When he kissed me, he had poems stuck between his teeth. He bit my lip and he left scars there like cold sores and when I woke up at three in the morning for lack of dreaming, I spent some time trying to read them.
He left notes on me that said, you just might be everything I ever wanted.
When he came home from work and told me about his day today, he explained differentials and business meetings like undulating breath in lines and verses. He painted them watercolor in front of me over dinner.
He left stains on the kitchen table that said, I like the way you taste tonight.
When he curled helical around my spine and threaded his hands into the concavity of my stomach I could feel the novels of him with each breath. I think he knew what he was dealing with in me the moment we met, because he speaks like he knows I’ll be scribbling every word into the margins of my notebooks and he moves as if he realizes that I am trying to find the right adjectives in my mouth for his smile.
I'm Not a Character in The Books
I am not a character in the books. I am an apparition of reality. I am a specter of the lost world and the shade of mankind’s history. I was not retold countless of times, and I have never been remarkable to the world. I am not a character in the books, but a cold boy in this crazy world.
I am not a character in the books. I am not well written. I am not composed of phrases and words that could steal your soul, or make you linger in an infinite void of book lust. I don’t have the scent of the old books that can make you fall in love over and over again.
I am not a character in the books and I cannot bring you to different places, or introduce you to different characters of all shades and hues. I cannot conform to how the ink spilled me, or how the pages turn day by day. I am not flawless, and I am always torn from letters to letters.
I am not a character in the books because I am a young man who wants to be a character of your book. I am homeless, a nomad that roams around your paradigm of books and authors and characters and plots. I don’t belong anywhere, so maybe, even for just once, you can shelter me in your personal pages of good reads, of your favorite book. And maybe, even for just a while, you can read through my pages, and learn to love me, too, like how I love you.
I'll Tell You When You're Older
Hampton Beach is a small community of about twenty-two hundred people, but that’s the only fact I could tell you about it. Obviously it’s a beach. Obviously there are hotels, though only one I’m familiar with. There’s all the kinds of signs for boutiques and air brushing and piercings, typical beach fare, and even an expansive arcade with whack-a-mole and skeeball. This time I was just as preoccupied as the first visit, although for different reasons, and the beauty of the place escaped me a second time. I knew it then as I know it now.
The first and only real landmark that stuck with me was a two-story hotel standing alone at the edge of town. Maybe it was because the sun was fast sinking into the horizon or maybe because it just looked like it had no business standing so far apart from the rest of the community. But there it was, the lone structure, silhouetted stark against the deepening sky, something of a haunting to welcome me to town.
Unloading at the hotel was a blur. I only registered that it was the same hotel we stayed at during my first visit, only we faced out into the parking lot of another hotel instead of the shabby interior courtyard. Then there was dinner. I was so famished for a good meal that I wolfed it down as soon as it was served. Talking was light, the air was tense. Even my sister, Del, picked up on it.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. She was nine-going-on-ten and had a keen sense for awkward environments. It was downright scary. “You and mom and dad were all quiet at dinner.”
“Maybe when you’re older,” I replied, “I’ll tell you the real reason.”
“How old?” She fired back.
“When I stop telling you ‘maybe when you’re older’.”
The next two days were spent at the beach, mostly on the sand than in the water. There was no sun to be had, with thin clouds covering the sky for miles. It made the water too cold to enjoy and all we got out of it were sunburns. I took refuge in stores to give my skin a break, and to enjoy some of the local fare, which I didn’t, and only found myself at random places, armed with a sketchbook in hand.
Most of those respites were spent drawing some of the more compelling faces that crossed my path. A mean-looking guy with an afro, a punk kid with a skateboard under his arm, a young woman pulling a willful child in tow. This was good therapy for me. Something about pencil on paper, making lines and shades and fleshing out portraits of strangers—all of it kept my mind from the horrors I couldn’t remember but was unable to face. Maybe it was a trauma so bad I wiped my memory clean of it.
On the last night of my stay, I was attracted to growing activity on main street. I made it in time for the parade, which just crossed the arcade. I looked all around at the families, the daddies with their little girls on their shoulders and mommies and sons waving brilliant sparklers. The whole shebang was for the close of the summer season or some such, but I was too busy thinking about how much of a tourist I felt and how my life had taken such a downturn so fast.
There was a slight tug on my sleeve and when I looked I found a very pretty girl holding an unlit cigarette up, a non-verbal question for a light. She was definitely unlike the other girls I’d seen here, although she wore an oversized hoodie emblazoned with HARVARD. Perhaps she was here for the same reasons I was, to get away from life if only for a moment to catch her breath. I lit her cigarette with my zippo.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” Her voice sounded impossibly small against the backdrop of the parade marching past.
“I’m up here with my parents from Pennsylvania.” I could have smacked my forehead. Why’d my parents factor into this?
She nodded and we stood side by side, smoking our cigarettes in silence as the floats and the lights roll by. I had a distinct and familiar memory that this was something I’d done a million times over, randomly meeting strange but pretty girls and quietly basking in their energy, maybe as they basked in mine, simply enjoying the presence of another person. No words. Just proximity.
“You want to take a walk?” Again, that familiar sensation. It was a curiously comforting thought, being asked wild, out-of-the-blue questions like that. “I have a joint I was waiting to smoke for just the right moment.”
The thought of going back to the hotel room already incoherent in life, then stoned inn addition, was a bit more than I could handle at that point, but I reflected on it and, like the thought I had about taking the video store job over the forklift one, I asked myself why not? I was twenty years old and if I didn’t do this kind of thing now, when would I?
We went father down the shore to a deserted pier. No one was around for a few blocks, no worries of being caught by any of the townies. After we smoked, during which we slowly introduced ourselves, she put a forefinger to my lips and sprinted toward the water. Under the brilliant full moon, the girl—whose name was Zara, or so she said—stripped down to her underwear and waded happily in the lapping night-waves.
“Do you believe there’s more to life than what we’ll grow into?” She called out to me, the pleasing notes of her laughter sounding like what’s-her-name in the last relationship.
“I think we’ll find a way to survive,” was my impromptu answer. “If we see anything more to life, it’ll be… a gift.”
“I think I love you.” Zara was so serious in that freezing water. “Now kiss me.”
We plopped onto the sand, our mouths filling each other with a hunger only youth can know. It was like I’d never touched a naked girl in my life. My eager hands explored every part of her, outlining her topography. We ravished each other several times underneath that pier, the experience all but obliterating my worry for finding an answer to the question of why I was covered in sand, which my parents were sure to ask.
The parade was long gone by the time we dressed. We did it slow, since we were still able to admire each other by moonlight. In the day, if and when these types of encounters occurred, there was something two people couldn’t quite capture except under the cover of night. So much is implied in what you see, but if you add a dash of mystery about the whole thing, like said night, that’s where magic truly exists.
Thankfully my parents were asleep when I got back to the hotel room. As quietly as I could I changed into my pajamas and brushed my teeth, lastly climbing into the bed Del and I shared. A smile still played at the corners of my mouth, thinking of Zara and the joint and the sex, when a sudden hand grasped my arm, shaking me from the edges of sleep.
“You were with someone, weren’t you?” Del was wide awake, her tone a mixture of alarm and jealousy.
“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I replied, still smiling. “Get some sleep before we head back tomorrow.”
It’s what your eyes begged. In my head, your half-finished thought ended with “stay”. In your head, it ended with “leave”. And so we lost each other, because neither of us was willing to reach out and ask.
Maybe we were just too wounded for one-another. Or maybe we weren’t wounded at all; we just pretended to be, because we each thought that’s what the other wanted. And so we became the ghosts we told ourselves we were, and sublimated from each other’s realities like the benevolent spirits of fairy tales.
