Two Days before Florence by Chris Benton

PhotoFunia-1590732219Two days before Hurricane Florence hits, I wake up with another concussion. My wife’s been giving them to me every other week for months now, and I don’t know which one will be the blessed last. During the latest, I was having another dream of hell, laid bare within a vast, piss-reeking ditch with all the animals of the earth and having our skin steam-spoken off our backs, I was crushed beside this wild boar who had the eyes of a childhood friend I had tricked into suicide in grade school, and after the steps of our spines were exposed we were commanded to turn over, spread-eagle, the wild boar of a boy I tortured in grade school blinking Morse code at me, telling me he loves me.

Then I wake marrow-deep dehydrated and disoriented as all the damned do and stagger into my kitchen to find these two fucking hillbillies with a cooler full of reeking fish they caught from the river. Fucking tweakers. Lee and Peggy. Why do all tweakers look like carrion birds, why are they all painted by fucking Bruegel. There is a boy with them. His name is Travis. After formalities I ask about the kid.

“I named him after Travis Bickle, from Taxi Driver, it’s my favorite movie, Chris, He’s gone grow up to be the owner of a Taxi company one day.” Peggy says.

“Chris we just moved here spur of the moment because my family don’t like me hooking up with Peggy,” Lee says, his carrion beak opening and closing. “We gone cook these here flatheads?”

They’re not flathead catfish, they don’t look like catfish at all, I don’t know what the fuck they are, I’m wondering why these creatures are in my kitchen in the first place, and then I get the text from my wife:

            Chris these are friends of my sister who need help, they are fleeing from their family in Boone who disowned them be nice, Lee lost his son in a fire, that’s Peggy’s son, I think…

            “We gone fry these flatheads, Chris? You got a cast-iron skillet?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a skillet, Lee,” I say, and pull out the cast-iron skillet baptized with past blood and blackouts, “But we’re cooking these fine fish outside, on the grill.”

As I’m teaching these pretend people how to heat a skillet on a grill, I’m thinking about that kid, Travis, he’s politely grimacing, a spectral hostage. I go inside and he is sitting on the sofa, staring at his reflection in our television.

“You like Batman?” I ask him, and he nods.

I put on Batman Begins, and he thanks me and moans softly, rubbing his hip.

“You in pain, big guy?” I say and Peggy walks through the door and grabs my arm and pulls me into the kitchen and tells me that Travis has worms in his ass.

“I’ve seen them, Christ, I’ve seen them worms in his shit, and I’m worried.”

“Have you taken him to the doctor?”

“Hell no, we’ve been busy fishing, we gotta eat, we ain’t got nothing here but the river and the sea, the things the lord will give us.”

“Gotcha, congratulations on the new one on the way,” I say, nodding at her distended belly.

“Oh, that’s just gas bubbles, don’t mind that one bit,” Peggy says.

“Okay. I can run a bath for Travis if you want, I’ve got some Epsom salts, might be good if his hip is injured.”

“His hip ain’t no injured, I told you he has them ass worms, they been going around my kids for years,” she says.

I nod and run a bath. Tears fall from my lovingly damaged brain into the bath water. My rage left me in my late thirties, I’m already old and sad, because I’m past the age limit of successful bank robberies and copper wire crucifixions and now all I want to do with my life is crush Peggy’s skull with the lid of my toilet.

Lee comes in and says, “That grill need’s more coals, Chris, I swear, I don’t know why you let me fry these inside your house, you afraid I’m gone make a mess?”

I walk past him and go outside and turn the bottom-feeders over, stir the coals.

Lee says behind me, “I ever tell you about my real son? Not that little sissy phony boy in there, I’m talking about my little pumpkinhead, I called him pumpkinhead on account of his hair being the brightest orange, brighter than the fire that ate him alive in my trailer, I swear, when we left town, we went straight from Boone to the beach right before dawn and sat in the sand and I cast out a couple of lines and right then, it was getting light and my pumpinhead rose from the ocean, covering everything with beautiful soft light and he said, “Daddy, you gone make a fortune off this storm coming here, just as sure as Jesus told the blind man to open his eyes and see the sun for the first time.”

I nod and remember the latest concussion my wife sent me into, these loving portals into hell, it’s up to the victim to close them behind their bare ass. I suddenly remember Travis, a child of amnesia, like myself, I go back inside our trembling house and find Peggy drinking a Busch Ice. “Travis is really enjoying that bath, Chris,” she says, watching Batman Begins.

I text Emma, telling her I need another concussion, ASAP, my migraine moths are funneling my eyes, Where are you, I need another concussion!!!! I smoke two cigarettes and she doesn’t respond , and the moths are flapping their burning blue wings in my face, spanking my cortex, do you ever feel like a witch has dropped a false world on top of your skull? I could feel the winds of Florence approaching now, another catastrophe, this one would be the end of us, I knew it. I see the eyes of Emma and her dog, a gorgeous, four-eyed creature of love finally done with me, so happy to be done with me, and I’m happy for them, I’ve never felt so happy in my life.

I lure Lee back outside to the grill and say “How did pumpkinhead burn, Lee, did your sorry ass crawl out your sorry-ass trailer window when your batch got volatile? Did your boy’s head fly into the branches sitting there like a baby sun?”

The skillet sizzles in my fist as I toss the bubbling bottom-feeders into his face and Lee screams and collapses and closes his face behind his hands like a blind man seeing the sun for the first time. I stomp him until he stops that falsetto shit. My neighbors Sheila and George walk outside and sit on their porch rockers, watching. Peggy runs outside and I’m kinda stunned she has our favorite butcher knife in her hand, I kept that fucker hidden, she falls under the skillet as well and I keep pounding them, two alternating blows each, and my neighbors are watching and rocking on their porch chairs and the embryonic gusts of Florence are increasing and I drop the pan and the skin of my palm and rush into the house and wonder if this was all a concussion dream. I take the last three of our emergency Percs, dress Travis and haul ass with him to Fort Fisher.

Later on that afternoon I’m swimming in the deadly pre-Florence waters, wondering whether or not I should adopt Travis as a rip current pulls me out into the majestic terror of the Atlantic, you will never know the love of the sea before a hurricane, the sky is blacker than every mother’s eyes, and I follow its endless, psychotic narrative for nearly two miles, watching pumpkinhead sinking back into the horizon, watching Travis chasing down the shore, trying to follow me as best as he can before I vanish.

 

Chris Benton was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he still resides                   with his wife, Emma, and their beloved dog, Russell,

                        his past stories might be found if you dig deep enough…

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Piano Man by Graham Wynd

‘That do for you, Tommy?’

Eric had a think. Surely he was always Frank and Earnest: Frank in the north, Ernie in the south. This was north. ‘Frank, love, the name’s Frank.’ Daftie. But she was well fit, a regular gym devotee. He was a bit surprised when she responded so well to his flirting. Above his league but hey, anyone might have a champion sort of day.

‘Sorry, it’s just that you remind me of Tommy.’ She handed him a generous glass of whisky. Posh included her liquor in the pretty little cabinet. The woman was drinking some bubbly with a double-barreled French name, but he went right for the good stuff. ‘I’m just going to change the music.’

‘Oh but I like that piano man,’ Eric laughed. ‘You know, sing us a song Mr Piano Man, sing us your songs all right…’

She looked at him blankly, then chuckled and snapped the CD case shut. ‘This is a string quartet, La jeune fille et la mort.’

‘Oh, I don’t know Morty at all. I liked that Saddo though.’ He was laying on the cheeky chappie a bit thick but they expected it, didn’t they? Posh women like this. Taking a walk on the wild side. Well, he was up for it. Very up for it.

‘Satie,’ she said with a wan smile, sitting beside him on the sofa. It was not a comfortable sofa though it looked pretty with all these curlicues on the ends.

‘Saddie, yeah. His songs are sad but kind of nice.’

‘It was a year ago Tommy…left.’ She smiled a sad smile at him. ‘You remind me of him.’

‘So you said.’ Eric hoped she wouldn’t talk too long. He was ready to get down to it, before the whisky flowed too much. It was hitting him a bit hard after all those cheap lagers. He should pace himself until they were done. Maybe he could take a bottle with him as a kind of memento. She had plenty to spare. ‘But I want to make you forget all about him.’

Eric moved closer to her on the sofa, leaning in for a kiss. Her lips were surprisingly cold. Well, he could fix that. He set his glass down on the shiny lacquered table. ‘Let’s cuddle, love.’ He slipped his arm around the curve of her waist.

A sudden wave of dizziness fogged his brain. Too much whisky. Tut tut, he didn’t want it to affect his performance. So far all was well downstairs. It had been weeks and he was gagging for it.

‘Tommy always liked it on this sofa,’ she said from somewhere above him. ‘Said it was easy to brace himself on.’

‘Oh yeah, for certain,’ Eric said, hearing his words slur. Christ, he hadn’t had that much. Maybe the good stuff was stronger. He rallied. ‘Let’s get to it and I’ll make you forget everything Tommy ever said.’

‘I can’t forget. I can’t ever forget his cruelty. He hurt me.’

What was her name? Elizabeth, Mary—some name like a queen. ‘Listen, love,’ Eric said then forgot what came next. He slipped onto the floor and stared up at her, eyes goggling. ‘Hey…’

‘Happy anniversary, Tommy,’ she said sitting astride him. ‘You’re going to leave me again, I know. But I have to do it until I get it right.’ She held the knife aloft. It glinted like her eyes.

