Willie Smith

Lobotomy Lullaby

Socks everywhere inside out, jockstraps cockeyed on lampshades. Cockroaches investigating dead soldiers. Magazines facedown on the throwrug, half-done cigarettes extinct behind skeletal ash, senile eggshells, geriatric coffee cups. Grease stuck the air. The cheap tv scratching, spitting, rolling, barking. 

“This place is a fucking garbage dump!” the landlady yelled that one time she looked in. 

I didn’t care. SSI paid the rent. I was crazy. I could do anything in there – just so it didn’t take money and I wasn’t too obvious about having a good time.

So I jacked off and spent a lot of time on the crapper turning the sports page, lighting cigarettes one off the other, wallowing in tobacco-shit vapors. One morning, though, I got so bored I jumped off the can. Headed for the door. Snatched on the way a jockstrap off a lamp. Sauntered out into the hall, to be greeted by my landlady, who shrieked, why were my pants off!

I screamed she was lucky not-seeing what she was, killed her with a steak knife; bounded down the hall squealing hogcalls, feeling the air feeling my balls.

So now I am bored in a new room with beds on the ceiling and the walls and the floor. They fill me full of pills that make everything peaceful. Tomorrow they remove my head. They tell me I won’t care, although helpless bowels might occur, and smoking won’t anymore seem.

Sean M.F. Sullivan

Kill “Sean”

There were too many Seans. Searching the name on Google loaded 870,000,000 results. Page one celebrities included Big Sean, Sean Watkins, and Sean Connery—who, to add to the overpopulated insult, owned a memorial at the top of the page in the form of a featured snippet. On Wikipedia, there were 87 entries for “Sean,” each of which disambiguated into additional 87-stacked entries—none of which was himself.

His name was reduced to a membership of actors, writers, race car drivers, politicians, serial killers, and bakers. “Sean” was such a popular name he was basically anonymous. Was he supposed to resign himself like the Michaels of the world? No! But how was he ever going to take the name back for himself?

His goldfish leaned a fin on the rim of its bowl and said, Why not use your middle initial, pal?

He snapped, “Why doesn’t everyone else use their middle initial then?Why should I change my name, when it’s my name?” He picked up the can leaning against the stack of broken keyboards and swigged. His name.

At Bottle King, where the chubby cashier never remembered his name, the register monitor loaded an excel sheet of every membershipped Sean within a fourmile radius of the store. At least one hundred Seans—no, one thousand, he thought—filling out the alphabet fromA until his long awaited assonanced S. The cashier pressed enter. He leaned over the conveyor belt and studied the name above his own: “Sean Reicher, 987 Willow Place.” Then he paid $2.00 and brown bagged the tallboy.

The name’s origins were biblical: Iōánnēs in the Greek, Yohanan in the Hebrew, the mad seer John in the KJV, which all translated gaelically into “Sean” and was supposed to mean, “god is gracious.” A bit too gracious of God: Sean was the 336th most popular boys name (10,979th for girls), so that one out of every 1,916 baby boys in a nursery had a crib stapled “Sean”. Fingering an abacus he calculated that there were up to 182,000 Seans in the United States alone. Tucked under his blankie he traced the water stains above his bed and imagined a world in which he owned sean.com by birth right. A paradise on earth.

To be fair, he had never actually, physically, in person, met another Sean. He knew of their existence only at a distance like the moon, so he was quite nervous as he donned the ski mask and black turtleneck and lifted the rickety wooden frame and snuck into Sean Reicher’s living room at half past 11, and then stood above his doppleganger snoring loudly in the rocking chair. His goldfish had told him he wasn’t ready, and now that he was here, face-to-face with the possibility of vengeance, he hesitated between the scissors in his left hand and the butterknife in his right. But before making a decision, Sean Reicher awoke from his nightmare and yelled, “It’s you!” Then the imposter clutched his chest, and the name was no longer his own.

He nudged the husk with his flip flop. Then he kicked. He stole a bill for a Penthouse subscription bearing the fake’s name, and fled into the afternoon feeling giddy that God was on his side.

He thought his heroism would kick off the anti-Sean riots, Franz Ferdinand style. He watched and waited. But the newspaper was still headlining the missing white girl, and the anchors on Eyewitness News laughed at the sunshine—didn’t UPS deliver his manifesto? One murder wasn’t enough, friend, his goldfish said.

More effective methods were needed. From the Swords of the East™ website he purchased a bushido certified katana, Nippon steel folded one thousand times or your money back. The blade was dull. Naked in front of the TV he tried sharpening the edge with sandpaper and nicked his thumb, and became nauseous at the sight of blood. He threw up. Wiping his face with an oily cloth he held the blade and vowed to try again. Just like Henry Morgan had said, “If at first you don’t succeed…” Or was it W. C. Fields?

So he purchased another tallboy, and had another peak at the liquor store listicle. The cashier, this time a pregnant woman who had definitely rung him up in the past, said, “Your name is Sean? I love that name!” He grimaced and leaned. Just beneath his name was a Sean Tulathulumie who was, unfortunately, not in hospice care and an avid gun collector. And so, that afternoon, he was off running away from Sean Tulathulumie’s mansion at the first buckshot even with the katana knotted across his back.

Maybe murder wasn’t the solution.

To solve his problems he bought two more tallboys and stared at the gluesticked “Sean” obituaries on the walls of his apartment. Even if he eliminated one Sean every day for the next year that was only 365 Seans. Even at two Seans which was impossible—since his driver’s license had been lost (meaning there was some undergraduate out there masquerading as a Sean which was somehow more aggravating than being named “Sean”) that was only 730 Seans, and there were thousands, tens of thousands, in his state alone. They multiplied like flatworms: cut off the head of one Sean, and you got five more Seans, and the name’s popularity was ticking up on Google Trends. He was losing before he started and all he had done was remove one Sean whose name didn’t even make the obituary section of the Record.

There was no third attempt. He bought three tallboys, squeezing his eyes as he handed over the crinkled bills.

What he needed was a final Sean solution. A way to stop the parents of would be Seans before they got their dark idea. A tool powerful enough to be heard around the world, like a Tunguskan bomb that targeted all the fake Seans. His goldfish suggested a blog.

The blog posts were vicious, visceral, violent, and unread. He had told himself a little white lie: that the name “Sean” wasn’t gracious at all but a terrible, evil name that evoked only the worst monsters of the 20th century. “Nobody shuld name there kid ‘Sean,'” he wrote. It was a name for sneaks, thieves, cannibals, and fiends who borrow your copy of Link to the Past and don’t return it. Seans weren’t people, more like husks for the Sean-DNA wormed inside.

Like the Buddha, if you met a Sean on the road, kill him.

His nom de plume was “John.”

What he learned putting his hate online was that there were other Sean haters, not in the general way he hated, but in particular-Sean hate ways: hate for Sean O’Malley, hate for Sean Combs, hate for Sean Thor Conroe, hate for particular Seans and their particular Seany b.s. He tapped their community kegs and filled his own cup and then brought more boozy hate to their hateful group parties. He learned he could kill Seans with rumor, stipulation, speculation.

“Did you know Sean emits eight tons of carbon—every week?”

“I heard that Sean worked as a caterer on Jeffery Epstein’s island.”

“Sean shares a name with serial killer Sean Vincent Gillis. What a jerk!”

“Yes, Sean is definitely a pedophile—just like Hitler.” The sooner he invoked Godwin’s law, the better.

He cultivated a voice—sonorous and prophetic—and a following, kept blogging all day every day thanks to his imagination and disability checks from Social Security, uniting all of the internet’s Sean-hate behind his Wile E. Coyote avatar. He had real power for the first time in his life to accumulate WordPress likes, but with all of that gathering potential energy, how was he to spark the bomb that would topple the Seans, send them in droves to the county courthouse to file for a change of name?

It was his goldfish once more who made the ingenious suggestion.

A conference was in order, and held at the Jacob Javits Center. An entire weekend of anti-Sean festivities and organizing, a chance for disparate Sean-haters to unite their common cause under one banner, a very large one draped over the glass entrance that read, “Stop Hate. Stop Sean.”

He was to deliver the inaugural address as president and CEO and dictator of the revolution. In attendance were reporters from the New York Times, the Post, Highlights, and a Stanford fellow desperate to build herself into an influencer. All names were double-checked at the door.

“Comrades,” he adjusted the mic down to his bow tie, “we’re gathered here today to stop the most pressing matter our civilization has ever faced, the never ending horde of Seans.” A few cheers. “The only way we can ever ensure the end of the Sean is by uniting ourselves. Together we can wipe the Seans from history.” A red ribbon hung taut across the stage with “Sean” tessellated across its cheapness. He raised his katana, “And with the cutting of this ribbon, we usher in a new era.” He swung the blade, severing the “Se” from the “an.” Applause, cheers, hand flute whistles, fireworks.

A Q&A followed.

A reporter fired her hand towards the balloons in the rafters and shouted her question. “I don’t know what to make of all this anti-Sean hate, but isn’t it true, sir, that your name is Sean?”

He fumbled at the mic. “Absolutely not. That’s slander. How dare you!” He tapped his name tag three times. “It says ‘John’ right here, doesn’t it? What’s your name? How did you get in here? Security!”

