I had the apartment to myself. A sprawling, second floor, 3 bedroom with an enclosed porch and more living space than we knew what to do with. I didn’t live alone, normally, by my roommates were out-of-town for Christmas.

I also had the flu, so I was missing a fair bit of work. What was a young, single man to do with all that time?

Masturbate, obviously. So I did that a few times. But you can’t fill all of your time with masturbation, or so I’m told.

I played around with my MySpace page, which dates me, but I’m not ashamed. I moved my top eight friends around a few times. Then I changed it to a top 16. Then back to eight. I picked out the perfect song that summed up how I felt at that point, and I put it on the page. I can’t remember what it was, but I can guarantee it was depressing.

Besides work, and MySpace, and Masturbation, I didn’t have a whole lot going on. I had big talk. I was writing the next Great American Novel. The plot involved aliens; or did it? That was up to the reader to decide. At least until the last page when I would reveal that it had been aliens all along. I had already written one whole chapter! And a killer prologue which would bookend nicely with the epilogue. Eight years later, and that’s still all I’ve written of that book.

Work was certainly no source of inspiration. I was a deli clerk for the third largest grocery chain in the NorthEast United States. Fourth if you counted Wal-Mart. I dealt with idiot people, day in and day out. And the customers were pretty stupid, too. Looking back, I was not actually all that much smarter than my co-workers, I just thought I was because they weren’t writing the next Great American Novel.

There was one bright spot at work. A new employee transferred over from another store. She may have had the brains to go toe-to-toe with me. She certainly had mastered a level of sarcasm that I could only marvel at. Her name was Annie, and she was very pretty.

I had a crush on her almost immediately. Which means, of course, that I tended to act like an absolute ass in her company. I made crude jokes about our co-workers that no one (except me) found funny. I did her dishes for her, to get her attention and paint myself in a positive light. Work became about getting Annie’s attention.

And it worked! She noticed me, and probably noticed me noticing her, as well. But then came the flu.

No work, meant no Annie. So I busied myself, and my right hand, and I passed the time (3 days, to be exact). The one thing I hadn’t done, was shower. I was ripe, and my hair had a miasma of dried, old sweat. I needed to get clean, but my skin burned. The thought of standing under a shower head, and being sprayed with that hot water deterred me. So I put it off as long as I could.

The next day, though, I was going to have to go back to work. I had to shower before I went back to work. I had to smell nice to get Annie’s attention. I was a fool with a crush. So I pushed myself away from my desk, grabbed a towel and a change of clothes, and stepped into the bathroom.

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

I needed a drink, I would grab a drink.

Oh, did my shoulder hurt. Ibuprofen, I would need Ibuprofen, too.

Man, did my shoulder hurt.

***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

I woke up from a dream, one of the most vivid and terrifying dreams I’d ever had. I wanted to drink something, so bad, but I couldn’t get the bottle cap open. And I wanted pills, but the top wouldn’t budge. I tried, and tried, but I couldn’t get them open.

I opened my eyes, and my first thought was: oh man, does my shoulder ever hurt. My left shoulder. I went to move my arm, but it didn’t respond to my mental commands. I thought I had maybe slept on it wrong. I tried to sit up, but the pain that shot through my body was incredible, like a bolt of lightning electrifying all of my nerves at once. A sense of unreality began to wash over me. Maybe I was still dreaming?

I remained in bed for a while, weighing my options. Obviously, I’d have to get up sooner or later. I couldn’t let a sore shoulder keep me from getting up and going to work in…how many hours? What time was it?

I remember going to take a shower at around 8pm. I didn’t remember the shower, but that was nothing strange. Sometimes the body just goes on autopilot, right? But I also didn’t remember getting dressed, or going to bed with my bedroom light on. I must have just dozed off, it couldn’t be any later than 9, 9:30 at the latest. I just needed to check the time, as a reality check, and I’d feel better.

