Ben Newell

Pulled Pork

“That’s right, asshole,” Deputy Buddy Turnage muttered around a considerable chaw, “just turn that hippie van around and get the fuck out of here.  Go find someplace else to drink your beer and smoke your pot and throw your goddamned Frisbee . . .” 

His Caprice cruiser baked in the late afternoon sun, baked like chicken at the entrance to the park, a source of comfort for families and law-abiding folks looking to enjoy the beautiful spring day, an effective deterrent for the hard-partying crowd seeking diversions of a less than savory nature.  

Turnage raised a plastic cup to his mouth and unleashed a torrent of brown spit.  Eyes concealed behind mirrored aviators, he watched the van with satisfaction, smiling as the long-haired driver executed a U-turn in the parking lot and headed back to the highway.  

No doubt the long-haired driver and his long-haired commie freak friends were up to no good.  Otherwise they would’ve come right on in, easy as you please.  Good old fashioned police presence had put the kibosh on their plans.  As well as the sign recently posted at the entrance gate:  NO COOLERS ALLOWED.  The sign had been his idea.  A mighty fine one, too.  Now troublemakers had to go somewhere else to get their kicks, preferably across the county line where they would be somebody else’s headache.    

Turnage’s stomach growled.  His was a large stomach, an incredibly bloated belly which stretched the seams of his shit-brown uniform shirt.  He ate garbage and hadn’t gotten a lick of exercise since his high school football days.  Dr. Buckhalter had given him a stern warning at his last checkup.  “You’re a heart attack waiting to happen,” the doctor had said.  Turnage had promised to do better.  

But damn if those jumbo pulled pork sandwiches heaped with coleslaw down at Dax’s Drive-In weren’t the closest thing to heaven on earth.  In fact, he could go for one right about now.  The iced honey bun he had washed down with his morning coffee had worn off hours ago.  He needed fuel to get through the remainder of his shift.

Turnage cranked the cruiser and pulled out onto the highway.  He wasn’t even halfway to Dax’s when his mouth began to water. 


After eating lunch Turnage had spent the afternoon running radar on the short stretch of I-20 within his county, a fruitful undertaking as he had netted three speeders and helped a stranded motorist with a flat tire.  Now, fresh wad of Beech-Nut tucked in his jaw, he returned to the park at the brink of dusk, one final drive through before heading back to the station.  

The parking lot was empty.    

With one exception.  

Turnage grinned when he saw the hippie van.  

He wheeled in beside it and climbed out of his cruiser, hitching his trousers as he walked to the rear of the van and saw the California plate.  

Should’ve known, he mused.  

Land of fruits and nuts.  

He walked around and peered through the passenger side window.  Nothing incriminating within view.  But that didn’t mean diddly squat.  He could see them down there by the lake, a group of five long hairs with their backs turned to him.  They hadn’t even seen him pull in.  At least he didn’t think so.  Probably stoned out of their gourds, he thought.  Well, this was his park, a family-friendly park, and that kind of thing just couldn’t be tolerated, not on his watch.   

Turnage stepped off the asphalt and descended the grassy embankment.  It wasn’t steep, but his knees popped just the same.  The hippies were some sixty yards away.  Turnage walked with purposeful strides.  One of them turned around when he was halfway there, setting off a chain reaction.  Turnage saw pale faces framed with long, stringy hair parted in the middle. 

He reached the party and stopped, towering above them with his hands on his hips.  His smile became a sneer when he saw their red and white Coleman cooler.  

“Can you folks read?” he asked.  

“We can read.” 

Their spokesman, Turnage thought.  He saw three men and two women.  They looked older than he had suspected.  These weren’t college kids.  And that made it worse.  These folks should know better.  Strangely enough, he didn’t see any beer cans, nor did he smell the pungent odor of weed.  The speaker and one of the women were smoking cigarettes.  The cooler lid was closed. 

“Coolers are prohibited in this park,” Turnage said.  

“We didn’t know,” said the smoking woman. 

They wore old jeans, threadbare T-shirts, battered dollar store sneakers.  They were unwashed, unkempt, transient.  Turnage saw paper plates, napkins, plastic forks, everything spread out atop a dirty blanket.  

“You folks having a picnic?” 

Nobody said a word.  

“I bet that cooler is loaded with beer.  I hate to break it to you, but this here is a dry county.  We don’t allow—”

“No beer,” the spokesman said.  “Just sodas and food.”  

“Sodas and food, huh?” 

“That’s right.”

Turnage eyed them warily.  “Mind if I take a look?”

“We’d rather you didn’t.” 

“And why is that?”

“Leave us alone,” said the other woman, the non smoker.  “We haven’t done anything wrong.  You’re harassing us.” 

Turnage got a kick out of that one.  He stepped closer and placed his boot atop the cooler.  He moved his foot back and forth, agitating its contents.  Ice rattled. 

“It’s a fine day for cold beer.  Yes, indeed.  Unfortunately you all picked the wrong place.  But I’m a reasonable man.  Pour the beer out and throw away the cans and I’ll let you go about your day without so much as a ticket.  How about that?” 

“There’s no beer,” said the spokesman.   

“Says you.” 

“We don’t even drink—”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“I’m not lying.” 

“Enough of this bullshit!”  

Turnage had had enough.  He kicked the cooler, fully expecting an avalanche of ice and 12 ounce cans.  It took several seconds for the whole thing to register, the contents of the cooler spread out atop the blanket—the upper portion of an arm, a muscular thigh, a pink tongue—

“Jesus!” Turnage reached for his sidearm.  

Too late. 

Much too late. 

They attacked, five against one, an all out blitzkrieg.  They took him to the ground.  Turnage didn’t stand a chance as he felt a knife plunge into his gut.  

The cult made short work of the deputy.  

And ate good for two whole weeks.

Doug Hawley

Good Demons



Beverly woke up at 2am after doing some ill-advised self-medicating the night before.  She heard some scratching and bumping noises and mumbled “What the hell is that?”

A voice which resembled that of James Earl Jones came from under her bed “I’m the night monster”.

A groggy Beverly slurred “No you’re not; I’m either dreaming or you are a side effect of mixing vodka and my migraine prescription.  I don’t believe in you.”

“Oh, you will, but if as you say I’m not real, you wouldn’t mind if I get in bed with you.”

“Sure, why not.  I don’t have any need for the extra space.”  Beverly fell asleep again after what appeared to be a human male in the faintly lit room had crawled in next to her. 

When she next woke, she decided no more mixing alcohol and meds, then rolled over and bumped into something.  She felt scales on a mostly human body and a normal bald head.  The body spoke “Do you believe in me now?” 

After a few seconds to calm herself “Still not sure – it could be aftereffects.” 

“Do you mind if I convince you?” 

“Go ahead.” 

The night monster burrowed under the covers and used his long-forked tongue to full advantage while humming the Led Zeppelin song ‘Kashmir’.  Beverly had an orgasm which produced body waves accompanied by a mental montage of her favorite times – she cuddled her favorite kitten Batface, had sex with boyfriend Joe in the backseat of a Ford Mustang when she was a teenager, and won a $10,000 lottery.

“Ok, I’m starting to believe.  Do you mind if I explore you now?”

“Seems fair.  Your turn.”

Beverly didn’t know what to expect between his legs.  After his previous masterful performance, she was disappointed to find something soft and small.  She asked, “Is that it?”

“Oh, I didn’t know your taste, so I started off small.  Try again.”

This time she found an eighteen-inch tent pole.  “Umm, if you take requests, how about something in-between?”

“As you desire.  Climb on cowgirl.”

Thirty-seven minutes later Beverly asked, “Can you come again?”

“That could have two different meanings, but the answer to both is yes.”

“I mean if I want you to visit again, how do I get in touch?”

“Knock on the headboard three times.  Probably a bad idea if you have company.  If I’m available, I’ll get here.  I do have other appointments.”

“Why didn’t I think of this earlier?  Will I have monster babies like in ‘The Demon Seed’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’?”

“It won’t happen unless I revise my DNA.  We aren’t fertility compatible.”

“Another thing.  What do I tell my boyfriend Bob?” 

“I don’t think that Bob will mind if you break up with him.  My sister is visiting him tonight and has spoiled him for human women, much as you would be disappointed by any human man now.  Both of you may want to have fake relationships to give the appearance of normality, but nothing will compare to night monsters.”


Angel of the Night

When Bob woke up at 1:56Am, he was surprised that there was a very warm body next to him which smelled of jasmine and musk.  He was amazed that Beverly had come to bed with him after their date.  He had always thought of her as somewhat prudish.  Her perfume surprised him more because he had never known her to wear any, but it was all good.  It got better when he felt a hand manipulating his cock in a very non-Beverly way arousing him in a way he had never experienced before.

Wait a minute; he hadn’t had a date with her.  “Beverly when did you show up?  Not that I don’t like it, I love it.”

A deep but feminine voice with an alien vibrato responded “I’m not Beverly, I’m Night Angel, but you can call me Angie.”

“I brought home a hooker?  I don’t remember anything like that.”

“Not at all.  My brother and I just like to do favors for deserving people and don’t worry about Beverly; my brother is taking care of her like I will take care of you.”

Bob is stunned and his brain is spinning.  Is Beverly cheating on him?  What should he think about Angie?  Quickly his dick makes his decision for him.  “Um, I like what you are doing for me now, is there anything else that you do?”

“Why don’t I take you for a spin?”

Night Angel mounted Bob and pulled him into her.  In the pale light she appeared as one of the Playboy models that he had sneaked looks at as a teenager.  Tactile exploration showed that unlike the models all of her parts felt original and she had hair where normal women have hair.  Her arousal based on her wetness seemed to match his.

Even while the experience was exploding his brain with pleasure, Bob noticed some disturbing things about Angie.  She played her vagina like a symphony, vibrating, relaxing and contracting Cleopatra’s grip and changing tempo and theme.  When he grasped her buttocks he felt scales rather than skin.  Something brushed his inner thighs up to his butt.  Her assurance that “Oh, that’s just my tail” didn’t assure him.

When his brain returned to minimal function he whispered “What are you?”

“You don’t have adequate language or knowledge for me to answer you.  Let’s just say, that like my brother who likes to be called ‘Night Monster’, we are good demons.  We ask nothing from worthy humans but mutual pleasure.  As much as you have enjoyed me, I have enjoyed you.  Would you object to me calling on you again when we are both free?”

“Uh, no.  Could you stay longer tonight?  I don’t know if I can go again, but we could cuddle.”

“Oh, we can go again.”

Good to her word, Night Angel had Bob fully prepared in five minutes.


Teen Angel

Paul was having another one of those dreams at 3 AMSince he had turned twelve he had been having nocturnal emissions and since fourteen he had been experiencing embarrassing daytime erections, but no real sex.  He had grown used to encountering movie stars or attractive classmates at night, but this time it was somebody he didn’t recognize and didn’t seem entirely human.  Whatever it was had a tail and scales on parts of ‘her’ body, but otherwise looked like a girl of his age.  As her hand wandered across his abdomen, he immediately ejaculated.  She handed him one of the tissues he kept next to the bed for cleanup.

The bigger difference from his earlier dreams was that this partner spoke to him.  “The thing that I like about teenage boys is that they rebound so fast.  I love teaching sex education.”  To prove her point she quickly prepared him for sex.  Without any preliminaries, she easily pulled him on top of her as is he weighed ten pounds and inserted his penis in an appropriate location.  Her hands on his butt guided him into a slow rhythm for awhile, followed by rapid thrusts and a mutual orgasm.

“Now that we know each other better, I should introduce myself.  I’m a good demon that specializes in helping teen boys become proficient at sex.  You can call me Teen Angel.  I hope that you enjoyed your first lesson.  If you agree, we can cover hygiene, erogenous zones, various positions and practices and ways to find appropriate, agreeable partners.  What do you think?”

Paul found it difficult to talk, but managed to squeak ‘Sure’.

“One last thing.  When you wake up tomorrow, you will think this was a dream, a vivid one, but still a dream.  Check your sheets.”

When Paul woke up, he remembered the last thing that Teen Angel said.  He found some of her scales in his sheets.


The Black Lagoon

Sheryl woke up around midnight to find a roughly humanoid giant monster in her bedroom.  As she started to scream the monster tore the covers off her bed and her pajamas off her body.

As she continued to scream the demon roughly rubbed all over her body while lingering on her more sensitive parts.  His long forked tongue invaded all of her orifices not stopping until he had poked into both ears at once.  Her self-defense training was no match for his strength.

“Continue screaming, that just makes this more enjoyable for me.”

By the time his cruel treatment was completed, her screams had become whimpers.

He then picked her up by her waist as though she were nothing and lowered her slowly onto his organ.  The whimpers became moans as they established a rhythm.

After five mutual orgasms Sheryl spoke “God, that was great, but what would you think of a new scenario?  We’ve done monster assault a lot.  You don’t exist in the daytime, but I’ve got a pool and a white bathing suit for after dark.”

“You’re thinking ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’?  Great.  I can become Gillman without scales so you don’t get scratches as in my natural form.  If we get tired of that there is always wife at home with pool cleaner when husband works late.  Been done too often?  If we want to stay dry, you can reinforce the chandelier for something really acrobatic.  How about I become a hopeless high school boy and you are the sexy math tutor?”

“I don’t mind the scratches.  They lend authenticity and I love the new ear trick”

“See you at your pool 10pm Friday?  I’ve got a date with newbie Beverly on Thursday.”

“Works for me.”

“See you then.  Love you babe.”

“Love you too, monster.”


The Lady And The Snake

The erotic dream Jessie had at 2:36 AM was something new.  A cross between a large man and a snake was spooning her before he started anal intercourse.  Jessie responded actively and moaned.  After five minutes, she began to come out of her dream.  In her half awake – half dream state she began to suspect that it wasn’t a dream.  She asked “Charles?” – But then remembered her husband had been dead for fifteen years and whatever was in bed with her was nothing like Charles and did something that Charles never did.  The arm that was draped over her was twice as large as Charles’.