“And isn’t it true,” she ignored his question, “that the name John, is the english translation of the name Sean?”

“No, of course not. Lies!”

“I have the evidence right here.” She held up a color printout of the Wikipedia entry for “Sean.” “All of your anti-Sean hate is a scheme. You’re a big phoney,” she shouted.

Gasps. Whispers. Someone shrieked. Another screamed, “My life is a lie!” In their anger and confusion, the various anti-Sean groups began in-fighting. A chair was thrown. A pop-up table flipped. The bouncy castle was stabbed 87 times. Riot police marched in single file and tear-gassed the crowd.

He hastily retreated through the rear exit, setting off the fire alarms as he booked down the street and leaped into the Hudson with the katana gripped between his teeth, and climbed onto a passing barge hauling empty tallboys out to sea. The captain’s name was Sean Rodgers.

He was defeated, dejected, constipated, sitting squat on the single folding chair in his apartment, the news flipped to another missing white girl—the anti-Sean movement yesterday’s yesterday story.

The revolution—his revolution—had fallen apart. For weeks after the convention marauders of particular-rival-ganged-Sean haters roamed downtown Manhattan and clashed in modern dance numbers, with knives, until enough twisted ankles forced them to disband. And then there were the new anti-anti-Sean hater groups who were hunting him. The rest returned to their digital enclaves and he was back to the liquor store, looking for solutions in the dregs of a tallboy. What he found was that too many Seans wasn’t news. It just was.

The katana was on his lap and he polished the blade with a Lysol wipe, wondering where it all went so wrong. New neighbors hauled a mattress up the concrete stairs, rocking the TV on its milk crate.

His goldfish asked, Now, that you’ve learned your lesson, buddy, how about that middle initial?

He was about to concede when through the stucco he heard, “Where do you want this, Sean?” He skipped to the door and jammed his eye in the peephole. What he saw was a Sean wearing octagonal glasses and opportunity. He finished wiping off the blade, and picked at an olive rind between his teeth. It was already late afternoon. By nightfall there would be only 869,999,998 results for “Sean.” He finished his tallboy, winked at his goldfish, raised the katana, and charged towards his name.

On that month’s rent check the new neighbor’s signature was spelled, “S-H-A-U-N.”

Lamont A. Turner

Downloading The God Of Evil

Gualichu awoke full of rage and ready to sow discord throughout the land.  But what land was this?  Looking about, he saw a barren landscape, dotted with the wreckage of unfamiliar devices.  He bent down to examine a pile of gray metal, trying to put the pieces back together in his mind. It could have been a wagon, but where were the wheels and what was that long tube protruding from the front of it?  Full of furry, he brought his foot down upon it, grinding it into the sandy earth.  As he did so, a pink heart fluttered up out of the wreckage, floated up to hover before his face, and vanished.  Perplexed, he stomped on the wreckage again, hoping to squeeze another apparition from it, but no more hearts appeared.

Hearing a strange buzzing sound, he turned to see something flying toward him.  As it grew closer he saw its body was silver, and its eyes glowed red. What kind of bird was this, he wondered as it circled him.  How could it fly without flapping its wings?  He noted that its tail was made of fire. 

He clapped his hands together creating a mighty wind to knock the bird out of the sky, but it sped up and rose above it. Swooping down, it spit fire into his face, causing him to stumble back into a field of shining discs. As he stepped on the discs they exploded, throwing him up into the air. Landing on his back at the edge of the field, he realized he was growing weak. It took all of his effort to raise his arm. Fire shot from his fingertips, but the bird easily avoided the blast. Hovering over him, it unleashed a torrent of blasts directly into his chest.  He screamed as he broke apart, disintegrating into a puff of smoke.

Rick pulled off his goggles, tossed the controller on the coffee table and glared at the lean young man standing next to him.

“That’s it?” he asked. “All of that money we spent on those old books, and I beat him on the first try?”

“Maybe we need a more powerful god of evil,” suggested the other man with a shrug.

“You think we have a surplus of demonic entities, Andre?” Rick shouted, jumping up out of his chair and giving it a kick. “We are supposed to go live next week! How are we supposed to find another demon to tie to the game by then?” 

“I told you substituting a dog for a baby wouldn’t work,” Andre replied, stepping back out of range of Rick’s fists.

“I wasn’t going to sacrifice a baby!” Rick yelled. “Where the hell would we even get one?”

Andre looked down at his shoes, knowing anything he said would just make things worse.

“Maybe he is just out of practice,” said Rick.  “After all, nobody has believed in him for a long time.  If we play for a while, putting him through the paces, maybe he’ll get more powerful.”

Ten hours later, Rick was starting to feel challenged. Gualichu seemed to be learning. He was now taking out the drones without too much difficulty, and had even started to inflict some damage on the battle bots. As the sunlight started to seep in between the curtains, Rick nodded off.

Hearing the crackle of flames, Rick awoke with an ache in his lower back, and a neck that didn’t want to turn without creaking. Noticing the TV was still on, he pounded at the controller with numb fingers, but the image on the screen would not be dismissed. What the hell am I watching, he wondered, looking at the hellish landscape before him.  Then he noticed he was still in the game. How long had it been? He checked his phone. It was 5PM. The game had been on for at least ten hours. 

He put on the googles and logged on to the game. What level was this? Nothing on the screen looked familiar. Had Andre slipped in a hidden level when he was writing the program?  Selecting the battle bot from the menu, he watched as it appeared on the screen, dropping down into what appeared to be a pit of flames.  He moved the battle bot forward, his life bar growing shorter with each step.

From out of nowhere a huge hand appeared and wrapped around the robot’s head, flinging it into a wall of the rocky cavern.  Lights flashed before Rick’s eyes, followed by bars of static. A gigantic shadow loomed up as Rick franticly pushed the buttons that should have made the battle bot rise. Suddenly, the leering face of Gualichu filled the lenses before his eyes.  A metallic clang reverberated in Rick’s ears as he pawed at the sides of his head, trying desperately to yank off the goggles. There were no goggles! Rick was inside the robot!

“This one smells different,” proclaimed Gualichu, peeling off the metal shell.  Seeing the squirming mass of flesh within, he stabbed his finger into it and licked the hot red liquid off.  This was the best treat Gualichu had discovered since establishing his new kingdom. Perhaps, there would be more.

Picking up the goggles off the floor of Rick’s apartment, Andre shook his head. Rick had bailed on him again, leaving him to do all of the work. Oh well, he thought, he would just announce it as his creation. The game was supposed to go online in a few hours, and he planned to make the deadline, bugs or no bugs.

Sara Corris

Not Normal

“Mom! Brian’s sitting on the penis end of my seatbelt, and he won’t move!”

“Brian, please give your sister her seatbelt. Kelly, stop saying ‘penis.’”

“‘Penis’ isn’t cursing, mom–”

“No one likes to hear it, all the same.”

Kelly turned back to her brother. “Give. Me. My. Penis. End, jerkface!” she grunted, shoving him all the while.

Brian giggled and kept his bottom planted over the seatbelt. “What’s your problem? Just tie the two vagina ends together, like in Jurassic Park. Why do you hate vaginas so much, Kells?”

“Brian, stop saying ‘vagina.’”

“Oh my god! MOM! ‘Vagina’ isn’t a dirty word! Seriously, what do all the women in this family have against vaginas–OW!”

“Get off my penis end, Bri!”

“Mom, Kelly’s pushing me!”

“MOVE!”

“Jeez, why are you so obsessed with penises, Kells?”

I’m obsessed?! You’re the one hoarding all the penis ends, because you like to feel them on your butt–”

“MOM, Kelly’s being homophobic in public!”

“Enough, both of you. Buckle your seatbelts before we get kicked off this plane, and SHUT. UP. No more talk about penises and vaginas–”

“But you just said ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’, so why can’t we?”

“That’s so dumb, mom. They’re not even bad words.” Brian began to sing: 

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

Kelly joined in:  

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

Five rows up, their father watched whilst simultaneously attempting to cram their things into an overhead compartment.

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

He succeeded in closing the compartment door, and turned to abandon his family.

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

A flight attendant blocked his way. “Sir, everyone must get to their seats now.”

“It’s okay, I don’t want to go anymore. I want to get off the plane.”

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

Through the din of her childrens’ singing, the mother suddenly heard her husband’s voice raised in anger:

“MOVE! I’m starting a new life–”

Her prescription sedative kicking in at last, she didn’t hear the rest.

When she awoke seven hours later, the plane hadn’t left New York, her husband was gone, and the children were still singing:

penispenisPEE-NISS, 

vaginavaginava-JIII-na …” 

Neither she nor the children ever saw him again.

***

“YES!”

“Fuck!”

“Language,” their mother called out from upstairs. Brian and Kelly ignored her.

“You suck ass at this game, Bri. I’m crushing you–”

“Yeah right! The first time in your whole life you ever won at Goldeneye was this week. Big deal. It’s just a lucky streak–”

“Yeah right! I’ve finally figured out the game, is what happened. And now I’m better than you, and I’m gonna beat you–”

I’m gonna curbstomp you, like in that movie, until all your teeth come out and your neck snaps and your head comes off–”

“Big deal. I’m gonna gouge out your eyes with my thumbs, like in that movie, and then I’m gonna get a strap-on, and I’m going to Fuck. Your. Empty. Eye. Sockets–” 

Ew, what’s wrong with you, Kells?! Who says that to their brother?! Pervert.”