I reached over with my right arm and pressed my hand down on my shoulder, only there wasn’t any shoulder there. The skin was still there, there was no wound, no holes for my fingers to probe, but there was nothing solid beneath the flesh. My skin sunk into an empty socket of skin. Confusion gave way to terror as I felt my way down my left arm with my right hand. The arm was still there, but it didn’t feel right.

HOlding my left shoulder socket with my right hand, I sat up. The pain was excruciating, causing me to howl. I stood up and looked down at my arms. My left arm was pale, almost to the point of translucency, but it matched my right, so there was no cause for concern there. The source of the concern was that my left arm hung limp at my side, and about an inch or two lower than my right.

I checked my computer, to see the time: 3:00 a.m. Five hours?! I’d lost five hours and dislocated my shoulder? What I needed now was my phone, but it wasn’t in my bedroom. I grabbed a t-shirt from my closet and tried to pull it on, but my arm protested strongly. I dropped it on the floor and reached for a buttoned shirt, first slipping my left arm through one sleeve, and then working my right into the other. I didn’t bother trying to button it, appearances were the last of my concern as I stood there in an unbuttoned shirt, gym shorts, and one arm hanging lower than the other.

My phone was in the bathroom, on the floor under the sink. Painfully, I reached for it. My shoulder knocked into the sink, sending shock waves of pain through me. After I caught my breath, I dialed 9-1-1.

“9-1-1 emergency, what is the nature of your emergency?”

“I don’t know. I think I dislocated my shoulder.”

“Are you sure?”

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty damn sure. My one arm is hanging lower than the other.”

“Okay, sir, calm down. I’ll have someone over to your address. They should be there in a few minutes. Are you able to meet me at the front door?”


Three and a half minutes later, a team of paramedics were at my door. I opened it and let them into my narrow stairwell. The leader among them, a mustachioed fellow with wide shoulders and large, rough hands, met me with a rough grip of my left wrist.


“What makes you think it’s dislocated?”

I turned my shoulder to him, and he poked at it with his rough hands.

“Yes, that’s definitely dislocated. How did you do this?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, St. Peter’s or Albany Med?”

My apartment was snug in the middle between the two hospitals. I had never been admitted in a hospital before, and had no personal experience with either, but I had visited Albany Med many times when my grandmother would have one of her episodes.

“Albany Med.”

“Okay, can you lower yourself onto the gurney?”

I nodded, and realized that the shock of my injury was wearing off. Suddenly it didn’t just hurt when I moved it. Now it hurt all the time. It’s hard to describe the pain. Imagine a terrible beast is tearing at your arm from below, while a white-hot poker is driven into your shoulder socket from above. Doing my best to ignore the pain, I climbed onto the gurney, and they lifted me into the ambulance.

I was in the emergency department for about 10 minutes before a doctor came to check on me. He diagnosed the dislocated shoulder, and then asked me a follow-up question that surprised me.

“How did you cut your head?”

“Oh that,” I brought my right hand around to the spot on the left side of my head where my little brother had accidentally split my scalp open 12 years before. The scar still bled, occasionally. “That is old, it just leaks sometimes.”

“I understand, but the injury I’m talking about is on the right side of your head.”


“Do you remember how it happened?”

“No.” I was really beginning to worry now.

“How about the vomit in your beard?”

I ran my fingers through my beard, felt chunks of half-digested carrot sticks and buffalo wings.

“Oh,” I repeated, “No.”

“Okay, you have head trauma and loss of memory, I’m going to have to admit you to the neurology department. I’ll get you something for the pain, just hang tight.”

I didn’t see him again for another hour, but in the meantime a very pretty nurse came and stuck an I.V. line in my arm. There was a rush of warmth, and then I felt as if I was floating on a cloud.

