Julian Grant

Cold Cuts

This is how it all ended. 

Blyth’s Mom had stashed her dead husband’s service revolver in the cupboard up high once she found him playing with it as a kid. She drank a lot back then to deal with the stress of raising Blyth by herself and the whole dead husband cop thing – so we pretty much did whatever we wanted over there. His Dad bought it on the job, and she got his pension, a flag and his weapon, ‘cause back then cops paid for their own guns. Blyth didn’t remember his dead dad at all (he was six when he bought it) and once Mom sobered up and found out Blyth was showing all of us pre-teen kids who basically camped out in her rec room his revolver, it disappeared into her closet and we eventually all forgot about it.

‘Til last week.

“You think it’s still there?” I asked, as Blyth rolled. He’d mastered the art of navigating his Mom’s LTD, driving with his knees, as he built a joint. It wasn’t the type of skill that looked good on a job application but neither of us were applying for work anytime soon.

“Where else would it be?” Blyth answered, shaking his head at what was apparently another dumb-ass question from me.

Once his Mom got Jesus, stopped drinking and kicked all of us kids out of the basement, there was little reason to hang out with Blyth. The cool gun was gone, his Mom started handed out God comics and there was no more liquor cabinet to experiment with and steal drinks from.

But Blyth and I were in the ‘dead Dad’ club – a rarity in our neck of the woods. Divorces and separations were common, sure but only him and me had actual bonified for-real dead Dads.

“I checked the other night when she was out a prayer meeting. It’s still there. Plus, a box of shells. They’re all old – but bullets don’t go bad, do they?”

I shrugged, snagging the joint from Blyth as I torched the end as we sat in the car at the B-Mall looking at the Deli two rows over.

Piles of kids from Bloordale, the Middle School were lined up outside for the $4 Buck Special – a smoked meat sandwich, donut and soft drink – alongside a lunchtime sign stating only two kids at a time in the store.

Thick fragrant smoke filled the baby shit brown ride. Back then, we smoked Dumbos – Columbian bush weed nowhere near as strong as the shit out there now – but it got the job done.

“Bullets don’t go bad. Not that we’re gonna need any. He gets one look at the gun, we get the cash. In and out in two minutes…How many kids are out there right now?”

Blyth squinted through the salt-crusted windshield. It was cold as hell out there and the kids standing in line shivered as snow eddied around them. The big car we sat in rocked as a hard-arctic blast hit.

“I got at least twenty, and lunch is an hour. Look, two in, two out every minute. It’s a cash machine.”

I passed the joint back to Blyth as I did the math. 

Fifty minutes of solid business with two kids per minute times four bucks on average equaled four hundred bucks. Just at lunch. The old Italian guy who ran the place was making money. Money that was all paper. No credit cards or ATMS back then. In 1985, four-hundred bucks was a good weekly salary for someone. 

And this Guido was making this every day at lunch from a bunch of cheese-eating middle school kids. Who’d think of ripping that off?

“It’s gonna be a cinch,” Blyth said as he toked deep. 

Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.

***

I can still hear the siren now. It’s was a way off and I didn’t think it would get here at the time – but that doesn’t matter now. I couldn’t feel my legs and my right arm was bent weird underneath me. I’m glad I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything. The thing that worried me the most was the sucking, wet sounds from my chest. Every breath felt like someone sticking a knife in me. 

But I was still better off than Blyth.

“I don’t want to stay in the car,” I argued that night as Blyth dropped me off home. Final count for the afternoon rush was 54 kids in total. Even more than we thought.

“It’s my gun. I want to do it. You drive. I’m going to call the car in stolen anyway and it won’t help if people see me driving, will it?”

Stoned as we were, it made sense at the time, he’d say that his car was jacked at our school, Silverthorne that was on the other side of town, and he only noticed after lunch when he came out on a free period. 

“We book right at lunch, nobody will notice ‘cause everyone wants to go to Apache or The Goof for burgers, we blend in with everyone and then haul ass to the B Mall and get it done just as lunch ends. I call the cops after we dump the car at Nielsen Park and we walk away clean.”

We’d spent all night doing the math, figuring how long we needed, the best time to hit – at the end, obviously and what masks to wear. Blyth thought that wool balaclavas were the best – but where do you even get those full-face ski masks anyway?

“We go to Consumers Distributing, it’s super close to the Deli, just down a few stores. Buy the masks there and go do crimes. What could be easier?”

Consumers, the catalogue store, now long gone had a mail-order-in-person collection of goods that you ordered up front and picked up your stuff from a conveyor belt out the back. It was all about shopping convenience meaning that you could stock a shit ton of stuff without any in-store displays. You just looked up the picture in the catalogue they had there, ordered your stuff and it came out of the back.

“But we gotta get ‘em before the day we do it, right?”

Blyth looked at me like I had two heads. 

“Of course, we go early. I don’t want a shitty color or not get the size I want.”

When I was lying on the cold cement bleeding out, my ski-mask long gone, I laughed as best I could as the blood pooled on my jacket. Consumers had them alright – just extra-large only and Blyth was definitely not a XL.  Let me tell you, dudes can be just as vain as women when it comes to what they want to wear.  Especially to a robbery.

So, Blythe got his XL red ski-mask and I got the black balaclava and we pulled them on when we rolled into the B Mall when we finally picked a day. The day was Wednesday.

I pulled right up front to the Deli as the Guido inside was taking down the lunch special sign. He got one look at Blyth, bopping out of the car with his old man’s service pistol in his hand and he hauled ass back behind the counter. We were busted before we even started. I stayed, hunched down behind the wheel, praying even though God’s not for me.

“No bullets, no problem,” Blythe had said as he winked at me when we left his place. “See?” But somewhere between his place and me pulling up in front of the Deli, he’d pulled a switcharoo and loaded up anyway in the backseat. 

Now I could only see everything from where I was sitting and Blyth had his back to me once he raced inside – but I sure as shit heard the gun go off.

One. Two. Three. WTF?

I glanced about the Mall from inside the car checking to see if anyone else noticed the sharp staccato cracks. Winter tends to keep people moving fast when they’re outside and the wind and snow was kicking up still, so I hoped that no one had heard.

We were in luck. Outside, nobody had twigged to what was going down. Just people down by the supermarket and coming out of the convenience store. No witnesses.

I whipped back to the Deli, my foot revving the LTD in place, juiced by the noises as my mind raced. I didn’t figure that Blyth lied to me about the bullets but I guess he changed his mind. I had to pee bad.

The condensation on the Deli window created this porthole, you know, with tinsel and Xmas shit everywhere making it hard to see, like I said.

“C’mon, Blyth. C’mon.”

I was too scared what with the shooting and stuff to be pissed about him lying to me about loading the gun. My heart was smashing away, my mouth tasted like pennies and I still had to piss.

That’s when the alarm went off outside as Blyth raced out holding one of the cold cut sandwich bags the middle schoolers used stuffed with cash, 

When the front window exploded, Blyth took the hit in the back as I ducked down in the car. I felt him slam into his Mom’s ride as he howled in pain. 

And then nothing.

I jack-rabbited up, looking at the Deli guy behind the shot-to-shit window with a big-ass shotgun in his hands. He was bleeding with two holes in him already as he wobbled on the spot, trying to keep his scatter-gun on us.

I remember screaming for Blyth, looking down at my buddy who was slumped down on the ground, the whole back of his head just gone. 

“Blyth! Blyth!” I hollered, already knowing that it was pointless. 

It was when I opened the door and slid down next to my buddy that the window in the car blew out as the Deli guy shot at us again. I remember feeling something hit me, a hard slap in my coat as everything went grey for a second. 

People started screaming, closer now as I watched the Deli guy, still standing, crack open the gun and start reloading these big-ass shells.

I grabbed the wet bag out of Blyth’s hand and started to run.

In retrospect, I should have probably just jumped back in the car, hauled ass and dumped it like we planned. But I wasn’t thinking straight, Blyth was gone and I was scared shitless. I wasn’t so out of it that I didn’t grab the money though. I was scared – not stupid.

The B-Mall is one of those low-rise suburban motor courts with dry cleaners, a convenience store, a bank and a chain supermarket. We’d looked at all of them trying to figure out the best place to hit figuring the Deli was the easiest. We nixed the Family Restaurant and the Value-Mart as too many people and we had no idea how much shit Consumers actually sold – so the Deli with its big lunch cash run just made sense to us.

I looked back over my shoulder, tearing off my balaclava as I ran. This was another mistake as I saw the Deli door open and the bleeding guy with the gun stagger out. I’d left Blyth’s gun on the ground too and had spun backwards to track the guy, still hauling forwards.

I ran right off the stairs that lead to the lower basement area where a locksmith had his little shop. Two stories down. Forty-four concrete steps. My feet didn’t touch one of them.

I felt the arm break as the bag burst as I fell into the cement pit. I’d never paid much attention to this place before and I got no one to blame but myself for how this ended up. My head hit the wet cement and everything went white for a moment as I saw the money Blyth had grabbed floating in the air, a cascade of bills and coins.

I suppose it was the people too busy grabbing the money that kept the Deli guy from shooting me right there on the spot. I could hear him screaming in Italian and heard the cops screeching up as people slip-and-slided everywhere scooping up the lunch money from the ground and in the air as it floated down. 

After that, everything gets fuzzy.

So, I lived. Took a lot of work and hospital time but I live in Canada so it didn’t cost me anything to get patched up. Blyth was dead and my lawyer argued me down to a year in Juvie as I didn’t actually rob the guy and we claimed that I had no idea Blyth was going to rob the place. I’d lost my balaclava and they had no real proof against me as no one saw shit. My lawyer even put forward the idea of counter-suing the family once the Guido died of his wounds – but it didn’t feel right. The Crown knew I was guilty as shit but all they had me for was grabbing the stolen money on the ground which ended up getting thieved by everyone passing by at the mall. I lost a lung, got a busted arm and had to repeat Grade 11 because I was off sick so long what with the injuries and all.

Still, it could have been worse. I could have ended up dead like Blyth. 

They don’t offer the lunch special at the Deli any more. 

I don’t blame them.

A. Elizabeth Herting

Blood Waltz

The skeletons were dancing. 

Their bleached appendages clacked and scraped together in a jumble of ulnas and tibias. They moved gracefully, in as much as skeletons could move at all, in perfect synchronicity. Harold Freeman stared at them in open-mouthed astonishment, a vague recollection of his schoolboy days dancing around the corners of his memory. 

There are 206 bones in the human body. 270 at birth, that is, until the extra bones fuse together into the final number of 206. Harold, write this down, please! 

Harold had never been much of an academic, but that random fact from Sister Mary Bernard’s third-grade science class lingered in his mind as he watched the animated bones glide across the polished floor. This simply had to be some sort of dark dream, a wispy figment of his excellent dinner come back to torment him. 

***

Harold was an elegant man of large appetites, the author of his own destiny who believed that moderation was for imbeciles. The way he saw it, you were either a victim or a predator and Harold had no desire to be someone else’s lunch. He dined on the weak of mind, a first-class con man and thief. Dealing mainly with the old and infirm, the force of his larger-than-life personality always drew them into his various schemes and elaborate plans. That last old bird had given him $52,000, the entirety of her life savings for his once-in-a-lifetime land deal before shuffling off this mortal coil. Although, she was helped along to paradise by a healthy regimen of poisoned herbal tea, served with tiny little finger sandwiches by none other than Harold himself. No one was ever the wiser–they never were. He had lost count of how many had met a similar fate, preferring not to dwell on the unpleasantness of his chosen occupation. 

He had a refined palate, voraciously inhaling life’s pleasures where and when he found them and needed a healthy income to keep them coming. Food was usually the first item on his list, followed by a taste for fine wines. At six-foot-five and tipping the scales at a hearty 377 pounds, Harold barreled through life eating up every second he possibly could. He wondered darkly if his own skeleton would dance on its own, buried as it was in layers upon layers of Harold, itching to shed him like a corpulent cocoon.

