Brief Perversions, by Jesse Koenig

BP by Jess Koenig

90 pages
Burdock Press

Brief Perversions is a collection of flash fiction and prose poetry. The title of the collection reflects the brevity of the individual pieces and the various twists they often take. On a broader level, the title also reflects the collection’s theme of life as a brief perversion, as a short and twisted journey.

Many of the pieces engage with pop culture in various ways—alluding to and quoting celebrities, songs, poems, novels, textbooks, commercial products, cereal boxes, etc. In addition, many pieces call into question aspects of western culture (our treatment of the elderly, the emphasis on physical attractiveness, the reality vs. the fairy-tale of love, male-dominated politics, and much more), hopefully without moralizing. That is, the collection, ideally, is a philosophical conversation about what society values and what many of us consider normal.

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Judge Santiago Burdon

Don’t Call Me Thunder Slut

After three hours of shaking every proverbial tree, checking bars, searching alleys and breezeways for my dealer I had to settle on scoring my wake-up hit from the Chinos. I am not comfortable in their barrio especially when I’m jonesing. I’m not familiar with the territory and I risk getting ripped off. Their “heir-on” is always top shelf but they charge more and their papers are small. You gotta do what you gotta do to feed the monkey. My man is M.I.A. and I owe him twelve dollars from the shit he gave me on the arm last night. Saves me from the humiliation of having to beg. As if I had any pride left in my pathetic character. Scraped away like the  charred part on a piece of burnt  toast.

I head back toward my digs at a quick pace so I won’t be sidetracked by anyone. The strategy proves ineffective and I’m confronted by every Junkie in the  neighborhood. It’s as though every dope fiend I’ve ever been associated with is on the look, all asking me the same questions. “Where’s the Dope Man? Can ya spare a bump, I’m Jonesin’ bad. Getting sick, man help me out.”

I answer in a desperate an apologetic voice.  “I couldn’t find the man. No hay, got nothing, I’m looking. I don’t have any cash, trying to get a front.”

They know I’m lieing but don’t challenge my integrity.  Integrity, what a laugh, another moral standard of ethical behavior I seem to have pissed away. Did I choose this addiction or did the addiction choose me? I planned on just experimenting with Heroin but somewhere the

procedure went horribly wrong. It’s the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. High syndrome. Intended to only pawn my soul but the pawn ticket was lost and my time ran out. I don’t give a shit about these addicts . These are the streets, the rule here is to cover your own ass. It’s not my job to coddle these junkies. I’m not responsible for their habit.

I’m holding and still have seven dollars left to buy a tall boy and some “loosies.”

The entrance to my pad is littered with crackheads pushing their pipes made from stolen aluminum car antennas. Their tecolote (owl) eyes stare at images only visible to them, sweating profusely in the morning chill. They move aside letting me pass, trying to speak but the words come out garbled.

I start the frantic search for my key to unlock the door. In desperation I  turn the door knob and the door opens.

Son of a bitch I didn’t lock the door? I mentally interrogate myself  only mouthing the words.

Surely I ‘ve been robbed and in this neighborhood they steal everything. Forks, spoons, soap, toothbrushes down to the light bulbs.

Inside I investigate and I’m relieved to discover that nothing has gone missing.

Jessica who calls herself my girlfriend is sleeping on the mattress on the living room floor. She slowly rolls over, stretches , smiles  and then farts.

“Morning baby did you score?” She asks

Now I can’t lie to her not

about that, other subjects sure, not this she’ll know if I get high.

“Yes Thunder Slut I certainly did just that. Jenk was a ghost I had to score from the Chinos. So I want you to know there’s not much because their papers are smaller”

“Why didn’t you get two? I want to get high shithead.

It’s always about you. You don’t give a shit about me. I’m selling my ass around town to drunks and perverted sons of bitches for twenty here thirty there all night long. And what do I do? Come home to you and give you my money while you sit around on your lazy ass the whole night getting high or drunk or something. I don’t know?

And don’t call me Thunder Slut! You know I don’t like it!”

She delivers a poignant  soliloquy with a Marisa Tomei sexiness. I don’t need to hear this bullshit first thing in the morning.

Then sometimes I think maybe I do. Jessica may be a prostitute and I know there’s some of you that have a derogatory view of her and others working in the world’s oldest profession. Let me take a moment to comment on the subject.

Jessica as well as those now and in the past provide a fundamental service in every society. They are what most men secretly desire and almost everyman wishes his wife was in the bedroom.

They have performed more charitable acts than Mother Teresa. They don’t ask for your respect or understanding, only that you shove your snide comments and puritan opinions up your ass. And speaking for all the Angels of the Night, “Go Fuck Yourself.”

Now Jessica is a prostitute but she is defined by so much more.  She’s not comfortable with her beauty which makes her all the more beautiful. She’s the most compassionate, sincere, emotional amazing, evil, vengeful,  psychotic creature you could ever love. So yes she’s a prostitute but she is my prostitute! Now back to damage control for a situation that I have no responsibility for causing.

“All I said was it’s small. I’m gonna share. It’ll be enough to numb the withdrawals and subdue the Jones. Also where am I going to get the coin to buy two? We can figure out how to score more this afternoon. How come the door was unlocked?”

“I must of forgot to lock it after I let the cat out. She was driving me crazy, meowing.”

“What fucking cat? We don’t have a damn cat!” Are you high?”

“See that’s what I mean. You don’t pay any attention to me or this relationship. You gave me a cat two weeks ago for my birthday you shithead. Thank you for remembering and my birthday isn’t for another month. Must have me mixed up with one of your other girlfriends, Santihole.”

What the hell has happened here. I risk my life in the dangerous jungle of the city “dragging myself through the negro streets a dawn looking for an angry fix.”

I know that’s Ginsberg the master of bohemian genius. Just seemed so fitting. Ok back to the story…

There I am foraging through the neighborhood for dope to get me feeling almost normal. The sickness waits in hiding ready to bushwhack me at any moment and she is giving be misery for something I haven’t done. Of course I was going to do the whole paper myself but now I had to share. God Damn it!!

There’s something amiss with me today. I’m unable to focus on any particular issue and my mind wanders finding cognizant thoughts to ponder. Could it be possible that I’m sober. Is this what it’s like?

“Danger Will Robinson” most of the poor decisions I have made in my life were made while I was sober.

Listen to her still going on and on with her relentless tirade. I know where the switch is to shut her off.

“Here Diosa you take the Dope. I would rather you have it. I’m sorry that I’m so insensitive and selfish. You’re right once again, I need to exhibit more  appreciation for your sacrifices. You know how I feel about you. I’m sorry mi amor. Please forgive my callousness.”

“Oh Santiago you softie. You know how to get straight to my heart. You just made up for all your stupid ass screw ups. And we do have a cat.”

“Don’t refer to me as softie again. It’s not a particularly enduring description if ya know what I mean.”

She takes possession of the dope and heads off to the bathroom to do a hit. Her ass exposed wearing my  Barcelona Soccer jersey which I don’t appreciate but I don’t dare to mention.

Then there’s a knock at the door. Let me share a piece of wisdom. Opportunity doesn’t knock, in most instances it’s Jehovah Witnesses. Opportunity has been on vacation and hitting on your lover while you’re at home anticipating its arrival.

“Who is it?”

“Barry the manager. Everything ok in there?” he asks.

I open the door to interact to keep him from calling the cops.

“Hey Jerry what’s going on? How you been doing?”

“My name’s not Jerry.”

“Okay not Jerry. What can I do for you this morning?”

“Santiago why do we have to go through this game every time we talk?”

“Sorry Larry, I’m not good with names. There’s been times when I couldn’t remember my own name. What’s the scoop?”

“The people in the next apartment said they heard yelling and screaming coming from your place. I have to investigate and make sure everything is okay. I’ve had to come up here so many times. Can you two please stop fighting all the time? I’m getting tired of your bullshit. Next time I’m going to have to take legal action and call the police. And your rent is two weeks late again. I need the money by tomorrow afternoon or there’s gonna be a problem with the owner. Do you understand?”

“Only two weeks late? That’s good to know. I’ll see what I can do to rectify the problem. How did my neighbors tell you there was a problem? They don’t speak English and I know you don’t speak Spanish.

Terry are you fibbing? It wasn’t my neighbors. Are you spying on Jessica again? If you don’t stop your peeping activities I’m going to have a talk with the owner. And the money you’ve been pocketing from overcharging the undocumented residents to support that voracious cocaine habit of yours… we don’t want anyone to mention those activities to Mr. Landlord do we?

So Harry I think we have a mutual understanding of how we’ll be addressing problems in the future. Entiendas gringo?”

“Please Santiago don’t rat me out. I’m trying to warn you about what’s going on. See if you can get me the rent by next week. Is Jessica around I wanna say hello.”

“She’s in the bathroom right now. I’ll tell her for you Gary. You have a wonderful day.”

“My God Damn name is Barry. Will you please just call me by my right name?”

“Ciao” I whisper as I close the door.

“Hey Santiago is this your cat at the door? You know there’s a strict policy against pets in your apartment!” he screams.

“Please don’t yell. Keep it down. You don’t want to upset the neighbors. We don’t have a cat.”

“Who you hollering at through the door? And I told you that we do have a cat, you son of a bitch!”

I put my finger to my lips giving the shush sign.

“It’s your boyfriend Perry, he wants the rent and said we aren’t suppose to have a cat.”

“Okay, here, take this,” she whispers “I saved it for you. Do you have cigarettes?”

She hands me a syringe loaded and ready to fire. Self loathing is in most cases along with confessing your imperfections are a catalyst to favorably end a disagreement. They have a saying in Colombia. When a man and woman are in an argument. The man always has the last words.

They are “si mi amor.” Yes my love.

I accept her gift and place a tender kiss on her lips. She giggles and gives me a hug. This is the woman I’m accustomed to. When she’s high she’s so much more concerning.

“So baby do you have a cigarette? Si o si?”

“No JJ but I’ll make a run right after I do this hit. Get dressed and come with me. Before you head off to work.”

“I’m not going to hook for a couple of days because I got my regla,(period) and I’m not into giving blow jobs for five or ten dollars a cum. It’s ok with you baby?”

 “Ya, it’s just fine now get dressed.”

I head off to the bathroom to do my fix. Surprisingly, it gets me perfectly numb. Not nodding out or nose scratching high but enough to subdue the monkey.

“Hey baby it’s chilly outside so wear a jacket. Where’s my suit jacket the black one ? I haven’t seen it for a while. Have you seen it baby?”

“Have you looked in the closet? That’s where civilized people put their clothes. Not on the floor or slung over a lamp. I put it on a hanger.”

“Thanks smart ass I found it. Do you know where the key is? I misplaced…”

She dangles the key in front of my face before I can finish my sentence.

We exit the apartment and she puts her arm in mine, then places her head on my shoulder as we walk.

I put my hands in my pockets and touch what feels like a pack of cigarettes. I pull it out and it’s an almost full pack. And there’s a balled up piece of plastic shoved in the cellophane of the cigarette pack. I immediately tear at it and discover it’s a large amount of heroin that I have forgotten about. I check the inside breast pocket and retrieve seventy three dollars from inside. Jessica begins to scream with excitement from the find.

“Santiago you didn’t know you had all that? Where did it come from?”

“The last time I wore this jacket was when we went to the casino to celebrate your birthday, which I  now  understand is the wrong date,” I say, handing her the cigarettes. “You didn’t say anything about it at the time. I was winning at the blackjack table. Then we left came home and got so fucking high we didn’t remember. Here, happy birthday mi corazon.”

She stops and puts a hand on her hip, holding out the other hand palm up and tapping her foot impatiently.

“Well, and the money?”

It wasn’t really your birthday and you played me. Okay, here.”

I place the cash in her hand but not before peeling off a twenty.

Suddenly the cat cozies up to Jessica meowing.

“I know let’s put her in the apartment before we go. Hey what did you name her? “

“Thunder Slut seemed like the perfect name. Now hurry up put her inside. You know you’re taking me to breakfast don’t you? It is after all my birthday.”

She says spilling laughter all over the morning.

I recall a proverb from the Furry Freak Brothers.

“Dope gets you through times of no money better than money gets you through times of no dope.”

And so that’s that.

“Ok breakfast, but no pancakes!”

Thursday Simpson

New Aeons Still Will Not Answer

I wish I didn’t remember this river. My mother and I used to eat here, sitting against a rock with cucumber sandwiches from her garden, eating the bread she baked. The courts allowed her to spend one day a week with me. Something is better than nothing. Across the river I see a man with a small boy, probably his son. But maybe it isn’t his child. Maybe they’re just there, the older man feeding the younger. Men think they love feeding, that they understand justice.