***

My brother is one of those people who gets insanely sweaty when on drugs. We’re talking Bikram levels. 

This one time, post-uni, we were out clubbing together. Brian is on some mix of MDMA, coke, ket, booze, and who knows what else. Sweat is pouring off him, soaking his clothes and hair, forming a puddle at his feet. I’m on the same mix of shit, so I’m disgusted, but in a detached sort of way. 

Suddenly Brian leans in, his pupils crazy dilated.

“They keep checking me out.” 

“Who?” 

“Those two. At the bar.” 

I look. Two of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen IRL are whispering together and looking over at my brother. 

Idiot

I turn back to Brian. “They want drugs.” 

“Gimme some space, Kells. You’re the reason they aren’t coming over here.” 

“You are obviously, visibly on a fuckton of drugs, you idiot. They know it. Every person here knows it. That’s what they want: your drugs. Not your penis.” 

“One of them is coming over!” 

“That girl wouldn’t touch your dick to set fire to it.” 

“Fuck off, Kells. You’re cockblocking me.” 

I turned and made for the bar. Before I’d gone three steps, I heard her behind me, asking Brian if he knew where they could score some drugs.

***

He’s not really a dickhead, my brother. 

I remember this one time, I was 25 or 26. I’d gone out drinking with friends and then, I don’t know what happened. To this day I don’t. I wake up on a bench in some bar. I look around, but I’ve got no idea where I am, and I don’t see any of my supposed friends. I start freaking out. I call Brian blubbering, not making any sense, begging him to come get me:

“But where the fuck are you, Kells?”

“I don’t know, some bar, it’s really gross … wait. Hold on a sec.” 

I stop crying long enough to listen in on a nearby table:

“Gimme this sick fuck’s address, a cylinder of lighter fluid, and twenty minutes. I’ll take care of it.” 

I turn back to the phone. “I’m somewhere in Jersey,” I whimper. “Oh, fuck. Oh, Christ.”

And Brian came to get me. At 2 a.m., out in deepest Jersey.

***

Kelly answered on the second ring.

“Whassup?”

Brian leaned back against the headboard. “Hey. Do you remember when I caught you fapping to the Raphael-Leonardo bathtub scene in the Ninja Turtles movie?” 

“Girls don’t fap.” 

“Some do. It depends on the labial situation.” 

“Yeah, fair enough. If there’s like, abundant billowy labia, I guess it could make a fapping sound.” 

“Depending too on the vigor of the self-pleasuring, I suppose. But with the right labia and the right vigor? It could conceivably create a reverberating labial clap, not unlike the classic fapping sound.” 

“I happen to have very demure labia though. You’ve seen me in bikinis. Zero labial bulge. Nada.” 

“No disrespect to ladies with more of a fleshy cabbage sitch goin’ on.” 

“Of course. It’s just not me. Honestly? It’s friggin’ gorgeous down there, Bri. I spread my legs and it’s like opening Marsellus’s briefcase–” 

“Ahem.” 

Brian looked up at his wife. 

She frowned back at him. “Will you be much longer? I’m turning in and I want to get to sleep.”

Later, when Lindsay had settled in beside him, she brought it up again.

“It was your sister on the phone, wasn’t it.”

“Yeah.”

“Normal siblings don’t talk like that.” 

“You don’t like ANY talk like that.” Lindsay blushed and flinched at anything remotely gynecological. 

“Still. Siblings don’t talk about things like that. It’s not normal.”

***

And this other time, when we were both still in high school. 

I was fighting with our mom. I said something about dad, deliberately, to hurt her. And then she retorts that he’s got a whole new family, has for years. A wife and three kids, way out in California. So I can stop waiting for him to walk back into our lives at any moment, because it’s never going to happen.

This was the first news I’d had about dad since he’d left us. And she was right. I had been waiting to hear from him, to see him again, eventually. 

I was gutted. Mom was pleased. 

“Bitch,” I choked out. I ran to my room, collapsed onto my bed, and sobbed.

I was still crying hours later when Brian came in and sat down beside me. It was dark; I could barely see him. But he kept whispering “ssh, it’s ok, it’s going to be ok,” over and over as he stroked my hair and patted my shoulder.

I rolled over and looked up at him.

***

He called me once in the middle of the night, all upset. This was when the first kid was due. He wanted to talk about the dumb dream he’d just had.

“You know how my ultimate fantasy has always been the anonymous train handjob? Some hot chick–either real or a ghost–sits down next to me on the train, and without saying anything, just undoes my pants and jerks me off? Then wordlessly walks away?” 

“Yup.” 

“Ok, so I was dreaming about that. The girl comes over, she’s super hot–” 

I doubted it. Brian’s got shit taste in women. Dream chick was probably some big fat bitch. 

“–and it’s super hot, but then I notice … there’s a baby in a stroller. Directly opposite. And he’s watching at eye level with my crotch. I try to get the girl to stop but she won’t stop, and I can’t stop … I come all over the place. It’s a huge, massive load. And the baby … this little, innocent baby imitates my face. My O face, you know? And it’s like the kid’s face is broken or something, because he’s still making that face a bunch of stops later when his mom gets up and exits the train are you laughing?!”

“Yes.”

Brian sighed. “It’s all those fucking baby books Linds is forcing on me. I’d been reading how babies mirror facial expressions. But still. I’m gonna be a terrible father, Kells.” 

“You really are.” 

“I’ve got no business having a kid.” 

“Agreed. 100%.”

Brian thought I was joking, I knew. People always think I’m joking when I’m not.

***

Mom never got over dad leaving. She never really tried to build something new after, even as years and years passed. She’d never been a beauty. And she was too tall and big-boned to pass for “cute,” even when she was young. And by the time dad left she wasn’t young. And she was busy raising the two kids he’d stuck her with. I get that it wouldn’t have been easy, but still. She didn’t even try. She just gave up. 

I’m not suggesting that’s why she got cancer, but she could have tried to fight it harder than she did. I don’t think it bothered her much, the diagnosis. She wasn’t even sixty yet. I don’t know if she actively welcomed dying; more like she didn’t care, one way or the other. 

Brian took it personally, like we hadn’t been worth living for. To me that had been obvious for a long time. Mom went through all the motions of parenting. She fed us and went to our graduations and stuff. I don’t mean to sound too ungrateful. But that was all. It had been very clear, without her ever saying it, that we weren’t enough. It wasn’t a good life.

***

“Nice, you finally had one with hair! HUGE improvement. Bald white babies are the worst. But you’re a cutie, aren’t you? Yaaas–” I halted as I saw Brian across the room with what was obviously his latest issue, bald and ugly as ever. I looked back up at my sister-in-law.

Lindsay glared back. “This is my cousin’s baby.” 

“Oh, how nice,” was all I could think to say. “I’m gonna … bathroom …” I wandered off in Brian’s direction.

There were too many people in my way. I hated them all. This was the worst fucking party ever. Not that I like any parties, but still. Who has a party for baby #3?! Who even has a baby #3 anymore, unless you’re Amish or Hasidic.

Brian and Lindsay had rented out a corner of floor space by the bar, and the restaurant staff barked at anyone who accidentally spilled over into the regular dining space. I checked to make sure the sweat wasn’t causing my tube top to slip, then elbowed my way to the bar.

A couple of moms joined me.

“Kelly, hi! You look great! So toned!” said one of them–apparently, someone I’d met before?

“Jeez, your abs. I’d kill for those,” said the other as she eyed my midriff.

“Thanks. When you do as much navel-gazing as I do, you want your navel to at least be hot.”

No one laughed. 

I cleared my throat. “But, please! I’d kill to have your boobs.” 

A lie. It’s my go-to fake compliment for women I consider fat. My tits are perky perfection. 

Mom #1 introduced me to Mom #2. “This is Kelly. Lindsay’s husband’s sister.”

She fake-smiled at me. “Oh, Kelly. I’ve heard so much about you. You and Brian are super close, right?”

“I guess.”

“That’s nice. Are you two twins?”

“Irish twins.” She stared back blankly. I explained:

“It’s when two siblings are born less than a year apart. Basically the man jacks off into the gaping wreckage of his beloved’s lady parts.”

Brian joined us, baby in tow. The moms commenced cooing.

“He’s the spitting image of you, Bri! Kelly, isn’t he the spitting image of your brother?”

“No. He doesn’t look like anyone real yet. He looks exactly like every other bald white baby: like an oversized maggot, with eyes.”

The moms quickly glanced Brian’s way but I knew he wouldn’t give a shit. He’d told me many times with the first two, that he did not get the babyhood phase At. All.

Of course, he’d also told me that it had been a huge mistake, having the second kid. And that he and Linds weren’t having sex at all anymore. And yet, here we were celebrating the arrival of kid #3. So who knows.

“You wanna hold him, Kells?” Brian asked.

“Hell, no. Not if he’s anything like his predecessors. The other two were tits-obsessed perverts,” I told the moms. “Always groping and yanking down tops like they were on spring break.”

