Falling Short of the Absolute Truth: The Shot

In the history of folks who are difficult to track down, Nicholas Reynolds would go unmentioned. This is not to say that he is an easy man to find, far from it; it’s simply that no one is looking. He has no ex-wives seeking back alimony, no long-lost children looking for a bone marrow match, no friends.
What he did have, was time. All the time in the world, actually. He sat on this stoop or that; sometimes he sat by the fountain of Neptune that marked an entrance to Wilhelm Park, and he watched people rushing this way and that. He had nowhere to be, unless it was Thursday. On Thursdays he had to see Lisa Lisa. If he missed that appointment…well, he didn’t want to be late to see Lisa Lisa.
This day, by coincidence, happened to be Thursday, and Nicholas was making his way across the park. He moved slowly, stopping to be sure a passing squirrel had not made an insulting gesture, then moving on.
He was wearing, in the fashion of Fort Orange’s homeless, multiple layers in spite of the heat. His outer layer was once a fine wool coat, but was now so stiff it served as more of an armor. (If you happen across Nicholas Reynolds in the streets, be sure NOT to ask him how he got his coat so stiff. You’re both better off not breaching that subject.) Beneath the wool coat he wore two hoodies, one arguably red; the other faded from yellow to black as you worked your eyes up to the crown of his natty head. Between his yellow/black hoody and his dry, calloused skin was an Oxford shirt, of unknown pattern and color. His legs bore a pair of long johns under two pairs of holey jeans. His footwear varied depending on the week.
No one approached Nicholas and offered him alms or a friendly face, and he prefered it that way, especially on Thursdays. Lisa Lisa’s home was on the other side of town, and he dared not be late.
The afternoon heat did not penetrate his many layers, and a chill worked its way over his flesh. His teeth chattered, and he shook as he walked. If anyone had cared to notice, they might believe he was terribly ill and try to convince him to seek medical help. But no one cared. And he wouldn’t have heeded their advice, because it didn’t matter. He had made it to Lisa Lisa’s house.
He stood in front of the brownstone, shaking, scratching at his hair. In his mind, a battle raged. Part of him wanted to turn and run away, never to set foot in that building again. The other side knew he would cross that threshold, would succumb to his needs, begging at Lisa Lisa’s feet; but perhaps it would be different this time. Maybe he could gain the upper hand?
He walked up the steps, hesitating with each one, then knocked softly on the door. Maybe she wouldn’t hear. Maybe he could still walk away. But she did hear, and he could never walk away.
The young man greeting Nicholas at the door was new. The old Door Man was a fat, old fool. Now there was a young man, tall and thin. He had dark hair swept dramatically to the side, and a pencil thin moustache. He was dressed like Nicholas’ grandfather and held a bottle of cheap rum in one hand. When he spoke, his voice was deep, wizened. Maybe he was older than he looked.

“Welcome, be you friend or foe?”
“What?” Nicholas’ response was more of an alarmed grunt. There had never been questions before. Nicholas was not good at tests.
“Be you friend or foe? Never mind, it’s a joke.”
“Oh.” Nicholas didn’t get it.
“Are you coming in?” The wise young man took a very long pull off his bottle of rum. “I don’t want to let all the air out.”
Nervous at the thought of being turned away, Nicholas practically jumped into the foyer. The air inside was crisp and cold, and he wrapped his arms around himself and all of his layers to stay warm. They climbed stairs to the second floor, where a bench ran the length of the hallway. They both sat on the bench facing the first door on their left. From the other side of the door came the sounds of sex.
Grunting gave way to moaning, which gave way to a manic giggling. God was thanked numerous times, and there was a loud thud. Robust laughter, deep and throaty, then the door opened. A boy, no older than 19, stepped out into the cold hallway. He was naked to his socks and sweat poured down his body. Four deep scratches ran across his abdomen, beads of blood coming to the surface in places. The boy was strong and well muscled. He made no effort to hide his still erect dick as he walked past Nicholas and the wise young man. He seemed almost proud of it, watching it bob up and down as he moved.
The door remained open and Lisa Lisa’s voice came floating out among the miasma of sex and blood. She called Nicholas’s name, and he reluctantly entered her bedroom. She was laying on the bed, naked as the day she was born. She did not look up at him as he walked up to her footboard. She was instead intently studying her small, pink nipples. She licked her pierced lip with a pierced tongue, flicked at something invisible on the tip of her nipple and spoke to Nicholas.
“Sit.” Her voice was soft, pretty, but commanding. He sat on the floor, his eyes level with her ample hips, her clean-shaven lips just out of view. Sensing his eyes on her, she shifted, giving him a better view. He felt a stirring in his long-johns, but it quickly died down.
“I need my shot.” He averted his eyes from her nakedness, even as she jumped down from the bed and walked past him. He could smell semen and vaginal fluids as she rushed by.
“Sure, your shot,” she threw on a silk robe, tied it tightly around her waifish waist. “Tell me, Nicholas, what are you willing to do to get your shot?” She walked up behind him, he still sitting cross-legged on the floor, and pushed her small breasts into the back of his hoody-covered head. “Because that last young man just fucked. The shit. Out of me. He earned his shot. How are you going to earn your shot?”
Nicholas swallowed hard, turned his head slightly, “I won’t do sex.”
Her laugh was loud in his ear, and he winced, pulling away from her. “I won’t do sex.” Sometimes he found that if he just repeated himself, people understood him better.
“I don’t want sex from you.” She walked over to her nightstand, running a finger across the lid of wooden box. “You know what I want from you, yes?”
“I will kill.” He rose to his feet, lifted his upper layers to expose part of his belly. “Give me the shot, and I will kill.”
With fingers that ended in talons more than nails, she opened the box, pulled out a large syringe. The liquid inside was straw-colored, nearly opaque. “I’ll give you the shot, then you’ll kill?”
Again, that internal struggle. He could refuse the shot. He could remain how he is; or he could take the shot, over-power her, then steal all the shots. He would never need her again. Instead he acquiesced, offering his rough flesh up to her impossibly sharp needle. She plunged the needle into his muscles, and depressed the plunger.
As the change came over him, she whispered in his ear a name: Lana Oliver.

