I didn’t ask by Judge Santiagio Burdon

Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

When I was a teenager I worked  for my Uncle Floyd  in the summer stocking and maintaining amusements  in Grocery Stores, Pool Halls but mostly Bars. Cigarette, Candy and Chip Vending Machines, along with Juke Boxes, Pool Tables, Pinball Machines and Tampax, Kotex also Condom dispensers. He even had the penny gumball machines anything that could turn a buck. I sometimes was given the job of slapping on the new Big Brothers Big Sisters or Kiwanis Club donation stickers on the gumball machines. I’m pretty sure they never saw a penny. I can’t be certain because I knew better so I didn’t ask.

Floyd was actually my 2nd uncle. He is my father’s uncle, my grandmother’s brother on the Italian Capelli side of the family. He had three children Anthony pronounced “Ant-knee” and Alonso “Lon-zoe” their sister Angelina “Ange”. All their names started  with an “A” because their  grandfather’s name was Angelo. It was some dago show of respect bullshit. I  thought the reason was because they were all “assholes”. 

People were always so hard on me as a kid, not bellyaching just saying. I was small for my age and older family members especially cousins on the Italian side called me ‘short-load’  My older brother filled me in on the derogatory meaning.   

I usually rode with Ant-knee in the new truck delivering smaller amusements, restocking vending machines, maintenancing and collecting the change from  every machine in service.  You wouldn’t think a bag full of quarters could be so heavy but the weight made hauling them a task.  Ant -knee when emptying the machines would have me follow him with a red tool box containing only a screwdriver, pliers and  crescent wrench with a piece of foam rubber on the bottom. When  collecting change from a machine he’d ask for a tool. I’d open the tool box and hand him a tool in exchange he’d deposit a bag of quarters skimmed from each machine. When we  finished the red box  would be packed full. He would sit at the table with the manager or owner and they’d  count the change together putting the coins into paper rolls.

“Santi take the empty  bags and tool box to the truck and bring back my ledger  in the center storage compartment and don’t forget to lock the doors. You got it?”  Barking orders at me like he was my ole man. Others witnessed the kind of treatment  I  was subjected to and assumed it was acceptable behavior to treat me in the same degrading  manner as my old man.

The split for the owner  was 15% of the take in some cases 20% if the machine required electricity like juke boxes pinball machines. Some bars  are money makers netting three hundred, four hundred dollars a week. The bar owner would get 15% of the net except for the cigarette machine, usually 10% because the cost of  the cigarettes.   However my uncle had that covered as well. Cigarettes were smuggled from Missouri , Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee because the tax on cigarettes in those states was much less than  Illinois. Ant-knee never discussed his skimming activity and me being half Italian was aware of the rule. So I didn’t ask.

There were territories assigned to every business operating in the Downtown Chicago area and they were strictly enforced. I couldn’t tell you by whom because I didn’t  ask.

Capelli Amusements territory was considered one of the most profitable and referred to as the Cherry Grounds.  North of  Grand…West of Racine\Clark …South of Montrose….East of Kedzie. An extremely large area although Wrigley Field, Hotels and the Loop were off limits. We couldn’t even drive through other areas in a company vehicle; it was considered a violation  and resulted in punishment.  I don’t  know what the punishment entailed because I didn’t  ask.

I disliked install deliveries  because of the lifting and moving involved.  And when pool tables were included in the delivery my enthusiasm and work ethic was close to nonexistent.  It wasn’t due to me being lazy,  I  was always given a task to perform that was nearly impossible to complete by myself.  They’d  watch me struggle with a pool table or pinball machine on a Dolly  pushing and pulling without success. Standing there laughing making comments in mispronounced Italian and in an  English dialect from a Jimmy Cagney Gangster film.

There was another guy working for my Uncle, a teenage kid older than me they called Magilla after a gorilla cartoon character. He was a tall muscular  quiet type with a scary  kind of smile. If he was working and noticed my planned dilemma he’d help me out much to my cousins dismay. He was  enormous  with superhero strength.  Smoked, drank beer and when he did speak he  was articulate voicing complaints  about my cousin’s sadistic behavior and racist attitudes.  He was a Holden Caulfield  type character protecting those unable to defend  themselves. A Catcher in the Streets whose unsolicited assistance I  appreciated  without ever having to ask. For some odd reason the cousins and others never made him the subject of jokes or ridicule. I never knew why because I didn’t  ask.

It was a Saturday in late June and we had a work order to supply a new bar owner with the full assortment of Capelli Amusements with Uncle Floyd accompanying  us to the location. It was a rare event when the “Capo” came along on a mission.  You could bet there was some major situation requiring his immediate and masterful attention.  I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t ask.

We were wrestling with the juke box pushing it through the front door when the yelling started.

“Get your shit outta my bar. Ya understand fucking   whop bastards?”

The bar owner eloquently stated his objection to joining the many satisfied customers of Capelli’s Amusements. 

“I’m not gonna let youz tell me how to run my business! Now turn around and get your dago ass  outta my bar.”

Uncle Floyd reacted in the exact opposite manner than I would have expected. He leaned over the bar and whispered something to the owner then shook his hand. He calmly asked us to take what we unloaded and put it back on the truck. The bar owner’s small dog barked non stop nipping at Floyd’s ankles as he left. He didn’t say a word on the ride back to the warehouse. I have no idea what he whispered to the owner because I didn’t ask.

Back at the warehouse we finished unloading the trucks and Uncle Floyd gave us the rest of the afternoon off with pay. Magilla asked me if I wanted to go to Wrigley and catch the Cubbies in action against the Cardinals. 

“I’d really like to go but I can’t afford it. I’m broke until we get paid next week.” I answered in a disappointed tone.

“Didn’t ask if you had any money. I asked if you wanted to go to a Baseball game. So whatta ya say there short stuff?”

“Let’s giddy up I’m in!”.,

We had to transfer three times on the bus to get to Wrigley Field. You don’t have to be a  sports fanatic even a baseball fan to feel the electricity, the fever and the awe attending a Big League Ball Game. The air tastes of Hot Dogs, Popcorn and Peanuts (never a big fan of Cracker Jack).

On the bus journey to Wrigley Mecca  I  found out my new friend’s name because I asked. We exited the bus with me following Frankie as he passed the ticket windows, the park entry gates then into a tunnel manned by two  monstrous security guards that waved us through with smiling faces.

“Hey man this is awesome, who are you Frankie some kind of Celebrity?”

He gives me the all too familiar Italian don’t ask stare.

“Never mind. ‘ I squeaked

We stopped at some large red doors guarded by a couple of  Chicago Cops not saying a word to Frank and I. One of the cops got on his Walkie-Talkie telling someone to come over. When he finished he said to Frankie;

“He’s on his way Little Tuna.”

Little Tuna? Why the hell would the cop call him a fish? That’s not cool .

“Hey officer his name is Frank. He’s my buddy and you shouldn’t be calling him names.” I speak up in  defense of my friend?

“What do we have here Mike?” The cop says  to his partner.

“A Mini Guinea. Little Grease Ball with a big mouth.”

“It’s okay Santi. He’s just a grumpy ole cop that doesn’t like my father. Maybe I should tell my father the “Big Tuna” you don’t like him. What do ya think there Officer Joyce?” Frankie mentions looking at the cops name tag.

“Come on kid I was only razzin ya! Just a joke, I didn’t mean anything by it. What’d say, buddies?” Officer Joyce nervously replies.  Frank never said a word back to the cop; he just gave him a stare.

We waited for a couple minutes, then  a guy in a Cubs  uniform appears and walks straight up to Frank. He gives him a light slap on the back then speaks.

“Hey Frank good to see ya back. See ya brought a buddy. So section eighteenth  behind Home Plate or twelve behind the Dugout?”

 “Where ya wanna sit Santi? Behind home plate or Cubs Dugout?” Frankie asks me.

