bad neighborhood. Texas Prisons looked more inviting than the Ashram. Davadip, however, sighed happily when she saw her home.

“Hurry up and get out,” the cab driver said. He threw the car into reverse and was gone.

On the dirt driveway, Harry was surrounded by hulking men in orange hooded sweatshirts. Their faces boded ill.

“Rama-lama, brothers,” Davadip said. “I’ve passed out all my tracts, gathered my donation quota, and I’ve brought a new truth-seeker to visit. Uhm, mister? I forgot your name.”

“Harry. Pleased to meet you guys, but I think I gotta go…”

He stuck out his hand for shakes that never came. Gruff voices muttered words of friendship and welcome. Strong arms embraced him, and dragged him towards the tumbledown shack made to look like some hillbilly’s idea of the Taj Mahal.

In a candle-lit darkness that reeked of incense and sweat, Harry Doss was relieved of his briefcase, then his clothes. “Hey! Knock it off!”

He stopped struggling when he saw he was being lightened and stripped by Davadip and several of her cult Sisters. Davadip looked into his eyes. “Relax,” she said. “Let go. Let it happen.”

She unzipped her sweatshirt. Harry’s mouth hung open at the sight. There was even a trickle of drool. Here body was a milky white expanse, like a glimpse of the distant Himalayas.

“Oooh look, sisters. He’s in need,” one of the cult women whispered.

“Wouldn’t he like to join with us,” said another, pushing her bosom together.

“But he’s not ready yet.”

“Aw, poor guy. Let’s give him a taste.”

Eyes can only open so wide, but Harry’s tried to break the World Record. Davadip’s squeaky voice split the air.

“Wait, sisters! I found him. That means I get to minister to him first…”

Her eyes glowed with spiritual love and bliss.

Harry Doss thought he’d died and gone to Heaven, or Nirvana, whichever was heavenlier. His brain turned itself off. He reverted to a primitive state.

“Glaah…Baaah….Phlurgle…”

Davadip eventually moved aside and let her sisters join in. What was left of Harry’s brain exploded. He saw pink visions of the Holy Ecstasy Beyond.

“That’s enough, for now,” said the senior shaven-headed Den Mother, zipping up her sweatshirt. Harry nearly broke down at the assertion.

“Bluh! Duh! Noooo!” He felt a hooded sweatshirt being pulled over his head.

“Time for you to grovel before Swami Vishnaswoti, o luckiest brother.”

“Oh it’ll blow your mind.” Davadip planted a chaste kiss on Harry’s cheek.

The men of the cult dragged him away with his orange drawstring pants around his ankles.

They dumped him on the rough floor in a dungeon rank with body odor. He heard a low hum, felt himself observed through the blackness. Someone struck a match and lit a candle, then several others. Harry saw the face of Swami Vishnaswoti.

He was even more wizened than in the photo Davadip had shown him. The Swami had grown a white mustache, Harry thought. Then he saw it wasn’t a mustache at all, but the most luxuriant nose-hair in the history of the world. The Swami’s eyes were hypnotic.

“Uh, hello,” Harry said, and instantly felt a sharp smack to the back of his head.

“Silence before the Heavenly Master.”

The Swami regarded Harry placidly. “You seem like a no-nonsense kinda guy,” he said, with a heavy New York accent.

“Uh, sure. I guess.”

“OK, I’m gonna level with you. We’re on a holy mission here, but it’s a business deal too. You start at the bottom and work your way up, through prayer and devotion to the cause. You hip?”

“Yeah. But…”

“Here’s the deal: for every hundred bucks you bring in, you get five minutes with one of the girls–your choice. I mean, it’s up to her, of course. You gotta get a sister’s consent and approval first, but you’ll find most of your new sisters to be quite receptive.”

Harry was about to say, “But I’ve got a wife and kids and a job and…”

Another thought occurred. “Business, huh? What’s in it for the girls? If this is some kind of brainwashing scam, I’m gonna call the cops.”

“Relax, hero. They’re in on the deal. For each C-note a sister brings home, she gets a personal worship-session. And for every dupe… that is, for every new devotee a girl converts, she gets to enjoy Holy Communion with the Master. And that’s me, baby.”

Harry snorted.

The Swami chuckled, his nose hair twitched.

“How ’bout a little demonstration? Been a slow day. Brother Hasham, go fetch Sister Davadip. This dude’s not official yet, but let’s say he counts.”

“Yeah, o master.”

The Swami slowly unwound himself from his lotus position. “Feel free to join in,” he said. “With the chant, I mean.”

The drone grew louder. Harry’s eyes adapted to the eerie candlelight.

A sitar twanged. Muffled drums beat. Harry Doss thought of the business conference going on without him, of his wife Betty-Sue living out her daily routine. Then Davadip entered the basement and Harry thought no more.

“O Divine Teacher, thank you for this most sublime opportunity.”

The Swami gave a curt wave. “Shake it, baby.”

Davadip began to dance. Her sweatshirt fluttered in the air as she leapt and flew all around. By the time she finally bared it all, there wasn’t much left of Harry Doss besides a pile of volcanic ash.

Dewy with sweat, Davadip approached the Swami.

Vishnaswoti leaned back against a brocade cushion and let his devotee have her way.

The chant grew louder.

“Rama-lama! Looba-gabba!”

Harry Doss joined in like a zombie.

“Rammalamma! Loobagooba!”

The show was disappointing. If Harry Doss had been in his ordinary state of mind, he would’ve thought, ‘Big deal.’ But Harry Doss wasn’t in his ordinary state of mind. He was chanting at the top of his lungs.

You might see Harry Doss—he goes by Hare Das these days—at an airport or a street corner near you. His eyes shine with missionary zeal. He is a forceful proselytizer. The first time he brought a hundred dollars back to the Ashram, Davadip told him she knew he could do better. So he’s working on bringing in a cool thousand. He knows he’ll get to Heaven one of these days. The Master told him so.

Hank Kirton

Elmer

So, at the plump, achieved age of forty-eight I decided I wanted an imaginary friend. I’d never concocted one as a child so I had to make up for lost time. I would have to invent one from scratch. I couldn’t just fetch a lovable character from my past and dust him off, dress him up, make him new. I also didn’t need an invisible playmate. That wouldn’t work anymore. It was far too late. The meager imagination of my youth had rusted to dust. It was just as well, I held no interest in running around the yard or building forts with cushions. I needed a friend who would be roughly my age—40-50, with similar interests. I would need a list of characteristics.

I didn’t want a lovable animal or fanciful creature. No friendly monsters or fairies or winged entities of any kind. I wanted a middle-aged humanoid.

And he should be a man, like me.

The first thing I came up with was the name. Mr. Elmer J. Walters. The name was based on nothing and no one but it held a vaporously familiar ring. Or not quite a ring. Maybe a chime. One note of a tiny chime nearly erased by long rain.

I gave Elmer a career, made him a press agent. He helped publicize plays and operas and symphonies. I’d always had an unhealthy attraction to show business. Elmer would satisfy that. He’d give me entrée into that footlighted headspace. I decided he should also be a former actor. He had a talent for Shakespeare and trod the boards around the globe.

