Otto Burnwell

Dangerous Flavor

You took a six-month rental on a trailer at the Ardent Gardens mobile home court off a listing you found in a local penny saver paper. Turned out to be okay. A furnished ten-wide belonging to a long-haul trucker away working the west coast through the winter.

You’d parked in front of the trailer and unloaded the stuff from your pickup. The engine’s hot metal hadn’t stopped ticking before Mrs. Cavallo from next door came knocking on the side of the trailer.

She brought you half a pineapple pound cake as a kind of housewarming.

She said she noticed your pickup right away because the place had been empty for a couple of months. She apologized, saying she’d made the cake for a potluck at the Community Center and asked if you wouldn’t mind finishing it for her. She leaned in, giving you the chance to look down her blouse as she whispered that she shouldn’t be eating all that cake herself.

But, she said, you looked like the kind of guy who could work up an appetite.

You knew a come-on when you heard it.

She must have been a beauty back in the day, however far back that might be. You weren’t much for judging a woman’s age. She’d filled out a bit since then. Her bosom was held in check by the wire and lace of a harness-like brassiere. Her hair was full and raven black, although she probably colored it. It framed her face making her look wild and untamed, like she was standing in a windy place, only there wasn’t any wind. Her complexion was a smoky olive tone, and her eyes were a dark brown under penciled eyebrows. She wore her makeup a little too heavy for your taste, like she didn’t trust she still had her looks. Which would definitely give you a boner if you wanted to dwell on it.

You made yourself ready for a bit of hot conversation, to be neighborly. But careful not to give her too much reason to expect an invitation to come inside, looking for something for the cake.

She didn’t bother. Instead, she promised to bring you something fresh when she had a chance, and left you standing there with the plate.

The cake was delicious and you ate it all.

A day or so later, she brought some popovers.

See, I remembered, she said. She started to hand you the plate, then hesitated and asked if you had a wife back where you came from. Seemed obvious where she was leading. You told her no, no wife. A girlfriend here, she asked. No.

Well, then, she said, handing you the plate, when you do, she’ll thank me. She gave you a fingertip wave and went back to her place. You began to wonder if your radar was rusty.

Each time after that, when she brought you a treat and you’d say thank you, she’d wave it away as nothing. Your girlfriend, she’d say, she’ll thank me.

Beyond giving you a chance to look down her blouse that one time, and commenting on your appetite, she didn’t bother with any questions. Nothing about where you came from, what you did, how long you planned to be around. She’d tell you what she made, ask if you could finish it, and leave it with you.

There had to be a reason. Every few days she’d bring over a pastry or cake or pie she’d made. No chit-chat, no dawdling, nothing to make you believe you were anything more to her than a handy place to deposit her treats.

But there was something going on.

She never closed her curtains. You could see into her trailer. Sometimes, in the morning, you’d see her in bra and panties. Sometimes a see-through nightie. Sometimes nothing at all.

In the evenings, you’d see her hanging up laundry, or working in her little patch of a garden. She’d be dressed in a halter top or tube top that emphasized her bosom, and cut-off jeans so brief you could see the thong splitting her ass cheeks.

She never glanced your way, never checked to see if you were watching. She went about her business without any nonsense. Without much clothing. Except when she came over.

You asked around. You learned she’d been in the double-wide for years. Nobody remembered there ever being a Mister Cavallo, and no one ever heard her talk about him. Someone remembered that someone elsehad mentioned a couple of different guys living there sometime back. One was a retired acrobat or something. But that’s all anyone recalled.

Listening to her talk, the little she did talk, was sexy, like someone who lived down the road from Dracula back in the old country. Not that she could be a vampire. You’d see her outside in the sunlight before you went on second shift at the RV plant. She cooked with garlic. Lots of garlic.

You mentioned the garlic, how good that smelled.

Makes you bitter, she said with a squint of distaste. Stick to pastries. She leaned in again like the first time and said, those make a man sweet. Your girlfriend will thank me.

She kept it up. Cinnamon buns from the ladies’ breakfast. Apple turnovers from the men’s bridge night. Raspberry Torts. Blackberry Tarts. Peach cobbler. Spiced layer cakes. Blueberry muffins. Banana bread puddings. Cinnamon rich and sugar sweet. Cherry pies. Plum puddings. Rhubarb pies.

You couldn’t help paying attention to the smells that came from Mrs. Cavallo’s place. The smells of cooking sugar set your mouth watering. You’d find reasons to stay home evenings or get up early, waiting for her knock against the side of the trailer.

This last time, when she comes knocking, she doesn’t bring a covered dish. Instead, she invites you over for something right out of the oven. Something she’s trying for another dinner at the Community Center. She wants to have you taste it and tell her if it’s any good. You say, sure, bring it over.

She insists it has to be eaten there. It’ll cool off too much to bring it over.

Of course it would.

You tell her, yes, you’d be glad to. Here’s where you give the neighbors something to gossip about, being in her house.

She’s not coy about it. She’s already on her way back to her trailer. You follow.

Could be she’s not really looking for anything from you. You watch her shoulders, ass, and legs as she walks, considering if you could manage to show a little hot, wet gratitude if you had to.

Thinking about it makes you hard by the time you reach the door to her place.

You’re glad she doesn’t bother glancing back at you. Your boner looks like you brought over a zucchini for the veg in tonight’s dinner.

The inside of her trailer is spacious but filled with all kinds of dark, heavy furniture that looked like it came from a Transylvanian castle. She bustles around the kitchen, fitting oven mitts on her hands to pull the dessert from the oven. She chatters about how she wanted to try this out on someone before doing it for real at the Community Center.

You say okay and perch on the stool at the little breakfast bar. She cuts and scoops out a slice onto a small plate for you.

She leans across the breakfast bar, resting her chin on her interlaced fingers, watching for your reaction.

You fork a piece off and taste it. This is something really special. Better than anything you’ve had so far. You nod. She’s right. This is terrific straight from the oven.

She’s glad, she says. This one’s always the hardest to get right, but when it comes out just so, it’s worth it.

This is definitely worth it, you say, and take another bite while she watches you.

All the fruit, the natural sugar, changes how a man tastes, she says, stretching out that last word. Makes them—she pauses, searching for the right word—delicious. Women, at least where I come from, don’t like how men taste. They all need a little something. She points at the pastry on the baking sheet. All these, the fruit pies, puddings, pastries, sweeten them up. Which, she laughs, makes baking very dangerous. For men.

You think you know what she means, but you’re not sure. So you point at your plate with your fork and tell her this doesn’t seem all that dangerous.

A man who doesn’t take care of himself, she says, tastes very bitter. She makes a face and shivers. Like cheap dish soap. You probably wouldn’t know. Fruit? Sugar? Cinnamon? Fixes you right up. Sometimes, she says, sometimes a man tastes so good, a woman can’t stop. Can’t help herself. She doesn’t stop until she’s eaten everything.  That’s what makes baking so dangerous where I come from.

It’s the tongue thing she does that lets you know this dessert comes in two parts. You put down your fork.

Mrs. Cavallo comes around the bar and kneels in front of you, unzipping your fly, working your pants down to your ankles and pushing your knees apart.

A woman has to be very careful how she bakes, she says. Not too sweet.

She rolls the head of your crank between her teeth.

Some women, the wives, she says, licking her lips, don’t mind if we eat the sex off men. Most are assholes. Mrs. Cavallo shrugs. Maybe it’s an accident they make their men taste so sweet for us. Maybe not.

Mrs. Cavallo, you ask as she wedges her soft shoulders and large arms in between your thighs, your cock stiffened, awake to her nips and strokes. Mrs. Cavallo? What brought you to this country?

Nothing left to eat, she says. You watch her nostrils flare as she inhales, and your pecker disappears down her throat, swallowing you to the root.

Judson Michael Agla

ILL ADVISED

I’d been tripping balls for about three hours, from some shit I found in the battery compartment of an old ghetto blaster, I haven’t a clue what it was but I imagine it had expired around ten years ago when the unit stopped working. I don’t know why I keep shit like that around; it wastes space and pisses me off when it falls on my head from my goddamn closet shelf.

Fuck me! Another phone call; for some reason everybody was calling me up that day, nobody ever calls me, I’m a fucking recluse and narrowed down my contacts to a very few carefully chosen people. I reacted by throwing the fucking phone through the goddamn window; not such a good decision in retrospect, but at least the fucking ringing stopped, allowing me to re-engage in ripping the place apart, I was originally looking for something in particular, but I totally forgot what it was around the same time as the phone attack, and the summit of the ancient mystery drugs effects. At that point I was just going through shit to see what I could find.

I hadn’t slept for days and was making bad decisions. I came across an old crossbow with a couple of bolts; I started shooting pigeons from my balcony. I didn’t acknowledge the stupidity of this exercise until I ran out of bolts, and realized it was fucking broad daylight and I could hardly hold the weapon straight, as far as the pigeons were concerned, I doubt I hit a single one, the real concern was where the bolts ended up, however, their destination eluded me as my vision was compromised, but the lack of screams or sirens allowed me to continue my rampage through my apartment without any anxiety or fear of arrest. 

I ripped the fucking place apart; cracked open every box, container, cupboard, and closet, looking for absolutely nothing and finding everything. I came across an old dusty cardboard box that reeked of some wretched type of mold; in the box was my life, or at least the evidence that I once had one. I should have set fire to the fucker then and there; but my curiosity had already engaged, it was a collection of pictures and letters from old girlfriends that only served to remind me of my age and how long it had been since I’d been laid. 