They stared back at me in silence. Kid #3 spit up all over my brother’s shirt.

***

“Your sister is drunk,” Lindsay hissed.

Brian shrugged. “So? It’s a party, Linds. She isn’t driving.”

Lindsay started to reply, but the baby spit up on her dress, then began howling. She hurried away.

Kelly lurched over. She was exceedingly drunk.

She held up a finger in front of her face and stared uncomprehendingly. “It’s blood,” she determined at last. “But where … is it … am I …?”

She began inspecting all over her body, up and down. Then she hinged at her hips, letting her legs bow out until she was staring between her own legs. Brian cringed and looked around to make sure Lindsay wasn’t seeing this.

Kelly straightened back up, staggering a little as she did so. “It isn’t that,” she concluded. She leaned in. “Hey. You see that guy at the bar?”

“Which guy, Kells?”

“C’mon, which guy. The hot one, with the shoulders! You think he’s straight?”

Brian squinted. “I mean, he doesn’t scream not-straight.”

Kelly nodded emphatically. “Right?! And he’s tall too, I think maybe he’s crazy tall! Like, 6’4”, or something.” She stared. “Gonna make it happen.”

Lindsay returned with the baby. “Kelly, hi–”

“Gimme that,” Kelly said as she lifted the baby from Lindsay’s arms. She gave Brian a grotesque wink, turned, and made for the bar.

She hadn’t gone five paces before the baby yanked her top down.

***

Six hours into the pandemic, I started calling every guy I’d ever gone out with.

“Can I ask you something? What made you come up to me, that night at the party?”

“Honestly? I wanted to know what you were thinking. You were hanging back a bit from everyone; I guessed you were only pretending to follow the conversation. You had this mysterious, inscrutable quality. A little serious, a little melancholy, but … I wanted to know what was going on in that pretty, sad head of yours.”

“Ah.” I remembered the night well. I’d been trying really, really hard to hold in a fart. That’s what was on my mind, when he approached me. That’s what had my brow oh-so-bewitchingly furrowed.

I rang another ex, asked him the same question about a different night.

“You were seated off by yourself, lost in your own world. You had this faraway look in your eyes; they were roving around the room, but not taking anything in. Where were you, really? What could possibly be troubling a girl like that? I had to know. To find out where you went, in those moments.”

Ugh, no. I can’t even, with this garbage.

“And did you?” I whispered breathlessly.

“No.”

“Would you like to know, now? Do you want me to let you in?” 

“Sure.” But he didn’t sound at all sure. 

“It was July, as you may recall. I was wondering if my shorts felt wet because my butt was swampy, or because I’d perioded through the fabric. Of course, I had to be wearing WHITE shorts that day. So you can imagine my distress.”

I paused; nothing. Carried on: “Turned out I just had serious swamp ass.”

I tried another one, asked him the same question:

“You approached me, actually. Asked me to help detach an infant from your nipple.” 

“Oh, right.” 

“And once you explained that the kid wasn’t yours, I was definitely interested. You’ve got adorable boobs.” 

“Yeah. I know.”

***

“I’ll be right down,” Brian shouts into the intercom.

“Why? Just buzz me in, dude. It’s freezing out here.” But he must be on his way already. I shiver impatiently on the steps outside.

“Hey.” Brian opens the front door.

Finally. Is the buzzer broken? So, it turns out every guy I ever dated was a cliche-chasing douche who thinks–what are we doing?” I ask, because Brian has stepped out onto the stoop with me, letting the door close behind him. “Do you want to go somewhere? Nothing’s open.”

“Yeah. About that, Kells.” Brian stuffs his hands into the pockets of his old man cardigan and looks down at his feet; my stomach starts twisting. “Lindsay thinks we should follow the rules. Not let anyone over.”

I swallow and play dumb. “What?! Why? Is this because I didn’t go to her stupid Super Bowl party? I’ve tried explaining to you both, hearing sports noises on TV is physically painful for me–”

“It isn’t that.”

“So it’s the laptop thing, still.” 

A few weeks ago they were all over at mine, and the oldest kid asked to play on my laptop. Asked his mom, not me. And of course Lindsay–without consulting me–says ok baby, sure. And so the kid opens my laptop, and my last search results are up on the screen. For “female squirt bukkake dudes faces.” 

The kid didn’t even understand what he was seeing. Christ, Lindsay didn’t even understand what she was seeing. I tried explaining it to her later, but she didn’t want to hear.

“I shouldn’t have to apologize for what I do with my private–”

“Kells. You know it’s not about that. Linds isn’t mad at you over that.”

That’s definitely a lie, but I don’t push it. I’m looking down now too, trying not to cry.

“So, what? I’m just fucked, completely on my own, for however long this bullshit lasts?” I glance up, but Brian won’t look at me. I start crying for real. “Can you at least come over to my place?”

“I don’t think so Kells. At least not for now. Let’s give it a week or two, let Lindsay chill out a bit–”

“You pathetic fucking pussy,” I spit out. “You just do whatever your bitch wife tells you. God, she sucks. What the actual fuck do you see in that boring–”

“C’mon Kells, cut it out. We can still meet up for walks–”

“Go fuck yourself, Bri.” I storm off slowly, because of the icy steps.

***

With me effectively banned from seeing Brian, there was no point staying in the city anymore. I rented a place up in Maine, lying to myself that I can afford it now. I’ve had some unexpected success with my film scripts in the last few years; I’m kinda-sorta a low-budget horror indie darling in a post-Me Too world. 

It’s bullshit. Critics think my last two films were “stinging, subversive criticisms of contemporary society,” or something. The Spatchcock Killer was lauded as “an incendiary attack on industrial farming,” because the titular homicidal maniac is revealed to be a Purdue employee. PETA even gave me an award. I was just trying to write a decent slasher with inventive kills. Then there was A Haunted House. I wanted to do a straightforward haunted house flick with zero subtext. That one got praised as a “searing domestic violence parable.” 

With this next project I want to break into the maple-horror scene. Up to now the subgenre’s been a Canadian sausagefest. I’d received a grant to work out of Canada, but then the borders shut down. Hence, Maine. It’s basically Canada, except better.

My working title is Murder Moose. Pitch: He’s a moose. And he fucking hates cyclists. 

The titular character is a legendary moose of the forest, whose lands are invaded to make mountain biking trails. The developers assure everyone that cyclists will stay on the designated paths. You can guess how well that goes. The cyclists being cyclists, they fundamentally reject the concept of rules applying to them. It’s an outrage–the entire planet should be thanking them, the cyclists, for all the cycling they’re doing. Within one week of the trails opening, a mountain biker goes off-course and runs over our hero moose’s pregnant moose-wife, who was preparing to give birth to his moose-baby. They die slow, agonizing deaths; our main moose can only watch helplessly, making moose sounds and swearing vengeance upon all cyclists. 

[Jimmy concludes his tale and gazes around the campfire at the frightened faces of his mountain cyclist friends. No one makes a sound.]

[Suddenly there’s a rustling from the nearby forest.]

STACKED BABE #1:W-what was that noise?

JIMMY: Relax, it’s probably Billy fooling around. Haha Billy, very a-moose-ing, man.

[Jimmy rises to his feet, takes a few steps towards the forest, and pretends to be concerned.]

JIMMY: Hold on a minute– 

STACKED BABE #1:Jimmy, what is it? 

JIMMY: I think you might be right; I see something out there. An enormous rack– 

[Stacked Babe #2 emerges from the trees. Jimmy giggles as his equally-stacked girlfriend, Stacked Babe #1, fake-slaps him.] 

JIMMY: Ow, cut–

[Moose sounds]

STACKED BABE #2:What IS that?!

JIMMY: Oh c’mon ladies, it’s just Billy goofing around.

[Further moose sounds] 

STACKED BABE #1:That is clearly, obviously, not human. 

[Jimmy snorts, leers, and cops a feel.]

[Malevolent moose sounds. Louder. Angrier. Closer.]

STACKED BABE #2:That is plainly the sound of a large animal, not at all a human voice sound. 

[Jimmy snorts, leers, and cops a feel.] 

JIMMY: Chill out; Billy’s just sore cuz I didn’t compliment his rack too. Hey Billy, nice raaaaack–AAAAAHHHHH!!!!

[Murder Moose emerges from the shadows, bellowing lustily. He’s easily fifteen feet tall. The remains of a dozen cyclists are impaled on his rack, bicycles and all. The oldest corpses are just skeletons with bicycle helmets; the newer ones are in various stages of rot and decay. The most recent one doesn’t look like he’s been dead long at all … the cyclists shriek with horror as he lifts his head: it’s Billy. And he’s alive.]

BILLY: Kill … meeee. Kill [groan] meeee. Pleaaaase–

[Murder Moose sets about goring Jimmy.]

[Stacked Babe #1 turns and runs for the bicycles. She jumps on and starts pedaling with all her might, but she’s going nowhere. She looks down: the wheels are stuck in maple sap–]

And that’s when Brian showed up.

***

Idiot

“What the hell were you thinking?! Why would you ever tell that to anyone, Lindsay of all people–”

“She’s my wife, Kells. What the hell do you know about marriage?”

“What, so married people have zero secrets from each other?! You’ve been with Lindsay for over a decade. Why tell her now?”