 

Falling Short of the Absolute Truth: Brian Oliver, part 2

Autumn air pushed in through the coffee shop door behind the stranger, carrying with it a few errant leaves and the smell of car exhaust. A too-skinny hipster girl waiting in line for her morning coffee looked over her shoulder and gave him a dirty look. He was dressed in sweatpants and a grey hoodie, his face was smooth, almost too smooth.

He moved past everyone in line, all of them grunting, cursing under their breath, shooting him daggers with bloodshot eyes. The barista called out to him that there was a line, and that he was skipping it, unfairly. He stopped at the counter, and began to do a silent dance, moving lightly from one foot to another, glancing occasionally at his crotch. The barista, with a roll of his eyes, got the message. A key was handed over, accepted by a hand that seemed almost too dainty for the body to which it was attached.

The stranger disappeared into the bathroom, his bag heaved over his shoulder. Then the stranger disappeared out the small window that provided some summertime ventilation, leaving the bag behind.

Nobody investigating the ensuing explosion, which leveled 8 buildings, would connect it with suburban meth-house explosion from 8 hours earlier.

***

Against medical advice, Brian Oliver checked himself out of the hospital. Before leaving he stopped by the ICU, kissing his wife on the forehead and saying goodbye. He hoped it wasn’t forever, but he couldn’t be sure.

The air smelled decidedly not like autumn outside. There was a chemical smell, a charred, bad smell. Off to his right the setting sun was gone. A black cloud rose from the street not even half a mile away. There was already a crowd of emergency vehicles, and police were setting up a barrier too far from the actual fire. Olivia! The name screamed across his brain, aggravating his already severe headache.

He headed off in the opposite direction of the fire, looking over his shoulder to see if she was following him. He burst through the door of an over-sized CVS Pharmacy, banging the door hard against the opposing wall. The resulting bang was loud, but no one seemed to notice. All their attention was focused on the windows, on the chaos down the road. The entire Western skyline seemed to have been swallowed by black smoke. Brian grabbed a cheap, pay as you go phone and a phone card and shouted for the cashier’s attention.

He paid  cash, snatched the receipt from the register himself, and ran back out the door. Down the street he ran, ducking down an alley between two office buildings and hiding behind a dumpster marked with a never-ending circle of white arrows. He tore open the plastic packaging, set up the phone and dialed a number he hadn’t dialed in 12 years.

“Hello?”

“Tom Killian?”

“Yes.” A moment of silence, Brian could almost see the recognition dawning over his face.”Brian?”

“Can we talk?”

Another moment of silence, it almost sounded like he had palmed the phone, blocking the microphone. “Aren’t we talking, now?”

“Not on the phone. She could be listening.”

“Who could be listening?” But Tom Killian knew the answer, and Brian Oliver knew he knew.

“Olivia. I think she’s trying to kill me.”

There was a thump on the other end of the line, and a staccato, sharp striking sound. Tom Killian had dropped the phone, possibly even fainted. “Tom,” he shouted into the phone, hoping to be heard, “Can you hear me?”

Some shuffling, then Tom’s breath in his ear, “Yes, I hear you.”

“Can you get away?”

“Yes. What do we do?”

“First thing, we have to find Nick. Where are you?”

***

The stranger watched from the roof of a modest office building as Brian ran down the street, ducking behind a rent-a-suite office complex. The stranger removed the hoodie and sweatpants, followed by several pounds of padding, and the silicone face mask. Olivia quickly untied her metal stilts, and shook off a layer of sweat. Her dark curls blew in the breeze, the acrid smell of her work bringing a broad smile to her face. Her ear piece beeped to life, and she listened to the sound it picked up.

Tom Killian? Can we talk? Not on the phone. She could be listening… She pulled the ear piece out, she’d heard enough. Brian Oliver knew she was coming, and he was gathering the other targets for her. This was going to be easier than she thought.