Jessie was practical to the extent that some of her family and friends were amazed at how well she responded to crises.  Rather than scream, which would have done no good, she asked “Who are you and how did you get here?”  She had begun to wonder if one of her crazier friends set up the attack.

“First question – I’m a night demon or monster, whichever you prefer.  Second question – I came in with you when got back from visiting your friend Judy.  I’ll leave when you want me to.”

Jessie ignored the last part “That’s impossible.  I would have seen you.”

“No, my people can turn invisible.  We don’t even exist in the daylight.”

Jessie knew none of that made sense, but what was true?

“Turn on the light and judge for yourself.”

The light revealed a huge, bald muscular humanoid largely covered with scales.  Whatever it was had a flat nose and holes for ears.

Jessie was stunned, but asked “Why are you here?”

“We night demons are benefactors of the human race.  I heard your calls with friends about your frustration with dating since Charles died – the bad hygiene, the egotists who thought they were doing you a favor and the sexual duds.  I thought that I could help you, but obviously I can’t go on a dating site.  I was able to gather your wants and needs and acted on them.  If I got it wrong, I can leave now.  I’m afraid that you can’t take legal action against a night demon.”

After a long silence, night demon asked “Thoughts?”

“Don’t go yet.”

The night demon stayed for many hours that night and returned every Wednesday.


Previously published in Terror House

John Patrick Robbins

Where The Horses Once Ran Free

He sat there on the beach for no reason but to simply escape. The drinks were as meaningless as the conversations these days.

Everyone was fake when you get to a certain level you expect that. It’s a weird kind of badge of honor and a curse you bear with ambition.

Real writers understood it, most that read the pages and envied did not. You do anything long enough and better than the rest you will be hated.

And when you realize you made it, you will be too fucking exhausted to care.

Frank didn’t give a shit to ever write a follow up to that curse of a novel. It sold, it afforded him his vices.

And to him that seemed like an even trade for the life blood of his soul. He had lost it all and everyone thought it was a blessing.

It was just another delusion and nothing more. He sat there, with the only bastard stupid enough to remain with him through everything.

And if that old bulldog Boozer could open his own food cans he probably would have jumped ship as well.

Frank had his phone off for two weeks straight. It wasn’t unusual for him to vanish but it was odd for him not to be writing.

He told them all he was blocked but that was pure bullshit. He sold a few stories now and then to maintain interest.

The pages breathed life until the day there was no life left in which to write about.

Rebecca picked up stakes and went back home he heard. It had been a year since last they had spoken.

Yet another hurricane was bearing down on the outer banks and as always the debate arose amongst the locals and tourists alike.

Do we stay or carry our asses?

Frank had the windows boarded, well he paid to have the windows boarded. The generator was gassed up and the bar was stocked and Frank as always was fully loaded.

It’s the fucking wait that gets everyone.

And as Frank kicked back with a cocktail in hand, he thought he was either hallucinating or in route to get shot when he looked to see Rebecca standing at his door.

“So Satan, how the fuck are you? And if you don’t mind me asking, who’s guarding the gates of hell in your absence?”

Rebecca cut her eyes at Frank letting him know if she could turn folks to stone, Frankie certainly wouldn’t be talking.

She didn’t say anything so after a minute of extremely awkward silence, Frank just turned to go get a refill.

And as he poured another scotch he heard his former best friend close the door behind her.

He mixed her one as well and left it on the bar, taking his place back on the couch, As Boozer laid in his bed whimpering at the sight of Rebecca.

“Hey buddy, how have you been? I got a treat for you.”

She said, kneeling down.

Boozer was old, going grey around the muzzle and partially blind but much like his owner, too fucking stupid to die.

And no matter how stiff the drink was, that awkward silence hung heavy in the room.

Rebecca took her seat at the bar and finally broke the verbal Mexican standoff.

“So, you leaving or riding this one out?”

“Well I was going to head to Martha’s Vineyard to live it up like a Kennedy then I thought. Oh yeah, I’m still at best, a semi- famous writer who no longer writes. So yeah, me and the Boozehound are going to stay here and guard the bar.”

“Maybe if you worried less about the bottle and those whores you’re always chasing, you could actually write something for a change.”

“Shit and give Simon a stroke by actually making him happy? Fuck that besides, how many stories can a man pen about one night stands and booze?”

“I wouldn’t know being as I haven’t read anything by you in a year or more.”

Frank finished off his scotch looking at Rebecca.

“I thought I sent you that last one I sold to The New Yorker?”

“You did, but I just put it in my cat’s litter box. “

“Oh well, I always did try to market my work to pussies and landfills. I really hate those environmental nut cases. Refill my dear?”

Rebecca just stared at the T.V.

“I don’t know why I even came here.”

“Sure beats the shit out of me as well kid, but being as you’re here, have another round for old times on me.”

Frank replied as he poured Rebecca another.

They sat there for a while, Frank turned the television off for the moment was awkward enough, without adding the weather forecaster about creaming his shorts rambling on about a hurricane.

They sat there at the bar opposite of one another, two strangers who had once shared everything.

Frank knew there wasn’t a damn thing he could say to fix the scars of the past, as he saw no point in reopening old scars for the sake of nothing better to do.

“You know you’re a real bastard!”

Rebecca said, finally breaking the silence.

“You know, once there were wild horses running all over these beaches. It was a beautiful site. Then along came the yuppies in their quest to be one with nature and of course had to remove all that nature stuff because it’s not very cosmopolitan having your head in the stars and horse crap on your lawn.”

“Stop avoiding facing me. I don’t give a fuck about your stories I came to talk to you!”

“I can’t change what fucking happened okay! You rejected me sweetheart not the other way around. So, go play victim to somebody who actually buys into you bullshit sweetheart! You wanted delusion but we cannot fight our true nature so get over yourself princess!”

“You’re just a self-absorbed piece of shit you know that! Besides you can’t love anyone because you’re always going to love that stupid bitch!”

Frank threw his glass into the wall as it exploded into a million pieces.

Rebecca went dead silent.

Frank said nothing, just picked up the bottle and went and sat on deck out back, listening to the one constant in his life, the ocean.

And as he sat there, he heard Rebecca step outside.

He never turned around for there was nothing left to say. A closed chapter is a mile marker, you never pine for it, you simply move on.

She vanished from his existence leaving him to his world of page counts and papercuts.

And now as Frank sat there by the fire, he looked at the manuscript that was the curse of his trade.

It was a mile marker as he viewed the gun and the bottle as both were illuminated by the fire.

The Devil Is My Co-Editor was promised to the publisher and its only copy sat in the hands of someone far beyond burnt out from living his life’s pages.

He knew the cost of another so called best seller and all the trappings that yet more success would bring him.

So, reflecting for a half of a second, Frank simply tossed it into the fire and was now burden free.

He then killed the remnants of his drink and started to reach for the gun when he viewed that mangey old mutt of his get up, walk around in three circles to only proceed to take a shit and in return, start eating that very same deposit.

Frank’s stomach was never that great to begin with as it turned while he fought the urge to vomit.

As he thought to himself, why the fuck could he have just done like Hemingway and bought a fucking cat?

He canceled his proverbial departing flight leaving the gun outside and went to grab a refill instead.

As he picked up his laptop and tossed it out the door, locking the door just in case it got any ideas.

Boozer whimpered at the door. Frank just opened it and tossed his dog bed outside with a can of food.

“Sorry old man, but I think I need some alone time, besides you got a real taste for shit and I hate for it to influence my non-writing activities.

Frank closed the door. The old dog stood there for a second and simply laid down and went to bed.

The horses once ran wild up and down these beaches in Carolina, until nature was deemed a bit too wild.

Frank didn’t regret burning his only copy of his manuscript, besides he had to keep a low profile.

For if his neighbors had even a clue about his antics, he may just end up on that endangered species list too.

The drinks poured endless as once the page, like the horses had once run free.

Jonathan Woods

That’s All She Wrote

We were barrelassing down the interstate toward the Texas coast in Ray’s rusty old RAM.  Windows down. Wind howling through the interior like a demon lover, clinking empty beer cans together, stirring up candy wrappers, Cheez-It bags with nothing left but cheese dust, maybe a few leftover grains of blow from a wild night. Jesus, mounted on the dashboard by the truck’s previous owner, swayed back and forth in a quasi-religious version of the Texas two-step. It had been raining all morning but now the sun had reappeared, beating down like a ballpeen hammer on a tin roof on the set of a long-lost Tennessee Williams play.

My name’s Jimbo.

We passed three dead armadillos on the shoulder and the bloated carcass of a feral hog. Tough luck for the local critters. 

Next, a steaming single car wreck came up on the right. It looked like the car had done a double flip before coming to rest at the bottom of the rain swollen drainage ditch. Must have just happened. A man sat stone still in the driver’s seat, his door wide open, his head thrust back at an odd angle. A woman climbed over him and eased her feet down into the six inches of rain runoff. She wore pink panties. That was it. 

She staggered around in the ankle-deep water as if she was lost. Or had mislaid her life. Blood streaked one cheek.

Ray slowed to get a better look, wheels crunching on the verge.

“Hey,” I said. “Maybe we should offer a Good Samaritan hand to the maimed and the mutilated.” 

“Well, now, what the fuck do you think they were getting up to just moments go?” asked Ray.

“I’d say some kind of hanky-panky,” I said.

“A risky business indeed when you’re doing 90 mph and the windshield fogs up due to lust,” said Ray philosophically. 

Ray stopped the pickup, set the parking brake, disembarked and edged down the embankment and right up to the woman, who stood stock still watching him come. When he arrived, she hurled herself against him, wrapping her arms around him in a desperate hug, as if he was about to head off to certain death in Afghanistan. I saw her whisper something into his ear. I imagined what her bare white breasts felt like pressing again Ray’s chest. His hands gripped the twin orbs of her buttocks as though they were a god send. Some guys had all the luck.

Ray stepped over to the car, some kind of Toyota or whatever, and put two fingers against the man’s neck. After a minute Ray looked back up at me and give an exaggerated shrug. 

I heard her say: “My bag.”

Ray ducked down and leaned into the car, almost as if he was embracing the dead guy. Reappeared with a tote bag in hand big enough to hold a half dozen dead possums after an all-night possum hunt. When I was growing up in the East Texas piney woods, nothing beat a slow cooked possum stew.

Ray handed the bag to the woman, swooped her up in his arms and carried her like a bride up the steep side of the gully, careful about each step he took so as not to fall. Suddenly remembering she was topless, she held one arm across her breasts, the other hooked around Ray’s neck. 

I was like: Whoa! What’s up, dude.

Ray opened the back door of the crew cab and set the woman carefully on the bench seat as if she was made out of something that might break easily.

“There’s a T-shirt you can put on in one of those bags on the floor.”

Then Ray winked at me.

“Jimbo, this here is Debbie from Dallas. Debbie, this is my best buddy, Jimbo.”

She found a white T-shirt and slipped it over her head. It fit pretty good. Her nipples pressed against the cotton like the twin knobs of an old-timey radio. I had this intense desire to change the station, adjust the volume.

A Cadillac had pulled up at the side of the Interstate behind us. A man in a cowboy Stetson stood looking down at the wreck.

Ray cranked the RAM awake and put her in gear.

“Debbie doesn’t want to stick around and get caught up in a whole big accident clusterfuck with Highway Patrol and ambulance guys and what not. Doesn’t know who the dead guy is. Thought we could give her a lift somewhere.”

With a spray of gravel, we sped back onto the highway.

Well, I thought, this could be interesting. Or weird as shit. 

* * *

Why, you may ask, were we barrelassing south on the interstate?

Ray is a minor American novelist. Teaches Rhetoric and Communication Skills to freshman at Knotty Pine Community College, a tad northeast of Dallas in a town called Murder. I’m an IT guy there. We’d hung out for a few years and that morning were in Ray’s office drinking coffee. Day three of the Fall semester and we were the worse for wear from a late previous night at the John Wilkes Booth Tap. 

We didn’t go there very often because of its Republican ambiance. They even had a photo of a 1922 lynching hanging above the urinals in the men’s shitter. There was no women’s shitter. The gals had to pee outside in the bushes or between the parked cars. 

When we did wander in and meander up to the bar, there were always one or two women with hairy arm pits and (presumably hairy) nether regions to talk to. Chit-chat and (in your dreams) lots more. Usually of a religious disposition, pretty (but not spectacular) and, for the most part, possessed of (outstanding) tits, these women, grad students or older, pined for an academic discussion over a Stoli Martini with a pickled onion (a/k/a a Gibson) or a Russian Mule. Baudelaire was a popular topic. Or Sylvia Plath. Or Chekhov. As the evening wore on, the topic under consideration invariably shifted to out-of-body sex research.

A rap on the door of Ray’s office ripped these two-bit recollections to shreds. 

The mail guy stuck his head in, gave Ray the stink eye, handed him a letter in a pale blue envelope.

“Fuck you too, Harry,” said Ray.

Ray slit open the envelope with his finger, wrangled out the letter and looked at it.

“Well, shit,” he said.

I picked up the crushed envelop, held it to my nose. The scent of el cheapo cologne (on sale at Marshall’s) whacked my sinuses like nettles. Whatever the letter said, it couldn’t be good news. The return address: Wanda Smith care of Ray’s beach house in Galveston. 

Ray leaped to his feet, shoved his cellphone in his back pocket, checked for his wallet and keys.

“Got to go to Galveston.”

Why Galveston? One reason might be that it was the location of the beach house Ray had recently inherited from a rich, childless uncle. Along with a yellow Stingray and (according to Ray) several valuable paintings—including one of Ulysses S. Grant taking a piss at the side of the road in the summer of 1864. Ray’s uncle had been found in the trunk of his Coup de Ville with a bullet hole in the back of his head.

Ray was known to allow the occasional femme fatale to reside rent free in the beach house. To keep the place tidy and shipshape. One such babe, heavily tattooed and calling herself Wanda Smith, had even managed to finagle her way into Ray’s heart.

“Today?” I asked.


“Need company?”

I didn’t get an answer as Ray leaped for the door. I followed anyway.