***

He was so engrossed with the skeletal couple, that he failed to take in the music that served as the backdrop for their ghoulish swaying. He chastised himself for the oversight. Harold was also quite the connoisseur of music, the classical pieces of yore tickling his fancy. He’d played the French horn in his school orchestra and could always pick out its plaintive, haunting sound in any performance. His ears perked up as he closed his eyes, feeling the crest and swell of the music. When he opened them again, he rubbed at his sockets furiously, not wanting to believe that what he was seeing was even remotely possible. An entire demented orchestra loomed before him, rotting, decaying corpses with instruments that appeared to be made of bone, muscle, and gore.

The conductor was something ripped from the pages of a Gothic novel, his left eye dangling down his desiccated face, wild brittle hair framing a countenance that would have been welcome at the very gates of hell. Over seven feet tall with his tuxedo moldering off of his half-rotted frame, the conductor held a large, razor-sharp femur bone in his right hand while keeping tempo with his left. He was very passionate about the music as pieces of him flew off in every direction, plopping softly onto the floor.

Harold knew that he had heard this music before, was trying to identify it as he also gazed in disbelief upon the orchestra. They ranged from skeletal to fresh, and every stage in between. The violinists were raw and angrily red, splashes of blood and carnage flying in their wake as they sawed away at their strings of sinew. 

The flutists were delicate, mummified creatures, which Harold found endlessly amusing, for every flute player he had ever met in his band playing days was exactly that way in real life. Their brittle fingers worked upon the keys and he wondered how they could blow so well into their flutes, without a lip or nose to be found in the entire section. 

He noticed that the trumpet players were a thing of macabre beauty. Black as pitch, they appeared horribly burned and disfigured. Hunks of charred flesh oozed off of their faces as they played, smoke billowing from red-hot instruments. Harold experienced a moment of ghoulish fancy, imagining the entire brass section engulfed in flames. There were many occasions when he’d wished fire and brimstone upon trumpeters, for they were a notoriously arrogant lot.

The rumbling of percussionists briefly caught his attention. A Lovecraftian vision, enormous slug-like apparitions with countless eyes were gripping their mallets in slimy tentacles, pounding away in fury. In between movements, they would reach out in their horrific grasp and snatch away pieces from the half-decayed woodwind players seated directly in front of them. Harold watched in disgust as one of the supernatural slugs gobbled down a mangled ear, slurping and smacking away in gruesome ecstasy without ever missing a beat.

The skeletons doubled back again, surprisingly nimble on fossilized feet as the waltz played on and on behind them. Harold had a moment of clarity, finally placing the name of the piece. Of course! It was the “Wiener Blut,” the Viennese Blood Waltz by Johann Strauss II. We played this many times in my orchestra, I should have recognized it immediately. 

In a display of pure fancy, Harold closed his eyes and began to move along with the hypnotic music. For such a portly man, he was incredibly light on his feet, twirling around the floor amongst the ghastly ensemble. The waltz moved along to its stirring conclusion, a timpani drumroll with a full brass section that Harold was just itching to play again. He hadn’t touched the French horn in years, but somehow he knew that he could do it, pick up right where he left off. 

Faster and faster he spun, one-two-three, one-two-three, waltzing his imaginary partner around the floor as the skeletons struggled to keep pace with him. He was free, filled with glorious abandon as the music carried him along. As the very last notes washed over him, Harold paused and noted an empty chair in the brass section, exactly where he used to sit all those years ago. An enormous, blood-red French horn sat on the chair, glistening in bits of gore and huge, wriggling worms. One of the tiny creatures managed to extricate itself and began climbing up the leg of the player in the next chair. Harold took in the fact that his fellow horn player appeared to be half skeletonized already, the worms apparently doing their work all too well. Pieces of flesh still lingered (upon him? Her? Harold really had no idea) except for a full set of pulsating lungs that inflated and deflated like a balloon. It finished the final movement and gently placed the horn, bell down on its non-existent lap, turning to Harold expectantly.

He could hear the last notes of the piece still floating through the air, the hellish orchestra observing him, awaiting his reaction. The skeleton dancers stopped moving and stood completely still in anticipation. Always one to give credit where credit is due, even in the most distressing of situations, Harold began to applaud. At first tentatively and then with gusto. He cheered their efforts, for it truly was a masterful performance. 

The conductor turned and took a final bow, his red eyes piercing Harold with malevolence. “Bravo! Bravo!” he said over and over as they basked in his admiration. The conductor stepped down off the dais and came face to face with him, close enough for Harold to detect an earthy, rotten smell with just a faint hint of sulfur. Harold could see, hidden in his unruly thatch of hair something he hadn’t noticed before. Suddenly, everything clicked into place as he finally identified the knotted horns on the conductor’s horrific head.

Harold had a sudden vision of a restaurant, an entire Chateaubriand all to himself with an impeccable bottle of a full bodied, 1985 Medoc Rouge. He raised a toast high into the air to celebrate the death of his latest mark, followed by a sudden, eye-watering chest pain. After that everything was a blur. Or was it? Harold quickly took stock of his life and knew that his prospects at the moment were greatly diminished, to say the very least.

He had only the briefest of moments to ponder his many sins before the conductor lashed out with his femur shiv and sliced cleanly through Harold’s windpipe. Raising the bloody bone high into the air, Hell’s orchestra rushed forward and slowly began to tear Harold apart.

It took them quite an age, for there was a lot of Harold to digest. They fell upon him in waves, feeding by each instrumental section until the entirety of the ballroom was covered in blood and discarded offal. The flutes and oboes each daintily gnawed upon a limb, pairing them down to the bone quite nicely in seconds as the bassoonists and trombones started in on Harold’s ponderous stomach. The string section went in to liberate his well-worn liver while the slimy percussionists looped his large intestines around and around their hideous forms like shiny pink coats. The remainder of the string and brass sections fought over the scraps and Harold thought it only appropriate, since they were always jockeying for position within any ensemble. 

Their grim task nearly at an end, the worms were unleashed to do their duty as they pruned Harold’s considerable form down to the bone, leaving only his lungs untouched and in their proper place. He was grateful that he had never smoked a day in his life for his lungs appeared pink and full–ready to play for an eternity. The orchestra moved back into position as the skeleton dancers considered this updated version of Harold, unencumbered as he was by gobs and gobs of superfluous flesh. They held out their hands to him as he rose from the floor, reborn into his true self at long last. He carefully made his way over to his new chair on bony feet, swaying wildly as he found his balance. He joined the dancers as they moved across the floor and back to their starting point. 

Harold picked up his new French horn, the worms falling to the ground as he lifted it up to his freshly made skull and got into ready position. The conductor tapped his grisly baton onto his music stand, then raised it high into the air, signaling that they were ready to begin. Once again. 

They would play the Blood Waltz. The creature that had once been Harold Freeman knew that it would always be the Blood Waltz. On and on in an eternal loop, as the orchestra played and the skeletons danced around them. As he took his rightful spot in the ensemble and began to play, Harold could feel the first pangs of gnawing, insatiable hunger as Hell’s orchestra anxiously awaited its next inductee. 

Harold might not dine well this night, but he knew that he would never dine alone again.

David Owain Hughes & Natasha Sinclair

Horny Dead Fucks

Ruby Anya moved from one laminated card of ink designs to the next, scouring the walls of the Glaring Graffiti tattoo parlour, searching for that special piece of work to be ripped into her smooth, syrup-coloured thigh.

She huffed, not finding anything close to what she wanted. This place is a waste of time. There’s nothing of interest, Ruby thought, about to give up. Unless they have more— 

“I love your hair,” the voluptuous girl working the reception desk said. “It must take you hours to get it to stand up like that.” 

“Thanks,” Ruby said, without taking her eyes off the design sheets. “I’ve always loved multi-coloured mohawks.”

“You’re a punk, right?”

You think this is a costumeIt’s a way of life! Ruby thought, laughing and turning to face the girl, exposing the tight, tits-enhancing Misfits tee she wore beneath her waist-length leather jacket that sported a cacophony of pins and patches. “Punk’s dead, right?”

“Not by looking at you, it isn’t!” 

Girl’s bi, Ruby thought, watching the chubby gal undress her with her heavily made-up eyes. Pretty, mind. “Goth?”

“When I was younger, yeah.”

“Do you have any horror designs? I’m looking for a splash of sick zombie ink, and I can’t seem to find anything on the walls.”

“Yep. I’m pretty sure we do. Hang on.” The receptionist bent, retrieved a large book, and slapped it down on her counter. Dust exploded off its cover and spine. “We should have loads of horror, gothic and creepy stuff in here.”

“Do you mind?” Ruby asked, holding a hand out, her green nails looking Krueger-like. 

“No, go ahead!” The woman gave Ruby the book. “Have a seat over there. And please, take your time. Coffee?”

Ruby nodded. “Please,” she winked before taking the large portfolio over to the plush-looking sofa. With a ‘humph’, she sat and began to peel through its pages, a ‘wow’ and ‘awesome’ escaping her as her eyes fell on the horrific images within. “This is more like it,” she said aloud. 

“Oh, good,” the woman said, causing Ruby to look up, standing with a mug of coffee.  

Ha!” Ruby bellowed, laughing at what was written on the porcelain, accepting it into her hands: ‘Tattooists Prick You All Year Round.’

“Yeah, it’s not mine – it’s the boss’!” 

“I hope he’s as good as his word,” Ruby winked, taking a mouthful of lukewarm coffee. Christ, that’s strong enough to wake my ancestors, she thought, placing the drinking receptacle on a small desk by her side. “Lovely, thanks,” she lied, trying not to pull a face as though she’d swallowed her tongue. 

“Call if you need anything—”

“Wait!” Ruby jumped out of her seat. “This one!” she said, her mouth beginning to loll, pointing at a large image of a black and white, Hammer Horror-esque graveyard scene filled with mist, a new moon and zombies that poured out of the shadows and earth alike. “It’s… breath-taking…”

“Aye, that is pretty badass,” the girl agreed. Would you like me to book you in for that one?”

“Yes, please,” Ruby said, her gaze glued to the image. “Wow…”

“We have next Tuesday available?”

“That works for me.”

“All day session?”

“Please,” Ruby said. 

“Cash or card?”

“Card.”

“Great. I’ll only take a deposit today – anything over forty pounds.”

“Cool.” 

“And where are you thinking of putting the tattoo?” the girl asked, jotting everything down.

“My thigh,” Ruby said, grabbing the hem of her denim skirt and raising it, showing off her stocking-tops, thighs and the underside of her knickers; a jolt of pleasure throbbed through her, stirring her juices. 

“I think that’s a great idea.” After she took the rest of Ruby’s details, she handed Ruby an appointment card and smiled. “We’ll see you next week, bright and early.” 

***

When Ruby returned home from Glaring Graffiti the next Tuesday, ignoring her five flatmates, she stormed upstairs and went straight to her bedroom and stripped off in front of her full-length mirror. Beneath her punk band, horror film and undead posters, she eyed the gory, unorthodox bandage hugging her thigh like a fucked-up lover. 

I need music, she thought, hitting the play button on her retro tape deck, filling the room with 45 Grave. 

“Fuck yeah!” Ruby said, stepping before the glass again, slipping her bra off to the sway of her hips and arse wiggling. She loved the way her rear looked in her pink Horror Sleaze Trash knickers; perfectly peachy and tight. She unclasped her spiked collar and let it hit the floor before sliding her favourite panties down her legs, kicking them from her. 

 She was lost in her music, eyes closed, her hands wandering over her large, golden-coloured tits down her abs and sharp hips. 

45 Grave was replaced by The Cramps singing about the Surfin’ Dead. 

Ruby’s hand continued down the valley to her shaved cunt, and she bit down on her pierced bottom lip; a soft moan escaped her as she came upon her perfectly sculptured pussy lips.

It had been a few years since the bottom surgery completed her transition to becoming her true self, the wrapping matching her gloriously feminine interior. She always hated her body before; the thought of touching it — down there — made her vomit. Now she had finally become whole with her body, and every inch of it couldn’t be more perfect.

As the music pumped her eardrums, she thought back to her session on the chair. Getting inked was such a hot rush, the continuous prick of so many needles at once; the gun may as well have been a little fuck machine for her skin. It really was the ultimate foreplay, even if she was going home to fuck herself. Clicking off two of her nail extensions with her teeth and spitting them to the floor, Ruby sucked her fingers, then moved back down, throwing her head back as she dipped two wet digits into her soft cleft… how very far she’s come from that depressed little boy of her childhood.