Men think their gray hair has something to do with honor, that using foundation to cover your skin cancer and red puffiness makes you as vain as a politician. I don’t want to remember this river but I’m walking alongside it for a very specific reason. After my mother entered a permanent state of departure my father took me here to fish. I refused and there are several places in the United States of America where refusing to eat an animal means Satan is speaking to you, much like the way Satan spoke to your mother. Parents and priests will tell you they’re concerned. These are the fathers who let physicians remove their wives and daughter’s clitori and are just thankful there’s something to be done, a way to help their families.

This river mouths out at the Catholic Church my dad always took me to. Last night I saw my father, today I am going to visit another father. There is something I want to tell him, memories I want to remind him of. I’ve finally graduated from college. I left my apartment back in the Twin Cities with my degree from U Minnesota and a plane ticket to Italy. The last paper I wrote was a personal one. I used to think nothing could be worse than Haldol. Then I read about one of the earlier treatments for hysteria. Patients were put in comas with insulin treatments. Force fed nothing but red meat. This is what happened to people who enjoyed having cocks inside of their mouth.

River towns tend to have a lot in common common. My father never thought anything was wrong with our community. He thought it was a place worth living in. Old women trying to control their children by filling them full of pie and cookies. Writing my research paper on the history of insulin treatments was very triggering. I had to stop, go for runs. I would come back to my apartment and drink glass after glass of water.

Walking by the river, on my way to the church, I pass a tree. When I was fifteen dad sat me underneath it so we could talk. He said that it was good that I loved my mother but that I needed to understand, she didn’t love me. It wasn’t because she didn’t want to love me, it was because she couldn’t. She was sick. I ran from him. He tackled me and pinned me down and started yelling that I needed to listen, that I needed to understand things were different, that it was good things were different.

He told me things needed to change. We were going to go to Mass every Sunday. If I refused to go, he would take me out of public school. Tough love, like a basketball coach. There are a lot of things to hate about highschool. But my guidance counselor promised to walk me through my college applications. She told me I could apply to as many colleges as I wanted, “They can be anywhere, in any state,” she promised. She said she could get money from the school district to pay for my applications fees. The school district got money from the state if they had a high number of kids enrolled in college. My father also had the legal right to pull me from the school and enroll me in a Catholic highschool. The Catholics wouldn’t help me get to the University of Minnesota. I had to play along. But after sitting in that fucking shit church, seeing those people sucking their dead god’s cock every fucking week, I began to snap.

One Sunday I spat the communion wine in Father Michael’s face. My dad took me out behind some bushes near the church and beat the shit out of me. I could smell the River from where we were. My mother always joked about wanting to spit wine in Father Michael’s face. He was her priest, too, when she was my age. The priest’s body was stuck to our town, a rot the diocese wanted to preserve. My mother knew how to transform rot into something holy, how to grow things in compost. “When people die we should feed the Earth, not be put in a box and prayed for.” She called Jesus a corpse and they said she was ill. She liked to grow things in her garden.

My father drug me back to his car, after beating me. Father Michael was standing outside of the Church, smoking a cigarette. Everyone else had gone. The priest saw me bleeding and he told my father, “Don’t worry, Jim, it gets better.”

I don’t care when they find either of them. I can move fast. And that hurts because the smell of the river still reminds me of my mother. I want to sit with the River, I want to sit with my Mother. But I have already committed to revenge. I need to be in Italy by tomorrow night, absolute latest.

As highschool crawled on, Father Michael offered to help my dad deal with me. One night Dad came home from work early and found me fucking a girl I went to school with. Allison brought a strapon and a harness that her older sister gave her. The dildo she brought over didn’t fit with the harness so I tried to ducktape the bright purple cock onto the harness. Mostly all we did was laugh while the cock kept falling off inside of me. Allison would try to work her hips, the tape would give and she fell on top of me over and again. We gave up on the dildo and just kissed and rubbed eachother’s tits. We were having fun, the way your first time should be. After my Dad threw Allison out the first thing he did was call the priest. Father Michael was the one who gave me a black eye, all my Dad did was scream.

I met Allison at the coffee shop she worked at. She was a senior when I was a sophomore. I talk as much shit about rural, conservative areas as anyone. But there are people who live in such places who are cool. Just like there are fucking idiots who live in the most progressive spaces. When I met Allison, when we scheduled our first date, I finally thought I could survive highschool. I spent the week before our date masturbating to thoughts of her slapping a dildo against my face, making myself cum thinking about the way her cum would taste.

I’ve avoided dating Catholics. I did go out with a girl in the Twin Cities who was still Catholic after coming out. The priests on campus weren’t that bad, she told me. She thought Pope Francis was a nice man. She didn’t understand why I wanted to fuck him up with a razor. I asked her why she thought things were getting better because Francis knows better than to give bad soundbites.

Sadly, Satanists aren’t much more fun. During my Junior year in college I spent some time with a Satanic Coven. One night we walked out to a lake wearing nothing but purple robes we sewed ourselves. We had to climb over a traffic barrier on a bridge and walk down a grass hill to get there. None of the cars driving by honked, no one even seemed to notice. These girls spoke their rituals in Latin. I’ve never understood why people think Latin is so Satanic. I mean, if your rituals were written by Roman Satanists from the fourth or fifth centuries, sure. Why not. But I don’t think Satanism should be so tied up to the Roman religion. Moving away from artifice would be a good tenant for contemporary Satanism. Feeling things with your intestines, learning to read the messages encoded in your shit, that’s where truth is. But I guess it’s also okay to want to feel sexy, to let someone spread your asshole wide the way a whore in Corinth would have.

But other than the ritualized group sex there wasn’t much else going on with their coven. Eventually I told them I thought LaVey was dangerous, his antipathy towards social activism dangerous. It’s fine if you’re in love with yourself but he isn’t trying to get people to fall in love with themselves, he’s trying to get people to fall in love with him. They told me I didn’t understand so I quit having sex with them.

My Mother dated a Satanist, once. He wasn’t so bad. The three of us came out here to the

River and ate lunch together once. He made these wonderful garlic and hummus sandwiches. I think he worked in a health food store or something. I thought of him later on when I read LaVey talk shit about people who shop at health food stores in the Devil’s Notebook.

We drank tea and ate his sandwiches and then he and my Mom went off to have sex in the bushes while I watched the water. I was so mad at my mother for fucking him while I had to sit by myself and wait for them to finish. Why could she have fun and not me? Why couldn’t I take someone from school behind the bushes and investigate them?

I did know enough not to tell my Father about the different people Mom fucked. I didn’t hate Mom, I was just jealous but still knew these are all things best kept hidden. Before my father had her institutionalized, one of my Mom’s other boyfriends gave me a hammer and a screw driver. He said tools are the instruments of curiosity. I used them to pull up a couple floor boards in my room. The same boyfriend gave me tapes from his old AV collections. I kept all of the horror films in the space I created underneath my bedroom floor. Last night when I snuck into my Dad’s house I pulled up the boards and they were still there.

VHS copies of Fulci, Bava, Rollin, Franco, Argento. Cinematic guides to perversions and the right questions to ask. Under the floor was also a tape I made of my Mom having sex with one of her girlfriends. When my Mom broke up with the AV boyfriend she stole abunch equipment from his car and then I stole it all from my mom. Late at night I would practice working the cameras and manipulating video on these old tape decks.

My Dad always worked the traditional first shift. When he was at work and I was at school my Mom usually had her partners come over to our house. When I filmed her it was summer. I was probably thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t hide the wireless camera very well, and I love my Mom, but she was never the most observant person in the word.

Last night, or I guess this morning, before I left my Dad’s house I plugged in an old VCR from the closet and watched the whole tape. My Mom looks great. She is propped up, sitting in a chair while her girlfriend slurps and sucks her. My Mother’s hair is long, her partner’s hair is the color green. They kiss, the green haired one uses her fingers to make my Mother cum.

I’m close to the Church and I’m looking forward to seeing Father Michael. I’m looking forward to the look on his face when he remembers me. Dad wouldn’t let me eat breakfast if I didn’t go to confession every Saturday. I didn’t have money to buy breakfast and lunch both at school. But if I was forced to go to confession, I wanted to have fun with it.

I started confessing things that I saw in porn videos. A friend and I were hanging out after school, walking around down town. Out of no where he jumped inside of a dumpster and after a second screamed, “Holy Fuck! There are a ton of fucking porn tapes in here!” At least half of the Where the Boys Aren’t series were in that dumpster. I started telling myself the things Janine Lindemulder and Dyanna Lauren and Jenteal did with eachother were things I also did, with the community college girls that worked at Target, with the older women who worked in the garage. Sometimes when I smell bad popcorn or gasoline I still get wet.

I made sure my Father knew it was me. He was just sitting in his fucking house alone, watching television. McDonalds wrappers on his kitchen table. I thought about him realizing he was hungry, driving to McDonalds, choosing what to order. I wondered if he ate his food in his car, if he was sad when he got back home because he already ate.

Sneaking in and out of my bedroom window is the first artform I ever perfected. I took my hammer and hit him first in his right shoulder, then in his left. He screamed and I hit him in each foot. He kept screaming and looked up at me and flailed so I punched him in the chest and he fell back. I smiled. I wanted to enjoy it.

I climbed on top of him, I wanted him to smell me. I punched him in his nose. I clawed at his face with my nails. He never even knew how many times Mom was raped inside the hospital. He visited her there just to make her suffer. He told her that he loved her, that she needed to get better for my sake if not for his.

I maintained my mount on top of him. I told my father one story that my Mother told me, how the night watch would flush her medicine down the toilet and tell the doctors she spit her pills in their face. Dad was about ready to give up. I punched him in his nose, again. I saw he had a cross on the wall and decided to improvise. I told myself to stay in control. I got up and grabbed the cross, I started sucking the tip of it. I wiped my ass with the long, wooden end. I stuck it in his mouth and pissed on my father. No one would find him for at least a day.

Father Michael will be found sooner, because people will look for him when he doesn’t show up for daily mass. And unless someone finds my dad sooner than I expect, I won’t be a suspect. I didn’t tell Mom my plan. I didn’t tell her she wouldn’t see me again. That would be too hard for both of us. And at this point, things are different. Most of the girls are raped and abused by the people who work at her hospital. My mother is a veteran of this system. She teaches the new patients things they need to know. She teaches them how to communicate, how to tell doctors what they want to hear. How to find friends once they get discharged, where to find good jobs that will keep them away from home or the books they needed to read while they spent their summers alone in their room at their parent’s house.

And besides, when she hears what happens to dad and father Michael, she’ll know. She’ll be questioned and won’t tell anyone anything. She’ll play the silent, mentally ill woman. She’ll be happy for me, proud. I’m an atheist but when I was in college a miracle happened. Her doctor let her take the bus to St. Paul and she spent a few days with me, in my apartment. We cooked dinner, we made salads, we drank wine and she met my current lovers. We traded stories. One night she went out and met some lovers of her own and I hung out at a coffee shop while they used my apartment. When I got back they were all curled up on my living room floor. I started to leave again but they all insisted I stay and watch a movie with them. I made a big pot of turmeric and ginger tea and we all got underneath blankets and opened my apartment windows and breathed the Midwestern October Air and watched Mario Bava’s film, Black Sunday.

The next day we were waiting for the bus and my Mother said, “Imagine that, Black Sunday coming out of you. It’s Mario Bava’s first film. Imagine writing your first book, making your first record and making Black Sunday.” She didn’t say anything after that. I told her goodbye when the bus came and she didn’t look back at me. I had on a black sweatshirt and purple leggings. My hair was down to the small of my back, my mother’s hair fell down on her shoulders.

God doesn’t understand justice and neither does Satan. Before my Father died he started crying. He was covered in blood, sobbing, and I knelt down and looked him in the eyes and said, “I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long.” I told him I dreamt about killing him while I slept, thought about it while I fucked. I told him I wished he had cancer and I could have came to his hospital every day to rip out his IV and whisper in his ear all of the pain he still hadn’t experienced from his chemo. But God isn’t real, Satan doesn’t answer prayers.

Father Michael is the only one in the Church. Back behind the altar he has a little office where he keeps his robes. Once in confession I told him that I had sex while ovulating. I described making the boy I was with eat my pussy, how I refused to kiss him after he was done. Father Michael took me back to this office and beat the shit out of me himself. He told me when he was first assigned here, fresh out of seminary, my mother confessed the exact same sin to him. He told me he still hadn’t got over the disgust he felt for her then. He said we must have had the same demon in us, a generational curse. He told me his only regret was that he wasn’t able to help my father lock me away in the same hospital my mother was in. He told me he was the one who convinced the judge to sign the papers my father brought him, signed by the loving husband and concerned family priest.