“She’s been nagging me about it for years. You have no idea what it’s been like. She’s always suspected something. At first I thought she was joking, then I thought eventually she’d stop. But she didn’t. It got worse. I guess I thought the truth would be better than whatever crazy shit she was imagining. It was just the one time in high school, we were basically kids–”

Idiot Idiot Idiot

***

That one time, in high school. It was night, it was dark, I was crying. Brian came in and sat down on the bed; I could barely see him. 

“Ssh, it’s ok, it’s going to be ok.” 

He stroked my hair, patted my shoulder. I rolled over and looked up at him. I pulled him down onto me. We kissed, then we fucked. It was all over in maybe five minutes and there was no foreplay, we didn’t fully undress and it was dark anyway so we never saw each other. We didn’t say anything during, then Brian went back to his room and we never said anything about it after, ever, until now. We were just comforting each other, or something.

***

“Lindsay will never forgive you. Never. How can you not see that?! You know she’s got a freakishly good memory.” 

“So?” 

Idiot

I did my best not to sound angry. “So a person with a good memory, is a person who is good at holding grudges.”

Brian wasn’t listening, not really. He sat hunched on the couch, head in his hands, shaking.

I handed him my whisky. “Drink this, and I’m gonna get some Nyquil from the bathroom. You need sleep. You must be exhausted, driving eight hours straight …” I hesitated. “Uh, does Lindsay know you came here? Maybe that wasn’t the best idea–”

“I had nowhere else to go, Kells.” His voice cracked. “She threw me out, wouldn’t even let me grab some things. And she was screaming the whole time. I didn’t want the kids seeing that; I wasn’t going to stay and argue with her. But I … I didn’t know what else to do, I don’t even know if any hotels are open right now, with everything …” He started crying. 

“My marriage is over, Kells.”

“Oh c’mon, you don’t know that–”

“YOU said the same thing, a minute ago!”

I said she won’t ever forgive you; that’s different.”

“She said she never wanted to see me again, and that she’d never let me near my kids again. That she’d go to court, if she had to. Have me declared an unfit parent.”

“That’s a load of horseshit. Even if she tried, there’s no way it’s grounds for having your parental rights terminated.” I hoped this was true; I had no idea.

“You have no idea if that’s true,” Brian mumbled.

“It’s got to be! One time of … consensual incest, when we were both minors, long before you had kids–”

“Linds doesn’t believe it was just the one time,” he muttered.

“Well, that’s crazy.” But I knew Lindsay would think that, and there’d be no convincing her otherwise. Not now. I began realizing just how fucked my brother was. 

I panicked, and resorted to humor. “We’re not even each other’s type! I only fuck guys over six feet. If Lindsay had ever tried to get to know me, she would know that. And you, you’ve always gone for saggy banana tits with freaky huge areolas, over exquisitely shaped, perky little boobs with nips that jut heavenwards–”

“Just shut the fuck up, Kells! I’m going to lose my kids. Do you even care?”

“C’mon, you didn’t really like those kids. No one likes those kids. Only your wife and pedos with low self-esteem like those kids–”

“Fuck you, Kelly.” Brian was on his feet, shouting at me. “This is all your fault. I should have dropped you years ago–”

“Don’t say that.” Suddenly my chest felt like it was exploding. I couldn’t swallow.

“–but I felt sorry for you. Because you’re all alone. You’ve always been a freak, a born loser. You can’t keep anyone in your life. Not guys, not friends … no one likes you, ever. I’m the only one dumb enough … you don’t have anyone, besides me. You’re going on 40, and you’ve got zero people. Don’t you think at some point, the reason has got to be you?”

I punched him in the face. It was the first time I’d ever punched someone. It felt like I’d shattered every bone in my hand.

“Why did you say that? Why’d you have to do that? I would never have said that to you. Never.” I continued staring at him, tears and snot streaming down my face.

Brian stared back at me, crying, not saying anything. 

***

Later, the crying had stopped and we’d settled back into our respective seats and had a few more drinks, but we still hadn’t really said anything. 

Finally I can’t take it anymore.

“I had to get an abortion after, you know.” 

Brian lowers the ice pack and stares out of his one good eye. “Jesus, Kells–”

I gaze down into my glass. “Yup. Had to get our unholy incest-monster vacuumed out of me.”

“Are you joking around?!”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck you, Kells.” But he says it the way he normally does, and I know he’s not really mad at me anymore. 

“Hey, Bri. You know what I’ve got up here? A fully functioning Nintendo 64.” I pause for dramatic effect. “And Goldeneye. Wanna play?”

“Heck yeah. Lemme just top up my drink–”

“I’ll get it.” As I’m filling his glass, Brian looks up at me. “Hey. Kells.”

“Yeah?”

He hesitates, looks away. “That night. It, uh … it was my first time.” 

My jaw drops; I slosh booze on the ground. “Wow. Bri, I–” 

Brian grins. “Doesn’t feel so good, does it?” 

It takes me a moment, but then: “That’s what you said.” 

“Ouch.” 

“That’s what I said.” 

We play Goldeneye and drink in silence. A long time later, I say to him: 

“You can stay here as long as you want, Bri. We’ll wait out the apocalypse, and we’ll figure something out. The kids are yours, they’re not going anywhere. I’ll never let that happen. We’ll sort it out together. Don’t worry.”

And the whole time I’m talking, I’m still playing, I’m still kicking his ass.

Noel Negele

Nausea

I open my eyes to witness a roach wandering on the ceiling. Its antennae vivid and alive, just bobbling along, and I wonder if these things ever sleep. I have a headache that would put down a gladiator in the era of degenerate madness, but since I have grown accustomed to the lousiness of hangovers, I consume the last stocks of my remaining energy and drag my carcass out of bed.

I take a nice ol’ cold shower to open the eyes wide and I step out of the tub with a towel around my waist, feeling paradoxically enough, even more woozy and lame than before. I glance at the crapper and wonder if it’d be wise to put my finger into my throat to puke my guts out, like a hook into redemption, but I decide against it since A) it’s pathetic and wretched and B) I don’t like easy solutions.

In the kitchen I open the fridge to witness a miracle of sorts. Four bottles of beer batched together, like a decimated Roman phalanx that doesn’t quit — an indication that we were too fucked up to drink them all last night, a very rare event indeed. I take them all and moor myself on the couch between empty cans and bottles of beer. A Stolninchaya bottle lies broken beneath the table. 

I hope I don’t step on any glass and add more torture into my life.

I drink the beers leisurely, still drunk from the night before. Sitting there semi-conscious, I subsist in a fog of numbness and almost total amnesia. In a wonderful state where no ambition intrudes, no pain claws from within.

After a while, I get up and head back into my bedroom. There I observe the sleep-swollen face of the female boozer I’d bought home the night before. She snores at a moderate level, saggy tits exposed from beneath the covers. I slap one of them to wake her up. It’s time to exist again.

She sighs, yawns, and I notice all cavities in her teeth. I wonder if it hurts when she eats. I suppose my own denture is in no better condition, so I’m not the one to judge. She starts rubbing away the mess of her eye gums with her knuckles, and that’s when I notice her hairy armpits. I am more than certain that if I pull the sheets aside, I’ll uncover so much cellulite that I’ll become nauseous. 

“You have to leave. I have to go to work,” I tell her, even though I’ve never had a job in my life.

“And what?” she mumbles, barely able to pronounce the words. “You afraid I’m gonna steal something?”

“ I don’t even know your name.”

I suddenly feel very tired. Even the briefest exchange of words costs me dearly.

I retreat to the bathroom again and splash water on my face. Yes, I’m shit. On the outside and on the inside. I hope I’m not as shit on the inside as I look on the outside. I take a step back and observe. My tattoos look more ludicrous to me with every year that passes. A pin-up woman with her legs up and open on my chest. A childlike skull on my bicep. A boxer on my ribs, old-school style. The ripper with his scythe on my other ribs. Bukowski smoking next to the pin-up girl on my chest. Two drunk baby angels on my left arm. A noose on my back, going around my neck. A snake on my thigh devouring an apple that says TRUTH. They say you can erase them with laser, but since I’m never going to have enough money to even fix my own teeth, let alone erase my tattoos, these fuckers operate as a source of wisdom for me.

Oh yes, a wise and defeated acceptance of the irreversible in life. The college you dropped out of. The girl you loved but never had the balls to do anything about it. The same girl living two blocks away, married, with two kids. All the love you came short for your dead mother. Cancer. Disability. Fatherhood. Lifetime sentences to maximum security prisons. Lousy tattoos and death. In essence, all the great lessons in life are about death. It’s acceptance. Old age is a wild indecency. The inevitability of death a shame. You can’t get into the ring with life, it will put you to the fucking ground.

It’s all a big pile of horseshit. This world like a huge manmade tumor in space. The things that are exciting are gradually decreasing. Nothing is enough but the pain, the loneliness, the boredom.

“Where the hell are my panties?” screams the boozer from the other room. Her voice is hoarse, aged. I hear bottles tumbling all around.

“And my car keys? Where are my car keys?”

I don’t have enough sense of humor to see her right now. So I sit on the crapper and take a dump. 

“I don’t know where your car keys are!” I yell back, “and as for your panties, I don’t think you had any.”