When the doctor did return, he had a team of nurses with him, and another needle full of clear fluid. The pretty nurse was with him, too. “You know,” I told them, with the gravity of a man delivering a death sentence, “I watch ER all the time. And the biggest problem I have with that show is how everyone on it is so damn pretty. It just seems unrealistic, yes?” There were nods of agreement, even from the pretty nurse. “But now here I am in an actual emergency room, and you are all so beautiful. Especially you.”

I pointed at the pretty nurse, or at least, I intended to. By now my limbs were just so much jelly.

The nurses laid me back, and the doctor stood over me, explaining the next step of my treatment.

“I have to reduce this shoulder, Mr. Scully. There are two methods we can use. The first is I wrap this sheet,” he held up a sheet tied in a knot, to demonstrate, “around your wrist and pull as hard as I can. If that doesn’t work, I’ll simply twist your arm in a backwards motion until it pops back into place. Both of these are extremely painful. I’ve seen police officers pass out from the pain of reducing a shoulder. I don’t think you want to be screaming and crying in front of all these pretty nurses, so I’m going to give you something to knock you out, ok?”

I nodded, weakly. He stuck a needle in my arm.

“Ok, now count back from 100.”

I started counting in my head, but I was skeptical. How could one little shot knock a person completely out, it didn’t make any sense. And I was right, it wasn’t working on me. My body was fighting it, even as my eyelids got heavy. My head dropped forward, I nodded off for one moment, but I was strong and I fought it. I lifted my head back up, and the room was empty. I looked up at the clock which had just a moment ago told me it was 4:15 a.m., and saw that the time was now nearly 6 a.m.

I looked down at my shoulder, which was starting to hurt again, and saw that it was right back where it should be. The weight of my arm was supported by a sling. I was mildly impressed.

As I adjusted to the fact that I had lost about six hours all together this night, an orderly entered the room. In a bored monotone he informed me that he was going to be moving me to neurology.

He didn’t speak as he wheeled me to the elevator, then up three floors, and through a long hallway to my room. A nurse entered and gave me a tour of my room; phone, tv control, bed control, nurse call button. I thanked her, and again later that day when she returned to take some of my blood.

I slept for a few hours, but I didn’t dream. When I woke up, I made a few calls.

The first call was to a friend of mine, Scott LaMountain. I told him I was in the hospital, that I was fine, and that he and his wife had been right, I did have a neurological disorder. I should have listened to them, I told him, and I should have called a neurologist a long time ago.

The next call was to my mother. She seemed annoyed that I was calling her at work. It was a dry-cleaner, very important stuff. I told her what had happened, and asked her to grab me a change of clothes, and to lock my front door as she left. She didn’t sound too willing, and I didn’t say thank you.

Finally, I called work. My boss picked up, and when he heard my voice, sounded exasperated. He asked me what I wanted, I told him why I wouldn’t be in to work that day. He sounded doubtful, but he wished me well.

I settled back into the bed and turned on the television. It was early in the day, so nothing good was on. I realized I should have asked my mother to bring me a book. Then the phone rang.

Before I picked it up, I knew who it was. My mother had changed her mind and wouldn’t bring me my things. But the voice on the other end was not my mother’s. The voice was shy, and pretty. It took me a minute to realize it was the new girl at work, Annie.



“I heard you were in the hospital?”


“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. How are you?”

She laughed, quietly, surprised, “I’m fine. Get better.”

“Thanks, have a good day.”


She hung up. I laid back and smiled. Despite the pain killers running trough my veins, my heart was racing.

It had turned out to be an alright night.


Start on the first line,
Which makes sense,
Of course.

Last name first,
Middle initial,
First name last.

Date of birth,
Social security number,
You know the drill.

It’s the first step,
Of many.

Next, if memory serves,
Is the waiting,
For the call.

Which comes,
And you’re excited,
And you show up on time,
Early even.

Today it’s fingerprinting,
An interview with a sheriff,
A retinal scan if you’re lucky.

All these hoops,
Jumping loops,
And paper work,
Paper work,
Redo the paper work when they lose it.