* * *

Ray and I and Debbie proceeded apace down ye olde interstate. After an appropriate period of mourning for the dead guy, Debbie leaned over into the front seat. The pong of recent wild sex wafted. Her blond hair, chin length, swayed in the AC cranked to high. A coy nose sniffed. Very kissable lips, the kind you linger over, painted a flamboyant vagina pink, parted to display dazzling pearly whites cast in a shit-ass grin. Almond-shaped eyes the color of stone-washed blue jeans gazed at me, then Ray. In summary: lush, cocky and fearless.

“Thanks, boys,” she said. “That was a bit of a tight squeeze.”

“Hey, no problem,” said Ray. “What something to drink.”

“Got any Jack?”

“Sorry, sweetheart, we’re shit outa Jack. But we’re got half a paper cup of cold coffee with two sugars and a spritz of Half & Half. Or a diet Coke with all the ice melted.”

She turned and looked at me.

“You there,” she said. “Maybe you’d like to help a girl out?”

“Hey, I’m a good listener.”

“What kind of cock you got hangin’ there between your legs? I mean, is it dying for some action? ‘Cause I wanted to suggest maybe stopping at a motel. Of course, you’d get the two for one rate.”

“Oh, man,” said Ray. “I’ve got VD.”

Ignoring Ray, she ruffled her hand through my hair.

“You on board with a little X-rated divertissement, sport?”

I looked at Ray.

“Hey, Bat Man,” I said. “How about we stop at a gas station so Debbie and I can use the men’s room. You can get some cigarettes. Ice cold drinks. Or even have a turn.”

“Sorry, no can do, Robin. Galveston is calling me el pronto.”

“Oh, baby,” lamented Debbie.

She reached for Ray’s crotch, but he batted her hand away.

“Who was the dead guy?” asked Ray.

“Don’t start with that shit,” said Debbie. “I was just workin’. He picked me up outside the downtown Dallas train station.”

“Train station? What the fuck were you doing at the train station?”

“I took the train in from DFW ‘cause the asshole who was supposed to pick me up in a limo was a no show. Story of my life. I was just standing there outside Union Station, taking in the Dallas skyline, this car stops. The front passenger window rolls down. Single guy behind the wheel says, get in. I lean down and glance at him. He’s wearing shades, a white shirt and tie. And his dick’s stickin’ out of his fly like the leaning tower of fucking Pisa. And since I had some cash flow problems, I said to myself: ‘What the hey?’”

“Swell. Where’d you fly in from.”

“Harlingen. Down the valley. I worked the oil fields for a while.”

“Is that right?”

“Hold up, now. How’d we get so far off topic, speaking of which, how’s your dick, cowboy. Limp? Or the opposite? It’s a shame you won’t let me help you out in that department.”

“It’s Ray, sweetheart,” said Ray. “Not cowboy. And the status of my dick is private.” 

With a sigh Debbie sat back.

“You’re bummin’ me out,” she said. “I’m totally broke. Should have taken that dead creep’s wallet.”

We drove on in silence for a while. Then I tapped Ray on the shoulder and pointed to the gas gage which had slipped into the “hey, douchebag, you’re in the zero, zip, nada zone.” Just then we were passing through some dying, two-bit town—of which Texas has a multitude. Ray veered for the exit. Next moment we were on the Columbia Pictures’ back lot set for The Last Picture Show. Two rows of single story, and a couple two story, brick storefronts faced each other. Three blocks down, a Dairy Queen and a QT gas station did the same.

Turning left, we cruised thru downtown Barryville. A sketchy-looking fat lady in a white halter top and super-stretchy, grape-colored workout pants waved. Here and there cowboy dudes leaned in doorways picking their teeth or strutted up or down. 10-gallon hats, open-carry side arms, ostrich hide boots. How many Antifa nihilists have you gunned down in cold blood today?

We passed seven bars, a gym, a secondhand store, a vape and CBD oil shop, tattoo parlors up the wazoo, a bunch of empty storefronts and a liquor store. At the liquor store Debbie said:

“Y’all can let me out here.”

“You sure?” asked Ray.

  “How the fuck is it your business whether or not I’m sure?” she snapped.

Ray stopped the truck. Debbie dismounted. 

“Good luck,” I said, leaning out the window to take in her glorious stats one last time. I noticed she had a couple of tats on her legs. Tropical themed. (I have a love hate relationship with tats on chicks. Oddly erotic on the one hand. Ugly-as-fuck graffiti on the other.) Her skin was golden. She’d rolled up the sleeves of Ray’s borrowed T-shirt to show her stone-smooth rounded shoulders. Was I in love or in lust? Did it matter? 

With a puff of air, she flipped me the bird and pushed through the glass door of the liquor store.

We continued down the main drag to the QT station and filled her up.

“Man, I could eat something,” said Ray.

“Me too.”

By chance the QT station doubled as a takeout barbecue. We ordered brisket sandwiches, Mexican Coca-Colas, slaw and potato salad sides, plus pickle and raw onion slices. At the edge of the gas station, we pulled over and ate like jackals. 

Ray wiped his fingers with a moist towelette.

“Damn that was good. But we’ve got to get going.” 

He turned the ignition key. When the engine rumbled alive, he reached out and adjusted his side mirror.

“Oh, shit.”

I looked behind.

Running toward us, barefoot, purse over one shoulder, boobs bouncing like wildebeests on the run, waving frantically. Debbie. I had an instant hard-on.

Ray’s RAM waited. She caught up, opened the crew cab door and jumped in.


“I guess Barryville sucked eggs,” said Ray.

“If I were you,” said Debbie. “I’d step on it.”

In one hand she held a pistol. In the other her purse yawned open, revealing a goodly clump of cash.

“Thought you said you were broke,” said Ray.

“Was,” she replied. “That liquor store was an f-ing windfall. But we should blow town before the owner breaks out of the closet I locked him in.”

She grinned, happy as a lark at her newfound liquidity.

At a stoplight Ray held his phone left-handed down between his legs and texted me: “Need 2 dump this honey ASAP.”

Back on the interstate, Debbie pulled a pint of Jack from her bag, twisted off the cap and took a long swig before passing it to me. What choice did I have? I took a long swig. Passed the bottle to Ray. Etc. Etc.

Dropping the empty bottle on the floor, Debbie climbed over the seatback into the front seat. Be still, my heart. She had taken off her panties but not the T-shirt. Through the thin cotton, I kissed her nipples as if they were wild strawberries. My penis morphed into the leaning tower of Pisa (just like the dead guy’s), upon which Debbie forthwith impaled herself. Oh, God!

Afterward, she disimpaled herself. Looked over at Ray, whose eyes never left the highway.

“Hey, stud. Lighten up. You’re next. After I pee.”


“Yeah, pee. My bladder overfloweth.”

Moments later Ray pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. But didn’t turn off the engine. Thick trees stared from both sides of the highway.

“You’re such a gentleman,” said Debbie. “Be right back.”

She opened the right crew door, jumped down and over a narrow ditch, her purse slung over her shoulder. Partially hidden by a tree, she squatted.

Ray hit the gas.

* * *

A little while later we passed Huntsville. They killed murderers there. And probably a few innocent folks as well. But we hadn’t murdered the guy in the wreck (or anyone else). Still, a chill crept on little mouse feet up and down my spine.

Around 4 we rolled into Galveston. Straight down Broadway, past Rosenberg Avenue and the Texas Heroes Monument to 14th Street. A Victorian fantasy is the way I described Ray’s inherited beach house. Porches up and down done up with decorative arches. The façade a whimsical mishmash of gewgaws and doodads painted white with red and yellow trim. 

“What the fuck!” shouted Ray, reacting to the absence of the Stingray from the side porte cochère where he kept it parked. That was just the beginning. 

The paintings (of some considerable value according to Ray). Gone. The liquor. Gone. The finer Art Deco pieces, including the piano, the thick handwoven Oriental rugs, the Louis XIV china, the silver. All gone.


Ray’s eyes went into orbit. He swooned, collapsing onto the beautiful hardwood floor.

“Shit. Piss. Fuck. Cunt. Twat. Anus. Dick. Clit. Cock. Gook. Jizz. Slut. Penis. Vulva.”

Wanda, the heart throb, had transmogrified into Wanda, the fucking grifter. She had cleaned him out.    

I found a bottle of small-still bourbon that had been overlooked and poured measures into a pair of left-behind Waterford tumblers. 

Ray had made his way to a left-behind Bauhaus lounge chair (1931), the only piece of furniture in the living room.

I handed him one of the glasses.

The ultimate insult. On the dining table she’d left a whole dead fish long past its prime wrapped in yesterday’s Galveston Daily News (since 1842). I tossed the fish out the back door. The local feral cats would throw one heck of a party tonight.

“Well, son of a bitch,” said Ray.

He reached into his pocket, pulled out Wanda’s crumpled letter on blue linen paper and opened it.

“Dear Ray,” he read aloud.

‘OK,” I said. “What did she say?”

“That’s all she wrote,” said Ray. 

He crushed the letter into a ball and threw it across the room. It bounced off the wall and lay still. Exhausted, we drank the fifth of bourbon, smoked a jay and crashed.

* * *

The sun woke me about 8:00, streaming into the upstairs bedroom where I’d succumbed to slumber. 

Where was I? Oh, yeah, Galveston. Why was I here? I’d come to help my friend Ray whose hot patootie Wanda had shown her true colors as a rip-off artist.

When I looked out the bedroom window, Ray’s truck was gone. So was Ray.

I ended up taking a Greyhound back to Dallas. An old girlfriend (Babs) picked me up and dropped me back at my apartment in Murder, Texas. I asked her in for a drink and she stayed the night. Was she still hoping I might change my mind about entering into a long-haul amatory relationship?

Ray was absent without leave from his professorial job at Knotty Pine Community College. After two weeks the college fired him. Babs and I moved in together. I liked to cuddle and so did Babs. She also liked to fuck.

A year went by. 

Babs and I were still together.

I followed Ray’s meteoric literary rise in the newspapers. His new novel clawed its way to the top of the New York Times best seller list. He got a movie deal. He lived in London, Bogota, Istanbul and wrote political pieces for The New Republic.    

For our first anniversary Babs and I flew to Paris for a week in February. She’d always wanted to go. The day we arrived, icy winds skated down the Seine. It was colder than a witch’s tit.

After checking into cheap lodgings near the Beat hotel (9 rue Gît-le-Cœur), where Burroughs and Ginsberg had lived back in the 1950s, we sought shelter from the winter blast in a nearby bar.

There, unbelievably, at the marble-topped bar, drink in hand, wearing an expensive sheepskin coat, stood Ray.

And next to him? Who else but Debbie? 

Her white see-through silk blouse, sans bra, reminded me of the first time we’d met. Then it had been summertime. Today she looked cold. 

Rumors of them hooking up had appeared on the paparazzi websites. And that they were living in Paris. But still, running into them like this was one far-fucking-out fluke.

I’d also come across a story online about a woman who’d been found dead in the driver’s seat of a yellow Stingray at the bottom of a Louisiana bayou. She’d been there a couple of months (or longer) when they dredged her out. Some said an accident, some suggested suicide, still others voted for foul play—but as far as I know, nothing came of it. A driver’s license found on the body identified the deceased as Wanda Smith. What do you think?

As Babs and I walked toward the bar, Ray looked up and recognized me. His eyes flashed delight.

“Well Goddamn, if it isn’t Jimbo!”

After a grappling, wrestler-like bro huge, Ray stood back, his arm around Debbie’s waist.

“You remember Debbie,” he said.

“Boy, do I ever,” I replied, the tip of my dick tingling.

Who can predict the kinky and outré twists and turns of fortune? Certainly not me. I was just along for the ride.

James Babbs


The geese were gathered on the lawn.  I stood there watching them through the living room window as they meandered around cluttering up the grass.

There was a pond behind the house that attracted the geese but often times they strayed from the water and its surroundings and flocked into the front yard the way they were doing now.

–Things aren’t the same, I heard Madeline speaking from somewhere behind me.

–You’ve changed, she said.  –Maybe I’ve changed, too.

It was late autumn and most of the leaves had fallen from the trees and the wind had turned cold.

–Why don’t they fly away?  I asked.


I turned away from the window and looked at Madeline.

–The geese, I said.  –Why don’t they fly south for the winter?  Aren’t they supposed to fly south?

–Some geese don’t do that, said Madeline.  –Some of them just stay around here for the winter.

 –Oh, I said.

I turned back to the window and watched as one of the geese started chasing after some of the other ones.  The goose rushed at the other geese in a menacing manner with its wings spread out and flapping wildly.

–You’re not even listening to me, said Madeline.

This time I didn’t turn away from the window but just kept watching the geese.

–What do you want me to say?

 –I don’t know, said Madeline.  –Something.  I guess act like you care.

I slowly let my breath out into the room and turned toward her again.

–Is this because we never got married?

–No, she said.  –I don’t know.

–Hey, I said.  –Did I ever tell you the goose story?

–Only about a million times, she said.

–Oh, I said.

–Yes, said Madeline.  –You worked with this guy named Gary several years ago.

–Steve, I said.


–The guy’s name was Steve not Gary.

–Who was Gary?  Madeline asked.

–I don’t know, I said.  –I don’t know any Garys.

Madeline bit her lip and slowly shook her head.

–The guy I worked with was named Steve, I said.

–Alright.  Steve then.

–It was a paint store, I said.

–What was?

–The place where Steve and I worked.

–Oh, said Madeline.

I ran my hand through my hair and then rubbed the side of my face.

–So, Steve, said Madeline.  –And some of his buddies were camping.

–Golfing, I said.


–They weren’t camping.  Steve and his buddies were golfing.

–Oh, that’s right, said Madeline.  –But wasn’t there something about camping?     

I laughed.

–That’s a different story, I said.

–Oh, said Madeline.

–That’s when I got drunk and thought I saw a bear.

–Oh, yeah, said Madeline. –That’s right.

–Steve and his buddies were golfing.

–Yes, yes, said Madeline.  –They were out golfing and they got too close to a goose’s nest near a water hazard or something.