When I saw you on the boardwalk all those years later, I didn’t know what to think. Once-black hair now bleach-blond; a man on your arm, and two cackling, wide-eyed children in tow.
Caught off guard, my cooler slipped from my hand and crashed to the ground in a spray of melted ice. Your son burst out laughing. You just looked at me, once, a knee-jerk reaction to the noise; turned away for a moment, then looked a second time, queerly, as if puzzling over me. Like you were trying to figure out what long-lost chapter of your distant past I’d crawled out from. But I don’t think you could quite place it.
So you walked on, leaning on your man’s shoulder, effervescing over your kids, bracing yourself against the life you’d built since I left.
And as I bent down to sop up my mess, it hit me all at once how far apart we’d become, and how much that distance, among all things in the universe, mattered to me.
Later, I realized you might have known me, too, and were only waiting for me to reach out. Meanwhile, I was waiting, desperately, for you to do the same.
Perhaps neither of us believes in fairy tales anymore.
I unplug the carton from the metal, icy shelf. My fingers, numb to the manufactured weather, squeeze the carton and that satisfying rip, that tear, and there’s milk running down my goatee and the off-white shirt below and the jeans and the sneakers on my wrung-dry body.
I hold the carton like I’ve earned it. My dried throat spreads – waves rushing. The godless Arizona heat’s had me begging for this. I let my arms down alongside me, the milk carton in my grip, and I throw my shoulders back. I suck through the air, cool gusts of it running through my pores. I walk to the bakery, past items and blurred colors and children next to canned soup inside shopping carts, and I stop at the breads and cookies and pick up a serrated plastic tray, crumbs and macadamia nut shavings and soft white cookies. I’m staring at the cookies, and they look as they should, when I hear him speak.
“If cookies were big during the dark ages, what divine thing do you think they would represent? Jesus’ chocolate-chip, sun-burned flesh?”
He is speaking to me.
My neck strains as I look up to face him. A man wearing sandals and cargo shorts, paired with a grey tee and black, messy hair down to his shoulders. He’s carrying a face full of beard, casually holding a pear with two slim carrots stuck in its round bottom for legs and two baby carrots for arms. I blink, wondering what exactly to center my gaze on, the organic doll or him, and he just continues looking at me, points to my tray of cookies and says: “You know what goes into those?”
I say yeah, thanks, and look at the floor as I pivot away from him and scuttle toward the cash registers.
The image of the stranger has disappeared by the time I’m home taking a leak, judging by the uncomfortably loud sound whether I’m hitting the mark; the light’s been out for some time. The trickle rises high above the air conditioner’s monotonous hum. Between some channel murmuring on the TV and the consistent air conditioner, I live in a warm bubble of sound and custom-set temperature.
The building is thin walls and identical doors with unique numbers and a community pool somewhere behind a fence. The only light comes from the computer monitor’s eerie light. I gave up on changing light bulbs and my blinds are stuck in a solid barrier against the window. I don’t like much light at home. It stirs me. It exposes the mess of socks and shirts scattered on the floor, huddling in corners until they’re picked up again.
How many men does it take to change a light bulb?
I clear a jacket off the chair and sit in front of my monitor. I bite into a cookie and grab for the mouse.
I’m not scheduled to go into work tomorrow, so I don’t set my cell phone’s alarm. No need for exact time. A watch is merely something to check your actions against. I brush my teeth in 300 clicks of the little hand; it takes me about 90 degrees’ worth of the clock to eat a meal. What matters is a moment. A moment lasts until it doesn’t. When you think that time is a chain of repeated coincidences you’re free from expectations. No one disappoints you.
The next day, or the day after that one, or just a day with traffic lights and an endlessly blue sky and my old car with the Pizzeria’s logo on top, and I find myself again in the bright lights of the supermarket.
I’m standing in my socks, each inside a shoe, all the other clothes expected. I’m queued up, going down the bottleneck. There’s spaghetti and beer in my basket; I’ve already got the condiments at home. I play with crumpled wads of cash, customers’ tips, crammed in my cargo pocket. Items beep through the scanner, rolling through the conveyor belt, and we follow them like shamed children, shuffling small steps. Everything is so clean and glossy and sterile. Even the white floor stays mute, spitting your image back in crisp reflection.
Past an old couple in front of me, their cart filled with canned food that can outlast them, I see him again, holding a baguette and a discount can of Spam in his hand, waiting to pay. He’s poking at celebrity magazines, intently reading the gossip headlines with a wide melon-slice of a smile. His finger goes up to Angelina Jolie’s nose, flat and shiny on the cover, and he presses his fingers into it, saying: “Boop.”
She doesn’t even blink.
I see his hairy feet inside his sandals. He looks down at his arm, at the Spam.
“Oh, discounted can of Spam, you… are too… much. But discounted Spam!” he says, his voice ebbing with playful embarrassment, “what if others hear you? Oh, you are so awful, discounted Spam! Now, now, baguette, jealousy is an emotion entirely too useless to a loaf of bread,” he says, holding the baguette up to his eyes.
The old couple between us stands frozen, following attentively the cashier’s hands – two sets of plump fingers and glossy, red nail polish (to match her hair and uniform overalls).
The man in front places the items on the belt and addresses them: “Behave you two.” He smiles and looks back at the items as he walks in front of the cashier.
“Do you have a VIP Super-Value Appreciation Stamp-Approved Club Card?”
The cashier’s voice comes out so clear and rehearsed, like harsh morning light, that he grunts at the sound of it and immediately slumps down, jelly knees, low enough to propose, and he places his palms on the counter, his eyes looking up at hers.
He rises up, fumbling through his pockets, a smile beneath his nostrils. The cashier makes that face, blowfish cheeks puffed out, and her eyes roll in her sockets, like the barrel of a six-shooter. He keeps groping his pockets and says, “Aha!” and takes out a toothpick, places it between his canines, and tells her, grinning, “No, no I don’t.”
She doesn’t even blink.
I reach past the old couple, that leaning reach, my Card in my hand, and say, “You can use mine.”
“About time,” he says.
The belt moves.
He pays for the two items with a crumpled wad of bills and coins. I wait for the old couple to scan and beep and move on. I go through, receipts and copies of receipts and carbon copies of receipts, and he’s waiting for me at the end of the line.
He looks at the inside of my wallet as I put the card back in and asks, “How long do you think we’re gonna be keeping those high school prom pictures in our wallets?”
I look at the picture – inside a plastic sleeve, a proper girl next to costumed me, a moment several lifetimes past. I close the wallet and he leans in, close: “You can call me Peter,” he says.
I extend my hand in greeting, a plastic bag draped over my wrist.
Peter’s hair is growing below his shoulders now, and he keeps his beard trimmed, not neat, but trimmed.
We get in the elevator, going from the underground parking to the shopping plaza several levels above, and a short, fat man waddles in after us. He’s got a baseball cap and a tan-colored jacket with too many zippers and layers. He looks like a peanut with feet, like an upside-down square with a baseball cap.
His fat finger presses for the floor directly above; otherwise known as two sets of stairs.
The doors close, the slick metallic blobs of our reflections sleek on all four walls. We stand behind him. His tan, fat blob stares back at him from all directions. He looks around with purpose, as if impressed by the right angles of a box, and the elevator stops. He clears his throat, ahem, and the sound rips through the thick, stagnant air, it rips a cone of space from him to the sliding doors.
The doors take a long time to open; long enough for him to pivot and smile: “I didn’t feel like taking the stairs.” And he twists back, proud, and walks out. We’re all just eager to answer.
“I love it,” Peter says once the man is out. I love that man.”
Soon we’re at a coffee shop, waiting to order, people’s conversations oscillating. We’ve got so many chances to stand in queue.