Elmer was a widower. His wife Theresa died of consumption in 1918. That was another thing. Elmer lived in the Roaring Twenties. He wore a tweed three-piece suit, long coat, bowler hat and two-tone oxfords. He smoked Murad cigarettes and had syphilis. He was violent when he got drunk. Because of his Broadway connections he was able to get his hands on good Canadian whiskey. Sexually, he was a prism. He lived in New York City (as did I) and after a performance he would slip into the night and murder prostitutes with a piano-wire garrote.  As soon as the struggling ceased, Elmer would flee into the shadows. Once at home, he’d drink whiskey and cry until dawn finally broke open his moaning head. Then he would masturbate and insert sewing needles into his scrotum. He often fantasized about eating human flesh and would cut sections of epidermal skin from his thighs and consume them, pretending it was the flesh of his mother, Hattie Walters. Hattie, a bitter, abusive hysteric could be an imaginary friend in her own right.

At a blind tiger one night Elmer got into a drunken knife fight with a longshoreman named Chester Pough. Chester stabbed Elmer in his right eye, making him half-blind for the rest of his life. Elmer wore an eye patch over his tough, scarified eye socket. At the age of 48, Elmer finally succumbed to his dripping syphilis and died penniless in a boarding house in Jersey City.

Elmer is now a woeful ghost and we drink brandy and smoke cigars at night.

I finally have my imaginary friend.

Jacky T

The Gift

The worst thing about being a male eunuch is the rehearsals. Castrati must spend hours on pre-warm-ups, warm-ups, travel to and from various churches and halls. The adherence to a busy schedule and strict routine is maddening.

You are supposed to maintain the passion to be the best, a drive to succeed, push for excellence, all when you don’t have the balls for it.

To us, the gift of a wondrous pre-pubescent voice merely becomes a forgettable byproduct. Like most in the possession of a natural gift, we learn to unlearn its virtues. Most of us even forget how lovely we sound to others, as we spend our time bitching about the choirmaster’s demands. Tuneless and without gaiety, we complain to each other and bond on this alone. The one time we feel in harmony.

Ernesto Tomasini, long past his glory days of song, came to our local church once to deliver a motivational speech. From the pulpit in a now bland alto he confessed to us confused pre-teens, “I regret not having been castrated, I would have perfectly happily given up my masculinity for my art.” We didn’t know whether he was making a morbid joke or was just that deluded in his fanaticism for the castrati of old.

Your masculinity, dear Ernesto, is exactly what drives you to make such entitled statements.

Granted, as he left the stage we shot daggers at him, but no one went as far as to cut him down to size.

In contemporary times, we are a rare bunch. Some of us are still deliberately created. A fanatic father who fancied his historical predecessors (in name only) constructing the end of a lineage. Men bearing the famous eunuch names of Broschi, Moreschi or Majorano.
These contemporary men who wished to bring a classic artist into the world; a martyr class for the arts. More assured than dollars and time spent on a child at a piano who may just end up chasing girls, they proceeded with the sharpest tutelage.

No wonder most of us possessed such an acerbic wit.

The lack of proper endocrinological function in these castrated boys would lead to some physiological changes that assisted our renowned sound. The rib cage would bulge, unmarred by the hardening of bone that comes from correct androgen hormonal balance, allowing extended notes to be held. The vocal cords would remain stunted in their growth, halting the formation of an adult male. It was an imperfect science of crafting the perfect singer’s body.

Others, like myself, were erected by accident.

St. Paul, the most famous of Apostles, was initially a persecutor of Christians… before seeing the light of how fun organisational bureaucracy could be. In his direct angry letters to the Corinthians, he clearly outlines an edict for the ages, mulier taceat in ecclesia, “women should be silent in church.”

Under a roof as devoutly splendid as the Sistine Chapel’s, adhering to the big daddy Apostle Paul was a must. So up until 2017, only males were to sing in the church’s choirs to preserve piety in the performance. But who was going to nail those vocal ranges of a contralto or mezzo-soprano that women did so deftly?

By the 1600s, we were essential to the success of any opera in Italy. Without us, you wouldn’t even get a write up in the local paper. They needed a famous face, puffy and pious, glossed in makeup, staring back from the poster. An Italian opera without a boy’s bloated frame clad in women’s dress, gangly limbs flopping alongside was an omission of the finest treasure of all. Yes, we were known to possess an inhuman artistic wonder no other could compare to.

One of the other boy’s fathers, a proud Italian-Australian man said to me once. ‘You are the lucky ones! People are automatically moved when you sing!’
He, of course, was referring to ancient times when we were lauded in opera seria for our especial voice. ‘You deliver visions of heroic virtue!’ He continued, gesticulating with pinched fingers.

He didn’t mention how we were mocked openly for our odd appearance and uneducated stage presence. The latter felt the only thing I knew to be automatic.

Over time we became more of a myth to those not in the know, as the practice was becoming unfavourable in a more humane world. Like messa di voce, where a note begins very softly and subtle, rises to an orgasmic climax and then fades away into obscurity, thus was our path.

By the 1800s in Italy, though publicly we were paraded for our virtuous voices, the creation of our lucky caste was hidden from even the most erudite private eye.

The most respected musicologist of the times, Charles Burnley writes:

“I enquired throughout Italy at what place boys were chiefly qualified for singing by castration, but could get no certain intelligence.”

Everyone passed the buck it seemed. They wanted the beauty without the barbarism.

He goes on to lament the fact that the castration didn’t even lead to an angelic voice most the time, ‘at least without one sufficient to compensate such loss.’ The practice made worse to him by the fact he found many cases where the boys simply sounded awful, their voice a moot point.

Thanks Uncle Charlie, I’ll stay in tune for you.

So here I drive, in 2020, (a year that rings like a sci-fi future has arrived) to an audition, myself part science experiment, partly fiction.

Today I will audition for a role in Il pomo d’oro, ‘The Golden Apple’, to compensate for the lack of one in my throat. I will try for the part of l’Elemento Del Foco, ‘the Element of Fire’, to mock the tiny ember of my own desire.

As well as my own castrati brethren, I will compete against the Jarousskys of the world, sopranists and countertenors mimicking our sacrifice. Men with their vas deferens still intact who have perfected the art of imitation of what came so unnaturally to us.

My Father’s words ring truer than ever. I can picture him as he says it. A scrapbook clipping that appears every time I utilise my talent. I watch him as a 7-year-old, as he drags on a cigarette and tries to re-order a deck of bent cards by suit. As much interested in unique metaphors as praise, he scowls at me.

‘Play the cards you’re dealt, boy.’

A tired cliche, fit for all the tired tropes I live.

I hope I get the part. I’ll sing my heart out for my Father, his drunken wrist & cruel blade.

What else am I gonna do with this gift?

Judge Santiago Burdon

Women Always Leave Me

 She was putting on her jacket getting ready to head out.

“Where did I put my goddamn keys?” she hollers from the other room.

I was sure her question was rhetorical so I didn’t answer, fearing I might receive a response marinated in anger. I just sat on the couch and continued watching TV. Next I could hear her throwing shit around the kitchen, shouting profanities, pounding on the countertop, all of this accompanied by intermittent groans of frustration.