–That’s right, I said.

–And the goose came at them all angry, said Madeline.  –Afraid they were going to disturb its nest.

–Yeah, I said.  –So, Steve took his golf club and swung it at the goose just to try and drive it away but he ended up hitting the goose in the neck and cutting its head off.

I laughed.

–I don’t find it very funny, said Madeline.  –It’s horrible.

–Well, I said.  –He didn’t mean to kill the goose.  It just happened.

Madeline turned and glanced at something on the table behind her before turning back around and facing me again.

–So, what about us?  Madeline asked.

–What do you mean?

–I mean, she said.  –How do you feel about us?

I stepped away from the window and moved farther into the room.

–Hey, let’s go out for breakfast, I said.

 –Are you listening to me or not?

–Yes, I said.  –I’m just not sure what you want me to say.

Madeline opened her mouth as if she was going to speak but no words came out.  She closed her mouth and touched the side of her face with just the tip of one of her fingers.

–Let’s go have breakfast, I said.  –Come on.  Let’s go get ready.

–Where are we going?

–That little diner that we like, I said.  –The one over on Grove street.

We went into the bedroom and got ready without doing anymore talking.  A few minutes later we were sitting in the car and I was backing out of the garage.

The geese were still out there in the yard and there were a few of them mingling on the drive blocking our exit.  I approached them slowly and started honking the horn when I got close and some of the geese flapped their wings angrily and honked back but we managed to get through without hurting any of them.

–Are swans a type of geese?  I asked.


–I was just wondering, I said.  –If swans are a type of geese.  They kind of look alike.

–I don’t know, said Madeline.  –Do I look like some kind of bird expert?

–I was just wondering, I said.

We reached the end of the drive and I turned left onto the road.

–I think I’m going to have biscuits and gravy, I said.  –Doesn’t that sound good?

Madeline was looking out the passenger-side window with her face turned away from me.

–Fine, she said.  –You can have whatever you want.

Jack Moody

Welcome Home, Inmate #Whogivesashit 

The arresting officer was delicate when placing and tightening the cuffs around my wrists. This gesture was almost immediately ruined when he smashed my face into the top of the police car while ushering me into the back.

“Watch your head.” The words muffled as the door slammed shut.

Behind the barred, bulletproof glass window the neighborhood was coming alive. They emerged from their houses, drawn by the flashing red and blue lights in the street, wearing bathrobes and undershirts, coffee mugs and morning cigarettes in hand, come to gawk at the scene and get a look at who they’d gotten this time, as if I were a rabid dog netted and captured by animal control. I looked down and tried breathing in concert with my rapid heartbeat to take focus away from the claustrophobia created by having your arms pinned by metal shackles behind your back.

The arresting officer then returned behind the wheel and drove us off. His partner in the passenger seat twisted around to face me. “Gang affiliation?” he said.

I looked up briefly to return eye contact. “What?”

“Are you affiliated with any gangs?” he repeated.

“No.” My eyes fell back to the floor, where I preferred them to be. There would be nothing worth looking at that would bring me any comfort for the foreseeable future.

He looked me up and down then turned back to write something down on some form he had attached to a clipboard. “Tattoos?”

Instinctually, I attempted to move my left arm up to my face as if I had forgotten whether there was ink there or not, and grunted and bit down on my lip to hold back the yelp that almost escaped as my knuckles scraped against the seat leather. It was broken. I already knew it had to be broken, but the intense, dizzying pain this small contact created just confirmed it.

He ignored the stifled outburst, shrugging and turning back to face the windshield. “Forget it, they’ll get all that in intake.”

The car continued on. I knew exactly where we were going. I knew exactly all the places we’d be passing on the way. I never looked up—it would be pointless to. That didn’t matter anymore. 

We stopped at a red light. Spurred on by lack of motion, the silence must have been getting to the guy driving. “Not a big talker, are ya? Can’t say I don’t mind it. Most guys can’t shut up back there, banging their head and screaming ‘bout their rights. Don’t mind this at all.”

I watched a small pebble roll back and forth between my feet as the car began moving again. We slowed down and made a left, and the lurching metallic whir of a gate opening swallowed up the noises of the city outside. The last ray of light glided over my legs and across the backseat before disappearing into darkness. The car stopped, and the engine went silent. His partner exited and closed the door, and before joining to escort me inside, the guy behind the wheel turned to face me. “Hey.” I looked up. I couldn’t make out anything in the dark but the sharp, angular outline of his face. “You’re eighteen?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Alright, just keep your head down. Don’t talk to anyone. Mind your business. You’ll be fine.”

I felt the pebble underneath my foot. I pressed down as hard as I could until it was like a tiny knife driving into my skin.

Both cops grabbed me on either side by each arm and walked me through a heavy steel door with a small window in the center. It opened up into the county intake, a large, white-walled room with the sickening phosphorescent lighting reminiscent of an old hospital. I approached the fat, uniformed woman behind the desk, and the officers unlocked my cuffs. A sudden rush of blood flooded into my hands and began pulsing like the heartbeats of two separate living things at the ends of my arms. I could feel the extent of the swelling in my left hand without looking at it. I wasn’t going to look.

Without making eye contact the woman told me to empty my pockets onto the counter and hand over my shoelaces. I relinquished a cell phone, a lighter and keys. Kneeling, I massaged my wrists and slid the shoelaces from off the pair of slippers. Of all the things to be wearing at a time like this.

“And I’m gonna have to remove that,” she added, pointing to the unfortunate decision hanging off my lip. At the time I though it was a good idea to pierce it. The woman ducked beneath the counter and reappeared with a pair of pliers, then came around to face me, squeezing the metal hoop between each blade. A sour miasma of sweat and cheap perfume wafted off of her body. “Now hold…very…still.” With a quick thrust and an audible crack the piece of jewelry was pulled from out my skin and through the grip of the pliers, flying onto the pissed-on, puked-on, bled-on, died-on intake room floor. The woman bent over, picked it up, and dropped it into the plastic bag with the rest of my confiscated property. “Just keep it,” I mumbled under my breath.

This event would turn out to be the single positive outcome of the entire experience. By the time I would get out, the hole had sealed and my face would forever remain unadorned thereafter. Some things are for the better.

I was directed towards the area on the right, a large and open space decorated with sparsely occupied plastic chairs set up in seven rows that faced a small television bolted to the corner ceiling, with a single decades-old pay phone attached to the wall below. This was the male section. The female section was on the other side of a flimsy, canvas partition separating the entire floor, situated behind the fat woman and her counter and pliers. This was the forbidden zone. 

Once a part of the system, you cease to be an individual. You are now organized—whether it be by the system or by the inmates themselves—according to the basic facts about you that cannot be changed: Women stay among the women. Men among the men. Whites among the whites. Blacks among the blacks. Hispanics among the Hispanics. Snitches among the snitches. Rapists among the rapists. So on. To breach this unspoken contract is to invite the threat of violence upon you.

I walked up to a spot with empty chairs on either side and sat down. It was still early morning, and any men arrested late last night who hadn’t made bail would have already been transferred to a larger detention facility, so occupied seats were few and far between. Two of the men wore orange prison jumpsuits. Everyone sat slumped and quiet, in a daze, still drunk or high or simply despondent, staring up and ahead at the buzzing television. 

The Discovery Channel was playing. Two overweight, bearded men wearing camouflage overalls sped through a Louisiana swamp on a rusted motorboat, with bolt-action rifles in their hands. I could smell the stink through the screen, and wished to be on the boat, drenched in swamp water, slick with sweat and humid air. I wished to be anywhere. One of the men on the boat shouted something in a thick Cajun accent and pointed at the water up ahead. They stopped the boat and the camera whipped to where the man had pointed, and through the green film of the swamp emerged a bumpy log, greenish brown like mud-soaked moss. The log then grew a yellow eye, the pupil thin and vertical. The other man came to the bow of the boat, aimed his rifle at the one-eyed log, and fired. Someone in a chair three rows in front of me shouted, “OOOH WEE! HE GOT THAT FUCKER!” and looked around grinning to catch the eye of anyone else who shared his enthusiasm. No one reciprocated.

I leaned forward into my knees and thought of whom I could call to post bail. It was a Sunday and so my arraignment wouldn’t be until the next day, but I needed some kind of immediate relieving news in the meantime. The man transfixed by the alligator hunters yelled, “Ay, down in front!” as I passed by to reach the payphone, and I keyed in the first number I knew by heart. With each ring left unanswered my spirits sank further into a hopeless black pit. “This is Adrienne,” my girlfriend’s voice chirped into my ear,
“leave a message and I’ll get back to you.” I hung up. There was no rush to the phone by anyone else so I keyed in the next number I preferred not to call, but I had already arrived at the end of my list. Before the phone could ring a second time she answered. “Hello, Henry,” said my mother. I paused. “How did you—”

“How did I know? Everyone knows, Henry.”

I looked over my shoulder and tucked the phone closer into my chin. “Okay. So can you get me outta here?”

“No, son.”

My heart skipped like I’d almost fallen out a chair. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

“I mean no. You got yourself into this. You’re an adult. You need to deal with the consequences of your actions.”

“Okay, what if I fucking die in here?” I hissed, careful to keep my voice low enough that the people behind me couldn’t pick up on the trajectory of the conversation. “You want me to get fucked in the ass? Is that what you want to happen? I’m five fucking eight, what do you think is gonna happen to me? Make some fucking friends? This isn’t fucking summer camp, Mom, get me the fuck outta here.”

A long, breathy exhale floated into my ear. “No, Henry, it’s not summer camp. It’s jail. And you put yourself there. I need to go now.”

The phone clicked and I stood there for a moment holding it to my ear before accepting what had just occurred, and returned it to the receiver. I walked back to the empty chair, ignoring the man screaming, “DOWN IN FUCKING FRONT,” and sat down.

What could have been twenty minutes or three hours later, the woman behind the counter called my name: “Henry Gallagher? Come up here.”

Everyone turned around in their seats and watched me walk across the room. Had she changed her mind? Or had someone gotten in contact with Adrienne? Someone had to have posted my bail. I was unable to hold back the spring in my gait as I approached. Someone was looking out for me.

“Yes?” I said to the woman. “I’m Henry Gallagher.”

“Alright,” she said, appraising my sunny demeanor with a furrowed brow, and pulled out an inkpad and paper form with several empty boxes printed over it. “Hold out your right hand.” I did as I was told, and one by one she took each finger, rolled my fingerprints into the ink and pressed each inked finger into the corresponding box. “Now the left,” she said. “It’s broken,” I told her. “I’m sure it is,” she answered, and repeated: “Now the left.” Having exhausted my list of excuses, I held out my shattered hand and bit down on my tongue. She then replicated the process, and with each finger I squeezed my eyes tighter and bit down harder until I could taste copper. When it was done, she asked, “You alright?”

“I’m great,” I answered. The bitter liquid drained down my throat like when tilting your head back during a bloody nose.

“Good.” She pointed to a white tarp hanging from the wall next to the opposite side of the counter. Down a few feet was a large, black camera sitting atop a tripod, its lens aimed towards the tarp at chest level. “Then go ahead and stand in front of that, facing forward.”

I walked in front of the white tarp and faced the camera, an empty, soulless Cyclops eye. Judging me. I wished to destroy it with my broken fist. It had set in that I had not, in fact, made bail. I was to be officially part of the system, and returned to a cage. And that would be it. I was inmate #whogivesashit. The woman took her place behind the camera and with a click, solidified my inability to be gainfully employed. I turned twice for the next two clicks to immortalize my profile, and was instructed to return to my seat with the rest of the breathing ID numbers.

Once about seven hours had passed, I’d given up on watching the clock, as by now I’d gotten it in my head that time would no longer progress if I stared at the only thing bringing me awareness of it. A guard came around with a little trolley and began making his way down the isles—which by now had filled up considerably—handing out brown paper bags. It was dinnertime. I opened up the bag and looked inside: Two pieces of bread with a slice of ham and cheese between them, an orange, and a small carton of milk like the ones you’d get at lunch in junior high. I was reminded of an anecdote I’d once heard that the company that supplies the prisons with their meals also supplies the public school system with the very same food.

Then, coming from somewhere within the chorus of mastication came a voice: “Psst. Hey.” I looked around, and my eyes met the only other pair looking in my direction. It was one of the two men wearing the orange prison jumpsuits, sitting in the row ahead. “Hey,” he said again, and nodded at me.

“Hey.” I watched him cautiously. “What’s up?”

He pointed to the paper bag in my lap. “You gonna eat that?” He was a young man, not much older than me, with light brown skin like the trunk of a redwood, and long, straight, black hair that reached his waist. His eyes bore into me, sharp and dark and serious. Animal-like.

“No,” I said. “I’m not hungry.”

The eyes then lit up, suddenly human, and showed his youthfulness. “Can I—”

“Yeah, you can have it,” I said.

He reached over between two men and took the bag out of my hands. “Shit, thanks, man. I haven’t eaten in days. They’ve been starving me. I know they’re doing it on purpose too—so I’m not sharp in the mind when I take the stand.” He tapped a finger against his left temple as he said this, his mouth already full and busy chewing down the sandwich. He’d placed mine atop his to create a makeshift double-decker.

“Don’t worry about it,” I said, and leaned back, finding anything else to look at to keep the conversation from continuing. This plan immediately fell through.

“So,” he carried on, “what you in here for?” He had already finished our sandwiches and had moved on to the milk cartons, drinking from both in intervals.

His gluttony distracted me, and before I could find a polite way to say, “Fuck off,” he spoke again: “Murder—that’s why I’m wearing this, anyway.”—He pulled on his collar—“Now they transferred me back here to show up for this other bullshit trial so they can add more years on to my sentence for some goddamned reason. I already got life, why the fuck’re they even bothering? I don’t know.” Answering his own question, he rambled further: “Motherfuckers woke me up at four a.m. to drive my ass down here from State just so I can sit in this fuckin’ room for fuck knows how long, so that I can finally show up for some fuckin’ trial that won’t make a fuckin’ difference anyway! Where’s the goddamn sense in that?”

