Matthew Shovlin

A Conversation About Loud Orgasms

“You know, about two days into my freshman year of college it was brought to my attention that I’m an incredibly loud orgasmer.”

“Like, what, you moan?”

“More like scream.”

“Christ. Who told you?”

“The kids in my dorm.”

“Oof.”

“They started calling me Scream Queen. At first I thought they knew about the vocal showcase series I put on YouTube in high school.”

“That would have been better, somehow.”

“I know.”

“But how didn’t you know? About the loud cumming, I mean.”

“I don’t know. I don’t feel like it’s loud. I guess I just get swept up in the moment. Like when you yell at the TV during the Knicks game.”

“Woah now. That’s different. I’m in full control of what comes out of my mouth.”

“Your neighbor almost had you evicted last year, the things you said were so vile.”

“Okay maybe now and then I lose my cool.”

“But that’s just what I mean. You can relate, sort of.”

“Okay, sure.”

“And you know what the worst part is? No one in my family ever said anything to me about it.”

“Figures. That would be quite the uncomfortable conversation.”

“More uncomfortable than listening to me scream my way to climax for, what, like five years before I went off to college?”

“No, not that uncomfortable. You’re right.”

“I didn’t know how to face my parents when I got home from school. I swear my mom sat me at the end of the Thanksgiving table so no one would have to use a serving spoon after me.”

“That seems passive-aggressive.”

“Yeah so anyway I drank a lot at Thanksgiving that year, you know?”

“Naturally.”

“I was kind of…well I guess the best word would be ‘distraught.’ I was distraught. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything, so I binged red wine in silence at the end of the table, separated from the adults by all the little cousins.”

“You don’t have the youngest sit down at the end?”

“I think the rule of thumb is that the table is seated from most desirable to eat with to least desirable to eat with. So that leaves the high-decibel masturbator in the caboose.”

“That seems to make some sense, on the surface.”

“Yeah well after all the guests had gone home I didn’t think it made much sense at all and was quite frankly furious that my parents had let this go on for so long–my loud orgasming, I mean.”

“Yeah, I got it.”

“So I downed maybe another glass or two of wine quite quickly and staggered up the stairs to my room. I was alone, drunk, angry, upset, and the lights were off. Needless to say, this all made me incredibly horny. So I waited until all was quiet in the kitchen and went at myself. I knew my parents could hear me and I wanted them to. I wanted my screams to haunt their minds. I know that’s kind of fucked but I was angry and as I said quite drunk. And it’s not like it was anything new–they’d heard me violate myself god knows how many times before.

“But this particular time I was quite savage with myself. Borderline self-abusive. Assaulting my crotch like some shit you’d find on a controversial porn site. Every ounce of energy and anger went right between my legs. I screamed, of course. I think I started crying too.”

“Sounds pretty intense, all that.”

“You can’t even imagine, I wouldn’t think. So I’m screaming, tears running down my face, body tensed so tight I can feel blood rushing to my eyes, and my dad kicks in the door. Literally kicks the latch right through the doorframe. It wasn’t even locked. Wood splinters rain down in front of my dad as he cocks a fucking shotgun and flips the light on with his front hand. He’d thought I was being murdered or something, but there I am, lying alone on top of my bedspread, my right hand entirely inside of myself and my left slowing like an abruptly unplugged chainsaw.”

“That’s some strong imagery, the chainsaw thing. What did he say, your dad?”

“Nothing. He just stood there shocked in the busted doorframe, shotgun still cocked and raised. I was certain he was about to shoot either me or himself, understandably. But he eventually turned back into the hall and shut the door, as best as it could be shut. We’ve never talked about any of it. I still sit at the far end of the dinner table.”

Trappe Mently

Always The Cult’s Bridesmaid, Never The Cult’s Bride

The first time I feel your touch, it’s as if heaven has graced me. My head is bowed. I am dressed in the robes of the lamb. I’m on my knees, in the church knave, praying.

You stand before me, and I feel your hand on my head. I’m so happy I begin to well up. Your touch only lasts a second before you move on, but in that moment, I know I’m closer to god. I feel divinity.

When you walk away, the deacons are on me. They grab my arms and pull me to my feet. I see you walking among the kneeling flock. I see you touch other women; two…three…four maidens. They are young and beautiful, like me, and the deacons seize them by the arms as well. They don’t need to. We would follow you through burning cinders. But as I take a step, I find my knees are shaking. The deacons keep me steady, and I’m grateful.

The flock continues to chant the Eternal Harmony. We lucky maidens are escorted out of the nave, through the chancel, and into a narrow hallway behind your holy altar. My breath catches when I realize the honor we are to be given. Two of the maidens swoon, nearly falling, when they see what lies ahead.

The deacons are taking us to your private sanctum.

The corridor to your sanctum is old, made of time-worn stone. Coal braziers burn on either side of your door, and we’re made to stand before the flames.

“Strip” We are told.

We do so. Willingly. Quickly. The deacons receive our clothes, our belongings, which are tossed onto the braziers. The heat washes over us as our earthly possessions are consumed, and the smiles on our faces are serene. At least, I am serene, until I see that Cathryn has arrived with the deacons…as the fifth maiden. And my smile withers.

Maidens are chosen for elegance, grace, and devotion. But I know Cathryn was chosen because it’s an affront to god to hide her body behind clothes. Her hair is swirled honey. Her curves are generous and sweet. Her gaze is sharp as she looks at us—the lesser maidens—and her smile becomes condescension.

The deacons bring four black veils to cover our faces, and one white veil, for the bride. Cathryn doesn’t act surprised when the deacons adorn her wrists, ankles, and neck with gold cord, and lower the short white veil over her face. Cathryn walks, pert, and proudly clad in firelight, to your door. And I fucking hate her.

When you open the sanctum, you’ve changed as well. You’ve abandoned your robes and you stand, breathtakingly naked, with the Elder Helm covering your face. The black marble visage of the first god contrasts with your taut muscles, your erect cock, and your hard eyes. You look like you’re ready to punish the unworthy. I quiver, imagining what form your punishments might take…

But tonight you have eyes only for Cathryn. Despite our collective feminine nakedness, your gaze never leaves her. I feel myself and the other maidens shrink, as you take Cathryn’s wrist, and lead us into the sanctum.

A massive bed with rosewood posts sits surrounded by candles. You take Cathryn and lay her on the bed, and she writhes, slowly, on silk sheets. We four maidens in our black veils stand, confused, until you point to us, indicating that we should kneel. When I hesitate, you grab the back of my neck roughly and force me down at the bedside.

You take my hands and press them together, then you hold my head down, and your cock is so close to my face I can feel its warmth. The other maidens kneel at the corners as well, and I’m a little girl again, praying at Father’s bedside.

You crawl across the bed and pull Cathryn, gasping, to her knees. Near the foot of the bed is an altar of stone with a velvet-covered book. You slap Cathryn’s ass so hard it makes the other maidens flinch, and Cathryn cries out. Then you press your palm to her back, forcing her down on all fours, which puts her face level with the book.

“Pray.” You tell us. And we begin the Eternal Harmony.

I mumble the chant until I hear Cathryn’s cries as you enter her. She is in instant ecstasy, bouncing as you plunge in and out of her, and I hate her. I hate that even with the mask, I can see how much you’re enjoying her body. I hate how powerful Cathryn looks, taking your cock in wild thrusts. I hate how pretty she is, pink and flushing. I even hate that I care so much; that Cathryn’s existence diminishes mine.

I watch through the dark veil as Cathryn bounces on your cock, pushing against you like a good bridal slut, and the candles begin to flicker and wink out. Around the bed, the circle darkens, and you slap Cathryn again, and again, turning her ass dark red in the shadows.

“The book,” You growl. “Open it.”

Cathryn, in rapture, reaches a shaking hand for the book. My voice falters, but the other maidens keep chanting.

A gust ripples the sheets and extinguishes candles. Shadows fall over the sanctum. Cathryn is pale and sweaty in the dying light, and you look like a marble carving of the First Man—your pelvis slapping against her ass.

Cathryn removes the black velvet from the book and opens the cover, leafing through it. She acts coy, running a manicured fingernail over the ancient script. She poses for you, looking back over her shoulder, grinning.

That’s when we see it. The dark forces. The arms of the elders. They reach from you, in the night, like ropes of shadow. Like writhing snakes protruding from your shoulders and back. Shades of black that slither around the bedposts, the headboard, and around Cathryn. We maidens see it through our veils, but Cathryn does not.

The shadow tentacles curl around Cathryn’s thighs, around her stomach, and between her breasts. The maidens have all stopped chanting. We are struck silent, witnessing a miracle, a curse, as the shadows envelope her.

When the darkness closes around her throat, she doesn’t choke. Not quite. Instead, she draws in a long, shuddering breath, her fingers and toes curl, and her eyes go wide. People refer to the air as nothing. But to breathe nothing, to fill your lungs with nothing, is truly horrifying.

You growl and bury yourself in Cathryn as she begins to thrash, hovering in the clutches of the shadows. Her eyes go white. Not rolling into the back of her head. They turn true white, as if the elder god has taken her sight. She claws at her face with her manicured nails, leaving long scratches that weep blood.

You huff and grunt behind the mask, and I can tell you’re close. Your hands dig into Cathryn’s hips. Your cock, hammering, makes her toned flesh bounce. She screams, and her horror is swallowed by the black void that has entangled her.

I hear your laughter, booming, as you spend your seed inside Cathryn, and her limbs begin to shudder.

I reach down with one hand, very slowly, and I finger myself, as I watch Cathryn being taken by forces dark and powerful and ancient.

***

It’s past midnight when we are driven home by the deacons. Cathryn is taken first to the hospital, but we all know where she’ll end up before the week is out…

Ivy Hills Crematorium is less than ten miles from the church. Sometimes, I think there’s providence in that. Or just prudent planning.

The deacons warn us not to speak about anything we’ve seen. We’re told to stay faithful. And to keep our bodies pure, and ready, for your touch. I don’t need to be told. I know exactly what, and who, my body is for. You’ll need a new bride, now that Cathryn is gone.