Eric saw the blade fall but he didn’t really feel anything but wet. Posh birds. You just never knew.

A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Publications include LOVE IS A GRIFT and EXTRICATE from Fox Spirit Books, SATAN’S SORORITY from Fahrenheit 13 Press,  as well as tales in the 2016 Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks and the Anthony Award-nominated Protectors 2: Heroes . Wynd’s stories have been translated into German, Italian, Polish and Slovene. See a full list of stories (including free reads) here. Find Wynd on Facebook and Twitter.

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Recommended Read: The Man in the Palace Theater by Ray Garton

Showbiz writer John Bellows has fallen off the grid. He arrives at his old workplace looking distinctly dishevelled and convinces one of his old workmates to accompany him to the run down Palace Theater.

Ray Garton’s The Man In The Palace Theater is splendid. A beautifully written, atmospheric and haunting short story.

The Man In The Place Theatre

 

The Tut by Paul D. Brazill

After enduring forty-five years of a marriage that was, at best, like wading through treacle, Oliver Beacock Robinson eventually had enough and smothered his wife with the beige corduroy cushion that he’d accidentally burned with a cigarette two fraught days before.

Oliver had been, for most of his life, a temperate man and he had survived the sexless marriage – its colourless cuisine and half-hearted holidays – with a stoicism that bordered on indifference. But his patience had been stretched to the breaking point by Gloria’s constant disapproval of almost everything he did.

And then there was the “tut.”

The tut invariably accompanied Gloria’s scowl whenever Oliver poured himself an evening drink or smoked a cigarette. She would tut loudly if he spilled the salt. Or swore. Or stayed up late to watch the snooker. The tut, tut, tut was like the rattle of a machine gun that seemed to echo through their West London home from dusk till dawn until he reached the end of his tether.

Wrapping his wife’s body in the fluffy white bedroom rug, Oliver supposed that he should have felt guilty, depressed or scared – but he didn’t. Far from it. In fact, he felt as free and as light as a multi-coloured helium balloon that had been set adrift to float above a brightly lit fun fair.

Oliver fastened the rug with gaffer tape and dragged the corpse down the steps to the basement. As the head bounced from every step, it made a sound not unlike a tut and he had to fight the urge to say sorry.

He’d done enough apologising.

***

Oliver poured himself a whisky – at eight o’clock in the morning! – and it tasted better than any whisky he had ever tasted before. Looking around his antiseptic home, the sofa still wrapped in the plastic coating that it came in, he smiled.

Savouring the silence, he resisted the temptation to clean Gloria’s puke from the scarred cushion that had been the catalyst of her death. Taking a Marlboro full strength from the secret supply that was hidden in a hollowed-out hardback copy of Jaws – Gloria didn’t approve of fiction and would never have found the stash there – he proceeded to burn holes in every cushion in the house.

And then he started on the sofa.

Oliver’s brief burst of pyromania was interrupted when he thought he heard a tut, tut, tut from the hallway. His heart seemed to skip a beat or two, but then he gave a relieved laugh when it was just the sound of the letter box, flapping in the wind.

***

Disposal of Gloria’s body proved much easier than Oliver would have expected. On a bright Sunday morning in April he hauled Gloria’s corpse into the back of his car, keeping an eye out for nosy neighbours, and drove towards Jed Bramble’s rundown farm, and the village of Innersmouth.

Jed was an old school friend and fellow Territorial Army member whom Oliver occasionally used to meet for a sly drink in the Innersmouth Arms’ smoky, pokey snug. He was also a phenomenal lush. The plan was to get him comatose and then feed Gloria’s body to his pigs. Oliver knew the farm was on its last legs, along with most of the livestock, so he felt sure that the poor emaciated creatures would be more than happy to tuck in to Gloria’s cadaver.

Perched on the passenger seat Oliver had a Sainsbury’s bag stuffed with six bottles of Grant’s Whisky. Just in case, he had a bottle of diazepam in his pocket, which he’d used to drug Gloria.

Just outside Innersmouth it started to rain. Tut, tut went the rain on the windscreen. At first it was only a shower but then it fell down in sheets. Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut.

Oliver switched on the windscreen wipers but every swish seemed to be replaced by a tut. He opened up a bottle of whisky and drank until the rain resumed sounding like rain.

Outside the dilapidated farmhouse, Jed stood with a rifle over his arm, looking more than a little weather-beaten himself. His straggly hair was long and greasy and his red eyes lit up like Xmas tree lights when he saw Oliver’s booze.

***

The cold Monday morning air tasted like tin to Oliver as, hungover and wheezing, he pulled Gloria’s body from the car and dumped it in the big sty. The starving wretches took to their meal with relish. Watching, Oliver vomited, but he didn’t try to stop the proceedings.

Back at the farmhouse Jed was still slumped over the kitchen table, snoring heavily. Oliver collapsed into a battered armchair and started to sweat and shake. He’d decided to stay with Jed for a few days, keeping him safely inebriated until Gloria’s remains were completely consumed. But as the days grew dark the tut returned.

The tick tock of Jed’s grandfather clock, for instance, was replaced by a tut, tut. The drip, drip, drip of the leaking tap kept him awake at night and became a tut, tut, tut. The postman’s bright and breezy rat-a-tat-tat on the front door seemed to pull the fillings right from his teeth. He turned on the radio but even Bob Dylan was tut, tut, tutting on heaven’s door.

***

The usually bustling Innersmouth High Street was almost deserted now. The majority of the local people were cowering indoors – in shops, pubs, fast food joints. Oliver walked down the street with Jed’s rifle over his shoulder. No matter how many people he shot he still couldn’t seem to escape the sound of Gloria’s disapprobation.

Tut went the gun when he shot the postman.

Tut, tut when he pressed the trigger and blew Harry the milkman’s brains out.

Tut, tut, tut when he blasted fat PC Thompson to smithereens as he attempted to escape by climbing over the infant school wall.

Oliver heard the sirens of approaching police cars in the distance and realised there was only one thing left to do.

Pushing the gun into his mouth he squeezed the trigger.

The last sound that he heard was a resounding TUT!

The End.

CHECK OUT PAUL D. BRAZILL’S BOOKS HERE IF YOU FANCY.

 

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Things That Are Mass-Bloody-Produced in Bloody Leeds by Don Stoll

Back then Ellen had wavy hair falling on her shoulders. But twenty years on, even with it chopped short I recognized her in the paper right off. Then I saw the headline about the Leopard of Leeds being caught, all credit to Detective Inspector Ellen Flay of the York and North East Yorkshire Police.

She’d told the press it was bollocks to talk about the “Cannibal” of Leeds since the victims weren’t just eaten but first hauled up into trees. Then she’d interviewed every bloody teacher in Leeds to ask did they recall any strong athletic lads who’d shown a “peculiar fascination” with jungle cats. You could read between the lines that the Leeds City Police weren’t pleased when she was detailed from York and North East Yorkshire to go after the Leopard. But she caught the sick bastard, with a chap who’d taught him ten years back supplying the first clue.

I’d met her one afternoon in a pub near the docks in Hull, place called The King’s Arms where no royal had ever taken a drink. I took the only empty stool at the bar and she was on my left, green jumper and red wavy hair.

“That good?” I said because she had The Third Man in front of her. “What you having?”

“Film was better,” she shrugged. “And you can see what I’m having.”

Half a bitter. I got her another and said “Asphalt Jungle’s playing at the Odeon.”

She said “That an invitation?”

The thing she said before I’d sucked down too many pints that sticks in my mind now was that she wasn’t like other birds.

“Not going to do as you command, Georgie,” she said. “They say it’s a man’s world, but that doesn’t apply to Ellen Flay.”

The full story of that day would be pieced together for me later by Ellen and a massive former rugby player named Rod, sat on my right at the bar. Last call came and she said let’s catch the matinee. Rod was needed to prop me up as I staggered there.

I was brutally hung over the next day when, from behind, Rod snatched me off the ground. Shook me like he hoped I’d make a noise that would give away my contents, set me down hard.

“Left the popcorn trick for schoolboys and got right down to business, eh?” he said.

Rod was a solicitor, deprived of the privilege of pleading in court. Seemed to relish the chance to speak in front of the people queued up for a bus not ten feet away.

“Bloody popcorn trick,” he continued. “How do you pull that off and not dribble butter on your trousers? Never mind what else you might dribble.”

Not objectionable to me in those days. But Rod wore suits and aspired to bespoke.

“Both of you with your knickers down, and you with your thumb—or a more suitably configured digit—stuck in the Christmas pie. ‘What a cheeky lad am I!’ And her. . .”

He wrapped a hand around the index finger of his other hand. He left the tip poking out.

“Call the caterer—they’ve stuck foot-long hot dogs into ten-inch buns!”

He was not striving for anatomical accuracy.

“Don’t get the idea I’m like that”—he allowed his wrist to dangle for the benefit of his audience—“but I had a sudden ravenous craving for a sausage roll. Then you start kissing the girl right where it makes them cry, Georgie Porgie.”

I had the flexibility for acrobatics of that sort back then.