As I perused the crumpled mass of paper and photos; I became lost in nostalgia, some of it was thirty fucking years old, and somehow I got fish hooked into an onslaught of lament and regret, most of these people had become lost to me, time has a tremendous ability for slow disintegration, why aren’t I still with these people? What was it that fucking failed? Most of them were married with kids by now, but I never took that fork in the road, I always went the other way, I was always looking for the proverbial rabbit hole.

I followed the way of the weird; careful not to cross the fringes of contemporary society, I didn’t want the white picket fence and all the consumerism that went along with it, as the old macabre saying goes; “Kids; if you can’t eat them, they’re not good for nothing”. Along with all the other copious reasons; I was, and still am, bat shit crazy, and a bit of an asshole. This never allowed a smooth ride through my relationships; mental illness is like being bound to a busted rollercoaster, going up and down like a hooker’s skirt, and having the shit shaken out of you. I was never suited for a “normal” life; consistency and commitment were just abstract words to me, taking up space in some old discarded dictionary.

Where does history go when it dies? It certainly leaves a sufficient trail of scars in its wake when it passes. History has mass; it takes up most of the space around us, and inside us as well. It spits in our faces and embraces us in apathy. At that moment all I could hear was silence; and the constant dripping in the bathroom sink, which never seemed to stop as long as I had that apartment. The only real truthful consistency I really have is history and that goddamn leaking faucet; the rest is all ill-advised.

Kevin Brown

Vice Grip

The beginning of the end begins with a tit-flick and a cantaloupe, and Mike’s wife, Kalli, flipping on the light, dropping the groceries on the floor, and saying, “Oh. My. God.” Saying, “You son of a bitch.”

Behind him, on the big screen TV, this Asian chick’s taking it in the out way. Her palms pressing her tits together, her hair cinched in roped pigtails. Mouth O’d the way Kalli’s is now. Mike stands and says, “Babe, this is not what it looks.” Noticing the shadow of his prick on the wall, he holds a hand out mime-style and says, “At least I’m not cheating,” and she says, “Yeah, at least there’s that.”

He sets the cantaloupe down, embarrassed by the size of the hole in the rind. His fingers spread, he looks around for something to clean himself up with. “Thought you were going out with Caroline,” he says. 

“I think I’m gonna be sick,” she says.

On the screen, the girl’s reclined back in the guy’s lap, her legs spread in a full split. Mike stares a second, then blinks away. The shadow of his dick arches over, bowing as if ashamed. He dusts a few pulpy clumps from the tip and moves toward Kalli. She steps back, a hand at her throat. Eyes on the screen. He stops, leans down to pick up the groceries, and she says, “Don’t touch that.”

He sets the bag upright, wiggles his fingers, and says, “Don’t worry, this hand’s clean.”

From behind, the cantaloupe rolls off the table and across the floor—prick-hole over bottom, prick-hole over bottom.

She shakes her head and says, “Goddamn freak.” She stomps out, slamming the door behind her, and he yells, “The Greeks were freaks, babe. And they’re legends.”

On the screen, the image skips, then freezes in a twitch.

He’s in bed, drunk and waiting for her to come home. 

He’d paced the floor for hours, swigging Juarez tequila and having the argument out in his mind. He visualized her sitting across from him, fingers laced, nodding her head. Listening to his side of the story and keeping an open mind.

He would speak soft and slow, ticking his points off on his fingers: First and foremost, masturbation is healthy. It relaxes the muscles and aids in sleeping. Reduces stress and releases sexual tension. It allows one to get in touch with one’s sexual responses to better communicate one’s wants and needs to one’s partner. It also discharges neurotransmitters into the brain, which give the feeling of physical and mental well-being. Second, it’s natural. Instinct. All the way back when we were organisms bubbling in Earth’s primordial soup. When we slithered out of the oceans on our bellies, flicking our tongues for food. When we sprouted opposable thumbs and stood upright, we have had the urge to mate. It’s in our cells. Our DNA. Like eating, it’s a need. There’s a feeling and we react to it. You’re hungry, you eat. You have to shit or piss, you shit or piss. Now I know what you’re thinking: that we have minds and intellect and that’s what separates us from the animals. But I say what separates us from the animals is the ability to fantasize. Think about it, fantasy is the combination of intellect, creativity, and instinct, all of which have allowed for many avenues toward a better quality of life. Example: with this combination, we have better, healthier foods. We have indoor plumbing. We have the ability to construct elaborate fantasies. Babe, we can’t lay stencils over the wild inside us. We have to use it. Blend it. Focus it. It’s not shameful. It’s not perverted, not deviance. It’s as natural as a snake’s slither. It’s human.

You’re right, he saw her saying.  I see your point, he saw.

It’s late when her headlights fill the window.

After he’d finished off the tequila, he’d masturbated twice, and went to bed. Now, a pearl of cold semen sticks his boxers to his thigh. He hopes she didn’t tell Caroline. She tells Caroline, then Caroline tells Bobby and Bobby tells Art and… He shakes the thought away and listens. She bangs around in the kitchen and his body seems to constrict an inch and hold. She slams things in the living room. Kicks and stomps through the bathroom, then comes to bed and yanks the covers up.

“Is it me?” she says.

And Mike is immediately up on and elbow, saying, “No,” saying, “It’s nothing to do with you. You’re perfect.”

“Then why then?”

“Cause it’s healthy,” he says, but his argument’s jumbled in his brain. “It’s instinct, you know. Natural like a snake…”

“I’m sure what you’re…doing…is healthy. I’m sure it’s instinct even. It’s instinct I want to fuck my boss too, but I don’t. Because when someone else’s feelings are involved, there’s also morals to factor in. There’s right,” she says, “and there’s wrong.”

“I was just getting in touch with my—you wanna fuck your boss?”

“And you promised to love me ‘til death do us part, not the fruit aisle at Wal-Mart.” She sighs. Clears her throat. “What all have you done? I mean, besides the melon?”

“Cantaloupe,” he says.

“Mike?” she says, and he feels the heat from her face. “What all?”

“I…(right hand, left hand, rubber bands to restrict forearm circulation, blow-up dolls, Pucker Suckers, prosthetic vaginas—big one’s, hairy ones, shaved ones, tiny ones: ‘Tiny ‘Giny’s with the New and Improved Itty Bitty Clitty’s,’ a technique he invented called four-play, where you thumb-rub the penis-tip while massaging your balls with your other four fingers, prostrate stimulation with an electric toothbrush, though he didn’t go A-T-M and brush his teeth afterward)…just the melon,” he says.

Silence.

More silence.

Then, she rolls over, facing away from him and says, “Well, it stops now or I’m gone.”

And she goes to sleep.

He wakes up the next morning to a wet dream. He’s still thrusting his hips and twitching when he opens his eyes. She’s standing over him, arms crossed, dressed for work. Watching. 

His chest going in, out. In, out. Feet taut as rebar. 

“You’re off to a really bad stop,” she says, shakes her head, and walks out.

At noon, Mike leaves the office and eats in his car. He’s tried calling Kalli several times but it goes straight to voicemail. Usually at lunch, he’d sit in the car leafing through one of his books. He’d gone down to the Porn Warehouse and bought Love You Some You: Hands On Techniques To Masturbatory Enlightenment and Whack On, Whack Off: How To Switch Hands For A Little Strange. 

But now. 

He tosses the books in the backseat. He’s terrified. She wants him to quit and he’ll try for her, but it won’t be easy. He was feeling it two or three times this morning. Out of habit, he went to the bathroom to fire off a round around ten and had to stop himself. 

He’ll miss it. That freedom to reach down and take hold. Grab a few minutes of pleasure. To recharge his batteries. Capitalize on a beautiful face or rack or ass he’d seen earlier in the day and placed in the top drawer of his mental “pull-box.” It’s magic, really, the control to speed up if you want to go faster. Slow down if you want it slower. Get tighter, be looser. And the confidence you get after it’s over, and your hand doesn’t roll off, brow m’d, and say, “Is that goddamn it?”

He’s diamond hard just thinking about it. He unzips and slides his hand in.

Quitting’ll be harder than he thought. 

When you love food, it’s hard to diet.

On the way home, Mike can’t shake the feeling Kalli told Caroline. He calls Bobby.

“Caroline tell you me and Kalli got into it?” he says.

“She might have said something,” Bobby says. “Why?”

Shit, he thinks. “No reason.”

“We’re grabbing a few beers tonight. Wanna come?”

“Better pass,” Mike says. “Got damage control to do.”

“Suit yourself,” Bobby says. “Handle your business.”

Mike hangs up. Wonders which business Bobby was telling him to handle.

When Mike gets home and walks in the house, he knows he’s screwed. He hears the hum of the computer as he steps in and can see without seeing what Kalli’s looking at. He’d seen this scene play out in his head several times. There was no way around it. He’d hoped if he forgot about it, it would go away.

It didn’t. And here it is.

Since he’d started masturbating, he’d used the Internet for a good deal of his porn. It started with nude celebrities—Pamela Anderson, Angelina Jolie. Then old Marilyn Chambers movies and Deep Throat. Now, it’s Brianna Banks and more amateurish stuff. 

And though he knew how to get off on the sites, then get off the sites, he could not figure out how to get the sites of the computer.

She’s crying.

“Those are old,” he says.

She looks at him, her face cinched in the center. Mascara stains under her eyes.