We take a seat by the window. I’ve got my laptop out and I log onto the coffee shop’s wireless Internet. I’m connecting to something somewhere. When your cell phone rings next to a computer, you hear the high-pitched interference of the call through the computer’s speakers a full second before the cell starts to ring. I wonder how many invisible waves we can string through the air, before they knot.
Peter puts his cup down and takes a small mirror form his pocket. He angles it just right to shine a bright spot on my coffee cup.
“Catch the bunny,” he says.
I grab my cup and he shifts the spotlight to my pants. “Get it,” he says, and I swat at my pants as he moves it again, this time to the wall behind me. I slap the wall, and he keeps the light in place, so now the bright spot is on my hand – an irregular patch of light draped over my fingers. I look at my hand.
“You know,” he says, “you’ll always try to catch it.”
“Doesn’t feel like I did.”
He sips his coffee and I sip mine.
When we first met, outside of the grocery store, Peter suggested an agreement. Our existence, outside of our meetings, is our own. We won’t share anything personal, anything particular, anything specific. We’re both single – that much is apparent.
I scratch the back of my head until I’ve got enough dead skin under my nails to wipe it off on my jeans. Peter lights two cigarettes in his mouth and places one directly on my lips. He smiles from across the table and says, “Now that I think about it, philosophy is man’s most natural art.”
It’s so easy with someone you barely know.
“Go on,” I say.
He takes a drag, his cigarette brightening at the tip: “Philosophy is just ordered thinking. Anyone’s a philosopher, anyone can think,” he exhales the smoke. “If anything,” he says inhaling again, “we at least know that we exist.”
“I think therefore I exist,” I mumble through the smoke.
“Precisely. So you know you exist because you can wonder if you do, which would also prove that you not only exist, but also think. So philosophy,” he says, “is just development of our only true and universal quality – thought.” He takes a last drag off his cigarette and smothers it into the ashtray.
I fly through the backdoor and back into the crowded kitchen – a small place of contrasting smells and sounds. Buckets of hot sauce and deep-fried chicken wings smell so loud you can’t hear the pumping, pressurized hose of the industrial washing machine. That familiar, warm smell of fresh-baked dough lays hidden behind the industrial clutter. All the bodies in there, as well, always moving, always busy.
“Yo,” I say looking down at the tired, stained floor.
“Hey,” says Mark on his way out, probably smiling wide, carrying four large pizza boxes in one hand and twirling his car keys in the other. He’s the cool, chipper driver.
I grab the next orders and go straight to the map, visualizing the optimal path.
Rabbo’s is a likely pizza shop. One of the cooks mixes dough and rolls it in clumps. He pinches the tops and makes them look like tits. The other cook always starts from the nipple when he rolls them out. It never gets old. They jerk off pepperoni sticks with aggressive New York accents, they tug at breadsticks and squeeze tomatoes; one of them eventually dipped his testicles in hot wing sauce and the manager filmed it with a cell phone.
I think of the job as a game. They give you a package and coordinates and you go to the spot. I listen to talk radio in my car; I like the soft, pleasant tones of a human voice chattering above the car’s engine. I leave my car door open when I drop off the food.
Once you arrive, whether you smile or frown, either way the customer looks at your feet and gives you the same tip. Just stay neutral to whatever’s going on behind the customer, beyond the front door. People are used to the pizza delivery routine by now so just stand there. Don’t spoil a good thing by improvising. Just stand there and wait for your tip.
Peter and I are making our way through the food court, that obligatory cluster of a hundred voices rummaging through the air. Everyone’s in queue, waiting for a refill. Everyone’s eyes are on the menu long after they’ve chosen. I’ve already had my frozen meal, thank you.
Peter and I pass through, beat-boxing. We’re spitting music, our hands cupped before our mouths, covered in slobber and cadence. His hair has grown, thick strands of it draped over his shoulders, still the sandals, his beard locked and loaded, wearing faded jeans and a white tee. We match.
We walk on, our bodies perpendicular to the floor, and we walk past people and endless display windows. Glossy, smooth mannequins with perfect posture, a row of dummies at attention, and everyone’s heads turned to them. Jealousy is an emotion entirely too useless for a plastic mannequin.
We’re still coughing out beats, spattering cymbals and snares and bass. We reach the end of the mall, our own catwalk, and pivot a hundred and eighty degrees to walk back through it again.
We walk past a home decorating store, with those cute tiny porcelain kittens and lambs, and Peter makes that scratch-pad DJ whir. I stop the beat, wipe my palms on my jeans, and follow inside. He’s crouching next to a painting, his eyes intently on it, pinned to the canvas. I scan. A blond woman trailed by a short man is leaning over a foot-long bamboo fountain. There are oddly shaped dishes in the corner and utensils for tickling broccoli the right way.
I think that without the bright lighting, without the perky music, this stuff would rot unused in my kitchen. The only distraction I need in the kitchen is my fridge, which I frequent at all hours of the day and night. I’ll use any excuse to open that heavy door and look at the shelves lined with condiments, prepped and ready. When I loose my keys, for example, I always open the fridge and peek inside. My freezer holds several kinds of frozen dinners, dessert included. I got water and ice on tap, filtered somewhere in there. During a commercial break I’ll sometimes get up from the couch just to open that solid door.
Peter strolls over to me. Just in time, too.
“I wonder if I have the qualities of a steel fork, or a felt-tipped whatever,” I say. “Am I stainless, anti-bacterial, microwave-safe, ready-to-serve?”
“Turn around,” Peter says, his hand on my shoulder. “Let me look at your ingredients, your cooking directions.”
I turn my back to him and laugh, “I’m organic, you know. Fancy.”
And Peter says, “That’s funny.”
“It says ‘Shake Well Before Use.’”
Darkness drips onto our shoes and we, hands in our pockets and deliberate steps, advance through the alleyway. It smells like midnight and the moon looks stapled to the black velvet curtains above. Peter’s hair now just flows down. He’s wearing a comfortable robe over his entire body, looking like a hippie sheikh, beard included.
We’re wedged between properties, we’re walking the dirt path behind someone’s swimming pool, we’re an inch-thick wall apart from someone’s very own private backyard. Everything is overlapping shadows, creating transparent films of black.
By now, we’ve met some time ago. Few things matter precisely how long ago.
We walk and walk, hearing bits of evening conversation, passing through slices of privacy. Beyond the fence, behind that impenetrable six-foot wooden fence, Peter and I hear late-night action movies, the whir of some kitchen appliance. A faded police siren rises, several fences that way, drowning out the buzzing of insects and electricity.
When I was a kid, my friends and I dreamed up scenarios at the sound of a siren.
Peter lights a cigarette and hands me one. We find a large boulder next to a telephone pole, and we sit down, a solid brick wall behind us.
Crickets play their legs and we look up at the darkness to exhale. A siren rises up again somewhere. Everyone’s in trouble.
I look up at the dark filth before us, the unkempt dirt. Nobody’s dirt, right between perfectly trimmed backyards with timed sprinkler systems.
He speaks over the silence: “I’ll tell you what the problem with education is.” His chest rising and the cigarette crackling, he says, “We fit the curriculum to the time schedule, instead of fitting the time schedule to the curriculum.
“It’s weird,” he says, taking a drag, “It’s just so weird. All we can do in life is learn. And suddenly, we find ourselves disinterested in it.” His cig crackles.
“You ever watch television?”
This is the most personal conversation we’ve had.
“Yeah,” I say, “I watch TV.”
“Do you know how the damn thing works?” He asks.
He looks at me. I’m an upside-down square with a cigarette.
I look back at him, the deep contours of his dark silhouette melting into the night. He says, “We’re tired of the textbook explanation weaving its way through wordy lessons and restricting rules. Patience is unnatural.”