“The Dugout for sure! Are you kidding me?” I scream with excitement 

“Ok then boys tell the Andy Frain Usher to put youz in Section twelve Seats six and seven. And Frank no orderin beer ya hear me. I caught hell last time.”

“I won’t, Mr. Amalfitano. Thanks for the seats. Ya didn’t see my old man or Sammy Giancona around did ya?”

“No sir  you’re  on your own. Have a good time. Go Cubs!” Mr. Amalfitano  says 

“Go Cubs” I yelled back, unable to hide my excitement. 

The Usher leads us to our seats and I’m doing everything I can to not act like a kid. I wanted to jump, scream and slap Frank on the back . I’m close to pissing my pants from the excitement. 

“Frank this is great! Thanks for inviting me. You’re a real buddy to bring me with ya. Did I say   thanks? Thanks” I’m talking fast without  punctuation Chicago style.

“You’re welcome Santi. Want a Coke or something? “

I check my pocket and find two dollars with maybe sixty  seventy  cents .

“Don’t worry about it, I got it. You don’t have to pay. What about a hot dog too? You like mustard  and relish?” Frank asks.

I shake my head yes .

“Be right back.”

The players are so close I can tell who they are without seeing their  numbers.  Beckert , Kessinger, Santo , Hundley taking infield practice. I can’t believe this is happening. There’s Billy Williams, seeing him sends me into    idol fever. Suddenly  I’m unable to breathe, my body starts to shake and my vision momentarily becomes blurred.  A bat someone had set on top of the dugout rolls off and lands at my feet. 

“Hey kid hand me back that bat . Will ya please?” Someone asks from below in the dugout. 

I can’t move my mouth is so dry I can’t speak. 

“Hello? Please champ give me the bat.” The player asks again 

I find the strength to free myself from my paralysis and pick up the bat and hand it to “MR. ERNIE BANKS.”

“Thanks. You ok there buddy?” He asks

“Uh huh”  Is all I can say.

Uh huh damn it. Uh huh! That was Ernie Banks! Ernie Banks! And I act like a dope. What a complete jerk I made of myself in front of one of my idols.

I sit back down and an old guy smelling like cheap Whisky and cigars slaps me lightly on my back.

“You know who that was son? That was Ernie Banks.  He plays for the Cubs.” Says Old Crow breath. 

Why is it that people  ask you a question then without giving you the chance to respond they answer it for you? And on top of it tell stuff you already know.

“Hey kid.”

“My name is Santiago not kid.” I inform cigar odor guy.

“Ok San Diego.” He answered 

“You’re not funny Mister .Why do you want to piss me off?”

Then one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen up  close sits down right next to me.

“Barbi this here is San Francisco.  This is Barbi”

Whisky breath jokes with the her.

“You’re very pretty . Your father thinks he’s funny calling me by the wrong name. I’m Santiago, nice to meet you Barbi.”I shake her hand introducing myself politely. They both begin to laugh with Old Crow reaching over to shake my hand.

“This beautiful lady is my wife Santiago not my daughter. You’re not the first to make that mistake.”

Frank shows up loaded with drinks and food. 

“Hello Mr. Hefner hey Barbi . Santi give me a hand will ya.”

I stand grabbing the two large drinks and Frank walks past me sitting to my left leaving me next to beautiful  Barbi.

“Frank how have you been? Haven’t seen you in awhile. What have you been up to?” Hefner asks

“How’s your father doing?’

There he goes again asking question after question before Frank can get a chance to answer. 

Frank takes a large bite of his hot dog . I’m wondering if it’s  because he’s hungry or it’s to   avoid having to answer with a mouth full. 

“Your friend Santiago.  Did I get 

the name right?”

Hef looks at me smiling like a kid who just answered a question correctly in school. 

“Yes sir I’m very proud of you.” I fire back.

“Santiago made friends with Ernie Banks earlier .”

“Frank gives me a punch in the arm then takes another bite of his Red Hot . He gives Hefner a thumbs up.

“Are you working Frank?  I told you I’d give you a job at the Playboy Club but you never called me back.  That was a month ago.”

“I know Mr. Hefner but my mother didn’t like the idea. I called the Club and left a message. “Frank answers.

Then like a kick in the ass it hits me. (I know you most likely put it together a short while ago).  I’m not slow in the mind, I was so caught up in the Ernie  Banks meeting I wasn’t paying attention. And  I was distracted by the beautiful Barbi.

Hugh Hefner, Barbi Benton; I’ve seen her naked in Playboy and watched her on Hee Haw.  Frank had an opportunity to work at the Playboy Club? Could I be any more retarded?  Hugh Hefner, Barbi Benton and Ernie Banks all in the same day!

Play ball the Umpire hollers.

Frank wolfs down three Red Hots, a bag of chips and a super sized Coke.

“Santi, I’m going to get a Corn Dog. Do you want something else?”

I’ve still got another hot dog, chips, bag of peanuts and half a coke left.

“I’m good Frank thanks.”

“Hef or Barbi can I get you anything?”

“If you wouldn’t mind I could go for an ice cream bar or popsicle .”Barbi tells him

Hef (that’s right I said Hef my new friend ) pulls out a twenty dollar bill and tells Frank to keep the change. Why didn’t I think of going for a Corn Dog?

The fifth inning ends and the Cubs come off the field to bat. They haven’t done  well with only three hits.

Hef gets up and walks over to the side of the dugout. He turns then calls me to come over motioning with his hand. Hef steps back and Ernie is standing there motioning for me to come over. I walk up and this time there’s no tongue tied kid.

“Mr. Banks, I just want to tell you that you are my favorite player .”

“I’m  happy to hear that young man. Here I’ve got something for you. It’s a baseball signed by most of the players. I appreciate your help earlier.” Banks says handing me the ball.

“I’m overwhelmed Mr. Banks thank you so much.  I will keep it forever.”

“You’re welcome but you should thank Mr. Hefner as well. He’s the one that suggested the baseball. ” 

“Mr. Banks..

“Call me Ernie!”

“Ernie can you please just get a base hit. That’s all.”

“Give it my best effort. “He says disappearing into the Dugout. 

I thanked Hugh Hefner, my new friend and talked with Barbi most of the time. When I mentioned College after  I finished High School Hugh pushed the University of Illinois on me. Told him I’d definitely attend if he helped pay my tuition.  He laughed it off and took immediate interest in the game.

Frank had been gone an inordinate amount of time. Seventh inning stretch and Hugh and Barbi get up to leave. 

“Santiago you’re a pretty smart kid. Keep up that attitude of yours. Here take my card it has my personal number. Give me a holler if you ever need anything.  Let me know if you get into U of  Illinois .”

“Thanks Mr. Hefner I’ll do that. Thanks again for everything.”

Barbi grabs my chin and gives me a kiss right on the lips.

“Bye Santiago you be good.”

“Uh huh.” Really  Santi just uh huh?

Frank returns and hands Barbi her ice cream as they leave. It’s obvious he’s high I  can smell the beer and marijuana on him.  He doesn’t say anything about where he  was. And of course I didn’t ask.

“Hey Frank I should be headed home. My old man will be pissed off if I come home late. So I’m gonna catch the bus and I’ll see you at work on Monday.    Thanks again man I had a great time.”

“Relax you aren’t going anywhere. I called home and the driver is coming to pick us up. I’ll give you a ride right to your front door.  And if there’s a problem with your old man Giovanni will talk with him. Got it buddy?”

“I don’t wanna be a problem, I can take the bus. I’ll be ok. You’ve been more than generous with me today. Buying me food and getting me this great seat. I’m not sure I know what I did to deserve all this?”

“Ya wanna know why? Why? Never before has anyone ever stuck up for me. Nobody.

My old man has  never offered to defend me or my brother. After you talked to the Cop like that, told him to lay off  and you being just a little guy, it told me a lot about who you are. Thank you Santiago. Now relax he’ll be here in about fifteen minutes. “

We listened to the Cubs lose the game on the radio in the Lincoln Continental driving to my house. Giovanni was a huge guy with a wonderful sense of humor who talked surprisingly very similar to my father. Unable to pronounce the “TH” sound making three sound like tree etc.