#

Ellen and I would return to the Odeon to see Asphalt Jungle a few days later. I had hair then, combed back like Dix Handley in the film. Just like Dix I’d have a bit of it curling forward, straying loose from the neatly combed part.

I was a true redhead but she colored her hair. Said she was a natural dirty blond. After seeing her in the paper I saw her on the telly talking about the Leopard, and she was dirty blond.

She worked in The King’s Arms and said they needed somebody.

“Frank’s an all right boss,” she said. “A good sport.”

I thought why not? Would be no different from The Plough, where I was already working.

Frank resembled Harold Wilson. He had a moon face and fair hair and a pipe he kept clenched between his teeth. I think he knew I was fiddling the till but let it go.

“Crime what bartenders are paid,” Ellen would say, and I don’t recall him arguing.

Ellen spent what she fiddled on clothes.

“Sodding Hull,” she said one morning. “Fancy a weekend in Edinburgh, Georgie?”

Just like with the Leopard, if Ellen made up her mind the deed was done.

“I can borrow a motor from a customer,” she said.

She nestled her chin in the hollow over my collar bone.

“Not easy on our slaves’ wages, though.”

She knew I kept what I fiddled in the dresser with the drawers that always jammed, tucked into a pair of socks. I got out of bed and showed her the entire lot.

“Been robbing banks on the side?” she said.

#

Frank gave us a Friday and a weekend and a Monday off. Ellen arranged with a regular to use his Mini. We left before sunup.

“Only a hundred miles now” she said when we stopped for petrol. “Starving. Split a horse with me at that pub up ahead?”

I couldn’t bring myself to answer after searching my pockets for my wallet. She saw my mistake in my eyes.

She said “Got a quid on me, but not spending it on petrol.”

She handed me the note.

“Get a half,” she said. “When I come along you don’t know me.”

She got out.

“Thanks ever so much for the lift,” she said in a loud voice.

The petrol bloke who was helping someone else turned to look at her.

When she came in the busy pub, her green jumper was gone. She had on a thin top. She’d piled her red hair up on her head, off the pale flesh of her neck. She started talking to a fortyish chap, good-looking enough to take for granted being chatted up by a pretty young stranger.

After a half she switched to lemonade while he drank pints. I nursed my half stingily. By closing time we might have been the only two people in there not pissed out of our minds. That’s counting the barmen.

Pulling him toward the exit, she caught my eye and held her thumb and index finger an inch apart. He didn’t live far.

I followed, but not too close. They went into a little semi-detached.

I pictured him removing her thin top.

I circled back to the Mini. Couldn’t relax. I wanted fags, but thought I should hang on to the few bob I had.

Finally, Ellen came walking toward me. I rolled down my window.

“Need a lift?” I called out in a voice like she’d used at the petrol station.

No one was around to hear.

“Don’t play the fool,” she said climbing in.

“In there a long time,” I said quietly.

“Half-hour? For”—she patted her bag—“few hundred quid.”

She extracted a wad of notes.

“Was going to buy a motor for his old mum tomorrow,” she said.

“Car for his mum? Maybe you shouldn’t have taken it all.”

“Old mum can take the bus.”

She could see I was unhappy.

“Not going back now,” she said. “But what we don’t spend in Scotland we’ll give to widows and orphans back in Hull.”

She laughed.

“Taking the piss,” she said.

I started to drive. She rummaged about in her bag for a smoke.

“It’s a loan, Georgie. I took the lot to be safe, but we’ll spend a fraction of it.”

I looked straight ahead.

“His address is up here,” she said.

I turned toward her as she tapped her forehead.

“What we spend we can replace with what’s in your socks, then we’ll send it to him by post. So old mum waits a week to get her car.”

She was staring at me.

“Got nothing to do with old mum, does it?”

“Just wondering what you got up to in there,” I said.

She closed her bag.

“No,” she said. “You wonder what he got up to. Didn’t shag, if you must know.”

“You were there long enough,” I said. “He did something.”

She brought her mouth up to my ear.

“Sucked my tits,” she whispered.

She pulled her face away.

“What was your plan to save our trip, Georgie? Or to buy petrol to get home with? And how was I supposed to occupy him till he nodded off? It’s what he expected.”

Her voice had risen.

“What else did he expect?”

“What else?” she said. “Squeezed his cock, which he expected. Squirted on his sofa. Cleaned it with a cloth after he’d fallen asleep: another thing we’re expected to do.”

“We?” I said.

“Playing the fool again. You know what I mean. Birds.”

I was silent.

“Only used your hand?” I finally said.

“Sure you want details? Even if his was bigger than yours?”

I tried to focus on the road.

“You asking did I suck his cock? And what if I had? Shall I tell you about his cock? Like every other sodding cock I’ve ever seen or squeezed or sucked or licked or had stuck inside me, one orifice or other. You blokes are hilarious, the attention you give your cocks and your fantasies about them. ‘Rock-hard,’ blokes say. ‘Hard’ is relative, hope you know. Try to smash your old gran’s porcelain teapot with it. And worrying about comparisons. . . ‘Mine long as Tom’s?’ ‘Thick as Harry’s?’ Fucking hell, the differences between cocks aren’t worth mentioning. Cocks are—don’t Americans say this?—a dime a dozen. Could be mass-bloody-produced in some dreary factory in bloody Leeds. Rolling toward you on an assembly line, one every few seconds—cock cock cock cock cock—only your job isn’t to. . . I don’t know—insert a widget—but to do something to make it get hard and blow its top. And you blokes are all so obsessed with your cocks that you might as well be mass-produced too. If I ever meet a bloke who gives half as much thought to his brain as he does to his cock. . .”

I waited.

“Finished?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Turn around. You’re out of the flat by Sunday, Georgie. Don’t ever want another word out of you except ‘Hand me a pint mug, would you?’ or the like. Sodding twat.”

I was out of the flat the next day. Hell hath no fury. I know that’s about a woman scorned, but I say it’s a woman, period.

#

Twenty years on now. But in the paper and on the telly she still looks good. Be easy to get in touch, say “Remember when. . . Sodding twat I was, but we can laugh about it now, Ellen.”

But not sure Ellen’s the forgiving-and-forgetting type. Wasn’t back then. Once a sodding twat always a sodding twat, she might say.

END

Bio:

Don Stoll’s fiction is forthcoming in THE BROADKILL REVIEW, XAVIER REVIEW, THE MAIN STREET RAG, WILD VIOLET, COFFIN BELL, BETWEEN THESE SHORES (twice), PULP MODERN, and YELLOW MAMA (twice), and recently appeared in THE GALWAY REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y6nxt9nv), CLOSE TO THE BONE (tinyurl.com/y38ac6jv), HORLA (tinyurl.com/y3k6eewx), and YELLOW MAMA (tinyurl.com/y5zt5loj). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women’s and children’s health to three Tanzanian villages.

Don pic.

Number 13: A Noir Ghost Story K. A. Laity

‘Why me?’ Kriste asked, knowing it didn’t matter.

 

‘Because you’re the littlest. And because I said so.’ Bishop smiled at her, but it wasn’t a nice smile and not just because of the teeth knocked out. Mum said his dad did it, but Bishop said he was fighting with a copper and got the better of him.

 

None of them would argue.

 

‘I bet she’s too scared,’ Nielsen said, his voice rising to a mimicking sharpness.

 

‘It’s haunted you know,’ Anderson added. The eyes behind his dirty glasses looked bored and cruel. ‘That’s why the money is still there.’

 

‘What if it’s too much for me to carry?’ Kriste had to try something. The sun was setting and she was going to be late for her tea.

 

‘Throw it out the door to us,’ Bishop said waving a hand around the checkerboard tiles of the lobby. A wind stirred through the derelict building and it creaked all around them, as if it were warning the interlopers.

 

‘Or else we’ll throw you out the window from the top floor,’ Nielsen said, sniffing and laughing.

 

‘If you go to the top floor anyway—’ she said, but Bishop’s flat palm stopped her reasonable objection. It didn’t matter. Everybody said he had killed the Nicholas’ dog. They had all seen it down in the ravine by the rail line. Poor Boris, dead in a ditch. He was a dumb dog, always chasing his tail but Millie Nicholas was sad.

 

Kriste climbed the rickety stairs. Her mum had said this place was build when she was a little girl. It had gone to rack and ruin. She didn’t know what rack meant, but the ruin was obvious. On the fifth floor she had to skirt around huge holes in the steps. Everything was so dirty and made funny sounds as she climbed.

 

Most of the floors had an A and B flat, but the top floor just had number 13. Everything looked grey outside the door: the floor, the walls, the door. Even the ceiling. The sun was going down. It was getting dark. She leaned over the railing. ‘I’m here.’

 

‘Well, go inside, you eejit. Find the gold.’

 

‘What if it’s locked?’ Kriste looked around. She didn’t think anyone had been there in years. There weren’t even any footprints in the dust. Not even bird droppings. They had covered the other floors and most of the steps. Pigeons were filthy and persistent, her mum said.

 

But they didn’t come up here.

 

She turned the knob and the door opened inward. Kriste wasn’t sure if she was hearing her own breath or the room exhaling. It took a few moments to let her eyes adjust to the dim light. Where would the money be?

 

The sitting room had some broken furniture. The cushions of the sofa lay like dead bodies, their stuffing vomited out on the floor. Had people done it or animals? It was impossible to say. Kriste walked through the kitchen and dining room. A single window gaped, its glass in shards. Yet no light seemed to reach where she stood.