“Can you turn it down a bit in there, Ruby!” someone said, knocking on Ruby’s door, which Ruby didn’t hear. “Ruby?” came the voice again. Ruby?! Jesus Christ,” the person said, opening the door, gasping. 

When Ruby opened her eyes, she smiled. “Come to help, Amy?” 

Amy laughed. “You’re such a bad girl. Why don’t you stop fucking yourself and show me your ink?”

“Is she playing with herself again?” a guy yelled from downstairs. 

“Okay,” Ruby said, stopping what she was doing, her hands going to the bandage. “You know, I thought there would have been a lot more pain at this point, but there’s nothing. If anything, it feels numb.”

“Odd, considering how long you were there.”

“Maybe it has something to do with the Chinese he was mumbling as he rubbed lotion over it helped?” Ruby laughed as she unwrapped her leg before gasping, her thigh black, save a load of running ink, blood and gore. A huge chunk of her flesh thudded to the floor with the bandage, “What the fuck?!” 

The room began to rumble, followed by an onslaught of groaning, moaning voices. When Ruby looked up, she saw her posters depicting the undead ripple and coming to life – a fog rose from the ground, engulfing her and Amy. 

***

Ruby’s eyes fluttered open to a haze of eerie smoky darkness; wails surrounded her, and she was no longer in the warm comforts of her flat. She felt her body in some sort of motion as her vision bumped up and down; friction cold and hard at her back, she felt her skin shredding. Pulling her hands up to rub her eyes, then her head, she squeezed her lids shut and opened them again, blinking to clear her vision. On top of her, a gruesome, heaving, macabre beast was frantically gnashing its teeth; a nightmare? As she further came to, she realised she was being mercilessly fucked by a giant zombie looking fucker; its stink was beyond words. Half its face was gone, teeth glistened like diamonds within its ripped cheek as it furiously chattered and grunted. That’s when the bottom half of her body woke up, and she felt the pounding of her life, frantic, animalistic. No human could fuck this fast, closing her eyes away from the horrifying face she submitted to the feeling… “uhhhh, mmmmm, fuck…”

She was in pain, horrified, confused, and at the same time, she knew she was fast heading towards the orgasm of her life. Her pussy was screaming for more, as did she, eyes closed tight, “uhhhh, fuck! Fuck me! Yes! Fuck!” She reached out towards the hips of the beast; its flesh felt firm, highly muscled – evolved for speed and furious fucking. As it continued to hammer into her, she was soaked – a puzzler, considering her inability to produced natural lubricant… maybe it was his…

She ventured to open her eyes again, the sight was ghastly, but the stimulation coming from it was hard not to appreciate; just go with it, she thought. She peered down — her tits swinging back and forth like volleyballs. For a second, she worried her implants may burst out. She continued to eye down her body with the stallion zombie-like beast’s hulking form raised over her. His monster cock drilled her cunt, a jackhammer. Her thighs and lower abdomen were blood sodden. It was tearing her apart — after how long it had taken her body to become one with her womanhood; this horny dead fuck was, literally, screwing her out of it. Then, his fevered pace halted, and he looked down from such a height, his eyes full of a cold-dead-fire she’d never seen in the living, he licked the air with his long tongue (one that rivalled Gene Simmons) and laughed — the sound was deep, reverberating through his body, so she felt it within her own. Then he let out an ear-splitting screech; the moans that surround her in the dark shifted to other screeches, seemingly, in response.

Pulling out of her and dragging her up by the hair, he threw her onto her knees, narrowly missing smashing her head off a headstone. How did I get here?! She wondered. It was then she saw her thigh bone — the flesh where the tattoo had been was gone, yet it was painless. She felt his large bony fingers grasp her hips as he stuffed his meat into her arse. She gasped, letting out an involuntary whimper, eyes watering. She threw back her head in sharp ecstasy as her body let the beast in (not that it had a choice) and finally managed to see where the other noises were coming from; she was surrounded by an orgy. Though most of the participants were deceased, it was like a horror movie set turned porno. Some had a vague semblance of beauty, but most were grotesque; half skeletal monsters banging away, grunting and groaning from decaying throats, skin hung from some, showing raw muscle and dried fat, innards now ‘outards’. 

Then she saw Amy — screaming as her arm was being ripped from its socket and eaten by the dead thing having its way with her. Well, I can’t exactly do anything to help, Ruby thought. There was a ghostly faint echo of music, she could just about make out Rob Zombie’s infectious gritty vocals over the wail of guitars. And beyond that, the distant chatter of friends in her flat… a dimension away? The fog rose, caressing tombstones and the frisky reanimated fiends. Flesh battered into flesh, ghoulish tongues licked, and teeth gnashed and tore into lovers as they cavorted, possessed. Ruby could feel it too; all she wanted was to be fucked to death. The air was thick with sex and dead things…and she realised she must’ve been with the real stud of the pack, the king of the horny-fuckin’ dead — as they were centre of attention with a harem of zombies touching themselves and groaning desperately as they watched him pummel her. Ruby had never been more turned on; she was his living dead girl. His Trash. She came so hard and so fast, her life flashed before her, in a display of flickering lights. The orgasm rolled through her body, pumping her heart as fast as he did her; she felt the organ explode in her chest, she choked, spluttering blood, unable to breathe and collapsed bleeding out onto the grass…

Justin F. Robinette

Trash Dick

Matt found a dick at the park in the trash.  He pulled it out of the trashcan, took it home, and decided that, being an upright citizen, he would attempt to determine its origin.

“You should call the police,” Matt thought.  But then, just as immediately, “Idiot, why would you think to call the police?”  

Matt searched online to see who “lost” a dick.  He read an article about the Holy Prepuce.  He typed in the search bar, “dick cut off dead.”  Nothing too recent except a wife who flushed her husband’s dick down the toilet.  He typed, “Rittenhouse Square park dead,” then searched more generically, “dead in the park.”  Still, no clear search results.  There were no recent obituaries that seemed related either.  The dick spoke to Matt but didn’t remember who it belonged to.

“Do you happen to remember where you lived before?” Matt asked.

“I think I was homeless.”

“Were you living in the park?”

“I don’t remember living there.”

“It would make sense if you were.  Could it have been, it crossed my mind, accidental?” 

“No, it wasn’t,” the dick said.

“How do you know that it wasn’t accidental?” Matt asked.

“You’d be terribly surprised how many human body parts are spread throughout this city, and in that park specifically,” it said.

“Do you remember what happened at all?”

“Not exactly.  Sort of.  I lay down sideways beside the train tracks.”  However, the nearest Amtrak stop was several blocks up and the subway ran underground.

Then, it said, “I wasn’t homeless.  I lived in a penthouse in Rittenhouse Square Park and I died from domestic violence.”

“You mean your wife cut you off?”

“Yes,” it said.

Matt asked why no one noticed her husband was missing.  The dick said it was the victim not of a woman, but a man.  

“Does that surprise you?” it asked.  “That a man cut me off of another man?”

Matt, who was gay, said, “Not necessarily.”

The dick now said that his husband cut it off during a fight with a pair of vegetable scissors, then flushed it down the toilet.   

“Why did he cut your dick off?” Matt asked.

“Because I was a liar,” it said.

“What did you lie about?” 

“I lied to him about everything.  You know my gender isn’t male, right?”

“Do you remember who you were?” Matt asked.

“Matthew, no, I said I don’t remember.”

“So, you have no recollection of what happened to you?”

“No matter what happened, you can still make the reasonable assumption someone was angry enough with me they decided to cut my dick off,” it said.

Matt secretly went back to the park, but nothing.  They did take out the trash every week.  By the smell of the paper mill, Matt knew they burned there.  Before returning home, he purchased a genetic testing kit, hoping to find a genetic match.  He placed the swab in the urethra and collected a sample of D.N.A.  They sent it off in the mail, and received an e-mail alerting them when the results were ready.

“Show me,” it said.

The results were presented in a pie chart whose contents were as follows:

  • Eastern European (45%);
  • European Jewish (45%);
  • Subgroup, British & Irish (7%);
  • Subgroup, Indian Subcontinent (3%).

Matt said, “Doesn’t seem very specific.  I don’t think that’s very useful.”

“Well, at least it’s definitely human.”

“It was circumcised,” Matt said.  “I already knew it was human.”

Then, the dick suggested a more professional test, perhaps ordered by a doctor, for better results.

“We could still go to the police,” Matt said.  “They could run a sample through the system.  You know, basically a rape kit.”

It was the dick this time which said it would be a bad idea to involve the police.

“Is there even a rape kit for a penis?” the dick asked.

“Sure, there is,” Matt answered.

“It wasn’t a crime,” it said to Matt.

“Why can’t you just be honest?” Matt asked.  “You told me it wasn’t an accident, someone was angry enough to cut it off.”

“The truth is I died of natural causes,” the dick said.

“I’m not sure I believe that,” Matt replied.

“The truth is it started in my prostate fluid.  It spread to my balls and I lost those, too.  Doing the procedure when they did spared my vital organs.  At least it didn’t spread to my ass.  At least I can still fuck.

After the operation, they let me keep my dick and balls.  What would I even do with them?  I had no idea.  It was just something I asked.  My husband freaked out about the wall stains.  He made me get rid of my dick and my balls before I’d found a proper place for them, so I buried the balls in the ground as a totem and discarded my shaft separately.”  

“You’re such a liar,” Matt said instinctively.  “You read that article.  You just said you died of natural causes.”

Matt took a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and with it doused the dick up and down.  From the urethra, which he had bored out to gather the D.N.A., a bit of foam bubbled, and a tiny amount of translucent slime issued from the hole out onto the countertop.  Matt dabbed it off the kitchen counter with the tip of his pointer finger.  

He recalled the article he had read about the Venerable Agnes Blannbekin, the Virgin.  It said she felt the Holy Prepuce on the tip of her tongue, after having prayed long enough for it to appear there.  The week that followed, Matt grew ill, brain buzzing near the back.  He had visual changes and speech problems.  He had involuntary facial responses, the feeling in his brain made him want to open his mouth and laugh, to sometimes strain a smile. 

“I still don’t know where this dick came from,” he said.  “Whose it is.”

“Well, the guys do run funny in that park,” it told Matt.

John Yohe

Dominique

Afternoon rush hour, his taxi stuck in traffic. Showing good Manhattan etiquette, people have driven their cars into intersections hoping to sneak past the changing reds, ending up caught in front of approaching uncaring cross-towners, everyone honking their horns at once.

He took out a twenty, gave it to his driver, and got out, nearly getting hit by a bike messenger who flipped him off.

Well, walking to the gym makes more sense, he supposed. If you’re going to work out, might as well walk. But first something to drink.

He ducked into a corner store, nodding to the Korean woman behind the counter. Grabbed a kombucha and got in line, checking out the woman in front of him: Black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Baggy pink sweats with coffee stains. Green Converse High-Tops. Hard to tell if she had a good body or not, though the face…hm, almost looks like….

—Dominique?

The woman almost jumped, nearly dropping her box of Tampax. She turned around, eyes wide.

His eyes perhaps just as wide. —Dominique.

She cleared her throat. —Um, no, you must have me mistaken for someone else. My name is Kristen.

He looked at the Tampax. —Oh….sorry.

She turned around and stepped to the counter and he watched her pay and leave without looking at him.

He paid for his Coke and walked out on the sidewalk, spotting her pink sweats in the crowd. Upper East Side. Same area. But….

He walked to the gym, changed, and got on the treadmill. The gerbil wheel. Thursday night, his night alone. Wife off at her therapist and afterwards tv night with her friends. Daughter at basketball practice and open-mic poetry night. His night to work up a good sweat, sit in the sauna, and a session with…Dominique. It had to be her. It was. He knew her voice, and the face, even without the black eyeliner and blood lipstick. Of course, he knew that wasn’t her real name, though it could have been. And of course he supposes she must have a life outside of the dungeon. But dirty pink sweatpants?

He ran thirty minutes, zoning out from everything. Except Dominique. That’s part of it, the anticipation. Knowing what she’s going to do to him later. But green Converse? No socks?

He took a sauna, showered and went outside. Nighttime, but still too early to go to her place yet. That was part of the game, to be on time. So he took a walk over to the river, watching a tugboat go by in the dark water. A man a little ways upriver caught a fish, laughing, and he wondering if he would actually eat the thing. Then back between the buildings to her apartment.