“You see then,” he says looking at the wall, as though he’s writing his ideas there and reading them off, “Our insatiable lust for knowledge is slowly doused by incremental, step-by-step instruction. We are given an A, a B, and a C. We are presented with facts. Facts! And no one cares anyway when all they do is sit in numbered rows, waiting for the magician behind the overhead to uncover her trick. Teachers give a formula,” he says, his lips arching in ugly disdain, “They just give a goddamn formula and say ‘it’s solved.’ As if the formula exists outside its real application.”
“You’re really fired up about this,” I say. “Are you a teacher?”
“I guess you can say that,” he says.
And I ask, “What do you mean?”
“I’m Jesus Christ,” he says, “I’m Jesus fucking Christ. And I can’t even start a riot.”
I drop my cigarette and it triggers a siren somewhere in the distance.
I stare straight at him as he brings his hand to my face and pushes my nose like a button.
I don’t even blink.
He’s looking ahead, his hair and beard – unmistakable puzzle pieces.
I sit there, in the alleyway, in the public dirt between private homes, my ass squished on a boulder. I’m looking ahead, too, like a kid taking a test and searching for the answer on a wall.
“What about talking to the can of spam? What about wasting time at the mall?’
“What about it?” he asks.
“You’re not Jesus Christ.”
“Alright,” he says and smiles at me. “Forget it.”
We listen to a sprinkler’s sputter. A car starts up somewhere.
“Fuck you, dude,” I say. I feel the words lifting me up, and I stand up off the boulder and turn to look down at him. “You seriously gonna give me some Christ bullshit?”
Peter looks up at me.
“All right, forget it,” he says and looks away.
“No, fuck your self-important shit.” I hear a rushing sound, I’m shaking - there’s a jumbo jet taking off next to me, Niagara Falls crashing on the rocks below. “Look at me,” I say, “fucking look at me.” It’s all so loud.
He looks at me, straight at me.
I stop. I see him clearly, no waterfall, no jet engine.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
I kick a jagged rock with the tip of my shoe and watch it awkwardly stumble forward and blend into the dark distance. I light a cigarette and breathe through it.
“Go teach the people, then,” I say. “Reach out to them.”
“What have I left to say?”
I sit back down. We look straight at each other. It’s comfortable. I want to ask the question, but I don’t.
“You’re not Jesus,” I say.
He picks up a stick and doodles in the dirt.
“Just forget about it,” he says.
I grab a small rock and lob it over a fence. Peter lights a business card on fire and we both watch it curl under the flames.
“I guess anyone’s as good as a messiah,” I say.
Bits and Pieces (thirteen): Portrait of a Farmer
Think of him as a farmer, though only hypothetically of course because in reality he was an upper class white kid from a rural neighborhood, but we won’t get into that. As a farmer he lived on over a million acres, and everyday he’d sow his seeds in a new plot of land, hoping to gradually utilize his entire allotment. He made this his primary ambition in life because he saw each seed as a part of himself, and he wanted to cover the world with his presence.
The seasons would change and the plights of farming came and went, but he always continued his efforts to sow every seed he had, desperately attempting to touch the corners of his land.
While admirable at first, his efforts began to deplete him, as I’m sure you can imagine. As he aged, the distance he had to travel in order to sow his next batch of seeds continually increased, to the eventual point of utter absurdity. For instance, there was a period of over a month where he traversed his land just to plant one new seed, and immediately following the planting he simply returned back to the stockpile to get another.
And so this went on and on. Meanwhile, his family grew distant in his mind as his fervor for his goal grew exponentially. The ties to his other farming friends broke as the years passed, and he immersed himself in complete solitude during his daily travels to the next plot. When the time came that he had sewed nearly 200,000 acres, which took him approximately twenty years, he looked at his progress with pride. But what he didn’t take notice to was the fact that the seeds he had planted had never been properly nourished due to his lack of attention.
Nothing on his farm had a chance to grow; everything simply changed and grew dated. It wasn’t until his wife stood in front of him, her bags packed and stacked neatly by the door, that he saw his empire of death. He fell to his knees, immersed in his ocean of tears, and groaned in despair. He knew he must face his decision: continue his expansion, or reduce his attention to a plot in which his seeds could be properly nourished.
But a farmer’s pride knows no bounds, thus the answer doesn’t come easily.
You Are Not An Astronaut.
“You are not an astronaut” is the thought that stays with you when you’re sitting in a cubicle, at a desk, behind stacks of paperwork having spent three or four years of your life studying to be there because it pays well. It’s secure and there are good benefits; like being able to state your occupation without causing a stir and knowing exactly where you will be months from now. You are drowning in the peaceful lull of monotony with no time to really live outside the twenty-eight days of scheduled annual leave taken at regular intervals over holidays with packaged vacations and photographs of tailored cultural experiences to post online to make the losers who picked on you at school jealous. Show them you made it, you really did. You managed to become your father wasting away in a chair on wheels to go nowhere but one day you could have an office with a secretary although that would take five years according to your calculations and carefully made projections. This keeps you smiling as you receive your pay checks, go for drinks with co-workers you don’t really like and talk about wise investments, stock and shares and calls to your bank manager. All of this leaves you feeling fulfilled because you are a success, this is what being a grown up is all about but still in the back of your busy mind is “you are not an astronaut” and sometimes that thought keeps you awake at night as you lay beside to your attractive wife with your two precautious children sleeping just down the hall until the 6am alarm clock radio call sounds for you to start yet another day of pretending that somewhere, without you even noticing, your life had gone horribly wrong.
The Barbed Being in the Cargo Nook
In the area full of cargo crates and shadows, behind the exhaust towers, the boy scans.
“It’s as though I can feel it more than I can see it.” He says.
“That’s its magic. It is not detectable by the anchored senses of the body. It comes to us from somewhere besides our universe, like it just plopped out the depths of our internal dive, as fantastic as a baby unicorn.”
“Do you think it senses us?”
“Oh, I know it does. Can’t you feel it reacting to you?”
“What is it?”
“Blimey! It’s not like I have anything to compare it to! It’s that. Whatever that is.”
“It is transfixing…” says the boy, fading his thoughts out across a wash line of prairie air.
“It’s got talons the likes of which you haven’t ever felt before. I don’t know if they stem from its eyes or its feet or its heart or what, but they are sharp, and you can feel them dig into your essence.”
The boy’s thoughts have been slithering away for too long now for him to have been able to hear any of that last bit, hooked by the barbs of the strange stowaway, the Americana of his rambler flipping mother’s blouse collection checkering itself through the naval dismality of the ship’s cargo cranny; a message from his father’s day text message conversation hearing dad telling him that he was just thinking about me, on his holiday… Wondering if he ‘gave me some good stuff,’ and how I am doing.
“I think you did dad. And I’m doing great.”
Thus concludes this holiday: me becoming more of an emotional clot, like the old man himself. That’s the kind of good stuff you were asking about, right pops? Holding it all in my chest for long enough that it starts rotting into man titties? Isn’t that what you were looking for?
“The skin tag on this one says, ‘May you meet complacency at every turn, and may passion always fall those few steps behind.’”
“Is that why I’m such a pussy drinker?” asks my dad.
“‘No pop, that’s because you’re a Mormon.’ says my son.”
The congregation laughs every time he tells that one. He utilizes the pride garnered from these sacrament speeches to fuel his reign within the house. It holds that smear of smugness strongly upon his face. The story has appropriated him the nickname ‘Lightweight Joe,’ an allusion to Joseph Smith, King of all Mormons. It has granted him high rank within the elders quorum, and even had him appointed ward clerk for a term. The calling had him staying long hours after service, calculating tithe expectations and sharing a hot cocoa thermos with Brother Belmount. He bought a suit beyond his usual budget to help him fill the role more fully. Occasionally duty called him to deliver spreadsheets to the county clerk, whose office happened to be in the same building as the clerk in charge of all of ‘the church’s’ finances, and so my father would make sure his appearance was exceptionally dapper upon those errand days. It turned him real sharp. And it was good for him. It was being appointed Webelo pack master that started things going pretty weird.