Falling Short of the Absolute Truth: Brian Oliver, part 1

With a small stack of books off to one side, away from the entrance of the crawl space, Brian Oliver shimmied feet first into the darkness. Before his shoulders disappeared into the void, he grabbed the top book off the pile, A Guide to Scat: Common Mammals of North America.

“You look ridiculous,” Lana told him, his adoring wife of exactly 8 months. She giggled and he craned his neck to take her in, in all of her upside-down glory. He reached a hand up to switch on the headband light, which elicited another giggle.

“We’ll see what you say when I bag me a critter,” he did his best Southern drawl, which was not bad (if a bit cartoonish) and disappeared beneath the house.

He was surprised to find he had enough space to crouch as he made his way across the dirt floor. His feet disturbed the long dormant particles, sending a cloud into the air, which danced in the beam of his light. He moved forward, cautiously, scanning the ground for animal dung.

He sniffed the air, but all he could identify was dirt, must, and possibly mildew. He made a mental note to take out some library books on mildew and the dangers of mold. It was while he was reordering his mental to-do list that he happened, with the corner of his shoe, upon a small pile of dung. He tore through the pages of his book in that dark space, his small light now a spotlight.

A little more than half-way through he found a reasonable match, North American Opossum. He dog-eared the page and continued. “Hey, Lana,” he called back toward the entrance of the crawlspace, “I think it could be Possums, or O-Possums. How do you say it?”

He thought he heard her begin a reply, one mixed with equal parts disgust, fear, love, and annoyance; but she never got to finish her sentence. She was interrupted by what would be the most talked about event on that quiet suburban street for many months.

The house above him shook; decades of dirt suddenly loosened and rained down upon him, as the neighbor’s house exploded. A fireball reached to the sky and the shockwave managed to knock Lana to her back. Brian saw her hit the ground, her face obscured by blood and hair, and ran to her. He almost made it out of the crawlspace before he knocked his forehead into a floor joist, knocking himself unconscious.

He came to a minute later, dazed, lost. He smelled burning, an acrid, chemical scent that burned his nose. He couldn’t hear much of anything, the distant wail of sirens, something nearer crackling and popping. Then he heard Lana, she was crying, calling out for him; but he couldn’t see her; couldn’t see anything at all.

Something thick and warm ran into his eyes and burned. He wiped the back of his hand across his face, and light flooded into his retina. He blinked his eyes clear, and saw that his hand was now painted a deep crimson. There still was not much light where he was, now that he had adjusted his vision, and he suddenly remembered where he was.

He felt around for the exit and crawled out onto the grass, collapsing next to Lana.

“Help,” she croaked, “We need…call…” And she slipped into silence as a troupe of men came running through their gate, carrying all manner of medical equipment. Brian took up the cause, crying out, “Help her,” then slipping into unconsciousness again.

This time, when he woke up, he was in bed. The room was unfamiliar, there was a television attached to the ceiling, dangling above him. “I’m in the hospital,” he said, then immediately felt self-conscious and looked around his room. He was not alone.

“You always were very astute.” Sitting on the other bed was a familiar, but unmissed face. Her hair, long and dark, draped around the sides of her face. Dark eyes looked over a sharp nose; there was no humor in her face.

“Hello, Lana,” there was no warmth in the greeting for his ex-fiancé. “Why are you here?”

“I saw your name in the list of injured. I saw your wife’s name, too. ‘Lana Oliver’, why does that sound so familiar?” She stood up; a stunted torso plopped upon a pair of long, chubby legs. “I knew you weren’t over me.”

“Is that why you’re here? To be a bitch? How did you even get in my room?”

She pretended to think for a moment, her face screwing itself into what was impossibly an even uglier version of itself; then she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a laminated badge. “Press pass, I’m writing a story about the bomb.”

He laughed, a genuine, throaty laugh, and pain shot through his head. “I thought you were going to be an actress? What do you know about reporting?”

“I know a lot.”

“Well excuse me if I’m unimpressed. You’re already messing it up. The doctor told me, it was a meth house. It exploded. Wait,” he sat up, “Did you go see Lana?”

“You mean Lana number two? No. They wouldn’t let me, she’s in the ICU.”

Brian fought back tears; he would not show weakness to his woman.

“Relax,” she sat down on the edge of his bed, placed a cold, clammy hand on his, “They said she’s going to be fine. Scarred for life, but fine.”

He pulled his hand away, wiped away the thin layer of cold moisture in the shape of her spindly fingers, and glared at her in a way he hoped said, “Go away, bitch.”

“You’ll excuse me if I don’t take your word for it,” he pressed the nurse call button, “But you already told me there was a bomb, but I know that’s not true.”

Lana sighed and hefted her awkward frame off the bed. “It was a bomb, Brian. Your neighbors were an accountant and a travel agent. They were not drug dealers. Someone blew them up, and I don’t think they were even the right targets.”

“Since when are you a reporter?”

“Since when are you married?”

“So who do you think was the real target, Encyclopedia Brown?”