“Christ, Michael,” she says. “Spitnsplit.com? Warmnwoolymilfs.org?”

“Those aren’t your better sites,” he says, and wishes he hadn’t.

She looks back at the screen, shakes her head. “This isn’t right. This is so not right,” she says. 

He walks toward her and she puts a hand up, closes her eyes, and turns her head.

“All guys have some,” he says, and she runs down the hall and slams the door.

Her stares at the site. “Tic Tacs To Whales: Big Chicks Blow Little Dicks.”

And his middle begins to tingle and tighten against his pants. 

But he doesn’t feel ashamed.

Once you get caught with you dick in produce, there’s no more shame to feel.

That night, he gets drunk and passes out. He sleeps on the sofa. No wet dreams.

***

The next afternoon he comes home from work. The sun broken-yolking into the horizon. He hadn’t touched himself all day. He loves his wife. He’s gonna give this stopping a go.

He’d bought flowers and a Hallmark. 

He pulls in.

The house is dark except for a flame orange glow in the living room window. He goes inside.

“Babe?” he says.

On the floor, rose petals are strewn from the door through the kitchen. He follows them into the living room.

“Kalli?” he says, peeking around the corner.

And there she is, tiger-striped in peach scented candle-flicker. Leaned back on the sofa, legs spread. High-heels in the air, she’s dressed in a red and black mesh camigarter, so tiny there’s more cotton on a Q-Tip. She’s moved the thronged crotch to the side, and with her middle finger, she’s rubbing herself in baby circles. 

“Hey,” he says, smiling. “What’s this?”

She raises a hand and slips a pin from her hair. Shakes her head, letting the dark curls slide down her shoulders. She leans forward, pours two glasses of wine, and takes a sip, never breaking eye contact. She runs her tongue over her glistening lips, the edges of her teeth, then leans back. Slips the thin lace straps from her shoulders and lets them slide over her breasts. She runs a hand over one of them and twists the nipple. She moans, clenches a fist, and hooks her trigger finger twice, gesturing for him to come.

He does.

She smells of honey massage oil. His favorite. He drops to his knees, breathing heavy, and kisses her. He’s stripping. Ripping his buttoned shirt. Peeling his pants off like skin. “I’m sorry, babe,” he says, between breaths. “About it all.”

She smiles and shakes her head No.

“I love you,” he says, and God knows he does. He always had. She was the most beautiful girl he’d ever placed irises on. She’d always been the one and he’d hurt her. With his “instinct” he bruised the heart of the only person that matters to him. He’s through with it, he thinks. He’s quitting. For this sexy, smart, funny woman he’d fallen in love with years ago, he’s going to be the man she wants. Deserves. Out of this revelation, he caresses and kisses every cell of salty, sweat-glazed flesh on her body. And for over an hour, he works and works, trying to physically convey everything bubbling in his heart.

But for the life of him…

…his dick…

…will not…

…get fucking…

…hard.

Joseph Farley

A Plague of Lawyers

It was a Tuesday, not much different than any other Tuesday. The city had recovered somewhat from the trauma of Monday, but had not yet reached the middle of the week. No, it was not Wednesday. People would not have tolerated it on a Wednesday, or so I’d like to think. On Wednesday you have moved a little closer towards the next weekend. It is a hill you can stand on and see Saturday in the distance. On Wednesdays there’s more hope, and a greater possibility for fighting back. 

That is just my opinion. I have heard the counter argument that Wednesdays are more complacent, less likely for rebellion, precisely because it is one day closer to the weekend. Grin and bear it. We’re almost there. Just two more days. 

I reject that belief. No. A plague such as this so close to the weekend would not have been tolerated. Anyone would have been able to see the risk it posed to the weekend, not just the immediate weekend budding on the horizon, but all weekends. No. It had to be a Tuesday. So it was a Tuesday. Not much different than any other Tuesday. But I’ve said that already. Time is short. No time for repetition. I must tell what happened while it is still fresh in memory, while details still are details, before they have begun to blend. No. The story must be clear.

As I recall it was close to noon. Not exactly noon. A little before or after. The sky had been clear until then. Suddenly it grew cloudy. No. Not suddenly. That’s not exact. Gradually. But not slow and gradual. A hurried gradual, but still gradual. What? You say that sounds “sudden?” It doesn’t matter. Details. Not every detail is important, but some are. Let me finish. Let me tell the whole story before you interrupt again with questions. Can you do that? You don’t know if you can? Fine. Ask. I just won’t answer. I’ll go on. It is up to you to listen.

Men and women in pinstripes, mostly blue and gray and black. And searsucker. There was some searsucker. Not much. Just enough to remind you of summer days at a court house in Georgia. They began falling from the sky. All were carrying briefcases. Brown and black briefcases. Most were expandable – the briefcases I mean, not the lawyers. If I am to be honest, some, the younger ones or more wild eyed, had backpacks. No, it was not a plane accident. It was something unworldly. They fell from great height, you could see it, but landed on their feet, heels in some cases, and started running. 

What do you mean you don’t believe me? No, it wasn’t on the news. But it happened. How do I know? I was there. I saw it all. Please, let me finish. You can pick my story apart after I’m done.

Well, you are right. They didn’t all land on their feet. Some went splat and just oozed away, down the drains or remained as some kind of stain on roof tops and road surfaces. But you interrupted me again. I had asked you not to. I know it is hard for you. You have questions. Everyone has questions when I tell my story, but you need to be patient or the process narrative will take much longer. Time is always tapping us on the shoulder, saying we should be elsewhere. Just listen.

They ran in all directions, the ones that could, thrusting petitions, summons, subpoenas, lawsuits of all kinds, and contracts into the hands of all they came upon. They barged into businesses, restaurants, offices. They shoved their papers through open windows of cars and into the laps of the drivers. They spread out, rampaging throughout the city raising legal mayhem.

No, they were not passing out religious tracts. Why must you keep interrupting! These were legal documents. Of course I know the difference. I was served by more than one of them. I had to find an attorney that had not come from the sky and hire her in order to defend myself. I was in court for months before the matters were dismissed as frivolous. By then I was bankrupt. Why? Legal fees, court fees, depositions, motions, subpoenas, the time away from work. The scandal of it all affected my family and business. I lost customers. I lost contracts. I lost my wife. Lost my business. The divorce compounded things. That’s why you see me the way I am now, dirty and disheveled. It was the plague. I was one victims. 

What plague? The plague of lawyers! Haven’t you been listening? You must pay attention. Every word I say is important. Of course you have not heard of it before. No one wants to talk about it. They can’t. They’re not allowed to. Not everyone fought as hard as I did to clear their name. There were many settlements with releases signed, all with non disparagement clauses and specific wording barring discussions of the lawsuit and all incidents leading up to it with anyone, especially the media. I have searched for years for someone, anyone else who went through what I did. I have met those who let their eyes meet mine, and seemed to acknowledge the truth of that day and the months of terror that followed, but none would or could say anything. They were all bound by the terms of their agreements. They had to be. Who knows, I may be the only one who can talk about it without legal repercussions.

Can you please not interrupt? If you can’t control yourself I will have to try to ignore you. What were the terms of the agreements? How would I know that? You are right. I did say before that I would ignore you, but that’s not always easy to do. I’ll do my best to ignore you. It requires focus. Unfortunately I do not always have that. There are so many other things tugging at my mind. Please do your best not to say anything until I am finished. Yes, I know it will be hard for you as well. It is natural to have questions, to want to comment, but time is limited. I can’t be here with you for as long as you or I might like. Am I being watched? Probably. But I also need to keep moving, go elsewhere, share the news with others.

Since you asked about the settlement agreements I’ll tell you what I do know, which isn’t much. I can only go by what was suggested as a resolution to me. What did they demand? The first request was a jar of pickles, a thousand dollars, and for me to hop on one leg in public while singing Yankee Doodle. Of course I rejected the request. The demands went up and down from there, but I refused to bargain. The fallen attorneys who sued me huddled in the judge’s chambers, and made a final demand for me to lower my pants and slap my own rear a dozen times. I rejected that out of hand. It was about dignity, my sense of self. Principal. Yes, I lost everything, but I won. I won. The cases were all dismissed and rejected on appeal.

Clearly, you can not refrain from asking questions and I lack the discipline to ignore your questions. Look at the time? I can’t stay here long. Just let me finish my testimony.

What was I charged with? I won’t tell you. It is too demeaning. The court dismissed all of the allegations. The judge said the cases were unprovable, ridiculous, impossible. I believe they sued her afterwards. I believe the judge settled. I read that she retired from the bench after gargling vinegar and decorating her robe with onions. But that doesn’t matter. The fact is there was a plague. It may still be going on. Spreading. But no one talks about it. Those who know about it are all sworn to secrecy due to those damned releases.

My court cases? Yes, you could look them up. No, there won’t be anything in the record of lawyers falling from the sky, but that happened. Yes, the charges and the decision can be found if you use the right search engine. Give you my name? No. I won’t do that. I value my privacy. I would have liked to tell you more about the plague but I’m out of time now. You interrupted too much. But I can give you this. Take it. What is it? You can read it yourself. It’s in your hands now. Open the envelope. A lawsuit? Yes, I guess it would be. I work for them now. Who? The fallen lawyers. 