Over the course of a week, I visit with the three remaining maidens. They are giddy and frightened and elated and reverent in turns. They are torn between their attraction to your power, and their fear of the thing we saw reaching through you. I nod in agreement with them, and I humor their nattering. After our visits I leave each of them with a pledge; that no matter what happens, we’ll all stay friends. A pinkie-promise, like sisters, to remain devoted to each other.

I smile. I nod. I make promises. And every maiden suffers a terrible accident after our visit.

Every maiden…except me.

The deacons are furious when they pick me up on Sunday, but they aren’t surprised. Maiden Cynthia took a nasty spill on the stairs, which sent her to the hospital. Maiden Terry drank bad wine. Maiden Sara has gone missing, although her car is in the garage.

And that leaves me, your only bride, by the time Sunday services have ended.

Your sermon goes on for hours. You preach hellfire and damnation, eternities and infinities. You are powerful. Eloquent. Emotional. Evocative. I touch myself, frequently, throughout your sermon. I make sure you see it, too, and you lick your lips as the service comes to an end.

The deacons select new maidens from the flock. They are young, bright-eyed, and beautiful. They swoon when you touch their heads, and they are escorted by the deacons. I follow with a deacon at each elbow, but I move with purpose.

The new maidens are stripped before the sanctum, and the fire reveals their awe. I disrobe as I walk, and I toss my things on the crackling brazier. The deacons give the maidens their black veils. For me, I take the white, and gold cords are placed around my ankles, wrists, and neck.

I wait before your sanctum, naked, and eager, while the maidens titter behind me. I feel poised and polished until you open the door. When I see you, I am undone.

You are naked, save for the black marble mask, and an erection that looks like it could pierce plate aluminum. Your cock is so beautiful, so perfect, that I’m tempted to fall to my knees and worship it now. You see my gaze, my fixation, and you grin.

I hold my arm up, expecting you to take me by the wrist, but you don’t.

Instead, you walk around me. Inspecting me, and the other maidens, like a breeder inspecting livestock he might purchase. You linger on the new girls—getting close enough to sniff their hair, check the color of their eyes, and at one point, brush your cock across one of their asses.

Finally, you come to me. You stand in front of me, your erection aimed at my abdomen, and I see your eyes glimmer behind the mask. You sigh, loudly, and you make a show of seizing my wrist. You pull me along toward the four-posted bed, and I am smiling, despite my frustration.

You guide me to the bed where I’m to prostrate myself, and you instruct the maidens to kneel at the bedside and begin their prayers. Then you crawl over the silk to join me, and you find me laying on my belly, ankles crossed in the air, like a teenager on the telephone. I glance over my shoulder, and I watch you.

I am not smiling. I am not coy. This is not a game to me, like it was for Cathryn. She was given something that you are withholding, and this is my tiny, rebellious way of demanding the same treatment. The same…cruelty.

You register my little act of defiance, and you respond with the appropriate paternal instruction. You scoop me up, lay me across your lap, and you spank me like a petulant child.

Your night with Cathryn was special. You reached into the ancient, the forbidden, and part of that, I’m sure, hinged upon the pain you inflicted on her. Thus, I should be given the same pain before we start. Or so my logic holds. However, when you begin to strike me, I realize I may have been too free in my invitation.

You treat me like a child, but you don’t spank me like one.

Your hand is calloused and hard, and your arms are corded. Your first volly makes my ass glow red and brings tears to my eyes. The next ten drive the breath from me. I fall fully across your lap, and your erection presses hard into my belly.

I wriggle. I cry. I beg. I lose count after twenty slaps, so I start counting again in my head, and I lose track after another twenty. So much time passes, and you are so thorough in your beating, that my entire backside is hot, pulsing pain by the time you’re done. I’ve soaked your sheets in tears, and I have left your legs wet where I wriggled across your lap.

Just when I’m able to stifle my sobs, you haul me up on hands and knees, like Cathryn, and I feel the head of your cock resting between my cunt lips. That’s when you ask me;

“Are you ready, child?”

I don’t trust my voice, so I nod.

I think back on how wanton, how shameless, Cathryn acted when you took her. Her screams, her ecstasy…I thought it was an act.

When you enter me, and I feel myself stretching to accommodate you, I know it was no act.

It isn’t the bestial way you move. It isn’t the power you wield. Or the hardness of your body, or your cock.

It’s your spirit.

You thrust into me with an eagerness that speaks of joy and desperation. You take me, claim me, as one who is hanging from the cliff of mortality, and I am the fruit you pluck before you fall.

I’ve already screamed my voice hoarse during your spanking. Now my cries of lust are throaty, and I embarrass myself with little yelps as our flesh slaps together and I feel your cock filling me. I clench, and I wriggle, and I instinctively crawl away, but you pull me back. You always pull me back, like a compass coming to true. My legs begin to shake and my arms buckle, and you let me fall into the mattress, eyes and mouth wide, while you hold my hips and bury yourself in me.

Then you say the words that I’ve been imagining all week. The words I’ve obsessed over since I saw the shadows. But I’m so deep in my shameless lust, you have to repeat yourself before my mind can surface.

“The book.” You say. “Open it.”

I reach for the altar at the foot of the bed, and I peel back the black velvet. Underneath is a book of simple calf-skin binding, with uniform yellowed pages. I open the book to the inside cover, and I moan as I feel you slowing your pace. You’re close to coming. I can feel you’re close, and you’re breathing heavier than when you fucked Cathryn. That, more than anything, makes me smile as I look at the ancient pages.

The words are written in neat columns, but they are in no language that I recognize. Indeed, I don’t know that anyone on earth could recognize them. But they speak to me, nonetheless. As you fuck me, I see a story—the oldest story—shaping in my mind…in our minds. An interplay of light and dark. A dance of entropy and creation. The coupling of primal man and first woman. I see creation. I see pregnant eternity. And I feel the friction, and the war of power, within me right now. Within the pleasure, and the seed, of your vigorous fucking.

Unlike Cathryn, I see the shadows that emerge from you when the candles go dark. I see the shades of the god; the ancient one who derives its pleasure through you, as you take your pleasure from me.

Also unlike Cathryn, I embrace both man, and darkness.

I moan, and I wriggle, in the grip of those shadows. I spread my legs for them. I welcome them. I breathe it in, and the void fills my throat. I open myself, and they enter my every hole, lifting me high above the bed, weightless and twitching, as you plunge into me again and again.

I can’t breathe…can’t think. I am reduced to a vessel for your greed, and I shudder on the edge of blissful, orgasmic unconsciousness. You caress and squeeze and nibble my flesh, rapacious, and I hear you grunting as you approach the precipice. I am soft and warm and floating before you. And you unleash yourself into me, cumming, as I wriggle helpless on your cock, suspended by night given form…for your pleasure.

And that is when I lose myself. I cum, at the edge of sanity, desperate for air. I quake and shiver until I see stars. I shake and gasp until white pinpoints appear in my vision…except the stars never leave my eyes. They dance above the bed, as if my pleasure has summoned the cosmos above your sanctuary.

The roar in my head, and the fire in my loins, is slow to ebb. But ebb it does. And as you pull out of me, the darkness withdraws. Coils of shadow fall away from me, like unbound ropes, and they disappear, back into the doorway that is you.

You remove the black marble mask, and you look confused. Sated. Pleased. But confused.

“How?” You ask.

“I accept you, and I accept it.” I smile. “And it might have helped if any of your idiot brides bothered to read the first page.”

Judson Michael Agla

THE DAY THE WORDS DIED

The city was hot like a burnt out cast iron frying pan. My sweat was dripping all over everything; I was cranky, homicidal with rage, and completely confused about my place in the world. All in all, a normal start to the day.

I had some projects lurking in my mind that I wanted to work out, so I flipped open my laptop to find that all the symbols on the keyboard had vanished; all the buttons were blank; I tried pressing them, but nothing happened. I have to say, I was really fucking creeped out. 

Stunned, frozen and drooling, I sat in awe with a subtle reactionary atrophy. I shook off my amazement and wondered if this bizarre phenomenon wasn’t just contained to my computer. Beside me was my journal; one that I’ve been keeping for about five months, more of a workbook/sketch pad, used to quickly get down ideas before they left my mind. Yesterday it was almost full up; today it was completely blank, the pages were all ruffled and creased like they’d been used, only nothing was on them, not a pen or pencil mark, just blank white pages. 

I’ve suffered through mental illness all my life, but it’s never evinced this kind of fuckery before. I went over to check my meds; sometimes I get confused and take the wrong ones. The meds were there but the stickers were all blank; this was turning into something I didn’t think I could fucking handle. I went to my books; they were all blank, covers and all; my cleaning supplies, blank, no words anywhere; my rulers, my calculator, no numbers. I went frantically through my boxes of old letters and tax returns; no words anywhere, Jesus-Fuck, what the hell was happening? I picked up the phone hoping to get some answers, or at least someone with the same questions I had, but again, no numbers, no numbers recorded, FUCK! 

I sat down, smoked a joint, and tried to gather myself and put this, whatever it was, into some sort of perspective. The television, nothing but static, the radio was the same; even the labels on my underwear were blank; this wasn’t going to put itself into any goddamn perspective at all, this was demonic voodoo fuckery in its truest form.

The next step would have to be clarification; was the rest of the world experiencing this clusterfuck as well? Or had I finally lost whatever was left of my mind? I hadn’t been out in weeks; clinically, it was agoraphobia, but actually, it was my distaste for people of all sizes and shapes; generally, I just hated people.

I was on the seventh floor; the top floor, kind of a ghetto penthouse with leaky everything; I had a great view of the courtyard and the neighborhood, I saw no one at all, no one standing on their balconies as I was, no one on the streets, no sounds of cars or screaming maniacs, which was a normal in this section of the city, but not one goddamn fucking soul. 

As terrified as I was, I’d have to get outside and check out the scene from ground level. I didn’t have much in the way of survival gear, but I loaded up what I could. I strapped on every knife I could find, loaded a bag full of cherry coke and leftover pizza from three days ago; I took my one flashlight and a twenty pack of batteries, which was useless really; it was daytime and the flashlight only took one battery at a time, but I was new at this sort of apocalyptic kind of thing and it was better to have and not need, as the saying goes.