So now, finally,
The job is yours.

Now there is the simple matter,
In theory,
Of a trip to Dallas, Texas.

Two weeks of training,
Sitting nights in a strange hotel.
But no,
Now you’re going to,
Beautiful Cleveland, Ohio.
Or your not?

There will be a few weeks of confusion.
Waiting, again,
For a call.

Never mind.
They’ve gone out of business.

Coming Down The Pipeline

Just a tasting. A preview, if you will, of some of the stories to come. They will all be autobiographical, and they will most definitely not be flattering to me.

There will be tales of romance, including the time I started dating my best friend’s ex-fiance mere weeks after they broke up.

There will be stories filled with hope, and caring. I’m thinking of three young men, 2 of whom I didn’t even know, who took me in during a time of need.

You will learn about what an incredibly large asshole I can be, and how unimaginably lucky I have been to have the friends I do.

I would be foolish not to talk about the woman who made me realize that I did, indeed, want to be a grown-up; and who helped me achieve that goal. As a thank you, I married her.

Find out why my baby brother and I no longer speak, and why it’s 100% his call as to when we can recommence communications.

And find out what made me the man I am today (besides crippling hubris).


Selfie: A Short Halloween Tale

The selfie-stick had been a good investment, in Natalie’s opinion. Not that she understood much about investments. Nor how to turn a profit. Regardless, she loved it. Wether it be to show off her OOTD (Outfit Of The Day) or take group selfies (itself an irony that was beyond her reach) or just to make sure her actual selfies were “on fleek”, it had been worth the price.

And tonight was going to be an amazing night for selfies, indeed: Halloween! She was nominally dressed as a butterfly this year. At least, she was wearing multicolored wings. The rest of her costume consisted of a black tank top, with a strategic tear in the top center of the shirt, allowing her to show off what little cleavage she had; she wore black stockings on her arms (you know, to keep warm) and a black skirt that would hardly qualify as one any other day of the year. The heels she wore, she borrowed from her older sister, and took 3 days practice to be able to walk in without looking like a complete fool. More practice probably would have helped, but teenagers have no patience for that sort of thing these days. The black stockings on her legs rose to about mid-thigh, which was still nowhere near the hem of her skirt.

Her friends were all similarly costumed; Bethany was a lioness, proofed by the tail hanging from the back of her mini-skirt, Yasmin was a rabbit, or least she was wearing bunny ears, and Zara was a cat, complete with…well she had drawn whiskers on her face, anyway.

The 4 of them met at Zara’s house, since her parents would be away at an office Halloween party, and they wouldn’t have to deal with multiple parents clucking their tongues over how the girls chose to dress this year. Each of them had already had to hear from their mothers that they were growing up too fast, that just last year they were so adorable in their princess/pirate/mouse/ghost costumes. Their father’s had lectured them on the dangers of talking to strangers, and how they should never enter anyone’s house. Yasmin’s father had refused to let her leave the house, but her mother helped to smooth things over long enough for her to make a run for it.

They stood in the foyer of Zara’s parents’ brownstone and gushed over each other’s costumes. Natalie loved Zara’s whiskers, Zara just adored Bethany’s skirt, Bethany was jealous of Yasmin’s over-developed (read: stuffed) bust, and Yasmin thought Natalie was the most beautiful butterfly she’d ever seen. None of them knew it, but Yasmin was a burgeoning young lesbian.

As the Sun set behind the row of trees that marked the border between the nice neighborhoods and the not-so-nice neighborhoods, the girls set out with their matching canvas bags. They were ready for a night of fun, and of collecting candy that most of them never had any intention of actually eating (Bethany would eat it all, but it would just be coming back up her throat right after anyway).