He rang and she buzzed him up. She opened her front door and frowned, wearing a black latex bodysuit with thigh-high spike leather boots and a studded leather belt. Lips shiny red, black eyeliner, long red fingernails. She said nothing until she closed the door behind him. —Hello Pussy. Ready?

—Um, yes Mistress. 

He handed her the envelope of money and followed her into the dungeon: Walls covered with huge black curtains, candles burning in the corners. On the floor the large square mat with black pillows. She turned around, hands on hips. —Take off your clothes, Pussy.

He did. She watched. When he was naked, she held out a pair of pink panties. —Put these on.

He said the thing he loved to say, over and over: —Please don’t make me wear panties.

And she responded like she always did, like he always wanted her to. —If you were a real man you wouldn’t have to. But you’re a pussy, aren’t you?

Sometimes he shivered at this point, though not that night. —Yes. Yes, I’m a pussy.

He put on the panties and crouched on the mat on all fours, watching her slip on her strap-on, a big thick black thing with realistic veins, and rolled on a condom. He closed his eyes while she pulled his panties down to his knees, lubed him, and made him beg. He tried to relax and forget everything, enjoy being filled up, but as she penetrated him, all he could think was, She’s got a tampon in right now.

She got it all in, cursing him the whole time, and reached around for the usual reach-around. Except his cock wasn’t hard.

She froze. He thought maybe if she would have immediately insulted him for not being able to get it up that they might have been able to keep going, but there was a pause, where he knew that she knew that he was thinking about seeing her in the store, in the real world.

He asked her to stop. She immediately pulled out, staying in the game. —What’s the matter, can’t take a real cock? 

But it was too late somehow. He apologized. —Look, I guess I’m not into this tonight.

She rolled the condom off the dildo and lets it drop on the floor, shrugging. —Next week.

He nodded and stood, the panties still around his knees. He looked at her.

She shrugged. —Keep them.

He dressed and followed her to the door. She opened it. —See you next week?

He tried to smile. —Yes, of course.

After the door closed, he heard her yell, —Shit! 

He almost knocked on the door again, to say something. He didn’t know what. About asking her to go for a coffee. But that felt dumb, he felt dumb, and walked down the stairs.

He caught a cab on 2nd and, inside, leaned his head against the window, the glass cool on his cheek. Watching the store lights and people.

Back at the apartment he checked his watch. Still a little time. He looked in the back of the Village Voice, turning the pages. Pictures. Phone numbers. Here. This: A woman dressed in black, with long black hair. Smiling and looking at him. Mistress Black. He dialed the number. 

A woman’s voice answered.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Get Forked

“Johnny, wake up man. I think you need to take me to the hospital. Come on, wake up!”

“What? What’s going on Bigotes? You have asthma attack? Where is your bomba?”

He sits up in bed and turns on the lamp on the night stand.

“No Johnny, that crazy bitch stabbed me in the back. I can’t tell how bad I’m bleeding or how deep the knife is in. Whatever you do, don’t pull it out, I’ll bleed to death before we get to the hospital.”

“Okay okay, tranquilo carnal, let me take a look.”

“I’m serious Johnny, don’t fuck around.”

I turn my back to him so he can get a closer look. 

“Santi, I don’t think it is knife in your back. I think maybe it is fork she stab you with. What did you do to make her to stab you with fork?”

“A fork? Are you sure? Take another look. Turn on the ceiling light.”

He flicks the wall switch, shedding more light on the severity of my wound.

“Yes Bigotes, it is fork not knife. You should have me pull it out. I can’t tell how deep it is in.”

“Wait, let me think about it for a minute.”

“Santi, tell me why she stab you?”

“She wanted more cocaine and more cocaine and more cocaine. She was acting all strange and sketchy. I told her there wasn’t anymore, she got pissed off, started screaming at me, calling me a liar. I got up out of the bed, started putting on my clothes to get away from her, then I felt her stab me. She picked up her shit and ran out the door. Where’d you find that psycho bitch, man?”

“She is my cousin from Medellin.”

“What the hell. Of course another crazy person from your family. I should’ve figured as much. Are all your relatives mentally ill? I thought you were calling her prima (cousin) as a nickname. Like how I joke and call prostitutes prima.”

“I know, I am sorry. Everyone in my family is crazy with mental problems. I’m so lucky to have nothing wrong with me.”

“Are you serious? You’ve gotta be joking. You’re the craziest, most psycho Colombiano, mentally unstable individual I have ever been associated with.”

“Bigotes, why you say such mean things to me? I sometimes get crazy in a party way or when I get drunk and stuff but that’s all. Maybe you can get somebody else to take the fork out. You don’t want some crazy person doing it.”

“Sorry Rico, I don’t mean anything by it. You know I love you despite your quirks. Okay, let’s get this fucking fork out of my back and see what kind of damage we’re dealing with here.”

“There is not a lot of blood, Bigotes. But she sure stuck you good. I didn’t know a fork could be a dangerous weapon. Okay, you are ready?”

“No, I’m not ready. But go ahead and do it anyway.” 

“Wait, I think maybe I should have a towel in case maybe you start bleeding a lot. Then we need to have the cut circlesized with alcohol for no infection. Oh no, I hope you will not need switches, the hospital is very far away Bigotes.”

Despite the pain I’m in, I can’t help but laugh at Johnny’s mispronunciations, casting the incident in an entirely different light. He’s acting so dramatically. I don’t remember when I’ve seen him so serious, as though he were a doctor giving me the prognosis. 

“Why you laughing Bigotes? Because you don’t want to cry?”

“No Johnny, I was laughing at the words you used in English. I’m very proud of you J.R. You have come a long way with learning English, but sometimes you use a word incorrectly or mispronounce a word and it ends up being humorous. I’m not making fun of you my friend, it’s just funny is all.”

“So what you think I’m funny? Funny like what like a clown? I what, I make you laugh? How am I funny?”

“Now that’s hilarious, Johnny! You remembered that from Goodfellas. You do it better than Joe Pesci, very good.”

I’m laughing hysterically, applauding his performance until a twinge of pain reminds me of the fork still in my back.

“I’m happy you laugh. I always want to do that. Tell me what words I say wrong when I get back with towel and some alcohol. I think we can use tequila. Is there still some Patron?”

“Yes, it’s in the freezer. Good thinking, Johnny.”

He returns drinking from the bottle.

“Now we are ready you think? Yes?”

“Let’s do it!”

The fork was stuck in my lower left shoulder, just out of my own reach. I still had my shirt on with the fork having been stuck through it. I unbutton to remove the shirt, but as I go to drop it, it just hangs from the fork in my back.

“Bigotes, I don’t know if I can do it…” 

“For Christ’s sake J.R. just pull the goddamn fork out already. Do it! It won’t hurt. In fact, give me the tequila. I need a drink.”

“Maybe you should drink more to not feel pain.”

“Another good idea, buddy. You’re really showing your smarts! Ooh, you know what, I have some Vicodin in my jacket. Can you grab it for me please?”

Johnny returns with my jacket in hand, sporting a huge grin. 

“Look what you have in pocket. Here are the pills, look what else you’re hiding, a vial of cocaine and two puros that we forget to smoke at the beach. Now take your medicine and when you feel no pain, we will take the fork out, okay?” 

It was 3:45am by this point, but it wasn’t like I had to go to work in the morning. Plus, I’d been wounded in action, so I could just lounge around all day if I felt like it. I think it was Saturday anyway, I didn’t have any appointments on my calendar, so fuck it I thought.

Here we go.

I swallowed a couple of Vicodin, snorted a cap full of cocaine. Johnny passed me the bottle of tequila and I took a nice long swig.

“Now, let me explain why I was laughing earlier. I think you meant to say ‘sterilize’ but you said ‘circlesize’, which sounds like ‘circumcise’, which has a totally different meaning. ‘Circumcise’ is when a doctor cuts the extra skin off the penis of a baby boy.”

“Why they do such a thing?”

“It was started by the ancient Egyptians then practiced by the Jewish people and on and on. I’m not going to get into the reasons why.”

“So you have circhimsize? I see your pene is different than mine. I am no circhimsize, I still have the skin.”

“Ya I know Rico, I don’t want to be talking about our dicks, okay?” I quickly change the subject. “Now, ‘stitches’ are what the doctor sews you up with, but ‘switches’ was the word you used. Understand now?”

Johnny lights a joint and passes it over to me.

“I have a question,” he says. “Why you always call marijuana ‘trisumman’? Why does it have that name?”

Immediately I start laughing once again.

“Hey, now I am going to get very angry, you laugh at me more.”

“Sorry, Rico. I’m saying, ‘try some man’, but you put all three words together. Maybe I say it too fast, so it sounds like one word.”

Johnny finally finds the humor in what I’ve been saying, laughing right along with me this time.

We sat there talking and joking around, with Johnny doing all sorts of impressions now that I had been amused by his Joe Pesci. They weren’t very funny but I laughed anyway, probably because I was a little drunk, high on Vicodin, coked up and stoned.

Suddenly we’re startled by a loud banging on the front door. I looked at the clock and it was 5:20. I still had the fork in my back, but I was no longer feeling any pain.

“Who the hell do you think that could be?” I whisper. “You think that bitch called the police?”

“I don’t know but I will go to the door and see. Okay? Just relax, I will take care of it.”

“Thanks Johnny.”

He staggers to the front door and I take cover down the hall within hearing distance.

“Quien es acá?” (Who’s here?) Johnny asks.

I don’t understand why he doesn’t just look out the window to see who’s there. I hear a woman’s voice but not well enough to know what she’s saying.

“Espereme uno segundo,” (Wait a second) I hear him answer.

He walks back over to where I’m hiding, shaking his head and chuckling.

“Bigotes, it is my cousin again. She has no money for taxi or bus and wants to say she is sorry to you.”

“What do you think? Does she seem normal to you, not all weird?”

“I’m not sure. You make the call.”

“Okay, let her in, but don’t let her come near me.”

He goes to the door, swinging it open to let her back inside. She struts into the room and heads straight in my direction, prompting me take a few steps back.

“Hey Rico, you better get over here…”

“Don’t worry Santi,” she says, “I’m not going to do anything to you. I want to say I’m sorry and to make it up to you. I didn’t hurt you real bad, did I?” 

“You stabbed me in the back with a fucking fork! Here, take a look.”

I turn my back so she can see her own handiwork for herself.

I barely feel a thing as she grabs and yanks the fork out.

“I’m so sorry baby, let me make it up to you.”

She drops her dress on the floor, grabs my hand and starts leading me off into the bedroom.

“Make sure she has no scissors in her purse,” Johnny yells after me. “She might try to circhimsize you!”

“Thanks for watching out for me, Johnny.”

She closes the door behind us and looks me in the eye.

“So, you have some more cocaine?”

Julian Grant

Number One Fan

Simon leaned over to me, his hair falling across his eyes as he stroked my thigh and asked me if he could suck my dick. It was the first time a guy had ever asked me that and the first time I called someone a fag to their face.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when he punched me hard for what I said.

He was a couple years older than me, and way smarter, a local guy I’d met randomly at the skatepark downtown and we’d become friendly once we both noticed each other’s moves on our boards. We skated the small park smashed into an old supermarket in a shitty part of town where they’d jobbed-up hardwood half pipes and skateruns inside the old Loblaws supermarket at Lansdowne and Bloor as kids from the burbs (me) and from the inner city (him) all flocked there to thrash. It was a dump of a place but it was our home for one whole Summer and a Winter before it got shut down for not paying the heating bill or something.

Of course, this is where I heard the Ramones for the first time. They’d slap Rocket to Russia on the shitty house PA that used to play canned shopping muzak and the boys from NYC kicked out the jams. We’d rip and thrash in the open freestyle area and smoke Export A’s headbanging all night and day. I’d even score angel dust, which was a thing back then, from the scary black kids that hung around the makeshift snack bar but never skated. They’d just watch the stupid white kids try to kill themselves all fucked up on dust and laugh when we fell.