I told Father Michael it’s a terrible sin for a priest to break the seal of confession. He just beat me harder. I’m glad he’s back here, that this is where I find him. He doesn’t even turn around. He just assumes I’m there to ask about the schedule for Eucharistic ministry. He tells me he’ll be right with me. I close the door behind me and lock it. I hold my hammer in my hand and think of my Mother, I think about the joy she must have felt getting fucked at a time when she really wanted it, when she really needed it.

Matthew Licht

Human Consumption

Get lost is good advice, unless you take it too far.

The man behind the drugstore counter said we were standing in Michigan. I shook my head. I was sure I was in Canada. The friendly pharmacist said nope, no doubt about it, and told me to help myself to concentrated Bunn-O-Matic coffee and the remaining day-old doughnuts on a scalloped cardboard salver, if I was hungry.

The last truck driver said he was bound for Ottawa. The idea was to roll across The Border stashed in the back of the cab, asleep. I couldn’t remember getting off, so I must’ve had some assistance. Maybe I snore, or said something offensive about truckers in my sleep. Anyway, I woke up on a bus stop bench. A bus pulled up. The driver wheezed the door open and said get on I ain’t got all day.

“No thanks.” Canadian buses looked awfully familiar.

I thought it’d be a good career move to be an American who knows how to cook Mexican in Canada.

The drugstore manager couldn’t use a Mexican cook, but if I had a degree in Pharmacy, they needed a night man. He didn’t ask to see a framed diploma, but I didn’t want to lie to him.

There were no Mexican restaurants in Sault Ste. Marie. A more entrepreneurial Joe would’ve seen an opportunity. He’d do what needed to be done to turn a new tamale joint into a hot spot. The usual process is a cakewalk through municipal offices, fees paid, hands shaken, but liquor licenses entail organized crime. I’d been there already. Couldn’t do it.

So I thought I’d walk across the Canadian border.

On the way out of the country, I passed a funeral parlor. A woman, still alive, was on her way out too. Her hair was so red it became a traffic signal.

Not her natural color, she said. Nobody alive has hair this red.

She was on her way to bed after an all-night rush-job, a tough case, a murder victim, a local big-shot. The deceased had sustained massive shotgun damage to his face, but his survivors wanted their flesh-and-blood presentable for his last ride down Michigan Avenue. She had to glue down skin-shreds, reshape scattered eyebrows, mould mangled lips. The teeth were a relative snap, she said. Remove the ruins with pliers, snap in the one-size-fits-all-more-or-less-OK dentures. Nobody examines the dead the way they do horses.

Sanitation workers keep whatever they find. Morticians excavate gold teeth. Got to be somebenefits to jobs no one else wants to do. But I didn’t know Michigan’s Upper Peninsula was infested with gangsters. “Do they run unpasteurized cheese rackets?”

The red-headed mortician asked if I was a professional comedian. When I told her my area of specialization, she said I could make myself useful in the form of huevos rancheros. She had a car.

When we got to her place she said, “Back me up,” like we were rookie cops on TV. Her boyfriend Ern was in there, she said, and she wanted him out. She’d felt this way about him for a few months, but the right moment hadn’t come till right then.

At the door, she silently counted three and we went in.

“Sorry honey but it’s time for you to find your own place and maybe even get a job. Let me know where you settle and we can arrange the transfer of your…your louse-infested garbage, you drunken Indian.”

Her shrieks awoke Ern into what you could see in his eyes was a miserable hangover. He grabbed a potato chip bowl, vomited weakly and wiped his mouth on a hairy forearm instead of his sleeve because he was dressed in a T-shirt, a drab gray number, stained. Ern was missing crucial teeth. Grabby mortician treasure-pliers clanked like alligators in fantasyland while I observed a final domestic squabble in progress.

All I could think was, how long before she throws me out. And she hadn’t even formally invited me to move in yet.

Steven Storrie

The Sins of the Leopard

I was 19 years old and not long out of school. I was working with my father in a factory downtown. He more or less ran the place and got me in with him to keep me from lying around the house and wasting my time. He was the hardest working man I’d ever met, and still is to this day. I couldn’t measure up to his prodigious work rate. I didn’t have it in me. Then, like now, all I saw was waves of scattered ass I couldn’t get with and a dead end on every road. A cruel thwarting of dreams and row of slowly closing doors. The factory was dusty and cold and owned by some brothers from Turkey who had come to this country to make good and ended up somewhere around the middle. They worked hard, too. I was a daydreamer and a loafer. All I wanted to do was write and be left alone. Not too much has changed, really. Whenever I bristled at some aspect of the job or the day that I didn’t like they just kept on saying ‘welcome to the real world’ like I’d arrived at the airport of some new destination. What the fuck did that mean, the real world? My Dad kept saying it too and it pissed me off. Where did they think I’d been living these past two decades?

So, there I was lugging boxes onto delivery trucks and trying not to let my father down. They were sex obsessed, these Turkish brothers, and that would be all they’d talk about all day long. Who they’d fucked, who they were going to fuck, and who the best fuck they’d ever had was. I was still awkward and useless around the ladies back then. Later I’d get daring and lucky. The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. But back then I couldn’t catch any sun ortail if I’d wanted to. And I did really want to. So, when they’d ask me who I was fucking and who I’d fucked, I’d grin in great discomfort and mutter some useless remark that trickled out of me like weak piss. I didn’t even have the flair to be a smart ass and say I’d laid Marilyn Monroe, or some shit like that, the way I would do now. I was uncomfortable in that world of men. It was a whole new language and way of being, and I neither understood nor cared to understand, how to operate in it. I was really a tragic case, looking back on it. They would just laugh and go back to talking about fucking while I slinked away to lug more boxes.

One night the younger of the brothers, Nazmi, the only man who ever came close to working as hard as my father, had me stay behind late to help him clear a large delivery out of the way before another one came the next morning. They were running out of storage space but had big ideas so were loading up on cheap stock while they could. Nazmi would work the factory most of the day and then go off to work in a pizza place they had recently bought until around 2am. Then he’d be back at the factory bright as a button, talking about who he’d fucked in between. I kinda liked Nazmi. He was the guts and the brains of the operation. Him and my father. The oldest brother, Arkun, was work shy and not too bright. The middle brother, Mohammed, was a mixture of the other two. But Nazmi was the driving force. That night Nazmi and I lugged boxes for hours; way after my father had gone, even. Every now and then he would nod at the huge walk in fridge that held all kinds of meats and trays of drinks and let me pry open a crate of cold Coca Cola, handing him one while I thirstily drained the other. We were sweating and covered in the kind of muck and dust that comes from lugging boxes around a factory floor all day. Outside it had gotten dark. The place looked different at night, all the other factories bathed in the eerie orange glow of the streetlamps. We finished our drinks and lugged some more. Eventually we were done. Either we were done or even Nazmi had finally had enough.

“Come on a-sunshine” he’d smile wearily, scooping up his keys and putting on the alarm but leaving everything else until morning, “let’s go home.” They were some of the best word I’d ever heard.

We jumped into one of the white vans I spent most of my day loading for deliveries and pulled out of the yard. Nazmi was always the life and soul of the place, very focused and smart, very driven. Alone, though, I always detected a kind of sadness in him. Could be he was just tired. Either way, he would never say much when he drove us home. It was winter and cold outside. He turned the radiator on and the heat filled the van immediately. Instead of heading home the usual route Nazmi drove a different way tonight, and I wondered aloud where we were going. Was there more work to do, I asked, trying to sound like I’d be ok if there was, but secretly hoping that there wasn’t.

“No. No more work” he said, to my relief. He looked at me. “You’re all baby batter. You’re a smart kid but we need to get some of that cum off your brains. You need to be a man, like me or your father. You need to be clear and clinical and sharp. We need to get that cum off of your brain so you can grow up.”

I dribbled another useless comment, as I was wont to do at the time. I realised we were in the seedy side streets of Union Street, next to the bus depot and the closed down auto repair shop. There were no orange streetlights around here.

“What are we doing here?” I wasn’t so much worried or confused as tired and hungry. I was off the clock and out of work. I wanted a shower and something to eat.

“Just looking a-sunshine. Just looking. Whatsamatta? You don’t wanna fuck a hot woman?”

Well, I did and I didn’t. I did, but not one of thesewomen. Plus, I really wastired and hungry. I’d worked all day. She probably wouldn’t be getting the best me I could have offered. Not that it mattered. Two pumps and a squirt would have been the best I could have mustered back then no matter what the time of day. Kids are horny bastards and eager to get started. They don’t care about performance or what their grade was. It’s only when you get older you start to care about shit like that, and then perhaps a little too much. Nazmi drove slowly around the corners and peered into the shadows.

“You a-scared a-sunshine?” he asked

“No” I replied. I actually wasn’t. Why would I have been?

Eventually he put his foot on the gas and we eased back out into the centre of town, heading for home. He hadn’t seen anything he liked.

“Don’t worry” he said with a wry smile, lightening up again. “Tomorrow we’ll go to Amanda’s.”

That had done it. I was too beat to worry about it when I got home. But once I woke up it was all over my mind;

‘What and where was ‘Amanda’s?’

All next day I thought about it and imagined it to be all manner of places, but fairly certain which one it would be. When Nazmi showed up for work he was his usual smiling self. He never mentioned anything about last night or tonight and nothing in his demeanour around me even suggested it had happened. My Dad would have killed him if he’d known. Would have killed me too, probably. I kept quiet for all concerned. Besides, I thought, Nazmi was full of talk. All three of these brothers were. They can’t have been getting as much pussy as they always said and, even if they were, now I knew where it was coming from. It didn’t count, to me. Any idiot could pay for it. It wasn’t real.

Still, that night, with my father headed home and what seemed like hundreds of wrapped kebab meat to move, Nazmi and I got to work, our hands getting greasy and stinking of donner meat, me pulling the Coke cans from the fridge. Eventually he looked at me and said

‘Are you ready?’

I shrugged, trying to play it cool. I just wanted to go home again and watch T.V, play some music and laze around.

But we were going to Amanda’s.

We didn’t drive where we had done before. Instead we headed a little way out of town, passing farms and all the rural areas I’d pass if I was helping do deliveries with Maurice, the dim-witted delivery driver who drove the vans we filled all day. After what seemed like a long time but was probably only ten minutes we came to a building with its light on. It said ‘Amanda’s’ on the window and right away you could see it was a hair salon. What the fuck are we doing now?I grumbled to myself with an empty, surly stomach.

Nazmi led the way. When we got inside, he smiled and exchanged hellos, obviously on familiar terms. Right away I saw a girl around my age, helping another woman cut an old ladies’ hair, but really just standing around ineffectual and looking bored. She looked at me and our eyes met before we both hurriedly looked away. She seemed shy and my stomach did that cart wheel flip I’ve since come to learn means you’re about to fall into a world of trouble. She gave off this confident vibe but seemed nervous and shy. She had this pretty brown hair, long and shiny, falling onto the shoulders of a grey cardigan. She had on blue denim shorts and black leggings, chipped black nail polish. She had the deepest, most exotic brown eyes I’d ever seen. I instantly felt weak and a little sick. Then another woman, older, perhaps in her mid-30’s, emerged as if by magic from behind some door I hadn’t even realised was there, and embraced Nazmi with a smile. I saw the younger girl fleetingly look at the scene before her eyes darted over me and back to what she was doing. I understood right away from the similarity between them this was her mother that was greeting Nazmi and me.

‘Come through, come through’ she smiled, ushering us both through the door she had suddenly emerged from. The girl quickly looked once more then turned away.

We were in some strange red corridor that had two rooms to it; one immediately to your left, the other up ahead on the right. The woman closed the door behind us and engaged in some pointless chit chat with Nazmi as he took off his coat and scarf. I just stood there, unsure what to do and out of place.

“Choose a room” the woman said. I had gleaned by now that this was Amanda.

I looked at a beaming Nazmi. Not wanting to walk any further in this strange place than I had to I turned to the white door immediately on my left and, swallowing hard with a dry throat, tentatively opened it. Nothing happened. I peeked nervously inside, and then Nazmi burst into laughter over my shoulder and yanked the door shut.

“It’s ok a-sunshine, we’ll take this one.” He brushed past me with a laughing Amanda, and then closed the door on me with a smile. Standing there alone and not knowing what I was meant to do, I waited a couple minutes, hearing giggling and groaning coming from the other side of the door Nazmi had went through. I looked up at the other door on the right. Was I supposed to go in there? I didn’t know. Why hadn’t he explained it to me? He’d fucking brought me here and not even explained the rules. Twice I went to step forward and changed my mind. Eventually I turned and went back through the door we’d come through, back out into the hair salon.