I tied a collapsible chair around my shoulder in case I had to sit down and roll a joint; I brought all of my grass, whatever I had for cigarettes, and anything that made fire: lighters, lighter fluid, flints and wicks and matches. I definitely didn’t feel ready but I knew I was never going to, so off I went out my fucking front door.

I didn’t lock up in case I lost my keys along the way, but I did notice that there was no apartment number on the door either, so I left a cherry coke as a marker. Walking towards the elevator I saw that all of the doors were void of any numbers; I tried knocking on a few of them but nobody was answering; this was all just fucked right up.

I made it to the elevator, which had also been robbed of its up and down symbols; however, despite the clusterfuck at hand, I was able to discern that the bottom button meant down, so, I pressed it, and the elevator opened. Inside the elevator was another story; I’d forgotten which button was designated to what floor, so I just pressed my best guess. The doors closed and I felt the mechanical movements; I was on the top floor, so I surmised that I must be going down, but the doors opened onto a floor that wasn’t the lobby, FUCK! 

I pressed the buttons several times and ended up on identical floors; they all were blank of evidence of where the fuck I was; I decided that whatever floor showed up next, I’d get off and start raising hell, banging the fuck out of every door I found. The doors opened once again to some non-designated floor, and I went completely ape-shit, screaming, bouncing off this door and that door, like a wild fucking animal, until I turned a corner, and looked down the hall at a cherry coke tin sitting in front of a door, FUCK! 

I stumbled with my proverbial tail between my legs back to my place; I was fucking exhausted, pissed off and completely dumbfounded; I grabbed the cherry coke and went inside. I plopped down at my desk chair and proceeded to spark up a smoke, but, to my surprise, there was already one burning in the ash tray. Even stranger than that, there was one other thing I didn’t notice when entering.

A goddamn fucking monkey sitting on my fucking bed; the fucker was wearing a tailored suit and fucking about with some sort of mechanical device; it was like a sextant, a compass, about ten scrabble sets, a gyroscope and a bunch of containers of weird liquid got together and gave birth to a very complicated “what the fuck”. He didn’t pay very much attention to my presence, just an occasional glance, checking me out. I really didn’t want to disturb him; he seemed deep in concentration, and I wasn’t all that sure that he was even real.

After a few cigarettes and cherry cokes, the monkey seemed to have adjusted the machine to where he wanted it and turned, seemingly to address me in conversation. He apologized for his silence, as he had to concentrate on the dimensional position of the machine. I tossed him a cherry coke; he explained that the machine had to be in the exact spot it was, in order to function properly in unison with all the other machines placed in other geographical positions. And with that, he excused his uninvited presence and thanked me for the coke.

“What in all living fuck is going on?” This was what I conceived to be the most universally accepted question I could ask. The monkey described that certain places on Earth went through an unexpected multidimensional shift, causing a fracture in time and space; these machines, when all of them are aligned, will connect using sonic waves and hopefully put things back in order. After the explanation my next question was going to be “What in all living fuck is going on?”, but given its repetitive nature, and my conclusion being that I wasn’t going to understand a fucking thing he said, I decided to hold back and just let the fucking monkey do his shit; I offered up another cherry coke.

Ben Newell

Activate Anna 

“Son-of-a-bitch!”

Sitting on the toilet lid, Hector winced as he doused the wound with alcohol. His shin looked like somebody had scraped it with a cheese grater. It hurt like hell. But he was accustomed to such pain. Injuries and skateboarding were inseparable. And he had been skating since he was fourteen. 

At forty-six, he was definitely old school. Too old, Monica would say. His ex-girlfriend had given him much grief on the matter—

Put away that toy!

You’re not a teenager anymore! 

Grow up, Hector!

Monica had disapproved of Hector’s job, too. Working at a sex doll factory wasn’t her idea of respectable employment. In tandem with the skating, this had finally proved to be too much. She had dumped him some six weeks ago, packing up her belongings and moving out while he was at work. He hadn’t talked to her since. 

After topping the wound with gauze and several band-aids he went to his tiny kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. He sat on his second-hand sofa and lit a cigarette. The beer was cold and good. 

His board was propped against the wall just inside the door. Hector admired it from afar. Skull Skates deck, Tracker trucks, Rat Bones wheels, the quintessential hardcore, old school set-up. 

He regarded his surroundings. Monica’s things had given the joint a touch of class; without them, the place looked seedy. Empty beer cans, overflowing ashtrays. The current issues of Thrasher and Hustler cluttered the table before him. 

Hector thumbed through the Hustler. Internet porn certainly had its place, but he still preferred print. Old school to the core, he thought—old, outdated tricks to accompany his archaic stroke mags. 

He certainly didn’t miss Monica’s incessant bitching. But the sex . . . damn, he missed fucking her!  She was a stick of dynamite in the sack. And now she was surely balling somebody else, some asshole accountant who played tennis or swatted golf balls on the weekend. What she called a “professional, mature man.” 

Hector admired some hot ginger with freckles, tatts, and big tits. He hadn’t gotten laid in quit a while. He unzipped, pulled out his cock, and spat on it. Then he tugged and jerked and grunted and blew his wad all over the ginger’s big tits. 

***

“Stealing a doll? Are you nuts? That’s crazy talk.” 

“I was expecting a little more support,” Hector said. 

They spoke in hushed tones despite having the break room to themselves. Judd, Hector’s coworker at the factory, took a bite of his liverwurst sandwich. They worked in the warehouse, packing and shipping dolls for the well-heeled consumers who could afford such luxuries. These weren’t cheap, inflatable dolls. Not by a long shot. These were top-of-the-line, ultra-realistic fuck dolls meticulously sculpted by a team of whiz-bang engineers. 

Judd said, “Forget it. You’ll get fired. Maybe even sent to jail.” 

“Only if I get caught.”

“You’ll get caught.”

“Thanks for the confidence.” 

“Hey, man, you asked for my advice. I’m not going to sit here and blow smoke up your ass. Don’t do it. Don’t even think about it.” 

“Easy for you to say. You’ve got a girlfriend, a very fine girlfriend at that. You can tap that ass whenever the mood strikes. In fact, I bet you tapped it last night.” 

“Well, not to brag . . .”

“That’s what I thought. You want to know what I did last night?” 

“Not really.”

“I jerked off to Hustler.” 

“You still use stroke mags?”

“You know me, man. I’m old school.” 

“Go to a bar, pick up a slut.”

“I hate bars.”

“Get a hooker.”

“Fuck that.”

“Well,” Judd said, “I guess you’ll just have to beat your meat.”

Hector sighed wearily. “Working around these dolls all day, it’s really starting to get to me. It wasn’t a problem when Monica and I were together . . .”

“Because you were having regular sex.”

“Exactly.”

“And now you’re not.”

“Yeah,” Hector said, “and it’s just so damned tempting. Day after day, man. I work in a state of perpetual horniness. I want to whip out my cock and fuck a doll right there on the warehouse floor. Those bitches are hot.” 

“I won’t argue with that.” 

“Especially that new model.”

“Anna?” 

“Oh, man. She’s something else.”

“Look, Hector. I hear what you’re saying. You’re going through a rough patch. Monica left you and you’re lonely. But you’ll get over it. This isn’t forever. You’ll meet some hot skater chick and everything will work out.”

“I don’t know . . .”

“Trust me, man.”

“Maybe . . .”

“Just don’t steal a doll.” 

Judd’s words went in one ear and out the other. Hector had already made up his mind. He was going to do it. 

***

Heart hammering with excitement, Hector hauled the large box into his apartment. He closed the door, locked it, and secured the chain. Safely ensconced within his lair, he opened the taped flaps with a pocket knife, finally digging into the packing peanuts where he struck gold—

Anna! 

A week had passed since his conversation with Judd. Good thing he hadn’t listened to his coworker. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be the proud owner of the Ferrari of sex dolls. And that just wouldn’t do. 

Hector placed her on the sofa. He actually gasped at the spectacle. Anna was a goddess. Supermodel slender with boyishly cut brunette hair, firm little B-cup tits, and the tightest apple ass imaginable. 

Hector’s cock stirred. He couldn’t wait. 

He shucked his clothes with much haste. Then he spat in his hand and lubed his prick, priming himself for the fuck of the century. He grabbed her ankles and pushed her legs back, opening her cunt for a deep, penetrative reaming. 

Hector mounted. 

Everything he had heard was correct; the countless glowing testimonials from satisfied customers were instantly verified. Anna’s pussy felt amazing; its silky folds and contours enveloped his shaft, eliciting a moan as Hector rammed it home. 

It was surreal. He had worked with these dolls for years, carefully packing them into boxes. And now he was fucking one, the best of the best.  Anna! And she belonged to him. He could have her again and again, later tonight, tomorrow morning, tomorrow night, whenever he wanted.

Anna would always be in the mood. 

Anna wouldn’t say no. 

Anna wouldn’t criticize him for skateboarding, wouldn’t badmouth his job, wouldn’t try to turn him into somebody he didn’t want to be . . .

Hector tried to slow his thrusts, but it was no use. Face contorted with ecstasy, he shot a massive load, filling Anna’s tight pussy with rope after rope after rope . . .

***

“Run that by me again?”

“Did I stutter?”

They were sitting in Judd’s car in the employee parking lot, talking and smoking cigarettes on their morning break. 

“I did it,” Hector said with pride. “I took my very own Anna right under their noses. It was a cinch, man.” 

“When?”

“A few days ago, right after you clocked out. That big shipment out on the loading dock. Well, I was waiting on UPS, but the driver was running late. Everybody had gone home for the day, so I went for it. I backed my car in, tossed her in the trunk, and that was that. The driver showed up a few minutes later. Bad ass, huh?”

“Bad idea, Hector. These things are made to order. What happens when the paying customer doesn’t receive his doll?” 

“He calls, complains, and we play dumb.” 

“You’ve got it all figured out, huh?” 

“It’s no big deal. Nothing’s going to happen.” 

“What about the camera on the loading dock? Did you think about that? They’ll check the footage. They’ll see you heisting the goods . . .”

“I doubt it. I mean, it’s not like there was a break-in at the factory. They have those cameras for the cops, man. They won’t call the cops. 