They started a firm a few months after they landed. Quite successful I understand. After I had lived on the streets for a few years, they searched for me an offered me a job. I was suspicious, resentful, but in no position to reject their assistance. They hired me as a process server and general delivery person. This is my first week on the job. It doesn’t pay much, but it’s helping me start over. I guess they’re not all bad, or shall we say, a little short of being totally evil. I think they’re trying to make amends for what they put me through. One gave me a jar of pickles this morning with a ribbon and bow on it. Another bared her ass in the hallway and gave it a slap. I took these actions as almost an apology, or as close to an apology as a fallen lawyer is capable of providing.

What should you do? I can’t tell you what to do. Hire a lawyer if you want. I have a dozen cards I could give you if you need one. Are they all fallen? Probably. They’re the only lawyers I know now. Should you settle? I haven’t read your papers. It depends on you and your situation. And your sense of integrity. If you have that it could cost you more. Homeless? Well, yes. I was for a while. Just a few years. I am in subsidized housing now. And I’m working. It could be worse. 

Don’t cry. What? You don’t want to wind up like me? I don’t know how to take that. What’s wrong with who I am? I am human. I still have my pride. What are you doing? Stop! Pull your pants back up! It will do you no good to slap your cheeks now. I only serve the papers. Call the firm if you want the negotiate.

Anthony Dirk Ray

Forebodings

Kenny opened his eyes slowly, but the minuscule amount of sunlight coming in from the inch of open curtains was enough to make him squeeze them back shut again. His head ached and his stomach was twisted with pain. The thirst that he felt was immeasurable. Kenny pulled himself from the comfort of the plush hotel bed and staggered to the sink for handfuls of tap water. As he sucked down copious amounts of liquid, he attempted to put the pieces of the previous night together. 

Kenny was the singer of an up-and-coming band known as Winter’s Dread. He remembered opening the show for the well known regional act Gloomy Forebodings, then drinking, doing blow with the headliners, and meeting some girls after the show. Kenny’s band played music on the extremely heavy side, so the majority of attendees were usually young and sweaty guys looking to fight. It shocked him that a fair amount of attractive girls were at the show. 

He found a towel on the tile floor and picked it up to wipe his mouth and face. The room was mostly dark, but obvious that it was littered with empty beer and liquor bottles. Kenny made his way back toward the bed. He just needed a few more hours of sleep before the band or their road manager would be knocking on his door. As he went to lay back down, he was able to make out a figure on the opposite side of the bed.

Kenny then had a memory of a sexy blonde in a cut off black t-shirt and short jean shorts that came on to him pretty hard. She was with the group of girls backstage, and this one had taken a liking to him. A faint recollection of the two of them snorting heroin off a guitar case entered his brain. Then he recalled getting head from her while others were in the room. He wished he could put more of the night together, but it all melded into a fuzzy blur. 

Kenny crawled into the bed to snuggle up to the mystery girl. He wanted to make some memories that couldn’t be forgotten. But as soon as his naked skin touched hers, he felt the cold, clamminess of death. Kenny instantly released the tit of the corpse, recoiled away, and sat up on the bed. He switched on the side lamp and slowly turned to verify: The once living, breathing, sexy blonde, was now wide-eyed, stiff, and lifeless, with dried vomit down the side of her face. 

Kenny frantically began to switch on every light in the room. He knocked over bottles in his haste, which heightened his anxiety further. The room had to be cleared of any illegal activity before he could do anything else. He flushed every baggie that he found, empty or otherwise, and continued his search. 

Kenny found the purse of the dead girl and looked inside. He removed her wallet to search for an I.D. A driver’s license was visible through a clear portion of the wallet. Jessica Stevens was her name, and she was only…16 years old! Kenny’s heart dropped, his breath quickened, and a feeling of despair overtook him.

Kenny thought, not only is this girl dead, but she’s underage, and she died from drugs that I gave her. He fell to his knees and broke down. Kenny knew that there was no way out of this. Thoughts of gloom, sadness, and regret overwhelmed his being. 

The eyes of the cadaver seemed to follow Kenny everywhere in the room. He covered her head with the sheet, sat on the bed, and put his face in his hands. Kenny knew that he had to call the police and give this girl the respect that she deserved. He was terrified, but knew of no other option than to face the dismal consequences. 

Kenny picked up the phone with trembling hands, but before he could dial, there was a loud pounding on the door. 

“Police. Open the door,” a gruff voice shouted from the other side. 

Before Kenny could do anything, the door exploded open, and large monkey-like beasts charged in at him. The largest creature opened its mouth to reveal a pair of large, jutting fangs. Just before they entered Kenny’s skull, he awoke in a panic. 

Kenny shot up in the bed, switched on the side lamp, and looked around frantically. He was in the same hotel room, but there weren’t bottles everywhere, and best of all, there wasn’t a dead girl beside him. In fact, there was no one there but him.

Kenny sighed deeply and let out a slight chuckle.  It was just a dream, he thought, as he laid back on the comfy, down pillows. 

However, the relief he felt didn’t last long. The entire hotel began shaking violently. He had been in a few earthquakes in the past, but never over twenty stories in the air. He was about to flee his room and find the stairwell when the shaking intensified. Rumblings, deafening crashes, and sounds of devastation flooded his ears. Screams of terrified and dying people could be heard all around. The hotel started to crumble and break apart. Massive chunks of falling debri rained down on him, and the floor began to give way from under his feet. 

Kenny was awakened by the shaking of his bunk. It was lights out, and his cellmate, Big Chocolate, was ready for another piece of ass.

Vadius Wilburn

Sanctuary Golf Course

The sky was red.

“Honestly it’s fucking crazy,” she said.

“It’s because California’s on fire,” he said.

“Nah that’s fucking, way too far for us to see it.”

“It’s like bright fucking red.”

“I think it’s Utah or something.”

“What even is Utah.”

“Haha yeah. Nevada.”

“That’s way too far. It’s literally red, like right fucking there,” he said.

“Yeah.”

They stood, looking at it.

“I guess like our own shit must be on fire—”

“Yeah like our own shit must be on fire then,” she said.

“Yeah.”

“Fuck.”

“Who gives a fuck honestly.”

“Honestly who fucking cares. Honestly.”

They were in the middle of the fairway. The sky at one horizon was indeed a searing red. The summer green of the fairway contrasted. 

They were essentially on top of a mountain, and the grass of the eighteen fairways was stamped there for their recreation. The groomed grass fell about the crest of the mountain and down its sides. It was like at any moment there was a vantage by which they could spy the rest of the world, or its apparent annihilation, or whatever was occurring with that red of the horizon.

She now had to hit the ball in the direction of the green. Tim’s dad and Tim’s dad’s friend were waiting there, at the green. She hit the ball. When she was done following her shot she turned to him and said, “Tim,” and he said, “What?”

She said, “I look like such a rich-ass hoe right now.” She spun around and lifted her skirt so Tim could see her ass. “I love it we should golf more often,” she said.

“Babe. Notwithstanding how ungodly fucking sexy you look in that outfit—”

“Look at my fucking legs like holy shit babe. With the color of the sky.”

“Yeah notwithstanding any of that, golf is pretty wack—”

“Can you just like briefly comment on how fucking amazing my legs look right now—”

“I mean babe I’ve literally had, like at least half a boner for the past half hour.”

“You can fuck me you know. Right now I mean.” 

She stood there, leaning on the golf club.

Tim looked downtrodden.

She said, “It’s just your dad. Your dad is super wack.”

“So wack.”

“Let’s go join them?”

“Let’s,” he said as she got in the cart and he drove through the fairway to where his father and his dad’s friend were standing. He parked adjacent to the green and he and Sara grabbed their putters.

His dad said, smoking a cigar, “This is just absolutely wild with the sky isn’t it.” His dad exhaled the cigar as it was part of his persona.

“Wild, yeah.”

“Crazy yeah.”

His dad’s friend was standing there, aesthetically equivalent to a filing cabinet.

Tim’s father said: “Well we’ll definitely have to get a photo before the day is done. Several photos. I mean just look at the sky. Have you ever seen anything like that? Roger have you ever seen anything like that.”

“Yes once.”

“But I mean, like that?”

“It’s impressive. I admit that is impressive,” Roger said.

The four of them stood there on the green, staring at the sky. 

Sara said, “It honestly looks like the world is ending.”

“Who gives a fuck,” said Tim.

“What was that? Hey don’t say that. Don’t say that Tim,” his dad said.

In one minute Sara said, “So whose turn is it?”

“You can putt. You’re inspecting your line. I see you. You got it,” said Tim’s dad. And then he said, “Great putt,” after her stroke.

Tim navigated the scenario and finished his putt rather quick.

They reconvened at the tee box of the following hole. Roger manipulated the velcro of his gloves and looked down the line of his club. He pressed his cleats into the grass at the tee box and then lifted one foot and then the other, testing the ground. Then he did so again. With the ball teed up, Roger drew back his club a few inches and then reset it, and then did it again. He hit the ball. Then Tim’s dad got up to the tee box and did the same routine.

Tim got in position to swing and said, “You guys can go on ahead. I’m probably going to mulligan a few times here. You know.”

“That’s cool Tim. We can wait,” his dad said. “That’s fine whatever you have to do.” He exhaled his cigar.

“No honestly just go ahead. Gonna try something new here.”

“It’s okay if you have to take a few practice balls,” his dad said.

“Just go ahead hahaha.”

“Well that’s fine that’s not usually—”

“Really if you don’t mind I have to say something private to Sara.”

“Tim,” his dad said, “yeah we can play, sure. Roger you don’t mind? We can go out there on the fairway.”