Like one day, we’re sitting on the soccer field, he has transformed into my coach, and he’s crouched, wearing a shirt that says my name on it, teaching me a stretch with his veiny, droopy balls popped out the leg of his little blue shorts, slapping me in the orbolls with their ratchedness.
“Have you ever cooked sausage before Jason?” He asks, grabbing the young boy’s wrist and guiding the plump link around the surface of the griddle.
“No sir, I haven’t.”
“Just poke that prod in, until the little weenie hisses. If it smells like Mamacolli’s special, then you’re ready to plate.”
Little Jason giggles, “You’re funny.” he says.
The griddle pops. The sagebrush dancing on the horizon shivers like stiff blonde hair atop the paradise flats. A grey coldness, covering the tomb like Christ’s concealment, becomes the desert night. The stony sinking feeling which accompanies car rides with fading cabin lights, country music whining while the streetlights smear past the back seat. She is sleeping next to me, my forever wife. My parents are silent connected to the drive. They are the people of our future selves.
“I always sit behind Dad.” I would remind her, not budging until she would relinquish my seat.
“You are a stubborn trash whore.” I would say so under my breath that it wouldn’t come out till my writing. “I would carve you up and serve you to my harem master if I wasn’t so freaked out by everything.”
“Great hustle partner.” says my dad from beneath his ball sack, which lies atop my memory, crushing comprehension.
“What?” I ask.
“I said, you’re the cream of the crop. Don’t tell your sister.”
“I won’t Dad.” I said, even though I would.
“All of my dreams are invested in you.”
“Thanks Dad. Happy Father’s Day.”
We write of heartbreak as though it is a beautiful thing. With careless words we extol reverence for the elegance in tragedy, and paint the splendor of sadness with brushes of black on sheets of white, turning loneliness into a picturesque and pitiful perfection.
We write of tragedy and think Romeo and Juliet. O, such sweet, tragic love! Curse Fate, the trickster, the prankster, the cruel master of Man. Why do you play such vile games with us! We bemoan.
But heartbreak is not beautiful. Heartbreak is terrifying. Heartbreak is paralyzing fear, its you gasping for air between sobs and a despair so great your insides burn with ice. We do not think nightmarish thoughts when we write of heartbreak, but we should.
Still we will continue to refuse giving up the world with its promise as we are wont to do. We hope that words of flowers, fields, skies, and rainbows can brush clean and fix a dusty heart broken and forgotten. But no matter how romantic our dreams are, there are no flowers that bloom in the place of pain nor lushness in tears.
I have been fed lines as crooked and sharp as any twisted dagger. Even laughed as the blade pierced skin, allowing plasma to creep out in waves. How could I ever help myself? The ideal I carried of love was one distilled in truth; honorable words were the only language romantics spoke. To me, the weapons my Don Juan’s weaved were nothing more than flowers. I saw what I desired to see. I believed in the fairy tale notion that all men loved equally and without deceit. I was wrong.
Not all of us carry torches sweet; not all of our home fires are simple, for some decimate houses. Sometimes it is mere passion or obsession that drives us to say, “I love you.” It is this void which pulls us to worship without understanding. You see, some people yearn to be noticed, desired and deemed worthy of affection. Others only like control.
I, myself, have willingly given myself up for ransom. With stars shining bright out these eyes, I’ve traded valentines for abuse. Those promises twisted themselves sick inside brain matter whenever I dreamed. Oh, and how I dreamed! That the hand I longed to hold was tender; that his smile could be only mine for the taking. Whenever I was paid a compliment (no matter how minuscule) I clung to it like a jungle cat clings to their hapless prey. I went in for the kill.
Their declarations helped soothed the doubts I’d feel, squirming within my chest. Surely his habitual coldness meant nothing? Its just the heart melting. Its simply the spirit coming out of a long frost. I was absurd. I truly felt that my love was special; that I could somehow reach past the monster in the dark, and rescue the man within. I never once stopped to realize that, perhaps, there was no one to save.
I am all stitches, bruises and blemishes now. The abrasions of past lovers will forever remain on my skin. Their lines cut me raw. Revealed the sinew of the child buried underneath—-the heart of the romantic. All I ever was or will be remains here. My altruistic vision of the world (and the people in it) are cocooned within my heart. Fractured though it might be, I am stronger now because of my heartbreak. I am no victim.
If you gaze intensely into the fountain of myself, you will perceive only clarity. I am a woman no more cloistered in the belief that words outweigh truth. I know who it is I am seeking. I know the partner I wish to claim for my marriage bed. I wish to be loved softly; I wish to be cherished. I need to be seen as a woman worth opening doors for.
From this night onward, I refuse to be known as wretched or desperate or pathetic. Yes! No dagger soaked in sickly sweet perfume shall deceive me now. My heart is the wiser (as is my head). It whispers what I should have sung all along: to love myself first, so no man can love me second.
Excerpt #218: Sprinting Towards the Ends
The Zombie yanked off one shoe, then the other. He hadn’t bothered to put on socks with this pair, because his feet never sweat and shoes never chafed him. He hadn’t expected them to last anyways. The soles were already falling off. He slid his fingers into the gap between buttons on his shirt, then swept down in one swift chop, severing the threads behind the buttons and opening his small shirt to the breeze. The tattered cloth relaxed, now baring his chest, which he thumped once with the flat of his fist. He was proving to the enemy that there was no trick; his bare hands and feet would destroy vehicles. His bare skin would deflect bullets.
“You’re ridiculous sometimes,” the Baron said.
Belting laughter, the Zombie sprinted straight for the nearest parked jeep.
“Stop!” a Guardsman shouted. When the Zombie didn’t, the Guardsman took his shot and hit him dead in the chest. There, that one was the first to cast a stone.
The Zombie turned to the man and made a wild, formless punch at full speed that threw his entire body behind the blow. Bent wrists, hitting the crown—the world had to change quickly to accommodate his presence. The man’s head whipped back, neck-broken, skull heavily fractured, and he crumpled back against the jeep. Then at least a dozen people opened fire, and the Baron was up off his feet and sprinting as fast as he could go, a desperate maniacal pace.
The Zombie killed another man by dragging him over the hood of the jeep and smashing his face twice into the folded down windshield. Someone tried to wrestle him back and managed to shove the Zombie’s arms away, but not before the Zombie clawed him with his fingertips, leaving gouges across one cheek. Before any other man could lay hands on him, the Zombie started burying his fingers in automotive steel, ripping off chunks and pitching them into people. Foolishly, they backed off and opened fire with their guns. The Zombie charged into the opening and headbutted a man’s sternum. It collapsed. The victim’s heart stopped.
The Baron held nothing back; he ran on the balls of his feet, barely touching ground before his feet were off again. He felt like he was falling or flying; within seconds, his muscles burned. His fingers were stretched at the ends of his swinging arms. He didn’t know if his form was graceful or ridiculous, but he was fast. It felt like he couldn’t stop unless he fell down.
The Zombie stood atop a jeep holding a dead man’s carbine. Guardsmen scattered as he shot them, and he waited for a halftrack to aim and open fire. When it did, he leaned into the stream of scattering bullets, aimed from the hip, one shot, two shot, and with the third stabilized shot, he plugged the gunner in the head. Then he jumped down, swinging the carbine like a club, braining anyone within reach—and because he sprinted at forty miles per hour after two seconds from a dead stop, everyone was within reach.