“I don’t know . . .”

“Besides,” Hector said, “shit gets lost in the mail all the time.” 

“Yeah, shit gets lost in the mail. Small shit. This isn’t a goddamned paperback novel from Amazon. This is a six-thousand dollar sex doll. You can count on a thorough investigation.” 

“I’m telling you, man, everything will be cool. The UPS man, dude. It’s his fuckup, not mine.” 

“That’s your story?”

“That’s my story,” Hector said, “and I’m sticking to it.”

***

Days, weeks, months . . . . 

Hector settled into a nice routine: work, skating, fucking Anna. His shin healed nicely. He forgot all about Monica. Most importantly, nothing had been said about the missing doll. It was as if the incident had never even happened. Hector was the victor. He had rolled the dice and won in a big way. At least, that’s what he thought. 

Until the big boss summoned him to his office. 

***

Mr. Harvey Goldstein, the big boss, sat behind his desk. His was an opulent office befitting a man of his professional stature: cherry wood walls, exotic fish aquarium, and a stunning view of the cityscape. 

Dressed in his dirty work coveralls, Hector felt awfully out of place, as if his presence were steadily contaminating the room. He sat on the other side of the desk. He was nervous, yet tried not to show it. Play dumb, he thought. Admit nothing. Stick to your story and never waver . . . 

“Hector,” Goldstein said, “do you know why I called you in today?”

“No, sir,” Hector said. “I hope nothing’s wrong.” 

“Unfortunately, something is wrong.”

Hector didn’t say anything. 

“A doll is missing.”

“Missing?”

“That’s right. One of our customers never received his order. We’ve tried to track the item, but our efforts have been unsuccessful.” 

Hector’s mouth was dry. His armpits began to sweat; he felt the droplets slowly slide down his ribcage. His heart rate increased, thumping a mad rhythm inside his chest. 

“Would you know anything about this?”

“Nothing at all, sir. Maybe the doll got lost in the mail . . .” 

“It’s possible,” Goldstein replied, “but highly improbable.” 

The office seemed to be getting smaller. Hector could feel the walls closing in, compressing him into a tiny, claustrophobic space. 

“We have certain safeguards in place. In a business like this, we find these measures to be an absolute necessity. Theft will not be tolerated.” 

“Sir,” Hector said, his voice cracking, “I can assure you that—” 

“You’ve been with us for a long time, Hector. You do good work, always have. If, for whatever reason, you suffered a momentary lapse in judgment . . .”

Hector didn’t take the bait. He remained silent, refusing to confess. 

“I’m not an unreasonable man. We all make mistakes. I can forgive a single transgression. Provided, of course, the prompt returning of the doll.”

“I don’t have the doll, sir. I don’t know anything about it.” 

“That’s your story?”

“It’s the truth.” 

Goldstein pinned Hector with an intense stare, his mouth set in grim determination. “Twenty-four hours, Hector. That’s how long you have to return the doll. After that, all bets are off . . .” 

***

A Friday night found Hector getting good and drunk in his apartment. It had been a long week at work and he was celebrating. 

The twenty-four hours had elapsed with no action on his part. Returning the doll would be an admission of guilt, and he wasn’t admitting a damned thing. 

Mr. Goldstein didn’t fool him, not for one minute. The big boss was bluffing. Hector wasn’t stupid. That garbage about a “momentary lapse in judgment” and forgiving “a single transgression” was total bullshit. If Hector returned the doll he’d be canned on the spot, perhaps even detained and subjected to criminal prosecution. 

“Mr. Goldstein,” Hector addressed the shabby walls, “I call your bluff.” 

Sitting on the sofa, he cackled with maniacal glee. Then he got up for another beer. His cell phone vibrated on the kitchen counter. He peered at the number with surprise. It was Monica. What the hell did she want? Hector hadn’t talked to her since the breakup. He didn’t feel like arguing. He was on a good drunk and he wasn’t about to let her ruin it. Then again, maybe she wanted to apologize . . . 

Against his better judgment, Hector took the call. As soon as he heard her voice he knew something was horribly wrong. Monica was hysterical. 

“My God, Hector! What did you do!? They’re going to kill me! They—”

“Calm down, Monica.” 

“They’re here in my apartment!”

“Who? What are you—”

But Hector never finished his sentence. He was abruptly cut off by a raspy male voice. “Hey, asshole. Shut the fuck up and listen. This is what happens when you try to screw the company . . .” 

Hector heard two things—

The whining of a power drill. 

And Monica’s screams. 

***

In a state of utter panic, Hector rushed into the bedroom to retrieve Anna. He crossed the threshold. And received the shock of his life. 

Anna stood there beside his bed. “I gave you a chance.” Her lips moved, but the voice was that of Harvey Goldstein. “You could’ve returned the doll, and everything would’ve been forgiven. Unfortunately, you had to do things your way. I’m actually sorry that it had to come to this. You were a good worker. But those days are over. Goodbye, Hector.”

Anna lunged with astonishing speed, covering the few feet between them in a split-second. She clutched Hector’s throat with both hands, squeezing with incredible strength. Hector clawed in desperation, trying with all his might to pry her fingers loose, but it was futile. Her strength was Herculean. Anna squeezed, harder and harder. Hector felt an immense pressure in his head; his eyes threatened to pop. 

He unleashed a wicked kick; his right foot slammed into Anna’s crotch. She released his neck and staggered backwards. Hector turned, fled the bedroom, and rushed for the door. He never made it. 

Anna caught him from behind, clutched a handful of hair, and hurled him to the floor. Hector’s head slammed into the hardwood with immense force. He was stunned, dizzy, unable to get up. 

Hector’s skateboard was in its usual spot, propped against the wall. Anna grabbed the board and wielded it with both hands. 

“No, no . . . God, no . . . Please don’t . . .”

She brought the board down again and again and again, pummeling Hector until his face looked like raw hamburger and the walls were coated with gore. 

***

Her work done, Anna raided Hector’s closet for some clothes. Luckily, they were about the same size. His shoes were too big, but she could make it in her bare feet. 

Board in hand, she exited the apartment and descended the stairs to the street. It was a long haul to Mr. Goldstein’s posh mansion in the suburbs, but Anna was up to the task. 

She skated all the way. 

Judge Santiago Burdon

Van Gogh Ate Yellow Paint

Made it out of bed and was grateful I had survived another day. Here I am, a frog taking temporary residence on the lily pad of another princess,  searching for the kiss to change me into the prince of a fellow I know exists.

I walked into the kitchen, and she stood at the sink, looking out the window. There was the faint sound of sobbing. I wasn’t excited at the prospect of dealing with a dilemma first thing in the morning, but I put aside my feelings and inquired why she was blue despite the possibility of any number of reactions.

“Good morning my love. What’s wrong? What’s got you so downhearted?”

She turns and hugs me placing her head on my chest.

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I had an idea as to the cause of her melancholy. There’d been an opening for her new series of paintings at a fairly prestigious art gallery last evening, and it didn’t come off as well as she would have liked. The review of her work was less than complimentary, describing her art as mediocre. However, she did sell four pieces and collected a tidy sum of cash. 

Damn it! The trap has been baited. When a woman is crying and tells you it’s nothing, trust me, it’s something. There’s no way to determine if you should take her word for it and not concern yourself or risk inquiring further as to the reason for her grief. I choose to honor her request and not pursue the matter.

“Okay baby, well cheer up. It could be worse, it could be raining. Did you make coffee? I’m starving this morning, gotta a taste for chilaquiles. How about you? Did you eat already?”

“Really, all you can think about is stuffing your face? Don’t you care that I’m depressed? Is a little compassion too much to ask for?”

As usual I had made the wrong  decision. Now I’d given reason for her sadness to develop into rage. Unwittingly I had offered myself, an innocent bystander, as a target for her displaced aggression.

“You know my dear, the symbols  for opportunity and crisis are the same in Japanese or Chinese, I’ve been led to believe.”

“Well that’s just fucking great. I’m not Japanese or Chinese. I don’t live there and don’t speak either language. So you’re saying I can count on all my opportunities to end in crisis?”

“No, what the hell? Why do you have to take it that way? I was just making a point that possibly your present crisis will provide you with a future opportunity.”

“I’m mediocre. Just mediocre. I expose my life, my feelings, my insecurities in color on canvas, and I am viewed as mediocre. No one wants my art.”

“You sold four paintings. That has to count for something. I consider that a success. Did you know Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime? They say it was bought anonymously by his brother.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better? It didn’t do much for Van Gogh in the end. He ate yellow paint to make himself happy, and it obviously wasn’t much of a cure because he cut off his own ear and committed suicide.”

I waited to see if she was done.

“You can sit down and write shit about poodles eating garbage out of a dumpster in an alley, and it will be interpreted as some insightful  sociological observation on prostitutes, drugs, booze and your personal  mental condition. People seem to just eat it up with both hands and have second helpings. They refer to you as a Bukowski protege or the bastard son of Hunter S.  It is all so easy for you.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t mean it to be.”

“It’s not your paintings I like, it is your painting.”

“You said that before, and you have to say things like that because you love me.”

Whoa! I couldn’t recall ever saying that I loved her. If this is her idea of expressing love, I’m definitely positive I never used the “L” word.

What do ya think? Should I address the love reference now, under these adverse conditions, or save it for a more appropriate time? Sure, I know there’s some of you out there wanting me to bring it up now. You sick bastards, hoping to witness my demise. It’s not going to happen just yet, I’m not totally masochistic, after all.

“I really like the poodle prostitute analogy. Can I use it? Secondly, no one has ever referred to me as being as talented as Bukowski. Don’t sully his reputation by putting my name and his in the same sentence. Although the bastard son reference, to Hunter S., is classic.”

“All I’m saying is that it is all so easy for you.”

“That’s bullshit! Nothing has ever been easy for me. I’m not complaining just stating a fact. The difference between you and I is that I’m not a writer seeking fame and fortune. I’m a writer because I’d been cursed at birth. It’s an affliction, not a blessing. All genuine writers will validate my statement. I write for me, not to please anyone else. I don’t care if they appreciate my work or not. Never should your success be determined by the judgement of others.”