She walked to the doorway, turned to face him, and breathed a deep sigh. One of the things Brian always hated about her was her flair for drama. “I think it was you, Brian.”

Six blocks away, in the back of a white cargo van, the hulking figure of a man gingerly placed a pipe bomb in a gym bag. It was cradled by blankets and half-popped bubble wrap. The man zipped the bag closed, slung it gently over his shoulder and stepped out of the van. The late afternoon air was crisp; a light breeze rustled the autumn leaves. The county hospital was due east, the stranger set off to the West.

An Explanation (And A Pathetic Attempt To Make It Up)

I know, I haven’t posted anything in weeks. I don’t want you to think, even for a second, that it’s because I’ve forgotten about you. Or that I’ve stopped writing. On the contrary, I’m working on a book right now.

Well not right this second, right this second I am writing to you. To apologize. I have neglected my readers for too long, and I will do my best in the future to never let that happen again. I’m not promising that I’ll post something every day, but as often as I can between work, family, writing a book, and keeping a household.

To (sort of) make up my absence to you, I’m offering you this fragment of a story I started writing years ago. It was meant to be a fairly long story about a survivor of a terrorist attack, and his guilt for what he’d done wrong (both real and imagined) on that fateful day. One day I’ll probably finish this story, I really like the idea of jumping back and forth between different times without any warning to the reader. It’s the challenge of keeping the readability that I like. Alright, let me stop stalling, here it is:

 

First, there was the screaming. Just the screaming, no other noise, as if the horrible, blood churning screams of fear and pain existed in a vacuum. It filled my head, bouncing off the walls of my skull, becoming all of existence for a few fractions of a second.
It’s seems counter-intuitive, when I think back on it, but that really was the only sensation I was aware of. There was the piercing, stinging scream of my wife in my left ear. The hairs on my arms and neck stood on end and my head began to spin in every direction at once. The world dropped out from below my khaki shorts and plain, boring sandals. I didn’t know if I’d heard an explosion or not. Just my wife screaming, joining in the with countless hundreds of other people around us, screaming.
My lungs burned and I realized I was screaming, adding my own voice to the cacophony. I reached out with my fingertips, gripping nothing but empty air…
For a sickly, long moment I was suspended in the air, buffeted by heat from below, and from the blazing summer Sun above. Then I was falling, and my stomach churned. I could taste vomit and bile and blood. I could smell sweat, and fire, and burning meat; but I could no longer see anything. The world had gone dark, death moved in swiftly and even the sound of the screaming faded from me. My mouth and throat filled with acrid, stinging smoke, I could no longer put a voice to my fears. My fall ended abruptly, my head bouncing against what I assumed was a slab of shattered concrete. Something very sharp entered my side. A very haggard doctor would later tell me it was a piece of rebar that barely missed my lungs. He told me I was lucky, and he said it without any irony in his voice.
I don’t know how I got there, how many brave men and women risked life and limb to pull me out of the rubble, but I made it to a hospital bed in a room with another man. He lost an arm, an eye, and would require massive reconstructive surgery on his jaw. Again, the doctor told me I was lucky.
Both my legs are broken. Beyond broken, shattered is a better word for it, but I still have my legs. Lucky. Nine of ten of my fingers are broken, but I still have my hands and arms. Lucky bastard. I have a broken rib, but both my lungs are fine. Some guys have all the luck.
I watch the news incessantly. I want to know who did this to us, I want someone to blame. A handsome reporter with a dimpled chin interviews a young woman who’s lost her arms in the attack. She smiles on my television and tells the world that she doesn’t harbor a grudge. She is just glad to be alive. I don’t not share her positive outlook, though I am much better off than her, physically. Updates scroll across the bottom of the screen, and with each new jump in the number of dead, I grow a little angrier. Finally, I can no longer keep my eyes open and I catch the latest toll before I pass out: 257 dead.
That last bit hits me like a sledgehammer to the chest. My Laurie, she is one of those dead. She is going to be forever remembered as victim number seventy-two. I haven’t yet taken the time to grieve for her. Her family is waiting to have a service until I can be released from the hospital, not that it matters. My sister-in-law, Sibyl, feels free to remind me numerous times that there are no remains. Laurie was buried under the concrete. All the bodies under there burned to charcoal. She tells me this, like it’s my fault. As if I was the only one who wanted to be there that afternoon.
Laurie had been looking forward to the Fourth of July for weeks. For the first time in seven years we both had the following day off and could really unwind and enjoy ourselves. She was a teacher, but usually took on a summer job to help pay the bills. This year we had managed to save enough money so she didn’t need to work during the summer. It was nice having her around all the time, never having to miss her.
The festivities for the Fourth of July were always held in the Capitol Plaza, surrounded by the impressive concrete structures that housed the cog-like inner workings of state, county, and city government. It was 100 acres of stone, glass, and modern art that elicited strong reactions in those who laid eyes upon it. There was no middle of the road with the Capitol Plaza. You either loved it or hated it.
Laurie and I arrived relatively early, cooler in tow and picked out a fantastic spot in direct line with the stage. Roman Avenue passed below the Northern edge of the plaza, separating it from our cultural gem, the Performing Arts Coliseum except for a wide set of concrete steps that doubled as bleachers during public concerts. This is where we laid out our blanket and raised our feet up on the cooler’s lid. I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her close, despite the sweltering heat.
The “Party Downtown” as the Fourth of July celebrations were unofficially known always featured a line-up of almost impressive musical acts. This year they kicked things off with a Doobie Brothers cover band who billed themselves as having an actual member of the Doobie Brothers on stage with them. It turned out to be a drum tech who’d performed sound checks for the band in the early 80s. An aging roadie who, it turned out, could play the skins like nobody’s business.
To keep cool, and to keep from getting numb asses, Laurie and I took turns running off to the shade to reapply sunscreen. She was meticulous in her application, and she questioned and searched me to make sure I did the same. It was during a trip back from the shade that I first noticed the girl.
She was sitting, separated by a few feet and miles of life experience, with her parents and younger sibling. They were all two rows back from Laurie and me, off to the left. She had a heart-shaped face, blonde hair, and an air of unaffected youth. The moment I set my eyes upon her, starting with her golden hair and moving down toward her long, lean legs, laid bare by a short, white dress, she seemed to look right into me. Her bright blue eyes flashed, a stunning contrast to her tan skin.
There was an initial glance, that flash of brilliant blue, and something else: a tease of a smile, one corner of her mouth lifting, her full lips beginning to part. Then she turns away. I could still feel her eyes upon me, even as I sat next to Laurie, snaking my arm around her waist.
I awake with a start, unaware that I had even fallen asleep. There is a disconcerting moment where I forget where I am. My vision is blurred by sleep, the hospital in a mid night lull; solitude creeps into the room and washes over me like a cold wave. I close my eyes tight and I see her face burned into my mind. Not Laurie, but the girl. A pang of guilt stabs at my heart and I try to wish away the face, full of youth, and bringing lustful thoughts to my mind. I try to conjure up my Laurie, the woman I loved, and doted on for 9 years, but I fail. The girl stays burned into my retinas.
I took several opportunities to glance over Laurie’s shoulder and take in all of this girl’s features. Her skin was creamy, pale, and freckle-less. Her sun-bleached blonde hair came to just above her shoulder, a few unruly strands reaching down and teasing the bared flesh at the bottom of her graceful neck.