They drove down the cart path, dissolving into the grand view of the valley.

He and Sara were alone at the tee box. He teed up a shot and took some practice swings.

She said, “So what did you have to tell me?”

“Literally nothing haha.”

“Hahahaha.”

“He’s just so fucking lame,” Tim said.

“So fucking lame.”

“Honestly.” He looked at her. “My dad wants to fuck you.”

“Duh. Hahahahaha. What a fucking gremlin.”

“And the fucking Roger guy.”

“Who the fuck is he.”

“One of my dad’s friends from AA. Literally my dad only has sober AA chode friends.”

“What does Roger do?”

“Sells airplane parts.” Tim took a few practice swings.

“That’s so fucking lame hahahahaha. What a fucking loser,” Sara said.

Tim hit the ball. It curved into the trees, where it might have just rolled down the mountain. He fished from his pocket another tee and another ball. He regarded his surroundings, seeming to finally take it all in. He said, “Holy fuck.” She stared at him. He looked at her and said, “Dude this is a fucking insane view,” and she laughed. He hit a ball which went into the trees. He said something absurd and grabbed another ball and hit it into the trees.

She said, “Why don’t you actually try?”

He said, “Baby I am I’m just fucking hammered hahahahahaha.”

He hit another ball.

“Baby,” she said.

“What.”

“Babe?”

“What.”

“Why don’t you just fuck me in the trees. Just hit one into the trees and play it and we can go over there and you can fuck me,” she said.

He looked at her. “Yes. The trees. Let’s go fuck in the trees.” He hit the ball and it landed in the middle of the fairway. Then he took another ball and hit it into the trees.

She had to hit a ball now.

“Just hit the fucking ball,” he said to her, “hahahahaha. Just fucking hit it.”

They got in the cart and he drove down the cart path. He drove them into the trees where lay his seventh ball. He said, “We’re doing this come over here.” From where they were standing they could actually see the outlines of his father and Roger down along the fairway. They were playing their balls.

“I’m shivering oh my god,” she said, “in the shade I mean.”

From behind—he grabbed her at the waist and put her up against a tree so that there was a tree between them and the rest of the course.

He grabbed an ass cheek and pushed her panties to the side and said, “Just take them off,” and she said, “Yeah I’m just gonna take them off,” and she slid them down her legs and threw them in the cart. He slipped his fingers into her pussy and he untucked his shirt and stuck his cock inside her. He put his elbow around her throat, from the back. “It would be dope if you screamed right now,” he said. He fucked her and she lifted up her shirt and felt her own tits. “Tim,” she said, with her hand in his hair.

They were celestial with the red.

“Should I put them back on?” she said.

“No fuck that.”

From the trees he hit the ball into the fairway. They drove to it and she sat in the passenger seat of the cart.

“Your dad. What a fucking loser,” she said. Tim was crying and laughing, trying to hit the ball. He said, “This is really serious, we need to be serious for a second. Just for a second while I hit this fucking ball.”

He hit the ball.

Back in the cart he said, “Alright Sara. Where’s your ball? Where’d you lie?”

“I don’t know. Over there.”

He drove in the indicated direction.

The distant sky was blackened intermittently by blurring smoke. It was clear that the environment was on fire.

Roger and Tim’s father were chatting at the green. When Tim and Sara arrived, Tim’s dad said that they should take a photo. “What do you think Sara? You guys look really good.”

“Great idea. Definitely need some photos.”

Tim put his arm around her and their background was the apocalyptic sky. It was like the universe was cut into two plains. There was the edenic, lush, green world, and there was the ethereal celeste of dissipating red. This is what Tim’s dad saw as he took photos. Even Roger made a comment.

Tim’s dad said, “You guys look really good,” and Tim said, “You know I fuck her right? I literally just fucked her in the trees,” and Sara literally laughed. Tim’s dad said, “Hey Tim, that’s not what you want to say right.”

“Honestly fuck you.”

“You better watch what the fuck you say to me,” his father said. “You better watch what you fucking say to me.”

“Why? So you can maintain your stupid fucking identity of being this fucking cool corporate fucking douche bag that walks all fucking indolently on the golf course—”

“Tim I don’t know what the fuck is your problem right now but I want you to know that I do not approve of the choices that you are making in your life right now. I do not approve. You tattoo your fucking hands. And you’re clearly drunk—”

“Like it fucking—”

“Fucking listen to me right now Tim. You come out here and embarrass me in front of Roger. I entertain you and Sara all day. I come up with a plan so that maybe I can relate to you and we can have an enjoyable afternoon and understand each other and maybe you can have something purposeful in your life. And I do not—I repeat—do not approve of the choices that you’re making with your life. I’m your father, and I’m disappointed in you—”

“Do you realize—”

“Tim you better pick your words very carefully right now—”

“Yo literally fuck you. I come out here and ‘embarrass you in front of Roger,’ who gives a fuck. Fuck Roger. Roger fuck you. Either of you is just a complete fucking joke just a complete hollow fucking identity—”

“Tim—”

“Literally fuck you. You’re a fucking joke all you do is spew your fucking toxicity upon anyone who even approximates a fucking mile within your radius. Why don’t you fucking drink you’re a fucking pussy you literally pretend to have this identity like you’re this wise old fucking man that lived a life and had all these experiences and then decided to do the right thing or whatever the fuck and you’re sober but don’t you get that you’ve just fucking put all that shit inside yourself you’re a miserable old fucking piece of shit you’re a fucking pussy you drink black coffee and smoke cigars because you still need to hide everything inside that you’re running from you’re a fucking monster, you know I still have fucking dreams about you I’m a grown fucking man I still have dreams about you where I’m crying and you’re fucking laughing at me. Your life’s a fucking joke and you too Roger you’re a fucking pussy you both sold out your fucking lives and bought into some bullshit fucking value system asserting that you can’t make your own fucking choices and you’re just the victim of a fucking disease, why don’t you fucking drink you fucking pussies. You fucking losers. And dude you tell me you’re disappointed in me? Do you realize how fucking little I give a shit about what the fuck you think about me. I literally don’t even give a fuck. I literally fucking hate you. You’re a fucking pussy you embrace this fucking bullshit corporate identity and do the whole golf thing and buy into a fucking image and you smoke your fucking cigar and you fucking actually literally fucking believe in all the AA fucking bullshit like it’s the core of your fucking identity your utter futility before fate or whatever the fuck your victimhood before the fucking disease the fucking world like you don’t have any choice and you just embrace the fucking lies so you don’t actually have to take any fucking responsibility, that’s what it is you take no fucking responsibility you fucking outsource your own fucking identity to some external cause that isn’t in your control so you think you’re destined to just be this fucking worthless loser that’s just uptight all the fucking time and only achieves like ten percent of what they fantasize about. And dude you just make everyone fucking miserable, except Roger who’s a fucking loser anyway, worshipping you, your group of orbiting fucking AA buddies. Like it’s become your fucking identity, weakness your identity, victim your identity, impotence your fucking identity, misery, no-fun your identity…”

This was happening and she acknowledged it. Roger was walking distantly, lighting a cigar. She asked him if he wanted a photo of just him in front of the sky. He scowled at her and she peered expectantly until he said explicitly, “No I don’t want a photo.”

She didn’t actually know what she was supposed to do in this situation. She was standing on the edge of the green and looking at the grass which was effulgent with the red of the sky. But the color of the grass reflecting its inverse in the sky formulated something inexplicable. And the anger which arose fulminant, apparently, yet not unpredictably; typifying for her effectively the whole world. She didn’t know what to think about it. She hated his dad. She thought maybe that they should stop getting drunk with weirdos like this. If Tim was just here yelling and being a psychopath—how could she disapprove. She literally hated the world. Literally fucking hate it, she thought. I fucking hate it, she affirmed. So what the fuck am I supposed to say. She felt anyway that maybe there was a better way for things to go. If Tim wasn’t so recalcitrant then maybe there’d be less anger and hatred. It was almost like it was unethical or something, everything that was occurring. It’s not like I have a strict set of ethical values, to compare it to, she thought. Tim’s dad was screaming terrible terrible things, presently. She could see within the man despair and failure and figured that Tim was in a way just psychologically enslaving the dude and was probably a source of constant torment. And she thought, I don’t fucking care. She thought: this is what I’m supposed to do in this godforsaken society of violence, I’m supposed to yield to moments like these and recreate them and sponsor them. It makes no sense to me. Why is Roger such a loser. Who are these people. Where did these people even come from. How can someone like Roger even exist. How is that even a possibility in the universe. How can you actually be a conscious aware thing experiencing what it is to be, Roger. What must that man think about himself, how must he see the world. How can you not react with disgust and hatred. How can you not fucking vomit on sight when you see Roger. I literally don’t get it. So that makes sense. Hopefully we can leave soon because I think the vibe has been killed. Also what the absolute fuck is going on with the sky right now.

***

From Good Antifreeze

Judson Michael Agla

Shit Hole

I’m living in a shit hole; not a meta-fucking-phorical shit hole, an actual, literal shit hole at the bottom of an antiquated outhouse. I had to get the fuck out of Dodge immediately man; I had people after me, I had organizations after me, a few small third world countries, aliens, the church, and even the goddamn Chupacabra. The dogs were at the door man. I’d been spotted, filmed, my bank account was hacked, along with my email and rest of my goddamn computer, in fact I believe my computer was fucking hacking itself.