“I know what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to think that way.”

“Well to start, I guess it’s bloody marys, Mozart and drugs to get this Sunday off to a better beginning.”

My prescription cured her temporary infection of self loathing. Within an hour, she was back to the person I enjoyed being with. Later that afternoon, after some angry sex and righteous cocaine, she drifted off to the place where nothing is real, nothing can harm you, nothing else matters, for her. I’m unable to find that place. My dreams are made from empty scotch bottles, plastic baggies, and the sound of my father screaming at me.

I sat in the kitchen, just staring out the window. Then I began to write.

I found refuge behind a dumpster to sleep that night. The noises of the city; the sirens, car horns, distant screams and gunfire served as my lullaby. When I woke the next morning, I noticed a pristine white poodle eating from a garbage can in the alley. I could hear the click clack of high heels coming closer, followed by the voice of a woman.

“Angel cake, angel cake, get out of that garbage baby!”

It was a prostitute, most likely just finishing up her shift, chasing after her dog.

“Hey, I like angel cake,” I said. “Did the dog eat all the angel cake?”

“Who said that..?”

And the circus continues, the show that never ends.

Joseph Farley

Ishtar

“Ishtar is the goddess of love.”

So she said. She was naked except for long strings of brightly colored beads. Several around her neck hung down over her breasts. These could easily be brushed aside, as could the beads hanging from a gold chain around her hips.

I stared into her black eyes thinking about the good works of such a goddess.

“If you would love me,” she said, “You must love her.”

She was in her prime, lithe, and, I had been told, without restraint.

“Sure thing baby,” I said trying to waltz her to the bedroom.

“To say so is one thing,” she said. “To mean it is another.”

“Of course I mean it.”

“Then prove it,” she said, putting my hand on her breast. “Prove to me that you love Ishtar.”

I kissed her neck.

“How baby?” I asked. “How do I prove it?”

“Stand before the altar and make a sacrifice.”

She pointed to a small table. It was made of polished wood, and stood waist high. It had a single drawer. On top of it was a red cloth. On the cloth stood a small metal statue that I had not observed or had overlooked. In front of the statue were a small wooden bowl and a penknife.

“Sacrifice?”

“Yes,” she said. “A sacrifice. You must give something of yourself. Prove to Isthar how much you love her. Prove to me how much you love me.”

I looked at her body. I looked at the bowl. I was reluctant to take my hand away from her breast. but did so. I went to the table that served as an altar. I bowed slightly to the statue.

“Praise Ishtar!”

“A sacrifice,” she said. “You must place the sacrifice in the bowl.”

I placed some bills in the bowl.

“Donations are welcome, but you must make a sacrifice. You must give something of yourself, of your body.”

One glance at that face and that body was enough to overcome my hesitation.

I picked up the penknife and opened it. Holding the knife in my right hand, I pressed the point against my left arm until there was a pin prick sized wound. Blood flowed for a few seconds into the bowl. The red splatter grew to a small puddle.

“Is that enough?” I asked.

She smiled broadly.

“That’s more than enough. You truly love Isthar. Most visitors pare their finger nails or chop off some hair.”

I suddenly felt stupid for having cut myself, the other possibilities not having crossed my mind. 

“Wait here,” she said.

She left the room, and returned with a bottle of anti-bacterial liquid, a wad of cotton and a bandage. She took hold of my arm gently cleaned the wound, and bandaged it. When she was done, she lifted my arm to her mouth and kissed the gauze.

“All better now,” I said.

“You love Ishtar very much,” she said, and then added coyly. “Does that means you love me very much?”

“Of course.”

“How much?”

I reached in my pocket for the roll of bills and place them in her hand. I had been told by a friend what amount would be sufficient. She grinned. She did not bother to unroll or count the money. She opened a drawer in the table under the statue, dropped the money inside and slid the drawer shut.

She came towards me and put her arms around me. She looked into my eyes.

“You love me very much. I can tell. Now, I will love you very much.” 

Gently clutching the arm that had made the sacrifice, she led me to the bedroom. There she made her own sacrifice. She proved she loved the goddess very much. And that she loved me much more than the price demanded. I had found a priestess for my private religion. She made me into a holy man. I visited her many times in the months the followed. Imbibing her wisdom and the scent of her perfume. Praise Isthar.

David Thomas Peacock

Mother’s Day

Some people should never have kids, she thought, holding her baby’s head underwater. If God wanted them to live, he would have made them strong enough to fight back.

The little body looked like it was trying to swim as it struggled until finally becoming still. Starlene had been kneeling on the hard linoleum floor as she carried out her grim task next to the old cast iron bathtub. Her knees hurt as she sat back on her butt, out of breath. Jesus, that took longer than I thought.

After a few minutes, she managed to raise her heft and stood up, dirty wet hair stuck to her sweaty face. Glancing at the little body, now floating face up in the tub, she searched for her cigarettes. Where’d I put my Virginia Slims?

Looking around the trailer, they were on the coffee table she’d found in the alley right after moving in. Someone had put it out for trash pickup — made out of laminated particleboard, it had a cardboard tabletop embossed with a depiction of The Last Supper. Her cigarettes were sitting squarely on Judas’ face, a can of Schlitz on Philip’s. You could barely make out Jesus through the dirty glass ashtray covering his sad, knowing expression. He appeared to be disappointed with the world.

Some things never change.

Waddling over to the table, she’d no sooner reached for the pack when she heard it. A piercing cry, loud enough to wake the dead.

A baby’s cry.

She froze just long enough for her endocrine system to squirt out a bolus of adrenaline. Spinning around, her slack jaw making an “O” with her mouth, she was dumbstruck. There, on the floor next to the tub, was the baby. Quite alive, thank you. Screaming like a banshee, it’s little arms and legs thrashing, face angry and red.

What the fuck? Was the best her mind could come up with in response to this unexpected turn of events.

This can’t be happening, This can’t be happening, kept repeating in her mind like a nonsensical loop, not really a question or a statement. Kneeling down, she went to pick the thing up, but it tried to bite her, she was sure of it. It seemed unnaturally strong, not like before. The child’s screams were deafening, so loud she couldn’t think.

Panicked, she picked the baby up and threw it back in the tub, knocking the plastic box filled with rubber toys in the water with it. It’s kicking and flailing seemed to be keeping it afloat like it knew what it was doing. The little rubber cartoon characters were bouncing up and down in the turbulent water like they were caught in a storm. They seemed afraid.

Not wanting to touch it, she grabbed the plunger next to the toilet and used it to hold the thrashing thing underwater. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, she pinned it to the bottom and used all her strength to hold it down. Bubbles kept coming up as it screamed, eyes wide open, looking straight at her. It didn’t seem scared, more like enraged. Her arms were starting to burn as her muscles fatigued — but still, the goddamn thing kept moving.

Just when she thought there was no way she could keep this up, its movements began to slow, then stop. Continuing to pin it to the bottom of the tub, she was now panting. Her whole body trembling, she was afraid to release it. The baby’s eyes were still open — they appeared to be looking right at her, accusingly. Starlene felt like they were looking into her soul, threatening her.

Exhausted and unable to hold it down anymore, every cell of her muscles were on fire as she gasped for air. Slowly releasing pressure on the plunger, she slumped over, her head collapsing on the edge of the tub, spittle drooling out of her mouth as she struggled to breathe. Kneeling back on her heels, she looked down. The baby was still on the bottom of the tub, motionless, eyes open, staring.

Her panic starting to fade; she thought, What does it take to kill this fucking thing?

Glancing over at the TV, Celebrity Jeopardy was on. Thank God the volume’s up, she thought, just as Burt Reynolds missed a question about Gunsmoke.

She was the female saloonkeeper who had an unrequited relationship with James Arness. Alex sounded as if he was interrogating a witness on trial for murder.

Who is Mrs. Pussy? Burt answered after a pause, laughing nervously. The audience tittered as Trebeck said, No, that is wrong. The correct answer is, “Who is Miss Kitty?”

Jesus Christ, Starlene thought. How can you miss that — you were on the fucking show!

Her bulk collapsing onto the sofa, she lit a cigarette and took a long drag, trying to collect herself. Once this fucking baby’s gone, Tor can move back in, and everything will be alright. Two days ago, they were living together, happily, or at least that’s what she’d thought. Then yesterday, he said he couldn’t take the child’s crying — it wasn’t his, and he couldn’t stay there one more night with the thing’s incessant wailing.

They’d only lived together for two weeks, but Starlene had never been with anyone like Tor before. When sober, he worked as a strongman with whatever circus would hire him. The problem was, his alcoholism was now well-known, making it next to impossible to get jobs. When she met him, he was working as a roustabout for a carnival, sleeping on a chair in the doghouse for the Ferris Wheel. She offered him a place to stay, and everything seemed perfect until yesterday. Her plan seemed simple enough: all she had to do was get rid of the baby, Tor would come back, and everything would be okay again.

Looking at the clown face wall clock, it was almost midnight. I’ll just take a little nap and then get rid of the body, she thought, stubbing the cigarette out on Jesus’ face. But then, just as her eyes closed, it happened. A scream so loud she knocked Tor’s 38 Special from between the cushions where he kept it onto the floor. Then another even louder. Blinking her eyes in disbelief, she saw the baby was now halfway between her and the tub — crawling towards her with what looked like murderous intent. Starlene began to feel panic-stricken; for a second, she wondered who was in more danger — her or the child?

Standing up, heart beating so fast she thought it might explode, she backed away, afraid. The creature’s screams were deafening, so loud it didn’t seem possible something so small could make that much noise. They didn’t seem like screams of pain or fear, though. They sounded threatening, malicious even.

Knocking over an end table next to the sofa, she spotted a plastic laundry basket filled with dirty clothes. The baby was inexorably getting closer; it’s little hands looked like tiny fists as it pulled itself across the dirty linoleum. With each wail, its lips pulled back, exposing small bared incisors that it seemed to be snapping together with surprising force.

Desperate, she grabbed the laundry basket, emptied it on the floor, and turned it upside down over the infant, trapping it. The creature became more frantic as it tried to break free; she struggled to hold it. Just within reach was a case of Schlitz; putting her full weight on the basket, she pulled the beer over and placed it on top. Wanting to be sure it couldn’t escape, she duct-taped the whole thing to the floor.