Frank and he spoke some Italian for a while which I am not very proficient at speaking. I understand more than I speak knowing Spanish and three years of French I’ve taken in High School. They are all somewhat similar being the “Romantic Languages” especially Spanish and Italian. My grandparents from Italy didn’t want us children to learn Italian the reason being the United States was the new world Italy was the old world. Plus they remember when  bigotry and racism toward Italians was commonplace . They lived in an intolerant society back in the 1900’s when they first came over.

Frank admired my autographed baseball and I offered it to him as  a thank you gift. He didn’t take me up on my offer explaining that he already had a couple. 

We arrived at the detention center and I said my farewells to Frank and Giovanni. 

“See ya at work on Monday Frankie. Thanks again man. You’re the best.”

“Hey Santi now that I’ve got your number I’ll give ya a call tomorrow to see if you’re doing anything.  Alright? “

“You bet Frank ciao.”

The old man was missing in action and my mother was on the phone with some relative  I  figured because she was speaking Spanish. She motioned for me to come over then she sniffed me up and down then made me give her a kiss on the cheek.

I didn’t discuss my day because it would’ve  just open up a  go round with me fielding 

questions that would somehow end with having me done something wrong. 

The remainder of the weekend slipped by quickly with the old man never showing up. I didn’t know where he was and I didn’t ask or care. 

Frank didn’t call on Sunday  and I was ok with it.

Monday morning I made it to the warehouse early with just Floyd and Ant-knee inside. My uncle told me to wash the truck and  clean out the bed because we had an installation today. Shit, great way to start off the week.

The rest of the crew showed up just as I was finishing with my job. Frank seemed to be feeling well wishing me a good  morning and immediately began  carrying the items I had unloaded from the truck bed into the warehouse. 

It took us close to two hours to load all the machines and pool tables onto the truck in between Lon- so and Ant-knee screwing around with a new pinball machine. 

I rode with Floyd and Ant-knee sitting in between with Floyd driving. I can count  on both hands how many words were spoken during the ride. 

We pulled up to the same bar that we were thrown out of on Saturday by the irate owner. I didn’t say a word and started pulling machines off  the back with my cousin. Once inside the owners attitude had done a complete 180. I was rolling  the jukebox past the back end of the bar and confronted the owner.  He told me where he wanted it and  where the electric outlet was located. 

His right arm was in a cast, his eyes both black and blue and he walked with a crutch tucked under his left arm. Looked like he had been hit by a bus. We finished rather quickly with the now soft spoken bar owner thanking us. When Floyd walked over to him for his signature on the contract I heard him say…

“It’s gonna be hard to sign with my goddamn right arm broken. And tell me why they had to kill my dog?”

“Terrible thing that happened to you. Hope they don’t have to come back for any reason.” Floyd answers.

There is nothing amusing in the word amusements.

Capelli Amusements.

I had a suspicion  who  suggested the bar owner  change his earlier decision concerning having Floyd’s machines in his bar. Although I’ll never be sure because… I didn’t ask!

THE WEREWOLF DETECTIVE HOWLS AGAIN!

K A Laity, Paul D. Brazill, Short Stories

Back in 2012 I wrote a story for the late lamented Dark Valentine Magazine. It was a noir/ horror crossover yarn called Drunk On The Moon, and it featured a werewolf private eye called Roman Dalton. The story proved to be quite popular and I wrote a few more Roman Dalton yarns. There were even a couple of anthologies where a wide range of authors wrote Roman Dalton yarns. Oh, and he’s been translated into Slovenian and Polish.

Anyway, I recently decided to collect as many of the yarns as possible in one place. There are stories from me, K A Laity, Carrie ClevengerGraham Wynd, Matt Hilton, Vincent Zandri, Allan Leverone and more! (Artwork by Marcin Drzewiecki – Ilustrator)

When a full moon fills the night sky, Private Investigator Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls The City’s neon and blood soaked streets. Vivid and violent noir horror stories based on characters created by Paul D. Brazill

Netflix ought to swoop in and bag those stories for a new series.’

‘It’s noir. It’s supernatural. It’s sleazy as hell.’

“A crackling fun read that puts werewolves in a Sin City/hardboiled world.”

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Brilliant and Dark

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Noir Fun with a Werewolf Detective

5.0 out of 5 stars.  A Howling Good Read!

5.0 out of 5 stars.  Both gruesome and awesome

Why not sink your teeth in, if you fancy?

ALL THINGS SERVE THE BEAM BY BEAU JOHNSON

Beau Johnson, Down and Out Books., Flash Fiction, Short Stories

ALL THINGS SERVE THE BEAM

BY BEAU JOHNSON

I’ve found it.  It was right where it should have been too, just a little more than halfway down the steps that led to the pantry of Al’s Diner.  In the book it’s a type of doorway used to try and stop Oswald from taking out JFK.  

This will not be the case with me. 

There are two reasons for this.  One is that things are different than how the Author explained: no set time limit which might reset when any given character attempts to change the past.  The walls are thin here, yes, but it’s not time travel we’re talking about.  Not in the least.

            The second thing is this: there are other worlds than these.

            For truth, I think I have found the gateway to stories; to where each of them originates.  It is the story, not he who tells it.  Pretty sure I’ve heard him say this many times throughout the years.  I never believed it though, not fully.  Not until now.  How could I not?  I mean, I have met the girl now, the first one I ever heard told to plug it up.  I was an extra, sure, there in the background amongst the crowd at the prom.  Fortunate for me I made it out before the pig’s blood fell and the doors began to shut.  It was tougher than I imagined too, and heartbreaking, and only because I now stood within what once I only read.  

I hope I am making myself clear.  The world I believe depends upon it. 

Discovering all this caused certain scenarios to enter my mind, numero uno being this: could I now affect things?  Bold, I know, but the situation itself was beyond anything I ever thought possible.  I think the Author knew this too, or knows, and might have been subconsciously leaving breadcrumbs for someone like me to find.  He needs help is what I think this means.  All told, I’d set my watch and warrant on it.

            Me saying things like that, this is what has gotten me through.  I’m talking all of it too, every story.  Not just the thing behind the clown or what Ben Mears found in the ‘Lot.  It comes to what things always come to: The Tower.  From one book to the next it seems to be in there or just around, glowing like a buried stone.  Excavated or not, it sings like Susannah and forces me to aim with my heart and not with my hand.

            Do you see how I have not forgotten the face of my father?

            I had to investigate though, and I had to be sure.  Onwards I went, from world to world.  From dog to dome to plague; all of it like some mutated Deja vu which tugged at my core.  It means Mordred is in fact a-hungry and Harold Lauder will always jump.  I meet Paul Sheldon, Dinky Earnshaw, and poor Nick Andros before he figures things out.  They speak to me.  Spoke to me.  But none of them for long.  A line or two here, a description of who I think is me there.  It’s as this occurs that I realize the magnitude of what I’m to do.

            And that Mother Abigail would be proud.

            I had to test it though, had to be sure.  At first it didn’t work, not all the times I travelled and tried to save Gage from that semi.  The last time however, the last time something new transpired as I attempted to prove what I believe is possible.  The Author brought the child back.  He did so from the grave, yes, but my mother always said a victory was a victory no matter its size.  It also meant I was ready; that I had come into my own.

But I would not go in as Patrick Danville, not as a device placed books before an ending had yet come.  No, I would be new.  I would be fresh.   Becoming everything he required to find his way home.

            The man in black would flee across the desert, and horn or no horn, I and the gunslinger would follow.

First Snow by Marko Antic

Flash Fiction, Marko Antić, Short Stories

FIRST SNOW

The beginning is November. November 3rd, actually. Already? We are both warmly dressed, and yet I took that ridiculously larger blanket again, as if we were going on a September picnic. You know, one of those especially magical trips of ours, with sandwiches, chocolate, wine, and Indian chopsticks whose fumes supposedly repel mosquitoes.