One time, I got too high on something Simon and I had split spending all the money we had, and I ended up out of my cheese-eating head in the grey winter snow, not wearing my jacket, my board forgotten, my brain fried. Simon bundled me up and took me back to the place he shared with his mom down on Dufferin about a block away. She worked nights then and by the time we got to his place, I was hopelessly lost and shivering badly. He’d slipped me into his own single bed after giving me a double dose of codeine cough medicine while my teeth grated back and forth until I passed out.

I know I slept because the next thing, he was in next bed next to me, pushed up tight, spooning me from behind. But I was warm and safe as I smelled the fresh mouth he would offer me once he knew I was awake. I could feel his wintergreen breath of my cheek, his arms around my waist warming me as his thick cock stiffened against my ass.

I think it was his evident chubby that finally brought me back.

We fought, he kicked me once I called him a fag and his bright tighty-whities shrunk in anger as he told me to get out of his place and never come back. I said crueler things to him, got dressed in a rush and stomped out of his place, no idea where I was, in the middle of the night. I’d lost my skateboard, my mind and my only downtown friend all because I got scared that he was queer for me. See, I’d had zero experience with guys back then — I was from Etobicoke. There was this one guy, Steven Tiesdale everyone tormented at school, a totally out kid long before being gay was fashionable or even safe, but apart from that, I was clueless. I just knew about fairies and fags from TV and the movies and thought they were the enemy or wrong — fucked in the head. They liked cocks and just wanted it up the ass or in each other’s mouths and that was sick and stupid and not for me.

So, I bought a new skateboard and kept chewing out a rhythm in my safe little ‘hood not ever going back to Lansdowne because I might see Simon and I was too embarrassed by how everything went down. He’d been nothing but kind to me and I introduced me to Joey and Johnny and Tommy (Forever) and Dee Dee and I’d had my little hissy meltdown and then totally fucked up our friendship. He’d given me the gift of the world’s greatest band and I’d been unforgivably cruel and naive. I just tried to push him out of my mind, conveniently forgetting about the musical education he’d given me and our past friendship and even our skate park before long. So, I dropped him but kept the Ramones and moved on as best I could. I’d cut out the pictures of them I’d get occasionally from Creem magazine if they even covered the band, hating the grainy black and white newsprint pics but cherishing the fact that I knew about them and nobody else did where I lived. Guys at my school were still into Triumph and Rush or Genesis and all the old bullshit dinosaur rock gods and whenever I dragged out Rocket or Road to Ruin and tried to put it on at the parties we’d have, I’d get shouted down by drunk gals and guys telling me to turn that punk shit off.

But I never did. Not until they made me.

I bought more than a few LP’s of the same albums that got trashed by the assholes I called my friends. These were the fuckers that would throw beer on the band on the stupid Monsters of Rock tour they ended up being mistakenly booked on years later. I heard that Johnny flipped the audience off and the band raced to safety after just three songs. It was a mutual fuck you. You either got ’em or you didn’t. Gabba, Gabba Hey, One of Us. One of Us. Or a Pinhead forever.

I carried the torch for the Ramones out there in suburban Etobicoke all through high school by myself, at least until “that” movie came out. That changed everything. We’d always used to get fucked up at the Kingsway Theater, a local movie house where they didn’t care if you smoked pot or drank and when Rock n’ Roll High School played, now all of a sudden it was okay to love the band if you wanted to be with it. That 15-minute mini-concert in the middle of the movie became the new sweet anthem at school and I’d jumped to the top of the cool kids list because I was there first and everyone knew it. Even Julie something or other, this smoking gal in Biology back then was into them now and she asked me to maybe recommend some of their albums for her to pick up at Sam the Record Man down on Yonge Street when she went downtown with her girlfriends. I lent her mine for a couple weeks to copy on cassette and we got friendly, I thought.

When the Two Gary’s, the local Ramones ticket promoters announced an all ages general admission show at the Danforth, I was the first one on the phone calling in and scored five tickets using my mom’s credit card. I ended up asking Biology Julie to go with me and sold the other tickets to Triko, Blyth and McConie at double the face value because I’m not stupid. On the day of the show, I arranged to meet Julie out front of the venue as she had to lie to her mom about where she was actually going and had to pack her “costume” in a bag. I remember that distinctly, her costume. But I wanted to fuck her so I let it slide.

I took the Bloor West bus with the guys into the city and we swung by the LCBO on the way and picked up a big 40 oz bottle of Gordon’s Gin to share as we waited in line all day because it was general admission and we wanted seats up front just before the pit. It was fucking freezing out and we didn’t want to get cold waiting so we got hard liquor to keep warm because getting fucked up fast was a big part of being young. So, we drank the 40 oz quick as fuck, swearing at each other, the cold and pissing off pretty much everyone else in the line.

When Julie finally showed up, she changed at Tim Horton’s into her secret sexy leopard skin leggings and shorty leather jacket and then shivered in line with the rest of the drunk and restless crowd. By the time they let us all in, we were all cold as fuck, I was shitfaced and I had lost all chance of scoring with my kinda-date Julie. Being handsy and drunk and clueless is not a good look.

Then it all gets fuzzy.

I do remember throwing up on her leather boots, Julie screaming at me and calling me names, me passing out in the front seats we had bum-rushed and then sleeping through the opening band. I was pretty sure it was Shrapnel, Joey’s brother’s band.

The rest of the night was flashes only after.

The sour smell of gin all over me, Triko, his nose bloody and busted from moshing in the pit, McConie’s broken glasses and Billy Blyth laughing at me as I tried to stand up on my seat when I heard Dee Dee count it out for another two-minute salvo.

“1-2-3-4,” Dee Dee howled as Johnny power chorded and I Lazurus-ed up and away, wobbling into the air, vomit caking my shirt as I screamed in drunken approval, cartwheeling on my wobbly seat.

That’s when he saw me.

Joey Ramone, salamander cool, his long body twisted at the microphone, pointed a finger straight at me. The spotlight hit and I fell backwards into the poor fuckers behind me, still screaming in ecstasy at having been seen by my idol.

I went down under their sharp heels and heavy boots, empty bottles rolling on the ground all around me as I tried to get away from the angry mob pissed that a stupid drunk high school kid had decided to crash their good time. Fists and feet and spit rained down upon me, and I think I remember kinda covering my head as I clawed my back up into the seats.

I vaulted off the back of the now-trashed chair, holding for one perfect still frame moment in the air, alive.

It ended badly.

I was close enough to bounce onto the stage, landing face first and leaving a streak of blood. There’s a photo of me in mid-flight, a damaged black raven, broken winged and blackout bad that I have somewhere, I think. I know they published it.

The onstage bouncer grabbed me by my belt loop and heaved me off into the risers. I bounced off another surface and went down into a heap.

The band never missed a beat.

***

I staggered up off the floor, my face streaked with blood and tears as the concert thundered on without me. I dragged myself out into the freezing night. The guys at the door all looked shit-scared for my safety. I know I heard someone call me back, maybe something about an ambulance.

My buddies and Julie all stayed inside without me.

I staggered off but it wasn’t long before I collapsed into the gutter, radiating sick and shame. I wasn’t sure I was gonna make it to wherever it was I thought I was going, and honestly I didn’t care by that point.

That’s when I felt a hand fall upon my shoulder.

I cringed, expecting a boot from a fellow concert-goer. That or the hard-knuckled fist of a cop sent to set me straight and drag my ass back home. I glanced up over my shoulder, prepared for yet another blow.

And there stood Simon, just smiling and shaking his head. He was still the same guy and I started to sob when I recognized him. He sat down next to me and took me in his arms. His breath still smelled of wintergreen.

He took me back to his mom’s place and cleaned me up. I sucked his cock and he sucked mine.

It was the best night of my life. Thank you, Ramones.

Sincerely,

Your Number One Fan

James Babbs

The Man With the Gun

You open the door and step into the hallway where the man with the gun turns to look at you. He looks familiar as if you’ve seen him somewhere before but you can’t quite remember the place or the time. The man with the gun laughs showing his teeth before pointing the gun in your direction. Hey, he says. Don’t move. And you just stand there, watching him, wondering what he’s going to do next.

You notice the sunlight falling through the only window in the hallway and how it makes a rectangle of light on the opposite wall. You imagine it’s not just a rectangle of light but a hole in the wall through which you could escape if you were only capable of moving quickly enough. Maybe it’s not just a rectangle of light or merely a hole in the wall but some kind of portal pulling you into another dimension. Maybe it takes you all the way back to your childhood and the gray house on the corner.

You remember riding your bike into the front yard and dropping it in the grass before running inside. The sound of your father’s voice after he got home telling you to go out and put your bike away and you remember what happened if you ever forgot. You burst through the front door and the house looks the same as the last time you were there and you start to call for your mother but the man with the gun suddenly grabs your arm pulling you toward him and tearing you away from your thoughts.  

Come on, he says. Let’s go. And you wonder if you should try to resist him but there’s nowhere to go inside the hallway. Where are we going? You ask and the man with the gun squeezes your arm and laughs. Wherever I say, he says.

He drags you down the hallway and out through the door bursting into the sunlight and you feel it warm all over your face. Where’s your car? The man with the gun says and you point to the parking lot in front of the building. The red one you tell him. He pulls you over to the car and you wonder if there’s anyone behind one of the curtained windows in any of the buildings witnessing what’s happening to you. Open it he says.

The man with the gun pulls you around to the driver’s side door before pushing you into the car.  For a moment you wonder if you have time to jump out through the passenger’s side but the man with the gun is already there, pointing the gun at you. The gun is less than a foot from your head so you don’t move. You stay where you are and wait for more instructions.

You drive through the city streets passing people here and there and they don’t pay any attention to you.  You feel the man with the gun watching you but you don’t look at him. He tells you which way to turn and you just keep driving. You drive out of the city and get on the interstate. You travel for about an hour while the man with the gun doesn’t say anything at all.  

Then the man with the gun points at the windshield telling you to take the next exit. You read the name on the sign and you have a strange feeling inside. You know this town. It’s the town where you grew up. The town you left behind so many years ago.  

The man with the gun tells you where to turn and how far to go and when he points to a house and says pull in here you can’t help but exclaim. I know this place. I used to live here.

Good for you says the man with the gun. Why are we stopping here you ask him. Shut up, says the man with the gun.

The man with the gun shoves the gun at you and tells you to get out. Nice and slow he says. He gets out of the car. The yard around the house doesn’t look much different from the way you remember it. Maybe there are a few more flowers around the sidewalk leading to the front door. Maybe there are some different trees but you still recognize the place and you’re filled with the strangest of feelings.

The man with the gun stays close behind you. He walks you to the back door and you enter the house remembering this is where the laundry room was when you were growing up. You see a washer and dryer and a small sink in one corner of the room. You imagine your mother standing over the washing machine pushing dirty clothes into the opening. 

The man with the gun pushes you into the kitchen and it looks the same way you remember it and you can almost smell bread baking. The man with the gun guides you to the stairway at the far end of the kitchen. 

The man with the gun tells you to go up the stairs. That’s where my room was you say aloud and the man with the gun thrusts the gun at you and says Go! The sound of your feet on the stairs reminds you of your father’s footsteps. Your feet on the stairs remind you of the way your father’s steps sounded when he made his way up to your room. His footsteps so heavy and so slow.

At the top of the stairs you see a window without a curtain but there’s a metal curtain rod above the window. It’s the same window you used to look out of so many years ago. There’s a glass angel with a broken wing dangling from the curtain rod. The angel catches the sun and dances in the light. You try to remember who it was that put the angel there but the name doesn’t come to you. The man with the gun points you away from the window and into the other room to the left of it.

This was my bedroom you tell him but the man with the gun just snorts as if he’s trying not to laugh. The man with the gun tells you to open the closet door. How do you know about that you ask him and it almost sounds like a chuckle escaping from his throat. You feel your father’s rough hands touching your arms again. You feel your father forcing you into the closet and shutting the door again. You hear your father locking the door as you slide down into the darkness of the closet. You don’t know how long it will be this time. You never know how long it will last.

The man with the gun raises his arm and aims the gun at you. You see the hole in the end of the barrel. You think about the small cave in the side of a hill you once crawled into when you were just a little boy. You don’t know what made you crawl into the cave or why you stayed in there for so long even when you heard the voices calling your name. The man with the gun fires two times and you fall backwards against the wall and you feel your breath catching in your throat. You feel something warm moving over you and then you can’t stop shivering. You hear the sound of your mother’s voice calling up to you from the bottom of the stairs. You better get down here and eat she says or it’s going to get cold.