 

She sneezed.

 

Kriste looked down at the footprints behind. She was the only one to have stepped in here in years. If it were brighter it might be fun to explore, to play in the kitchen or stack up the furniture for a fort. But her steps echoed in the silence and she did her best to make no sound.

 

The flat breathed on around her.

 

The first room had a bed overturned. Just the frame. There was no mattress. The wall was full of tiny holes. The air in here smelled different—sharper like some kind of metal. Maybe it was the bathroom, next to that. It almost looked usable, if not for the thick fur of dust covering everything. Her mum would never let her use a toilet like that one.

 

The last room was darker, smaller. Kriste pushed the door open. A small shaft of light fell from the single window and hit a spot in the middle of the floor. This room had all its furniture. There was a tiny bed, a chest for toys, a little wardrobe and even a tiny table with a lamp.

 

‘Hello.’

 

Kriste jumped. ‘Sorry, I didn’t think anyone was here.’

 

‘Just me.’ A little boy maybe four years old stood there with a Tonka truck in his hands. ‘Wanna play?’

 

‘I can’t just now. My…friends are waiting for me to bring them something.’ Kriste wondered if the little boy’s family would be away long.

 

‘Is it money? They always want money.’ The little boy seemed disappointed.

 

‘I don’t care about it, but the lads downstairs. They’re expecting some.’ Kriste felt bad. The little boy looked as grey and dusty as the room. And sad. He needed some cheering up.

 

‘I’ll tell you a secret. I usually just hide. But there is some money but it’s, I dunno. Wrong. It’s bad for you.’ He looked confused and opened and shut the door of the little dumptruck.

 

Kriste thought. ‘You mean like poison?’

 

The little boy smiled. ‘Yes, skull and bones. Poison.’

 

‘Maybe I can take it to the boys down there and they can sort it out.’ Kriste thought at least they would not beat her up or throw her from the top of the stairs.

 

The boy looked at her for a moment and kept playing with the car door. Finally he said, ‘It’s in the wardrobe. In the box. But I wouldn’t open it up.’

 

Kriste walked over and opened the tiny wardrobe. The door was red, though it was furred with dust, untouched until her fingers smudged it. Among the rotting clothes, there was a small box. When she picked it up, she could feel its weight. ‘This?’

 

The boy nodded.

 

‘Do you want to come downstairs?’ Kriste asked, feeling awkward. What if his parents came back? ‘You don’t have to see the mean boys. But you can watch them open the box.’

 

He nodded and the two of them walked down the steps silently. When they were within sight of the gang, Kriste held her finger to her lips and the boy melted into the shadows. She walked the rest of the steps to the catcalls of the boys and held the box out before her. ‘Is this it?’

 

Bishop ripped the box from her hands and tore it open. The gold gleamed. He yelled with delight and plunged his hands in. Anderson and Nielsen grabbed the other sides of the box and the yellow coins rained down on the black and white tiles of the lobby. Then there was only the panting of their excited breath as they fought for their share of the loot.

 

Kriste stepped back to watch their frenzied motions. None of them could decide between stuffing their pockets and hitting each other to try to grab more of the gold. Their breath laboured with the struggle.

 

Slowly she realised their breaths were getting shorter and shorter. Their faces were turning blue. The lads’ movements became more frenzied and then they began to slow. Finally they stopped. Kriste looked down at Bishop’s purple cheeks.

 

‘You should take their money,’ the little boy whispered at her shoulder. He started to gather up the gold into the box once more, holding its edges together.

 

‘I think I will,’ Kriste said. There was quite a roll of bills in Bishop’s pocket. Maybe she and her mum could go out to the movies this weekend.

Bio: K. A. Laity is the award-winning author of White RabbitA Cut-Throat BusinessLush SituationOwl Stretching, Unquiet DreamsÀ la Mort SubiteThe Claddagh IconChastity FlamePelzmantel and Other Medieval Tales of Magic and Unikirja, as well as editor of Weird NoirNoir Carnival and the forthcoming Drag Noir. With cartoonist Elena Steier she created the occult detective comic Jane Quiet. Her bibliography is chock full of short stories, humor pieces, plays and essays, both scholarly and popular. She spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Galway, Ireland where she was a Fulbright Fellow in digital humanities at NUIG. Dr. Laity has written on popular culture and social media for Ms., The Spectator and BitchBuzz, and teaches medieval literature, film, gender studies, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. She divides her time between upstate New York and Dundee.

white rabbit

The Muse by Sebnem E. Sanders

Sharma’s passion was writing, but she had to toil at a boring job. She devoted any free time to her work in progress, trying to adhere to her daily word count target of 1000. Always scribbling in her notebook, at lunch break and after dinner at home, she immersed herself in stories instead of going out with friends or watching TV. At weekends, she transcribed her work onto the computer and spent her time editing.

On a sunny weekday, she could be found on a bench in a remote area of the park, next to the woods. It was a niche, a pocket, surrounded by trees, with a small opening in the front. Sharma considered this to be her private patch, since visitors preferred to mingle on the wide lawns with the lunchtime crowds. Sharma felt comfortable, undisturbed by the commotion beyond. Sometimes she would close her eyes and listen to birdsong or gaze through the trees, lost in thought.

There came a day when she saw a lady, wearing an elegant wide-brimmed hat. Crunching the dry autumn leaves underneath her feet, she strolled in the woods. Sharma immediately felt a closeness to her that she could not explain. Another lover of nature on a solitary walk.

After seeing her a couple more times, Sharma noticed the mysterious lady always wore the same outfit. A charcoal hat over blonde hair pulled into a chignon, and a long, black coat. The next time Sharma escaped to her den, the woman was sitting on her bench. Her bench. Pale blue eyes looked up at her and the lady smiled. “Good afternoon. It’s a gorgeous day, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Sharma said, unsure whether to find another seat.

“Come,” the woman said, patting the bench. “Sit by me and let’s talk.”

Sharma obeyed.

“You’re a writer,” the lady said.

“I try to be.”

“But you have little time, right?” The woman raised her eyebrows.

“Yes,” Sharma nodded.

“I’m Marsha Vavenza. Nice to meet you-”

“Sharma, Sharma Wells.”

“An Indian name?”

“I was born there. My father worked with an IT company in Mumbai.”

“Charming. The story you’re working on, do you need help?”

“How?” Sharma asked, pushing back a wayward dark curl from her forehead.

“I’m a retired editor. I only take on works by reference.”

“Really?” Sharma clung to her bag, holding her notebook.

“I can edit your work, but only if you wish me to.”

Sharma budged in her seat, looking into the pale blue eyes of the handsome woman.

“It, it’s only in shorthand, unedited, raw. For my eyes only. I couldn’t.”

“Dear, girl. I’m used to deciphering writing more obscure than hieroglyphics, more illegible than those on medical prescriptions. Most people didn’t use computers until the late 80’s, and impoverished writers couldn’t afford one.”

“I see, “ Sharma said, still resisting, yet her gut feeling said to trust her. Though showing her scribbles to a stranger seemed odd, something made her pull out her notebook and hand it to Marsha.

“Thank you for trusting me.” Marsha smiled, as she fished a pen from her handbag. She skimmed through the pages, writing notes in red. By the time Sharma had to leave, she had finished reading the entire contents. Marsha handed the notebook to Sharma and winked. “See you at the next chapter.”

At the weekend Sharma read over Marsha’s notes and edited her work. Marsha’s handwriting was clear, her comments and suggestions worth taking into consideration.

 

Winter had already arrived when Sharma finished writing her story and handed the last chapter to Marsha. After reading and jotting notes, Marsha said, “If you need me, this is where I live,” and wrote her address on the notebook. “I shan’t be resuming my walks in the cold. See you again in springtime, perhaps.”

Marsha walked into the woods and disappeared into their depths.

Sharma had Googled Marsha’s name, but hadn’t been able to find anything during the past two months. Marsha Vavenza did not seem to exist.

After editing and submitting her work, Sharma went to the address Marsha had written on her notebook. The residents at the block had never heard of her. Sharma was intrigued and asked around the neighbourhood, going in and out of the shops.

A pub called Angel’s Bliss looked old, perhaps Edwardian. The man behind the till, most likely the landlord, from the way he managed the staff, appeared to fit the old worldly scene. Sharma ordered a drink and a packet of crisps, and tried to attract the man’s attention. When their eyes met, she asked, “Excuse me, sir, do you know anyone called, Marsha Vavenza who lives in this area?”

“Why do you ask?” The man stared at her.

“I have an address, but no one seems to know her. Here,” she said, pulling out her notebook, and showed him.

The man’s eyes darted between the writing and Sharma’s face. “Who wrote this?” he whispered.

“Marsha,” Sharma replied.

“It’s not possible. She died in 1988 and is buried in the cemetery by the woods.”

Sharma’s heart pounded. She shivered and goose bumps covered her arms.

“I-,“ she said, but something made her stop. “Did-did you know her?” she asked, voice quivering.

“She was my lover. A great woman and writer I lost to cancer.”

“I’m sorry.” Sharma, said tapping her fingers on the bar.

“You saw her?” he muttered.

“Yes,” she whispered, holding his wet-eyed gaze.