I felt like an idiot, embarrassed and awkward. I was pissed off at Nazmi for bringing me here and making me feel like this. Was it some game? Had he even meant for me to get laid? I went up to the young girl and, out of not knowing what to say and wanting to make her understand I was a good guy, said ‘I didn’t do anything in there.” The fact that I’d only been through there two minutes probably told her that. Or maybe it didn’t, I don’t know. I was new to all this. She looked at me blankly for a few seconds and then put her hand out and said ‘I’m Natalie.’ I took it and felt that flip in my stomach again.

“Claire” she suddenly said to the other woman, the one actually doing the hairdressing, “I’m taking my break.” Claire didn’t seem too bothered, not bothered enough even to reply. Natalie turned and began walking out of the place, out onto the street, leaving me feeling heavy footed and marooned. Then she turned around.

“Come on then” she said, looking right at me and holding open the door. Another flip. I was really in trouble now.

We walked a short way in the dark, away from the light of the shop until we reached the entrance to a grassy area. We climbed over the locked fence and stood on the gravel and mud. Natalie lit a cigarette and exhaled into the cold, damp night. My heart was beating out of my chest and my mouth was dry as cardboard.

“So, you work with that guy?” she asked, looking directly at me.

“Yeh” I replied, unsure of what to say. “Only part time, though. I’m trying to write a book. Might join a band.”

She nodded slowly and I felt like an idiot. How the fuck did I know what girls wanted to hear or thought was cool? A brief silence passed between us there in the dark.

“Do you think your dreams mean anything?” she then asked, holding the cigarette between two fingers and fiddling with her necklace with the other three.

“I, er, I dunno. I guess I’ve never really thought about it.” She nodded again and I silently cursed myself for not thinking of something better to say. Eventually she finished smoking and we headed back out of the field, back onto the street and towards the light of the shop. It hadn’t happened. I felt sick. I felt like I had just failed some sort of test.

We stopped outside the shop and sat on the roadside. She still had a few minutes of her break left.

“Do you have any gum?” she asked. I did. I always did and handed her a piece. I watched her chew it for a few seconds then take it back out of her mouth, wrapping it around her index finger. Then she leant over and began to kiss me. I kissed her back and it lingered there for a few seconds. Then it got heavier. Then she pulled away.

“What’s the matter?” I asked, nervous I had done something wrong. She stood up abruptly, ready to leave.

“You kiss like your father” she said coldly. Then she headed back inside.

I sat there a few seconds, stunned and reeling, before quickly standing up. I felt dazed and my mind was swimming. Before I could follow her inside Nazmi emerged onto the street, zipping up his fly and grinning broadly.

“You ready a-sunshine?” he said, noticeably happier than earlier, lighter in foot, heading to the drivers’ side and cheerily pulling out his keys. In the harsh light of the shop window Natalie had returned to work. Everything seemed to be going on as normal, but nothing felt the same.

We got in the van and headed for home.

 

Matthew Licht

Welcome to Felchville

A small party was on its way to a wedding in the country. Their budget rental car would’ve been more comfortable with one less person in it. Pete, in order to deserve his spot in back, kept up a conversation. A Hollywood hopeful, he lived in a Limbo of awaited phone calls, letters, any hint that the time had come to get out of New York and head west.

The Big City, Pete said, was finished. The theater was dead, newspapers were written by lickspittles, magazines were staffed by corrupt cliques, publishing companies were cabals run by Freemasons. There are a million Petes in town. He’d kept his sense of humor about it, though.

People had once said, you ought to be a professional comedian. Pete had worn out his welcome at the improv clubs. He wasn’t on-stage funny. His laughs were on-paper.

His embryonic screenplay was a box-office smashterpiece in search of a big idea. The evil twin thing, he said. The Great White Shark with the disco soundtrack: there’s a little of him in everyone.

Wade Hawkes was at the wheel. His name was perfect for a director of Westerns, or a sheriff in a movie. Aside from being overweight, he looked the part. He taught film history at Columbia University.

Wade’s wife Mona rode shotgun. She kept her eyes on the road. Wade didn’t drive much, and was therefore clumsily aggressive. She was nervous.

Pete had wedged himself between Allie and me in back.

Allie and I had been together a long time. She might’ve wanted to make it legal, at some point.

Edgar Whittemore, the man about to be married Upstate, was a lawyer.

Car dealerships and fast food oases gave way to farms, pastures, forests. There wasn’t much traffic.

“Can we please get off the highway?” Allie said. “I’d like to see some trees.”

Gentlemanly Sheriff Wade swerved into the next exit, and the world outside the car went green, red, orange, brown and yellow.

Allie, an interior designer, was delighted when we drove past a Charles Addams-style mansion that’d recently been featured in one of her favorite magazines. “Ooh look! That’s Sere Pines, the Suckley estate.”

“Suck-lee,” Pete drawled.

“Miss Suckley’s like a modern Miss Havisham,” Allie said, “in that she’s not modern at all. She’s a kooky old Yankee blueblood who keeps the family spread exactly the way it was in her Great-grandpa’s day. Or maybe she let it rot away to honor his memory, or because she’s got no money left. The Suckleys were the last of the New England loyalists.”

“Omigod, look!” Pete nearly leapt into the front seat. “There’s a sign up ahead! We’re coming into Felchville.”

He was right: the blue sign read, Felchville. I’d never heard of the place. Maybe it didn’t exist before we showed up.

Wade and Mona were nonplussed. Felch wasn’t part of their prenuptial agreement, or their vocabularies.

Allie groaned. Among the accumulations in our cramped Times Square studio apartment is a vast collection of Underground Comix that will go to the Public Library when I die.

“Slow down, Wade.” Pete grabbed the driver’s soft shoulder. “I don’t want to miss any details.”

Felchville seemed an ordinary drive-by burg, with the usual shops, restaurants, parking lots and houses. Normally dressed normal-looking people wandered about their lives on clean, uncrumbled sidewalks.

“Ooh look!” Allie whisper-shouted, to humor Pete. “They all got brown crusts around their mouths.”

“They’re foaming,” Pete said.

Felcher was a name Allie and I had seen on grave markers in Queens, and out in New Jersey. Cemetery expeditions were something to do on weekends, after we’d checked out the 6th Avenue flea market. There must be a million couples like us in town.

A man in a brown derby hat stopped to admire the local smoke-shop window, or perhaps his reflection in it. He looked repressed.

“Felch-a-holics Anonymous member,” Pete said, with the accent on member.

“Why’re they flying Canadian flags all over the place?” Allie said. “Did we mass-sleepwalk through the part where the Mounties waved us across the border?”

“November 12th is Canada Appreciation Day, here in Felchville,” Pete said. “They celebrate by felching each other unconscious.” He provided slurpy sound-effects.

Felchville had a Public Library. The red maple leaf banner on the thick pole that protruded from its facade flapped with civic pride.

There was a long line at the Felchville Cafe’s takeout window.

“Find a spot, please,” Pete said. “I need to investigate deeper.”

Wade parked beautifully. He could’ve been a Formula One parking lot attendant if he hadn’t gotten stuck in the city.

We got out. Mona stretched her arms in a wingèd victory pose and was transformed into Miss Felchville, for a moment.

Allie, my girlfriend, leaned against the rental car’s hood, and cleaned her glasses on her shirt for a clearer look around.

The cafè had a horseshoe lunch-counter. Pete lingered in the entryway by the cash register.

“Milky Ways are called Creemy Treets here in Felchville,” he said, and held up a candy bar in an advertising snapshot pose. He wasn’t joking: the wrapper bore the customary blue-white starburst, but the verbiage was different.

“Think I’ll grab a few to slurp later,” he said. “Brown on the outside, buttery on the inside.”

The odd candy bars he plonked down added a color-note to the deep brown padded rubber strip that ran down the lunch counter’s center. To keep porcelain from sliding around in a storm, perhaps.

The waitress was dressed like a nurse. She seemed to have a slight mustache problem, but closer inspection showed foamy brown crusts at the corners of her mouth, like the anus of a dog who hadn’t wiped too well. Pete elbowed my ribs.

The waitress’ nameplate read “Felicia” below a red maple leaf.

Pete didn’t miss a beat. “What’s the Brown Plate Special today, Felcha?”

Waitress Felicia didn’t bat an eyelash, or lick away foam. “Cream of meatloaf.”

“Oh, delicious. Who’ve you got cooking in there?” Pete head-gestured towards the brown

padded swinging double-doors to the kitchen. There was a round brass push-plate between them.

“Huh? Oh, it’s old Homer Suckley, same as always on Thursdays.” She beat a ballpoint tattoo on her orders notepad. “So, how many Brown Plates? Awful good. Had some myself, for breakfast.”

“Just plain oatmeal for me,” Mona said.

Pete wouldn’t let go of anything that smacked of Felchville-abilia. “Suckley, huh? Is he related to the Suckley Mansion, visible from the road on the way up from the city? What’s that place called, Allie?”

“You mean Sere Pines,” Allie said.

“Looks like the haunted house in a baroque carnival. Inhabited by some crazy old rich lady…”

“That’s a different Suckley family,” Felicia the waitress said, impatiently. “Suckley’s a fairly common last name in these parts.”

Wade broke in. “I’d like a Western omelette, please.” The waitress looked at Allie.

“Just a cup of coffee for me,” she said.

“Would you like cream in it?”

“No thanks. Black.”

“You mean, brown,” Felicia the Felchville waitress said. “The coffee’s brown, here.”

“Oh. In that case, I’ll have a glass of orange juice. Orange is just orange here, right?”

“Of course it is.”

“You got fresh-squeezed?”

“You mean, fresh-sucked. We got a machine that sucks out the juice.”

“How ‘bout we cancel our orders and get outta here?” Allie said.

“Not so fast.” Pete made it sound as though Felchville were a byzantine practical joke, and

that everyone was in on it except Allie. “I’ll simply die if I don’t try a Felchville Brown Plate Special.”

“Me too,” I said. “And may I please have some maple syrup with it?”

“Comes with maple syrup,” Felicia the waitress said.

“Naturally.” Pete was eyeing an item of diner hardware placed further down the brown rubberized counter: a clear plastic doughnut display unit with a clear plastic bell-cover. He went to inspect the thing. He waved. “You gotta check this out.”

Doughnuts at the Felchville Cafe had creases down the middle. Their holes brimmed over with pale chocolate froth.

“Oh my God,” Pete gasped. “They look scrumptious.”

The calligraphy on a folded slip of paper said, “Home-Made by Mrs. Annie Hainell. Help Your Self. 35¢.” Adjacent to the pastry holder was a short stack of paper plates, and sanitary tongs. Pete helped himself to a felch doughnut, dropped a quarter-and-dime into the paper cup provided.

The wall above the doughnut area held framed sepia-toned portraits of W. C. Fields, Bing Crosby, Charles Laughton, President Herbert Hoover. A treacly smell hung in the air. It might’ve been that the Public Library’s groundskeeper was fertilizing the lawn in front of the Canadian Fascist-style building.

“Let’s begone.” I said, and dropped a $20 bill on the counter. “Screw the food. I got a feeling we shouldn’t eat anything here anyway.”

Pete was already frenching the hole of his doughnut. “What the hell are you talking about? We can’t leave. This place is a dream. The screenplay practically writes itself.”

Mona and Allie stood up. Their spinning stools clanked and whirred. Wade, who looked hungry and might otherwise have been persuaded to stay, checked his watch. “Let’s ride. Ceremony’s supposed to start at three, and we’ve still got fifty or sixty miles to go. We don’t want be late, it’s rude.”

“Screw the wedding,” Pete said. Chocolate foamed at the corners of his mouth. He hadn’t shaved. “In fact, fuck all primitive superstitious meaningless rituals.”

“The deal was, we’d stop and just to have a look around,” Allie said. “We’ve seen enough, for my tastes. Curiosity satisfied.”

“Felchville, adiós.” Mona led the procession out of the cafè. Wade jingled car-keys.

“C’mon Pete,” I said. “We can stop here again on the way back to town. We’ll book a suite at the Felchville Hotel.”

“You’re just humoring me,” he said, and it was true. We’d planned to turn the rest of the wedding weekend into a cultural excursion: Saratoga Springs, Fort Ticonderoga, the Mohawk Trail. “Just when I’ve found the place. You don’t want me to write a hit screenplay. You want me to fail. You want me to remain a loser, eternally stuck in New York. Don’t you even want to find out what Cream of Meatloaf tastes like?”

“Not really.”