I hug you and kiss you, hug you until they “crunch”, sniff your wavy hair that spills over the black coat you got for your birthday and wear it for years, until it gets its place of honor in the closet dedicated to the Holy Things of Youth.

It’s dusk. We walk towards the forest. I can feel the smog. Yes, the first sign of winter.

“It is a grove where a dog with different eyes lives. Remember, we petted him back then. It’s magical. ”

“I remember. Anyway, is the Mp3 player still kidding you? I brought it to you

walkman. ”

“Great, I found my sister’s dictaphone too. I also have some audio cassettes and batteries. Hehe, my special compilations… ”

We play the tape, open a bottle of rum, stick cheek to cheek, share headphones and sips of rum. Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Haustor, Azra, Leonard Cohen…

The first snowflakes soon fluttered towards your curls. We found shelter under a small pine tree. Then I took a blanket, we spread it out and improvised a standing tent for two.

A tent of love, good music, curly hair, the first November snow and eternal kisses. A tent that I will remember forever.

Marko Antić was born on October 11th 1980 in Paraćin, Serbia. He is an underground poet and writer.  His work is published in the fanzine “Green Horse” and Serbian and regional poetry and short stories anthologies. Formal education: Bachelor of Law

The Deadlands by Tom Leins

All Due Respect, Brit Grit, Close To The Bone, Flash Fiction, Indie, Short Stories, Tom Leins

THE DEADLANDS

By Tom Leins

The burn is horrendous and I struggle to look him in his good eye.

His only eye.

His face hasn’t healed, and he smells charred – like he has crawled out of the belly of hell itself.

Virgil is a tall man in a rust-brown suit. The severed nub of his thumb protrudes from the soiled looking plaster-cast on his right arm. He scratches his ruined face. 

“Will you be able to get her back?”

I nod, and he wheezes with relief. He removes a creased photograph from his wallet.

The girl has hair the colour of melted caramel. She flashes the camera a tight smile, which never quite reaches her eyes. Her collarbone seems to be tattooed. I pick up the photo and squint. It looks like a flatlining heartbeat, with the words ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ tattooed underneath.

“Can I keep it?”

He grunts.

“I don’t need the photo back, Mr Rey. Just my daughter.”

***

I survey the hellscape in front of me. The horizon is a jagged blur of burned-out, skeletal-looking houses and abandoned office blocks.

The Underworld looms large in the middle: a labyrinthine subterranean nightclub presided over by an elderly tycoon named Harry Hades. It’s only a year old – built on the site a notorious crime scene. Ten boys were found in the vacant lot – their bodies entirely drained of blood. People said that the Bone Daddy did it, but I don’t believe in ghosts.

‘The Underworld’ is spelled out in lurid, neon lights. Underneath, in smaller lights, are the words ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’.

I step past the expressionless, gargoyle-esque doormen and into the vestibule – my boots crunching on a bloody mixture of maggots, lice and dried pus. The grinding bass is so low it makes my guts churn.

There are nine doors, evenly spaced out. A word has been carved onto each door: Limbo. Lust. Gluttony. Greed. Wrath. Heresy. Violence. Fraud. Treachery. The Nine Circles of Hell.

I pause next to Lust. The door opens a crack and sultry laughter oozes through the gap.

I turn abruptly as Gluttony swings open. The room disgorges a tide of putrid slush into the lobby.

I choose Violence. One way or another, I always choose Violence.

***

The door opens with an infernal creak. A wave of evil, reeking heat takes my breath away. It’s as hot as hell and twice as ugly. The men drinking themselves into damnation are the worst of the worst. Child murderers. Spree killers. Degenerates. The violently unhinged. Sickness comes off them in waves. They rub shoulders, careful not to look one another in the eye – or spill each other’s pints. Their names are tattooed on their foreheads, their crimes inked on their knuckles.

My armpits feel rancid with sweat. Perspiration stings my bloodshot eyeballs. As I pass through the crowd, hushed voices rasp like flame. Yellow eyes glare at me from the gloom.  Pale, naked girls drift around the room, drinks trays in hand. I grab a drink to try and alleviate the blast-furnace heat, but it tastes hellish, so I spit the fiery liquid back in the glass and place it on the next tray that passes my way.

At the back of the room, Harry Hades slouches in an obscene gold-plated wheelchair. A girl – Beatrice – performs a private dance for him. There’s a choke-chain wrapped around her throat – fastened to his wheelchair. Her movements are weary, her feet are calloused. She has been condemned to perform a relentless slow grind by a bored sadist.

***

Harry Hades is old. Not frail, but old enough to have lost his fear of death. He jerks the chain and the girl falls at his feet. He removes his tinted sunglasses. His eyes look dead.

“How can I help you, young man?”

His dentures are so big that he can’t close his mouth when he grins at me.

I hold the photograph up for his inspection.

He shrugs.

“If you think she was here, she probably was.”

“I’m going to need her back.”

Another shrug.

“I care little about what happens outside The Underworld, young man. I have everything I need down here. But no one steals a soul from my realm.”

I don’t have the energy to talk to this rotten old motherfucker – especially in this heat – so I throw a brutal right hook at his elderly face – crumpling his bone-structure like a scrapyard hatchback.

Streaky blood leaks from his broken mouth. He spits a mouthful at my feet and speaks in a nasal whine.

“How about I let my hell-hound off his leash?”

It’s an idle threat, and I let it hang in the air – like the stale smoke from his high-tar cigarettes.

“Do your worst, Hades.”

“Cerberus.”

Crouched behind the wheelchair, attached to a second choke-chain, is a lean, tattooed guy with a flick-knife sneer and a mangled ear. Hades yanks his leash. He scampers across the floor on his hands and knees, before springing to his feet.

I forget his real name, but he’s a Scottish ex-bareknuckle fighter who was banned for life after killing two men in the cage. His torso is layered in clumsy prison ink: skulls, daggers, obscenities. In the middle of his chest is a brand-new tattoo of a three-headed dog with a serpent for a tail. It’s so new, the tattoo is still wrapped in clingfilm.

Hades unclips the chain, and I see the man’s muscles bunch and harden.

I don’t give him the time to make a move – I grab his leash and wrench his pale face towards my fist. Once. Twice. Three times. On the floor, he whimpers like a kicked hell-hound.

Hades attempts to scramble away from me, but his slip-on shoes look skittish – like hooves on a blood-slick abattoir floor – and his withered legs give way immediately. His forehead hits the concrete and blood as thick as mould oozes from his ruptured skull.

I place Beatrice on the vacant wheelchair and move towards the exit.

Cretinous faces leer at me, but no one makes a move to stop me.

I retrieve a complementary matchbook from the table next to the exit, strike a match and drop it in the pocket of one of the nylon bomber jackets hanging on the coat-rack.

Kick up the fire, and let the flames break loose.

I doubt these rotten bastards will even notice.

The End

Bio: Tom Leins is a crime writer from Paignton, UK. His books include Boneyard DogsTen Pints of BloodMeat Bubbles & Other Stories (all published by Close to the Bone) and Repetition Kills You and The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men (both available from All Due Respect). For more details, please visit:

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

Todor Flew by Damjan Pejović

Damjan Pejović, Flash Fiction, International Noir, Marija Stanojević, Poetry, Short Stories

TODOR FLEW

    Black patent shoes covered in mud looked shabby as well as, moreover, whole appearance of the clerk Todor. That very night as always… After he took them off and left them in a narrow vestibule, in woollen socks he went to the shed table in the dining room, while farina porridge was steaming on its top. Skinny sonny boy named Toma already slurped it big time.

  • Me flying!…. Me? – scatterbrained, he told his wife Milena, who was spreading jam on thin slices of bread in a little kitchen.
  • What did he say, why in hell? – his wife Milena asked him, just to say something in return.
  • Why! Why! You ask why?! – Todor was amazed, while the difference between his higher and lower blood pressure begun to perish. – At first, he didn’t say a thing, but he said that after I withheld my support for reformation of five-year acquisition plan in the cooperative.