Judge Santiago Burdon

God Might Be A Woman

I never could’ve imagined I’d be where I am at this moment, about to subject myself to this bizarre esoteric ritual. Yet here I am, deep in the Colombian rainforest near Buenavista Putumayo, a short distance from the border of Peru. The jungle is serene with a calm ambience, causing me to feel somewhat uncomfortable. Whenever it seems too quiet, too tranquil, one can easily let their guard down. In my experience, it’s often a sign that something is about to go wrong.

At times like this, I always take extra precautions, so of course I have to question what I’m doing here with Johnny Rico, my partner in pandemonium. He seems a bit apprehensive to participate in this Inga Indian ritual himself, which I find strangely out of character for him. Usually any event of considerable risk with unfavourable odds, sure to result in an ill-fated end, is a custom-made scenario for him to dive into.

Johnny’s nervousness has caught me off guard, especially considering this expedition was originally his own idea. Some woman he’d been involved with had challenged his machismo, announcing to a crowded bar that he didn’t have the cojones to take part in the ceremony. Naturally, this was all it took to provoke him into it, but not until he’d roped me in with him as well.

We’re waiting on the shaman (a.ka. brujo or ayahuasquero) to return from foraging for the chacruna and Banisteriopsis caapi used to brew up the ayahuasca, or yagé, a psychedelic potion used by the indigenous people of the Amazon. Its potency as an hallucinogen is said to be intense.

“Bigotes,” Johnny says, “come with to the pulpería to get some more beer. All we have is water, toilet paper, marijuana and cigarettes.” 

“Johnny, what happened to the six pack I bought this morning on the drive here?” 

“It got drinked carnal. You had some didn’t you?” 

“Oh sure. I drank one fucking beer and of course you drank the other five.” 

“They was getting warm. I had to drink them.” 

“I really don’t think you should be drinking right now,” I attempt to dissuade him. “You’re going to get high enough from the yagé and probably even vomit, get diarrhea and who knows what else.” I know there’s no reasoning with him but I continue. “We were told to purge and not to eat or drink anything beforehand.”

“Just a couple of beers, Bigotes. I must have to relax, I’m a little nervous, and I don’t want to go by myself.” 

“Rico, stop with your bullshit. With all the shit we’ve been through together, the narrow escapes, cheating death, staring the devil straight in the face, I’ve never seen you nervous. Except for once, when you had to go to the dentist for a broken tooth and you passed out in the waiting room. You were more than nervous, you were terrified.”

“See, why you have to remember that story? You know la dentista loves to give people pain. They scare me very much, sí. But then you make me watch that movie with running guy where Nazi man drill and pull his teeth. I don’t remember name of movie.”

“Oh ya, Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman, great movie.”

Johnny gives me a punch in my arm and smiles.

“You are never to tell no one that story ever! You understand Bigotes?”

“Johnny, it’s already an entry in my book that I’m going to write someday.”

“Please Bigotes, let us go get some more beers.”

I give in to his request and we start back down the path along the Putumayo River. It’s a two kilometer trek to the pueblo where the bus had originally dropped us off. There’s only one large building and it serves as a multi-purpose grocery store, clothing outlet, liquor store, pharmacy, clinic, and post office. It even has a hall in back where church services and other social events are held.

A group of locals are gathered outside as we approach, and Johnny barges his way through to the beer cooler without apologies.  

Looking completely out of place are two gringos, standing there appearing confused. 

“Hey, excuse me!” the blond kid hollers at me. “Do you speak English?” 

“Yes I’m fluent in English. I was born in Chicago. Why, don’t you speak Spanish?” 

“No, not very well.” 

“You mean to tell me you travel to Colombia then into the jungle and don’t speak Spanish? So what travel brochure recommended you take on such an expedition?”

“Ya I know, it’s pretty stupid to not speak the local lingo, but we thought we would be able to get by. Do you know anything about the yagé ceremony and if we might be able to get in on it? My name is Jordy and my friend here is Cal. We’re from Provo Utah but we’re not Mormons.”

“Hey Jordy, Cal, I’m Santiago. Do you always mention you’re not Mormons after declaring you’re from Utah? It seems a bit contrite. Anyways, I’ll be heading back to the shaman’s shack. It’s a mile and a half hike through the jungle. I’m just waiting for my friend to return from inside the store.”

Just then, Johnny runs up grinning without having purchased anything. “Bigotes, they have the mezcal you like as your favorite! I’m going to buy it for you. We can drink it after the ceremony. I need to borrow some money. Can you lend me one hundred thousand pesos?” 

“Buy for me with my money? Of course. Just hurry up, it’s going to get dark soon and I don’t want to be hiking through the jungle at night.”

I hand him some pesos and he runs back inside the pulpería.

“What have you brought as payment to the ayahuasquero?” I ask the Provo Pilgrims. “You can’t just offer up money immediately, it would be considered rude and a display of disrespect.”

“We thought we would pay him whatever he charged. We didn’t know there were rules. What did you give him?”

“We, well rightfully I, gave him an African bead necklace, a pair of Nike shoes that were a bit large but seemed to satisfy him, and a Swiss Army knife. After that, we offered him abut thirty dollars in pesos each. You guys can do your own bargaining. I’m not going to get involved.”

“Okay Bigotes,” Johnny announces upon his return. “We are ready to be going now. I get some candy for us too.”

“What the hell are you doing?” I holler as he tugs at my backpack.

“I am putting the beer and mezcal in your pack.”

“Here, you carry it,” I say while taking it off and pushing it at him. 

“Okay Bigotes, why you so much mad and holler? I will pay you back the money.”

“Johnny, we’ve known one another for what, eight, nine years? During that time you have never paid me back any of the money I’ve lent you! Come to think about it, the first time we met in prison, you asked to borrow some bananas and four Ramen soups which you never paid back. There’s no way you could ever even pay me back the interest on that.”

“So what is with these gringos?” he asks, conveniently changing the subject. “They’re not coming with us! We don’t even know these muchachos. Who are you guys?” he says, turning his attention to the Provo Pilgrims.

“I’m Jordy, this is my friend Cal. Santiago offered to help us get to the shaman’s place for the yagé ceremony. Hope it’s okay with you, Johnny. That’s your name, right?”

“Ya my name is Johnny. Your friend with you, he doesn’t talk?”

“Cal is low key. He’s not the talkative type.”

“Let’s go, children,” I finally interject, “before it gets dark and the mosquitoes come out looking for supper. You coming, Rico?”

“Claro, carnal.”

As we start back down there trail, there’s a loud thunderclap overhead with a crackling flash of lightning. And here I was hoping we wouldn’t be hampered by a rain storm. In the rainforest, it doesn’t just drizzle after all. It begins as a deluge, as if the sky itself were sliced open, pouring forth a tsunami-like wave of rain all at once. 

Luckily, the dark clouds drift past over a ridge without pissing a drop on us. I consider it a positive omen, a sign that all is well and shall be.

“Hey Jordy,” I holler back over my shoulder. “What do they call a person who speaks three languages?”

“I don’t know,” he replies, “what are they called?”

“They’re called trilingual. What do they call a person who speaks two languages?”

“I get it, bilingual, right?” Cal finally speaks up.

“Welcome to the group, Cal. Yes, bilingual is correct. What do they call a person who speaks only one language?” 

“Not sure Santiago. What do they call him?”

“An American!”

 This gets a laugh out of the group, chuckling as we hike along.

“Bigotes, it is a funny joke,” Johnny says. “Did you just invent it?”

“No, it’s an old joke someone told me years ago, when I was in Italy.”

As we draw closer to the brujo’s shack, it smells like someone’s out there burning tires. The brujo has begun to cook up the yagé over an open fire. He’s using an oil drum cut in half as a cooking pot. He smiles and motions for us to sit on the tree trunks surrounding the fire. He has an assistant with him by the name of Carmen. She looks to be sixty or so, with a warm smile and a twinkle in her eyes.

As expected, Jordy and Cal look to me for some type of guidance as to how to approach the ayahuasquero.

“Brujo, I found these two wandering about the village, and they asked if they could share in the ceremony. Is it okay with you?”

“What did they bring as an offering in exchange?”

“Well boys, he wants to know what you brought him as a gift for taking part in the ceremony. What do you have? And don’t start pulling out money. Save it for last.”

“All I have is my watch, a personal progress medallion, and my New Zealand Mission ring,” Cal reluctantly answers.

“For a guy that isn’t Mormon, you sure have quite a bit of LDS jewelry. And how about you Jordy? Is there anything you would like to gift the shaman? He’s sizing you guys up.”

“Here’s my own watch and medallion. Give it to him.”

“It’s your gift to give, not mine. You both give him the items, and after he has evaluated their value, then pay him with forty dollars each. Be respectful and considerate.”

“Okay, thanks Santiago.”

Both of them reluctantly hand over their gifts. The brujo holds them up to examine them, shaking his head in disapproval.

“What’s going on Santiago?” Jordy asks. “Did we do something wrong?”

“Settle down kids, he’s just evaluating your gifts. Relax.”

The brujo asks me to tell them he needs something more to seal the deal. 

“Okay rookies, now pay the man and smile. Act as though you’re sure of yourselves.”

He accepts the Provo Pilgrims’ payments then informs us that the yagé will be ready in about half an hour. Carmen nods her head in agreement, stoking the fire below with a stick.

Finally, a more serene atmosphere fills the air. It’s beginning to get dark as the night stretches its black canopy across the sky. The stars like silver glitter sparkle and flicker while poking holes through heaven’s inky cloak. 

“Bigotes, where did you put the mota (marijuana)?” Johnny asks. “I can’t find it in this backpack with a thousand pockets and zippers.”

“Why must I always be the one to keep track of your shit, pendejo? Think, Johnny. I’m aware it may be a difficult concept for you to grasp, but who had the mota last?”

“You are very much gruñón (grumpy) today. But you always find answers to problems. I remember now, it is in my raincoat pocket. Si mon, here it is!” he declares. “Thanks Bigotes, I will roll a porro (joint) for us okay? Ojala (hopefully) I have sábanas (rolling papers)? Para seguro yo los tengo!” (For sure I have them!) 

Pacified for now, Johnny whistles happily while he rolls a joint.

“Hey, are you guys going to speak Spanish the whole time?” Jordy asks. “We don’t understand and would appreciate knowing what’s going on.” Cal nods silently in agreement.

“First of all,” I reply, “what would you Provo Pilgrims have done if you hadn’t run into us? Secondly, not to be rude, but I’m not responsible to entertain you LDS lads out here. Lastly, you introduced yourselves on pretense you weren’t Mormons. You lied to me, which I find offensive. You assumed I was a bigot. As it turns out, it is you who is the bigot. If you knew me, you would discover I have no animosity toward anyone because of their religion. Just don’t preach your gospel to me! Now that we’ve got that issue out of the way, I believe an apology is in order.”

“You’re right Santiago,” Jordy says. “I’m sorry I misled you.”

“Not misled. Lied!’ 

“Okay, I lied. It won’t happen again. We truly appreciate your help. I apologize.”

“Me too,” Cal adds.

“If I may ask you a question without being intrusive, what is your reason for partaking in this ritual? Have either of you ever used psychedelic drugs before, or even smoked marijuana? It’s really none of my concern, I’m just curious why two young innocent lads are interested in this ritual.”

Jordy looks at Cal before responding.

“No, we have never done drugs,” Cal says. “I got drunk once on Peppermint Schnapps when I was like fourteen.” 

“I haven’t ever done drugs either,” Jordy says. “Our reason for doing this… promise you won’t laugh or ridicule us?”

“I give you my word.”

“We have read almost everything written about yagé. We’ve done extensive research and have heard that some people have a spiritual experience during the ceremony. Well, we want to know if there is a God. We’re hoping to get an answer or find him, or for him to find us during the ceremony.”

Cal looks to Jordy for validation, then they both look back at me, waiting for my reaction.

“Let me tell you Provo Pilgrims something. That has got to be the most rational and sincere explanation for participating in this ritual I’ve ever heard. I wish you both all the best, hoping you find what you’re looking for. During your research, did you happen to come across any mention of the Beat writers having taken part in the ritual?”