Felicia the waitress sklurched through the swinging doors with armfuls of brown porcelain. Steam rose from the bowls.

“Bon appetit,” Allie said.

Pete wolfed the rest of his doughnut and sat down resolutely at the counter. “So long, suckers. You can come visit me in Hollywood when my work here is finished.”

Out on the street, a Felchville cop in a brown uniform was writing out a ticket. Wade, distracted by Felchville scenery, hadn’t noticed the Sanitation Dept Only sign.

“Sorry ‘bout that, Officer,” Wade said.

The cop said, “There’s a special cell for scofflaws in the Felchville Jail.”

Or something like that.

Wade took the summons. He drove away slowly.

We arrived at the wedding late, and missed the part of the ceremony where they say they do and they will.

At the banquet hall, the bride asked where Pete was. She was one of his ex-girlfriends, I

guess I forgot to mention that. Actually, she was one of my ex-girlfriends too. From high school.

“He’s in Heaven,” I said.

Her eyes bulged in disbelief. She would’ve burst out crying, but didn’t want to wreck her makeup.

I steadied her. “Sorry. I meant, he’s in a good place.” “Hollywood?”

“Yeah, Hollywood. He finally figured out how to get there.”

“I knew he’d be OK, in the end,” she said. “I always thought he’d make it, eventually. I just didn’t have enough patience to wait around for his dreams to come true.”

She disappeared back into the wedding whirl to greet her other guests and dance with her new husband. I asked Allie to dance with me, and she said yes.

Matthew Licht

The Spank-Off

Edna Soames was an awfully big woman. Her deep voice carried a freight of authority. No one ever mistook her for a man, though.

Edna Soames used to earn her living with her ass. She worked hard, saved money. Pimps wound up sorry they ever met her.

When Edna Soames hit forty, she decided to open a place.

Edna’s Hot Spot was a success. Word got round.

There was only one, simple rule: be good, or be gone. No bouncers required.

Big Mickey showed up at Edna’s Hot Spot dressed a notch too loud, and yelled for a bottle.The barman raised an eyebrow. Edna gave the nod.

Big Mickey could hold his liquor. He was also lucky at craps. Big Mickey got bigger and louder, made a crack about the croupier’s toupee. Edna watched the situation. High spirits. The big galoot tipped big.

Big Mickey made a big mistake when he thought a $10 tip earned him a peek at what was inside a cocktail waitress’ bustier. She poured a highball on his head.

Edna’s whole Hot Spot fell silent.

Big Mickey was unused to such treatment. He was about to return the affront, with interest, when Edna put a hand on his shoulder.

“Mister, it’s time for you to leave.”

Most men would’ve apologized. Big Mickey rose and rose and rose.

“Back where I’m from, we heard stories about this crummy joint. My brother Little Benny came here lookin’ for a good time, but he came back home blue-balled and hurtin’.”

Edna Soames held Big Mickey’s eye, and kept her grip on his ill-fitting blazer. “So your brother’s an asshole like you.”

“He said you pulled his pants down, and spanked him.”

“That’s right,” Edna said.

“How ‘bout spanking someone your own size?”

The boys in the band set down their instruments, quietly.

It’d been a long time since a man challenged Edna. A waitress gasped. The bandleader winced. The bartender shot a look at the First Aid kit.

Big Mickey shrugged out of his jacket. His pants fell to the floor.

“Let’s see what you got,” he said. “I mean, let’s see if you’re really a woman.”

Edna showed everyone that she was a lady.

Big Mickey sucked in a breath. “Do your worst,” he said, and stretched his bulk across Edna’s lap. The first swat was a thunderclap. A red mark glowed when she raised her hand. Then the blows fell like rain.

The women had to cover their eyes. People began to leave the room.

Big Mickey didn’t flinch.

Finally Edna could spank no more.

“Huh. I thought you were harder than that, girly. Let’s see if you can take it better than you dish it out.”

Edna settled on Big Mickey’s lap. Down it came.

“Stop,” she whispered. “I give up.”

Nobody could believe it.

Big Mickey helped Edna to her feet. Then he bent her over the craps table.

The next morning, Edna Soames boarded a bus bound for Good-and-Spankedville.

A joint force of Vice Squad cops and Board of Health inspectors eventually closed down BigMickey’s Hot Spot. Big Mickey disappeared. Ugly rumors spread.

Edna Soames still talks about the night she got spanked, found love and lost everything she had. She talks on and on, even when there’s nobody listening. She talks until the bartender tells her she’s had enough and it’s time to go home.

Oliver Lodge

Fried Chicken

The entire wall had to be bulldozed because of me. You see, I’m overweight. It’s glandular. I couldn’t fit on the toilet between the sink and the wall in the bathroom. Instead of moving the sink, the contractor told Grammy that it’d be cheaper to knock down the wall. Grammy’s a miser. She didn’t want to pay for it. To save money, she hired a company that took an entire week to complete the job. The workers were filing in and out of my bedroom to get to my bathroom, invading my private sanctum without pause. I didn’t have a second to myself. It was the worst week of my life.

Only after a serious accident did my grandmother take the necessary steps to get the job done. I warned her that this would happen. I kept complaining about it. She’d avoid the topic every time. Grammy and me, we fight a lot.

I have bowel problems. I have to take a shit constantly throughout the day. Back and forth, eight to ten times a day, I waddle over to the toilet from my bed. It’s the only exercise I get. I have a heart condition that prevents me from engaging in any kind of physical exertion.

So I was sitting on the toilet and I had to squeeze my way between the sink and the wall and it was getting harder and harder to take a dump that way. I had to shift my weight over to one side whenever I wiped my ass, leaning heavily against one of my butt cheeks to reach under there. This caused the toilet seat to snap loose in the back and slide across the top of the bowl. My scrotum hangs down really low. It’s a long, distended, purple sack that droops down to my knees.

I have huge balls. They were hanging down into the toilet water when this happened. (I’ve grown to like this feeling. It cools me off. And when my bollocks start to warm up I know I just did my poo.) So my nuts got snagged between the seat and the bowl, right? My scrotum was torn. I’m lucky my yarbles didn’t get chopped off altogether. I had to have an operation and get my nut bag sewn back up.

Since I couldn’t fit through the front door, Grammy paid a construction crew to remove the roof of our house. I was transported to a special hospital via a chopper and an airlift. My ball sack had to be packed with ice and gauze. I got into an argument with Grammy when I got home.

“You dumb, dried up, old cunt!” I yelled. “If you had listened to me first and fixed the motherfuckin’ shithouse, I wouldn’t have had to go through all this bullshit! What do you got rocks in your fuckin’ head or something? I’m fuckin’ traumatized by that incident! And now look at what you made me do! You made me spill my god-damn piss all over the fuckin’ floor!”

I have a weak bladder, you see. Grammy brings me half a dozen two-liter bottles of pop every day. I piss in the empty bottles over the side of my bed after finishing them. This saves me more trips to the latrine. Grammy made me so upset that I accidentally knocked one over. I looked down at her while she wiped up the spill on her hands and knees.

“Did you get me my god-damn magazine, at least?” I asked her.

She did. She left it in the other room. I had her go get it for me. It was a copy of ‘Teen Vogue’. Not the greatest read, but it featured a sexy twink on the cover. I heard Grammy squeezing the urine out of the rag into the sink in my newly renovated bathroom as I fiddled with my penis in bed, imagining the blotchy skin of my hairy belly rubbing against a squirming blob of naked boys, their lips and limbs lightly brushing up against my hard nipples.

“Feel my girth, you sniveling bastards!” I hissed under my breath. “I bet you kids think you’re hot shit in high school. You get all the beach bunnies, don’t you? Hitting on all the girls with tan skin and athletic builds. Ungrateful, little pieces of shit. I’ll give you something to remember…”

I pictured the tight cheeks of one of the boy models splayed open as my uncircumcised joust turned his sigmoid colon into an excavation site.

Grammy’s doddering nearby was distracting me from the chore at hand. “Finish up and get the fuck out, Grammy!” I bellowed over my shoulder. “And don’t forget the chicken and the sewing bag and my insulin! Your baggy ass is harshing my mellow!”

My favorite morning talk show was on. The crowd on TV was jeering in the background. A pair of wenches with bad perms were pulling each other’s hair. Their public quarrel had escalated into a full-on cat fight. The audience was going wild.

Grammy stopped at my bedroom door before turning around. Sheepishly, she ventured to ask if I’d reconsider the bedpan. The invisible referee of silence held us apart momentarily. The bell rang in my corner and then I let her have it.

“You know I have diarrhea!” I retorted. “I already have to sleep with sugar and crumbs in the bed every night! Poo gets all over the sheets when I use the bedpan! What do I look like a fucking animal to you?”

For brunch and dessert I go through two boxes of butter sticks daily. My snacktime ritual entails putting a bowl of Splenda and a bowl of mayonnaise beside me on the bed. One stick at a time, I dip the butter into the mayonnaise first and then the Splenda. It might sound gross, but it’s a truly delicious snack if you ever get a chance to try it. It also makes a mess. My sheets are covered with mayonnaise, granules of Splenda, bread crumbs, and chicken grease stains.

I love chicken. I eat five jumbo size boxes of fried chicken a day. Every time I dine, I spread out all the individual pieces of chicken on my naked belly while I’m lying down in bed. I dress them up in doll clothes that my grandma tailors for me specifically for this game. The wings, the breasts, the legs – all the chicky wickies get their own shirts and pants and bonnets. I have all types of accessories like swords for them to fight with and spatulas so they can flip burgers. I give them cute names like Rupert and Mildred. There are hundreds of different games I play with them throughout the day but Little Red Riding Hood is pretty popular.

I rub the oily chicken around my scrotum and the underside of my pecker until I get hard. My erect member soon becomes a tree for the wolf to hide behind in wait for Little Red Riding Hood as she saunters over the yellow hill of my tummy. The drumstick in red garb is then pounced upon by the breast or thigh playing the wolf. I make squealing and growling noises as the Big Bad Wolf forces himself on the little girl, rubbing the two pieces of chicken together as if they’re fucking. Then I stuff them in my mouth, bones and all, chewing on them ravenously as I bring myself to climax.

“No, I don’t think you’re an animal,” my grandmother replied. “It’s just that… It’s getting harder for you to get around with your weight and…”

“I didn’t want to hear this since I just got out of the hospital, but you may as well say it, Grammy. Go on! Get it off that flabby chest of yours! I’m nothing but a fat, worthless faggot! Is that what you’re trying to tell me? I can’t help it if I’m fat! You know what the gastroenterologist said, what my therapist says! I eat as a way to nurture my inner child – the little, baby Oompa Loompa inside of me who never found love! It’s not my fault that I’m sick! What are you going to do? Throw me out into the street? Force me to suck cock for a living? You hate me! You hate my guts! I know it!” I bawled. Tears poured down my chubby cheeks. Snot dripped out of my nose and into the hairs of my mustache, as coarse as the legs of a fly.

“I’m too tired to get into this right now,” Grammy sighed. She left. She wasn’t even sympathetic to my situation. Grammy only thinks of herself.

I stopped crying in due time. I looked around the quiet bedroom. It reeked of sweat and urine. Dust and cobwebs were starting to take shape in the corners. Grammy was slacking on her cleaning. A half-empty bag of pork rinds was sitting on the coffee table. I wanted to finish them but didn’t feel like getting out of bed. I found a graham cracker near my pillow and nibbled on it while removing the chicken from the warm buckets. Grammy didn’t skimp on the sides that day.

“Look!” I said with a smile to a leg and a thigh dressed like Snow White and Peter Pan. From their cardboard container I poured some chicken nuggets out onto my stomach to share the stage with their famous parents. “Congratulations! You’re a happy couple! Look at all the babies you had!” I proudly proclaimed.

Markus Der Romero

Kabukicho Date

The pencil’s point follows the eyelid, colouring it dark red.

Finishing touches, the devil’s in the details.

She can do it automatically, without even thinking. The hand’s still, while her body’s being molded, mutated into what the customer wants.

She can think of anything else. It’s natural, like breathing.

Saho Tamura, 35 years old, can hide her true self and become 23-year-old Rin, or Rin-chan as everyone calls her, in just 20 minutes while she thinks of anything else except what she’s putting on her face.

She knows how to entertain, she knows how to chat, she knows how to make a man spend all his paycheck without even letting him lay a finger on her.

But not tonight.

It’s been 6 months since she realized that it’s time to pull off the mask.

It’s time to quit.

It’s becoming harder and harder to work at the IVY, one of many, maybe too many of Kabukicho’s host clubs. Younger flesh comes in, fewer costumers require her specifically. Her habitués are starting to get married or worse, asking for more, and that’s a line she was never able to cross.