They swept through Zara’s street quickly, then stopped for some selfies. It was riotous good time, with the girls joking and horsing around. Natalie lifted her skirt in one selfie, revealing a pair of underwear with a monarch butterfly pattern. Yasmin made a mental record of this, instantly overcoming a lifelong fear of butterflies. In another they all stuck out their tongues and flipped the bird at the phone. They didn’t stop to review their photographic efforts; if they had, they would have seen a strange figure hanging out in the background. One they hadn’t been able to see with their naked eyes.

The trek to Natalie’s street was short, but by the time they had reached it, Zara was not with them. They noticed, but didn’t give it much thought. Perhaps she had to run home to grab her phone. They didn’t think for a second that she could be hanging from a nearby tree, swinging from a noose made of her own entrails. But, who would think of such a thing?

On Natalie’s street they filled their bags to the half-way point. This was the street where everyone gave out full-sized candy bars. Bethany’s stomach grumbled, and she snuck a few (6) candy bars while her friend’s weren’t looking. At the end of the street, she bent over a bush in front of a house that had no lights on, and emptied the contents of her stomach. At 15 she already so well-practiced she didn’t need to stick her fingers down her throat.

Natalie and Yasmin waited across the street and pretended not to know what Bethany was doing. They stopped for another set of selfies, and this time Yasmin got bold. While re-positioning herself she “accidentally” copped a feel of Natalie’s chest. The word “gay” was thrown around as an insult, and Yasmin laughed it off. Each of the selfie’s taken at this street corner captured her scratching at the patchwork of scars that covered her upper thighs. Again, the figure loomed, but none of the girls saw it.

Bethany’s street was mostly dark, only 4 houses had their lights on, and only two girls dressed as animals walked down the sidewalk. Bethany was back on Natalie’s street, bleeding out from the wounds on her throat and wrists. The figure who had loomed in their pictures fed off her fading life force.

Yasmin’s heart raced, and her scars throbbed. She had fantasized about this very situation many times. Her, alone on a dark street with Natalie. She could feel her cheeks flush as she began to swing her arm gently, hoping to catch Natalie’s hand in her own. Their fingers made contact, but Natalie pulled her hand away, grunting her disgust. She didn’t notice that Bethany was no longer trailing behind them. But someone was.

They didn’t stop at any of these houses, Bethany lived on a very “cheap” street. The goodies here would be hardly worth it.

They didn’t stop for selfies at this corner, either. Natalie was getting annoyed with Yasmin, and Yasmin’s make-up was running along with her tears. She didn’t want her picture taken like this.

She also didn’t want to be snatched up by her hair and carried onto the roof of a house. She definitely did not want to have her body torn open, and her insides feasted upon. But then, we don’t always get what we want.

Alone, and aware that the trouble-makers from school were beginning to appear on the sidewalks, Natalie turned and headed for home. Had she not stopped to take a selfie outside her front door, she may have made it. The sudden pulling feeling from below, as the sidewalk seemed to open up and swallow her, caused her to drop her selfie stick, leaving behind clues to the girls’ disappearances that would only deepen the mystery in the years to come.

The Indecisive Alfred Highland

Three books at once, that is how many Alfred Highland was reading. This did not exactly point to a great intelligence, more of a fear of commitment. A familiar strain that ran through his entire life.

His mother chastised him on a weekly basis for being nearly 40 and unmarried. He took it in stride, and  told her he was just not willing to jump into anything without giving it a lot of thought. The truth is he never went on more than two dates with any given woman (and three or four men). After that, they became monotonous, and he moved on.

He never had any trouble picking up women. He was tall, friendly, funny, and had an athletic body shaped by an inability to stick to one sport/exercise regimen at a time. Women flocked to him and marveled over his golden hair, his perfectly white smile, and his bright-blue eyes. His type of woman was any woman; he was not fussy.

What Alfred did for work varied depending on when you asked him. He never stayed at any one job for more than a year before he got bored and needed to find something else to hold his interest. His current line of work found him traveling around the country, photographing the scenes of grisly highway auto accidents for a major insurance company. When pressed about which one, he was forced to explain that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement, and could not say.