 

Fuck

So this guy comes in, dripping wet,

Like he’d never heard of an umbrella, 

And he says to me, “Where’s the restroom?”

 

This guy looks like something the cat dragged in, 

And he’s got this look in his eyes,

Like he’s a crazy man or something,

But rules are rules, so I tell him, 

“No.”

 

And what does he do,

He takes off his jacket, 

And it is dripping with water,

And he shakes it out, 

And there’s water flying everywhere

And now I got customers lookin’ real upset.

 

So I tell the guy to get out,

But he just won’t go.

 

I signal for the bartender and he comes around the corner.

 

He grabs this guy by the shoulders,

And spins his wiry butt around,

And he throws him out on the street.

Harlow

I have been witness to stranger sights than I hope you are ever called to witness. I have saved the lives of every man, woman, child, dog, and cat on this planet more times than I can remember. I didn’t start out as a great hero, of course. That wouldn’t make for a very interesting story; no, I just started out as a stupid kid in way over his head.

I was 20, going on 14 when I first met Harlow. You don’t know her yet, but she’s the hero of this tale (and many more, at that).

I remember running across a rooftop. I was running, building up speed, preparing to jump from this rooftop to the next. As I was doing this I thought this isn’t happening, this kind of thing only happens in the movies. Then a bullet drove a hole in the tar not 6 inches to my left and I stopped thinking. I just ran, and then I just jumped.

I was in the air for an extraordinarily long time and then I crashed into another rooftop. I did this with all the grace of a crash-test dummy and it cost me a bloodied knee. The gunshots were not far behind and 1 even came close enough to draw blood from my ear before I got to my feet and started running again. I honestly had no idea at the time who was chasing me. Harlow would tell me later, and I wouldn’t believe her for another day or so after that. On that night it didn’t matter who was chasing me, it only mattered that they were chasing me. And they were armed. And they were exceptionally adept at firing their guns while running and jumping.

I was approaching the end of another roof and, it seemed, of all hope. The next building was quite a bit taller than the current one, and there was no way in hell I was going to make that jump. I took a split second to decide which was preferable: death by sudden stop, or death by head-shot? I opted for the head-shot and stopped just short of the edge of the building.

I turned around to face my pursuers, wishing to die like a man. I reasoned that any man would also squeeze his eyes shut, wince and beg them to make it quick. I waited for the shot to come, it was somewhere between 10 seconds and 50 years, but it didn’t come. Instead I heard a groan, followed by a thump, and a very distinct “Oof.” I have played this scene back in my mind (and for others) many times, and it was definitely those three sounds, in that exact order.