The Baron gulped air, deep, sharp breaths. He was in shape, but a full-speed sprint wasn’t like running or jogging. It wasn’t truly aerobic. It was like burning rocket fuel, spending reserves meant to save his life in an emergency. Under normal circumstances, it would’ve taken hours or even a day to recover what he lost. Even now, he was losing his strength after no more than thirty seconds. His head wanted to tilt forward, but he kept his eyes on the horizon, his back straight. His vision began to tunnel. Oxygen was depleting; he felt light. His joints were stinging. He was injuring himself, he could tell, but this is what he expected.
He gasped to the so-called gods, “Invigorate me!”
Prestige drained away, and into the same void slipped the poisons and pains, the lactic acid and accumulated damage, and his lungs opened fully and his vision expanded to a world of storms and shade and the wind was at his back and he was beginning to sprint all over again, as fresh as the early bird ready to get the worm, his feet striking pavement again and again.
The Zombie dragged the halftrack’s driver through the windshield and slammed him screaming into an officer, then clambered onto the halftrack’s cannon and fired it at a jeep pulling away to follow the Baron. Three men died, and their vehicle coasted into the side of the main terminal. Another halftrack found an open firing line and started strafing the Zombie’s vehicle. The 20mm cannon was punctured. It jammed uselessly. The Zombie wrenched off a barrel, jumped out of the bed and stabbed a running man in the back. The other halftrack spun about to retreat. The Zombie was far faster. He clambered up and tackled the gunner within seconds.
The Baron ran another thirty seconds, until he began to feel his body fraying at the edges and bursting at the seams, until the world narrowed and quieted and he felt faint. He cried out for invigoration, and he was renewed. The hangars barely seemed any closer, but the terminal was passing quickly to his right. Men in uniform spotted him, but they didn’t know what to make of his passage. They looked behind him for whatever invisible demons pursued him across the battlefield, but they couldn’t see the fear of atomic war catching at his heels.
Far distant, at the northern end of the airfield, there was a dense knot of Guardsmen crowded around a single spot like wolves at a kill. It took a while before anyone could see the single dead Soviet soldier being loaded into the bed of a truck. The other three Spetsnaz GRU, though heavily wounded, were alive before they were loaded into an ambulance. One of Malik’s teams had been captured. Their surrender was a meaningless gesture. The moment the doors were closed, they’d heal themselves, pass most of their prestige back to Malik, and dodge to a temple. The Guard would wonder how they escaped. Nobody would officially identify them as Soviet Special Forces. The unmarked olive uniforms could’ve come from any nation.
Deliriously, the Baron wondered if the dead Spetsnaz would be labeled CPUSA corpses, tagged with little paper labels and shoved into a morgue until the city could afford to bury them each as John Doe, as Americans of unknown origins and unmarked graves.
He refreshed himself again and sprinted further.
The Zombie turned this second halftrack against the convoy of vehicles in front of Heckhaus. He didn’t aim to kill the CIA agent—to do so would certainly doom the Baron—but he wanted to imply that he might do it. His implications were counted among the dozens of dead.
Heckhaus pointed and the cannon was dead.
The Zombie leapt down, caught up with a jeep and cleared its occupants so he could use a mounted Browning. Before the vehicle rolled to a stop, he could hear the ping of snapping springs. The firing mechanism was dead. The Zombie pulled the gun off with a little leverage and used it against the first man he could catch, clubbing the victim’s shoulders and legs until he couldn’t walk. He shouted over the defeated soldier, “Stop me! Try to stop me! I’ll kill you all if you can’t stop me!” He then kicked the man to death with his bare feet.
The Baron refreshed again. There were no diminishing returns. There were no hidden costs. His body was not being worn down in some secret way. There was no loss of vitality or spirit or soul or any other kind of mystical nonsense. The gods took state B, depleted, and switched it back to state A, energetic. The only limitation was the Baron’s prestige.
The Zombie plowed into a jeep, obliterating the engine block and killing the driver and passenger, who flipped over the wreckage and spread themselves across the pavement.
Twice more, the Baron guessed. He refreshed again. The terminal was behind him now. The runways stretched ahead. He could see the hangars, their gates open. A Lisunov Li-2—the licensed knockoff of the American DC-3 airplane—was spinning up props. A jeep was abandoned outside the front door of the hangar. The Whistle bearer would already be on board.
There were no more Spetsnaz in the field. Almost the entire National Guard force at LaGuardia was in the west, rolling around the Zombie, too late to stop the escape in the east. Those who’d been captured had certainly dodged. The rest were on the plane with Malik and Denisov. Nobody would have the means to stop their takeoff. There were no vehicles to block the runway at hand. Heckhaus wouldn’t stop Malik’s escape, not when the Baron bore the cat. Why waste the prestige trying to restore the antiaircraft guns? Why not win a taste of immortality in the form of an ancient sculpture, and fight the Bolsheviks again on better terms?
The Zombie couldn’t be stopped. He was bulletproof, quick, murderous—but he wasn’t omnipotent or omnipresent. Now the jeeps, halftracks and other vehicles swept around him, sacrificing the few for the success of the many. Heckhaus was standing in the passenger seat of a Willys MB, one hand holding him in place, the other holding up a bullhorn. “West!” he bellowed, slightly boosting his voice with prestige. “Arrest the anarchist in brown!”
The Baron refreshed once more. The plane began to taxi. He’d already wasted months of prestige in total. He couldn’t fail now. He must make himself seen. He must convince Denisov to stop the flight. Otherwise the plane would reach the runway. Otherwise it would fly into and beyond the storm, and the face of occult power would shift towards violence and conquest, and nobody secular or occult would be safe with an Apple of Perun in Stalin’s hands.
The Zombie needed a distraction. He needed something to draw the attention of the Guard. He must buy time for the Baron. They needed more time! One tank rumbled around the field, never firing for fear of killing friendlies, only following. He sprinted for its lumbering shell.
Come Nurse a Growing Fear with Me
The upside of living on an overpopulated, squalor-ridden, anarchistic-leaning moon roughly the size of Texas, is that one can very easily blend in. Here, I am one among five hundred million dirty, soot-covered, nearly identical souls. The color of our skin and the number of teeth in our mouths account by and large for the chief differences among us, particularly since I’m still “blind wired”, as they call it, unchipped and not immediately pingable.
Finding a place to hide, then, isn’t really the tough part. It’s the waiting, and the accepting that your life has suddenly, irrevocably, changed.
I suppose I could have gone through the proper channels, called the local police and asked them why an off-world alien from the other side of known space was hanging out in my garbage. I suppose, as well, that they’d have had a good answer for that. I know Eridon, and while you can get away with just about anything here, so can the authorities, and they always do it bigger, and better, and louder and more final. When something smells fishy in this place, it’s liable to be the rottenest thing you’ve ever encountered: because the rule here is corruption, and anything that raises your alarm beyond that general level of white-noise…well, buddy, you better watch out and learn to listen to those signals or get used to a short life in a small cell, and then…
Being on the wrong end of that thought, I decided I’d rather not wager time supposing what sorts of things would follow that sort of dire incarceration. I’d rather just be kicked out of an airlock with no suit.
My first step, then, was re-featuring. The kids call it paving. It’s quick, easy, painless, and potentially permanent (if dialed in correctly). The one thing it isn’t, is cheap. And, I suppose, why should it be? To have your face mapped, molded, flayed, abraded and restructured shouldn’t be something you get for the price of a cup of coffee. I knew a few pavers from my clubbing days, but those folks specialized in freak-show implants: horns, coils, gills, pinched serpentine cheek-bones. I wanted, instead, to look unremarkable, and that took talent—and also a bit of discretion—for there’s usually only one reason anyone wants to plain-face and that’s because they’re looking to avoid being noticed. For that reason, the plain-face pavers are a secretive lot, usually doing the outlandish stuff like horns and coils in the daytime and relegating this kind of work for late-nights behind iron curtains, in rooms soundproofed to mask the sound of the needle presses. You didn’t pick these people out of a directory, you didn’t find them on the street. You were referred to them, usually for high commissions, by those who make it their business to traffic in these sorts of things.