 

Sharma placed a bouquet of flowers underneath the tombstone and read the engraving. “M.V. Clarkson, writer, lies here. 1938-1988”

A warm breeze touched her face. She closed her eyes and whispered, “Thank you, Marsha.”

 

Short Bio:

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, and Punk Noir Magazine, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Ripples on the Pond

 

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://Facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://Instagram.com/sebnemsanders

https://www.linkedin.com/in/sebnem-sanders-b3593263/

Pork Pie Hat by Frank Westworth

pork pie hat 2

Something suitably sinister for All Hallow’s Eve…

The door slipped silently closed behind the last happy customer. She left singing, her departing tune humming on the condensing air, her own take on the last verse of the last song she’d heard. The last song she’d hear; the last song she’d sing.

The Chimp left his post behind the bar, took a turn towards the stage and leaned with dramatic effect against an invisible wall while the members of the band stretched, flicked amplifiers from power-on to standby, grinned at each other, wondering whether there’d be an after-hours sit-in that night. Faces drifted from the shadows, from the more intimate seats, and approached the stage. Quiet compliments filled the air, more hum, more buzz. Clicks and ticks from the amps, at least from the few which still lit heated valves to get their own tones. A cymbal or several fizzed softly. A saxophone sighed, a lady in waiting. Eyes turned to Chimp, the barkeep, the man of that moment.

He looked down at his feet. The floor looked almost clean. No layer of ash, no pools of drink or worse. A man could take pride in the state of his bar floor. He smiled slowly.

‘One for the road; one from the house, then.’

The air sang relaxation. A piano – a real natural piano with metal not electronic strings and a real natural player playing it – staggered out the opening bars to something honky-tonk. Everyone was smiling.

‘Played good, you did.’ The piano player called across the stage. A bassist smiled in reply, threw back her curls and dropped a few discordant bass notes into his honky-tonk jangle. Lights stayed low. A deep quiet voice strolled out from the darkest of the dark corners and silenced the crowd.

‘Nice. Nice evening. Nice to hear the blues played by you young white folk. Well done, y’all.’

Deep burned black American tones – noteworthy in a small English city – clear diction, quiet and calm. Bass register, whiskey and gravel. Everyone turned. Everyone stared at the shape in the gloom. A man arose. A very black man viewed against a very dark background.

‘Drinks for y’all, huh? My call.’

He towered across the room to the bar, spreading a little dark and a little quiet in his wake. Placed a nigh denomination bill on the counter. Then another. Then another.

‘No need for change.’

And across the room, through the tables. All eyes followed him as he left the bar and his banknotes, and returned, shedding a peace-filled darkness in his wake, and approached the stage.

Puis-je? May I?’

The room agreed that he may. He did, nodding and walking up the few steps to the stage with the gait of a heavy man, which he appeared to be in the dim heated light, and approached the piano.

Puis-je, ami noir?’

This time to Stretch, whose honky-tonk had fallen silent and who stepped aside, allowing the dark man to sit. He rested dark, long hands on the keyboard. Sighed.

‘So it begins…’ the open microphone caught the quiet words as long black fingers picked out the opening triplet to Goodbye Porkpie Hat. G, followed by C, followed by E-flat. The big black man, evident wearer of an old shiny pork pie hat, muted the strings; the notes cut off before they could fade, echo away. Everyone stared, glances were shared, feet shuffled. Those fingers played those notes again, somehow louder, and this time the piano did its best to sustain them. The next phrase followed, hard suddenly, and emotional. He let them drop into the hush.

As the notes faded to black there came a loud report, an impact against the main door. A hammering of hands. Followed by a scream. A loud cry. A shot. More hammering, fading in time with the piano’s notes.

Chimp flew from his bar, unlatched locks, pulled handles and flung the doors open with such violence that they broke against the walls, dislodging dust and flaking paint. That last happy customer to leave fell back through the doorway, missed Chimp’s embrace, landed face first at his feet, sighing, crying and, while he stared, bleeding around a buried blade across the floorboards. His floorboards.

‘At least it’s not the carpet. Christ!’

JJ Stoner, the night’s guitar player, sprinted into the semi-dark outside the doors to the Blue Cube, ran for the shadows along the enclosing walls and moved fast and silent to the street. Turned and returned, pausing to pick up a gun, a small gun, from the porch. Held it by the muzzle, which smoked, but only a little.

Chimp stood and stared at the woman at his feet. Motionless now, crumpling and fading before him. Stoner reached down, fingers against her neck. Stood. Looked down at her. No expression on his face. None at all.

‘Get an ambulance!’ Loud advice from within the club.

‘No rush.’ Stoner appeared at a loss.

‘Bring her here.’ An instruction more than a request. From the stage, from the black man with the suddenly huge hands and the misshapen pork pie hat. The man with the piano. Those huge hands replayed the last line from that old tune. C. E-flat. F, E-flat.

‘Do not take out the knife. Save the blade for me.’

Worried hands carried the white woman, the faded white woman, and laid her on her back at the edge of the stage. The black man did not even glance her way, but played more of the ancient tune. Slowly, developing it as a bluesman can and as a jazzman will into something greater. The stunned quiet in the club was at first diminished, then destroyed by the one-man music show at the piano.

The saxophonist raised her instrument to her lips and looked to the black man. He shook his head, eyes closed but aware of her. She silently replaced the sax on its stand. Stood still and listened, watched, like all the others.

The song reached its climax and moved to its close. The piano flowed notes under the pressure of those big hands, the broad fingers which no longer pressed the keys, floating somehow above them.

‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,’ intoned the big black man in the tall black hat. The white woman coughed. She shook. She raised a forearm and its pale hand grasped at nothing. The killing blade, the long knife was resting on the keys of the piano. The player had not moved. The white woman pulled the trigger of the pistol she no longer held. Again and again.

Chimp reached her first. Her eyes were open, staring. Her dry pale lips moved, he leaned in to her.

‘My gun. Where’s my gun?’

Her voice creaked and strained, her breathing was arrhythmic and harsh. And she held Chimp’s hand with ferocity. She pulled herself towards him, dragging the rest of her, pulled by the single hand and powered by her stare.

‘Here.’

Stoner dangled the weapon from its trigger guard. Well away, well out of reach. She groaned.

‘I ache.’

A statement. And abruptly she sat up. Stared around her. Soaked both hands into the blood on her blouse, on her jeans, ripped apart the blouse and rubbed the blood from her side, revealing an angry red line below her left breast. A line filled with pain, but a shining dry line all the same.

‘What the fuck just happened?’ she shouted with sudden force. ‘And who the fuck are you?’ to the black man, as he left the stage, moving smoothly, silently and implacably to the door, suddenly diminished, attenuated, luminous, drifting, translucent.

Stoner stood aside, cleared his path and stared at him in sharp recognition. The pork pie had was gone, replaced by something taller, something shiny and worn – a top hat, frayed a little. The face below it was gaunt, wide-eyed, smiling through too many teeth – too many, yellow, and too long.

Rend-moi Samedi. Count your Saturdays, monsieur. Et puis, Dimanche.’

He’d paused by Stoner for a moment, leaned to him, spoke softly, and was gone into the strangeness of the night.

‘Who was that? What did he say?’

Stoner stood in silence for several long slow heartbeats.

‘He said he’d see me again. On a Saturday. Always on a Saturday. He is Samedi.’ His voice was lost, cold. Fading. And he followed the shade of the black man into the night. There was no one there. Only a soft darkness. Rain fell, silently.

 

<<oOo>>

 

The Blue Cube nightclub and its shady inhabitants form the backdrop for Frank Westworth’s Killing Sisters trilogy and the JJ Stoner quick thrillers.

All are available at Amazon: www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Westworth/e/B001K89ITA/

You can follow Frank’s exploits on Facebook: www.facebook.com/killingsisters

Or at the MMM site: www.murdermayhemandmore.net

Frank Westworth

 

GODAN: BLOOD HARMONY by Garret Schuelke (Part Three)

Lord Ruthven ran into the bathroom and vomited. He nearly missed the toilet, and dropped to his knees.

 

“Your slave didn’t succeed, Varney?” Mysta asked, leaning against the door frame.

 

“DON’T CALL ME THAT!” Lord Ruthven yelled. He leaned up against the tub, took some deep breaths, and passed out.

 

Mysta shook her head and snapped her fingers. Upton entered the bathroom, picked the vampire up, and took him back to the bed.

 

“I’ve made up my mind,” Mysta said, opening up the window. “Go back to my office, and retrieve my Anti-Radical serum.”

 

Upton nodded and walked over to the window.

 

“You should know where it is—call me if you have any trouble.”

 

Upton nodded his head again. He then jumped out the window, initiated his jet pack, and began flying to Chicago.

 

Mysta closed the window. She turned around and looked at Lord Ruthven, who was hugging one of pillows.

 

“I’ll give you one more chance tomorrow,” she mumbled, closing the curtains.

 

***

 

Floyd put the pitcher and three glasses on the table.

 

“What’s this?” Joseph asked.

 

Gareth smiled. “PBR.”

 

Joseph looked confused. “PBR?”

 

“Pabst Blue Ribbon!” Floyd said, filling up a glass and handing it to Joseph. “I’ve gotten into it since I’ve moved here. All the kids in the Vine Neighborhood drink it!”