It’s quite amazing how much you have to think about when you’re off your meds. I’ve been digging tunnels; tunnels through tunnels, going up and down and sideways, it’s a goddamn labyrinth down here. I dug out small rooms furnished by the dump up the road; I had a small generator for light, and a flame-thrower for the rats, both to stop their insurrection and also for cooking.

The water is collected using a makeshift aqueduct running through the tunnels gathering all the drips streaming off the walls. I was pretty self-sufficient; but I still had to take little trips to the town down the road, for things I couldn’t produce myself, like fuel for the flame-thrower, this was essential for life in a shitter, the rat population represented a small army, and we didn’t get along at all. The generator needed gas as well; and I’d always stock up on cigarettes, as they were my only luxury.

I’d been hoping to tunnel myself into a gas line leading to the small gated community to the south, I could tap in and limit my trips out of the shitter, but I had a serious problem with my blueprints, I didn’t have any blueprints. That thought escaped me in the beginning; I never imagined I’d turn this shitter into what could very well be called, a subterranean condominium. I was getting lost all the time, but I kept tunneling, I figured I’d dug about one kilometer in the time I spent there.

That was another small crisis; I had no clue how long I’d been there, sure I could buy a calendar in town and some new batteries for my watches, but I don’t know when I arrived. I was stark raving fucking mad when I left the city, and could barely remember to dress myself, and yes, I actually walked out the door naked once. I guessed my stay in the shit hole to be about two and a half to three months, but really I hadn’t the slightest fucking idea.

There was something bothering me concerning the rats and their movements around a certain time of day; of course I had no idea what time that was but it was regular. Every so often I’d see no rats at all; then, after a while, they’d come around again, doing their rat business, whatever one could describe as rat business.

I’d begun to have a horrible sinking feeling about their absences; like maybe they were congregating somewhere in the tunnels. Maybe even conspiring against me; they could have been acting on the orders of one of my pursuers, or maybe just acting alone like a rogue guerilla force with its own agenda, I swear I could hear them talking, I had to investigate, but with extreme caution, they outnumbered me and it would be more advantageous to form a truce of sorts, than to battle when the odds were so clearly on their side. I wondered what Sun Tzu would say about this particularly peculiar type of warfare; then I realized that he would never let himself be caught in a shit hole facing an adversary such as a small army of rats. Clearly; I was on my own with this one.

I eventually found where the rats were gathering, and my suspicions were right on the money, there was an organized conspiracy at hand. However; I didn’t speak rat so I hadn’t a fucking clue as to what they were planning, but all evidence pointed to my demise.

After going through a copious diversity of problem solving methods; I decided that a full on frontal attack during one of their meetings was the way to go, the tank for the flame-thrower was full up, and could push out an enormous flame for about fifteen minutes, the most conservative account of the rats numbers was in and around one hundred and fifty (give or take), leaving just a few stragglers in the aftermath. 

I chose my moment; all the rats scurried off as per usual, I quietly crept towards their forum, and waited until the speaker had the rest of the rats engaged in whatever it was he was saying, I could hear them clapping in agreement after the long winded speeches from the many speakers in their clan.

Now was the time; I fucking pounced into the tunnel like a fire-breathing puma, and cooked as many rats as I could see, they obviously weren’t expecting this, I had the upper-hand, and it didn’t take long before I silenced their twisted conspiracy, the flame-thrower acted like a fucking bomb going off in that small space, what the fire didn’t take, the heat did.

As I gazed over the charred and still burning corpses of my adversaries; I made an extremely eye opening troublesome discovery, the evidence of the gas line I’d been searching for, I quickly realized that fire, heat, and a condensed space around a functioning gas line was in no fucking way in my best interest.

I dropped my weapon and crawled through the labyrinth of tunnels as fast as I could manage, I was trying to get to the original exit which was the outhouse on top of the shit hole, I got lost a few times but eventually made it, and I climbed out to the surface. I ran so fucking fast I lost my shoes in the process, I had no idea of how far the tunnels ran, so I just kept going.

Then it happened; still running with my tail between my legs, an explosion erupted behind me, sending me about six feet forward through the air and onto my fucking face. I managed to roll myself over to check the carnage, I was deaf at that point and could hardly see straight, but simply put; it was a giant fucking hole with rock, dirt, and burnt rats surrounding it. I have to admit that I took a certain pride in my destructive capabilities; that is, until I looked down and noticed the absence of one of my feet. I had to wonder what Sun Tzu would say about this extravaganza, I concluded that he’d probably have me locked up and executed. 

Adult Nature, By Matthew Licht

Matthew Licht has a dirty mind, a dirty keyboard, and the very best intentions. His literary world is a place of sleaze and trash, religious sex cults, talking anuses, melancholy strippers and monkish opium smokers, sex in toilets, and voyeurism in the back of limos. And yet there’s also a genuine warmth and decency in his writing and in his view of the world. It’s an interesting contradiction. Or maybe it’s no contradiction at all.

Geoff Nicholson, author of “Still-Life with Volkswagens” and “The Lost Art of Walking”

There’s a dark and edgy wit to Licht’s stories in this crazy, often comic collection, a wit that veers from erotic to emetic and back, and that has heart in it as well. A vividly imagined world where, as the man says, ‘joy and rage and thinking things could be different boiled down to thighs spread for a dollar’. But there is hope there too, among the strippers and the dealers and the no-hopers, and sometimes even a chance for escape, as the usually luckless hero of the final tale finds out.

—Charles Lambert author of “The Children’s Home” and “With a Zero at its Heart “

BUY A COPY HERE

W. David Hancock

Undead Fairyland

The Bad Fairies snatched Darrow’s boy. Murdock gave the order. It was a rainy Thursday. Charlie stopped at the Pump & Munch for a cruller and caffeine. He placed the travel mug on the roof of his Prius. The Bad Fairies grabbed him as he fumbled for his fob. The AMC Gremlin came out of nowhere. It was one of those enchanted Gremlins with the mana transmission and Eye of Sauron mural spray-painted on the hood—blasting Casey Kasem’s countdown from February 23, 1978.

The Bad Fairies were packing AK-Le Guins. They blew a wormhole in the cage of the propane tank exchange, releasing a level-12 Gaseous Form. Charlie disappeared in the blink of an eye. Eyewitnesses say they saw a ripple in the mist. Some felt pressure in their ears. Others lost the fillings in their teeth. Time and space were distorted. Toads fell on a woman pumping gas. A FedEx driver lost his vowels. The Prius folded in upon itself until it was the size of a brownie turd. Charlie’s travel mug raptured. His pumpkin spice latte turned to cinders, and his body was teleported to the Clearcut Forest. His spirit was too pure to pass through the anti-matter sphincter, though, and got left behind. (For three weeks, Charlie’s life force haunted the Pump & Munch parking lot, searching for a new host. His soul finally landed in a bottle of premium wiper fluid and spent the next 2 years cleaning bug splatter off the window of a 1985 Honda Civic.)

The Bad Fairies were spawned from the corpses of condemned prisoners, reanimated after execution. Murdock raised them out of pauper’s graves. He was the only one who could control the evil hoard. Murdock had the charisma and the enchanted Hammond organ. When Murdock played “Muskrat Love,” it sent the damned into a frenzy. It was Darrow who kept the clown car contained. Darrow was a button man, MI666’s number one fixer. He’s the one they called to seal up unauthorized breaches into Undead Fairyland.

Darrow built a career out of making enemies—and Murdock was his archenemy. Theirs was a tale of sorrow and betrayal that can only be sung in a lost language. The two had history and old scores to settle—although, when they were first recruited, Darrow and Murdock were just one circle jerk short of a legendary bromance. In high school, they were co-captains of the math team, and both correctly answered all 17 secret, coded questions on the SAT. They trained together in “The Dungeon,” MI666’s wet work division. (This was before Murdock found Oberon’s anklet in the lost Nazi bunker and envisioned a more diabolical manifest destiny for himself.)

Charlie’s kidnapping was the predictable next step in an escalating grudge match. Murdock had snipped off Darrow’s vestigial tail when they’d dueled inside the Recalcitrant Hedge Maze, and, in return, Darrow had killed Tabitha, Murdock’s wicked stepsister wife. Not that Tabitha didn’t deserve to die an epically painful death. She’d been experimenting on innocent gnome fetuses in the rubble that had once been MIT. There she mixed her stinky protoplasmic potions in ogre skull cauldrons, trying to regenerate her shredded wings, ravaged in the Epcot Eugenics Wars. Tabitha spent her days bathing gnomic stem cells in unfiltered moon juice and dreaming of creating a master race. Darrow felt no remorse liquidating Tabitha. She’d tortured millions of fey folk in her frantic quest for power. She’d built Death Camp Narnia and was single-handedly responsible for the pixie genocide. 

Darrow wasn’t a psychopath. He was a lab rat who’d been MacGyvered into a sophisticated death machine, programmed to shape Middle Earth as MI666 saw fit. Darrow’s amygdala was reconditioned by Dungeon headshrinkers. “Empathy,” “shame,” and “regret” were only words found in a dictionary of travel phrases for a fantasy kingdom Darrow never longed to visit. Darrow felt nothing for his victims, those magical creatures whose photographs were delivered to him in manilla envelopes that smelled of bog and sulfur.