“Have you seen my keys?” she whines, her voice resonating throughout our small apartment. “I could’ve sworn I just had them…”

Suddenly she’s standing right before me, and blocking my view of the set.

“Are you gonna answer me?” she demands. “What’s your fucking problem?”

Now it’s obvious the question was intended for me to respond.

“No love, I haven’t seen them,” I reply, adopting a sympathetic tone. “Would you like for me to help you look?”

“If it wouldn’t be too much of a chore.”

As I get up to assist in her search, she goes to turn off the TV, to ensure I won’t be distracted. As slaps the power button, we both the familiar jingle of keys as they drop from her hand onto the floor.

“I believe I’ve solved the mystery of where your keys are,” I say while laughing. “They’ve been in your hand this whole entire time. I’ve done the same thing more than once myself. It’s your mind playing tricks on you, letting you know that you’re only one step away from insanity.”

“It’s not funny,” she snaps. “So you’re saying I suffer from some type of mental deficiency?”

“No, that’s not what I meant. All I was trying to do…”

“I’m sorry,” she says. “Just having one of those days when everything feels off-kilter. And no, don’t you dare ask if I’m on my period!”

“When have I ever acted in such an insensitive manner?” I ask. “You talk to me as though I’m some college frat boy. A dim-witted  shit for brains with the manners of an inbred hillbilly. What have I done, or most likely not have done, to cause you to treat me with such contempt?”

“Santi, I need to know what we’re doing!” she says. “Where we’re going? There’s no plans for our future. It’s the same routine over and over. It’s no fun anymore. Are you going to be a drug-crazed addict your entire life? Are we going to stay together? Do you love me?”

“Jesus Christ Jess, which question do you want me to not have an answer for first? Come here, sit down. Let’s talk about this and see if we can possibly come up with some answers to your questions.”

“Oh no you don’t! You’re not going to pull that shit on me! I know exactly what you’re doing, you silver tongued con-man. I’m savvy to your used car salesman pitch. I’ve witnessed you convince someone you owed money into not only feeling guilty for asking for payment, but they end up lending  you more on top.”

She had me pegged. I’d planned to sweet talk her into a state of tranquility, knowing that eventually she’d drop the subject.

“Jessica, why the hell are you still here with me if you’re so displeased by our current arrangement? You act as though it’s a deplorable lifestyle and I’m the cause for your every touch of sadness. There aren’t any bars or chains preventing you from leaving. You’re not a hostage or prisoner being kept against your will. You can’t just bushwhack me with all these questions, expecting me to have answers for the future. I’m not a fucking psychic. If you’re unhappy with me and the way things are, put your ass on the tracks, leave, take the Midnight Train back to Georgia and your ex-husband. There won’t be any hard feelings or harsh remarks whatsoever.”

“But Santi, I love you… Why can’t we live a normal life and be happy, grow old together? We could travel through Mexico, Central and South America like you promised. Your addiction is out of control and getting harder for us to afford. I’m not peddling my ass on the street anymore and I want you to get clean. Is that too much to  hope for?”

Honestly, I didn’t know how Jessica had tolerated this lifestyle for as long as she had. I would’ve laid odds she’d have been a memory long time ago already.

Women always leave me. I’ve had dogs that stayed with me longer than any woman I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. If I wasn’t so sure they’d been to blame in most instances, perhaps I’d start to consider that I might be the reason for their departure.

“The only normal I’m aware of is in Illinois,” I tell her, “and no way I’m going back there. I’m not saying our lifestyle is typical behavior, but you knew the circumstances before getting involved. I’m correct, right?”

For some unknown reason, women make it their priority to change a man after becoming romantically involved. They don’t fall in love with the man you are but with the man they want you to be. She knew what the box contained before she opened it. I’m aware that I may not be a dream gift, although I’m certainly not a consolation prize either. My baggage has always been perfectly transparent. I’ve made no excuses for my indiscretions or for relationships that have gone awry in the past. True, I may be far from perfect, and possibly a bit crazier than most would care to realize, but I am what and who I am.

“I know, Santi,” she says. “I just never thought I’d ever feel the way I do for you now. You’re so smart, you’re funny and make me laugh. You have so much potential and it hurts me to see you wasting it. Plus, you’re easy on the eyes, even good looking I’d say most of the time.”

“Saying ‘you have potential’ is just another way of saying ‘you’re not as dumb as you look.’ I don’t know what you want from me. What do you want me to do? I’m not going into another rehab program. Rehab is for quitters, and I’m no quitter!”

“How can you joke at a time like this?”

“Yeah, well, I’ve got a question for you. Why do you have all those keys? Did you buy a car? Get a job as a maintenance woman or a real estate agent or something? And where are you heading off to this early in the morning?”

“Early in the morning? It’s five in the afternoon, dumbass, and I’ve been working at Jeff’s Pub for the last five days. I told you I quit being a prostitute. I have the keys because I open and close the bar sometimes. Oh yeah, and Jeff doesn’t want you to come in when I’m working. You forgot I was working there, didn’t you? Perfect example of your apathy concerning our relationship.”

“I didn’t forget, I’m just unable to recall.”

“Ya, I’m sure. I’ve gotta go, babe. Don’t go pawning the TV for dope! I bought it so we could watch movies together. Well, so do you?”

“Do I what?”

“Do you love me?”

“Did you misplace your keys again? This all started because you couldn’t find your keys. Let’s not go through this again. Yes, I love you.”

She gives me a long sweet kiss goodbye and sashays out the door.

I entered a rehabilitation program two days later. Jessica came to visit on Wednesdays and Sundays, but after about a month she never returned. I stayed for ninety days and got clean. Entered a halfway house, but that’s the worst place to attempt to quit using. The main goal for most residents is to go on getting high while hiding it from the administration, so I left after a week because I wanted to stay clean.

I never heard from or saw Jessica again. Later Jeff told me she ran off with the apartment manager, Harry, Larry, Terry or whatever the fuck was his name.

Women always leave me.

Zane Castillo

Canis Interruptus

When John’s beloved dog died from old age, he decided to make some changes in his life. He was a natural loner who always had a hard time making friends, but when he got Lancelot five years ago from a dog pound, the beagle had brought so much happiness to his life. Now that Lancelot was gone, he did not know how he could go back to a life of absolute loneliness.

After a few days of grieving, he scanned Craigslist’s personal ads hoping to find someone. There were a lot of senior citizens seeking friends or a romantic partner as well as dominatrices looking to fuck. He decided to write his own personal ad and formulated a quick description of himself: Single Male, Late-twenties, 6’0, average build. Enjoys movies, music, and books. Also, a dog-lover. Seeking new friend for possible romantic relationship.

He posted the ad and went to bed feeling hopeful for the first time in days. When he checked his email the next day, he saw that he received many messages from a variety of women. He weeded through the list until he came to one that sparked his interest. Her name was Melanie and she was a makeup artist who was looking to meet a nice guy. She stated that she loved dogs and had recently witnessed the death of her own dog a few months before. This completely drew John in, and he gave her his number. She quickly called him after he hit the send button. He was surprised and nervous but found himself talking to her for more than two hours about a variety of common interests especially her love for dogs. She had lost a collie a few months ago to cancer and it had completely devastated her. John told her about Lancelot, and they decided to set up a meeting in the middle of the week. John got off the phone feeling completely elated.