Having contained it, Starlene stood there, her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath, her whole body shaking. Still, the thing screamed. It didn’t seem to breathe between shrieks, unleashing its cries like a weapon.

Suddenly it hit her — Crib death! Why didn’t I think of that before?

Throwing a comforter over the trap to muffle the caterwauling, she sat down, lit another cigarette to calm her nerves, and poured a shot of Jack. I’ll show this fucking thing who’s boss!

Looking over at the sleeping area, there was a white plastic crib she’d bought at a yard sale for $5.00, its side rails blackened with the dirt of God knows how many kids. I’ll just put it in there and smother it with a pillow — no muss, no fuss! Glancing at the clock, it was now almost 2:00 am. One more shot, and it’s showtime, she thought, starting to get her courage back. Looking over at the makeshift cage still emanating muffled screams, she said, Time for Mommy to put you to fucking bed once and for all.

Slamming down a second shot, she went to her mattress and took a pillow, setting it on the floor next to the crib. Turning to the basket holding the still howling child, she started to pull off the duct tape. Removing each strip, the thing got even louder — it sounded like some kind of wild animal caught in a trap. Once it was all off, her hands shaking, she removed the comforter and, in one fell swoop, threw the basket across the room while throwing the bedding over it like a net. She wrapped it tight like a papoose, but it writhed with inhuman force, now making guttural, growling noises. It sounded dangerous.

Struggling to keep it contained, Starlene became overcome with fear. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard to kill a baby, she thought, realizing she was losing control. Somewhere, deep in her subconscious, it felt like the tables were turning.

Her body was exhausted; the only thing powering her now was sheer terror. Forcing the swaddled monster into the crib, she grabbed her pillow and pinned it down, trying to concentrate the pressure on where she thought its face was. The power of its movements as it fought to break free was overwhelming — it was like trying to smother a pit bull. Starlene was afraid the whole cheap crib would collapse; she was putting all of her considerable weight on the pillow, and still, the thing was screaming as it fought her.

Starlene began to cry — not out of remorse, but out of fear. Fear for her life, fear of whatever ungodly power she had unleashed, fear of retribution. This was supposed to be easy, but now she felt like the one in danger. What if the thing couldn’t be killed?

After what seemed like hours, its movements became weaker, then stopped. Terrified, Starlene kept the pressure on as long as she could after it stopped moving. Her body wobbly; it was hard to stand. Lifting the pillow, she watched goggle-eyed for any sign of movement. Pupils dilated with fear, her face wet with tears, she stood waiting, but nothing happened.

It was dead.

Somehow she made it to the sofa. Now the silence was unnerving. Leaning over to pick Tor’s pistol up off the floor, she laid it on the cushion next to her. The clown on the wall clock now said it was 4:52; its leering face seemed to be laughing at her. Her body drained of adrenaline; she was crashing hard. Pouring another shot of Jack, she lit a cigarette and tried to collect herself, but it was impossible. Downing the bourbon, she poured another and waited.

Dozing off, her last thought was, What have I done?.

If anyone was awake, they would have heard a blood-curdling scream, but it wasn’t the child this time. It was Starlene, woken from her drunken sleep by what felt like something biting her left nipple. The baby had latched onto her tit like a leach and was glaring at her with unblinking eyes. Screaming as she woke to a living nightmare of her own creation, her last thought was, It can’t be killed, as she put Tor’s 38 in her mouth like a lethal cock and pulled the trigger.

Her neighbors in the trailer next door heard the scream followed by a gunshot and immediately called 911. Within minutes, the police were there. Breaking down the door, the officers cautiously entered, guns drawn, rubber-neckers now gawking safely behind.

The scene before them showed a baby nursing the corpse of what must have been its mother, her brains now splattered across the clown face on the wall clock behind her; a fine bloody mist had settled on the last supper. The infant looked peaceful. 

She looks like an angel! A neighbor exclaimed, peering over the officers. Poor child. What a precious thing!

The Home Shopping Network was blaring on the TV, selling trinkets for Mother’s Day. What better way to say Happy Mother’s Day than to give a gift acknowledging all the things mothers do for their children.

Amen to that, replied the perky, coiffed host. No one knows the sacrifices mothers make.

Jack Henry

The Second Time I Saw It 

By the time I walked across the fresh cut, dewy grass of my high school campus I had lost every pretense of graduating with a grade average higher than a D. In truth I revelled in that reality, much to my parent’s dismay and my younger sister’s utter jubilation. Academia, in 1981, meant very little to me. 

Over the preceding summer i shaved my head, grew a beard, abandoned any sense of fashion or style, embraced punk rock, thickened enough to not be gangly, and developed an impervious attitude of indifference. 

From that first step on campus I had recreated myself so completely few people recognized me, not that I had been memorable in prior years, but my conversion had been complete. 

Mr. Yim, Vice Principal and guardian of all punishment, someone I knew well, did not recognize me. 

“Sir, do you have a reason to be on campus?” He asked as I brushed by him. 

“Yeah. Class.” 

“Excuse me?” Mr. Yim spun around, spoke to my back. “Jack?” 

“You got it,” I shouted without turning back. “I will stop in after school.” I added before he could say anything. 

Cindy Oh-Sure walked around a corner accompanied by a gaggle of friends, clucking away madly about being back and oh my god and can’t wait, best year ever. 

“Hey,” she said. 

“Hey, Cindy.” 

“Do I know you?” Cindy entered the year as head cheerleader, Varsity Volleyball and Softball, and academic decathlete. “Are you new?” 

“Yes, Cindy.” I stopped, looked her in the eye, no more than a foot away. “I am new. Brand new.” 

Cindy and I spent three years at the same junior high school and now entered a third year together and Canyon High School. Other than a memorable encounter in 9th grade we barely spoke and, actually, never had a real reason to interact. 

Later in the day I walked into 4th period English I ended up sitting next to Cindy Oh-Sure. 

“Hi.” 

“Hey, Cindy.” 

“I know who you are.” 

“Really? That’s exciting.” 

“Jack? Right?” Cindy beamed inexplicably, as if she won a prize for best pig at the state fair. “I remembered.” 

“Genius at work,” I muttered. 

“What’s that?” 

“You are correct, Cindy. I am Jack.” 

“You look so different.” 

“Do I?” 

Cindy and her gaggle had never been friendly to kids they presumed to be less than equal to their own self appreciation. And my pals and I returned the favor. 

Over the next several weeks Cindy Oh-Sure and I chatted before and after 4th period English. My disdain for her decreased significantly and her intrigue in me increased. Not quite proportional, but enough for her to ask me to the school’s Sadie Hawkins Dance, a beleaguered traditional, at the time, where a young lady would ask a young man to a dance. 

I said no, initially, but acquiesced when she returned with the gaggle in tow, as if reinforcements might be needed to force an affirmative response. 

As we had never been on a date up to that moment in time, I suggested we go out to gauge compatibility. 

“What do you mean?” Cindy Oh-Sure asked. 

“You know to see if we get along, outside of school.” 

“Oh.” She thought it over, her mind peppered with a variety of scenarios and possibilities, all seemingly new and complicated. “I guess,” she finally offered. 

After a Friday night football game, a punishing loss to arch rival Villa Park, I took Cindy Oh-Sure for pizza at Mario’s near the Orange Mall. An hour later I dropped her at her front door promptly at 10, just as I promised her father. 

“So, did I pass?” She asked as she sat timidly in the front seat of my 1964 Chevy Pick-up Truck. “Are we compatible?” 

“I think so, don’t you?” 

“Oh, sure.” 

I walked around and opened the door. We had a furtive first kiss, knowing the prying eyes of her parents, or little sister, would be upon us. 

The night of the dance I picked Cindy up early and endured the pictures with the parents, pictures with the gaggle, pictures of us with the professional photog. As the dance was casual, I wore tore jeans, black biker boots, and a black Ramone’s tee-shirt; Cindy wore a short light blue dress and matching heels. The gaggle wore similar dresses, and their dates wore jeans, dress shirts, and lettermen’s jackets. To a one. 

The dance itself did not provide any lasting memories, until the very end when Cindy whispered in my ear that her parents, and little sister, had actually gone out of town within minutes of the cascade of photographs and well-wishes. 

“Really?” I tried to remain cool and collected, but my brain began to scramble. In the weeks leading up to the dance I had made the appropriate purchases, as preparation. With the beard I didn’t look my age and buying booze had never been a problem, but nerves caused me some anxious moments acquired prophylactics. 

“Yes,” she said as she kissed my cheek. “We can leave whenever you want.” 

Fifteen minutes later we’re pulling into her driveway. 

The moment we walked through her front door I feel further from my element. Being in the lower class of the high school hierarchy combined with shyness, sloth and acne, I never really spent any time with a girl, but I didn’t let on. As with most of my male counterparts my lie was dead on and smooth. But girls always knew the truth. 

Always. 

As we sat on her couch, I opened the Maddog 2020 and poured it into a couple of crystal glasses Cindy retrieved from her father’s liquor cabinet. After drinking and sitting quietly she leaned in and kissed me. Deep and hard. I responded in kind and before another second passed hands were moving quick, clothes were dropped fast, and she was leading me up the stairs in bra and panties and me in boxers and one sock. 

At the foot of the bed she stopped me, reached behind her back, and unsnapped her bra. For a moment I marveled at her dexterity, and then marveled at her breasts. She quickly pulled down her panties and that was when I saw it for the second time. 

“Kiss me,” she whispered, holding her arms out in an exaggerated way. As we embraced, she started to pull my boxers off, and I finished the task. The sock stayed on. 

“Should I get a condom? They’re in my pants downstairs.” 

“No, I’m on the pill.” 

We collapsed onto the bed, kissing and groping. My level of fear and anxiety growing as quickly as my erection. 

As I kissed my way down her stomach, not really knowing what I was doing, I paused suddenly, and began to speak. With each word that came out of my mouth, in real time and as I spoke, I knew I should just stop talking. 

“We meet again,” I muttered, as she pulled her legs back, spreading them enough to guide me in the right direction. 