 

“I see,” Joseph accepted the drink and looked it over. “I really wanted to try out this ‘Oberon’ though.”

 

“Oh, my bad! I’ll go get you one.”

 

“I’m good for now, thanks.”

 

Floyd patted him on the shoulder. “My treat, don’t worry about.”

 

Joseph tried to give Floyd a five dollar bill. Floyd put his hand up, repeated “My treat”, grinned, and walked across Waldo’s Campus Tavern to the bar.

 

“He’s really cute,” Joseph said, watching Floyd swagger up to the line. “Is he always this energetic?”

 

“I just met him earlier today, so maybe?” Gareth said, filling a glass for himself. “He seems pretty hammered already.”

 

Joseph nodded. “If I hadn’t recently gotten into a relationship with possibly the most handsome man ever, I’d try to seduce him.”

 

“Don’t let something like a loving relationship stop you,” Gareth downed half his beer. “ ‘What goes on in America’, etcetra etcetra.”

 

“You’re finally smiling,” Joseph said, resting his head in his hand.

 

Gareth realized that he was smiling, and dropped it. “It’s the beer. It’s good, though I’ve become more of an Old Style guy since I moved to Chicago.”

 

“Okay, so what’s been bugging you? Is it this ‘Lord Ruthven’ guy?”

 

“That’s at the forefront right now,” Gareth finished his drink, “but these past few weeks have just been really, really fucking shitty. I almost think I shouldn’t have taken this trip.”

 

“So, what happened?”

 

Gareth sunk into the booth’s cushion. “Don’t want to talk about it.”

 

“Really? You’re seriously gonna leave your cousin hanging like that?”

 

Gareth glared at him. “Yes, you’re the second person I’m gonna leave hanging today.” He sat up. “Why did you just call me cousin?”

 

Joseph hummed while taking a sip of his beer. “I think I know why you’re able to hold my rapier.” He put down his drink. “Wanna take a wild guess?”

 

Gareth rolled his eyes. “Is it because I’m ‘pure hearted’, ‘worthy’, or something,” He poured himself another drink. “Cause I’m neither of those things.”

 

Joseph laughed. “No, it’s because we’re probably related somehow.”

 

Gareth stared at him. “Is that so?”

 

“Yeah. Basically, the guy I got the rapier from told me that no one, in recorded history, has been able to wield it until I came along.”

 

“If no one could ‘wield it’, then how were they able to move it around until it got to you?”

 

“I mean, hold it with your actual hands. You know, grip it, swing it around…they found ways to move it until now.”

 

Gareth sipped his beer. “Okay, I think I’m getting what you mean now. That’s why Floyd said his hands felt like he had put it on top of stove after he held it for a few seconds.”

 

“Yep, I guess that’s the swords self-defense mechanism, you could say.”

 

“So how is it a requirement that only people related to you can wield it though?”

 

Joseph thought it over and shrugged his shoulder. “I just kind of came up with it while we were fighting that monster earlier. It makes sense to me!”

 

Gareth hummed. “Okay, and who exactly was this guy you got this sword from? Some kind of historian? Archaeologist?”

 

Joseph shook his head. “No, he was a mad scientist.”

 

Gareth stared at Joseph.

 

“What?” Joseph asked.

 

“A mad scientist?”

 

“Yep.”

 

Gareth held up his glass. “The most reliable of sources!” He took a big swig.

 

Joseph cringed. “Too true.”

 

“YO!” Floyd yelled, suddenly appearing at the table, surprising the two superheroes. “Bartender said that they’re out of Oberon, but they still got Two Hearted, the other beer Bell’s makes, on tap. Still interested?”

 

Joseph composed himself. “Yeah, that’ll be great!”

 

Floyd winked at Joseph, gave him a thumbs up, and walked back to the bar.

 

“Ain’t he a sweetie?” Joseph asked Gareth.

 

“Yeah, he’s letting me stay overnight in his campus apartment even though I got blood all over his work area, so he’s cool.”

 

Joseph took another sip of his beer. “So, this Lord Ruthven situation,” he looked Gareth directly in the eye, “I’ll help you take him down.”

 

Gareth shook his head. “No, dude, I gotta take care of this myself.”

 

“Why not? We made a pretty good team against that monster. You said it was one of his minions—how hard can he be?”

 

Gareth glared at him. “I barely beat him on the train here. And I took on his other subordinates—they weren’t a joke like this one was.”

 

“All the more reason why you’ll need me around.” Joseph pointed at himself. “Hell, if you weren’t around, I’d be going after him myself!”

 

Gareth shook his head. “He’d waste you in a sec.”

 

“And you just admitted to ‘barely’ beating him. You need my help.”

 

Gareth growled as he stared down at the table.

 

“Oh, I get it—you’re the “Lone Wolf” type. I bet you’ve never even teamed up with another superhuman before now.”

 

“I’ve worked with plenty of other superhumans.” Gareth shot him a glare. “What about you?”

 

Joseph shook his head. “I haven’t until now—it’s why I’m so excited!”

 

Gareth groaned, and rolled his eyes.

 

“Look, I’ll follow your lead,” Joseph said. “After we do our radio interview tomorrow, you’re entirely in charge.”

 

“Who said I was gonna take part in this interview?”

 

Joseph snorted. “You did, after I bugged the shit out of you.” He pointed at Gareth. “No backing down now!”

 

They hear yelling coming from the bar. They looked over and saw Floyd arguing with two fraternity brothers about him cutting in line.

 

“Just what I need,” Gareth said, cracking his knuckles as he stood up.

 

Joseph slipped past him. “Let me take care of this. I think my way will lead to a more peaceful resolution.”

 

Gareth snorted, and sat back down. He was about to refill his glass, but then noticed that the pitcher was nearly empty. Jeez, he thought, draining the rest while watching Joseph get between Floyd and the fraternity brothers.

 

***

 

“I see that you ordered room service while I was gone,” Mysta said as she entered the room.

 

Lord Ruthven ignored her as he ate his steak.

 

“Did you just wake up?” Mysta asked, taking off her wind breaker.

 

Lord Ruthven continued to ignore her, finishing his steak and picking up his bottle of wine.

 

Mysta glared. “How are you feeling?”

 

Lord Ruthven closed his eyes as he chugged the wine.

 

Mysta walked up to him. “ANSWER ME!” she yelled, slapping him alongside the head.

 

The wine spilled onto the bed. Lord Ruthven shot up. He wound back the bottle and brought it down towards Mysta’s face. Upton instantly got between them, blocking the bottle with his hand, shattering it to pieces.

 

“I’M FINE!” Lord Ruthven yelled.

 

“Appears so,” Mysta said, looking over the now fully closed hole that Godan had put through the vampires chest. “I take it that you’re just about ready to start hunting again?”

 

“You damn right!” Lord Ruthven grabbed the blanket and began wiping the wine off his arms, stomach, and chest. “I still have his scent, so even if he took off yesterday after battling my spawn, I can still track him easily…”

 

“Funny you should mention that,” Mysta took out her phone, “because he’s still in the area, along with his new friend.”

 

“New friend?” Lord Ruthven then remembered Wolf Savage from the demons memories. “Oh yeah. Well, that pussy won’t be a problem.”

 

“As a matter of fact, they’re about to go on air in a few minutes.”

 

“On air? What are you going on about?”

 

Mysta handed Lord Ruthven her phone. He looked at it and saw that it was a from WIDR’s official website, detailing Godan and Wolf Savage’s appearance on one of their shows later that day.

“Oh, you have got to be shitting me,” Lord Ruthven said, scrolling.

 

“Nope, seems like your spawn just made them more famous.”

 

“Whatever,” Lord Ruthven grumbled, handing Mysta back her phone, “this just makes it easier to hunt them down—and cause some more carnage!”

 

Lord Ruthven walked to the window and whipped open the curtains.

 

“Leaving already?” Mysta asked.

 

“Not yet,” Lord Ruthven opened the window. “I’m going to lure them to me.”

 

Mysta realized what he was about to do. “DON’T WASTE YOUR STAMINA ON THAT!”

 

Lord Ruthven grinned, closed his eyes, and clenched his fists. He grunted, and his back began to expand.

 

“DAMN YOU!” Mysta looked over at Upton . “Go help him—”

 

Lord Ruthven held up a hand. “I CAN DO THIS MYSELF!”

 

A woman emerged, gasping for air, her hair flowing down Lord Ruthven’s back. He grunted again, pushing her out of him and onto the floor.

 

“She isn’t as powerful as the last spawn,” Lord Ruthven said, standing up straight and stretching. “But she’ll get the job done.”

 

The spawn stood up. Mysta looked her over and became angry.

 

“How dare you,” Mysta’s voice was shaking, “you little shit.”

 

“What, you don’t like it?” Lord Ruthven put his arm around his spawn and parted her hair, reveling her to be a duplicate of Mysta. “How can you not be flattered that I patterned one of my monsters after your beautiful looks?”

 

“Change her look, NOW.”

 

Lord Ruthven turned them around. “Just shut up, Mom.”

 

Mysta snapped her fingers. Upton opened up the compartment in his chest that contained the briefcase he was sent to retrieve. As Lord Ruthven explained his orders to his spawn, Mysta opened up the briefcase to reveal a syringe containing a black serum. She picked it up, examined it, and nodded approvingly towards Upton.