Until tonight.

His name is Yuji Kobayashi, another grey and dull salary man who suddenly took an interest in her. He usually came once in a month, then started once per week, then twice.

A woman who flirts with men for a living knows when a guy falls in love.

When presents are getting more and more expensive.

When he keeps sending you emojis for no reason on a regular basis.

Maybe it’s time to settle.

According to him, he works for a big firm, he’s fun at times, and he’s not a drunken swine like their regular costumers.

Not like many, too many men she had to deal with.

You’re getting old, Rin-chan, she mumbles to herself, staring at her beautiful visage in the mirror.

Green contacts, dark red lipstick and eyeliner, and a nice, Murasaki violet dress over a black bustier with some pushup features. Earrings with a crystal pendant, gold wristwatch, high heels, and long, painted nails.

Everything about her is fake.

Rin-chan is ready to come on stage.

Saho leaves her be, just for a short while, just a little longer.

She grabs her coat and exits her apartment.

It’s starting to snow now, foggy weather giving the neon a nice glowing aura.

“Is it ok if we meet in front of Mister Donut. At 9 PM?” he asks.

“Fine, Yuji-kun, I’ll be there,” she agrees.

Catching a cab from Sendagaya, she begins to regret not having chosen another meeting place. It’s just a block away from IVY.

And a costumer seeing her with someone else might create some issues.

The cab driver leaves her in front of the Ichibangai, the red arch, landmark of that place of chaos and nightlife that is the Kabukicho.

The familiar noise is comforting as she walks down the alley.

Some lowlife guys stare at her, but not for very long. They know she’s not an outsider, she is part of the local fauna.

As she approaches the Mister Donut, she calls an old friend:

“Yelllo?” Masao answers, almost immediately.

“Ma-kun? Are you busy?” she asks him.

Masao was just a street thug when she started working at the IVY. Now he’s got his own family, one of those calling the shots in Kabukicho these days.

And she knows he’s got a soft spot for her.

“Naw Saho-chan, what’s up?”

From his side she can hear a truck passing by, blaring a VANILLA jingle. Then the music of the Don Quixote store. He must be nearby, just a block or so away.

“I’m meeting with someone, tonight, and… you know… I’m not feeling really safe.”

Saho didn’t really know how to put it without sounding paranoid. But Masao knew some things about her. When they were both young, drunk, and depressed, she had told maybe too many things to him.

Things that could drove a sane man away from a beautiful lady.

“Where are you now, sweetie?” asks Masao.

“In front of Mister Donut. He may be here in, 15 minutes, I don’t know. I took a cab, he may come via train. You’ll see me but… can you just…”

“Yeah, understood. I’ll just keep my distance, and if he tries some shit, I’ll bash the brains out of his skull, awright?”

“No… just, intervene, he’s my costumer at the club, but…”

She hesitates. It has always been hard to tell Masao’s real feelings toward her from time to time.

“Yeah, no problem. Check your right, see me?”

Saho turns and sees a man at distance, near an all-male host club, in a white suit and black shirt. His shirt is half unbuttoned, showing much of his tattooed chest. He’s got no umbrella. People try not to bump into him.

He waves at her.

Saho smiles and waves back, feeling a relieved sensation.

“Ok, it will just be a matter of half an hour,” she tells him. “If I don’t make any sign of trouble after a while ,you can go on your way.”

“Yeah, understood, sweetie. Just cut me some slack if the guy has some cash on him. Or else you may invite ME to a night out. We have to marry some day,” he chuckles.

Is he serious? Saho never understood his sense of humor.

“Promise, Ma-kun.”

Suddenly she spots Yuji coming up the street. It’s clear that he’s nervous. He’s put on his best dress shirt and holds a package in one hand.

Another gift.

Bet it’s another set of jewels, a Collier, maybe.

“Gotta go, Ma-kun. Thank you!”

Yuji sees her, approaches and smiles. He smiles like he’s seeing something he’s been looking forward to for a long time.

“Rin-chan, good evening,” he greets her, trying not to stutter.

Saho smiles back. This time, the smile is somewhat forced. She has become Rin once more.

She pretends to be surprised.

“Yuji-kun! I’m so glad I’ve seen you. You look absolutely charming tonight.”

Maybe a little forced acting, but it’s her character.

Yuji lowers his head bashfully. “Oh thank you,” he giggles in response, “I… just threw on what I found in the closet.”

Lies. Saho can see from a mile that his clothes are brand new.

Smiling, she offers him her hand. “Let’s have a walk, shall we?”

He nods. “Okay.”

His hand is damp with sweat. It’s like holding a rotting peach.

They both share her umbrella. She’s taller than him. She’d never realized that. They’d always been sat together before.

Choosing such high heels might have been a mistake.

Saho turns, sees Masao following them from a distance. Their eyes meet, and she nods at him reassuringly.

He stops, flashes her one of his weird smiles, then turns and walk away.

Looking back at her date, this timid guy with a brand-new suit and the little bag he’s holding, Saho feels as if she’s come to a crossroads.

Yes, Saho, settle down, become a housewife, a mother. Stop working at the Kabukicho. Leave for the suburbs.

“How was your day? Yuji-kun?” she asks, her voice becoming higher pitched. Man always loved that.

“Oh… my little brother had an accident during a soccer match. Broken tibia,” he explains. “I visited him at the hospital in Chiba. He was depressed, never seen him so down”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope he will get better soon.”

“Do you have a little sister, Rin-chan?” asks Yuji.

Rin doesn’t have sisters, doesn’t have a family. Rin’s the perfect little creature of your dreams, she thinks to herself.

Saho on the other hand, did have a little sister… once.

“No, Yuji-kun, I am an only child.”

In her head, the stench of urine and the taste of motor oil on that man’s hand overtakes her. His words, “This one’s too old for me, take the other one,” echo through her mind.

She attempts to shove it down. Deep down.

“So, Rin-chan, do you wanna go get a drink somewhere?” he offers. “I know a great place around here.”

Under the neon light, his face turns from blue to red, red to blue, blue to red.

His hand is so sweaty.

Inside her head, Saho suddenly wakes up. She’s not Rin anymore.

“How about we go to a hotel?” she says, her voice falling half an octave. “We can drink there, too.”

It’s as if all of her make up has suddenly been wiped off in one stroke.

“Ehh?” Yuji seems shocked. “You mean a… a…”

He cannot say it. The word is “love hotel”, where you pay by the hour, no questions asked.

“Isn’t that what you want after all, Yuji-kun?”

Yuji remains flabbergasted as Saho just stares at him. His mouth hanging open, lips twitching but no sound comes out.

“I want it too, Yuji-kun,” she adds, more softly. “Let it be a special night.”

Yuji blushes and agrees.

They approach the first love hotel they come across, hand in hand, in plain silence.

While Rin seems enthusiastic and also a little nervous (a scene for Yuji’s sake), Saho is screaming internally. She just needs to run away.

She wishes for Masao to come back, maybe in a rush of jealousy.

Maybe telling her, “I love you sweetie, fuck this asshole, come with me.”

She pushes these thoughts deep down again.

Come with me. That’s all she remembers about that afternoon long ago. After that, pitch black.

Reiko died, the next day at the hospital. Internal bleeding caused by perforation.

Saho somehow had managed to survive.

In their hotel room, Rin kisses Yuji softly, crawling on top of him in bed. His hands are shaking as they move all over her body.

“Rin-chan… I want you,” he moans.

He’s nervous. She can hear his heart pounding without even putting her head against his chest.

“Is it your first time, Yuji-kun?” she asks.

He freezes, trying not to panic. Then, he just nods his head bashfully, trying not to look her in the eye.

Rin just smiles in response.

“Let it be special, then. Yuji-kun, let me do something special for you.”

Rin unzips her dress, letting it slide down, revealing her bustier and stockings. Yuji can only gasp at the sight of her smooth, bare flesh.

She stands above him, slowly lifting her leg and dangling a foot before Yuji’s face.

“Suck it, Yuji-kun.”

The man opens his mouth and begins sucking her toes as ordered. She closes her eyes for a moment, trying to feel pleasure, slowly sliding down her stockings.

“Stop,” she suddenly tells him.

Like a good slave, Yuji stops.

She uses her stockings to tie Yuji’s arm to the bedposts.

“Is this sadomasochism?” Yuji gasps. “I don’t want to feel pain…”

Rin shakes her head to reassure him. “No pain.”

Inside her head, Saho hears a younger version of herself screaming “It hurts!” Beside her, Reiko, screaming like a lamb being slaughtered.

Meanwhile, Rin-chan stares down at Yuji, letting her panties slide down to her ankles.

“They are already wet for you, Yuji-kun,” she whispers.

Saho trembles in excitement. She takes her panties and drapes them across Yuji’s face, covering his eyes.

“Your smell is… wonderful…” he mumbles from behind the silky fabric.

Saho looks around the room they’d rented, which had a few ‘extra’ options. There are two pairs of handcuffs, an assortment of vibrators, and various other torture devices. She can do whatever she wants to him.

She pulls down Yuji’s pants, exposing his hairy, erect cock, already oozing precum. Should she touch him in just the right way, he would climax right there on the spot.

Still wearing her panties for a mask, Yuji is on the brink of hyperventilating.

She cuffs his ankles to the bedposts, rending him completely immobile, helpless.

“Rin-chan… Please… I want you,” he keeps on repeating.

A younger Saho hears those same words in a different manner:

I want your little mouth, you little bitch. You’ll love it, suck it now!

Years ago, she’d gagged as he penetrated her throat, nearly puking as his partner forced himself into her other end as well.

Saho grazes Yuji’s glands with her fingernails. He gasps, startled by the sensual contact.

“This is my hand, Yuji-kun,” she whispers in his ear.

Saho/Rin bends over him then, her mouth closing around his cock. Tongue slowly circling his throbbing flesh, she withdraws and starts licking the tip, slurping up Yuji’s precum while he moans in pleasure.

“And this is my mouth, Yuji Kun…”

She senses he’s about to come, moaning and writhing against his bonds.

“And guess what this is?”

All at once, Yuji’s cock is inside her.

She begins rocking back and forth, eliciting more moans from Yuji along with some unintelligible words.

“I’m… I’m cu… cum”

Abruptly, Saho stops.

“Not yet!” she hisses, leaning down to bite his neck before starting to ride him again.

“I said no pain, Rin-chan,” he stammers, gasping for air beneath her panties.

“I decide what to do,” she growls in response.

She bites him again, harder this time. Yuji screams in pain, struggling to set himself free.

“Please, STOP!!!”

Saho’s teeth sink into his flesh once more. This time, blood pours out.

Yuji begins screaming in agony.

Just for this little blood? Reiko had almost bled dry before they were through with her.

“STOP, YOU BITCH!!!”

By this point, Saho is not only wet, she’s positively drenched.

She bites him once again, ripping out his throat in the process. With blood smeared across her perfectly made-up face, she wolfs down the wad of ragged, gristly flesh and goes for more.

While Yuji slowly dies beneath her, Saho feels her own orgasm coming.

With one last bite, she begins screaming in pleasure, her juices mixing with Yuji’s blood upon the sheets.

Saho shudders, breathless and spent.

Her vaginal muscles contract around still-erect Yuji’s cock.

In a moment of lucidity, Saho glances behind her, catching her reflection in the room’s mirrored wall.

For the very first time, she sees herself as she is.

And she is beautiful.

She screams instinctively as she resumes her carnal act, humping Yuji’s lifeless body while consuming still more of his flesh.

On the nightstand sits a beautiful package, containing a very expensive Collier.

Karen Heslop

Paid To Party

Tammy bobbed her head in time with the rhythm of the pounding beat coming from the club down the street. Partly because she liked the song and partly because she had nothing else to do. It was a slow night. The words from the LMFAO song floated towards her. In it, the singer denied practicing Tammy’s chosen profession.

The irony was not lost on her. She was desperate, not stupid. Though some who’d never been in her situation may beg to differ about the latter proclamation. The black Corolla sedan drove by for a third time. Tammy wondered what some of these men (and women too sometimes) got from window shopping. This business didn’t really facilitate a ‘try then buy’ option and there sure as hell was no refund policy. Finally the car came to a stop at her feet.

Woo-hoo! The red-head wins again!

The other women paused to look in her direction. There was always an uneasy relationship among the members of the oldest profession. They wanted to get as much ‘work’ as possible but it was understood that everyone needed to go home with some money. On top of that, they also knew that if something happened to one of them, it would affect the workload for all of them. People liked to conduct their illegal activities safely. The women looked on half envious of the attention and half curious about her welfare.