“What was that?” Her hands were combing through my hair. She didn’t know any more than I did. 

“Nothing really.” I paused, looked up at her. Her eyes twinkled in the dim light of a street lamp outside her window. “I was just remembering 9th grade.” 

“Ninth grade?” 

“Yeah, Mr. Bowen’s history class.” 

Cindy Oh-Sure froze, legs slammed shut. 

“Oh my fucking god. I totally forgot about that.” 

“What?” 

“You were peeping at me.” 

“Peeping?” 

“Yeah, you were a little pervert!” 

“You weren’t wearing panties. I thought it was intentional.” 

That’s when I should have stopped talking, completely. 

“Intentional?” 

“Yeah, I thought you were flashing me because you wanted…” 

“Wanted what, hmm? Jack? What exactly did I want?” 

“Ah…” 

Cindy quickly dressed in sweats and a tee-shirt, leaving me naked except for one sock. 

“You need to go.” 

“Go?” 

“Yeah, go. As in, get the fuck out.” 

Without another word I raced downstairs, dressed and left. From the curb I heard the front door lock and the lights in her bedroom go out. 

A week later, after a multitude of apologies, a degree of pleading, some sobbing on my part, and outright begging, Cindy and I wound up in my bedroom, my parents, and little sister, out of town for the weekend. 

After a proper introduction the third meeting proved to be mutually positive, as did the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

James Babbs


Circle of Light

Barlow kept seeing a tiny circle of light, over there, on the wall, up near the ceiling. He figured the light must have been coming through the window in the top of the front door but he didn’t get up and check on it. Barlow just stayed in his recliner, holding a beer in his hand, taking a drink, every now and then, and watching the tiny circle of light. Barlow wasn’t sure what he thought the circle of light was going to do but he kept watching it, anyway.

When he had finished the beer, Barlow leaned forward and stood up. The circle of light was still there. It, still, looked the same to him. Barlow walked over to the circle of light and touched it with the open end of the empty bottle. Then, Barlow put his hand on the circle of light. He thought it would feel warm or something but the circle of light didn’t feel like anything at all.

Barlow had texted Jeannie three or four times in the last half an hour or so but she hadn’t responded. If he didn’t hear from her in another hour Barlow was going to give her a call. Maybe he’d tell her about the circle of light and how she needed to come and see it for herself.

Barlow carried the empty to the kitchen and tossed the bottle into the trash. He got another beer from the fridge before returning to the living room. Barlow walked over to the front door. He looked at the front door and he looked at the circle of light. Then, Barlow waved his hand, the one not holding the bottle, back and forth across the window in the top of the door. He did this several times but the circle of light didn’t change.

Barlow took a drink of beer. He lowered the bottle away from his mouth and put his free hand on the circle of light. He pushed on it as if the circle of light were some kind of a button that controlled an unseen device. When nothing happened, Barlow made a fist and tapped it lightly against the circle. Then, he took his beer and sat back down in the recliner.

Barlow hadn’t turned on the TV. He hadn’t turned on the radio nor started playing any music on the CD player. Barlow just sat there enjoying the silence and drinking his beer. The silence had its own kind of music, thought Barlow and he liked the sound of it.

Barlow finished the beer and went and got another one. He didn’t pay attention to the circle of light on his way back into the living room. Barlow sat down in the recliner again and looked at his phone. Still, nothing from Jeannie. Even when she didn’t want to talk to him, she would, usually, text him back to let him know she was okay.

Barlow took another drink of beer and glanced up at the circle of light. The circle had grown bigger. Barlow looked at the front door. It was getting dark outside and the circle of light had grown bigger. Barlow gave a sort of laugh into the empty room and took another drink from the bottle.

He put his beer down on the small table next to the recliner and stood up. Barlow walked over to the circle of light and put his hand on it. The circle was larger than his hand so Barlow tried to center his hand in the middle of the circle as best as he could. Now, the circle of light felt warm and Barlow pushed his hand against it, applying pressure, before moving his hand back and forth.

The circle of light moved and Barlow moved his hand a little faster. The light grew larger. Something was happening, thought Barlow. Now, he put both of his hands on the light and slowly spread them apart. The circle of light expanded. Barlow kept doing this until the circle of light had become a rectangle and was as tall and as wide as a door.

Barlow pushed against the light with his hands. He was convinced the light really was some kind of a door and he was sure he could open it if he just knew where to touch it. But no matter where he put his hands only the rectangle of light remained. In frustration, Barlow kicked the rectangle and said, Ow, after his toe hit the wall.

Barlow’s phone rang. For a moment he just stood there frozen. The phone rang a second time and Barlow went over and picked it up. It was Jeannie.

–Hey, said Barlow. He was a little out of breath.

–I’m on my way over. What’s wrong?

–What do you mean?

–You sound out of breath. What have you been doing?

Barlow laughed. –It’s the light.

–The what?

–The light. The circle of light. Well, it’s a rectangle now. Some kind of door.

–What? Jeannie sighed. –You’re drunk. God.

–No, listen. Okay. I’ve had a few beers. But there’s a light.

–Oh, shit. I’m on my way.

Jeannie’s phone disconnected and Barlow looked at the screen. He put the phone down and picked up the beer. He drained the rest of the bottle and then threw the empty as hard as he could at the rectangle of light. The bottle didn’t hit the wall but passed through the light and disappeared.

–Fuck, said Barlow.

He went and got a hammer and marched over to the light. Barlow laughed before he gave the hammer a mighty swing. The hammer landed in the middle of the rectangle and made a hole in the drywall.

–Son of a bitch.

Barlow started pounding the hammer all over the wall, all over the rectangle of light. The hammer made holes in the wall. Pieces of drywall crumbled and fell to the floor. The hammer turned white with the dust from the drywall. The dust covered Barlow’s hands and got in his hair. Sweat dripped from his forehead. He wiped it away with the back of his hand and smeared the dust across his face.

The light was fading. Barlow had made an opening in the wall about the size of a door. He could see the two by fours inside the wall. Some of them had pieces of drywall still stuck to them. The front door opened and Jeannie came into the house.

–What the hell? She said.

She looked at Barlow. She saw the hammer in his hand. Jeannie looked at the hole in the wall. Barlow looked at Jeannie. He looked at the wall. He looked at Jeannie, again. Barlow, still, held the hammer in his hand.

–There was a circle of light, he said. Barlow tried to laugh but the sound didn’t come out right.

Jeannie started crying. She put her hands up to her face. Barlow looked at the hammer in his hand. He looked at Jeannie and let the hammer drop to the floor. The hammer made a small burst of sound. Barlow approached Jeannie with his arms opened wide. He knew she would probably start screaming when he touched her but he kept moving toward her, anyway.

Eric Lawson

The Devil and the Dude

The overpowering stench hit Daniel squarely in the face. Public restrooms were never a pretty sight and this one was no different. In fact, upon first glance, the design looked like it dated back to the Roosevelt Administration. As in Theodore Roosevelt.

Realizing that he absolutely could not hold it any longer, he rushed over to the first open stall and closed the door behind him. He dropped his pants, sat down, and then immediately stood up again. Why the hell is everything wet? His mind asked. What’s wrong with people? He used what little toilet paper there was to wipe the seat down. His stomach rumbled loudly. He had a vicious turtle head poking out and he needed to give birth, pronto.

He eased back down onto the seat and settled in. He flexed his muscles and nothing happened. His stomach rumbled again. “Come on,” he whimpered. He placed his hands on the walls for leverage and closed his eyes. He strained with all of his might but still the stubborn turd held fast. He was preparing to push gain when his hand slipped and he readjusted and then opened his eyes. To his horror, a large brown smear on the wall had coated his hand. To keep from puking, he repeated the phrase it’s just melted chocolate over and over in his head until the nausea passed. Things were definitely not looking up. “Holy hell,” he muttered to himself.

“Problems, dude?” asked a voice from the next stall.

The deepness and proximity of the voice caught Daniel off guard. “Oh, hey, I thought I was alone. Just doing my business over here.” He grimaced as soon as he shut his mouth. A master conversationalist, he was not.

“Yeah, well you know what they say; it’s a small world,” came the reply. “Sounds to me like that turd’s gonna take its sweet time. No need to force it.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. Not exactly sage-like advice. “And I suppose you’re waiting for the tide to come in over there or something.”

The voice in the next stall chuckled. “’Tide to come in.’ Good one. Between you and me, partner, I’ve been back up for over a week now. I was kind of hoping today was my lucky day, you know? No such luck so far, though.”

Daniel blinked incredulously. “You’ve been constipated for a week? Shouldn’t you see a doctor about that?”

The voice chuckled again. “Kid, I’ve outlived so many doctors. In fact, the last one had the gall to—wait a second; I think I got something here.”

A horrendous fart erupted from the next stall and shook the walls. It sounded like a foghorn coming through a stack of amplifiers. Daniel felt a strong breeze against his ankles and then the smell hit him. In his mind, he was waist-deep in a swamp carrying a dirty diaper while balancing a carton of rotten eggs on his head. Nausea was consuming him and he was on the verge of blacking out.

The deep voice brought him back from the edge. “Hey, dude. You all right over there?”

Daniel massaged his face. It felt warm and sweaty. “Uh, yeah. I’m here.” He thought his voice sounded distant and weak. “I guess you were backed up after all.”

“Just a false alarm,” the voice sighed. “It was a doozy, though, wasn’t it?”

Daniel laughed. “I’ll say.”

“Hey, since it looks like we’re gonna be in here for a bit, let’s shoot the breeze, huh? My name’s Lou.”

“Oh, um, well, I’m Daniel.” Several seconds dragged by and he started to wonder if Lou had fallen asleep.

“Daniel? You’re kidding me. Sorry, dude, but that’s a total pansy name. Let me guess, your parents were huge Elton John fans.” Lou laughed long and hard at this. 

“Okay, my bad. I couldn’t resist. I’m just gonna call you Dude from here on out. Let’s pretend we’ve shaken hands and all that awkward crap already, okay?”

“Oh, right. Sure,” Daniel replied. “Nice to meet you, Lou.”

“Likewise, Dude. So what do you think of the carnival so far?”