The meeting was at a Starbucks, so John arrived there early, and grabbed a Frappuccino to await Melanie’s arrival. He looked at every woman who entered the Starbucks and tried to figure out which one was Melanie. A short thin dark-haired woman walked in and looked around the shop. She had eyeglasses on and was wearing a light blue summer dress with white flower prints on it. She spotted John and walked to him with a smile on her face.

“John?” she asked as she got to his table. “Yes. Melanie?” he stated as he rose out of his seat and extended his hand to hers.

“Yes, it’s nice to meet you.” She shook his hand and sat down across from him. John’s nerves went away as they talked. Melanie was both easygoing and had a great sense of humor. They sat and talked in Starbucks for a few hours and made plans for dinner at Melanie’s place on Saturday.

Melanie was constantly on his mind as he dredged through the rest of the week. He was amazed at how easy it was to talk to her and that they had so many things in common. On Saturday, he showed up to Melanie’s apartment with a bottle of wine in hand. Melanie kissed him on his cheek when she opened her door and John instantly blushed.

The apartment had many framed photos of a collie scattered throughout. There were many shots of Melanie and her dog in various settings. John gazed at the pictures with a small smile on his face. She cared as much about her dog as he did.

When they finished eating, they sat close on the couch drinking wine. John desperately wanted to kiss her but felt afraid that he would be rushing things. Melanie gazed at him and set her glass down. She leaned into him and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. John kissed her back timidly. Then Melanie pulled his head down to hers and kissed him hungrily. She pressed herself against him to which John found himself getting hard. He cupped her breasts and ran his hands down her sides. She got up and took him by the hand to her bedroom. It had been a while since John had had sex and he prayed that he would be able to do a good job or at best a satisfactory performance.

There was a stream of light coming in through the blinds that displayed the bedroom. He kissed her and roamed her body with his hands. They quickly got undressed and kissed hungrily, devouring each other’s mouths and bodies.

As he moved to get on top of her, John bumped something furry near the bed. He looked up and saw a stuffed collie looking at him.

“Whoa!” he shouted in surprise. Melanie turned her head quickly to look back at what frightened him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just Delilah. I’m sorry she scared you, I should have told you.” Melanie explained. John looked into the blank eyes of the stuffed dog and felt unnerved.

“Ah, it’s ok. She should have barked to let me know she was there,” He said to ease the moment. Melanie laughed beneath him and pulled his head back down to hers and kissed him.

As they had sex, John noticed that Melanie would stroke Delilah’s fur. Her hand would reach out and brush Delilah, no matter what position she was in. John didn’t know what to make of this and tried to ignore it. When Melanie came, her hand was on the top of Delilah’s head.

They spent the night together and had breakfast in the morning. John went home afterward feeling incredibly happy. He went to Melanie’s apartment the following Friday to pick her up to take her to see a movie. As he walked in, he noticed that Delilah was in the living room looking at him as he entered. John felt uneasy with the dog’s dead eyes staring at him.

“Looks like Delilah came out from her hiding spot,” John said with a nervous laugh.

“Yeah she wanted to meet you with your clothes on,” Melanie said with a laugh. John laughed uncomfortably. He was not sure if she was joking.

They went to the movie theater and watched a romantic comedy that they both enjoyed. They went back to Melanie’s place where she brought out a bottle of wine. John sat on the love seat facing away from Delilah’s vacant stare. They chatted for a while as they drank their wine with John trying to ignore Delilah’s presence. John had to piss badly from the wine so went to the bathroom. She told him to meet her in the bedroom.

John felt quite happy as he peed. Melanie was amazing and he could not seem to get enough of her. He exited the bathroom and went into the bedroom in anticipation. Melanie was already under the covers. He walked to the bed and saw something to the right of the bed. Delilah was back in her usual spot staring at him. John hesitated for a moment then quickly got undressed. They fucked while Melanie’s hand darted out to Delilah’s fur constantly. John felt himself getting annoyed but tried not to show it. Before he fell asleep, John noticed Melanie’s hand rested on Delilah’s head.

They made plans to go to a Farmer’s Market the following weekend so that they can make dinner together at John’s place. John cleaned his apartment entirely on Friday night in preparation. Melanie arrived at his place in the afternoon to pick him up. He walked out of his apartment in excitement. He saw her sitting behind the wheel with sunglasses on and a huge smile on her face. John thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He walked towards the car and saw a figure in the backseat of the car. He squinted to see more clearly in the sunlight.

Delilah stared back at him from the rear seat. John faltered in his step but quickly regained himself and headed to the car. He got in the passenger seat and Melanie gave him a deep kiss. She pulled the car out and started driving. John peered in the side mirror and could see Delilah perched in the seat behind him.

“So, Delilah wanted to come along for the ride?” he said with a trace of annoyance.

“Yeah she needed some fresh air,” She said as she turned back to the road.

John gave a small chuckle. He looked at Melanie a few times as she drove. He was trying to figure out if he was dating a crazy person. Other than the stuffed dog, there wasn’t anything wrong with her. No signs or red flags were calling his attention. Just the goddamn dog.

They arrived at the Farmers Market and stepped out of the car. John glanced at Delilah in the back who stared out the left passenger window. Melanie came up to him and gave him a long kiss then grabbed his hand and led him towards the vendors. He put Delilah out of his mind and focused on having a good time with Melanie. They picked up some produce and sampled many foods while they browsed the various vendors.

When they headed back to the car, Melanie leaned against John’s arm as they walked. John had completely forgotten about Delilah until he saw her in the rear passenger window. He instantly tensed up and tried to ignore Delilah as he piled the groceries in the backseat.

He hopped in the front seat and closed the door. Melanie drove to his place and they began taking the groceries upstairs. After all the groceries were out, John started to head upstairs when Melanie opened the rear passenger door. He turned his head and watched as she reached in the car for Delilah.

“Oh, you’re bringing her up, too?” He asked warily.

“Yeah, she can’t spend the night in the car. She will suffocate in there,” She stated in a cheerful voice.

John watched as she headed up the stairs with Delilah in her arms and into his apartment. He stood on the stairs for a few seconds feeling bewildered. He knew he had to say something. It was now or never. He went inside and saw Melanie putting the food on the kitchen counter. Delilah sat on the couch staring at him when he walked in.

“Hey, where is your skillet?” She asked him as she worked her way around the kitchen. John grabbed it from a cabinet and gave it to her. He leaned against the counter and watched her with an anxious look on his face. She turned to him as she grabbed a cutting board.

“What’s the matter? Is something wrong?” she asked him as she stopped to look at him.

“I have to ask, what is with the dog?”

“What? Delilah?” she said with a curious look on her face.

“Yeah, why did you bring it here?”

“Well, I couldn’t just leave her alone at home,” she stated.

“You do know that she’s not alive, right?” John asked cautiously.

“Now, where are those plates?” Melanie said as she began looking around the kitchen.

“Melanie, you can’t ignore what I just said. You treat Delilah as if she is still alive.”