A current assignment found him in a bit of a pickle. He had packed his clothes; he had chosen the pants, shirts, ties, etc. days before. Then he changed his mind. Then he changed it back. Now they were in the suitcase, it was too late to change his mind. Or was it. Yes, it was. The problem was the book.

He was looking at a six-hour flight, during which he would not be able to sleep. He found sleeping on airplanes impossible. It was all about his need to change positions continuously, something that was just not going to work while cramped in the tight space and airplane seat afforded.

He also did not want to make conversation with whoever was seated near him. A six-hour conversation sounded horrifically boring. Music was an option, but creating a playlist to last all six hours would require weeks of decisions, changes, purchases, no…Music was out of the question. His preferred method of passing the time was reading.

The problem was finding the right book. Something too short would leave him with the possibility of having to pass hours just twiddling his thumbs.  Too long and he would never finish;  the book would go back on his bookcase, never to be read again. No, that would drive him nuts in a way that would tickle at his brain, but never actually force him to finish.

Experimentation told him that around 330 pages are perfect. However, there is more to consider. There is always more to consider. Genre, for instance. He enjoyed a good mystery, especially those written by James Patterson. But those books had a hidden trap. As the suspense increased, as the answer neared, he would read faster, turning pages at an accelerated rate. He would finish early and be stuck chatting it up with the boring bastard seated next to him.

There was an entire shelf dedicated to books he had borrowed from friends, and would probably never actually read. Maybe he could take one of these, but what if he lost it five states away. He would have to buy his friend a new copy to replace it. That just seemed silly. What a waste of time and money that would be.

How about non-fiction? Out of the question for air travel. Books containing true stories always led to long sessions with Google or Wikipedia to confirm the information held on the page; or just to help him visualize the “characters” in the work. Wasting all that time (and money) on an airplane, surfing the net, was a ludicrous notion.

This thought process went on for a week,  interrupted here and there by normal life, until he had it narrowed down to three choices. He had started all three already, just to get an idea of what he was in for. The first was a comedy of sorts about a dwarf spy infiltrating an American family. The second was a work of modern day fantasy taking place in the London underground. The third was a saccharine take on teenage lust and imagination. The decision was almost impossible.

He had flipped coins. He had dropped all three books in a box and picked one at random. He did eeny-meeny-miney-moe (three times, each time starting with a different book), all to no avail. He was still not sure when the cab pulled up out front of his apartment building, waiting to take him to the airport.

On his way out the door he grabbed at a random book, and stuffed it in his carry-on bag, determined to be surprised on the flight by his choice.

He started reading it during the cab ride, and was half-finished by the time they called his section to board the plane.

A More Complete Father

For the first 29 years of my life I had a picture of my father in my head. It was not a picture based on memories so much as stories told to me by my mother. That was all, I had one primary source. He died when I was three, and I remember that. Beyond that, it’s been a story.

And the man I knew from her words was a man who was impossible not to love. He was strong, masculine, and brave. He was sensitive and respected life, despite having served in the Army during Vietnam. He was always giving of himself to neighbors and those in need. He was a man a boy could look up to. He was perfect.

It never struck me as truly odd that my aunts, uncles, and cousins would offer nothing more than empty, greeting-card fare.

He was a good man.

You would have loved him.

He loved you.

He was a great man.

According to my mother, he served as a door gunner on a Huey during Vietnam. I had no way to confirm this, as all traces of my father were destroyed by my stepfather. But I took it as gospel my whole life.

But then I got an itch. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know everything, but I had already distanced myself from any family who would have any answers. I am a proud man, even when I am woefully wrong; and I would not go crawling back to those people, begging for answers. So I set out on my own to find some answers.