Daniel took a few seconds to consider. “It’s all right, I guess. I’ve seen better. Back when I was a kid I was more into them, maybe. How about you?”

“Where do I start?” Lou sounded like he was winding up to tell a real whopper. “Well, the food’s overcooked, the ringmaster’s taking pills for his ulcer, his daughter is knocked up and she’s not sure who the father is, and the mime monkeys got loose and are freaking people out,” he chuckled at this last part. “But hey, I’ve only been here for an hour. Who knows what’s gonna happen next, you know? Stay tuned.”

“Wow,” was all Daniel could bring himself to say.

Lou sounded like he was chewing on something; licorice, maybe. “Human drama is always more interesting than TV, I always say.” He sighed heavily and then was silent for a while. He sighed loudly again.

“Everything all right, Lou?” Daniel prodded.

Lou stumbled over his words. “Well, it’s just—aw, forget it, Dude.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing. A big, fat nothing, okay?” Lou sighed again.

“Aw, come on,” Daniel pleaded. “Sometimes telling a stranger is easier than telling your best friend. I’m not going anywhere.” He tapped his foot on the floor as if to prove a point.

“Maybe you’re right.” He sighed again. “It’s just…it’s just Julia, Dude.”

“Who’s Julia?”

Lou cleared his throat. His tone of voice changed. It was almost as if he had been rehearsing the story in his head before he even uttered a word. “She’s my ex-girlfriend. She supposedly moonlights at this high class jazz club downtown now.” He drifted off momentarily before sighing and continuing the story. “Anyway, she’s here at the carnival today with her new fella—I call him the A #1 Douche Bag—and when I saw her, she just looks amazing. Dude, I gotta tell ya I was drooling, man.”

He was silent for a few moments. When he spoke again, the confidence seemed to have drained out of him. “It was a mutual breakup, okay? I mean, I’ve grown a lot. A hell of a lot, you know? Dude, are you there?”

Daniel snapped back into the moment. “Yeah, I’m here. That sounds pretty rough, man.”

Lou plowed through. “Rough indeed, man. I’m trying my heart out to improve myself. I’m at the bookstore every other week checking out all the self-help books I can find. I’m making myself over. I’m a changed guy, you know? I quote that shit to anyone who even doubts my sincerity, bro. If she could only see the strides I’ve made. If she could see me doing good deeds out in the wild, I know she’d come back to me.” Anger crept into Lou’s voice and his confidence returned with it. “Oh, and A #1 Douche Bag—his real name is Kevin—really gets under my skin. Just the way her friends talk about him like he’s the sweetest guy who ever lived. Lame! I mean, I’ve never seen him in person. Not yet, anyway. I guess he’s some kind of video game tester or something. Who knew that girls thought that was a turn on.”

Daniel decided it was time to interject. “Professional gamer? I didn’t think that was a viable career. What a tool.” He laughed nervously.

Lou laughed long and hard and seemed to perk up a bit. “’What a tool.’ That’s hilarious! You know, Dude, you’re all right, man. I mean, you are one cool customer.”

Daniel smiled in spite of himself. “You’re not so bad yourself, Lou. In fact, you’re surprisingly easy to talk—“

The door to the restroom was suddenly flung open. Harsh daylight barged in. A drunken voice bellowed: “I said I’ll be right back, man. Huh? ‘Cuz I gotta use the can, that’s why. Don’t you dare drink my beer, amigo. I said hold it for me. Just hold it! Does that compute, nimrod?” The door slammed shut and stumbling footsteps stopped in front of the two occupied stalls.

As soon as knuckles touched his door, Daniel chirped out a week: “Occupied.”

The persistent drunkard knocked on Lou’s stall door but Lou didn’t make a sound.

Daniel thought of saying something to come to Lou’s defense, but resisted the urge. His stomach felt like it was doing back flips. He wasn’t going anywhere.

The drunkard made some annoyed, guttural noises and pounded on Lou’s stall door again. There was no response.

“Hey! I know you’re in there, fella,” the drunkard slurred. “Come on, man. What are you doing in there; giving birth to the Anti-Christ?” Apparently, he thought this was hilarious and laughed uproariously at his own trite joke.

Seemingly from below the floor at first, and then moving into (or coming from) Lou’s stall, came a deep, animal-like growling. A bright yellow light shined from underneath the stall walls. The humidity in the room suddenly went tropical.

Daniel was about to ask him if he was okay, when Lou’s door flew off the hinges and hit the far wall with enough force to dislodge several bricks. He saw the boots of the drunkard shaking. Water begins dripping on the floor. Or was it urine? Was the guy pissing himself?

“Oh my God,” the drunkard whined repeatedly. He was frozen to the spot.

“Hardly,” came Lou’s reply. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you it’s rude to interrupt? My new friend and I were trying to have a serious conversation, clown shoes.”

The drunkard’s speech fumbled into desperate mumbling.

Daniel blinked and was astonished to see that the man’s boots had been replaced with actual clown shoes. Or had he always been wearing them? The lighting was almost non-existent. 

“Please don’t kill me,” the drunkard managed, barely above a whisper.

Daniel strained to see, but his stomach clenched again and he sat back up straight on the toilet. What was this guy seeing?

“Kill you?” Lou stated, almost playfully. “Nah, I’m not gonna kill ya. Where’s the fun in that? I’m gonna do you a favor, clown shoes. You see, you’re just one of the mindless herd. A bottom feeder, if you will. You might as well join my flock. It’s fairly safe to say you’ve peaked already, my friend. We both know it’s only gonna go downhill from here, bro. Now, hold still, this is going to hurt. A lot.”

A blinding red light emitted from Lou’s stall and the drunkard screamed and clutched at himself in anguish.

From his vantage point, Daniel saw the drunkard disappear. He rubbed his eyes in disbelief. When he focused again, he saw a goat, wearing a bell around its neck, chewing on the drunkard’s khakis. It bahed, but seemed otherwise indifferent.

Daniel bit down on his hand to stifle a moan and something unclenched in his stomach. He was vaguely aware of a distant plopping into the toilet. When he got his breathing under control, he came to the conclusion that he had literally been scared into moving is bowels. The familiar voice from the other stall refocused his attention.

“Hey, Dude,” Lou offered in a jovial tone. “Sounds to me like you sank the old battleship. Everything okay?”

It will be as soon as I’m out of here, his mind screamed. “Um, yeah. Just finishing up here, Lou.” He reached for the toilet paper and was mortified to see only three lousy sheets were left. I can’t even die clean, he thought and rolled his eyes. He could just wipe his hand off in some tall grass outside. But the smell… The smell would linger for hours. “Damn,” he muttered.

“Remember, Dude,” Lou piped up. “If it breaches the surface, you have to name it. He tittered like a naughty teenager raising his hand with a question about uncontrollable boners during Sex Ed.

Daniel sighed. If he made a run for it, he thought Lou probably wouldn’t let him leave. Not in one piece, at least. His last moral shred pushed him to be honest if only for life-prolonging small talk. “Looks like they forgot to stock the T.P. today. Just my luck, huh?”

“Is that a fact?” asked Lou. “Well, I just happen to have an extra roll right here. Hang on a second.” Sounds of shifting were quickly followed with: “Okay, incoming.”

Daniel felt something hit his ankle and looked down. A red tail ending in an arrow-shaped tip was wrapped around a perfectly normal roll of toilet paper. He was petrified.

Lou sighed dramatically for effect. “Yeah, it’s a tail, okay. Deal with it. Just take the roll, already, Dude. This is an awkward angle for me here.”

With that, Daniel took the roll and began wiping while looking up at the ceiling. He was barely aware of the tail uncoiling and sliding back under the wall.

“Whoa!” Lou cried. “Something shifted!” He made several pained grunting noises. The walls of the stall began to rattle. Lou screamed between deep breaths. Then what sounded like a cinder block being tossed into a swimming pool splashed into the bowl and Lou panted like he had just climbed a mountain. “Whew. I think we have a multi-flusher here, Dude.”

By this time, Daniel was already washing his hands. He felt the goat brush past him a few times before it went back to nibbling on the drunkard’s tank top.

He knew that with the door against the far wall that Lou was watching his every move, but he focused on washing his hands and then drying them. “Thanks for the T.P., Lou.”

“Don’t mention it, Dude,” Lou said while zipping up his pants and buckling his belt. “Sorry if things got a little weird in here for you.”

Daniel bit his lip. “That guy was a tool. You just did what you had to do.”

Lou smacked the stall wall in agreement. “That’s what I like about you, Dude. Nothing fazes you. You’re one cool customer.” He took a few steps toward the sink.

Daniel walked briskly towards the door. He had his hand on the handle when Lou called after him.

“Hey, I can trust you not to tell anyone how badly constipated I get, right?” He actually sounded somewhat worried.

Daniel’s eyes locked in on the door handle. “Of course, Lou. One good turn deserves another.” He opened the door and light came pouring into the room. He had one foot out the door when Lou yelled out from behind him again.

“Hey, check out the girl at the funnel cake booth. I heard she already gave her number to two guys today. And one of them didn’t even ask her for it!” Lou’s laughter filled up the entire room. “Later, Dude!”

Daniel closed the door behind him and leaned against the wall around the corner. When his heart rate was under control, he flung the door back open and peered inside. The bathroom was empty. The destroyed stall door was back on its hinges as if nothing had happened. He sighed and scoffed at his own overactive imagination. He closed the door and turned back towards the inviting sounds of the carnival. He turned the corner and tripped over a goat wearing a bell around its neck. The goat seemed to know him and rubbed its head playfully against his legs. He opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out. He leapt to his feet and ran headlong for the parking lot. He lunged into his car, peeled out, and never once looked back.

Since then, he has never been to another carnival or circus. He removed all the mirrors from his apartment. In fact, he removed the bathroom door entirely. And for the finishing touch, he legally erased his middle name. This depressed his fiancé, Julia. She liked his middle name so much she always called him Kevin instead of Daniel. She said it sounded youthful, masculine, and confident, unlike her self-help-book-obsessed ex-boyfriend, Lou. 

To this day, Daniel routinely wets the bed for fear of going into the bathroom at night in the dark, alone.