Myrna Ma was my gal for this sort of thing. An ancient Chinese madam of indeterminate age, she was to be found without fail in the back corner of Tarang-Na, sucking in large hits of opium smoke from the table’s built-in hookah. She eyed me dully for a few moments. I hadn’t seen her since I’d decided to kick the weekender habit. She assumed, naturally, that I was back on the dragon’s breath and looking to score. I told her otherwise. Her skin drooped and she looked both parts puzzled and sad.
She reached over and touched my cheek, caressed the skin that was about to be peeled back and resculptured. I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted it over and done with.
“Why you wanna do this?” Myrna Ma asked.
“Why does anyone ever do anything, Ma? I want to stay one step ahead. I want to stay alive.”
“But I always thought you were a good boy,” she smiled. Her teeth were mostly brass colored precious metals. I watched a tongue flick over their tops and recede back into her mouth, an unconscious reflex. “I figured you were just a bit into the tar, nothing else.”
“You’re right about that. I don’t know how this started, Ma.” I leaned in close and whispered into her ear. “But there’s a Tardishk involved.”
She recoiled a bit, as was to be expected. The Tardishk are not the most social, or the most agreeable of races. Rarely do you find them fraternizing with humans, and even more rarely doing anything that doesn’t directly involve profit, illegality and inhumane motives. They fit perfectly, you might say, into a certain rung of human society, though I’ve been told they loathe the smell of us, comparing our living quarters to animal dens, rat’s nests, hog’s wallers, and the like. But what they do share is our appreciation for wealth and, particularly, precious stones. It’s been said they will do practically anything for emeralds.
Ma looked at me gravely as the smoke cleared between us for a brief instant. “I can help you, Sol. Just tell me what to do.” She snapped her fingers at a passing server. I didn’t resist her offer to buy me a tall cocktail. The night began to smear into something fluid, my thoughts relaxed. I considered briefly how simple-minded it was to be drinking at this point, but my body craved the distance from reality it gave me. I sunk into the liquor’s embrace. I would need something, after all, to dull the pain of the upcoming few hours.
I found myself in a plush back-room compartment beneath a red light. One of Ma’s girls was just getting dressed. I was feeling spent, but relaxed. I rolled over and punched a few numbers into the bedside deck. A mirror appeared. I gazed back at this unrecognizable person who was now me. My new profile. I gently caressed the still tender cheekbones, the supple, but sore, flesh. Her guy had done an excellent job. In fact, I actually think I preferred it to the original.
Hooba For Howlers
I took a raska from my pocket and set about the nasty task of karoofing the isti off the howler. Real stinky isti but good meat shouldn’t be wasted out here in the wagooni. Cleaned off me raska on me thigh and offered up quick hooba to whoever was watching. Karoofing always revolts me. Disgust like lead in me venusians. I like howlers don’t get me wrong but gotta eat and stomach was agreeing me. Poor howler. Nothing in its venusians no more. Made me get philo for a sec. Guess it served in death as well life. I’ll wear isti and be hobi, cut myself with raska made a venu pact so its life won’t go to waste. Where there is death there is life and out again into the wagooni alone I go again.
Hooves, 6/13 (2 AM)
My veins felt more and more like streams everyday. Like the small, twisty ones you stumble in while walking through the woods. All accidental: a wet shoe, a muddy sock, leave your sneakers on the front porch when you go home so you don’t track dirt across your mother’s freshly vacuumed, white carpet. Bite your tongue, resist from telling her that a home is nothing without carpet stains and doors that creak. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to lie awake at night listening to your heartbeat, the beating that sounds like the hooves of a deer running over rocks and crunchy, autumn leaves. She does’t remember what it’s like to feel more like a forest than a person; like a place where sunlight dances between leaves and secrets hide in the shadows behind trees. Watch your step here, there are roots the size of toddlers curling through brambles and red roses that are shrouded by thorns. Be careful, it is so easy to get lost.
I lost myself. Not in the forest, I know my way around there well. (Walk along the fallen tree and follow the water North to the flat rocks. Ignore the cigarette cartons and soda bottles, pretend for a moment that you are the only person who has walked here before. You will know when you get to where you are going, claim it as your own. Hide your fantasies under the stones there and tell the leaves your secrets. Visit once every few months. Don’t worry about forgetting the path). No, I didn’t lose myself there. I lost myself in the eyes of an androgynous girl and the mouth of a well-endowed waitress. I wanted to respond “You,” when she asked what I wanted to eat, I wanted to make love to her on the diner’s greasy tables after her shift.
I lost myself in the bottom of a shot glass when I realized I was only drinking because I wanted to stop over-thinking love. I lost myself in afternoons when I couldn’t do anything except sleep, rolling from my left to my right side countless times, until my brain finally shut down, and I dreamt about wrapping my arms around the muscled chest of a tall man, or the right person walking in on me with my back arched, moans low and guttural, the animalistic sound that involuntarily escaped my mouth when I touched myself while thinking about you touching me. The last time I did that I accidentally whispered your name into the dark of my bedroom, like a sorceress surrounded by candles, calling the dead from the underworld.
I am calling you, ever so quietly, out of my fantasy and into reality. Come to me, I want to get lost in you again, I want to lose my place on the map when I glance out my window to see the sun setting.
When I think of you I think of dying.
I’ve been burning memories in photographs in boxes in my backyard, with stacks of beach trips and birthdays and anniversaries, and fingers in hands, and cheeks pressed together and looking at nothing. And both of us burning.
We had been nothing for so long, our shadows just shadows of shadows. And it was so strange to be seeing us as another person would, smiling and happy and clutching each other like we were the only things left in the world holding each other up. Which was only half true. Because when you left me a part of me crumbled, but I decided to burn away the rest. I watched the flames ripple over our sepia stained smiles with your name already fading from my lips.
I went back inside to find more things to burn. There were letters and notebooks and paper cranes, and journals. Posters. Socks. Bottles of liquid soap and shampoo. But nothing big. No dressers or shelves or love seats. We’d never given each other anything that we couldn’t press into our palms, and I needed something bigger, I needed to burn beds, walls. I needed to burn everything you’d ever touched or walked by or breathed on.
I needed to set my house on fire.
I found a bottle of vodka at the bottom of a box and took it to the roof with me, and sat up there and drank. Thought of you, and thought about dying. Knocked the fire back against my throat and my teeth and emptied my mind of mornings lying in your sun warmed bed, the smell of your neck after late night showers, kissing the tears from your face when we would wake up too drunk to speak, to do anything but hold on to each other and finger the scars along our backs. I took another drink of fire.
And when I thought of you I didn’t think.
What would Oprah do
I bought some deodorant today because the box it came in said that Oprah recommended it.
So now I’m sitting here eating tacos and drinking koolaid and thinking about how me and Oprahs armpits smell like each other. I like that thought.
My sister in-laws skin cancer is back so she’s been too sick to hang out. I’m scared and worried and sad for her. She says that its worse this time and it might be on her face.
She has such a pretty face.
I’m not sure what I should do for her. Pretty much all I can do is be like, get well soon and bring her some icecream and bonghits. Listen to her endless rambling for a while. She talks and talks whether I listen or not but she likes it better when I listen to her.
I wish I could do more.
Losing a Truck
I pull into the parking lot, driving my truck into an empty space. I throw the gear shifter into park and sit for a minute. The cigarette in my hand that I lit a minute ago still has a few drags on it. I rest my arm on the open window and finish it. It didn’t do anything for or too me, nothing much did anymore. Still I smoked them, perhaps a reminder of a time before… well, just before all of this. It also helped fit in sometimes, you’d be surprised what you can find out in a group of smokers; especially at a place like this.