I’d begun to space out but came to when I realized he’d finished speaking and was expecting an answer. “Uh, no sense,” I said. “No sense in that.”

He slapped the back of his chair. “Exactly! See—shit. Good to see someone in here’s got a lick a’ goddamn brains. Shoulda gotten you as my lawyer, ‘stead of this shit-for-brains public defender bitch they gave me.” He leaned in closer to me over his seat: “I swear, sometimes I think she don’t even wanna help me. Like she’s in on it with ‘em.” His eyebrows raised and he tapped his nose like I’d just been let in on a conspiracy that went all the way to the top.

At that moment I heard the abrupt crash of a chair hitting the floor, and before I could find the source of the noise, the room erupted into chaos. Men’s voices raised high over each other, screaming, “Hey, he needs help!” “Someone get a guard over here!” “I think he’s dyin’, man!

Following the direction of the panic, I looked to the front row and stood up. It was the man who had still until this moment been transfixed by the Discovery Channel. He was now splayed out on the floor, convulsing with his eyes rolled back and white foam bubbling up from his mouth like an overflowing pot of boiling water. As the other detainees continued their cries for help, the fat woman behind the counter leaned over to see what was occurring, and stood there watching as the grand mal seizure intensified, eyeing with the same indifference as a fisherman gazing upon a freshly caught trout gasping for breath on the inside of the boat. By now every man had stood up, waving their arms and shouting at the woman, “Ay, are you gonna fucking do something? Call a medic!

Finally, the guard seemed to come out of her state of apathetic voyeurism and walked slowly to a door on the other side of the room, cracked it open and leaned halfway in, speaking to someone who no doubt had also already been alerted to the situation via the security cameras, and too had failed to act until his colleague had just now given him the okay to save a life. A pair of guards emerged from behind the door carrying a stretcher, waving Tasers like torches against a pack of wolves to clear out the crowd surrounding their target, and loaded him before strolling back to from whence they came, and the sound of his wet chokes and gasps disappeared behind the closed door. “Alright that’s enough! That’s enough!” the fat woman shouted. “Show’s over, sit down!” And with that, the chaos had passed.

Being that there were no windows, and that I had now given up on watching the clock, the best clue that night had fallen outside the detention center was that the intake room had now become flooded with intoxicated, unruly men headed to the drunk tank in a steady flow through the door that I’d first entered. Around this time a new guard approached and addressed the room of men who’d failed to escape their seat for the duration of the day. We were directed to line up in rows, and would be formally processed and cavity searched before being transferred to another facility. For some it would be the final stop before being released back into the world as if nothing had ever happened, and for others merely a purgatory where they would wait days or months or years for the court date that would find them guilty and send them to the State Penitentiary, and deeper into the cyclical nature of the American penal system.

My turn came, and along with five other men, we were directed into separate stalls lined up against a wall. The guard stood before us, his eyes scanning back and forth as he spoke, and as we only saw him and his uniform, and the metal walls to our left and right. “Alright then, strip,” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”

I removed every article of clothing, careful to avoid using my left hand as much as I could, and then stood there feeling more naked than I had ever felt, acutely aware of the freezing temperature in the room. The guard snorted and zeroed in on one of the stalls to my left. “Strip down,” he repeated. “Everything.” I didn’t need to think about it to understand that someone had hoped they could spare themselves the humiliation by keeping on their boxer shorts. A moment passed, and the guard said, “Alright,” squeezed on a pair of medical gloves, clicked on a small flashlight and approached the stall on the far right—mine. “Open your mouth and lift your tongue,” he said, and shone the light as if I were at the doctor’s office. “Turn around, bend over, spread your cheeks,” he told me, and I felt the vague warmth of the light against my open asshole. “Lift your sack.” I pulled my balls up against my cock like I was attempting a reverse tuck-job. Without a word, he was finished with the inspection and continued down the line of men. Upon reaching the third stall, I could hear someone softly crying as he barked the orders.

When it was all over, another guard came up to each stall one by one, handing out stacks of jail uniforms. I put on the clothes: One pink short sleeved shirt, one pair of pink pants similar in texture to something you’d wear to bed, one pair of pink boxers, one pair of knee high, pink socks, and a pair of pink slides. The correctional system chooses the color pink for their inmates’ uniforms because at some point some asshole decided that the color pink has a psychological effect on the human brain that deters the urge towards violence compared to other colors. Whether this decision was based off data obtained from experiments, I can’t say as I haven’t read those particular scientific papers, but what I can tell you from my own experience wearing the uniform is that upon donning the clothing I wanted nothing more than to punch myself in the fucking face. So maybe more research should be done on the subject.

Once outfitted, the six of us were brought into another small, white room where we sat down on two benches facing each other, and we waited. No one spoke for the hours we spent there waiting to be transferred. The only sounds that perforated the uncomfortable silence were the quiet sobs of a young man, skinny and short in stature, who sat with his knees up against his body, trembling. The eyes of the others immediately zeroed in on this kid, sizing him up and, maybe, pitying him. But he had made himself a target with his weakness. I felt no pity, nor relief—I felt nothing at all. Which was exactly how I preferred it. I wished to melt into the wall and disappear, and with the other inmates’ focus on anyone but myself, this experience of nothingness was the closest I would get to the illusion of safety.

It was now late into the night when we were finally led out from the room, chained together by handcuffs, and corralled into an open parking lot beneath the moonlight, where we were met by four other groups of six men, all chained together as well. A repurposed school bus sat idling, its headlights cutting through the thin fog floating just above the asphalt. A guard for each group brought us all together into two lines, where our group shackles were undone, and we were then handcuffed to the man standing beside us in the opposite line. We entered the bus as pairs and filled up each seat available until everyone was onboard. The door closed and we began to drive.

The inmate chained to me was a bald, middle-aged man with purple and black track marks dotting the inside of his left arm like constellations. He had the window seat, as instead of a right arm, he had a scabbed stump ending where the elbow would have been. I wondered for a brief moment how one would handcuff a man with no arms, before coming to the obvious conclusion that it would probably be unnecessary to have to restrain a double amputee in the first place. I can’t imagine you’d be able to get far.

“I fucked up, man.”

I turned to look at my new friend. “I know,” I said.

“Look at this fucking thing.” He lifted up his stump. “I shot so much fucking meth. I shot so much fucking meth they had to hack off my good arm. Isn’t that punishment enough? That’s a life sentence. No arm. Forever. And still they’re loading me up here.”

The handcuff sliced into my wrist as I tried to slide farther away. There was no way to escape this conversation. “Yeah. That sucks, man.”

His head fell against his chest and he spoke into his lap: “They took my fucking kid. I lost my house. Isn’t that enough? I’m a fucking addict, man, not a criminal. I didn’t wanna touch the shit again until they dragged me back here, and now all I wanna do is jam a fucking needle into what’s left of me. They don’t get it. They don’t fucking get it. I need help, not this. Anything but this.” He slammed his shackled fist into his thigh and the chains jangled like wind chimes.

After a couple minutes of silence it became apparent that he wasn’t interested in a dialogue, only a person to hear what he had to say. The rest of the ride went by, hushed words shared here or there between inmates, a sea of bowed heads like a solemn congregation during prayer at mass, until we arrived.

A couple COs met us outside for the hand-off and ushered us into the massive new building. They lined us up and told us things that I no longer had the energy or wherewithal to pay attention to. A guard went down the line of inmates, pointing as a prompt for us to sound off with our number in order of left to right. One inmate decided he wasn’t above puerile jokes, and began counting out of order as each of us played along with the chronological role call: “twenty-three…thirty-seven…hehe…twelve…forty-two…heh…sixty-nine—AGH.”

  That final word you just read was the man’s reaction to a guard putting that shit to rest with a swift swing of his baton, which connected with his stomach and knocked the wind out of him, dropping him to his knees. The guard stepped away and nodded to his colleague, who reared back and kicked the inmate in the face. He emitted a shrill yelp as a streak of blood expelled from his mouth and splatted against the floor, and he crumpled into a ball, twitching. His attacker then wrapped an arm around the inmate’s neck in a chokehold, yanked him to his feet, and dragged him backwards on his heels down the wide corridor and out of sight. The sounds of his moans retreated while the blood remained, a red puddle so dark it appeared purple against the contrast of the gray concrete.

What a wonderful job being a correctional officer must be for a sadist.

We were now introduced to where many of us would be sleeping, shitting, fighting and furtively masturbating for the foreseeable future. It was much like a large gymnasium, with rows and rows of beds lined up together that took up most of the back half of the area, a small bathroom with showers that I would not be utilizing tucked into the front right corner, an entertainment area in the front left corner that was comprised of a single television bolted to the wall with a half-circle of plastic chairs arranged around it, the kitchen and guards’ box on the other side of a glass partition farther up along the right wall, and the unavoidable monolith in the center of it all: a massive, cement cylinder rising up all the way to the high ceiling, which seemed to attract the inmates like moths to a light bulb, all of whom were circling around its mysterious allure in slow, trance-like laps like the scene from Midnight Express. This must have been what constituted exercise.

Those not distracted by their strange dance with the cylinder all turned their heads to get a look at the new guys. It was a menacing and uncomfortable feeling, as if a foreign tribe of chimpanzees had encroached upon another’s territory and was now being assessed on whether or not they would prove a threat. There was nothing but the sense of spiking adrenaline and pure fight-or-flight instinct filling up the gymnasium like weaponized anthrax. The anxiety made me sick to my stomach and weak, and I wanted nothing more than to collapse upon the floor. My body and mind were not built for this amount of constant stress, and I couldn’t fathom the idea that someone could survive living through this feeling for years at a time without their heart giving out. Or especially, the idea that I may have to.

Before letting us loose, the CO escorting us told everyone to report to the guards’ box to be assigned a bed number. As I approached, the jail door behind me closed shut with a loud, painful, terrifying metal clang. I was trapped. It was official. Welcome home, Inmate #Whogivesashit.

I reached the front of the line and stood before the guard. “Bunk sixty-three,” he said without looking up from his desk, and pushed a button that slid open a latch in the glass wall. He handed over a thin, rolled up mattress, a pillow, and a plastic bag that contained a notepad, a de-weaponized blue pen, and a bar of soap. “You lose any of that, it’s on you. Don’t ask for any replacements.” The latch closed.

I knocked on the window. “Hey. Hey, excuse me. Sir?”

The guard reopened the latch. “Next.”

“No, wait.” I held my arm out to keep him from shutting it closed again. “I’m epileptic. I take pills for that. Do I talk to you about getting my medication? Or who do I talk to?”

He made eye contact for the briefest moment, only to let me know that I had done something wrong. “Pull your hand away. Now.”

“Sir,” I persisted. “I have epilepsy. Aren’t you required to give me my medication? I can die. Sir.” As a show of submission I let my hand fall back to my side. The moment I did this, the latch swung shut, and his response muffled behind the glass: “Next.”

I looked around the room, not knowing what to do. An inmate shoulder checked me as he pushed his way past. “He said, ‘Next’, dumb motherfucker.”

It was now apparent how much say I had in my own survival. I stepped to the side, looked down at the bare minimum supplies I’d been provided, waited for the rage to shrink away back into anxiety, and made my way towards my assigned bed.

Bunk sixty-three was situated directly across from who appeared to be an old homeless man, the blanket tucked up around his ears, his face buried in his pillow. The odor of urine and sweat and human shit was powerful. He appeared to be very ill, erupting with hacking, wet coughs every few seconds like a dying plague victim.

I laid out my mattress and pillow, tossed the plastic bag on the bed and lay there beside it, arms behind my head, and stared up at the ceiling, counting the cracks and holes as if they were stars.

“Gallagher.” I opened my eyes and sat up. Two guards stood over me. “Come with us,” one said. Without a word I stood and followed the man who spoke, while the other fell back and walked behind me. It was quiet in the dark. Most inmates had returned to their beds since I’d closed my eyes to rest, the only sounds being the snores of those asleep, and the pneumonic, violent coughs of my neighbor. The guard unlocked the jail door and wordlessly instructed me into the hallway. The guard trailing behind walked through and closed the door. There was silence as I stood watching these men, waiting for something to be explained. I knew better than to talk out of turn again, especially as the nature of this sudden, late-night wakeup call made me uneasy. Everything about these people—this place—made me uneasy. As it was intended, I’m sure.

When you’re struck and not expecting it, it can take your brain a few moments to register what just occurred, and then to instruct you on how to react. So when the guard hit me in the stomach with an uppercut, I kind of just doubled over and looked up at him without any response, only understanding that the wind had been knocked out of me and something had happened that caused me pain. It wasn’t until the second guard stepped forward and acted in kind, hitting me in the liver and knocking me to the floor, that my mind lit up and I understood: I’m being attacked. These people are attacking me.

It’s an unpleasant feeling knowing that you are getting the shit beaten out of you, and wanting desperately to fight back, whether by self-preservation or anger, but still having the overriding survival instinct screaming throughout your being that fighting back is not an option. You are not allowed to hit these people. These people can kill you. These people will kill you. Stay on the floor. Cover up vital organs. Make as little noise as possible. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Go to your happy place. Go to your happy place. Go to your happy place. Go to your happy place. It. Will. Be. Over. Soon. One way or another.

The moment they stopped, it was as if my wounds were finally allowed to exhale. All the pain multiplied, my body taking stock of, and now becoming fully aware of, the damage it had taken. The guards stood me up, each grasping the back of my shirt with one hand, opened the jail door, and walked me back to bunk sixty-three. They let go, letting me collapse onto the hard mattress, turned around, walked back across the room, the boots used to bludgeon me clicking and clacking upon the cold floor, and left.

The entire barrage lasted no more than three minutes, every shot aimed at my stomach. They did this, I understood, because it wouldn’t leave bruises. I didn’t know whether this had happened because of my earlier interaction with the CO on duty, or because they had caught wind of the nature of my crime and felt like returning the favor. It hardly mattered now. The most unsettling part of the beating was that at no point after the guard had told me to come with them, did either man speak a single word. To me, or each other. It was the silence of the brutality that terrified me the most.