I opened my eyes and took my first count of the pursuers. There were 3 of them, though 2 of them were lying on the rooftop, dead. The 3 stood, dressed in S.W.A.T gear and leveled his weapon at my savior. It was a strange sight: a large, well-armed, fully armored man pointing an automatic weapon at a small, red-haired girl in a flowery blouse and bike shorts. She wasn’t more than 5 and a half feet tall and couldn’t have weighed more than 100 lbs, yet this man was shaking. I watched in awe as she traced an arc-like path across the roof, and he backed out of her way. She stopped walking once she was directly between the man and me. My hero.

She looked me in the eyes, even in the dark of night I could clearly make out the green of her irises, and made a gesture for me to be quiet. There was no problem there. What would I say even if I wanted to? Then she turned to our mutual enemy and motioned for him to approach.

He dropped his weapon, only to reach behind his back and produce a very frightening knife. There would be no mistaking this for a kitchen knife, this was designed to kill, maim, destroy. He came at her quickly, dropping low and making two measured lunges with his blade. Harlow easily sidestepped the first, and on the second she struck him. With just two fingers driven quick as lightning under his shoulder, she disarmed him.

He grunted his dissatisfaction and very quickly spun around, swinging his foot in a wild roundhouse kick. I couldn’t believe my eyes when she caught his foot in her hand, then displaying almost no effort, she broke his ankle. She twisted his foot around 180° independent of the rest of his leg. He let out a blood curdling scream the likes of which I hadn’t heard since an hour before, when this same man pushed a splinter between my thumbnail and thumb. I am not ashamed to admit that I screamed, I cried, I begged him to stop. But then again, so did he as Harlow walked up onto his chest. He begged her to spare him, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

There has only been one instance in my life where a sound has provoked me to vomit, and this was it. It wasn’t the sight of blood, or the pure, primal act; it was the gurgling, sputtering sound as she reached down and tore his throat open with her bare hands. He died slowly, painfully, with a horrified expression imprinted on his face.

When he was finally dead, she jumped down off his chest and wiped her hands clean on his shirt. She looked at the three bodies, then at me, then back at the bodies. She tut-tutted, and spoke quietly. It seemed to me that she thought we were being listened to. And maybe we were.

“You’re never going to be safe now. You’re marked and they’ll hunt you down to the ends of the Earth.” She turned back to me and I could see she was starting to cry. Not for the men she had just killed, not for the things her and I had seen that night, but because she was sorry for me. Sorry I had been dragged into her problems, and sorry that I was now her responsibility.

“If I’m going to keep you safe,” she came to me and put a hand on my elbow. It was warm and comforting, it was a very humane gesture. “You’re going to have to come with me.”

And so there, on that bloodied rooftop, under a quarter moon, I uttered the words that would change my fate forever.

“Yeah…OK.”

Naked Killer

You’re drawn in by her smile,

Or so you tell yourself.

Truth be told;

It’s her cleavage,

Pale,

Freckled,

With a healthy bounce to them that beckons you, “come and play with us.”

 

And so you do,

Clumsily pawing,

Pinching, pulling, licking, biting,

Failing at every step to achieve your desired goal.

The back-arching orgasm.

 

She, however,

Is a master.

She tugs,

She tickles,

She scratches (but not too hard),

And she drives you inexorably toward the point-of-no-return.

 

“Fuck,”

It escapes your lips even as your seed passes hers.

You are no longer in control (were you ever?).

Your fate is in her deft hands,

And she works it,

In much the same way as she works your semi-hard cock.

 

Your work is done,

Well, not done, so much as unfinished.

She is unsatisfied in a way you’ll never understand,

But that will soon change.

 

Your sacrifice is greatly appreciated,

Every little bit helps, you see.

Ah, yes, just a pint this time.

Something to hold her over.

Just a little pinch,

A small mark to awkwardly explain to your wife,

And then your business is complete.

 

 

#1

The starter pistol exploded, and Gideon Young took off at a jog. No need to push myself right off the bat, still 26 miles to go.

The midday Sun beat down on the runners, a great herd of muscles under cover of nylon and neoprene, as they left the starting point behind. Young could already feel the sweat running down his forehead, the back of his neck, the now bare place where his sideburns used to be. He resisted the urge to reach up and wipe it away. There would be much more where that came from and he couldn’t afford precious energy on the constant wiping. Better to focus on the task at hand.

Finish the marathon, Gid, then you can bathe in ice.

____

He had actually detested the nickname “Gid” his whole life. That is until he met Maggie. From the very beginning he’d been taken in by her bright smile and not-quite green eyes. Her curvy body and penchant for spontaneous dancing certainly didn’t hurt things. She’d called him Gid on the first date. He meant to correct her, to explain to her that his neglectful, drunk father had called him “Gid” with derision and he wished never to hear it uttered again; but he was already under her spell.

They sat in a coffee-house in the collegiate part of town, quietly sipping their coffees when some obscure album track by the now-forgotten Live came on the radio. Maggie stood up from her chair and began to dance, slowly, sensually. It was part belly dance, part middle-age hippie sway; and the very introspective Gideon found it a little embarrassing in a 19 year-old coed. He also found it amazingly erotic and despite himself rose from his chair and danced next to her; coming up beside her and singing quietly in her ear, “Talk to me now, oh vicious crowd…”

Not the most romantic song, but you don’t always get to pick your first dance’s anthem.