“Ya but I’m not really familiar with those guys.”

“William Burroughs and Allan Ginsberg wrote a book together about their experience, The Yage Letters. You guys might want to check it out.”

“Cool, thanks for not making fun of us.”

It is then that the brujo motions for us to follow him inside the hut. 

“Here we go children, may the cosmos, or the Gods be accepting of our visit into their realm.”

There are a few mattresses on the floor, two hammocks, candles, a couple of lanterns and a large table in the center of the hut with the legs cut short so it is close to the floor. There’s also six or so large pails and he hands one to each of us, explaining they are to be used for vomit and/or diarrhea. Then, with a serious expression, he points toward the mattresses and hammocks, saying once you are in your place, you must stay there. No wandering around. If you need something, ask, and he or Carmen will get it for us. He directs us to sit around the table as the twinkle eyed Carmen enters with a caldron of steaming yagé. 

I explain everything in English to Jordy and Cal.

“Ask him why we aren’t allowed to walk around?” Jordy suggests.

“No I won’t! This is his ceremony, and he is the ayahuasquero, so it’s his circus and he’s the ringmaster.”

The brujo shushes my diatribe with a finger to his lips. He explains we should be silent, calm, and become at peace with ourselves. 

He pours the murky concoction into several glasses that have been cut from the bottoms of beer bottles. He then begins chanting in a language I’m not familiar with and spreading smoke all around us, burning what I assume to be is sage. Carmen begins singing softly with a beautiful voice. The lyrics describe a young girl that has left her home to search for answers about life and so on, and so on.

The brujo gestures for us to drink, moving his hand back and forth to his mouth.

“I’m not sure about this Santiago,” Jordy says. “Are you confident everything is going to be okay?”

“Fuck no! I’m not promising anything, but the uncertainty is the best part of the trip. Listen, I want it understood by everyone right now, I am not your guide, your coach, your lifeline or your babysitter. Don’t burden me with your doubts, your fears, or anything requiring me to assist you with making sense of your reality. I’m here to enjoy the experience myself. Do you understand?” 

“Sorry Santiago,” Jordy says. “Just feeling a little unsure and frightened I guess.”

“I don’t know about this,” Cal adds. “I’ve heard people have died from drinking this shit, but…”

Still in mid sentence, he snatches up the yagé and slams it down in one huge gulp.

“I have to say that was unexpected,” I comment.

“Figured if I drank it, Jordy would have to do it too.”

And then, right on cue, Jordy slams his own yagé as well.

Having seen the boys through, I turn my attention to Johnny.

“You heard what I told them?” I ask. “It applies to you as well.”

“Why you need to be so much a mean person? We are friends that take care of each other.”

“I’m glad you see it that way. When do you start taking care of me?”

“Salud Bigotes,” he says, tapping my glass with his. “You are more than family. I’m lucky to have someone like you for my friend.” 

We both pour the concoction down our throats. I start to gag a bit from the earthy taste of it, like wood, dirt, and leaves all mixed together with the consistency of 30-weight oil. It was as though I were drinking the very jungle itself.

“Bigotes, that tasted horrible… It was like my sister’s cooking! Well, talvez (maybe) a little better. She is not a good cook. You remember?”

“Yes, I do.”

I give my carnal a fist bump as he comes in to give me a hug. 

“We will be fine, you think Bigotes?”

“Yes my carnal, we will be fine. Enjoy yourself, Johnny. I’m here if you need me.” 

Meanwhile, Jordy and Cal retire to their mattresses near the door, and I take one of the hammocks in the back of the hut.

I close my eyes, telling myself to relax. The brujo sits in the middle of the room, chanting and spreading more sage smoke with some kind of large, colorful feathers.

I estimate thirty, maybe forty-five minutes have passed before I begin to feel the effects of the yagé taking control of my body, commanding my senses to submit, persuading my soul to accept its divine intervention. I was no longer a part of the life I had lived before.

I opened my eyes to get an idea of how everyone else was doing. Knowing my condition, I imagined the others were starting to experience the same intense reactions themselves.

Johnny was on a mattress staring up at the ceiling, rocking back and forth while whispering what sounded like lyrics to a Colombian church hymn. I later found out it was a Doobie Brother’s song, “Jesus Is Just Alright” translated into Spanish with incorrect lyrics.

“Johnny, are you doing alright? How do you feel?”

“Santiago, do you believe in living after you die? I just visited the place we go. I’m fine, but I think I am about to vomit.”

He can barely grab his bucket before he’s throwing up all the beer he’d consumed earlier.

I turn my head to look at the Provo Pilgrims, lying motionless on their mattresses side by side. 

“Cal, Jordy, you two keeping it together over there?”

Jordy slowly turns his head and mumbles incoherently. 

“Santiago,” Cal says, “this is more than l ever could’ve imagined. I’m doing all I can to hold on, but it’s a losing battle. I keep seeing a naked woman walking around. Do you think maybe God is a woman? Have you seen her?” 

“I’m seeing my family standing in a circle around me,” Jordy whispers. “My grandparents and my brother, my father, Aunt Jocelyn. They all died years ago. This is a strange experience. But I’m not afraid anymore.”

“Enjoy yourselves,” I tell them as I turn away.

I lie back in the hammock, feeling something like a warm, soft breeze now blowing on my neck. I turn around to see what could possibly be causing this most peculiar sensation.

And there I was, face to face with a panther, standing no more than a few inches before me. It glared at me with its yellow eyes for maybe ten seconds before it began purring, sounding more like a deep, guttural growl. It bared its fangs for a moment and licked its whiskered lips. And then, just as I thought it was about to have me for dinner, it slowly turned and walked away, heading back out into the jungle.

Really feeling the yagé now, l told myself it was just a vision, although I’ve never been quite sure.

That’s when Cal and Jordy both begin vomiting as well. Between the two of them, it’s almost like a scene from The Exorcist.

Meanwhile, I’d begun to sweat profusely, rivulets cascading down my face. It wasn’t long before I too saw the spectral form of a naked woman, beckoning to me with outstretched arms. I wrestle with the web-like hammock, finally freeing myself from its grasp. But just as I’ve managed to get up, I’m overwhelmed by the stench of shit and vomit. 

I feel a warm sensation in my shorts. Brown liquid running down my legs. There’s no way to stop myself from shitting. The smell makes me retch so hard that I too begin puking.

Carmen runs up to me with the pail and places it on the floor in front of me.

I tell the brujo I must go outside to clean myself. He gives me permission, adding that I shouldn’t go far. Cal and Jordy ask why I have permission to go outside. I show them my legs and feet, which are now covered in shit, prompting them to recoil in disgust.

Before I leave, I look back to see how Johnny is faring. He appears to be totally immersed in the yagé, still whispering and rocking back and forth.

“Johnny, I just shit myself. I’m going outside to clean up. Back in a few minutes.”

He doesn’t respond. Carmen motions me forth, a bucket in one hand a lantern in the other.

Once outside, the jungle begins a conversation with me. I can hear the leaves whisper and the movement of every insect. An unkindness of ravens fly just overhead, squawking their evening greetings. Red howler monkeys emit their throaty screams, bidding all a good night.

Carmen taps me on the shoulder, waking me from my trance. She tells me to walk to the river’s edge, where she will wash me off with buckets of water. I follow her through the thick foliage toward the river. She stops just short of the water, pushing me back with her hand on my chest.

“Cuidado, hay cocodrilos en el río.” (Careful, there are crocodiles in the river.)

There’s a few large sticks propped up nearby, apparently for the warding off of crocodiles. She hands me the bucket and grabs a stick. Raising the lantern high above her head, she starts slapping at the ground while slowly walking forward.

“Carmen, don’t you think there’s a better way to get to the river than having to slap at crocodiles with a stick. I’m not so sure…”

“Cállate bebé, sé lo que estoy haciendo.” (Shut up you baby, I know what I’m doing.)

After beating the foliage with her stick and throwing several large rocks in the river, so as to spook any potential predators, she motions for me to come forward, ordering me to stand in the river before her. I do as she says and she fills the bucket with water, pouring it down the back of my shorts. I’m thinking it would be much easier just to take my clothes off and dip into the river to get myself clean.

As she repeats the action again, I take off my shorts and throw them on the shore along with my shirt, standing naked in only my sandals. I wander out a bit deeper, sitting down to let the Putumayo River wash away all my filth. The strong current felt extremely relaxing, as though I were in nature’s jacuzzi, being massaged by a million tiny hands.

There’s a seventy-five cent moon smiling down on me, large enough to light up the night, reflecting back off of the river. I look down and notice that I now am sporting an enormous erection. 

Meanwhile, Carmen has begun screaming at me from the riverbank.

“¿Adónde vas? (Where are you going?) Estás siendo arrastrado por el río, vuelve aquí! (You’re being swept away by the river, come back here!) Hay pirañas en el profundo!” (There are piranhas in the deep!)

“What???”

It is then I realize I’m being carried down the river. Carmen is running along the bank, screaming at me, but I can hardly hear anything she’s saying, the sounds of the rushing water drowning her out.

I can only make out one word, “pirañas”, which she repeats over and over again while frantically waving her arms.

By this point, I’m now in the rapids, the current tossing me against boulders and the occasional tree limb.

Wait a minute, I realize in a moment of lucidity, after rapids there is usually a waterfall. Yet there I was, naked, tripping on yagé, being washed down a river and possibly to my imminent demise.

What was that I’d heard Carmen screaming? Something about piranhas? The Putumayo is a tributary of the Amazon, and I’m sure there are piranhas in there.

Fuck the waterfall, I’ll most likely be eaten alive before I even get close to the waterfall, either that or crocodiles may savagely rip me apart!

“Santiago, you must fight for your life,” I hear a strange woman’s voice calling to me. “Get out of the river now!”

“I’m trying but the current is too strong!”

The riverbank rushes past as I flail about helplessly. A fallen log suddenly appears before of me, and with my last bit of strength I am able to grab onto it. Kicking with my feet and paddling with one arm, I fight the river’s force as I struggle back towards the riverbank.

“You can’t kill me!” I scream to the heavens. “Many before have tried and failed. You’re not taking me yet!”

Abruptly I am hit with a beam of light, then another, and another. Flashlights?

“Identify yourself!” a voice demands from somewhere in the darkness.

“Santiago, from the United States,” I manage to sputter, still clinging to my log for dear life. “Please, help me out of here!”

Between the lights on the riverbank, I catch a glimpse of the spectral naked woman I’d seen earlier, back in the hut. Once again, she beckons to me with outstretched arms. I doubt I’ve strength enough to make it to her on my own, but somehow I can feel a gentle force now pushing me along. I can’t help but wonder if I’m experiencing a divine intervention of some kind.

Next thing I know, two guys with AK-47s slung over their shoulders are fishing me out of the water. A lantern is lit, illuminating soldiers on the riverbank. An uproar of laughter breaks out among them, echoing through the night without pause. Damn I was high, with no idea of how long I was in the river or where I even was.

“What’s so fucking funny?” I ask the group in English.

“Where are your clothes?” a soldier interrogates in Spanish. “What are you doing in the river at night? Where are you from?”

Another soldier throws a sarape over my shoulders as the laughter finally dies down. They begin talking amongst themselves, apparently unaware that I understood what they were saying.

An officer adorned with gold epaulettes and a red beret approaches me, speaking very poor English.

“Do you speak Spanish?” he asks. “What is why you is here now?”

“Yes, I speak Spanish. I was with the ayahuasquero, el brujo. I drank some yagé and went into the river to clean myself. Then the river sucked me up and took me away.”

There came a break in the traffic of my mind, long enough to discern this group now surrounding me. Based on their uniforms, I quickly surmised they weren’t the Colombian military but FARC guerrillas, a revolutionary group opposing the current government.

I overheard a couple of soldiers discussing the possibility I may be a spy. Then I heard what I really didn’t want to hear.

“We should take the crazy gringo prisoner and hold him for ransom. Maybe his family will pay a lot of money for this crazy pendejo. What do you think, Capitán?”

“Cuál es tu nombre?” (What is your name?), the officer asks.