Tammy sauntered over to the car, working her curves for all they were worth. One good thing about being new to the streets is that she hadn’t started to lose too much weight yet.

“What can I do for you sugar?” asked the cashier turned prostitute trying to avoid sounding like every hooker in every movie ever made.

“How old are you?”

Oh goody. One of the freaks.

“How old do you want me to be?”

Oh God. I AM one of the freaks.

“15.”

Pervert.

“Well actually 15 turning 16.”

Uh-huh. Because THAT made it so much better.

“Okay. I can do that for you honey. It’s $50 for a handjob or blowjob. $200 for full sex.”

“What about all night?”

What the hell?

Some alarm bells went off in Tammy’s head but then she remembered that old saying about beggars.

“Uhm…$5,000.”

The man didn’t even flinch.

“Get in.”

They drove for about 20 minutes before he pulled over to the side of the road. Tammy’s alarm bells were at full volume now but he only took a package from the backseat of the car and handed it to her.

“You need to put these on.”

Please don’t be a Catholic school girl uniform…

It wasn’t. It was a pink blouse with frilly sleeves and a scooped neckline. There was a pink tulle skirt with pink leggings to match. Pink ballet slippers were at the bottom of the box. It may actually have been better to wear the uniform. She put them on anyway. They were an imperfect fit but she tried to make the ensemble work. She found it odd the man looked away from her while she changed. When she was done, he drove off again. Tammy was not surprised when he pulled up to a large two story house. She had found the bigger the house the lonelier the occupants. The multitude of cars in the driveway, however, did surprise her.

“Uhm…I don’t do gang bangs.”

The man grimaced in disgust.

“That’s not what this is.”

He left the car while a confused and cautious Tammy followed tentatively behind. The door swung open to reveal an almost palpable darkness. As Tammy’s eyes struggled to make sense of the silhouettes of the room, they were blinded by the sudden brilliance of light.

“Surprise!”

Her patron pushed her firmly into the room even as her vision was struggling to adjust. When it did, Tammy’s confusion deepened. Strips of glitter splattered decorations drizzled from the living room walls, flittering and reflecting the harsh white light. A large pink and purple banner dominated one wall with its declaration of HAPPY 16th BIRTHDAY!

There were several people scattered around the room. Most of the men and women were well dressed in tailored suits and extravagant gowns worthy of the fairytales Tammy had read when just a girl. At the end of the room, past the crowd, Tammy saw 4, no, 5 other girls who wore clothes similar to her own.

Tammy stopped a few feet from an enormous dining table that was burdened with a large spread of food. A monstrosity of a cake emerged from the centre, a visual cacophony of frosting and sprinkles. Before she could turn around and ask what the hell was going on, her solicitor started to clap his hands to get everyone’s attention.

“Ladies and gentlemen! If I could have your attention please? Thank you so much for coming to our special girl’s birthday party. I’ll be your host for the evening. Now that she’s here, we can begin.”

The man pulled out a chair at the head of the table for Tammy. As she took a seat, the other ‘girls’ took their seats at the table as well. Now that she could get a better look at them, she was sure they were in the same profession and predicament as she. The ‘host’ began handing out name cards so they could “get to know each other better’.

Awesome.

If she had known she’d have to play nice with others, she would have asked for more money. He had said it wasn’t a gang bang but clearly it was going to be some weird orgy deal. She grimaced internally. The only thing worse than trying to convince one person that she was having fun was trying to pull off a group delusion.

“Alright everyone! Our party guests will have their meal here while the rest of us mingle.”

The announcement didn’t seem to be up for debate so the girls picked food from the spread before them. Their eyes flicked about the table hesitantly, gauging who would be brave enough to dig in. Tammy poked at a large turkey leg with her fork.

Are they planning to drug us?

She picked a piece of the succulent meat from the bone and bit into it. Saliva sprang from her mouth as she chewed and the meat slid easily into her belly.

She nodded at the other girls and they slowly bit into the food they had chosen. Tammy washed the meal down with apple juice rather than wine before finishing her meal with a generous slice from the odious cake.

As the last bite of cake disappeared from the last girl’s plate, the host moved in to get them to a smaller table in the living room. Colourfully wrapped boxes sat before each chair. Being closer together allowed Tammy to get a size up the girls with her. She noted their name tags and tried to assess any qualities of note.

Maxine had the road weary look of someone who had been on the streets for a long time. She hadn’t always been a prostitute and she wouldn’t be one forever. She was clearly one of those people who did whatever she needed to from one day to the next. Maybe tomorrow the petite brunette would be a drug dealer.

Amy was even fresher than Tammy and looked to be the youngest of them all. If she had been asked the same question as Tammy, chances are she had answered honestly. With a change in clothes, the unblemished skin, blonde hair and stormy grey eyes would be at home shopping at the Gap.

How the hell did she end up here?

Darby was a drug addict first and a prostitute second, maybe even third depending on whether or not alcohol abuse was on her list of vices as well. Tammy didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out that Darby was in need of more than just food. She was fidgety and absent mindedly scratching at her skin like someone suffering from Morgellon’s Disease. In spite of that, she still kept her lanky frame in her chair.

Janet looked bored. Tammy could tell that it wasn’t an act either. They may have been close in age but clearly Janet’s experiences had been different from hers. This…thing, whatever it may turn out to be didn’t faze her. Not yet. Somehow those hazel eyes had seen stranger things. She was just minutes away from rolling her eyes and twirling the fringes of her afro.

Finally, there was Dora. Now why did Tammy doubt that was her real name? So she was not only likely the oldest in the bunch she was most likely the most cautious. She didn’t even want them to know her actual name and clearly wanted them to know that it wasn’t her real name. It hadn’t been challenged so Tammy guessed that it didn’t matter. Her vigilant blue eyes continued to scan the crowd. Whatever was coming next, she was determined not to be taken by surprise.

“Gifts and more gifts for guests!” the host declared, “Our guest of honour has the largest gift as per tradition and she will open hers first.”

Tammy cautiously unwrapped the long box, thoroughly determined not to be shocked by whatever depraved sexual favours the perverts had put in front of them. Her hand trembled above the soft paper lining the box. If this were a sexual favour, she didn’t want any part of the type of sex they had in mind. She pulled the 10” hunting combat knife carefully from the box. It glinted menacingly and she hefted its weight while wondering if she had the strength to wield it. She didn’t know why she would need it but Tammy vowed that it would only leave her hands if her breath had left her body as well.

Everyone else at the table stared at her. The knife had even gotten Janet’s attention. A hush fell over the room as the other girls picked at their presents. Maxine tossed her switchblade expertly from one hand to the other and settled back into her chair. She was clearly at home with the weapon. Amy held a large bottle of pepper spray gingerly with two fingers as if she had been given a grenade and was deathly afraid of blowing everyone up. Darby held a small dagger, pushing the end against the tip of her finger. Tammy couldn’t tell if the disappointment on her face was because of the sharpness of the blade (or perhaps the lack thereof) or the fact that there were still no drugs.

Janet frowned at her box before dumping out a handful of throwing blades.

Finally Dora took the lid off her present. Her mouth hung open. She appeared indecisive about taking out her weapon. Tammy could almost feel the expectation of the crowd pressing against them. Dora reluctantly pulled the weapon out. She had gotten a gun.

Why the hell did she get a gun?

“Goody! Now that everyone’s opened their gifts, it’s time for the really fun part of the evening to begin. We have a series of challenges lined up for our lovely guests and fabulous prizes for the winners!”

Why did this guy suddenly sound like the announcer from The Price is Right?

“All of you unsuspecting prostitutes, come on down!”

“At the beginning of the night all of you would have negotiated a little fee. Well if you emerge as the winners of the game, we will multiply that figure ten-fold. If you lose, well you get what you deserve. If anyone tries to leave…there will be consequences.”

He paused to point at the armed men standing by the door.

Where had they come from?

“Ladies, our first game is an old party favourite. Truth or Dare. You may refuse to complete a task but there will be a price. Is that clear?”

Everyone nodded. The man stopped pacing the length of the table and stood beside Tammy’s chair.

“Maxine. You first. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Very well. How many men have you slept with?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “47”.

He scanned her face for almost a minute then apparently decided it was the truth.

“Amy. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Where are you from originally?”

“California.”

“Hmmm. I almost wish I had added a Part 2 to the question. Nevertheless, we’ll move on. Darby. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“Of course. What drugs do you take?”

Darby looked around nervously and cleared her throat.

“Uhm…heroin. Cocaine sometimes.”

“Ok. Janet, please surprise me. Truth or Dare?”

“Dare”.

“Oh thank God! Janet, my saviour! I dare you to use one of your blades on a target of your choice.”

Janet picked up one of the blades and held it in her palm trying to gauge the weight of it. Giving up any pretense of familiarity, she threw the blade into the wall behind her. It seemed to stick for a little while and then fell to the ground. The host retrieved it and tossed it back into Janet’s small pile while patting her on the shoulder.

“And now you know. Dora! Truth or Dare?”

“Truth”.

“What’s your real name? We’re all curious.”

As if lending merit to his words, the small crowd of spectators leaned closer.

“I change my mind. I choose Dare instead.”

Really? Over a name. Was she undercover royalty or something?

“Ah well this is even more interesting. Are you willing to pay the price for the change Dora?”

“Yes?” She cleared her throat. “Yes, I am.”

“Splendid. Duke?”

A tall young man left the crowd and went into a separate room. Unlike the rest of the crowd, he was dressed casually in a red shirt and black pants. He reappeared with a glass canister the size of a large chocolate tea tin which he placed in front of Dora. He pried the lid off with gloved hands.

“Now Dora. Before you is a tin of mildly concentrated acid. Since you have declined the first challenge, your dare is this. I dare you to hold your right hand in the solution for 30 seconds.”

Dora sniffed at the canister and stared at the host with widened eyes.

“I…uhm….think it would be better for me to answer the question.”

“Another switch Dora? If you wish. Take this pen and paper. You can write it down for us. Duke?”

Once again the young man stepped forward as Dora reached for the pen and paper. She quickly scribbled her name and handed the paper back to the host. She had barely relinquished her grip on the paper when Duke splashed some of the contents of the canister on the right side of her face. The host was unfazed.

“Hmmm. Meagan. That’s a much nicer name than Dora.”

Initially even Dora was too shocked to react. Tammy looked around frantically at the persons surrounding them. Their faces were aglow with glee. She could tell they had been expecting something like this. Dora clawed at the patches of her face that sizzled and burned. Her high pitched screams echoed as skin melted to expose bone. No-one moved until the host summoned Duke again with a flick of his wrist. He applied a creamy solution to Dora’s wilting face and her scream simmered to a whimper. She reminded Tammy of a wax figure slowly melting in the summer sun.

“Okay. Now for the birthday girl. Tammy. Truth or Dare?”

“Truth.”

“You sure? I wouldn’t want you changing your mind like Dora over here.” He flashed a smile at the crowd. “Or would we?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay. What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Tammy swallowed. She could lie but Dora’s perforated face was a very persuasive argument against that course of action.

“I stole some money from my workplace when I was a cashier. I framed another girl for it and she was fired. Eventually they found out that I had lied and I was fired too but they never re-hired the girl I had set up.”

“Hmmm.”

Tammy held her breath as the man gazed at her. Finally he clapped his hands and moved away from her.

“Well that was certainly a scintillating start to our night’s activities. Let’s move on to the next game shall we? This is another one you may have heard of. It’s called Seven Minutes in Heaven. Ours has a little twist of course.”

Of course.

“For this little adventure, two of you will go into the adjoining room for 7 minutes. All you have to do is survive. The winner will be whoever can walk out of the room unassisted. Judges?’

Duke stepped forward accompanied by a young girl in a light blue shirt and matching pants.

“First round: Maxine and Darby.”

Both girls got up and headed towards the room. Maxine paused at the door for Darby to precede her. Foolishly Darby complied. Maxine quickly jabbed her switchblade twice into Darby’s side before she had even crossed the threshold. Darby yelped and grabbed at her side. Her legs gave way as blood spurted out darkening the bright pink skirt she wore. Duke and his companion carried her into an adjoining bedroom.

“Bravo Maxine! Well done!”

The crowd applauded with the host. Maxine rewarded them with a crooked smile and a small bow before returning to her seat.

“Round two! Dora and Janet.”

Janet looked pitifully at Dora while Dora’s one good eye flitted across the room. Janet started to protest.

“Look. I don’t know about this. I mean…”

The sentence died on her lips when a bullet from Dora’s gun burrowed through her brain.

Tammy waited expectantly for the host to call the proceedings to a halt. Instead the entire room broke into thunderous applause. Tammy could have sworn there were tears in the eyes of some of the women.