The next morning I got up and joined the other inmates for breakfast. The only recognizable item of food was a stale piece of corn bread, which I turned down along with the pile of mystery slop that resembled corn chowder. My stomach was a mess of twisting aches, and I was convinced I suffered internal bleeding and that nothing ingested would stay down anyway. I sat at the table for a while, twirling my utensil around in the meal as a child would who refused their dinner and needed to make it look like food had been consumed.

When enough time had passed I got up, threw out the tray’s contents, and followed some of the others to the cylinder for mindless laps. There was nothing to do but wait for something to happen. A kid around my age, bone-thin and short and pale, latched on to me with the nervous energy of an eager student on the first day of school. “Hi,” he chirped, slowing down beside me to match my sluggish pace. “I tried to stab a cop and run away but got stuck on a fence and they tazed me until I fell back down. They say I have schizophrenia so I bet I’ll get outta here soon and it’ll be all back to normal as long as I take some pills and see a psychiatrist twice a week. That’s what the doctors said, I think. It was a little fuzzy, though, but I think that’s what they said. I’ve never seen a psychiatrist but I’ve seen them in movies and the couches always look so comfy so I think I’m looking forward to it. Do you take pills too? Do you see a psychiatrist? Do they really have you sit on those comfy couches while you talk to them? I hope mine is nice. The doctors seemed nice. Everyone here seems nice, now that I mention it. Except for the guards, they’re not the nicest, but that’s the gig I guess, right? I’m William, what’s your name?”

The sheer weight and volume of the word vomit spewed upon me was too much to keep up with this early in the morning. I decided to respond to the least personal and easiest to answer portion of his monologue: “Some have couches. Sometimes chairs. They’re comfy.”

William beamed at me. “Yeah, I figured. That’s a hell of a gig, I bet—being a psychiatrist. Just sitting around all day listening to people. Hell, I do that all the time already and I don’t even get paid for it! Maybe I should become a psychiatrist when I get outta here.” His eyes glazed over and focused on the tiles in front of his feet as he fantasized about his upcoming new life. “Yeah. I think that’s for me. Don’t you think?”

From this interaction alone, I understood definitively that psychiatry would never be a line of work that would be of any interest to me. I pitied whoever would wind up across a coffee table and box of tissues from this person. “Yes,” I said. “I’m gonna go sit down on my bed. It was nice to meet you, William. Good luck with that.”

William’s voice faded away into the widening space between us: “Hey, thanks man! Nice to meet you, I’ll come say hi in a little while! Don’t be a stranger! I mean it, man, I’m serious. Don’t.”

The minute I sat down, it became clear my body wanted me to vomit. I returned to my feet, and slowly but deliberately made my way to the toilets. If there’s black in your puke, I told myself, that’s dried blood and it means you’re bleeding inside. If there isn’t, you’re fine. I’m sure you’re fine, Henry. I’m sure you’re fine.

With my goal just feet away, a loud, gravely voice barked out my name. “Gallagher!” I turned around and saw the CO pointing from behind his glass barrier to the phone connected to the nearby wall. “You’ve got a call. Make it quick.”

I took in a deep breath, swallowed hard to keep any bile making its way up to settle back at the top of my stomach, reached the phone and put the outdated piece of technology to my ear. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to the man I would come to rely on multiple times over the coming years. “Henry, how you doing, man? My name is Walter Brimming. Your mom gave me a call to help you out with your arraignment. I’ll be your lawyer during the proceeding.” He spoke with a throaty, Brooklyn-Italian accent.

“Okay,” I said. “Hi.”

“So I’m just gonna give you the rundown. I’m in the process of pulling some strings, given your history and the events that led up to the incident. You’ll be fine, son, you’ve got no record, you’re a head case—I mean no offense by that, I promise. That’ll only help us going forward with all this. You’re not gonna be taken to the courthouse, okay? You’re gonna appear remotely via video call. I’ll be there to talk for you. You don’t need to say a word—”

“Okay, but—”

“No, see, Henry,” he interrupted, “you’re fucking up already. You don’t talk. I can’t stress that enough. The judge will ask you to enter a plea and you say ‘not guilty.’ That’s all you gotta do. Now say it with me.”

Not guilty,” we answered together.

“Good. That’s great. You’re already a fine criminal in the making.”

I didn’t know how to respond. The silence allowed for the vomit to begin rising again.

Walter emitted a grating, theatrical laugh. “That was a joke, son. I’m joking. You’re gonna be fine. I’m doing everything I can on my end. You just focus on staying quiet and alive. Can you do that for me?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. You have any questions for me? How’s the food?”

“I haven’t eaten,” I said. “No, I don’t have any questions.”

“Yeah, I don’t blame you. Making friends?”

“Tons. I’ve joined a knitting circle with some of the Aryan Brotherhood.”

Walter snorted. “You got jokes. That’s good. You hold on to that.”

There was a tap on the glass barrier and I turned to see the CO pointing to the watch on his wrist. “Okay, well thank you, Mr. Brimming. I have to go now.”

“Alright, you do that. You’ll see me at the arraignment. If everything goes well you won’t need to see me at all. Or ever again. Keep your head up.”

I hung up the phone, allowed the bile to restart its climb up my esophagus, walked rigidly to the toilets, dropped to a knee, and vomited.

What expelled from my stomach was only a watery, viscous yellow mix of whatever acid and bile my body could muster. No blood, so I decided I wasn’t going to die and was going to have to go through with this. It was difficult to ascertain which outcome I was really hoping for.

The remainder of the time I had left was spent sitting on the edge of bunk number sixty-three, listening to the death rattles of the homeless man curled into the fetal position across the gap. Since I’d gotten here he hadn’t risen once. Not to piss nor shit nor eat, which left me with the unfortunate realization of what that implied, and why the man smelled the way he did. No one bothered to check on him, but quite the opposite. The inmates and COs alike all avoided him as if he’d come down with leprosy. People like this man provide you with a sense of perspective. There are always worse things.

There were subjects I wished I had the mental clarity to convey to Walter over the phone—the withholding of my epilepsy medication namely, as I had no more than another twenty-four hours before my last dose would leave my system and I’d be at serious risk of a grand mal seizure, but I struggled with whether I should have brought up the beating. That the entire experience of incarceration felt dreamlike gave my starved and stressed mind hesitancy on whether or not last night’s event had even occurred. I could never really trust my mind, I had no real evidence, and in honesty, I was afraid of what further repercussions could befall me should I choose to publically recall the physical abuse I’d suffered at the hands of those still holding control over my wellbeing. 

My left hand had now swollen up to twice its normal size. I knew I needed medical attention eventually, but the idea of voicing any further complaint to a guard felt like the worse of the two possible outcomes. My only hope for salvation lay with the voice inside that telephone.

The jail door opened. Out walked two familiar faces. In the darkness it had been difficult to get a great look at them, but in the light of the room in the daytime every piece of their complexion and facial structure and eyes and stature flooded through into the fuzzy image to create the full picture of my assailants. They stopped and stood at the door, and began calling out names. There were three of us.

I stood and began the slow walk across the floor. We lined up before the COs and waited to be spoken to. I fell to the back, trying to create as much space as possible between the guards and me.

The man I recognized as the first to throw a punch stepped forward and spoke. “Ya’ll are gonna be heading to your arraignments. Goody for you.” He glanced at me and smirked. “Alright then, let’s go. The law don’t wait for ya.”

We passed through the door, and his partner circled behind us as he had before under the cloak of darkness. “Move forward. Stay in line,” he said.

The hallway was cold and quiet. Our issued slides made no noise against the floor, so all that filled the wide, long, empty space was the clack clack clack of the guards’ polished shoes. My pace was slow, as I waited for the sound of the jail door slamming shut—waited for the finality of that sound to force me to prepare for the next, unknown step.

But in its place, came a shout. “Hold up there.

We all turned around in synchronicity, now facing a third guard, one of the men stationed in the guards’ box. 

“What is it?” asked the CO leading us.

“Gallagher stays,” the man replied. “I’m supposed to bring him back.”

The man who threw the first punch looked at me and frowned. “Alright. Just take him. You’re holdin’ us up.”

Without a second thought I sprung from the line and stood behind my new savior like a duckling hiding underneath its mother’s wing. I didn’t care the reason; all that mattered was to be farther away from those guards.

The now shortened lined turned back and continued on wordlessly until disappearing around a corner. It was the first moment since I’d arrived that I felt a moment of peace.

“The mother duck looked at me and nodded his head to move towards the open door. “It’s your lucky day. DA dropped your charges.”

My throat went dry and I became dizzy. I didn’t understand.

“Must pay to be a crazy sonofabitch,” was the only explanation he would provide. “Play psycho and the whole system just drops to a knee and sucks your cock.” This last sentence was mumbled under his breath with his eyes forward as we stepped back into the jailhouse. “Bring your pillow and mattress back up to the box, and then we’ll get you processed.”

My youth and naivety shined through with the only question I could think to ask. “And out?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “And out.”

The experience of getting processed and released from jail is a monotonous labyrinth of locked, white room after locked, white room—with hours of nothing to do but stare at the other poor, thankful souls sitting across from you.

The lucky trio was comprised of: 1. Me. 2. A man who had caught his wife in bed with another man, and who then chased the man out the open window of their 2nd-story apartment with a six-inch kitchen knife in hand before falling just shy of murder when he was apprehended by the police in the middle of a 7-11 parking lot, and 3. The puerile fellow I’d arrived with who had decided to immediately seal his fate by ruining the countdown lineup and promptly receive a state-sanctioned beating. After having been rewarded with a cracked jaw and a broken tooth, he’d been thrown into a single-bed cell with no heat in the middle of winter. More than anything else that had occurred, he was beside himself with anger that he had not been provided a blanket. This was the only thing he felt like talking about during the seven hours it took to finally be led to the bus that would drop us off at the front steps of the county courthouse—as free men.

Under moonlight and a clear sky, the three of us shared a knowing and subtle nod, as nothing needed to be said, and we would never see each other again, only having those hours together in a series of locked, white rooms.

One man went one way. The second man, another. And I remained, looking back at the courthouse, knowing not yet what else to do.

I had never wanted more in my life than in that moment, to commit a fucking crime.

Bruce Mundhenke


He wasn’t very big. He stood almost to my shoulders. Four foot, eleven inches. He told me one time that he had been hassled all his life because he was small. He was also quite skinny, even as an older man. He had loved beer and marijuana since his teenage years. He had never been very work brittle, but he always seemed to get by somehow. Mostly, when he worked, he helped farmers who owned small farms, but he had done a few short stints at factories through the years. 

I knew him casually since we were nine years old, but because of circumstances of fate, I got to know him much better in these last two years. Two years ago, my live-in girlfriend physically attacked me while I was driving down the road. I was stopped by the police, charged with DUI, and lost my driving privileges. I rented an apartment uptown, began drinking in skid row bars, and struck up a friendship with J.C..

I found myself walking the two and a half blocks that would take me to see J.C. at the Rendezvous Tavern. I did this nearly every morning. It had become my routine for the past two years. I worked the night shift in a warehouse on the edge of town, loading trucks for shipments to fast food restaurants. At fifty four years old, I was still in pretty good shape. I had an inexpensive apartment just off the square in the small town where I live. My health had held out. My expenses were minimal. There were two grocery stores that were just a short walk from my apartment. And skid row was just a few minutes away…

In our town, skid row was a one block area on East Main that had four bars, two on each side of the street. It had a shady reputation, to say the least. The bars there were frequented by mostly the ragged people of the community. Twenty five years ago, it had boomed. When there was more work, a mix of people went there for sex and drugs. These days, the work wasn’t there, neither were the crowds. Still, at night, it got busy sometimes. The older folks were stoners, but most of the younger folks were into meth. These days it could get pretty mean on skid row at night.

I walked the brick sidewalk from my apartment past the courthouse square, down Main Street, that would take me to the Rendezvous Tavern. As I walked, the bell at the top of the courthouse rang nine times. Nine a.m.. I passed the statue of Abraham Lincoln with a small pig at his feet, which graced a corner of the courthouse lawn.

The story was that pigs were squealing beneath the old courthouse. Abe requested a Writ of Quietus. I guess in those days, court proceedings were sometimes interrupted by squealing pigs. This happened when Lincoln rode the circuit to practice law at various county courthouses in Illinois.

The businesses uptown around the square were struggling. A Walmart had sprung up on the edge of town. Many of the young people in town had moved away, either to go to school, or to find work elsewhere. The coal mines and better paying factory jobs had disappeared.

J.C. had a mobility scooter. He simply called it his scooter. He lived about one half mile from uptown and rode it uptown nearly every day of the week. He received social security disability for various medical problems, including muscle atrophy and cardiac problems. He had had three heart attacks and had a defibrillator. He smoked cigarettes like a dragon. He was a daily pot smoker and drank beer like the Coneheads.

His scooter was parked out front of the bar across the street. I crossed Main Street and walked into the front door of the Rendezvous Tavern. J.C. sat on a barstool near the end of the bar watching Julie, the bartender, stock the coolers with beer. He had been obsessed with her for the two years I had known him well. Even though they had never had sexual relations, they often seemed like an old married couple, friendly at times, at each other’s throat at other times.

I sat down on a barstool next to him.

“How you doing old man?” I asked.

“Pretty fair,” he replied.

“Julie,” I said, “get me and J.C. a couple of beers.”

She walked over and put a couple of Miller Lites in front of us, then went back to stocking the coolers.

J.C. watched her walk away. Julie was in her early thirties and looked pretty good, especially when you considered how hard she had partied for the last ten years or so. She had long brown hair, nice-sized breasts, and a great ass to boot. This despite having developed a fancy for the meth as of late.

I got along well with Julie. She had a good sense of humor and was fun to party with, but she drank like a sailor. I had never been intimate with her, but on several occasions we went bar hopping together. It cost me a pretty penny.

J.C. quit watching Julie and turned to me.

“Wanna hitter, Alan?

“Sure, brother.”