It’s hard to believe that a monster like Darrow had a part in creating a gem like Charlie. The kid worked for Habitat for Humanity for fuck’s sake. He was a social justice lawyer and a loving husband. And he was with child—early in his first trimester—carrying the fetus of the three couples he promised to honor and obey. The critter growing inside Charlie’s womb housed the best strands of six genetic blueprints, mingled together on top of an Amazon Basics HarmonyBed. The entire cul-de-sac had thrown a block party and gathered around the maypole to watch the brewing via Nest. They held hands and sang show tunes from Hamilton VII as a Tesla angel-bot prepared the impregnation broth. No, Charlie didn’t deserve to pay for his father’s sins, but Darrow cast a long shadow, and Charlie had the misfortune to be born his father’s son. 

Murdock had no intention of ransoming Charlie. After a mock trial for crimes against the altered state, Murdock executed Charlie in the Clearcut Forest and streamed a live feed on demonic TMZ. When, months later, Charlie’s severed head arrived via messenger tortoise, duct-taped to the shell, Darrow immediately called his HR rep on his “Hello, Kitty” burner phone. He was sorry to bother her in the middle of the night with personal business, but he needed to take bereavement leave and didn’t know how to code it on his timesheet. MI666’s payroll portal was hidden on the dark and stormy web, and Darrow kept fat fingering the IP address and getting redirected to panda snuff sites.

Darrow understood that this emotional disconnect from his son’s murder was freakish, even for him. Truth be told, he tried to grieve for Charlie, but the sadness never came. Darrow missed his son, of course, but the feeling was understated. His sensation of loss was situated somewhere between watching the last episode of Cheers and having to throw out a favorite pair of slippers because they smelled like cheese. Darrow suspected that his compassion’s missing chunks were submerged deep beneath the boggy swamp that was once his soul, but he could never coax them to the surface. In the days before Charlie’s virtual celebration of life inside the Fortnite meditation chapel, Darrow practiced crying. He watched Love Story over and over and afterward stood at the mirror in his bathroom, trying to mimic the sad face of Ryan O’Neal.

And what of Jukes, Charlie’s mother? Darrow hadn’t seen her since the night they’d conceived their son—and she’d witnessed Darrow smothering a paparazzi troll with a Little Mermaid-themed shower curtain. Jukes spent much of her time off-grid, trying to avoid Darrow and his violent multiverse—but the slipstream assassin continued to monitor the activities of his old flame like an upskirt security cockroach on the floor of a Target dressing room. Still, over the years, Darrow had only gathered the courage to call Jukes once, on the anniversary of their one and only venereal conjugation. Darrow was doing gin shots and cleaning his favorite Luger when the bittersweet burn of Jenever in his throat and musky scent of gun oil on the printless tips of his fingers triggered an unanticipated wave of nostalgia. Darrow dialed his satellite phone, intending to pour his heart out to his old flame. However, when he heard the terror in Jukes’ voice, Darrow lost his nerve and hung up without reciting the erotic haiku cycle he’d composed for her.

Jukes was married to that Wood Elf, the architect with the eyepatch. Darrow called him “the Pirate.” Jukes and the Pirate lived in Switzerland now. Charlie visited them during the holidays, and Darrow had a photograph of Charlie and the Pirate skiing. He’d pulled it off the Pirate’s blog with the endlessly ponderous posts about growing his own heirloom hops and designing passive solar houses in the Alps. Darrow kept the picture in a shoebox in his storage unit—the one in Nebraska that MI666 didn’t know about—along with some childhood toys, trophies of his kills, and his dead mother’s nightgown. Darrow visited the storage unit once a year to reconnect with his past. His mother had smelled of Vicks Vapor Rub and cigarettes, and Darrow sealed her nightgown in plastic to preserve the scent. Darrow had a virologist friend working in the Dungeon’s cryogenics division. She hooked him up with an argon preservation system that didn’t cost Darrow a literal arm and a leg.

Jukes and Darrow met in Copenhagen in the summer of 1982. Jukes, a rising starlet, was there to film a cop show. Darrow was moonlighting for the Alchemical IRA. They bumped into each other at a gallery on Jægersborggade. Darrow had just planted a metaphysical car bomb in an Orange Wizard’s Hummer and needed to hide in plain sight. Jukes, who was being stalked by paparazzi trolls, hoped to get lost in a crowd.

The exhibit was an interactive installation of famous literary suicides. According to the interpretive signage hanging on the wall, the artist wanted to “implicate the viewer in melancholy.” There was a Hemingway-blowing-off-his-face-with-a-shotgun display and a diorama of Sylvia Plath with her head in the oven. Darrow and Juke’s meet-cute was in front of a hyperrealistic sculpture of Virginia Woolf, her overcoat pockets ladened with stones, and about to walk into a plexiglass river glued to the floor. Gallery patrons were encouraged to empty Woolf’s pockets to save her life, and as a result, there was a makeshift cairn of rocks piled around the feet of the sculpture with notes from visitors sticking out like, “We miss you, Virginia!” and “The Waves rules!”

The two mismatched strangers soon discovered they shared both an intense hatred of pretentious conceptual art and a gallows sense of humor. Together, Darrow and Jukes loaded stones back into Virginia Woolf’s pockets and ate sushi off the Yukio Mishima seppuku sculpture. Darrow recited pi to 200 places, and Jukes told her best abusive stepfather jokes, laughing in an unpracticed way that convinced Darrow she hadn’t been this happy in a very long time. Neither of them had an inkling that, in two decades, they’d be grieving the death of a son they were yet to make.

At first, Darrow didn’t realize who Jukes was—even though her face was plastered on most of the busses in Copenhagen, looking fierce as Detective Inspector Proust of Interpol’s Memory Crime Division. When Darrow finally made the connection, he understood that he’d seriously overachieved. For her part, Jukes knew she knew Darrow was a well-chewed wad of sugarless gum in a gutter, hardly worth bending over to rescue, but she longed for one last anonymous fling before her career spiraled out of control. 

Darrow gave Jukes a backdoor tour of the city and kept aggressive autograph hounds at bay. They broke into Tivoli Gardens after hours and played hide and seek on the carousel. Juke shared essential details about her life. Why was she called “Jukes”? Because she was conceived against the jukebox in the Shire’s third-best titty bar. Darrow couldn’t be honest about what he did for a living, so he related the experiences of “Bob,” one of his cover identities, a quirky but lovable forensic accountant from Idaho, Alaska, who was in Denmark to track down some financial discrepancies at a food additive company. Darrow was hardboiled; his alias was undercooked. 

They found a midnight showing of Sophie’s Choice. They held hands in the dark and stayed through the credits, and Jukes wept, and Darrow just sat there, not really understanding what all the fuss was about. When Jukes recovered, they walked the streets for hours. She contemplated big ideas and the future and the possibility of hope, and Darrow feigned interest as best he could. Jukes spoke about her film career and how she wanted to direct eventually. Darrow, presenting as “Bob,” his threadbare but comfy cover-identity, could almost imagine an alternate, practically human future for himself. Early in the morning, they bought coffee and pastry, sat by the canal, and watched the sunrise. Then Darrow walked Jukes back to her hotel. She invited him up to her room to make sure everything was safe and secure, and Darrow ended up spending the night.

Jukes was staying in the Hans Christian Anderson Suite. She and Darrow made tenacious, greedy love atop the Princess and the Pea canopy bed. Together they caught the midnight train to Georgia. Darrow shot the sheriff (but did not shoot the deputy), and Jukes came in through the bathroom window. Afterward, they wrapped themselves in Emperors New Clothes bathrobes, raided the Thumbelina minibar, and fell asleep in each other’s arms—one like a coiled serpent fruitlessly spooning the spiraling smoke of a smoldering funeral pyre—and the other like an economy body bag cuddling the decomposing remains of a vulnerable adult.

Darrow got up in the middle of the night to take a leak and discovered a paparazzi troll crouching behind the Ugly Duckling bidet. It was there to snap pictures of Jukes in flagrante that it could peddle to the anti-matter tabloids. The troll tried to make a run for it, but Darrow grabbed the fiend by its lichen-encrusted, forked phallus, and cursed it in High Ogre. Darrow’s fluency in the sacred tongue of its people caught the troll off guard—and the frequency of that living dead language, larded with infanticidal imagery and unholy diphthongs, made coroners across the city giggle and caused atomic clocks to skip a beat. When the troll saw Darrow’s chainsaw-wielding-Mother-Goose tramp stamp—the emblem of the Storybook Assassin’s Guild—it began to cry out for the festering gestational proboscis that had shat it into existence.

Jukes heard the commotion and wandered in on Darrow. He stood there naked except for his Snow Queen slippers, smothering the troll with the Little Mermaid-themed shower curtain. Darrow smiled at Jukes, embarrassed but oddly proud, like a little boy whose mother just caught him torturing a family pet. Jukes ran and never looked back. 

As for Darrow, he was surprised to discover that as the years passed, he couldn’t seem to get Jukes out of his mind. The recollection of their time together in Copenhagen continued to haunt him almost as much as his memory of that morning he walked in on his mother soaking in the bathtub and chatted with her about the previous night’s Partridge Family episode for hours before he realized she’d overdosed on pills and grain alcohol. Darrow tried to quench the unfamiliar pang of loneliness in his gut by catching all of Jukes’ films—at the art house down the street, in foreign cities in the rain. After a kill, Darrow surfed for clips of her on YouTube. It was a ritual cleansing for him, along with eating chicken pot pie and having sexual congress with furries in abandoned zoological gardens. Darrow liked to nap with one of Jukes’ films playing in the background. That made him feel safe and cared for, like when he watched those slow TV episodes from Norway, the train journeys into the Arctic Circle that went on and on.