She continues braying questions about her missing keys and panties. I don’t listen.

My phone starts to ring from the living room where I’d left it. I can hear the sound coming closer. Shit. Did I lock the door? 

The door opens wide and there she is, her hair a wild mess as she hands me the phone.

“My name is Mary by the way.”

“Nice to meet you,” I say with my best attempt at a smile.

And just when I think the situation can’t get any more uncomfortable, she enters the bathroom and climbs into the tub, squatting to piss down the drain. I feign indifference, as if something like this happens often in my life.

“Who is it?” I answer my still-ringing phone.

“Is this Jack Pearce?”

The voice from the other end is feminine, young but discouragingly professional.

“Yes, this is me.”

“I’m calling you from Saint Teresa hospital. Your father has fully recovered and we think it’s time for you to take him home…”

“Shit!”

“… Excuse me?”

“Yes, I’ll be right there.”

“Okay. Good day sir.”

I hang up the phone. Mary is still pissing in the tub.

“I feel like shit,” she says. “Who was it?”

“My father had both his legs broken in an accident. Had surgery. They want me to go and pick him up from the hospital.”

“What about your job?”

“What job?”

“What do you mean what job?” she asks, staring at me.

I swallow.

“I’ll go to work late,” I reply.

“I can take you to the hospital, since I’m leaving anyway,” she says. “You’re too much of a dog to be employed,” she continues. “And besides, it’s Sunday.”

I just look at her for a few seconds, until I realize this is one of those times where telling the truth is more advantageous than lying.

“Alright Mary,” I include her name because I’d read somewhere it indicates honest gratitude, “Thanks.”

Of course, it takes us a while to find where her car is parked. And when we finally do find it, I’m in for another surprise — Mary has a red Mercedes CLK Cabriolet. 

“You didn’t steal this, did you?”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” she laughs, getting in.

I smile. I resist the urge to jump into the convertible because I don’t want to vomit, and so I just enter the old fashioned way — through the door.

We take off into the deserted streets. She wears these large black, sunglasses that make her look like a tired old fly. It is after we’ve passed the second red light that she says:

“Get me that bottle from the glove compartment.”

What bottle, I ask myself as I open the glove compartment to find a small bottle of Smirnoff looking back at me with its catty smile. This is the third surprise of the day, I might add.

I hand it over. She puts it between her thighs and with one hand twists off the cap, draining 1/5 of the bottle down her throat. She extends it to me and needless to say I receive it graciously, and needless to say that now 2/5 of the bottle’s contents are forever lost.

By the time we get to the hospital, the bottle lies shattered somewhere at an intersection. 

Not many words were exchanged along the way. So I just say thank you Mary, including her name again, looking at her, already caught in the web of my alcoholic sentimentality. She looks back at me and says it’s alright.

“Goodbye, one night stand!” she says as I exit the vehicle.

“ I hope we didn’t gift each other any aphrodisiac diseases,” I tell her with a smile.

She throws her head back in an explosion of hysterical laughter that I find slightly worrisome.

“Hope your dick doesn’t fall off,” she says, “it’d be a shame.”

She then steps on the gas and takes off like a mad woman, almost running me over in the process.

Quicksand Highway, By Judge Santiago Burdon

Horror Sleaze Trash proudly presents, Judge Santiago Burdon.

“With tales from skid row, bars, motels and hospitals, Quicksand Highway tells tales of drug running, bullet dodging, drug addiction and broken romance with the insight of someone who knows what he is talking about. This collection of short stories explores life in the fast lane, extremely funny and always gritty. Judge’s Quicksand Highway delivers the goods.”

Jesse James Kennedy (Author of Missouri Homegrown, Tijuana Mean, and Black Hills Reckoning)

BUY A COPY HERE

David Estringel

Blue Light

Leaning against an old Chevrolet on Maudlin Street, I smoke a cigarette—hard—chuckling at the hisses and howls of alley cats beneath the butcher shop’s broken neon sign. They flick their tails and prowl about, pestering fellas headed home to cold wives and cold dinners, straight from the misery of their long evening shifts. Persistent, with purrs and claws—smooth as cream— they graze oily pant legs (and thighs) for want of a rub…or two. Tossing my smoke at the sidewalk—a cherry-bomb explosion drawing the glow of hungry eyes—a young, new one to the corner catches my eye, preening her strawberry-yellow hair, distracted by night shadows that stretch and duck in the periphery. I light another smoke and call her over with a “Psst,” motioning with my hand, as tracers from a flaming tip pull heads from her pounce in unison, to and fro. Cautiously, she turns to me, as the sign overhead begins to flicker blue, casting a harsh pallor upon angled faces with its undead light. Calling her over, again, she slowly heads my way—eyes shining and features soft. “What’s tonight’s special?” I ask, as she pulls the cigarette from my newly shaken fingers and takes a drag. Letting out a long sigh, she blows a steady stream of spite—sweet—into my face, and jabs, “A pound of flesh with a side of soul. Hungry?” looking as if she’d heard that line one too many times. “Nah,” I answered (a burn taking over my cheeks), “not tonight.” Then I turned and walked away down Maudlin Street—not looking back—wishing I knew her name, loving her.

***

Originally published in Terror House Magazine

Judson Michael Agla

Remnants

It was just before the dawn of the end of the world, and what a better way to shake things up than an extinction level event delivered right to your doorstep like a paper bag full of steaming shit. This inevitable catastrophe was of course due to the eventual onslaught of an abrupt climatic clusterfuck, caused by people, because people are fucking stupid. Having no way to stop or slow this from happening, people turned to their only historically respectable advantageous of behaviours, which were alcoholism, ferocious recreational drug use, and murder without discretion or empathy. 

Our city planners were tasked with arranging a huge party to celebrate the event, which would begin as soon as possible, and end when everybody was either dead or on a spaceship, the latter being less likely. After all, our city boasted one of the most glamourous of venues just outside of it’s limits; a gigantic estate that was just recently dubbed both an historical landmark and an architectural death trap. This venue was chosen partially because of its multicultural heritage; Once owned by rich white people, built by enslaved black people, and situated on the burial grounds of first nations people. The ballroom in the main building could accommodate five thousand rich people or ten thousand normal people, although, those numbers were most likely outdated as the entire structure had been sinking on the west side since completion, apparently building codes at the time viewed sand and dead bodies as an acceptable foundation.

The party was essentially for the most elitist of the elite citizens of the world; billionaires, movie stars, professional athletes, and anyone rich enough to purchase, cage, and eat poor people. Rich and famous cocksuckers were to be flown in from the four corners of the globe, however, those flights would not be returning, as surprisingly to most, a globe does not have any corners. However, there was a plentiful stock of fuck-heads who fit the bill within driving distance to overflow the joint with thousand-dollar party gowns, hairdos, and purse dwelling over-inbred rat-dogs.

This celebratory atrocity was going to be holding the largest herd of dull, egocentric, narcissistic, oppressive, second amendment spewing, right wing, slave trading, pedophiliac, oil pumping, tax evading cocksuckers collectively wearing more plastic implants than actual body parts, ever to soil a single venue, and I was going to crash the fucker.

I had nothing to wear that cost any more than free, so I put together my old clown suit that I used to wear when I lived underground beside a gas station (they were dark and cryptic times), I’d be arriving posing as the entertainment, and the bright, sickening, and somewhat blinding colors of the costume would surely camouflage my grenade belt, as well as take notice away from my bag of angry rats, that was in fact clearly labeled “Bag of Angry Rats” (the dark and cryptic times never really quite ended for me).

So, the glorious day finally came into fruition, and playing my part as accurately, and believable as I could, I rolled up to castle douche bag on my pink tricycle, just fucking loaded up on P.C.P., vodka, and a shitload of prescription pills that I liberated from a dumpster about a year and a half ago. After a short period of dry heaving, and pissing out of my ass in the bushes, I bravely staggered up to the main entrance, ready to defend myself against expulsion, I was heavily armed, and the rats were real fucking hungry, but I managed to walk right in without the slightest incident, some plastic rich bitch even asked “who” I was wearing.

Once inside, I couldn’t help but notice the wretched stench, comparable to that of stewing hot rigor coming from a discarded oil drum, haphazardly dumped on a Florida beach. The music stage had already been sacked by a madman with a tenuous mortal coil, half dead, and seemingly possessed by a very fucking pissed off alien entity, he was spewing a continuous entourage of obscenities at the guests through the thick rancid clouds of cigar smoke, and the ever-present fumes of the original lead-based paint that blanketed the entire estate.

The nicotine-stained windows that covered the ceiling revealed an untimely imposing blackened sky, like some ethereal force had parked its ass overhead, and was ready to blow a wretched form of damnation out from its bowels. An overwhelming feeling of impending doom abruptly came over me, as I sensed the undeniable presence of torturous unrest, and a distasteful wrath of god like vengeance. It became quite obvious to me that the guest list was expanding; the dead were here, and I was beginning a crash course covering the true nature of the machinery of dying.