    Blood pressures met each other halfway. While they exchanged impulses, Todor was levitating a bit tilted, even upside down over the table, touching a light bulb of 45 candles with his socks.   

  • Not in a hell! Me flying, well not in a hell! – shouted Todor.

    Wife Milena dropped a jar of jam, that smashed on tiles. She shouted in panic: – Ouch, ouch!… ho-ho… – pulling her messy, grayish hair and running around in circle.

    Skinny Toma bewilderedly smiled.

    A clerk Todor started swimming in frog style and flew out the window, lured by evening air filled with bluish vapors. When blood pressures again parted, he was already about fifty meters away from the building… so claim those who run into his smashed corpse.

                                                                                                        Timisoara

                                                                                         December 12th,, 1999

Translated by

Marija Stanojević

BIOGRAPHY

Born 01.05.1977 in Belgrade.

Founder of literary nonprofit organization “Dimitrije Tirol” 1995 godine, for young Serbian writers from Romania, Timisoara. Main and responsible editor, editor for prose in literary zine “Zeleni konj” (Green Horse), which is been published every 3 months, now we have published 32th issue.

Publish in Romania:

  • Poems in anthology “Ni nuli ne bih ćutnju oprostio” with other writers from “Dimitrije Tirol” which was published in year 1999;
  • Stories and poems in anthology “Zeleni konj 6 godina – izbor priča i pesama“, in year 2019 where were also editor for stories.
  • Short stories and poems in Timisoara newspapers on Serbian: “Naša reč”, “Književni život”.

Publish in Serbia:

  • Story’s in anthology “Najkraće priče 2005”, publisher Alma;
  • Story’s in anthology “357”, publisher “Književne vertikale”
  • Publishing short stories and poems in following newspapers: “Književna reč”, “Zeleni konj”, ”Književne vertikale” and on internet portals (“Balkanski književni glasnik”, “Rastko”, “Poeziranje”…).

Publish in Europe:

  • Poem in artistic magazine ”Nekazano” from Montenegro;
  • Graphic story in magazine ”Gold Dust” from United Kingdom;
  • Short story in magazine ”Between These Shores Literary & Arts Annual”. Annual

Founder of artistic center in Belgrade named “Zemoon” in year 2017, where was responsible for literature.

Founder of nonprofit organization ”Zeleni konj” in Belgrade in year 2019, which is publishing literary zine, books, organize literary events and international exhibitions of various arts

As was for many year in scrap metals business have become passionate collector of figures and sculptures which are sorted from metal scrap.  

Living in two countries, Serbia and Romania, am divided between Belgrade and Timisoara.

TRIX & TREATS BY MARC OLMSTED

Blue Collar Noir, International Noir, MARC OLMSTED, Poetry, Short Stories

TRIX & TREATS

Zachariah knew his old girlfriend was stripping so he wanted to check on her.  J was now in his 40s, the girl was in her mid 20s, it had been 5 years since they were lovers.  He was now the night manager at a Mt. Rainer mountain lodge and when I asked him if he was a hermit, he said, “I guess so.”  I don’t know if the failed romance had put him there.  He said all he needed was pencil and paper, he was a great artist, and had actually sold a lot of work but people seemed a problem.  He still drank, still smoked, but had apparently been a lot worse once said his old friend Tia, now visiting Portland and staying at my place after running around Portland night with him looking for his stripper ex-girlfriend.   Z and the girl, call her Treats, had been texting, but his phone died and he didn’t bring a charger.  When I met him as he dropped Tia off, he seemed befuddled, hungover, had the face of a drinker and the sad eyes of someone who Just couldn’t deal. 

But Z did remember had remembered she worked at a strip club with two words like the Kit Kat, and miraculously after 5 clubs they found Treats, each club getting worse and worse until they were out by the airport.  Treats was just done with her shift and wanted everyone to go back to her place.  [It was a two-storied apartment building from anycity, USA.  She lived there with a black stripper, Trix, “a tiny thing” said Tia.  The girls got down to the business of partying and put a big tray of coke down onto of the garbage on the coffee table.  Z did a line or so, Tia did none, and the girls went on to polish off the 8 ball, each doing roughly 3 and a half grams each and drinking Everclear.  Now Everclear is deadly (and in case you don’t know illegal in 14 states but not good ole Oregon.)  it is virtually pure alcohol but if you put it in juice, it goes down with an ease that is essentially the provided pen and paper of a suicide note, or the drawing pad of Z,, whichever came first.  Z had one sip of the Everclear and immediately vomited.  The girls pounded the coke and Everclear for hours, but never became incoherent.  Trix kept getting calls on her phone and would disappear for twenty minutes to half an hour.  She was apparently having sex in cars outside. 

My understanding was that Portland strippers made a shit wage, and existed primarily on tips, which meant they almost couldn’t exist at all.  Hooking was virtually inevitable.  In Portland, count yourself majorly lucky if you worked at the UPS store for minimum wage.  Treats just got new tits, which certainly didn’t come from stripper tips.  Treats seemed to want to screw Z but Z was having none of it.  He was devastated but what he was seeing.  Perhaps their age difference was finally making sense to him, maybe he already knew.  Treats and older men.  When I saw his artwork, it was dominated by haunted figures, possessed people.  I hoped he never ran around with an axe in Mt. Rainer some night in the lodge.  That night he just ran in his head. 

The party went on till dawn.  Tia tried to mellow things with some weed she’d been given at a wedding she was in Portland for, but the Trix and Treats were having none of it.   Hahahahahhhaaaaaaaaaha whooooooooo!  They were the masters now, they were the magicians of the Golden Dawn which now rose tepidly through cracks in the heavy curtains.  Afraid to see their flesh burn brushing against an accidentally beam of daylight, Z finally begged off.  Tia had wanted to go hours ago;    Maybe Z was trying to figure out a way to save Treats, but each equation kept adding up to the same grim Waco. 

Treat and Trix said goodbye indoors.  Tia watched Z clutch the black railing of the staircase down to the street with the fierceness of a drowning man.  If possible, he gripped his steering wheel even tighter.

Marc Olmsted has appeared in City Lights Journal, New Directions in Prose & Poetry, New York Quarterly, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry and a variety of small presses.  He is the author of five collections of poetry, including What Use Am I a Hungry Ghost?, which has an introduction by Allen Ginsberg.   Olmsted’s 25 year relationship with Ginsberg is chronicled in his  Beatdom Books memoir Don’t Hesitate: Knowing Allen Ginsberg 1972-1997 – Letters and Recollections, available on Amazon.  For more of his work, http://www.marcolmsted.com/

CROTCHROCKETS BY ANTHONY NEIL SMITH

Anthony Neil Smith, Crime Fiction, Pulp, Short Stories

CROTCHROCKETS

(originally appeared in Kung Fu Factory’)

            When the well blew, they lost four good men, and a fifth – guy named Ratchit – had an iron rod pierce his head but was somehow still up walking around.

            “It’s fine!”  Ratchit shouted because the iron rod had busted up his ear so all he heard was iiiiiiiiiiiiiiii pitched up real high.  He limped to the left and hummed between shouts.

            The ten men left, led by Colonel Hutter (not really a Colonel, not really a Hutter, neither), dragged the dead men over to their motorcycles and draped them over the seats, their MC jackets proclaiming them 1%ers, Devil Whippers, straight out of Grand Forks.  Fifteen former roughnecks who’d ridden hard all over North Dakota setting up exploratory oil wells, now reduced to ten and half.  They’d had wells blow before and not lose anyone.  They’d had dry wells, a couple of spurters, and one gusher.  This one had potential, but then it went and blew and killed Ferret, Dingo, Doctor Strange, and Elisha the Prophet, and done rendered Ratchit plum stupid.

            And that wasn’t the worst of their problems. 