He began to load one pinch hitter after another. We took turns smoking them, while sitting at the bar. J.C. and I had an unspoken agreement. He supplied the pot and I bought our beer. After we had smoked three one hitters each, I made my way over to the jukebox. I played 8 or 9 fossil rock songs. I put on Creedece Clearwater Revival, the Moody Blues, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, and others. Sometimes we would listen to songs from the soundtrack of Oh Brother Where Art Thou, laughing like crazy at times while they played. We were, after all, hillbillies in hillbilly heaven.

Greg, the owner, came in the door as J.C. was smoking a one hitter.

“I told you guys to go to the restroom to do that shit.”

Julie laughed. “Nobody is in here, Greg.”

“I don’t give a shit. It’s not cool.”

J.C. laughed. “We won’t do it no more. I promise, Greg.”

J.C. had told him that a hundred times. We both laughed and J.C. put the one hitter and pot in his pocket. Greg walked down to the other end of the bar to talk business with Julie.

J.C. was grinning like a cat eating shit. I loved him just as he was. I wanted him to discover the truth that had been revealed to me many years ago. And the joy that came with the discovery. 

Many years ago, in Vietnam, I was at the lowest point in my life. I asked Jesus for help. I experienced a powerful spiritual experience shortly after that. I felt like I was in heaven for about 30 seconds. There are no words that  would describe it. That thirty seconds seemed like an eternity. Everything was one. Everything was connected. Everything was beautiful. There was nothing but love, joy, and peace. Thirty seconds of bliss. It was more help than I could have dreamed I would get. I never did become involved in organized religion, however. I always thought of myself as a barbarian Christian.

“J.C., don’t you ever have any curiosity about God?”

“Don’t start that shit again, Alan. I’ve told you before, all we are is specks of carbon, that’s it.”

“J.C., God spoke and made everything.”

“Bullshit, Alan. If there’s a God, where did he come from?”

“He always was, J.C..”

“Bullshit. He had to come from somewhere.”

“He always was, J.C..”

J.C. was not concerned with the origin of the universe or what events would unfold in the distant future. His concern with the past was limited to his own remembered experiences within his lifetime. His only concern for the future was related to his plans for the next 30 days or so.

The front door of the tavern opened. In walked Jerry, an old friend of us both. He owned the bar next door a few years ago. He was a little older than us. He had retired from the coal mine. He had been a wildman in his youth, but had mellowed out considerably in recent years. He sat down at the bar and ordered a beer.

“What are you drunken clowns doing?”

We both laughed and I told him we were contemplating the nature of the universe.

“You guys are too fucked up to contemplate anything.”

J.C. handed him the bag and the hitter. “Shut up, Jerry. Go to the pisser and have a couple hits.”

Jerry took the bag and the hitter and made his way to the men’s room.

Meanwhile, J.C. was watching Julie again. She was stocking the liquor beneath the bar.

“She’s on that shit again, Alan. Look at her mouth.”

She stood there with just the bar between us, scrutinizing an order form. Her lips were moving this way and that, something she did when smoking meth.

“Look at that camel toe, Alan.”

Her jeans were very tight. She gave J.C. a dirty look. “Up yours J.C., you pervert.”

Jerry came back from the men’s room smiling and gave J.C. back his pot. It was pretty decent reefer.

The front door opened and in came Joe and Mark. Joe worked for a construction company and was often out of town. Mark did maintenance work on oil rigs and other odds and ends. He also did a lot of trapping. Often in the winter, the back of his truck would have dead beavers, muscrats, , coons,  and coyotes in it.

They were both legends in our area for the amount of whiskey they could put away. When they were barhopping, often fights would break out in the bars they left, because the younger guys would try to keep up with them and then become mean and stupid. It happened often.

They sat down at the bar and ordered beers.

“Alan, did I ever tell you about the time I took J C. on my coyote run last winter?”

“I don’t think  I heard that story, Mark.”

“Well, we came up on a coyote in one of my traps and I gave J.C. the pistol and told him to shoot it.”

“Was he a dead aim?”

“Oh, he shot him. Made him pretty mad! Then I had to finish him off.” Everyone in the bar laughed.

“Bullshit Mark! He moved right when I shot and you know it.” Everyone laughed again.Jerry looked pretty stoned. He looked at me and J.C. and shook his  head.

“You guys are really something.”

Everyone laughed again. Mark finished his beer. I saw him wink at Joe. “Julie, give us all a shot of Beam.”

She set up the shots and everyone did one. Then I ordered shots of Wild Turkey. I didn’t have to work that night. I knew better, but I didn’t care. Mark, Joe, and I took turns of buying Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, and some other brand of Whiskey I’d never heard of. J.C., Jerry, and I were smashed. Mark and Joe left the bar laughing. Julie had Greg bring J.C.’s scooter into the bar and called a cab for J.C., Jerry, and me.

When the cab let me off in front of my apartment, it was a long climb to the top of the stairs. When I got inside, I found my way to my recliner in the living room. I looked out the window of my apartment at the courthouse clock. It was only 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

I sat in my recliner, in the living room of my apartment. My eyelids were heavy. I was nearly dreaming while awake. I was thinking about J.C. as he was now, but also about various recollections I had of him throughout the years.

I remembered him in his John Deere baseball uniform when he was 10 years old. The spectators would laugh when he came to bat. He was so short and his strike zone so small that he nearly always walked. He was left handed. Sometimes he would ground out, or on rare occasions hit a single between the first and second basemen. He loved baseball and was a diehard Cubs fan.

In his teenage years, I used to see him at the skating rink. He was truly one of the best roller skaters I have ever seen. He could skate backwards better and more gracefully than anyone else could skate forward.

He married a pretty good looking girl when he was young. They had two daughters. She left him when the girls were quite young. He drank a lot and worked very little. After she left him, he began drinking even more and smoking more pot. He partied a lot with some girls in a neighboring town in those days. You would sometimes see them drop him off after a two or three day binge at an uptown bar. He would be drunker than hell and his hair would be all messed up.

Many years ago, he was convicted of DUI and lost his driving privileges. He got around that by using a riding lawnmower to drive around town. One night, when he was barhopping on his riding lawnmower, he passed out and crashed into the door of the corner drug store, breaking the glass door. This resulted in his second DUI and a large fine.

During this period, I was sitting at an uptown bar when a guy came in laughing like hell and proceeded to tell everyone sitting at the bar of how he had been in court to hear J.C.’s account to the judge of why he hadn’t made payments on past fines. He told the judge that on account of all the rain caused by El Nino that year, he had not gotten much work from the farmers. The guy said the whole courtroom cracked up, including the judge.

I remember once, many years ago, a bunch of us talked J.C. into running for mayor. He did, but would not campaign. One day I gave him a lot of shit because he wouldn’t stop drinking long enough to campaign a little. He told me he didn’t want to be mayor. He had decided to run for State’s Attourney. I told him he needed a law degree for that. Even though he lost his bid for mayor, be got quite a few votes.

He got a mobility scooter after he became disabled. He rode it all over town, drunk or sober. The police never bothered him. If they thought he was too loaded, they put his scooter in the trunk of their squad car and took him home.

One time, about thirty years ago, I spent 10 days in jail with J.C.. We had been playing softball with a bunch of people out at the lake and drinking keg beer. We rode back into town in Doug’s pickup truck. Doug and Zeke were in the cab. J.C. and I were in the back of the truck. When we got uptown on the courthouse square, there were four guys sitting on the courthouse lawn. One of them had had a fight with Zeke a few days back. Zeke was drunk and demanded Doug pull in. We stopped on the square and a fight broke out. The guys Zeke had a bone to pick with had a billy club. Also, one of them went to the trunk of his car and got  a shotgun. The city police came onto the scene. Zeke and I spent 10 days in jail before we got bailed out. Doug bailed out immediately. J.C. spent the rest of the summer in the county jail. Zeke’s dad told him the guy with the shotgun had fired, but the shell misfired. I hunted a lot when I was young and never had a shell misfire. 

During my stay in jail, the trustee, Jim, was on work release. He worked for a landscaper. He brought me and Zeke and J.C. pot to smoke every day. We got stoned every day during the ten days I was in jail.

Zeke, J.C., and I were in the bullpen. We spent our days in an open area with a concrete table and benches. At night, we were locked into three individual cells that were side by side. One of the jailors was an old man. One night, when we were being locked into our individual cells for the night, Zeke asked him to sing us a song.

He sang a few verses of an old hillbilly song I’d never heard before. I can still remember the first verse. It went:

“Don’t send my son to prison

He didn’t do no wrong,

He didn’t steal them chickens,

They just followed him on home.”

Then he told us good night. After he left, we waited a few minutes, then lit a joint and passed it back and forth from cell to cell. At one point, we heard the jailor’s keys jangling in the distance, then it stopped. J.C. was holding the joint at the time and we heard his toilet flush. Zeke told J.C. he couldn’t believe he done that and promised to choke him in the morning. I believe he really would have if I hadn’t talked him out if it.

J.C. would give anyone the shirt off his back if they were down and out. He didn’t like to talk about politics or religion. He was mostly interested in things he could touch or feel, things right un front of his face.

I woke up in my recliner at 2a.m.. I swore I would never drink whiskey again and I never have. Not long after that time, a woman who had been a close friend of mine for several years moved in with me. For the most part, I quit going to the bars, but I would still go and see J.C. once in a while and now and then he would visit me. On one of these visits, he told me his time was short. I told him he would dance on my grave.

About a month later, after a night off from work, I got up out of bed and turned the television on. There was a preacher on television, preaching in a huge, lavish church, to a large congregation. He was telling his followers that after the rapture, they would be walking on streets of gold and living in mansions, but the people left behind were in for big trouble.

My understanding of what Jesus said was in reference to places of rest, not expensive mansions. And the Bible, as I understand it, doesn’t talk about a rapture, but it does speak of an eventual change into spiritual bodies when the Lord returns. I turned the television off. I showered, then started the familiar walk down the brick sidewalk that would take me down to skid row. There was no scooter in front of the Rendezvous.

I walked into the Rendezvous and sat down at the bar. Julie gave me a bottle of beer and took my money. Greg sat at the end of the bar. Ed, Bill, and Mark sat a little way down from me. Everyone was quiet.

“Anybody seen J.C.?”

Bill told me that nobody had seen him for two days, so Julie sent him over to check on him. He said the door to his apartment was unlocked and he went in to find J.C. dead, lying on his bed. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. I finished my beer and left.

As I walked back to my apartment, my mind wandered.  As much as I could know, God was not in J.C.’s thoughts, but I believed J.C. was with the Lord and the Lord would accept him and love him. J.C. would know the truth. Truth is love. That is what I believed. It was conceivable though, that J.C.’s ashes would merge with the earth to drift through time and space toward some unknowable destiny, without any awareness whatsoever.

Judson Michael Agla

Because It’s the End of the World

I’m writing you now because it’s the end of the world. We grew up in love, until the times changed. You became a fascist, and I secretly joined the resistance. But you always knew about that, didn’t you? Thanks for pretending. I’ve lost count of how many times I watched you on podiums, spewing out fascist lies to the mindless masses, from behind my sniper’s rifle, I never could take that shot. Now you’re a leader and harbinger of death. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to hear that I finally stole the original written recipe for the famous “Pina Collada”.

However, in times such as these, I had to modify my escape plans. I’m currently held up in an old dilapidated radio station in northern Canada. Any escape has been blocked off by a very obsessive and determined pack of wild dogs, I’m not too worried, where would I go until the end of the world. 

I pick up news from time to time, I didn’t think genocide was your thing. You were always afraid of clowns when you were young, so you had them all shot and bulldozed into public parks, like garbage. This New World Order thing has really gone to your head

I remember you rehearsing your speeches in our bed, both of us with revolvers under our pillows, I miss the sound of your voice even through all that propaganda. You got exactly what you wanted, and I got what I deserved.

I heard that “Social Media Withdrawal” killed off quite a few people, some ate bullets, some just dropped dead.

I heard the poor and disenfranchised are being killed like cattle, in massive herds. Does your position bring a smile to your face, or has your heart grown black, like the blood on the wheels of your war machines?

Maybe one day you’ll hear “Until the end of the World Radio” broadcasting news of a new resistance.

Maybe I’ll be eaten by wild dogs.

But you stay right where you are, I want you safe, right by the Devil’s side.

Joe Surkiewicz

Almost Heaven

“I did it.”

“Did what?”

“Solved a life problem.”

“That makes me so happy. Fill me in.”

“That would be more along the lines of a confession.”

“All ears on this end.”

“It involved a man.”

“This has a familiar ring.”

“Not for long. This was not a regular man or the kind of man you would associate with me. This was a man who was part of a substrata.”

“A problem man.”

“To put it mildly.”

“Was he from West Virginia?”

“I refuse to characterize people on their origin. But, yes, since you ask.”

“You’re so close to Almost Heaven in your part of Appalachia. Easy guess.”

“I like West Virginians. Some very attractive, smart, educated folks.”

“But not all. Substrata.”

“You could say sub-substrata. I refuse to use the H-word, but it gives the flavor.”

“Inbred. Crude. Illiterate. What we used to call a hillbilly.”

“An offensive word. But you’re on the right track.”

“Did you meet this particular man during your official duties at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources?”

“Yes and no. I never met him. I saw him. A lot.”


“Thirtyish. Long stringy hair and a ZZ Top beard. Over two hundred pounds. Bib overalls. No shirt. Muck boots.”

“He’d follow you?”

“He’d show up a couple times a week, in town, on the job.”

“Did he do anything?”

“Watched me.”

“You ignored him?”

“At first. Then I thought, this is absurd. Confront him. Ask him what he’s doing. So I did.”


“He walked away. It irritated me, so I took his goddamn picture with my phone. I made some discrete enquiries and finally found out who he was.”

“Do I need to know his name?”

“You don’t. The guy was, not sure the right word, ominous. Creepy. I got convinced that his big lurking presence, licking his lips, his hairy shoulders and bare arms, that he had nothing on under those filthy overalls.”

“You’d see him in the woods?”