Melanie laughed. “Well, she likes you and wanted to see your place.”

“Come on, Melanie. Enough of this, she is not alive.”

“She is alive!” Melanie shouted as she slammed the skillet on the stove. John stepped back in fright.

“Don’t you see? Yeah, she may be dead physically but in spirit, she is still alive. Why can’t you see that?” Melanie yelled as tears streamed down her face. She leaned against the counter crying.

“I thought you of all people would understand!” She yelled between sobs.

John felt guilty and ashamed. He reached out to comfort her.

“No, don’t touch me! Don’t you dare try and pity me like I’m crazy!” She screamed at him. “I thought you would understand. You lost your own dog, but no I was wrong. You’re just like everyone else!”

She pushed past him and ran out of the apartment. “Wait!” he called out after her, as she slammed her car door and started up.

“Melanie, wait!” he cried out again. But she was already peeling out of the lot.

John stood there for a few moments, just trying to catch his breath, watching as she sped out of his life.

When he finally turned to walk back inside, Delilah sat waiting on his couch.

Joseph Farley

Break In

They came in through the kitchen window, in the back of the house. Smashed the glass with a chunk of concrete and crawled in over the kitchen sink. The chunk was from a neighbor’s sidewalk, torn up for emergency plumbing repairs. These were not professional burglars. Opportunists. But experienced opportunists.

Must have been two of them. The window was too far off the ground for one person to pull himself in unless he was a gymnast. The guy that got in had to be skinny. The window wasn’t big. And he wasn’t wearing gloves. There was blood everywhere. In the kitchen sink. On the rug in the living room. On the hardwood floors upstairs. There were bloody fingerprints on all the light switches. And on the bathroom wall, sink and cabinet. The wounded thief had looked for bandages. A torn wrapper was in the trash can. Probably searched for drugs too, but there was nothing with street value among the meds in the cabinet.

It happened two weeks before Christmas, on one of the darkest nights of the year. Sunset was around 4 PM. I got home from work around 6:30 PM. It took me a while to realize there had been a break in. First thing I noticed was how cold the house was. Then I saw the broken glass on the kitchen floor and in the sink. Then the broken window. And the blood.

The back door was locked, both locks, top and bottom. I thought the crook was still the house. I grabbed an iron stick I used for training and searched the house top to bottom. I didn’t find anyone. Just saw the blood and open bandage wrappers in the bathroom.

I had bought the house almost two years before the break in. It came with a burglar alarm. The alarm hadn’t gone off. Checking the kitchen window I learned it had no sensor for the alarm. I figured one guy came in. Another guy had to have stayed outside, helped lift the skinny one to the window and kept an eye out for cops. The inside man must have left through the same window.

There was a small Christmas tree in the living room. Decorated. A few wrapped gifts underneath it. Examination showed bloody fingers had pokes holes in the wrapping paper to see what was inside. No gifts were stolen. Gloves. Socks. Books. Who wants that stuff?

The robber was quick, and in some ways polite. There was no huge mess except in the kitchen. Nothing else had been damaged. No drawers were emptied on the floor in any rooms. But the drawers had been gone through. The robber knew where to look.

Cash my girlfriend had been saving for our wedding was taken. My father’s high school ring was missing. So was my high school ring. And both my wedding rings from my first marriage, the cheap one I bought in grad school, and the expensive one of pure gold my ex-wife’s grandmother had made for me when we visited China. Made from gold jewelry she had hidden from the Japanese, bandits, communist revolutionaries. Gone now. It would have been safer for that gold to have stayed hidden in its former home in a farming village than to have made the journey to Philadelphia.

My laptop was open and turned on in the study. It had been played with, but left behind when the robber couldn’t get past the security code. No books or manuscripts were taken. No tax records. No thumb drives. I could survive.

I called the police. They came out a few times. Different cops. The first one out told me, “The police don’t do DNA tests for burglaries so just clean up the blood.“

I asked about the bloody fingerprints on light switches. I was told they couldn’t use that. The officer advised me to search all the pawn shops and jewelry stores that advertised that they “buy gold” in the area on my own, and do it immediately, because stolen goods move quickly. He said that if I didn’t find my property on my own it would probably never be found.

I was told not to say I was looking for stolen goods, just browse and report to the police if I found any of the missing items. There was a procedure. Forms to fill out. I might have to pay the pawn brokers the price they paid for the item. Pawn brokers were supposed to keep a record of who sold them things. That didn’t always occur. Even with bad paperwork, it was very hard to prove that a pawn broker or jewelry store knowingly bought stolen goods.

I spent two days visiting every jewelry store and pawn shop I could find. The proprietors all seemed strange. The places were all strange. One had two display cases and a back room with piles and piles of stuff in clear trash bags. I didn’t find the stolen rings.

My high school ring meant nothing to me, but it might have meant something to my children if they had inherited after I died. My father’s school ring meant a lot to me. It was one of the few keepsakes I had from him. There had been just two or three things I could hold in my hands and think of my father, remember him alive. At least I still had his diary from when he was twelve. It was hard to decipher the handwriting. It had been hard to understand the man. He was there, then gone. Now his ring was gone.

The wedding ring from China also meant a lot to me. Pure gold. Gold that had been passed down for generations. A taste of history. My first wife had kept almost all the photos from the marriage. And most of the property. Many of the memories from that marriage I wanted to forget, but there had also been good memories. A gold ring forged during a trip to Jiangxi in 1989 was one of them. Still there in the mind, but less tangible now. Beyond my grasp.

A cop with a fingerprint kit eventually came out and said he would see if he could lift a print off the broken glass or the remains of the window. He said he found something and that a detective would be in touch with me. No detective ever contacted me.

The uniformed officers had a curious way of approaching the crime. All at some point tried to get me to say that I made up the robbery, staged it, or that a friend or family member did it. Brilliant minds at work.

An officer pressed me to name any relatives I had with drug problems. “Addicts in the family need money for drugs and know where to find valuables.”

I mentioned my brother to see how the officer would react. His face brightened, “How can we find him for questioning?”

“You’ll have to dig him up. He died four years ago. Two years before I bought the house.”

The cop was not happy with the answer.

“Do any of your kids smoke pot?”

Pot is decriminalized in Philadelphia. Everyone appears to smoke pot. Everywhere. On every corner. On every bus. In very yard, park or parking lot. It’s as if it’s our civic duty now to get high. Still, I chose to stay mum on the topic.

A friend on the force tried to explain to me it was just wishful thinking. A lot of burglaries are done by friends of the family or relatives. Those are also often the easiest to solve, even if in the end no charges are filed, because, after all, it’s family.

I didn’t agree then. I don’t agree now.

As for the investigation, my friend said, “Detectives don’t have time to really investigate a burglary. There are too many murders and shootings. That takes precedence. A burglary only moves up the line if someone got hurt, ya know, a home invasion or beating.”

Good to know.

Home owners insurance paid for a new window. I paid my girlfriend back. The cost of the jewelry was never made up. The cost of burglar bars, a security door in the back, and motion sensor lights outside came out of pocket as well.