I finished the last drag of the smoke and tossed it out the window. I hit the cranked the handle that rolled the window up and stepped out, locking the door as I did so. I looked up at the sign, Lucky’s Gentlemen Club. I’d started getting the dreams a few days ago, like usual. There was something preying on the downtrodden of this town and I was apparently the one to put a stop to it.
It was frustrating how often that happened.
So after a couple days of being unable to get a good night’s sleep I packed a bag, threw it in my truck, and headed here; to this small military town.
There’s something you’ve got to understand about military posts. Army bases in particular I guess. I really only had the experience with the Army towns. In a past life I’d had experience with Army bases and their outlying towns. I wouldn’t know for sure about the others but I’d guess it’d probably hold true for the Marines as well. There are a lot of similarities between a Marine and a Soldier, but you’d get a busted jaw for ever suggesting such a thing.
But I digress; I was talking about Army towns. Each base has one. It’s a collection of small shops and business that cater to Soldiers. Soldiers have a high amount of disposable income and a predilection towards the seedier things in life. Drive off an Army base in any direction and the three things you’re sure to hit are strip clubs, car lots, and payday loan places.
I said Soldier’s had a lot of disposable income, I never said they were smart; quite the opposite most times. They like to spend their cash and they like to spend it hard. These kids are usually between the ages of 18-22 and they’ve usually never had much in the way of work experience before. Suddenly they’ve cash and they’re looking to spend it. And they love their strippers.
I sigh as I push open the door, already pretty sure of what I’m going to find when I walk inside. And sure enough, I’m not disappointed. You’ve got your girl up on stage, trying to look interesting but failing more often than not. You’ve got the girls walking around the club floor, talking to the guys.
I have a tremendous amount of respect for strippers. You ever want to see a customer service expert at work, watch a talented stripper. They’ll either walk up to a customer or be approached by one, and they’ll hold their attention like a pro. Smiles that only sometimes don’t seem to reach their eyes, nodding at the right time, touching at the right time; they know how to sell their product. You can see it sometimes though. When the guy looks away and the smile slips for just a second. Sometimes you can see it.
Behind the bar you have a collection of Korean ladies, the middle aged one most likely being Mama, the one that takes care of the girls. A lot of guys come into strip clubs and spend a lot of time trying to get on the good side of the girls, impress them and whatnot. That’s a rookie mistake, it isn’t the girls you need to impress, it’s Mama. And the fastest way to impress Mama is make sure she knows your spending money. Not on the girls necessarily either, she expects that. No, you spend money on the bartenders, giving them tips, more than you really need to.
If a strip club’s Mama likes you, then you’re golden.
Yeah, I was a Soldier, I know my strip clubs.
Then you got your customers. In a strip club in an Army town you got two types of customers and it’s usually pretty easy to spot the difference. You got your locals and you got your Soldiers. The locals have been here forever, and they’ve probably been coming to the club for forever as well. They fit it like a used glove. And they carry themselves differently than Soldiers.
Soldiers are temporary, never going to be a permanent fixture at any place. One day the orders are going to come and they’re going to either deploy, change duty station, or get out of the Army. Any of those three things lead to them not being there anymore. So Soldiers are temporary, and they know it. They flash money, they talk loud, and they talk big.
That’s the other thing about Soldiers; most of them think they’ve got something to prove. Ninety percent of Soldiers don’t come from much. Most of them joined to get away from wherever it was they were and couldn’t see a better way to do it than signing up. They grew up watching their war movies, seeing their GI Joes, and have a preconceived notion of what it means to be a Soldier. You stick a rifle in their hands and make them work out all the time, and that just reinforces that notion. A lot of Soldier’s feel they’ve got to prove they’re the biggest and the baddest and they set about doing it any means necessary.
Locals don’t necessarily like this, which is understandable. What this sometimes leads to is a powder keg waiting to explode. And my senses went into high alert as soon as I entered the club. I handed the guy taking money at the door my two dollars and waited for him to strap the wrist band on my wrist. As soon as that was done with I shifted my body and started producing fear pheromones. Not strong enough to clear the building, but strong enough to keep people well away from me. Should have realized how that was a mistake, but I didn’t, not until later.
I made my way to a corner of the bar and stuck my five on the table. The Korean bartender took it and I ordered a coke, waving the change away. She had a conflicted look on her face, the pheromones I was producing were telling her she didn’t like me, but the money in her hand was telling her that she did. She brought me my coke and left me alone.
I turned and gazed around the club, trying to find what it was that brought me here. My dreams don’t take me places where I’m not needed. My senses don’t lie to me. It just doesn’t happen, much like I don’t get pleasure from nicotine or drunk from alcohol.
My gaze passed over one of the Soldiers and he caught it. His face look conflicted, something was wrong with me and he didn’t know what, just that it scared him. I continued past him, trying to find whatever it was that was feeding off these people. They’re there; you just have to know how to find them, or really, be able to find them. Most people don’t and can’t.
Fortunately for them, I’m not most people.
Unfortunately for me, I forgot one simple thing. Soldiers are trained to push past their fears. Soldiers are trained to confront their fears. Soldiers have something to prove.
Suddenly the guy who caught my gaze is standing in front of me, an angry look on his face.
“You got a problem mister?” he asked.
I shake my head and kick the pheromones up a notch, hoping to drive him away. Instead it has the opposite effect. Probably without even fully understanding why, he takes a swing at me.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been hit and it likely won’t be the last. I remember what it used to be like, being hit. It feels painful, it feels electric, and if you’re someone like I used to be it makes you feel alive. That rush you get when you realize you aren’t invincible.
Unfortunately for the Soldier punching me, that wasn’t necessarily true for me anymore; at least not that I was aware of.
My skin hardened without me even willing it, instinctual now. Keeping the color and texture it became as hard as diamond, the mass of my body increasing so that it wouldn’t even cause my head to move. I heard his hand break as it struck my face, without doing anything to me. The Soldier screamed and dropped to his knee.
There’s another fact about Soldiers at strip clubs, they rarely come alone, and they usually bring their battle buddies. So was the case here, three other Soldiers rose from their table and made their way over to me. I sighed, this wasn’t going well. I stood from my chair and cracked me neck and knuckles. Then I pointed and one of them, my hand making a fake gun, and shot him.
My body displaced the air, creating a sonic shockwave that knocked the Soldier on his ass. The other two stared at him in awe, then back at me. I heard a hiss from the stage. One of the stripper’s heels and all jumped off the stage and took off out an employee exit.
I cursed. Of course it was going to be one of the strippers. Who else would it be. I shifted my body again, reflecting the light in a way that it passed through me, causing a displacement like the Predator but otherwise leaving me mostly invisible and took after her. I busted through the back doors, the girls that were changing yelling in surprise and confusion.
The creature, a succubus likely, was heading out the back. I followed. Pumping muscle, energy, and strength into my legs I picked up to speeds far faster than a human can normally achieve. Unfortunately my quarry wasn’t human either. Still, I got myself going faster and eventually caught up to her. I tackled her from behind.
She hissed at me as I turned her over. Her fangs bit down on my arm and shattered. She screamed in pain. I shook my head and placed my hand on her forehead. Then I shifted it, my hand becoming a flaming spear of Hellfire. It consumed the creature, leaving a charred skeleton in its wake. I sighed and stood up off of the body.
I quickly made my way back to my truck and pulled out, quickly making my way out of town. A couple miles out I ditched it. I didn’t like having to do that, but it was what was needed. They’d be looking for me in it. I shifted my appearance, altering the bone structure of my face, my hair and eye color, my height, and suddenly I wasn’t the same man anymore.
I never was. Not for long at least.
Dammit, I really liked that truck.