What was wrong with these people?

“Oh my God! Excellent work Dora!”

He raised his hand in an obscene high five which Dora feebly returned. Duke and the young woman dragged Janet’s body away smearing the floor with her blood and brain matter. Tammy stared numbly at the splatter left on the nearby wall.

“Well this is going even better and faster than I had planned. Let’s go Tammy and Amy. It’s your turn to dazzle us!”

Amy grasped her pepper spray for dear life while Tammy gripped the hilt of the hunting knife until her knuckles ached. She didn’t want to hurt Amy but she had no plans to die tonight. Not in this hell hole. She headed to the room well before Amy so there was no chance of Maxine’s type of cheap shot.

By the time Amy found her way into the room, Tammy was already standing to the back of it, knife in hand. Amy walked slowly towards her and then gave Tammy an almost imperceptible smirk. In a flash, Amy had cart wheeled her way to Tammy. She wasn’t even out of breath when she started swinging. Tammy could barely keep up with trying to block the punches without losing her knife.

She struggled to remain vigilant since she knew Amy still had her can of pepper spray but her hand slipped under the unrelenting onslaught of Amy’s little fists. Her eyes started to sting before she heard the tell-tale spray. Tammy wasn’t playing anymore. She started to slash the knife wherever she thought Amy might be. She was always one step behind.

She forced herself to calm down and focus. Before long she could pick up a pattern in Amy’s movements. The next time Amy hit her, Tammy shoved the knife in the next place she knew Amy would be. She expected Amy to yelp from being nicked but was rewarded with the unmistakable squelch of the knife piercing flesh.

Shit! I can’t see!

Tammy couldn’t tell what she had done.

“Amy? Amy!” she yelled.

Tammy let go of the knife and heard a dull thud. She dropped to the ground and felt around for the body. Her fingers brushed against the tips of Amy’s boot. She ran her hands slowly up Amy’s body starting at her legs. The knife was buried in Amy’s stomach. Warm liquid slithered under Tammy’s hand wherever she touched.

The timer went off and she could hear feet coming towards her. She had no choice. She yanked out her knife knowing the serrated edges made more of a mess coming out than they did going in.

Sorry, Amy.

Duke’s companion escorted her to a bathroom to rinse her eyes. Her vision was still a little blurry but she could see Amy’s blood on her hands well enough. She still saw it when she took her seat back at the table even though her hands had been scrubbed raw. The host gave her a sombre look.

“Well that concludes this game. Congratulations to our winners. You’re one step closer to your prizes!”

Duke brought Darby back to her seat. She cradled her heavily bandaged side while shooting angry looks at Maxine. Maxine just shrugged and smirked.

“Alright ladies. Our next game is our own very twisted version of Spin the Bottle. Don’t worry, you won’t have to kiss anyone.”

There was a chorus of ‘boos’ from the crowd. Tammy tried not to glare in their direction.

“Instead, I will place a few cards on the table with tasks to be carried out. I will spin the bottle and the person selected will choose a task. Unlike Truth or Dare, completion of the task is mandatory.”

The host placed the cards on the table face down. Tammy counted eight possible choices. She tried not to guess what they said.

“Whoops! It seems we’re missing a bottle for our little game. A little help please?”

One of the guests poured the last of his champagne into a glass and handed the empty bottle to the host.

“Thank you sir.”

He spun the bottle and it stopped at Tammy. Crap. She slowly reached for a card.

REMOVE A BODY PART OF YOUR CHOOSING.

Tammy had to read the card four times to make sure the pepper spray wasn’t still interfering with her vision. The host read the card over her shoulder.

“Ha! Talk about the luck of the draw.”

That drew some snickers from the spectators. Tammy made her decision quickly. She had come this far, she would survive this game. Everyone watched as she removed her left shoe. Without hesitation, she hacked off her small toe with her hunting knife.

She bit her lip against the pain flaring in her foot and her stomach clenched at the sight of blood squirting unto the floor. Still, Tammy wouldn’t give them the pleasure of enjoying her pain. She inhaled deeply, dammed her tears behind firmly closed lids before gathering napkins on the table to wad against the wound.

“Wow! What a girl, ladies and gentlemen!”

There was a smattering of applause.

Guess I didn’t make them too happy this time around.

The host spun the bottle again and it landed on a pale, shivering Darby. Tammy didn’t know if she was shivering from drug withdrawal or blood loss but could tell that each movement caused pain to radiate through Darby’s body. She had to grasp her card with both of her trembling hands. A sob escaped her lips. The host read the card above her head and smiled.

Darby gingerly grasped her dagger and took a deep breath. She moved swiftly though her face was contorted in agony. Her dagger was in and out of Maxine’s thigh like a machine pulling the core from a ripe apple. Maxine screamed obscenities and her hands moved frantically to staunch the bleeding but blood spilled through her fingers. Tammy leaned over to read the card.

COLLECT A CUP FULL OF BLOOD.

Darby held her drink cup under the squirting wound while Maxine barely held unto consciousness. As the cup filled with the crimson liquid, the crowd muttered about who the ultimate winner might be. It all made Tammy sick to her stomach especially as her toe stub continued to throb. Finally Darby put the cup on the table, her face a mask of defiance aimed at anyone who might judge her.

“What? It didn’t say it had to be my blood.”

Maxine muttered, “Bitch.”

“Indeed it didn’t Darby. Indeed it didn’t.”

The bottle spun again and found Dora. Her hand was already wrapped around her gun. She chose a card without hesitation. Her mutilated face no longer allowed for much movement so it was impossible for anyone to guess what she may have been thinking, Her hands touched her face gently and a collective gasp was heard around the table as she ripped off her right ear.

Though it had been only somewhat attached since the acid attack, it was still a sight to behold. The singed flesh tore away easily as if were a simple broken nail to be removed. The area barely bled. Dora held the bit of flesh in front of her good eye before tossing it on the table. Darby looked away and dry heaved to the side.

For once the host had no comments. He spun the bottle again. It landed on Tammy.

What the hell?

She was about to protest but decided against it. What would be the point? She said a silent prayer and picked a card. She held her instinctive reaction in check. She needed to be stealthy. She removed her other shoe and stood, trying to avoid putting pressure on her injured toe. She drove the tip of her knife into Dora’s right eye.

A hush fell over the crowd as Dora screamed and Darby sprang from her chair with the speed of a deer who knew it had been spotted by a hungry tigress. The host picked up the card and showed it to the crowd.

“You were right Jeffrey. It is more fun if the cards aren’t specific. Imagine the boredom of having to watch her remove her own eye!”

The man who had supplied the champagne bottle raised his glass in acknowledgement. Tammy threw up all over the table as she removed her knife from Dora’s eye. She wanted to say she was sorry but she wasn’t sure it would be true.

The bottle was in motion again. It landed on Maxine but she was now unconscious. The host slapped her lightly on the cheeks but there was no response. Her chest rose and descended slowly so they knew she was still alive.

“Ah it appears that Maxine is having a little trouble picking her card so dealer’s choice then eh?”

The host flipped over the card closest to him. A smile crossed his face.

“Well now I think we all know that if Maxine were able, she wouldn’t do this to herself. Unfortunately for her she has no say in the matter but the task still needs to be completed. Any volunteers?”

Nobody moved. Nobody even breathed.

“No? Alright. Maybe if we sweeten the pot a little bit. An incentive so to speak. Whoever completes the task will get a well needed bonus in our next and last game. Any volunteers now?”

There was a flurry of activity around the table but Tammy had the advantage. With two swift hacks of her hunting knife, one of Maxine’s hands had been separated from her body at the wrist. The rest of her hand slipped lazily from the table leaving a thin trail of blood. The wound dripped into the already murky puddle by her chair. The savage action only elicited a brief moan from the barely aware Maxine.

“Congratulations to the birthday girl! Doing what had to be done.”

The host cast a glance at Maxine. Seemingly satisfied that she was still alive, he continued.

“Alright. I think it would be best to move on to our last game while Maxine is still tethered to this mortal realm eh? This game is a personal favourite and all you ladies have to do is cast a vote. Tammy, as promised, you have an advantage. You get to vote for Maxine so any vote you cast will count as two.”

He paused for that to sink in, Tammy could feel the hard stares from the other girls but she didn’t care. She needed to survive.

“The game is called M/S/K. Basically you ladies will vote for who will endure the challenge that each letter represents. These will be explained on the ballots you are about to receive.”

Duke appeared and handed out the papers and pens. Tammy of course received two ballots.

“Vote well. You have 60 seconds to decide.”

There was the click of a timer. A key on the voting paper revealed the letters M/S/K stood for MAIM, SCREW and KILL respectively. The seconds ticked by and Tammy wondered if it really mattered who was voted to endure what.

Her stomach roiled at the thought. She quickly wrote her choices.

She would maim Dora.

How much worse could things possibly get for her anyway?

Kill Maxine.

She was gone whether they killed her or not.

And Darby would be screwed.

Hopefully only in the manner she was already used to.

The other ladies scribbled furiously just in time to meet the shrill bleet of the timer.

“Okay. Ballots please.”

The host took a moment to mentally tally the votes.

“Firstly, there’s a tie for the MAIM category so I will have to be the tie-breaker. Tammy, in spite of your efforts, you have been voted to be maimed.”

Tammy glared at Darby and Dora.

Bitches.

“Secondly, Darby has won the SCREW category.”

A murmur went through the crowd. Tammy hoped it wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

“And for our final category…”

He summoned one of the guards with a wave of his hand. Dora gasped and started to cringe but the bullet wasn’t meant for her. A perfectly round hole appeared in the middle of Maxine’s forehead. Tammy sighed. At least all the girls had been on the same page with that.

“Alright ladies. You’re next.”

A man from the crowd approached Tammy with a shiny scalpel.

“Choose.”

She almost didn’t hear him over the thundering of her heart.

“What?”

“You have to choose where I remove the flesh.”

Tammy pointed to the inside of the upper part of her arm. She had yet to meet a client who cared about anything below her chest or above her waist. Later in life, a scar in that area wouldn’t matter to anyone.

He rinsed the area with an antiseptic solution and started his incision. Tears ran from Tammy’s eyes and halting screams hiccupped from her throat. She closed her eyes but eventually morbid curiosity won out and she watched the man remove a precise 1-inch wide line of skin and flesh that ran from the top of her armpit to the beginning of her elbow. Already blood was running down her arm and pooling on the floor. He wrapped the area loosely with a crude bandage.

Having watched Tammy’s challenge, Darby was led into an adjoining room to complete hers. Four men went in shortly after. It didn’t take long for the screams to start but at some point Darby went quiet. Only the men’s grunts could be heard through the door.

Tammy didn’t know how long it took, but eventually the men left the room. She got a glimpse inside before the door swung closed. Darby’s naked body laid spread eagled on the bed, her arms restrained with handcuffs. Real handcuffs, not the flimsy things you can get at the kinky stores. The sheets were soaked in blood.

“Ladies and gentlemen! It’s been a long night but we have our winners! Ladies, thank you for participating and please enjoy your prizes! Duke?”

Tammy listened to the thunderous applause and didn’t want to think about everything that had happened. Everything that she had done. She stayed in that state of disassociation as Duke cleaned her wounds more thoroughly, gave her a bath, dressed her wounds and then finally dressed her. When he was done, he led her to an adjoining room where she saw the host again. He embraced her warmly as if she were a long-lost relative.

“Tammy! I had certainly hoped you would make it! Here is your reward as promised, as well as an extra something for being such a good sport.”

Tammy wondered if he had said the same thing to Dora. She looked at the stack of cash on the table beside him. Her days as a cashier told her that it was at least $150,000.

In the movies, at this point, the main character would feel a crisis of conscience over taking the money. In Tammy’s reality, however, she wondered how much money she would have ended up with if she had asked for more to begin with.

“There’s a car outside waiting for you. It will take you wherever you want to go. Enjoy your prize, Tammy, and all the best for the future.”

Tammy nodded her head, stuffed the cash in the bag provided, and stumbled out the door.

Outside, the sun was already starting to come up.

As promised, the driver took her home. On the way there, she began to make a list of all the things she would finally be able to afford.

Once inside the house, Tammy dropped the bag of cash and slumped against the door, heaving a deep sigh of relief.

Man, what a night…

“Hi Mommy.”

It was then she turned to see her daughter there beside her, still rubbing the sleep from her little eyes.

“Hi Baby!”

She knelt down and wrapped her in a tight embrace, the light of her life, her reason to live.

As she held her daughter close, she tried to forget all about the horrible people she had met the night before.

She wondered if giving them her home address had been so smart after all.