It was the first successful break in. There has been failed attempts before. A broken door in the front that I replaced. Cracked basement windows replaced with glass block. A man’s home is his castle, and, more and more, mine is starting to look like one. A high fence is next on the list. Though I’d prefer a wall. Maybe a moat. Stocked with fish. My new wife wants koi. I’m thinking trout.

***

It has been three years since I was burglarized. The neighborhood and the world aren’t getting any better. But my wife and I now have a big garden, inaccessible, thanks to the tall fence, except to the most agile climbers. And a ditch. An irrigation project really. A trench my wife dug to channel water to her ever growing garden. It just needs a good rain before it can become my new fishing hole. I’m still holding off on buying a gun, afraid I made shoot my foot off while loading it, but I do have a catalog from Smith and Wesson with a few items circled. Just in case.

Victor Cass

Big Killa

There was once a rapper so crazy that he would shoot a member of his crew on stage at every show. Big Killa was his name and he would literally pull out a gun at some point during his performance and actually shoot one of his homies right there, live, in front of everyone. And the people ate this shit up! They’d come from all around to watch Big Killa on the mic, rapping about bitches, hoes, fuck the police, and all that poetry of the streets stuff, then whip out his strap and BAM!—shoot some fool who was dancing and flailing his arms with him. Big Killa offered $5,000 to any young gee who would agree to perform with him. Kids from the streets, aspiring rappers, artists, students, even actual gang members jumped at the chance to score five Gs and be up there with Big Killa, even though they all knew they might get shot. I mean, this was nuts! I couldn’t believe it. Who would do that? Who would allow this? Where were the police?

Turns out, the police were after Big Killa. Right? The dude was shooting people, after all, with like, hundreds of witnesses all around. Forget Fight Club! This was Murder Incorporated, live at the Shoot-em-up Rap Festival! Big Killa’s sick fans would pay $1,000 a ticket to go see someone get shot on stage. And no one snitched on him. No one told the cops where Big Killa was, or where he’d play next. Everything was deep, deep, deep underground! Like a gore-mongering Roman citizen of old, jockeying for the best view in the stands at the Coliseum, I had to know more! I had to see this for myself to believe it. I had to score a ticket to Big Killa’s next show.

I had the money. I had the stomach for it (so I thought). I was pretty pro-police, so who knew if I would turn Big Killa in to the cops or not, once I found out where he would play next, but, man, I just had to know! Was this guy for real? More importantly for me, at the moment was, where would I get a ticket? How would a Wall Street, financial dude like myself, white, privileged, driving a Mercedes, gain entry into one of Big Killa’s kill fests? Did they even let rich white dudes into his shows?

Well, surprise, surprise, come to find out that most of the people going to Big Killa’s shows were rich white people. How do you like that? The Man was paying big money to see Black people killing other Black people, up on stage no less! How do I know? One of my financial colleagues, clearly “in the scene” asked me to go with her to see Big Killa. You should have heard this lady, Hannah Zipp, with her short, auburn bob and bright red lips: “You like rap?” I played coy: “It’s okay.” Hannah’s blue eyes slid around under her eyelashes like a hockey puck. You would have thought the CIA was coming up behind her the way she was looking around. “Ever heard of Big Killa?” Playing dumb, I went along: “Nah, who’s he?” Her eyes widened as she said: “He’s the big black guy that shoots people on stage.” I thought Hannah was going to wet her shorts. “Sounds pretty sick,” I replied, “I’m in.”

“Meet me at Union Square at 8:00 tonight? Outside Coffee Shop Bar,” she practically whispered.

“He’s playing at Union Square?”

“No!” she snapped. “They give you the location later, along with the code word.”

“Speakeasy style.” I got it.

I couldn’t wait until work was over. What was I getting myself into? I was going to a concert where the bullets would be flying! Wait a minute? Did Big Killa ever miss?

Did I need a bulletproof vest? Should I tell my mom where I was going? Make out my will? Ours was a sick culture, but I couldn’t resist it.

Finally, the time had come. It was raining and I was without an umbrella, but I sacked up and made my way on the train to Union Square. I found Hannah arguing with some homeless guy. Was he the Big Killa connection?

“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked. I thought she was gonna take off one of her Jimmy Choo’s and throw it at him.

“Bastard wouldn’t take the food I was offering,” Hannah huffed, throwing a McDonald’s bag into the trash. “He just wanted money! He’s just gonna drink it all up, or get high.”

“You’re going to go see someone get shot and you’re complaining about some hobo’s morals? I wouldn’t have taken that McDonald’s crap, either. Maybe he wanted money for Whole Foods?”

“Maybe you’d like to find Big Killa’s show all by yourself!” Hannah retorted.

I put my hands up.

“Awright, awright! My bad!”

Hannah got the code word, and soon we were in a cab headed to a dark, off-the beaten-path part of the Lower East Side, where there was this large, brick warehouse, with big, burly, Russian-looking security guards outside. Hannah told me I would have to turn in my cell phone at the door. No cell phones allowed. No one was permitted to make calls, text, take photos, video, etc., for obvious reasons. I played along, turning in my cell phone, which they checked to make sure it was a real, working cell phone that was mine—I had to like show them my photos, Facebook, and stuff. I totally did…But what I didn’t tell Hannah or anyone, was that I had smuggled in another, smaller smartphone—that belonged to my niece, a junior at NYU—in my shoe (we were patted down and had a metal detector wand waved over our junk). I had to give her $100 bucks to borrow it for a night.

It was dark as we walked through several doors. I hadn’t seen this many white people in one place since a family reunion in Ocala, Florida. You would have thought we were all about to see Hamilton the way everyone was dressed. I was aghast at all the privilege I was surrounded by. I was white and I felt oppressed, micro-aggressed. I never knew there were this many people like me, seemingly good people, with college degrees and families, that were this cruel, bloodthirsty. We were going to potentially see some poor, underprivileged soul get shot for chrissakes! Well, I wasn’t gonna just stand by and watch this idly. I had a college buddy who was a Detective with the NYPD. Yeah, that’s right! I had secretly stiffed in a tip with the cops. I was turning Big Killa in! I was gonna do the right thing and save a life tonight! My “tricky” cell phone’s GPS was up and running, and I knew that the cops would be raiding the joint at any minute.

I hoped Hannah wouldn’t notice how nervous I was, looking toward the doors and exits, while also sneaking glances at her cleavage. Damn, I didn’t know her boobs were that big.

Anyway…

The lights turned down low. Then a bunch of other, colored lights started flashing, and a chest-thumping beat silenced the room as the stage was illuminated, revealing a bunch of homies filling the stage from behind a dark curtain like they were coming out of a clown car. My heart nearly skipped a beat as I breathlessly looked for Big Killa. What would he look like? Would he be decked out in baggy, gangsta clothing, a Kangol hat at a jaunty tilt on his head? Did I even know what gangsta clothes looked like? Would there be bicycle chain-like gold jewelry swinging from his neck? Would his teeth be gripped with bedazzled jewels and gold letters spelling KILLA, as he whipped out a MAC-10 and started blasting on fools?

I started to get queasy and had a bad feeling that this wouldn’t end well.

Then…he emerged in all his criminal glory: Big Killa!