So I went to and requested copies of his military records. Very few things survived my stepfather’s purge. A Zippo lighter. A digital watch. A beaten-up wallet. And a Social Security Card. With just those 9 digits, I was able to receive the information.

When it finally arrived in the mail, it offered me a tantalizing, if not small, glimpse into his life. I was, well, surprised.

After joining the U.S. Army in 1971, he served the majority of his career state-side. North Carolina/Virginia to be exact. He did serve 6 months in Vietnam, though, as part of a helicopter maintenance group. Learning this destroyed my mother’s claims that all his time spent in Vietnam, breathing in Agent Orange, is what caused his lung cancer, and his death.

I also learned that toward the end of his time in the military, he became a bit of a slack-ass. There were several write-ups, almost all of them for disobeying orders to wake up in the morning, or going AWOL for a week or so. A new picture of my father was beginning to form, and it was not the noble hero I grew up with.

But there was a comfort in this. He was slowly becoming more human. I found that the more bad things I learned about him, the more accessible he became.

Enter, and a slew of high hopes.

I signed up for Ancestry when they offered a free 2 week trial. With his military records spread out across my bed, I began my search. On my mother’s side I found information stretching back to pre-civil war Tennessee, and turn of the century Northern Italy. On my father’s side? Nothing.

Well, almost nothing. I found my older brothers, one of whom I hadn’t spoken to in over two decades. Through them, I learned a little more about my father, and his somewhat severe (but period appropriate) approach to discipline. Other than that, they not much to offer (they were 13 and 6) when he died.

But it was through them that I met their mother, and I learned the most devastating truth about my father.

He had beat her. He was controlling, abusive, and obsessively jealous. He was everything I hated about my step-father(and the men who followed in his footsteps). He was the picture of the type of man I hate most.

I grew up watching my mother get knocked around, bloodied up, and slapped down (but that all is a tale for another day), and I have developed a nose for the type. I can sniff them out with just a few minutes of observing their behavior, or by reading behind the lines of a woman’s words (“He was drunk…”). How had I not known this about my own father? Because the truth was hidden from me. But now I know.

And it changes nothing. He’s still my father, and I still love him. This, now much more complete, picture of the man is exactly what I’ve wanted my whole life. He was a man with flaws, and serious issues, and he died too young.

Let this be a lesson to you, my dear reader. Never fear the truth, no matter how ugly. It may hurt at first, it may sting your heart and steal your breath, but in the end…please forgive me, but I love a good cliche…the truth will set you free.

Nothing: An Interlude

The news coverage of the terrorist attacks on a hospital in downtown Fort Orange died out after a few months. No suspects were arrested, no groups came forward to claim the attack as their own. Interest eventually moved on to the latest Republican attack on the overly leftist President, a nipple slip at the Oscars by an inebriated septuagenarian, and a school shooting in rural Iowa.

Ulrich Caranado did not forget. He thought about it day and night; it kept him from sleep. In his mind’s eye he could see the hospital collapse, he didn’t need the dozens of Youtube videos to relive the horror. What he needed, in his humble opinion, was a drink.

The Crow’s Nest, luckily for Caranado, opened at 8 am every day. Today, he was going to start off light.

“Kelly,” he called to the bartender, “Beer. Domestic.”

Kelly, a shorter man with long dark hair, and a days growth of beard, placed a stein of amber beer in front of the grizzled, hunched, man at the bar. It was emptied in one gulp, foam sticking to his mustache and beard. He drank like the ancient Norse, and ate like the Romans of old.

At lunch, with two pitchers of beer in his stomach, he enjoyed a hearty meatball sub, an order of mozzarella sticks, and a cup of questionable clam chowder. He cleaned his plate, scraped the bowl, and licked his chops.

When Kelly came back with a new beer, Caranado muttered under his breath. It sounded to Kelly like “I know who blew up the hospital,” and he stopped in his tracks.

“You say something, Caranado?”

He gulped his beer in two swallows. “Nothing. Another beer.”

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.