 

“…then we’ll take them together.” Lord Ruthven rubbed his spawns shoulder. “Is that understood?”

 

The doppelganger nodded. Wings spouted from her back.

 

“Good. Remember, don’t engage if you can—LEAD.” The doppelganger nodded again. Lord Ruthven grinned, and pointed out the window. “GO!”

 

The doppelganger flew away towards WMU’s campus. “Now, I just have to wait,” Lord Ruthven said to himself as he shut the window.

 

He heard a snap behind him. Suddenly, he was ensnared by Upton’s tentacles.

 

“WHAT’RE YOU DOING?!” Lord Ruthven yelled. Before he could break free, Upton stunned him with an electric shock, and pulled him into a bear hug.

 

“You’ve disrespected me for the last time, Varney,” Mysta said, holding up the syringe, “it’s about time you got a proper punishment.”

 

Lord Ruthven’s eyes widened. He screamed ‘STOP’ as Mysta jammed the syringe into his neck and injected him. The vampire struggled, but stopped as he felt his heart become numb.

 

Mysta stepped back and put the syringe on the table. “This serum is something I whipped up shortly after I perfected the formula for Alkaline Radicals.”

 

Lord Ruthven screamed as his skin started to wither. Upton let him fall to the floor.

 

“It was a simple idea: if Alkaline Radicals can enhance someones abilities, then there should be an Anti-Radical that can take them away.”

 

Lord Ruthven held his stomach as he felt his insides crush together.

 

“And then some.” Mysta bent down on one knee and watched her son suffer. “I found out through my experiments on the Rudkus’s that it’s perfect for controlling superhumans like you.”

 

Lord Ruthven made a weak leap towards her, mouth wide open. Upton stepped between them. The vampire bit down on the androids leg. He felt his teeth crack.

 

Mysta stood up. “Like Alkaline Radicals, it only lasts for a short time though. The question is, do you think you’ll survive that long?”

 

Lord Ruthven curled into himself on the floor, holding his mouth, screaming.

 

Mysta stepped on his neck. “Only a few gangbangers survived until it wore off, though I obviously expect you to outlast it, with the power you have.” Mysta smiled. “It’s a shame that you won’t get your chance to get revenge on Godan, though.”

 

Lord Ruthven’s eyes widened, and he became still. He felt the intense pain begin to dampen as his rage intensified.

 

“Next time, watch your big mouth.”

 

Lord Ruthven shot upward, sending Mysta stumbling on the floor. He let out a screech so loud and obscene that it made Mysta covered her ears.

 

“STOP IT!” she yelled as Upton covered her. “EVERYONE IN THE WHOLE DAMN TOWN WILL HEAR YOU!”

 

Lord Ruthven’s wings shot out of his back. He stopped screeching and breathed heavily.

 

“I can’t believe it…”

 

Lord Ruthven glared at Mysta, growled, and ran to the window. He smashed through it and flew off.

 

“He is amazing,” Mysta mumbled.

 

A loud banging came from the door, with a hotel clerk on the other side asking if everything was all right.

 

Mysta sighed as Upton helped her to her feet. “Now’s the time to really put my bullshitting skills to the test.”

 

***

 

“This the right place?” Wolf Savage asked as they landed in front of the Faunce Student Services Building.

 

“You tell me,” Godan said, letting go of his hand.

 

“Come on, Gar, don’t be like that!”

 

Godan rolled his eyes. He pointed at the door, which had a sign indicating that WIDR studios was inside.

 

“Yep, we’re here!” Wolf Savage laughed. “Sorry, I’m kinda giddy and nervous and excited, all at the same time, I think, being my first radio interview, and—”

 

“Okay, I get it!” Godan crossed his arms. “Relax, will ya?”

 

Wolf Savage put his hand on Godan’s shoulder. “Thanks for accompanying me.” He gave Godan a sincere look. “I will help you track down this Lord Ruthven guy after this.” Wolf Savage started walking towards the entrance. “After all, what are cousins for?”

 

Godan sighed, and followed Wolf Savage. They went down the hall and found the studio, where Imogene McDonald was hosting her show.

 

“…by Days N’ Daze, and ‘New Mexico Song’ by the legendary Johnny Hobo.” Imogene said, listing the previously played songs as she shuffled through her papers. “You know what the best thing about running this show folks? It’s having to go through these songs and censor out all those explicit, naughty bits, and hope to God that it pleases the FCC.”

 

Wolf Savage knocked on the window. Imogene looked over, saw Wolf Savage waving, and smiled.

 

“Oh my God, folks, it’s that time already! As I announced on my blog post on WIDR’s official website, the canine duo that saved all us students from the monster attack at the Renaissance Festival yesterday, Wolf Savage and Godan, agreed to be interviewed today—and they literally just showed up! Please hold on a sec as I let them in.”

 

Imogene took off her headphones and ran to the door. “Hi guys!”

 

“Hi, Imogene,” Wolf Savage said, extending his hand, smiling.

 

“I am SO glad you two actually showed up,” she said, shaking Wolf Savages hand.

 

“You seriously doubted us?”

 

“Somewhat,” Imogene laughed. “I always raise my expectations too high.”

 

“Well, we’re gonna bring your expectations to that level,” Wolf Savage put his hands on his hips, “and beyond!”

 

Oh, Jesus Christ, Godan thought, rolling his eyes.

 

“Come in and sit down,” Imogene led them inside. “Put on the headphones, and we’ll get to the interview as soon as I finish these announcements.”

 

They sat down and put on said headphones as Imogene began detailing upcoming shows and community events. Godan noticed that Wolf Savage was having trouble putting his headphones on due to his wolf’s head mask. Godan scooted the chair over and adjusted them. Wolf Savage whispered ‘Thanks, cousin!’, and gave him a thumbs up.

 

The doppelganger landed on campus and began looking around. Nearby students saw the naked spawn and began chatting eagerly amongst each other and taking pictures.

 

“…and finally, Shonen Knife is performing this Sunday night at The Strutt, eight o’clock. I’m pretty sure y’all already know about my most favorite venue in town, so check out their official website, Facebook page, or Shonen Knife’s official website for more info.” Imogene shuffled her papers again until she found the questions she wanted to ask the superheroes in her studio. “Now that that’s all been said, today’s show has transformed into a VERY special episode of The Crack House, your hour of all things Folk Punk, hosted by ya girl, DJ Ragged Woman, here at 89.1 FM, W-I-D-R Kalamazoo—your only source for Radio Evolution.”

 

“Deep breaths, ‘Gene,” Wolf Savage said, “deep breaths.”

 

Imogene laughed. “Believe me, I’m used to doing long monologues like that.” She composed herself. “That, folks, is the voice of one of my guests. If you were lucky slash unlucky—depending on your perspective—to have been around the Sangren Pedestrian Mall yesterday, you may have noticed that we were being attacked by a LITERAL monster.”

 

“Looked more like a demon to me,” Wolf Savage said, grinning.

 

Godan nudged him. “Shut up and let her finish,” he mumbled, his hand covering the microphone.

 

Wolf Savage rubbed the back of his head. “Sorry, sorry.”

 

A custodian came out of the Faunce Building and noticed the doppelganger walking towards him. He stopped dead in his tracks. “Uh, ma’am?” he said, not knowing how to react to the beautiful, naked woman in front of him. “Are you all right?”

 

The doppelganger ignored him, staring ahead, unblinking. The custodian moved to the side and the doppelganger entered the building.

 

“College kids,” he mumbled, getting out his phone and dialing the number of campus security.

 

“So let’s welcome to The Crack House, all the way from beautiful Windsor, Ontario, Canada, Wolf Savage!” Imogene started clapping. Wolf Savage did the say. “As well as The Gray Wolf of Chicago—no real introductions needed, I believe, since you have all undoubtedly heard about his feats in the Windy City one way or another—, Godan!” Imogene noticed Godan’s sour look. “Who I can tell is just absolutely enthused to be on the program today.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Wolf Savage said. “He’ll come around.”

 

“So, before we began some formal interviewing,” Imogene took out her phone and began taking pictures, “I just want to say, Mr. Savage, that I think your uniform is absolutely fabulous—though I do think the wolf’s head does look a bit clunky.”

 

Wolf Savage laughed. “I’ve gotten that critique a lot, actually. I assure you though that it’s quite comfortable—I wouldn’t be wearing it otherwise.”

 

“Very nice.” Imogene swirled her chair around towards Godan. “No offense, Mr. Gray Wolf, but your uniform, in comparison, is pretty casual and, from what I’ve observed, pretty ragged.”

 

Godan raised an eyebrow. “The lady who calls herself ‘DJ Ragged Woman’ is ragging on me for wearing shitty clothing?”

 

“Nice unintended pun,” Imogene laughed, “but what was that you said? ‘Shifty Clothing’? Wink, wink.”

 

Godan realized what he said. “Oh, yes, ‘shifty clothing.’ That’s totally what I said, FCC.”

 

“That’s what I thought,” Imogene gave him a thumbs up. “For real though, that’s just my observation of your style choice, no offense intended.” She sniffled. “By the way, does anyone else notice that smell?”

 

Godan smiled. “Well, I like to keep it fairly simple.” He rested his head on his hand. “I’m not a flashy person in general, it saves me money—”

 

Imogene held her nose. “Indeed, it does.”