            Colonel Hutter had the men stand around the dead and their bikes to say a few words.  Not so much a prayer as a Fuck you.  “You goddamn bastards were friends and allies and hard workers, but you fucked up bad.”

            The rest: “Amen.”

            “Like real bad.  And now we’ve got to leave your asses here on your sweet rides so the buzzards and coyotes can have you if the fire don’t get you first.”

            “Fuckers!”

            “Salute.”

            They all grabbed their balls and spit on the ground while the flames licked higher and boiled out thick black smoke.

            While they all mumbled and dispersed, the Colonel and his second-in-charge, Hot Spoon, checked out the horizon behind them, the big sky of the Dakotas revealing another cloud rising, but this one wispy and thin, growing larger and larger.

            “They found us.”

            The Colonel nodded.  “I thought we had a few more days, but I guess this here explosion got their attention.”

            Hot Spoon ran his fingers through his Fu Manchu, bushy and rough with dried insect wings meshed in.  “We can make the border, slip on up to Alaska.  We’ll have to leave the gear, though.  Too bad they’ll ransack it.”

            The Colonel grunted.  Then again, louder.  “I think we’ve got to fight them.”

            Hot Spoon stepped in front of Hutter, noses touching.  “Sir, need I remind you that we just lost four and a half motherfuckers, and they’ve got at least forty motherfuckers, and the last time we rumbled, you became leader because they totally killed Grand Randy.”

            Hutter sighed.  He wished Hot Spoon would lay off the buffalo jerky.  “We run, they overtake us.  We prepare now, maybe we take them by surprise and at least make a dent.”

            Hot Spoon curled his lip, ground his teeth, and went to walk away.  “Whatever you want, you sick sack of shit.”

            Hutter had had enough.  He spun on his heel, grabbed Hot Spoon by the collar, and jerked him back, switchblade in his other hand.  He slashed a deep gouge from Spoon’s forehead all the way down to his chin.  Spoon grabbed Hutter’s wrist before he could do more damage.  Gave it a vicious twist, then a strike to his elbow, meant to dislodge the blade.  Hutter took it like a stone wall.  Headbutted Spoon, who went to jelly on his feet.  Before he could solid up again, Hutter roundhoused a boot into the man’s face.  Something snapped.  Spoon dropped like a stone.

            Hutter stood over the body, reached down and turned Spoon’s head so he could look into his eyes.  Still blinking.  He wasn’t dead, just paralyzed from the neck down.  If someone didn’t come along and find him, Spoon would die of thirst.  Hutter figured it gave the traitorous son of a whore more than a fair chance.

            “Make that five men I lost.”

            Spoon blinked manically, tried to squeal.  Came out like a snore.

            Hutter stood, pointed at Ratchit.  “You!”

            Ratchit pumped his fist.  “Mommy!  Pooh Bear made a puddle!”

            “You’re my new Lieutenant.” To the rest:  “Let’s ride, Whippers!”

*

            The Score couldn’t believe his goddamned luck.  Knew as soon as the black cloud mushroomed into the sky that he and his crew of Fire Breathers had caught up to the Devil Whippers faster than expected.  Another well blown.  A fine bunch of idiots Grand Randy had slapped together to go and fuck up as much as possible chasing oil.  The Score wanted a slice of that action.  He wanted to bring in his fellas, do it right.

            A full battalion, it sounded like, all forty of them on their fine ass Japanese crotchrockets racing across the prairie towards the squid ink billowing from the horizon.  The Score loved the sound of all them engines singing like “Thus Spake Zarathurstra” which he’s last heard his older brother playing trumpet in middle school band back when there was such a notion as school and bands. He’d recruited well, going from state to state picking up former NBA players who’d gotten their shot for a season or two before they were let go.  Tall black men with tattoos, tall white guys with bad hair, all unprepared for life outside of sports.  Easy pickings–Come with me and I’ll teach you kung fu and make you filthy rich oil barons.  They were halfway there, with some land they pirated in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and now the Dakotas.

            Also along for the ride, like the clan’s spiritual advisor, was Cho Luger, former kung fu actor out of Seoul until he was caught in a sex scandal–he had a weakness for teenage European girls, and it all came to light when he got three of them pregnant on the same night within fifteen minutes of each other.  The Fire Breathers treated him like a god on account of one classic flick about a heroin addict in ancient Korea who became a master of “Dying Ape Flailing Style” kung fu when he was all hopped up on smack–thus, Junkie Master 2: Needle of Destiny.  The first Junkie Master movie didn’t have the same kick, since the lead actor had been an actual junkie, but, man, the way Cho split heads in the sequel it made you forget there’d ever been an original.

            Ready to kick more ass, they were.  None of them ever getting a second chance in pro sports or showbiz, not even professional wrestling.  So they hooked their wagons to the Fire Breathers and hoped to cash in on “Drill, Baby, Drill!”

            Then The Score caught a glimpse of the unexpected. A second cloud rising beside the first.  Thinner, lighter, almost like a dust devil.  There would be no ambush after all. Those fucking Whippers were headed right for them.

            The Score held his fist high and slowed his bike, brought the Fire Breathers to a halt en masse as Cho and the Sergeant-at-Arms eased their bikes on either side of their boss.  The Sergeant-at-Arms was an Armenian with a name so complicated that everyone called him 29 – his jersey number from his half-season with the Nuggets.  Bounced out when he carried a knife on court and threatened to slice Kobe (RIP) like a New York Strip.

            Cho had probably already spied this through his ever present sunglasses, but for some reason of bullshit honor or deference, was unwilling to tell The Score.  Assumed, most likely, the leader had already made his choice and didn’t need Cho’s advice unless asked for.  Goddamn, Score wanted to shout, This ain’t fucking ancient Asia.  Got to let me know these things.

            On the other hand, 29 seemed to be a minute behind everyone else on the planet.  He pointed at the black smoke in the distance and said, “We’ve having them now.”

            The Score looked up at 29.  One of the few men he had to crane his neck for. “Good, I appreciate the enthusiasm.  But flick your eyes to the left, barely a degree, and look lower on the horizon.  Tell me what you see.”

            29 squinted.  “Dust devil.”

            “Keep looking.”

            They did.  All three of them.  Another half a minute before The Score said, “And?”

            “It’s still there.”

            “You know of many dust devils that persist like that?  Especially in North Dakota?”

            29 licked his finger and lifted it in the air. “Well, it’s a windy day.”

            The Score nodded.  “That, my friends, is the enemy approaching.  Perhaps we have miscalculated.  I was sure they would be so concerned with whatever blew up out there that we could catch them unawares.  But it seems they are getting better at the art of deception and have fooled us once.  But they will not fool us twice.”

            29 let out a ferocious yelp and pulled his Samurai sword free of its sheath.  He’d bought it at a mall head shop in Kansas City.  The Score was pretty sure it couldn’t cut through warm ice cream.  He put his hand on top of 29’s blade, eased it to the ground.

            “No, son.  Not with swords.  We have disciplined our hands to fight, and fight they shall.  Let’s do this the way Jackie Chan taught us–by using our natural surroundings.”

            Cho sniffed and said, “Hack.”

            The Score turned and spread his arms wide, shouted at his men, “If we’ve lost the element of surprise, then at least let us choose the battleground.  To glory!”

            “To glory!

            They remounted and rode on.

*

            The choreography of kung fu is largely a cinematic experience, or for exhibition amongst professionals.  The best at it can anticipate the moves of their opponents and counter the strikes, thus making them appear to be mind readers.  But the truth is closer to “muscle reading”, the same flinches and contraction as when you play the Slap Hands Game on a third date because you’ve run out of stuff to say and you want an excuse to touch her.

            Training yourself to anticipate the twitches, that’s the key.

            Don’t worry about pretty kung fu.  For example, Israeli Krav Maga is an effective fucking weapon to have in your arsenal, but it ain’t pretty.  Like two Ultimate Fighting douchebags if they weren’t on TV and were fighting over some pussy instead of cash.  Just overwhelm your opponent when he strikes.  Tie him in knots.