Nine years, a doctorate, and two masters later, they married. It was a night to remember. There was wine and song, more food than their 104 guests could possibly have finished; and to end the evening the couple took to the floor and slow-danced to Mother Earth Is A Vicious Crowd, much to the confusion of all in attendance.

_____

The first muscle cramp came at around the three-mile mark. It was in his abdomen, a sharp pain that soon spread through his whole midsection. He felt his pace slowing, and struggled to pick it back up. A woman half his age passed on the right, then back tracked to keep pace with him. “Are you alright, sir?”

“Yes,” a sharp gasp, “I’m fine.”

“I’ll tell you what,” she seemed to have no trouble keeping pace and conversing with him, he envied her, “My name is Meredith, Meri if you like. I’m not in this to set any records, I’m just raising money for a friend. I’ll try not to leave you too far behind. OK?”

He didn’t answer her. He was focused on the task at hand.

“Alright, well if you need anything, I’m a doctor, and I’ll be in earshot.” With that she pulled ahead; far enough to give Gideon his space, but within sight.

He allowed himself a glance down at his aching gut, and the number pinned to his t-shirt. He was runner number 344. And in the upper right-hand corner a smaller number on a piece of note paper. It was his youngest daughter’s handwriting: #1. He smiled despite the pain, remembering who he was doing this for.

After five miles he grabbed a bottle of water from an outstretched hand. It was cold and refreshing, yet burned in his chest as he swallowed. He coughed, sputtered, nearly tripped over himself. Meredith was listening closer than he’d thought and slowed her pace until she was neck-and-neck with him. “You ok?”

He gave her a thumbs up, then as she sped back up, he flipped her the bird. I’m doing this for my little girls. I don’t need your help.

_____

It was two years ago that Gideon had come home from the doctor’s office and collapsed on the couch. Maggie ran to him, running her fingers through his dark, curly hair. “What is it, baby?”

When the doctor had told him, in his oh-so-clinical fashion that it was cancer, Gideon reacted stoically. “Oh, I see.”

“The placement, more so than the size of the tumor makes you a poor candidate for surgery. I’d like to start you on radiation therapy as soon as possible.”

“Oh, I see.”

It was only with his head cradled in the lap of his beloved Maggie that he’d allowed himself to cry. It was a hard, body-shaking cry, full of fear and pain and anger.

They decided, after much discussion, to tell their daughters about the cancer. They kept no secrets from the girls.

Christine, the youngest, patted his hand gently, “Don’t be scared, Daddy. You’re strong.”

_____

At fifteen miles Gideon could barely see straight. His muscle cramps had spread throughout his entire thorax. His shoulders burned, his arms ached. He was more than certain that several blisters had formed on his feet and subsequently burst. His right shoe filled with blood, squishing between his toes as he continued to jog.

He congratulated himself for not having slowed much since the beginning. He had discovered a previous unknown tolerance for pain when he started the radiation therapy, and it served him well now. He reached out for another bottle of water, and noticed that the spectators were fewer. The running herd had thinned out considerably, as well. The sun had moved across the sky and was beginning to disappear behind the taller buildings. Streetlights began popping on. Gideon powered on.

At twenty miles his legs gave out and he tumbled forward. The concrete bit into the thin flesh around his knees and he left a piece of himself behind for the crows. For an agonizing minute he thought he might not make it back to his feet, and that body shaking cry began to creep back up his spine.

No, you bastard, shake it off. Shake! It! Off!

He lifted himself up halfway to standing, his legs shaking under his weight and his short time. He was about to collapse again, when a pair of hands caught him under one arm. “Come on, man, don’t give up on me now.”

Meredith helped him the rest of the way to his feet and looked at his knees. “You’ve got some nasty abrasions, but you’ll live. Are you going to keep going?”

I’m sorry for flipping you the bird. “Yes,” he pointed to the handwritten number on his chest, “I’m number one.”

He started up again, barely faster than a walking pace, but he was moving.

“I’m right behind you, sir. Don’t worry, I won’t let you quit.”

It was almost midnight when Gideon crossed the finish line. The officials had almost all left, just a hefty woman with reddish hair taking note of finishers; and of course, his family. They stood to the right of the finish line, half asleep, but there. His older girl and Maggie held up a banner he hadn’t known about. It read: YAY DADDY! YOU’RE OUR #1!

 

 

 

936-442

Gavin Killam gripped the little slip of paper tightly in his fist. Maybe too tightly, he thought for a moment. He didn’t want the ink to smudge from his sweat. He loosened his grip, then thought better of it, and shoved the paper into his jean pocket.

The number on that little sheet, just a corner from a newspaper, was very important. It was probably the most important piece of information to ever pass from one human to another.

The barista’s phone number! He had finally worked up the nerve to say more to her than, “Grande non-fat Macchiato.”