A decade passed before Darrow discovered that he and Jukes had conceived a child. Darrow was enjoying a post-coital blooming onion at a sports bar in Melbourne, with a web developer in a vixen raccoon fursuit, when he looked up at the flat-screen TV and saw Jukes in the middle of a press conference. She was in Australia to direct a sequel to Wim Wender’s Until the End of the World. Sitting next to Jukes was ten-year-old Charlie, who was the spitting image of his old man. Darrow went through back channels to acquire a strand of the boy’s hair and then asked one of the Dungeon dweebs to run a full heredity panel. Darrow’s paternity was indisputable.

Charlie quickly became an unanticipated complication to Darrow’s already precarious life-work balance. MI666 considered children an unacceptable liability for field agents since offspring exposed its already at-risk operatives to the additional likelihood of coercion and manipulation by their numerous mythological adversaries. If Darrow’s employers discovered that he had a son, they would immediately dispatch a crew of cleaner locusts to sanitize the situation by devouring every last trace of Charlie’s existence. To keep Charlie safe, Darrow decided long ago that he would never attempt to make contact with him—although he did once tempt fate by sending the boy an unsigned Devils Tower postcard from Wyoming while on a freelance mission to steal a stuffed Jackalope from a diorama at the Yellowstone National Park interpretive center for the Smithsonian Underground.

Child support was never an issue, as Jukes, by that time, was signing multi-million dollar movie deals. Darrow learned to be satisfied with staying informed of Charlie’s life—but uninvolved. Through his AV buddies at MI666, Darrow had access to technology that could track a single louse hiding in the pubic hair of a dead orc decomposing in a dumpster in the back of a Blockbuster in Mordor. So Darrow was content to watch his son grow from a safe distance, via hidden cameras, social media, and hacked cell phone and computer accounts. Of course, Murdock’s kidnapping and subsequent execution of Charlie changed that best-laid plan.

There was one emotion that MI666 allowed Darrow, and continued to stoke in him through hypnotic nocturnal suggestion and pharmaceutical cocktails, which was a craving for vengeance. Revenge was a prime motivator for secret agents, experienced specifically by Darrow as an intense sexual hunger with notes of heartache and an aftertaste of cold eel aspic (a flavor and texture so revolting that, under normal circumstance, you’d discreetly spit the glutenous fishy wad into your napkin after gagging on it—although I know from personal experience that when the congealed jelly of retribution is warmed with the freshly splattered rheum of a nemesis you’ve just tortured, as payback for a transgression you’ve waited thirty years to redress, the cold nauseating glue wondrously transforms into the sweetest dish you’ve ever tasted. You finish every last bite with a smile on your face.)

To honor Charlie’s memory, Darrow decided he would kill Murdock, slice off his wings, and, using a particular set of skills he’d acquired over a very long career, make a commemorative mobile out of them. Like a tomcat bringing his mistress a dead mouse, Darrow would present Jukes with his trophy, hoping that the sacred offering might mend their estrangement and trigger in his one true love fond memories of that lost Danish weekend so many blue moons ago. 

And so Darrow put his affairs in order and went hunting. Off the books. Without a handler. Without MI666 logistical support or cool gizmos provided by the Dungeon’s research and development team. For his vendetta, Darrow relied on his own wits and a few trusted assets in the field: a manic pixie dream girl hacker in Budapest who supplies blueprints of Murdock’s remote island lair; a down-on-his-luck whiskey priest in Paris selling hand-crafted ammunition dipped in the tears of baby unicorns—lethal for Bad Fairies; a retired thief with early-onset Alzheimers, indebted to the Ukrainian mob over gambling debts, and looking for one last big score but can’t remember why he broke into the vault; a lovable rogue bard who, as a day job, plays the tambourine in a Monkees cover band, and basically serves as eye candy for the team until he falls on a live grenade and dies knowing his sacrifice is for a greater cause; conjoined twins, one a white druid serial killer and the other an African-American FBI ranger profiler, whose cat-and-mouse, Iago/Othello story arc gives the otherwise hackneyed plot a quasi-Shakespearean feel; a quirky centaur call girl with a heart of gold—and a photographic memory—who forges Darrow’s travel papers; and an Italian punk chick halfling with daddy issues who grew up in a Formula 1 racing family, and who, or order to see over the steering wheel, drives the getaway car sitting on a stack of ratty D&D manuals.

Darrow spent seven years tracking down the Bad Fairy King. His quest took him to the four corners of the globe. After defeating numerous minor bosses (including Stephen Hawking Ninja, Bigfoot Mime, and Mr. Rogers’ Evil Twin), Darrow faced his son’s killer in the secret catacombs beneath the Library of Congress where Ben Franklin’s grimoires are shelved. Darrow slew Murdock thrice, just as the prophecy directed, each time using a weapon forged from a different base elemental—fire, earth, wind—waiting precisely seven Babylonian lunary cycles between the kills. Murdock knew that Darrow would be employing water for the fourth and final attempt, so he stayed away from oceans, lakes, and streams. But Darrow snuck into Murdock’s man cave and poisoned his Slush Puppy machine with a blue raspberry liquid hydrogen chaser. Murdock suffered instant brain freeze, and his head shattered into a zillion bosons. The Bad Fairy King was no more.

Darrow used an 18-inch stainless steel, Anthony Bourdain-branded, cheese wire from his mother’s hermetically-sealed cookware set to cut off Murdock’s wings. He returned to the safe house and hung his trophies in the shower stall to dry, squishing the spiders, earwigs, and ticks living symbiotically in the seemingly infinite folds of the appendages with his boot as they dropped onto the ceramic floor tile, trying to escape. After curing the wings with a blow dryer and his proprietary small-batch embalming rub, Darrow began to sketch plans for a holy diptych on the membranous canvas. He was inspired to paint scenes of Charlie’s life in the lobes of the organs. The left hemisphere would depict episodes from Charlie’s past, and the right would illuminate the future milestones that Murdock had erased, celebrations and joy that were never to be. 

As he contemplated his grand project, Darrow felt, he suspected, as Michelangelo had when staring at the bare ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For decades, the hit-man had been promising himself that he would return to the artistic practice that he’d abandoned long ago. When he was just starting out in the profession, Darrow routinely crafted with body parts harvested from his prey. He recalled the day he wandered into a Marcel Duchamp retrospective in Berlin and was later inspired to glue a mark’s ear to a telephone, his two eyeballs to a pair of binoculars, and his tongue to a giant peppermint lollipop. Over the years, Darrow had made a human hair Mona Lisa, a footstool out of actual feet, and a wide assortment of tooth jewelry. He was pleasantly surprised to find himself, at his age, called once more to the sacred creative space.

Darrow went to Michaels. He bought paints and brushes. He bought a glue gun, ink pads, and glitter jumbo shakers—and wispy pine sprays, stamp kits, and stencils, pipe cleaners, designer fur, and origami paper, assorted googly eyes with lashes, and a leather-punch, and sequins. Then he holed up in his room and binged on Bob Ross for three days straight. He huffed some Mod Podge to get his imaginative juices flowing. And then Darrow got to work.

Joe Surkiewicz

No Goddam Androids

Stenciled in black letters on the frosted glass of my office door was “Adam Murky/Investigations.” 

Scrawled on a sheet of eight-and-a-half-by-eleven taped below was a footnote, “No Goddam Androids.”

Not that it made a difference.

The door opened and wowie zowie. It’s a dame, all curves and shoulder-length blond hair, who sauntered into my seedy office. I swept the nearly completed jigsaw puzzle to the floor and settled back.

She nestled her haunches in the chair across from my desk and dabbed her eyes with a tissue. “It’s my husband. I think he’s—”

“Are you human?”

“What does this look like, glycol?” she shot back, offering the damp wad.

“So you think he’s seeing another woman?”

She looked puzzled. “Not at all. He went out for a pack of cigarettes week before last and never came back.”

“Was there anything unusual in his manner?” I asked. “His mood or disposition—anything different?”

Forefinger to chin, she closed her eyes. ‘Yes, there was,” she said. “It just occurred to me. He doesn’t smoke.”

Now I had her. 

“Duh, cigarettes were banned by the Global Warming Reform Act enacted by President Thunberg more than a decade ago,” I snarled.

I stepped around the desk. “Okay, lady, you’re going to stand for an inspection. There’s no second way.”

I yanked her to her feet, ripped her bodice and grabbed her left boob. A twist to the right and it swung open like a bank safe.

Her blubbering stopped. “Press star nine to reset,” she recited in a monotone. “Press star nine to reset….”

I entered a different code, swung her boob closed and pushed her back in the chair.

Her eyes took a moment to refocus. Then she looked at me, bewildered. “Who the fuck are you?”

“Fix your bra, honey, you’re hanging out.”

She scanned my squalid office as she made the adjustments. “Is this where I pay my gas and electric?”

“If only, baby,” I said, sliding the credit card reader across the desk. “Twelve hundred smackeroos and we’ll get those triple pane windows on order. Only a down payment, of course.”

She inserted her card and tapped in a code. “When can I expect delivery?”

“It’s on the way,” I said, and stood up. “Just like you. Don’t let the door hit that shapely ass on the way out.”

She stood in the doorway, started to say something, thought better of it, and sauntered down the hall.

Fucking androids. It’s a helluva way to make a living, but someone has to do it.