As I staggered through this awesome nightmare, I already knew that bat-shit crazy was the pre-determined destination, and things hadn’t even hit the on-ramp yet. The chaotic mess continued as some assholes let the guard dogs into the ballroom, who immediately sniffed out the over in-bred purse dwelling smaller rat-dogs, and ripped the fuckers apart with ferocious ease, and malice that even I had never seen. Usually, blood spray on the walls evidenced that a party was going well, but this was much different, and these devil dogs had only begun to sooth their famine. The guests, like gazelles on the Serengeti, began to sacrifice their own, by tossing smaller, weaker, and less popular individuals into the epicenter of the slaughter, until the dogs’ stomachs finally burst open from the inside out, and fell into a long horrific multitude of death throes.

I’ve seen my share of horror, and sick human born atrocities, I’ve even committed some, but this venue, on this night, had yet to show me the true meaning of darkness. Some of the spectacles were Russian roulette, played with fully loaded revolvers, twisted versions of traditional cock fights, pitting poor blind children against each other, with razor wire wrapped around their hands and feet, experimental surgeries, both rearranging, and exchanging appendages, and organs, bowling with babies taped to explosives, the consuming of cleaning products, gasoline, and lighter fluid, and the accusing and burning of those believed to be witches. Things were really getting fucking medieval in there. 

Superseding the feelings of horror and disgust, a strange sense of disappointment surfaced, I had come with the intensions of protest, to be the voice of the meek and disenfranchised, seek vengeance for economic discrimination and the child sex trade business. I wanted to kill people with a rusty meat cleaver, set off a few grenades and bring down the ceiling, set loose to my angry bag of rats and witness slow death with ring side seats, convince people that god was dead and heaven had been sacked by reptilian aliens, but none of this would hold any meaningful viscosity or potency. I was a snake with no venom, a crusader without a sword or any belief in misguided fairy tales, these sub-human monsters had already long ago fallen from the grace of their gods. 

I realized that despite my best efforts, I couldn’t commit any atrocity that these fuck-monsters weren’t already doing to themselves, I’d lost all propulsion driving my hateful disgust for humanity, they’d even began horrific acts of cannibalism which I was planning to provoke as my grand finale, I’d be the one man to actually get the rich to eat themselves. 

My bloody insurrection was a total failure before it ever began, and there was no way I was going to let my rats eat their way through this party, it was far below even their standards, if you can even believe it, I had to feed them cooked food, which confused the fuck out of them. So, I grabbed a bottle of vodka from the bar and sat down to do as much P.C.P. as humanly possible, but you know, it just didn’t taste quite the same.

As I sat there, snorting my way towards destiny and damnation, with bloody nose and freshly soiled clown pants, a woman sat down beside me. She was modestly clothed, and obviously shared no union or compliance with the goings on of this insipid mortal hell spinning unbridled all around us. She was blessed with a calming beauty and noticeable empathy, and somehow, sensed my distress, and incontinence. She took my hand in hers and spoke from a star-lit wisdom that far surpassed any fortune cookie I’d ever read. She went on to say; “There are two kinds of people in this world my friend; those with loaded guns, and those who dig”, I was so gloriously surprised to hear my favorite quote from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, my distress began to dissipate, and a new enigmatic form of understanding washed over me. There wasn’t going to be any heroes in this story, only the bravery to accept my own tenuous mortal coil, the clockworks behind the machinery of dying, and the detonator she pulled from her purse, that I was privileged to press, my hand over hers.

Lamont A. Turner

Finger Pudding

“There’s a fucking finger in my pudding!” Chester shouted. 

Everyone leaned forward over the table to stare into the bowl of brown slop while Chester poked at it with his spoon. 

“You’re nuts!” Brett said, shaking his head in disgust. “Anything to get attention!”

“It was right there! I saw it!” Chester insisted, brown sludge and whipped cream spattering onto his wrists as he punished the pudding with his spoon.

“Hey! Maybe this is one of those vision things!” Thad suggested. “Chester might be seeing into the future again.”

Everyone stood back and examined their fingers. Chester was renowned as a prophet. Ever since old man Ross had been picked up for dealing meth just a week after Chester claimed he’d had a vision of the old man behind bars, Chester had been a minor celebrity.  Ross had been one of those proverbial pillars of the community, and nobody had any reason to suspect he was a dealer, least of all Chester who had never met the man. People started consulting Chester before playing the lottery or buying a used car.

“Chester thinks penicillin makes you gay,” Brett said. “The guy would be wearing a tinfoil hat if he could figure out how to make one cover the point on his head.”

“Remember that time he said Ricky Toombs would knock up his cousin?” Thad said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “Tell me how he knew that was going to happen?”

“The DNA test hasn’t come back yet,” Brett retorted. “Besides, everybody knows Ricky’s a pervert. It’s not like it would be a big surprise if the kid is his.”

“So when’s it gonna happen, Chester? When will one of us lose a finger?” asked Toby, the youngest of the bunch, prompting Brett to smack him in the back of the head.

“You clowns wanna hide your fingers for the rest of your lives, be my guest,” Brett said, spreading his hands out palm down on the table. “I’m gonna…”

He was cut off by a mass of flying cutlery as a passing waitress tripped; pushing the tray she was carrying toward him as she fell. Chairs scooted back, as everyone rushed to avoid the wave of french fries and malted milk cascading toward them. 

It was only after Thad had helped the waitress back to her feet and everyone had wiped the ketchup from their faces that they noticed Brett was still sitting, staring at the mass of forks and broken glass on the table. His hands were under it. 

“Damn, dude! You hurt?” Thad asked, noticing the blood dripping off the edge of the table.    

Gritting his teeth, Brett extricated his right hand from the mess, and swept the rubble to the floor, uncovering a left hand with a shard of glass stuck in the webbing between his index and middle finger. It looked like his index finger had been cut to the bone.

“Chester was right!” Toby exclaimed, making sure to stay out of the reach of Brett’s good hand. “Look at your finger!”

Brett scowled at Chester who stood a few feet away, basking in the glow of his latest triumph. 

“Better wipe that grin off your puss,” Brett said, holding his hand up and squeezing the wrist as he got up. “I still got another hand to…” He sat back down, trying to get his eyes to focus. The manager came over to tell him an ambulance was on the way, but Brett was only aware of the blood rushing in his ears.

***

Brett ended up needing six stitches but, as he stressed to Toby as they left the ER, the finger was still attached. Toby dropped him off as his apartment, and offered to stay, but Brett insisted he was fine. He watched Toby drive off before changing into a shirt that wasn’t covered in blood and stuffing the keys to his Dodge into his right pocket.

Twenty minutes and three shots of gin later, Brett pounded on the door of the leaky aluminum box Chester pretended was a home. Getting no response, he kicked at it until the door started bending in its frame and he heard a voice shouting from inside.

“You’re going to break my door!” Chester yelled, flinging the door open just as Brett was pulling back his leg to administer the coup de grace. Brett responded by slamming his right fist into Chester’s face, knocking him back onto the piles of dirty laundry and Styrofoam dinner trays on the floor of the trailer.

“You tripped that waitress!” Brett bellowed, standing over Chester. He bent down, grabbed a handful of Chester’s shirt and reared back with his left hand to deliver another punch before remembering that hand was out of commission. Instead he let Chester drop, and gave him a kick in the side as he landed.

“You’re crazy!” Chester shouted, coughing up red tinged saliva as he held up his hands to ward off the next blow.

“I’m crazy? I’m not the loser who has to pretend he has some kind of magic voodoo powers to get people to notice him!”

“They’re real,” Chester sobbed. “I can see things!”

“Sure you can,” Brett said, giving him another kick.  As Brett’s heart raced, a haze filled the room. He was beginning to feel light-headed from the mix of pain killers and booze, along with the blood loss. Stumbling back a little, he reached out for a floor lamp to steady himself, but the lamp went over, taking him with it. His head hit the floor hard.

He was only out for a minute, but it was long enough for Chester to recover and grab a cinder block from out in the yard. As Brett opened his eyes, he saw a gray shadow rushing at him followed by a flash of light, and then darkness. 

Not wanting too much of a mess to clean up, Chester dragged Brett down the stack of boards that served as steps and out into the grass before dropping the block on his head again, and again, and again. After finally catching his breath, Chester went in and found his cell phone in the cushion of the ratty recliner facing the television. He dropped into the recliner and rang up Thad.

“Guess what,” he said into the phone as Thad picked up. “I just had another vision.”

Steve Slavin

The Legend of Sonny Williams

You’d have to be as old as I am to remember when a very menacing looking boxer named Sonny Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round to snatch away his heavyweight crown. He followed up with another first-round knockout of Patterson in a rematch.

His next fight was with a young challenger whose ego appeared to tower far above his own formidable boxing skills. Sonny Liston was a heavy favorite not only to beat Cassius Clay, but to completely demolish him as he had done Patterson. 

As you may know, Clay outboxed Liston, knocking him out in the eighth round. He would soon change his name to Mohammed Ali, and to reign as the heavyweight champion for much of his career.

But this isn’t a story about boxing. Sonny Williams was not a boxer: He was a lover. As so many of us back in the sixties and early seventies used to chant, “Make love – not war!”

But before he gained some measure of fame, if you tried to envisage what Sonny Williams looked like, you might have pictured a tall muscular black man. In a way, it was that image that indirectly gave him his start in a long and happy film career. 