            Prettiness is an illusion.  Fighting is ugly.  And ugly is only pretty if you’re fucked in the head, right?

            Dying Ape Flailing Style is even more distracting and messy than Krav Maga, and it pretty much only works in slow motion, with special effects, and only when you’re hallucinating.  It might have seemed like a real system of fighting to those who developed it, but only in the same way that Klingon is a “real” language.

            Said all that to say this: Cho dies first.

*

            Cho lost control of his bike on the way to the tilled-up cornfield where the Fire Breathers would face the Devil Whippers for the final showdown.  He hit a pothole and exploded the front tire.  He banged his head real good and broke his arm.  Blacked out for a few seconds, too.  Serious concussion.  But when he stood again, he was in ancient Korea.  All around him were peasants riding mules.  Tall fuckers – and noisy mules – but still in need of his fighting skills.  The bikers coming from the opposite side of the field were skeletons from hell, resurrected to punish the weak.  Only the Junkie Master could save them.

            The first step was to charge them on foot.  A suicidal task for anyone else, the Junkie Master had the element of surprise on his side.  At the last moment, he would leap into the air, hover over the gang of demons, and rain down pain upon them.

            He started across the field – slowly – before The Score or 29 could stop him.  They were dismounting their steeds, lining them up on the edge of the field.  Shouting at him to hold up.  Not like they couldn’t catch him.  Dude was in slow motion.  What the hell was he thinking?  But The Score had learned never to question Cho’s impulses.

            A few feet away from the first bike, Cho leapt into the air, got about to handlebar height before the first biker slammed square into him.  Knocked the rider off.  Both of them were then struck by three, four, five bikes, a mass of twisting, burning chrome.  Screams from the bottom of the pile.  Cho’s face ended up on a tire that was still spinning, wide open, shearing off the Junkie Master’s nose and lips.

            The surviving Whippers recovered, pulled their injured from the throttling pile, and stumbled around like wounded Confederates at Gettysburg.

            The Score held his hands together the way he’d seen Cho do right before battle.  29 followed.  Spread out behind them were the Fire Breathers, a “V” of extra tall motherfuckers ready for one more beatdown.

            There was Hutter leading his pack.  But no Hot Spoon?  What the hell had happened to Hot Spoon?  Maybe Hutter had sussed him out as the Fire Breathers’ inside man.  Pretty much the only way The Score had been able to keep up for so long.  Spoon had left messages behind at every truck stop, every bar, every whorehouse, every Hardee’s, usually scratched in grease on the bathroom walls.  But Spoon was gone and now Hutter’s second in charge was a guy with an iron rod through his skull.  Instead of leading his men in formation, many of the Whippers were holding their backs, trying to find a place to sit, or bent over gripping their knees, throwing up.

            The Score spoke first.  “There is no dishonor in handing over the deeds to the land, my friend.  Self-knowledge is more powerful than the fist or even steel, and I would not begrudge you an amiable retreat.”

            Hutter hitched an eyebrow.  “The fuck you saying?”

            “Give me the deeds and you can go.”

            “Those deeds are about all I’ve got left.  Look at these guys.  Any of them seem oil baron material to you?”

            He had a point.  Most of the remaining Whippers reminded The Score of his drunken uncles at barbecues, talking about how they just got some pills to help keep it up.  The Score cringed at the thought of those guys in their sandals and socks sticking it to his aunts, who were all too skinny with hair twenty years out of style.

            “We’ve come so far.”

            Hutter laughed. “That’s because you won’t leave us alone, punk.”

            “But you came to us first this time. You wanted this.”

            “Maybe.” It was soft, breathy.  Hutter blinked into the sun, taking deep breaths. Could be, The Score thought, he was facing a man out of options.  Not so much wanting to die, but knowing not to be so much a fool as to run off to Samarra when death would catch him here or there, didn’t matter.

            29 cracked his knuckles.  “We ready?”

            Hutter held up his fist and shouted, “Whippers!  Let’s get this over with.”

            Each side formed a wall of bad motherfuckers.  The foot soldiers on each side found targets on the opposing line. 

Then someone blew a whistle.

*

            The Score did not expect to be shot.

            He expected to use his skills in a dazzling exposition of mind over body, larger than life, taking on three men at once with his complicated combos of kicks and punches.  Chops to the throat.  Holds that would render his opponent useless, gibbering like a baby.  Kicks that would cause brain matter to leak from the ears.

            But the first Whipper he approached shot him with a .44 magnum.

            Surprised, certainly.  They’d never used guns before.  Always played by the rules.  He spun, gasping for air from the sheer shock of the slug damn near taking his shoulder off.  Spun to fall into the arms of another Whipper, this one with a tiny old .22 pistol that he used like a staple gun across The Score’s chest–ping ping ping ping ping ping.

            The Score was on his knees. Mouth wide open.  “Why? What did I miss?”

            The one with the .22 shrugged.  “We didn’t have Cho Luger.”

Aimed, held his tongue right, and Ping, right in the eye.  Could almost follow the bouncing bullet just by watching how the Score’s head weaved.

            The gunman was so busy nodding at his handiwork that he missed the Fire Breather behind him, already high in the air bringing a high-top sneakered foot to crush his spine.

            And lo, it did.

            The Whippers got the upper hand on the Fire Breathers because of the guns.  Got the numbers down right about even.  But when they ran out of ammo and turned the guns around in their hands to use as a club, the Fire Breathers were back in their element.  Guns went flying out of fists. Broken fingers everywhere.  Old timers’ last moments, thinking of Waylon tunes while ex-pro ballers kicked the shit out of them.

            29 was having a ball.  With The Score gone, he’d pulled out his sword and started whooshing around with it, Luke Skywalker-like, scaring the hell out of Whippers.  But whenever he landed a few blows, no limbs went flying.  No heads tumbling off necks.  No bodies sliding half-and-half.  Just big, reverberating whacks.  Damned sword wasn’t killing anyone.  Just bruising them.

            Didn’t matter.  Pretty soon, he’d found Hutter, spitting out teeth and trying to crawl away with twisted legs.  The Head Whipper turned onto his back as 29 lingered above, a foot on each side of the man’s head.

            “Well?  This is the part where you let me go again?  Let me lead you to the next blown well and the next empty cornfield?  Again?”  Laughing through it like it was a good joke.

            29 sneered, aimed his sword for Hutter’s mouth, double-handed it, and drove it down.  If it had gone right, the blade would’ve punctured right through to the ground.  But this blade was less blade and more yardstick.  It shoved Hutter’s tongue to the back of his throat.  29 kept stabbing, feeling flesh give way a little at a time while Hutter gargled the blood spurting from his tongue.  He finally choked on it, and 29 pulled the blade away, slung the spit and mucus off, and shouted victory, last man standing.

            Except that he wasn’t.  There was one more, a Whipper, answering 29’s shout with a louder one.

            “Seeeeeeeea Baaaaaass!”

            Looked over his shoulder.  So it had come to this.  29 face to face with the guy who had an iron rod through his head.

            They circled each other cautiously, stepping over and on top of their fallen brothers.  Ever closer.  29 worked his blade in loops and swirls like bad guys from Indiana Jones movies.  Smiling all toothy.

            Ratchit lifted his hand to his head, grabbed one end of the iron bar, and yanked on it until it started to slide from his head, the sound like gravel pouring.  Blood leaked out of the entry hole.  Ratchit shook his head, blinked, and lifted that iron bar like a sword.

            29 charged.  Swung.

            Rathcit blocked it with the bar.  Strong fucking bar.  It held the blade in mid-air.  No one was going anywhere unless the other backed off. 

            29 leapt back first, taking his time, looking for a second swing.  Ratchit’s ear was so fucked, and one if his eyes red like it was filled with blood.  Maybe that side.  Maybe he was deaf and blind on that side.