He was big…and menacing! But there was no gold jewelry, no Kangol hats, bling in his grill, powder blue sweat suits, baggy clothes, thousand-dollar Jordans he had jacked from some kid on the streets, no…Big Killa came out in an all-black, three-piece suit: black shirt, black tie, coat and pants, with a NY Yankees cap on. He was a darker-skinned brother, with an intense gaze and an etched scowl. There was no flash, no cussing or bitches and hoes. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Who was this Big Killa?

I was gripped.

“NEW YORK CITY!” he shouted into his mic, throwing up in his arms. “WHITE New York City! Welcome to my show! Big Killa is in the house, SUCKAS! And I’m here to get you WOKE! I got rappers on my stage! Artists and performers tryin’ to come up in the Man’s world. I’m gonna have fine ass African Queens shaking their big, black booties on stage! But that’s not why you’re here, is it?”

“NOOOOOO!” everyone shouted, jumping and screaming in joy and ecstasy.

“You all want to see another BLACK MAN pull out a STRAP and SHOOT a BLACK BODY!”

“YESSSSSS!” People were jumping up and down, cheering and screaming like the Yankees had just won the pennant.

Then…the music started bumping, and the beats started thumpin,’ and the lights

started blaring, and the women started staring, at the black women pouring out from behind the curtains. The rappers started singing, their jewelry started blinging, and my phone started pinging!

But wait…

This wasn’t what I expected. I wanted to hear what Big Killa had to say. He was a force bigger than life. He took to the edge of the stage like a man about to jump from the Brooklyn Bridge onto the gentrified concrete of DUMBO down below.

“We wasn’t invited—we was forced!” Big Killa started. “Brought us here to instill FEAR! Break our bodies, break our souls, or so you thought! Didn’t know we secretly FOUGHT! Spoke our language, sung our songs, formed families you never thought, grew our leaders in the fields, and wrought, the future you left us for naught! We rose above, learned your lingo and grew our minds, raised our children in a new America, newly free, we got Booker T., W-E-B, Malcolm, who didn’t live to say, neither MLK! We fought your wars and hoped for more, told no, got Jim Crow, pushed through Selma, Little Rock, Detroit, Chicago, LA, and Crack, you think we just about RAP, guns, and killin’ fools, some of us do, the world is cruel, but for white America, the only rule is know your place and suffer through, the schools we left for you, never leave your hood, buy your weave, and struggle for food, well I’ve got news for YOU…”

That’s when Big Killa did what I realized I had forgotten he’d do. He pulled out a GUN! He started shooting at his fellow band mates!

POP-POP-POP!

NO! I thought. But wait! I suddenly realized that the gun was firing blanks! The band members were all in on it! What? Big Killa had given us a clue earlier…

Performers!

NO! This was a performance art piece! All along, it was a statement! The gun, the legend of Big Killa shooting people…it was all a show! How could I not have known?

“Someday this barrel might be pointed at YOU! Not the barrel of a GUN, but the barrel of accountability, responsibility, for the loss of aspirations, the dream of reparations…”

That’s when, to my utter shock and horror, the black helmet-clad SWAT team members of the NYPD burst in through the doors of the underground club, cutting through the stunned onlookers with their AR-15s as they advanced on the stage, shouting for everyone to get down get down.

Big Killa, staying true to himself and to his message, stood defiantly on the edge of the stage. With his outstretched arm, he pointed that gun at the cops, at us all, as if an accusatory finger…

…and we all looked on in horror, as the American tragedy repeated once again.

Nick Watts

Death, Dating, and Donuts

To be honest, I like being dead.

It took awhile for me to get to that point. I mean I ate my wife, my dog, and my son Georgie, who was only two years old. I hated myself, wanted to kill myself, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I wondered what that meant. Wondered if I was a bad person.

The stench of my rotting flesh was what helped to distract my mind from thinking of what I had done. But every time I opened the fridge, there she was: Julie, my wife. Leftovers.

The smell and taste of her flesh was exquisite. I couldn’t help myself. She tasted as sweet now as she had before. Her toes were the last of her. After that, she would be gone forever.

Tears turned into maddening laughter as I put her digits into my mouth. On top of everything else, now I was going insane. I took my 9mm beretta from the bedroom closet and put it to my head, but then I thought of getting into Heaven, and being with them again. If there was a heaven, I likely wasn’t getting in. And if I did, my family would probably not take me back. Would it even be considered suicide at this point?

I wasn’t a gun person, It was a gift from a buddy of mine, who had taken me too seriously when I told him over a course of a few beers that I needed one, in case of the “you know what” apocalypse. The irony; I couldn’t pull the trigger.

What kind of man was I? I ate my family and couldn’t pull the goddamn trigger. That must make me a bad person, right? A coward maybe? Or a monster. I was really starting to look the part.

I shambled the streets outside in hopes a sniper; defending his house, would put a bullet through my head. No luck, the living had moved on. All that was left of the neighborhood was us dead folks. We became a community. We held classes to help us walk normally again, to stop drooling blood on to ourselves and to stop moaning. There were speech classes to help us talk again.

We all went to church and prayed. If there was no more room in hell, maybe heaven would have us. I started a band, we all became vegetarians; not that we had much choice outside of the random stray cat. And I wasn’t going to eat a pussy, well not that kind anyway. I liked cats, but loved dogs. But I couldn’t take in another; the heartbreak after eating my mutt kept me sure of that. And I wouldn’t want to put another animal at risk.

When I met Mary, I fell hard- harder than the time I slipped on my own bile and hit the kitchen floor so hard my eye popped out of its socket.

Mary was beautiful, despite the nose thing-she didn’t have one.

We walked the dead walk and talked. I asked about her family. She had no child, just a husband. He’d wanted to stay, but after she bit an ear off, he bolted.

Mary and I enjoyed meeting up at Thelma’s diner. Thelma made the best cherry pie.

Once my eye popped out and fell into Mary’s coffee. She took my hand and we laughed. She told me after all that had happened, and with our current state of affairs, that we needed to laugh. We laughed a lot. I felt I was betraying my wife, but rationalized that this betrayal was probably small potatoes when compared to the fact that I ate her. I told Mary I was married, and that I had killed my family.

Mary said that we must forgive ourselves and move on. She believed that we had a purpose. “Why else,” she told me, “would god keep us on earth? Why didn’t he let us pass on?”

She took my hand and placed it to her bosom. I felt a flutter between my legs. Hadn’t felt that in a long time- didn’t know it was still possible. She must have felt something too, because her nipples hardened and pressed against her blouse.

We looked around the diner to see if anyone had noticed. We smiled to ourselves and then raced back to my place. Well not exactly raced, but hurried along as quickly as possible.

Anyhow, we must have been going at it pretty hard, because I broke off inside her ass.

I had been so excited when we made it into the bedroom I stuck it in the wrong hole. She told me to leave it there, so I did. Her ass was tight and gave my cock a bear hug. I thought I would explode as soon as I entered, but maybe it was a zombie thing. It was hard to cum, even when I felt her vagina pressing back and forth against my balls. I took advantage of it though, as before I was always pretty quick on the release. I fucked Mary’s ass for a good hour before it happened.