“My name is Santiago, from Tucson, Arizona,” I tell him. “I am here for the yagé ceremony only. If you are thinking about taking me hostage for ransom, let me tell you: There’s no one I know who will pay a single peso in exchange for my freedom. Although some of them may offer a small sum for you to hang on to me instead.”

The officer laughs as he extends me his hand.

“I’m Captain Arturo Batista of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Santiago.”

“The pleasure is mine, Captain.”

“I don’t think you’re a spy, because no spy would risk his life in a river full of crocodiles and piranhas, doing so naked on top of it. I’m surprised you are alive. Did you know there’s a 30-meter (90-foot) waterfall just half a kilometer down the river? I believe you when you say no one will pay a ransom for you, because you are so stupid. We know where el brujo lives. I will have my men return you there on one condition. You must not say anything about meeting us here. Do I have your word?”

“Captain, you have my word. I do have one question, though. Did you happen to see a naked woman on the riverbank before I was pulled out of the water?”

“No, there was no one else here. You are seeing a yagé spirit in your mind that is not real. Go with God’s blessing. I can’t believe you are not dead, you should be more careful. Nos vemos, Santiago.”

He smiles and salutes in farewell.

“Thank you for your help. Nos vemos, Captain.”

He points to two soldiers and orders them to escort me back to the brujo’s shack.

It’s pitch black out by this point, darker than I can ever recall the night being. I remember how the moon had shone so brightly before, earlier in the evening.

“Con permiso, muchachos,” I ask politely. “How far is the brujo’s place? And by any chance did you bring a flashlight? It’s very dark and I can’t see where I’m going.”

The taller of the two walking behind me answers.

“It is maybe four kilometers. We have a flashlight but we only use it in an emergency. We don’t want to be found by Colombian military. You will be okay, we know where we are going.”

For the first time, I take a closer look at my escorts, noticing they can’t be more than fourteen years old. Along the way, the boy soldiers practice their karate on invisible enemies, mimicking famous actors, grunting dramatically as though they were in a movie. I found it quite funny but didn’t dare show my amusement. I wasn’t sure if they’d get angry, and I didn’t want to push my luck.

Meanwhile, the yagé was finally beginning to lose its potency. I was still having hallucinations, however, seeing all manner of things in my peripheral vision along the jungle path. The moon had once again returned to the night sky, lighting our way through the darkness.

As we get closer to the shack, I hear a voice calling from somewhere in the jungle. The soldier boys grab me and push me into the underbrush, ordering me to remain quiet. I hear the voice once again, closer this time, as the muchachos ready their AKs. 

“Santiago, adónde está? (where are you?)” the voice echoed through the night. “Santi, answer me!”

“You are Santiago, right?” the tall boy asks. “Do you know who is calling for you?”

“I think it’s my friend Johnny. He must be out there looking for me.”

“Are you sure?”

The voice called for me again, and this time I was sure it was Johnny. Before too long, we could see the light of his lantern up ahead. I wanted to call out to him, but the boys both shook their heads no.

“You better be dead if I find you,” Johnny screams, “because if not I am going to kill you twice! No, three times!”

Glancing back over at the riverbank, I saw the woman once again, the moonlight illuminating her naked body. This time I felt as though she was bestowing a blessing upon me. It wasn’t a religious experience, more of an evolution of cosmic consciousness. I wasn’t the same person I was yesterday. 

“Santiago, you go tell your friend shut up,” one of the boys orders. “Be quiet!”

“Okay, thanks for your help.”

I look back over at the riverbank one last time, finding the woman now gone. A feeling of vague sadness washes over me, though I am grateful to have reached the end of my ordeal.

“Johnny, you’ve got to stop screaming,” I say as I emerge from the underbrush. “You’re waking up the dead!” 

“Who said that? Santiago, is that you?”

I step into the light of his lantern and Johnny rushes up to me, hugs me and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

“I thought for sure you were dead, Bigotes. The old witch lady said you were taken by the river. She told us there were crocodiles, piranhas and a waterfall. She was crying and not making sense, so I didn’t know what to do. I waited for some time and then decided to search for you. I took a lantern and started walking down the path by the river. Then something very strange happened. A panther walked up next to me, he stared at my eyes and I could hear him talk inside my head. He said to follow him, he would take me to where you are. So I follow him for a long while until just before you jump out on me. Did you see him too?”

“My trusted friend, I have seen more than I am able to describe right now. Thanks for coming for me, Johnny. But now that you’ve found me, you can stop crying now.”

“Santi, you are naked with no clothes, why?” 

“I’ll tell you later. Right now, we need to get back to the shack. Something’s up and I don’t want to be caught in the middle of it. Come on now, let’s go.”  

When we arrive back at the brujo’s place, I see my clothes hanging on a wire line near the fire. I pull them down and put them on all clean and warm. We walk inside together and the brujo breaks out in a huge grin, starts singing and dancing around. Carmen runs over crying, hugging me with incredible strength before slapping me in the face and giving me a sharp reprimand. I notice the Provo Pilgrims are still lying right where I’d left them, appearing sound asleep on their mattresses. 

“Johnny, how long have I been missing in action? It doesn’t seem to have been a very long time.” 

“Santiago, you were gone a long while. You went missing maybe 9:00, then I go to look for you at 11:30. I couldn’t come sooner because I was very fucked up still.

“What time do you think it is now?”

“I have no watch, el brujo has two or three watches.”

I walk over to the brujo, who is still performing his celebratory rites. It takes a minute to get his attention, but when I do, he immediately reaches into his leather bag, retrieving three watches. He hands them all to me and continues his dance, repeating the word “milagro” (miracle), slapping me with palm leaves and wafting that damn smoke in my face.

As I checked all three watches, I noticed one was not working, while the other two both read 2:20. I couldn’t have been gone that long. It had seemed to be such a short while, no more than maybe an hour or so. Where the hell was I? Where did I go? That’s five whole hours I was unable to account for.

“Santiago, I have to tell you about my time in yagé land. It was something so scary and beautiful at the same time.”

“Johnny, it’s not that I’m uninterested in your experience, it’s just that I’m exhausted and need something to eat and drink first. Hopefully you didn’t drink all the water. I need to relax, get my thoughts together, make some kind of sense out of what just happened.”

He looks at me with an expression of disappointment upon his incredibly dirty face.

“Johnny, for now I just want to let you know how much I appreciate that you came looking for me. Thank you, my friend.”

I grabbed a bottle of water I’d hidden in one of the backpack’s pockets, found a mattress near the back of the hut, and drifted off into a much-needed sleep. It wasn’t long before I was awakened, however, hearing what sounded like gunfire nearby. It wasn’t just a few shots, but repeated automatic gunfire. There had to be a battle taking place and not too far from where we were.

“Johnny, did you hear that gunfire just now?”

He cups a hand to his ear and listens with demonstrated interest. 

“Yes I hear it, Santi. Do you think it is gunfire? Maybe it is fireworks for a celebration.”

“At 3:00 in the morning? I don’t think so, there’s a battle going on right now. It’s the FARC guerrillas and Colombian military, I’m almost sure.”

The brujo hears the commotion as well, listening from the entrance of the hut. He becomes even more animated than before, crying “viva la revolución!” as he resumes his celebrations once more. He tells us that the Putumayo military base is not far away, and he thinks it is being attacked by FARC revolutionaries.

I don’t have the energy to concern myself with revolution. I keep my word, saying nothing about my encounter with the rebels before. Instead I close my eyes and drift back off to sleep, the sounds of gunfire serving as my lullaby.

As I lie dreaming, events of the night’s saga replay again inside my mind. The panther. The river. The moon. But the one part of my odyssey I keep coming back to was the beautiful naked woman who’d guided me back to safety. 

God just might be a woman!

Joseph Farley

Side Effects

No one likes a needle.

No one.

Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

When the Co-Vid 19 vaccine came out I was skeptical.  I saw various reports on the news and read more on the internet. There were legitimate questions about how fast it had been developed and how it had been rolled out.  There were credible reports of side effects. Flu like symptoms for a few days seemed common, especially after the second shot. A small percentage of people experienced hemorrhaging. Some deaths had been reported. There were also less credible reports, gossip really, about a myriad of other possible complications.

I weighed the facts. What were the risks to myself and those I loved? What were the potential benefits?  Not just to myself, but for others. Getting vaccinated does not just protect the individual. It also protects those around you. The people you love and haven’t been able to be around. I decided to get vaccinated. 

I put my name on the county list of people who wanted to get vaccinated. I waited for my turn. When I got the text message saying I was eligible I filled out the required forms online and scheduled my first shot. 

I went to the local convention center. FEMA staff and Marine medics were there. After a short wait in line I received my jab.  When I got home there was some swelling in my arm and some pain in the bone.  A few hours later all my joints started to ache. The swelling and pain diminished over the next 24 hours. Then the itching started. I kept scratching my skin. Then I noticed the hair. Hair growing where no hair had been before. Hair growing longer and longer. Facial changes. Nails growing. 

I took a razor and shaved what I could. I clipped my nails. I may have looked okay but I did not feel right. I called out from work and went to bed. I slept the entire day. I worked briefly in the evening, but was only awake long enough to check the time and notice the long hair on my hands before falling asleep again.

When I next awoke the sun was coming up. I was curled up like a baby under a large bush. I had no memory of leaving my bed let alone leaving my house.  My pajamas were torn. There was chill in the air. It was late spring, not the best time to sleep outdoors.  I got up off the ground and realized I was barefoot. Looking around I saw trees and a swing set overgrown with vines. 

I recognized the swing set. It was all that remained for small playground in a municipal park a half a mile from my home. The playground had been built in the 1960s but funding for its maintenance had disappeared from the local budget soon after its construction. Over the years weeds, bushes, trees, trash and abandoned shopping carts had taken over space where children had once played. It was now a spot for teenage beer parties on Friday nights, and a place where drug addicts could shoot up and nap until chased by the police.

I was familiar with the paths in the park. I knew which one would lead to the street. I started down the path and spotted the half eaten carcass of a rabbit. I did not have time to process all this at the time. I was focused on getting home. I ran, ducking behind parked cars and shrubbery whenever I heard the sound of an engine. 

The front door was open when I got home. I went inside and locked the door.  Nothing seemed to be missing. There had been no robbery, but the sheets on my bed were ripped.   I went to the bathroom to shower.  I glanced in the mirror and saw bits of fur stuck between my teeth.

Otherwise I felt fine. There was no signs of excessive hair growth, no itching, and I had my energy back. I showered and dressed and began the long commute to the laptop on my dining room table. Working from home was one of the few benefits to come from the pandemic.  Later I put the torn pajamas and sheets in a trash bag. Sanitation hauled the evidence away.

I had no further problems. My life resumed. Three weeks later I received a reminder in my email that my second shot was scheduled for a certain date and time. 

On the designated date I returned to the convention center. I stood in line and received a second jab from another Marine. 

I had arranged to be off the day after my second jab, to play it safe. I watched for hair and itching. There was none.  There were joint aches, like bad rheumatism. This passed within 36 hours. Then the thirst set in. Right after the sun set. My throat was so dry. I drank glass after glass of water. It did no good. I tried orange juice, iced tea, lemonade, pickle juice, beer, vodka – everything I had to drink in the house. The thirst would not go away. I took a final look in the fridge. I saw something red. Meat. Beef in plastic shrink wrap and foam package. Thawing. Thawed just enough for that red liquid… I poked a finger in the package and drained the liquid into a cup. I drank it. All of it. Melted ice and cold blood. 

It wasn’t much, but it was enough.  The thirst did not go away, but it lessened. I could handle it. I got through the rest of the night. In the morning I was fine. I woke in my bed. The news did not feature any reports of missing persons or pets. I had gotten through the worst of it. Since that night I have not experienced any side effects from the vaccinations. 

My life has returned to almost what it was before the pandemic.  I am seeing friends I have not seen since the pandemic began. I have started traveling, locally, and go out to dine on a regular basis. Next week I’m going to a baseball game with much of my old crew.  This would not have been possible if I had not gotten vaccinated. If I had not received the vaccination I would still be sitting at home watching Netflix and Youtube and complaining about being stuck in the house.

Take it from me. Don’t worry about the side effects. They don’t last. Get your vaccinations. If not for your own safety, then for the rest of us. Help us get out of the “new normal” and back to the “old normal.” Or as close to it as we can.