Can you remember the1969 movie, Putney Swope? From time to time, Sonny Williams is mentioned, but he doesn’t actually appear in the flesh until the very end of the movie. 

He turned out to be not at all what you might have expected.  A very pale five-foot-four balding white man with a longish beard, thick glasses, and a very shy manner, he appeared completely naked, except for a raincoat. Whatever else you might have said, he was no Sonny Liston.

Without uttering a word, he opened his raincoat, fully exposing himself.  Within weeks, his acting talents would be in great demand.

***

No one could have guessed that this cameo would mark the beginning of a long career in cinema for Sonny Williams. He would become an instant porno star.

Conventional porn movies back in the 1970s were essentially ten- or fifteen-minute sexual encounters, either between a heterosexual couple, or two women. There were, of course, porno movies for gay men, which were shown in different theaters. 

Some porno filmmaker must have seen Sonny in Putney Swope, perhaps glancing at his massive schlong (Yiddish for very large penis). And so, a porn star was born.

Sonny had not recently cultivated the Talmudic scholar look. Brought up in an orthodox family in Brooklyn’s Borough Park, he faithfully attended Yeshiva all the way through high school. His name back then was Perry Gewirtz

But after moving out of his parents’ house and ending up on Manhattan’s Lower Eastside, he quickly drifted away from the faith. He began eating traif (non-kosher food) and was soon dating shiksas (gentile women).

At first, he returned to Borough Park on weekends to spend the sabbath with his family. But since his social life centered on weekends, those visits became less and less frequent. His parents and his brothers and sisters knew better than to try to talk him out of his disappointing lifestyle, hoping that he would soon come to his senses.

***

Immediately after he had been “discovered,” Sonny was put to work. He could not believe that he was actually being paid for doing what he gladly would have done for nothing. But don’t get the wrong idea. You won’t get rich being paid twenty-five dollars for each cum shot. 

Now, some women could have made a small fortune using that pay scale. But for Sonny, who often took home over a hundred dollars for a day’s work, that was a lot of money for a guy living in a seventy-dollar-a-month-apartment in a tenement on East 5th Street off Second Avenue. 

Sonny’s downstairs neighbor and closest friend was a very affable guy named Marshall Anker, who had long been an aspiring actor. Clearly jealous of Sonny’s success, he was always talking about the roles he was “up for.”

For weeks before an audition to play W.C. Fields in some movie that never saw the light of day, Marshall went around imitating Fields. But almost everyone who heard him thought he was just drunk, or perhaps insane.

Then, out of the blue, Marshall was cast as the sheriff in Last House on the Left, an exploitation horror film that was a commercial success. It would be his only movie role. 

Marshall also envied Sonny for all the women he scored with – on the movie set and off. As small as Sonny was, Marshall was large. About six-three, with a big pot belly, he cut quite a figure walking along Second Avenue. 

One night, he did get lucky. He met Marsha Handelsman, the three-hundred-pound poetess. They had both gotten drunk at a party, and as Marshall walked her home, his hopes were high. 

She lived on the top floor of a five-story walk-up. But she was too drunk to climb the stairs. She said, “If you can carry me upstairs, you can fuck me.”

Did he manage to carry her up four flights? Yes! Did he have his way with her? Here, the story gets somewhat muddled. All he could remember was that he had to visit a chiropractor for months until he recovered.

***

Sonny and Marshall, along with another six or eight kindred spirits, would often party together. If you invited one of them to a party you were having, it went without saying that the whole bunch of them would show up.

I lived on Norfolk Street, about ten blocks from Sonny and Marshall. When their entourage arrived, they all started eating and drinking as though there were no tomorrow. Marshall even stuffed potato chips in his pockets, perhaps out of food insecurity. Sonny was too busy eyeing the women, none of whom seemed to know about his exploits on the silver screen. 

Marshall, on the other hand, talked almost nonstop about his career in film, although that didn’t appear to impress the young women he was hitting on. Still, he was happy to be at the party, where at least there was some infinitesimal chance that he might get lucky.

About two am, a contingent of us headed down to Chinatown. Obviously, the pretzels, potato chips, cheese, salami, and onion soup dip I had put out were just the appetizers. 

Down the block from me, Sonny and Marshall found an abandoned baby stroller. Sonny hopped in and Marshall pushed him all the way to Canal and Mott Streets. 

They were quite a sight, and passersby often stopped to stare at the two of them. Both bearded and disreputable looking, they must have been taken for a demented father and his severely retarded bearded son. 

***

Sonny loved his work so much that many times, he and his partner would keep going at it even after the allotted filming time had passed. The director, who had been about to yell “Cut!” just signaled the cameraman to keep shooting. 

At first, the director thought Sonny was just trying to make more money, but he soon realized this was truly a labor of love. Look at it from Sonny’s perspective: Going to work was like going out on a great date. And not only did it cost him absolutely nothing, but they even paid him.

Soon he was truly a porn star. But he never let it go to his head. He knew, of course, that all good things must come to an end, so why not make hay while the sun was still shining?

People would approach him on the street and ask for his autograph, or to be in a photo with them. Once, a very attractive woman came up to him and asked him exactly how big it was.

He lived just around the corner, so he took her up to his apartment. They spent the rest of the day in bed. Then, she apologized and starting dressed. She needed to get home to make dinner for her husband and children. 

***

By the time he was in his late forties, Sonny’s career as a porn star was clearly coming to and end. He decided that maybe a change of scenery would be nice, so he moved into a larger living space. He found a very reasonably priced storefront on East 9th Street just off Second Avenue. 

It was long and narrow, with a big glass window at the front. People could see in, but he hung curtains a few feet from the window. When his friends visited for the first time, they often thought it was a used bookstore. Except that less than half the books were on bookshelves. The rest were in piles on the floor.

Once, I asked him why he needed so many books. “You realize that you could not read all these books in ten lifetimes.”

He smiled.

“So why do you need so many?” I persisted.

“For reference.”

I just looked at him. Nearly all of the books were fiction. 

When I thought about that exchange years later, I realized that maybe he was beginning to lose it.

One evening, when my girlfriend and I came by to take Sonny to dinner, we saw a woman in the store. She didn’t say anything, and Sonny didn’t bother to introduce her. 

Who knows? Maybe she was a rare book buyer.

At dinner, Sonny didn’t mention her. But he must have trusted her, because he left her alone in his apartment.

***

Sonny had two tabby cats who enjoyed sunning themselves in the store window especially during the winter months. But this created problems with some of the passersby who knocked on the door, demanding to know if the cats were trapped in the small space they occupied.

Sonny grew tired of explaining that the cats were fine, so he taped a huge sign in his window that read: The cats love the warming rays of the sun. They are where they are entirely voluntarily.”

Not only did the sign actually work, but people came by just to look at it. The East Village Other even ran a series of photographs of the cats sunning themselves just below Sonny’s sign.

Although most of the people who viewed porno movies were reticent about ever mentioning this to even their closest friends, occasionally people would stop Sonny on the street to ask for his autograph. Marshall suggested that he sell his signed photos for ten or fifteen dollars apiece, but Sonny absolutely refused to do so. 

“It would be as if I were prostituting myself!” he declared.

“Excuse me!” replied Marshall. “But isn’t that what you were doing in all those pornographic flicks you made?”

“Not at all! What I did, I did for my own pleasure… And of course for my partners’ pleasure as well.”

“Yeah, well I wouldn’t have minded pleasuring a few of those women myself!”

***

The last time I would see Sonny alive was when I took him to dinner on his fifty-first birthday. He told me that he was vey worried about Marshall’s health, and that he had been urging him to see a doctor. 

“He can barely make it up the stairs to his apartment, and he is constantly wheezing.”

When my girlfriend and I went back to Sonny’s storefront, the same woman was there. This time she was much more friendly, although in a very negative sort of way. 

“Can you believe the way he lives like this? Books all over the place. I told him a million times to just throw the whole lot of them in the garbage.”

She went on like this for at least ten minutes. Sonny had disappeared to a small cleared area in the back of the apartment, and as soon as we could disengage ourselves, we followed him to the back of the apartment.

Sonny put a finger to his lips, signaling us to whisper. He confessed that the woman just turned up on his doorstep one afternoon and never left.

“You mean she’s a squatter in your apartment?” I asked.

“I guess so.”

“Why don’t you throw her out?”

“I don’t know where she would go.”

“Sonny, that’s her problem,” said my girlfriend.

“Maybe, but it would be on my conscience.”

***

Just a month later, Sonny died suddenly from a severe stroke. I later learned that he had had a series of mini strokes months before that, but like Marshall, he never went to a doctor. 

There were over a hundred mourners at his funeral. Conspicuously absent was Marshall, who had just gone into a nursing home. Most of us were aging hippies, neighbors, a whole contingent of current and former porno actors and actresses, and a few of his relatives.

His older brother, Ben, who remained an orthodox Jew, gave a wonderful eulogy. I sill remember his line, “Sonny wanted to make it small in the movies.”

That really summed him up. Unlike so many aspiring actors, Sonny never wanted to be a great movie star. He just wanted to have a really good time. Very few people truly love their work. Whatever else might be said about Sonny Williams, no one could deny that he was happy in his work. And yes, he did indeed make it small in the movies.