“He’d just appear. Never said anything. Never stopped looking.”

“Just a wild guess, but did this guy have a record?”

“Sex crimes going back to juvenile. Peeping. Indecent exposure. Public masturbation.”

“Find out anything else?”

“Not much. Seasonal worker, brush hogging, lumberjacking, worked in this part of the state a lot. But I didn’t report the stalking.”

“Why not?”

“It’s hard enough being one of only three women rangers in western Maryland. Gotta protect the image. And I’d rather take care of my own problem.”

“You’re armed, right?”

“Nine millimeter Beretta. That’s why he never did anything but watch. But I had a feeling, a conviction really, it was only a matter of time.”

“So you got proactive?”

“Ever see a bear trap?”


“Big steel cage eight feet long, three feet in diameter, solid steel on top and bottom, wire mesh on the sides, bars on each end like a jail cell. A bear smells the bait, goes in, gate closes, bear trapped.”


“Bears are wary, it takes a while. But it’s awesome when it happens. Six hundred pounds, pissed off, throwing itself against the bars.”

“You check the traps periodically?”

“It’s one of the wonders of the job. Where else can you work outdoors, beautiful mountains, and see things real close-up, like a wild bear in a trap—something almost no one else will ever see?”

“This guy, this perv, he’d follow you while you’re checking the traps?”

“It’s an ongoing program—trapping problem bears that break into cabins and tear up trash cans and chicken coops. We trap and relocate them, in the spring especially. They’re hungry and mean. I knew he’d show up at a site.”

“Lemme guess. You lured him into a bear trap and released him where he won’t bother you anymore.”

“Thought about it. But how do you get a guy who grew up in the woods into a bear trap?”

“What if you’re the bait?”

“Thought about that, too. Show a little ankle, he clambers in after me, I put a bullet into him. But think about it. Firing a nine millimeter handgun in a steel box? Too loud. Too messy. A lot of explaining to do after.”

“You’re past the point of ignoring the guy.”

“It got worse. He showed up at my cabin, standing on the other side of the road across from my driveway. That takes me past mildly annoyed straight into pissed. I jumped out of the car and poof, he’s gone. I heard a four-wheeler start up back in the woods.”

“I’m gonna guess that was the last straw.”

“I can’t live like that, looking over my shoulder all day all night. Time to solve the problem. And without repercussions.”

“Next time you see him in the woods, put a bullet in him.”

“Easier said than done. I’d do it if he attacked me, of course. But that has its risks. He’s big. He could take me by surprise. Rape me, murder me. I can’t wait for that and I don’t want to get into a homicide, even if it’s self-defense.”

“Okay, what?”

“It went down like this. I’m checking a trap and we got one. Big brute, snarling, shaking the trap. It’s almost dancing across the forest floor, the bear is so pissed and hungry. I head to the truck to report it, get assistance, and there he is. Next to a big oak, staring at me. He shrugs the shoulder straps off and his overalls drop. Guess what? No underwear.”

“I’d a shot him.”

“Fun fact. The safest place when you release a bear is on top of the trap. Bear shoots straight out and keeps going, usually after the first thing it sees.”

“In this case?”

“A naked redneck with a four-inch pecker hopping through the woods, his overalls down around his ankles.”

“Problem solved?”

“Problem solved.”

Judge Santiago Burdon

Who Doesn’t Like Strawberries

“What do you mean I don’t have any future left,” I asked her. “I’ve used it up? How is that even possible?”

I had no clue as to what she was even talking about. It was a challenge just to listen to her rant with the monster hangover I was nursing. Now I had to make sense of what the Hell she meant by her statement. Please just shoot me my dear and put me out of your misery.

“You’ve spent it,” she said. “You’re overdrawn. Similar to a cat using all nine lives, only it’s your destiny I’m referring to. It’s been wasted, squandered, and mismanaged. Kismet has given up, thrown in the towel. Get it smart guy?”

She motions, pointing to her head while making the goofy face of an idiot.

“Besides, your checkered past clashes with my pastel-colored future, so this relationship or whatever it is, has reached its end.”

“So help me to understand what you’re saying. The fate of my future was that I would run out of destiny. I am without any tomorrows because I’ve used them up in my yesterdays? Fate is determined at birth. My destiny however is determined by my actions. Have you joined the Church of Scientology again? Is this your Thetan talking? You’re sounding a lot like my mother, only she’d mix in some Jesus shit and top it off with some mystic witchy stuff.”

Why is it when relationships end, it always deteriorates into name calling with intention to cause emotional scars? I would much rather walk away knowing the time we spent together was a wonderful ride that just ran out of road. All this screaming and assigning blame is just vindictive, but we can’t help falling into it time and time again.

“And there it is, Mr. Negative putting down a religion he knows nothing about.”

“Hey I’ve done my research and have developed an opinion based on deductive reasoning,” I argued. “Did you know L. Ron Hubbard was a science fiction author before establishing the Church of Scientology? Gives you an idea of how he came up with the doctrine for the religion. You sincerely believe you are an extraterrestrial being? You want to know what really bothers me, is who goes around calling themself L. Ron Hubbard? I find it extremely pretentious using an initial for your first name. Why? Doesn’t he like the name the ‘L’ represents? Are we supposed to guess the name? Does he think it adds an air of mystery about him? It’s like E.E. Cummings or T.S. Eliot, what the fuck is that all about. And why is it that if I’m not in favor of or dislike something, it means I’m being negative? You didn’t like The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down, which is one of my favorite films, and I didn’t give you any shit about it. You don’t like strawberries, do I accuse you of being a negative person because of your dislike of strawberries? No, I never said anything. Now that I think about it, it should’ve been a clue to your own negative demeanor. Who doesn’t like strawberries?”

“How the hell did we get to talking about this shit? I’ll admit Santiago, you do have a talent for twisting a conversation into some obscure subject. But I can’t do this anymore. You should have seen this coming.” 

“How could I have seen it coming? I can’t determine my future if there isn’t any. Let’s not do this. If you are no longer enamored with me please just say so and leave it at that. There’s no need for this destructive rhetoric, it’s not a healthy or worthwhile practice. Also, this isn’t my first breakup, so I’m sort of an expert. I’ve become immune to the derogatory dialogue and insults.”

“I’m more than sure of that. You’re a professional when it comes to this. Of course you’ve built up an immunity after all the relationships you’ve sabotaged.” 

There’s no winner in these types of frays. I’m truly sorry she has built up such loathing for me. However I’m completely without any clue as to what the hell happened here. It seemed to me we were enjoying each other’s company just yesterday. Maybe she’s on her… no, I’m not going to say it. Really? Y’all want me to mention that possibility during this argument? I’m at times a bit dense when dealing with women, but I have learned there’s never a right time to ask the wrong question or to answer truthfully when asked your opinion, especially concerning her appearance. All women want you to lie, it’s one of the many unwritten laws of relationship survival. And all of you want to see me persecuted. You heartless bastards. You’ll have to wait for your sick entertainment at my expense in some other story.

“I’m still without a clue as to your sudden decision to break up with me. I do want you to know I cherish you. You are the complete package and the man that wins your heart is truly fortunate.”

“Stop with the sweet talk. I’ve practiced this dissertation for quite awhile. My mind is made up.” 

‘Well that’s disheartening to hear. How long have you been practicing?”

“I’m sorry Santiago, I don’t mean to act like such a bitch. I feel so… I don’t know… I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

“I’m more disappointed than hurt. I need to know the reason. Let’s not make this any more unpleasant than it already has become. I think it’s better we don’t continue with spilling any more bad blood.”

“I’ve got one question I would appreciate you answering honestly,” she said. “I found your passport in your blazer when I took it to the dry cleaners and I looked inside. You have been everywhere in Central and South America as well as Mexico numerous times in the past three years. Then I found a second passport from Canada with a different name, your picture and the same destinations. What’s up with you? What kind of work do you do? You disappear for days with no communication then appear back without an explanation. You always speak Spanish when you’re on the phone. And that friend of yours, that Donny Rico guy, there’s something seriously wrong with him. He is definitely mentally ill, no joke. Have you ever looked into his eyes? They are so empty without a spark of life in them. He’s definitely an alcoholic and a drug addict as well. What do you see in him?” 

“It’s Johnny, not Donny.” 

“What? You lied about his name?” 

“No, you misinterpreted his name. Johnny is my friend, my only friend and would never hurt anyone I was associated with. I never made condescending comments about your psycho bitch friends. Talk about basket cases, they’re the most judgmental, self-righteous, backstabbing, delusional and evil women I’ve ever encountered. Johnny has always been polite and respectful to you, isn’t that true?”

She nods her head yes.

“And your friends treat me like a leper. What am I doing? I’m beginning to get defensive.”

“So what’s up with you? What do you do for work? Are you going to tell me or not?”

“Why is it of any concern to you now? Since we are no longer together, I don’t feel I owe you any explanation. And I’m feeling a bit violated that you invaded my privacy.”

“Why is it such a big secret? What, are you a spy? A secret agent like James Bond? Santiago please, just because I’m pretty doesn’t mean I’m stupid.”

She opens a drawer in the desk then hands me the two passports.

“Do you want to know what I think?”

“No, not at all. I’m not interested. In fact I should begin packing up and find a place to stay.”

“You don’t have to leave immediately, tomorrow morning will be fine. I’m not going to kick you out until you’ve found a place.”

She sits down next to me on the sofa and grabs my hands.

“I asked my cousin Rodney. He’s an officer with Border Patrol, and he said most likely someone with that type of background with multiple passports is probably a drug dealer or someone smuggling contraband of some kind.”

“You asked who, what about me? Are you fucking insane? Your cousin is a federal officer? You didn’t! You can’t be serious.”

“He’s not like a real cop or anything like that, he’s Border Patrol.”

“Well, tell all the guys doing time for drug busts that Border Patrol aren’t real cops.”

“I didn’t mention your name or give him any information that would implicate you. Listen, I know you’re a drug dealer. Not the kind that sells to people out in the streets. No, you’re one of those movie type characters dealing in the big stuff. There’s a name for them but I can’t think of it right now.”

“What, you mean like narco traficante?”

What the fuck is wrong with me? I leave my passports in my jacket for her to find, and now I identify myself as a drug trafficker. Damn I’m a real tough nut to crack, and to top it off, I’m in a relationship with a woman who has a federal police officer in the family. 

“Yes! Yes, that’s it, narcotics guy. Well, are you? Tell me, I promise not to tell anyone. Please. It’s hard to believe because I’ve rarely seen you do drugs and you never seem to have much money. Tell me!”

“Well that’s just goddamn great! You’re a real piece of work. If I was a drug dealer, you would be in deep shit right now. Believe me, you’d be on someone’s hit list. What the fuck were you thinking? I’m packing up and leaving now. My work never mattered for the eight months we’ve been together, why has it become such an issue now?”

“Why are you so upset? If you aren’t a trafficker, there should be nothing to worry about. This is the reason I’ve decided to end our relationship. You are a mystery, I still don’t know who you are after being together for over a year, not eight months, genius. Sometimes I watch you while you’re sleeping and it seems you  never relax, your body is always jerking and twitching. I wonder if you’re chasing after butterflies or being chased by some monster, in your dream. When your son Nigel visited at Christmas, he told the story of how all of your children were afraid to wake you from sleeping because you would abruptly jump up with your fists clenched in an aggressive posture. So they would use a broom handle and poke you from a safe distance then run out of the room. Everyone thought it was hilarious and laughed, except me. I thought it was sad thinking about what would cause someone to react that way. I asked Nigel later that night and he told me about your childhood with your father and your time in prison. Santiago, the reason for me ending our relationship is that I’m falling in love with you. Why I said you have no future is that you seem to live only for the day, for the hour, for the right now. You don’t ever talk or make plans for the future or for our future. I feel lost, need some security in my life. Who knows what could happen with the life you lead. You’re here one moment and then you vanish in a flash. You could be killed, busted, or decide to just never come back, leaving me all alone. How has anyone ever been able to risk a relationship with you? Oh, that’s right, they’ve all given up. Don’t you want a mellow life, a safe place, a home with someone who will be there for you, to take care of you, someone to love you?”

“And where could I find such a person? Besides, maybe I’m not sure if that type of life is what I want at this time. I did the marriage thing, the house, the eight to five job, the family. I failed miserably at all of it. I’m grateful that my children were able to survive the fiasco, coming through it mostly unscathed. I’m not in favor of doing it all over again. The good side of having made a mistake is that you know when you’re doing it for the second time.”

“Tell me what it is you are searching for in life. What do you want?”

“What do I want? I want a woman with the faint taste of cocaine on her lips. A kiss that takes my breath away. A cool summer breeze in her touch. Her hair with the smell of a far off rain, skin smooth like a river stone. Her laughter, the sound of church bells at midnight, ocean waves splashing in her eyes, a hint of confession in her lies, her breath with the aroma of oven-baked bread and can throw a mean punch.”

“Get out! Now go, you son of a bitch!”

Those were the last words I heard her speak. I packed my things and left as requested, then called up Johnny Rico.

“Thanks for picking me up, Johnny. I knew things wouldn’t work out with her. It’s all for the best. She’s got a cousin or an uncle who’s Border Patrol. Then she tells him about my passports and my travels for the last few years to Mexico and Colombia. And to end it all, she called me a son of a bitch. Can you believe that shit?”

“No way? I know your mother was a very nice lady. Maybe you should want me to get rid of her for you? Make the problem go away.”

“What the hell is wrong with you, Rico? Have you been watching movies again, Scarface or Blow? No, I don’t want you to do anything to her. You got it?”

“Yo entiendo. But I never like that womens. She always stares at me real strange. She kinda freaked me out. I’m happy you’re not with her anymore.” 

“Where did you get this car?” I asked him. “Why aren’t you driving the van we used for the run?”

“Well, somewhere I lose the keys, and the rental guy can’t come till tomorrow with new keys. So I borrow this ride from the hotel parking garage.”

“You stole this car?”

“No, I borrow it to pick you up!”

“Oh Rico! What am I going to do with you?”

“Why? What you wanna do?”