We were both scared at first, not saying anything to one another. She turned to me and we both stared down at my cock nub, below it my balls swung free as if they were released into the wild-no longer weighed down. Mary was the first to crack up. I don’t know why, but I followed.

She pulled what once was attached to me out of her ass and slapped me in the face with it. It was strange that I now had no self esteem about my size when being slapped with it. It carried weight and wished I had used it to slap with before- before when it was still attached. I told her this and we laughed even harder.

Our laughter gained the attention of the dead outside. No one knew why, but the hardest thing to kick was the constant gatherings in the streets, under the moonlight.

They came to the bedroom window and stared through. We gave ‘em a show.

She slapped me in the face with my cock again. We took turns slapping each other in the face with it. It was pretty kinky. We noticed the crowd outside, rubbing and jerking themselves off. I thought about inviting them inside, but Mary told me we should practice distancing.

We used my severed penis in ways I could never have used it before. Mary took my cock and stuck it up my ass-which made me question my sexuality.

She shoved it in and out, which made me bleed. She then took my cock out of my bloodied asshole and made a place for it in my sock drawer. It didn’t matter having blood on my socks, I was constantly peeing and shitting down my leg anyhow. Lots of people used diapers to remedy this issue, but fuck, I still wanted to hold on to some form of dignity. We bowed to the audience assembled outside, then shut the curtains.

Sunday morning came and we repented for our sins. The church coffee was good, donuts were even better…

I love donuts, especially the ones with sprinkles on top.

Hank Kirton

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

My lubricated thoughts take me back to the summer of 1994. I was living in a tent and riding my bike everywhere. I was attempting to be free, searching for the ineffable formula for existence. I lived like an amateur naturalist, seeing insects and plants as they really were, finally. I studied the dark little worlds under rocks and rotted logs. Salamanders and baby snakes. Creepy, trilobite-looking bugs. I hated those scurrying little motherfuckers. I would sit and stare at trembling leaves until multi-dimensional portals opened before my crying eyes. I read Lovecraft and Castaneda and believed them both.

I could walk to a small dairy farm on the outskirts of the woods and collect the psilocybe mushrooms that sprouted from the cow shit after a rain. I had to sneak over an electric fence and slither into the pasture like a jewel thief. I practically lived on those fucking mushrooms, man, for true. I had a Sterno stove and made all kinds of mushroom dishes. Whatever I could heat up in my lone pan. The secret ingredient in everything I cooked was always mushrooms. I relied on them but grew to hate them as they mutated my brain. It was like constantly moving through a miasma of gently twisting images. I had to learn to navigate through the hallucinations and dismiss the visions after I’d learned from them. I honestly believed I was entering a new phase of human evolution. I tripped myself silly for five shining psychoactive months.

There was this old drifter named Dan who would visit my camp to mooch food once in a while. He had a big white beard and lived in the woods too. He looked like John Muir. I told him that once and he nearly slapped me to death. Dan slept in a lean-to and was preoccupied with drinking himself to death. I offered him shrooms and he offered me vodka and we both said, “No.” We held to our personal poisons. Sometimes he drank so much he stopped making sense. He’d begin babbling incoherently. I didn’t mind because I was always tripping and he made perfect sense to my grasping, breathing, outer-space brain. He once told me he’d murdered his wife in 1958 and I had no reason to doubt him. Dan was scary. Being seen as a fugitive was an important part of his persona. He was a man running from a murderous past, drinking to damage the horrors of his memory.

When the frost fell in the fall I scurried back home to my family in New Orleans and then returned to the woods after the spring thaw. The first thing I did was look for old Dan. He had been bent on remaining through the winter. I found his lean-to had collapsed into a loose pile of logs. Dan wasn’t around. I never saw him again or learned what became of him.

I pitched my tent behind a stream and returned to fishing and foraging. I’d worked through the winter so I had a small sum of money for store-bought food and sundries. I also purchased a backpack. Things were working out well, especially after the season got hot and I started plucking mushrooms from manure again. I felt content, getting closer to the very Eye of the Universe.

And then it all came crashing down when I got arrested for trespassing, vagrancy and possession of a class-A drug. The first two charges were vague and arbitrary but they had me dead-to-rights on the possession charge. Damn mushrooms.

Joe Surkiewicz

Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day

Bear slid into the booth opposite Ed—known far and wide as Ed the Head for his waist-length brown hair, tinged with gray, and his proclivity for drug dealing—and arranged a steaming mug of coffee and a gigantic cinnamon bun with white icing in front of him.

“They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Bear said, unfolding a paper napkin.

Ed had no reply. He contemplated his cup of green tea and watched Bear dig into the plate-sized bun, warmed in the microwave behind the coffee shop’s front counter.

It was their morning ritual—and Ed was sick of it. Bear always with the coronary-inducing pastry, the inane comment about breakfast blah blah, the way he dug into the bun with a knife and fork.

Real men eat pastry with their hands.

“Do you have any idea how much fat is in that thing?”

Bear put down the utensils. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the one fucking meal of the day–”

“Heart surgeons are probably the ones pushing the myth that breakfast is so goddam important,” Ed said. “I can hear your arteries clogging from over here.”

Bear resumed eating. “Hear about Tommy Ford?”

“Tommy who?”

“Ford, like Chevy.”

“Don’t know him,” Ed said, and sipped his tea.

“Yes you do. Becca’s brother, skinny kid with a skin thing. His face.”

“Becca has a brother?”

“At the beach, he’d go in the water and you’d pilfer his wallet.”

“That asshole,” Ed said. “Did he drown?”

Bear made a face. “Cops beat the shit out of him. Traffic stop. Claimed he ran a red light. Tommy started to argue.”

“There you go.”

“What the fuck, ‘There you go,’” Bear said. “All he said was he didn’t run–”

“Where?”

“Merritt Boulevard, Dundalk, heading towards the steel mill,” Bear said. “Three in the fucking afternoon, broad daylight. Fucking cop pulled him out of the car and pistol whipped him. He’s in the hospital.”

“He’s not black, right?”

Bear rolled his eyes. “How the fuck could he be black if he’s Becca’s brother? Don’t tell me”—fork waving in the air—“coulda been adopted. You got an answer for everything.”

Ed leaned forward, hands in front, fingertips touching. “That dipshit Tommy Ford could piss off Mother Teresa. And he’s stupid enough to lip a cop, so I’m not feeling particularly sympathetic.”

“Just trying to make conversation,” Bear said.

Ed pulled his wallet out and looked. “Got any money?”

Bear stopped chewing. “It’s your turn. I’m broke.”

Ed put his wallet away and slid out of the booth. “Right back.”

Bear didn’t look up when a tray of dishes hit the floor, followed by a loud thump. From around the corner, near the counter.

Ed slid back in the booth and pulled out a wad of green. “How much tip?”

“I thought you were broke.”

Ed counted out six ones and shoved the wad in his pocket. “That enough?”

Bear slammed his fork and knife on the table. “You stickup our regular coffee shop and you’re gonna leave a tip?”

“Fuck you and the boat you came in on,” Ed snarled, scooping up the money. “I figured you’re on the side of the working stiff. Guess I figured wrong.”

“This probably a good time to leave,” Bear said.

“I think I hear a siren.”