            29 came in with a low swing, arching upward, trying take off Ratchit’s right arm.  But Ratchit caught the blade, held it in his armpit, clutched tight to his side.  Gave it a pull and the sword came free of 29’s hand like it was made of Jell-o. 

            Ratchit dropped the iron rod and took the sword.  Admired it.  Posed with it, doing Conan the Barbarian moves.  Nodded.  “I like this.”

            “It’s yours.  Take it.  Let me go, and you can have it, I swear.”

            Ratchit ran his fingers over the edge of the blade.  “Dull as dogshit, though.  You didn’t sharpen it?”

            29 shook his head.  “Never used it before.”

            Ratchit dropped the sword, picked up the iron rod, and walked over to 29, inches from his face.  At first, 29 thought Ratchit was taller than he looked far off, but then he realized the crazy bastard was standing on the back of a dead Fire Breather.

            A staredown.

            29 wasn’t going to beg for his life.  He remembered what Cho had taught him, about what to do when standing so close to an opponent: Balls.  You go for the balls.  You grab them in your claw and yank them like they are fresh plums on a tree.

            So 29 curled his fingers like an Eagle’s talon and struck the man’s crotch.  Only to find nothing there to grab onto.  He patted around, thinking maybe they were dangling real low or something.  Maybe up tight.  Maybe Ratchit was wearing a fucking cup.

            Ratchit smiled.  “Lost my junk to a shark in the Gulf of Mexico.”

            With that, Ratchit punctured the soft part under 29’s chin with the iron rod, right up through the roof of his mouth, into his sinuses, and that was enough.  Ratchit then rammed the heel of his hand into 29’s nose, shattered it all sorts of ways, and shoved it right through to his cerebrum.  His eyes rolled up and he fell backwards like a mighty oak.

            No one else left to kill. 

            Ratchit pulled the rod from 29’s head, looked it over, and gave it a lick.  Then he fit it back into the entry hole, pushed it back into place through his skull, and felt immediate peace, love, and understanding for all animalkind.

            He headed off towards the line of Fire Breather motorbikes, picking out the one that was painted to look the fastest, and went looking for some prairie dogs to kill for supper.

Bio: Anthony Neil Smith is the author of the Billy Lafitte series, All the Young Warriors, Slow Bear, and many more. He is a professor of English at Southwest Minnesota State University. He’s a fan of cheap red wine and Mexican food. He has a dog named Herman, who is a very good boy.

Palace of Swords Reversed by K A Laity

Flash Fiction, K A Laity, Short Stories, The Fall

Palace of Swords Reversed

‘Look, this is the Five of Swords. That means conflict or strife. Which seems appropriate, right?’ Joy looked up with bright eyes but Will only grunted. ‘Strife it is, indeed. Oh, but look! It’s reversed. Now let me remember. Oh, no I can’t. I have to peek.’

Joy picked up the well-thumbed Rainbows and Unicorns spiral notebook she had bought at WS Smith at the beginning of this new enthusiasm. She had taken notes more carefully  than ever she had in school. Perhaps she had only needed the right subject to awaken the avid scholar within. ‘Ah reversed: here it is. An ongoing conflict, one you can never win so you just need to walk away. Avoid it. Well, that’s a new path to walk as Mother Shipton would say.’

Will offered no reply to this. Perhaps he had grown tired of Mother Shipton says this, Mother Shipton advises that. Perhaps he realised that she had drawn her name from a slightly more famous, somewhat earlier, vaguely notorious psychic of some sort who had a cave now doing a bustling business as a tourist destination in Yorkshire. Perhaps he wasn’t listening.

‘Now this one seems obvious, but it’s not. We had many discussions about this trump. They’re called trumps, you know,’ Joy said, the excitement evident in her voice and the way she bounced on her chair. When they met back in the local primary school, he had found that endearing and told her so. So much energy in such a small bundle was what he always said.

‘The Death card is much feared, and it looks rather daunting, but it doesn’t necessarily doom you,’ she added with a giggle. ‘It means a big change. Things cannot go back to the way they were. An old life is ending—not always literally, mind you!—and a new one begins. That’s encouraging, don’t you think? I think so!’

Will sighed and coughed a little. He was having some trouble breathing. It may have been the knife in his throat.

‘But the last card: that’s the way forward. Look, Will. Knight of Swords. Two swords in this spread. Past and future both the same suit.’ Joy looked over at Will. The spill of red blood down the front of his vest looked rather like a bib, which struck her as funny.

‘The Knight cards area always about energy and motion. Mother Shipton says that real knights were seldom better than mercenaries! Nothing like the stories at all. You know, King Arthur and all that. Maybe Guy Ritchie was right, they were thugs. You liked that film, didn’t you?’

Will did not respond.

‘Motivation. Oh who was that, Will? Comedian fellah, doing the football manager. You know! The three Ms: motivation, motivation, motivation. How we laughed. It was on the YouTube. You remember, I know you do. Motivation, determination, overcoming challenges. Don’t let anything faze you. Brazen it out.’

Joy pulled the knife from his neck and Will fell forward onto the table. Fortunately the vinyl tablecloth would keep the blood from staining the veneer. Incoherent babble emanated from his shape and his hands clawed uselessly at his sides. It had been a good idea to tie him up. Serves him right for nodding off right in the middle of his tea. Four cans of Boddingtons before he sat down! No wonder.

‘I was wondering what I would tell the polis when they came,’ Joy said, more serious now, ‘but as I turn the matter over in my head, I think I may just wait for a nice dark night and slip you into the compost.’

Will did not offer an opinion on the matter.

‘Listen, I’ll call Alice in a few days. Oh Alice, Will left me for a woman Ayrshire! Or should it be France?’ Joy pursed her lips, thinking. Inspiration hit and she turned over another card.

‘Queen of Wands. Ooh, I like that. Independent woman. Wands…hmmm…Poles! I know, you’ve run off with Polish woman to France. Ha! So much for your Brexit, take back control nonsense, Will. You must admit you were wrong about that.’

Will admitted nothing.

Joy wet her thumb and cleaned the drop of blood off the Death card. ‘Can’t have that, now can we?’

Who Doesn’t Like Strawberries by Judge Santiago Burdon

Judge Santiago Burdon, Short Stories

Who Doesn’t Like Strawberries

“What do you mean I don’t have any future left, I’ve used it up? How is that even possible?” I questioned.  I had no clue as to what  she was talking about. It  was a challenge to just 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, 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 a goofy face.

“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 tommorows because I’ve used them up in my yesterdays? Fate is determined at birth. My destiny however is determined by my actions; it can’t be possible. Sounds like Bullshit to me!” I motion with my finger pointing to my ass.

 ” 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. What is happening here I’m completely confused?”

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. This screaming and assigning blame is vindictive.

” 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.  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. Why is it that if I’m not in favor of or advocate a movement or dislike something it means I’m negative?  You didn’t like  “The Boys and Girls Guide to Getting Down”  which is on my favorite movies list and I didn’t give you any shit about your opinion. You don’t like strawberries, do I accuse you of being a negative person because of your dislike of  strawberries? No, although now that I think about it, it should’ve been a clue to your negative demeanor.”

“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. 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 it 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 the 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.  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.

I found your passport in your Blazer before I took it to the drycleaners 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. 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 judgemental, self-righteous, backstabbing, delusional and evil women I’ve ever encountered.

Johnny has always been polite and courteous to you as well as respectful, isn’t that true?” She nods her head yes.

“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 is an  Officer with the Border Patrol, 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 the 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 like a, “Narco Traficante”? 

I blurt out. 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!”

I wasn’t about to disclose any more information than I already had. For some unknown reason I can’t come up with an embellishment to explain my vocation.

” Well that’s just God Damn 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 now has it become such an issue?”

“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 close to a year, not six 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 present, 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, arrested or decide to just never come back, leaving me 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? 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 apparently 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 or 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 from her.

” 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 uncle who’s a Captain in the 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?  You’ve been watching movies again, haven’t you. What, “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? 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?”