 

Wolf Savage laughed. Godan grinned, and shook his head.

 

“I can assure all the folks listening at home,” Godan tapped his nose, “that my sense of smell tells me that DJ Ragged Woman stinks just as much as I do.” They all broke out in laughter.

 

“See, I told you he would come around,” Wolf Savage said.

 

“No offense, fellow punker,” Godan said.

 

“Why would I ever get offended by something so controversial, yet so true, Gray Wolf?” Imogene replied.

 

The doppelganger finally found the studio. She looked in through the window.

 

Imogene had turned her attention back to Wolf Savage, asking him about his ”origins”. Godan relaxed in the chair—the first time he felt as such in the past couple of days.

 

There was a loud tapping on the studios door window.

 

“Oh, come on!” Imogene looked over. “Am I really being interrupted while conducting my first major radio interview?”

 

Wolf Savage and Godan turned their chairs around. The doppelganger continued tapping the glass.

 

“Who’s that?” Wolf Savage asked, turning to Imogene. “You know her?”

 

Imogene shrugged her shoulders. “No clue. You know her, Godan?”

 

Godan clenched his chair’s arm rests. Shit, he thought, sniffing rapidly.

 

“Uh, Godan,” Imogene got up and tapped his shoulder. “You still with us, hero?”

 

Wolf Savage noticed the look in Godan’s eyes. “Who is she?” he asked, getting up. “Is that ‘Lord Ruthven’?”

 

“Who?” Imogene asked.

 

Godan bolted from the chair and slammed into the door, breaking it off its hinges, and smashing the doppelganger into the wall.

 

“OH, SHIT!” Imogene yelled. She covered her mouth, realizing that she swore on air.

 

Wolf Savage summoned his rapier into his hand. Mist emerged from behind the door and floated down the hall.

 

“GET HER!” Godan yelled, running down the hall.

 

“Just my luck,” Wolf Savage looked at Imogene apologetically, said ‘Sorry!’ and followed Godan and the doppelganger

 

Imogene fell back into her chair. “I’m so fired for this.” She looked at the mic, and sighed. “Okay folks, we’re going to a break, so I can process what has just happened, and probably cry.” She pressed a button. “Here’s a song by Defiance, Ohio.”

 

Godan and Wolf Savage burst through the door. They watched as the doppelganger materialized—with wings—and flew away.

 

“That’s Lord Ruthven?” Wolf Savage asked.

 

“No, but it smells just like him, and that monster we fought yesterday.” He extended his hand. “Let’s go!”

 

Wolf Savage nodded, grabbed onto Godan, and flew off.

Bio: Garret Schuelke is the author of the GODAN series (2018-present, Bakunin Incorporated) WHUP JAMBOREE: STORIES (2017, Elmblad Media Group), ANAMAKEE (2016, Riot Forge), and three poetry ebooks. He is also the host of The Garret Schuelke Podcast. He can be reached at his official website, garretschuelke.tumblr.com , or through Twitter @garretschuelke

Godan4Sketch

Fire Hazard by John Patrick Robbins

Manny and Bill sat outside the rinky dink little gas station the adrenaline still coursed through their veins.

“I can’t believe we pulled it off dude! It was like taking candy from a fucking baby!”

Manny said as he was practically shaking with excitement.

“We damn sure got lucky good thing we had scoped the place out before.”

Bill replied.

He was excited too but not as euphoric as Manny.

He always followed his friend’s lead and it was largely due to his love for him.

Manny knew how Bill was but Manny barely gave a shit about anyone let alone about sex.

It had all been so fucking mundane until tonight.

When they hit the small bank just outside of the city limits was the first time Manny truly felt alive.

His only regret was that nobody had resisted.

He just loved that fear in that bank tellers eyes he wanted a mess.

This was his calling like some old west outlaw he had all the power in the world and he loved the feeling that gun in his hand granted him.

They both sat in car awhile listening to the police scanner so far so good they were a county away and almost in the clear.

Manny looked around this little middle of nowhere pit stop.

They were the only car in the parking lot these farm town pricks went to bed with the chickens and Manny thought to himself.

If he was a mad dog well why not raise some hell in the hen house?

Manny pulled his 38 and looked to Bill.

“Lets go have some fun with this backwoods fuck!”

“Motherfucker are you nuts? We just knocked over a bank and now you want to hit up a fucking gas station?”

“Why the hell not man? I just want to feel that buzz again!”

Manny was losing it and his friend Bill knew it.

“Dude you know the most we can get out of there is chump change, we got money now so let’s just grab some beers and celebrate.”

Manny laughed.

“Hell man it ain’t about the money asshole ! I just want to have some fun we can grab all the beer we want come on.”

And with that Manny was gone.

Bill would follow Manny into hell and sometimes it felt like that just where he was leading them both.

Bill grabbed his piece and followed like a well trained dog follows his master.

The guy behind the counter just stood there looking at his magazine as if he didn’t hear a word Manny had just said.

Manny looked at Bill who much like a deer caught in the headlights was little to no help.

“Man are you fucking deaf or something I said open the Goddamed register and give me the money now!”

The man behind the counter didn’t bat an eye he just looked up from his magazine leaned on the counter looking at Manny and simply said.

“Mmm no.”

“Dude are you off your meds or something?”

Manny pulled back the hammer.

“Now look short bus you hand over that money now or shits about to get real messy up in here!”

“Dude lets just-”

“Shut the fuck up Billy!”

Manny cut Bill off mid sentence.

The tall extremely odd guy behind the counter busted up laughing.

“Motherfucker what’s so funny!”

The guy from the counter was getting louder and louder.

Manny tried to scare him by firing into the ceiling the noise was deafening yet it only served to make the guy behind the counter laugh harder.

Manny couldn’t help but become slightly unnerved.

That laugh was something different it was something beyond insanity that in all truth terrified Manny.

He had to show this guy whatever his deal was he wasn’t weak he walked up to the guy just close enough to see behind the counter.

It was then he noticed all the blood and saw the man on the floor.

Manny made the biggest mistake you can ever make when taking a walk in the zoo.

Always keep a safe distance from the lion’s cage.

Manny never saw the knife coming as it plunged into his neck.

His pistol dropped upon the counter as his body crashed onto the floor.

“Manny!”

Bill yelled out as he fired.

The shot missed as the man just hopped over the counter.

Bill bolted through the door and was halfway across the parking lot when heard the shot.

He felt as though he had been drop kicked in the back as his body smashed into the concrete he felt like the wind had been knocked out of him.

Bill lay face down he was struggling to breathe.

“Hold on buddy I got you.”

He heard a voice call out.

Bill heard the door close.

Then after what felt like an eternity he heard that same doors electronic chime go off.

Bill tried to stand but his limbs would not respond.

He heard what sounded like boots on the concrete approaching him.

All the sudden he was turned over he felt like a leaf on the water.

And then he was looking at the clerks face.

“Damn your really fucked up pal, want me to call you an ambulance?”

Tears rolled down Bills cheeks.

The pain was so intense.

The man just busted out with that laugh again.

“Hell kid I’m just fucking with you I’m going to fix you right up now trust me.”

Bill struggled to speak.

“Please.”

“Shh don’t strain yourself your in shock, now let’s get you moved.”

The man said as he grabbed both his arms and began to drag him.

Bill screamed as the pain only intensified as his body was drug across the parking lot.

The man stopped just as they were almost at his car near the gas pumps.

“Shit your heavy I swear wish you had stayed in there with your buddy, that little prick was still bleeding out when I left him.”

Tex laughed as the guy at his feet only cried.

He lit up a cigarette inhaled deeply fuck it tasted good.

He stood over the guy his friend called Bill.

Took his cigarette out his mouth.

“Hey want one.”

The guy was shaking so bad he couldn’t say a thing.

“Hell kid I don’t blame you these things will kill you so they say.”

The man just stared at Bill.

Smoking and looking off into the distance.

Bill could hear what he thought was a coyotes howl.

His heartbeat was slowing the man just stood over him and smiled.

And then just like that he walked off.

Bill heard him take the handle from the gas pump listened to the sounds of it pouring upon the ground.

Felt the coolness through his jacket and smelt gas fill the air.

Tex just watched the kid lay there on the ground.

He didn’t struggle or cry out.

It was total surrender most animals simply gave up when they knew death was at their door.

It’s what always took the fun out of murder.

But the thrill was always there.

Tex put handle back.

Laughing to himself he finally broke his silence.

“Hell kid I’m so caught up in this cig I totally forgot just how dangerous it is to be smoking at the gas pumps.”

“I swear I really should have my head examined, but it’s a hell of a habit to kick.”

Bill looked into the stars knowing what was going to happen and time seemed frozen if only for a second.

He always knew Manny would lead him straight to hell, he just wasn’t aware he would meet the devil so quickly.

It was then Tex dropped the cigarette.

 

John Patrick Robbins. 
Is the editor of the Rye Whiskey Review and Under The Bleachers .
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine , Ariel Chart, Oddball Magazine,  The Rusty Truck , As It Ought To Be Magazine,  The San Pedro River Review,  The Dope Fiend Daily, Piker Press.
He is also the author of Once Upon A Nervous Breakdown from Soma Publishing.
And Sex Drugs & Poetry  from Whiskey City Press.
His work is always unfiltered
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