It wasn’t easy. It took nerves of steel. And a bottle of Killian’s Irish Red at the bar down the street. But he’d done it.

“Good evening,” he said, very cleverly as he approached the counter. She ran her fingers through the hair that drapped across the right side of her head, the left side was buzzed with military precision, and responded with a very telling, “‘sup?”

‘Sup! They carried such weight, those three letters. She could’ve stuck with the barista script, and simply asked him his order, but she said, “‘Sup?”

Gavin hadn’t planned for that eventuallity. It left him stunned, stammering, and struggling to come up with a witty retort. He found it in, “Not a damn thing.”

She smiled and took his order, then she took his cash. Their finger tips touched, and he could’ve sworn that she held the contact longer than necessary. Another very good sign.

There was no line behind him, so he felt confident in taking his time. Ease into the seduction, Gavin. “So…what’s up with you?”

He was proud of that, it kept the conversation going. “I’m making your coffee.”

This time she was deadfaced. No smile, no twinkle in her greenish eyes, no flare of her small, pierced nose. Undaunted, he carried on.

“Did you hear about Letterman?”

“Who?”

“Dave Letterman.”

“Did he die?” She moved to her left, gathering the ingredients for his beverage.

“No, no, he’s retiring next year.”

“And?”

And this is where he could feel it all coming apart. Gavin had not contemplated a point in the conversation where he’d lose her interest. There was no plan for this. Of course, that didn’t mean he was going to back down. The Killams where not quitters! So he leaped into the abyss of the unknown.

“What time do you get off?”

“Why?”

“I want to buy you a drink.”

Another smile, and flushed cheeks.

“Not tonight.”

“Oh.”

“I have classes in the morning, but tomorrow night I would love to.”

“Oh!”

She reached across the counter, grabbing at a newspaper some careless patron had left lying there. She was close enough to smell. Coffee, sweat, too-sweet perfume. Those were the scents of the barista. She tore a corner of the newspaper off and jotted down her phone number. Her fingers, long and cold, reached out for his hand and placed the paper in his palm.

“Don’t lose that. Call me tomorrow afternoon, we’ll figure something out.”

“Great, talk to you soon.” He said, with charm. He had come out a winner, and turned to make his exit.

“Hey, wait!” She called to him, missed him already.

“Yes?”

“You forgot your drink.”

“Oh.”

He was barely through the door of his apartment before he began to dig the slip of paper out of his pocket. He held it for a moment, reverentially, the unfolded it like a spoiled child on Christmas.

He read her number out loud to the empty rooms. “9-3-6-4-4-2.”

Then he read them again.

And again.

And then he realized, it was time to find a new coffee shop.

Too Little, Too Late Movie Reviews: The Fellowship of the Ring

I just got back from Middle Earth, and boy is my ass numb.

13 years ago a little gem from dying studio New Line graced screens everywhere. EVERYWHERE. The title, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, was a mouthful; and the film itself was nothing less than a grand epic. But maybe, just maybe, it was a little too epic?

I started watching Peter Jackson’s  ode to Viggo Mortensen’s five o’clock shadow at noon and finished at sunset. I understand that the source material is long, and that Jackson managed to leave almost half the book out of the film, but I think there really was some more room for cutting. The first film of this trilogy (there are two more?!) carries on longer than the entire Harry Potter series combined. That’s a verifiable fact, look it up. Complaints about the length aside, Jackson did a fairly competent job with The Lord of the Rings.

Competent, not great. I know he has a following, I know I may come under fire for this, but this is America and I’m entitled to my opinion. I didn’t really feel anything special about Jackson’s vision. I didn’t feel the connection to the world, the way I wanted to. I’ve read the book and I came away with a very dark feeling. I had to keep all the lights on in my apartment while reading about the journey through the mines. This film did not inspire any emotion in me, aside from impatience. Thank goodness for the mediocre CG effects.

Ah, there I go again, knocking Mr. Jackson, and along with him, his precious Weta Works. I will be the first to say that nowadays I would choose Weta over ILM any day of the week, but this movie was not created nowadays. I was taken right out of the world, its tenuous grasp on my imagination shattered by some poorly done CGI. And while we’re on the subject of special effects; this movie is chock full of wizards, and the greatest amount of magic we see is a make-believe shoving match? I thought I was being punk’d.

I’ve been going pretty hard on this little flick, and I feel bad about that. I should lighten up.

Frodo Baggins is our hero, the brave little Hobbit who faces the horror of Mount Doom. So of course, you want to cast a really fantastic actor, with a wide range of emotions at his disposal. Or you could cast Elijah Wood. And Sean Astin. Now, Ian McKellan was a brilliant bit of casting, that fella was born to play Gandalf the Grey, mighty wizard. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, Viggo Mortensen’s facial hair did a splendid job of setting scenes.

Overall, I actually did enjoy this film, despite my complaints. It was a fun adventure, and damn Viggo Mortensen is greasy.

My one gripe: Where the hell is Tom Bombadil? That could have been one of the greatest sequences ever put to film…or one of the worst. We shall never know.