Going in the Dark

          I heard a slight scrape that wasn’t a shoe. It wasn’t a shoe because I turned around and I couldn’t see anyone. My hand left my pocket, my heart sank back down, my paranoia went into remission. Magical thinking is better than hypertension. The sun was setting and I was cutting through an alley because some lessons have to be learned over and over again.
           Soon, it would be obvious that I was alone, alone except for all those other things. My towers were gone and the houses were about to disappear. I was leaving every stray window that could possibly give me guidance. Crossing into the industrial park and the only light I had was the one I held.
          Like the rest of Dis, Little Lagos didn’t mean to be here. It inherited factories and mostly ignored them. In the middle was a warehouse and that seemed like as good a place as any to put a club and so they made a banner and Solomon’s was born. Under the banner was a pair of double doors and a bouncer. The bouncer’s name was Usman and he seemed to like my tits. I thought his were a little too sinewy but I was just reading his name tag. I found myself at an almost plastic orange table marked 10, deeply with a knife. As I relaxed into a wicker bottom Mexican restaurant refugee my waiter found me and proceeded to ram itself into my chair’s back legs.
          “Drink?”
          “Robitussin, on the rocks.”
          “No Robitussin. Well drink?”
          In Little Lagos, this bar especially, the wells aren’t fit to drink from.
          “Cough syrup, any?”
          “No cough syrup. Well drink?”
          “Any booze that I recognize at all?”
          “Well drink.”
          “I don’t recognize that as booze.”
          My waiter was silent save for the servos. In front of me was a wall with sound behind it. There was a man sitting in a stool watching a door. A woman passed me and walked to the door, where she traded a cigar for a stamp on her hand. An uncaring computer boomed Unchained Melody as it shuffled through an eclectic haphazard playlist.
          “Well drink?”
          “Sure kid.”
          The little fire hazard dashed off back into employee’s only land looking for a drink that would shame a bootlegger. I wondered how many touches from a soldering iron that little guy had left before he was just gone. How many appliances was he? We’re big on recycling in Little Lagos. That’s why I was planning on eating chips; prepacked unopened grease.
          “Chop?”
          The robot had returned with my… drink. It looked flammable.
          “Chop? Chips.”
          “No potatoes.”
          “Crisps, crisps. Sorry.”
          “What kind?”
          “BBQ.”
          I retrieved a monte cristo from my coat and dropped it on garçon’s head. Seeing as though I come to alcohol for the venom I didn’t mind. I heard a scraping on the ground, it was another chair.
          “Do you mind?”
          “Yes but go ahead.”
          He had a thick mustache, skin like cocoa powder, and a chemical marvel of a pompadour. As he sat across the table he draped his jacket on the seat’s back. He was maybe a little too thin but I wasn’t all that picky.
          “I’m Billy D.”
          You can do that in Dis, I’ve met Tom Cruise twice.
          “How new are you?”
          “Dropped in a few…”
          “Yeah, I don’t know either.” There are clocks and calendars, but where to start was a matter of contention. “What did you do you Billy D?”
          “Don’t you mean what do I do?”
          “You scavenge and you take odd jobs.”
          “I do?”
          “But what did you do?”
          Billy grabbed a few strands of his hair and then moved his hand down to his lip petting his mustache.
          “A model?” I guessed.
          “Heh. A hairdresser. You?”
          “Government.”
          “What, CIA?”
          “Smaller.”
          “So boring.”
          “Yeah.”
          More pause followed and then a lighter appeared. It was followed shortly by a nice box of Newports: yellowed but not ruined. I thought for a moment he had found an intact pack. If he was about to smoke that, I’d have mugged him right there. The flap flew back revealing neat black cigarettes with red seams. They were Dis made, but very nice.
          “You want one?”
          I never had that habit but I was tempted.
          “No.”
          He took a long drag and began coughing profusely.
          “Not tobacco.”
          He quickly crushed it on the table and I could smell one of my habits lifting towards the roof. Shame.
          “So, you’re doing well enough to actually smoke smokes?”
          “Hair still gotta get did don’t it?”
          I was pretty sure there was a leaf in my hair and it had been there for a year, however long ago that was.
          “Sure.”
          “So anyways, is it an off night or what?”
          “No, it’s still hopping back there.”
          “Back where?”
          I pointed towards the door guarded by a stool.
          “Costs Cuba’s finest but you get a stamp and it’s good all night.”
          “Do I want a stamp?”
          “Underneath, above or…” I waved off the science. “There’s a sound you can’t hear. It’s happy, it just turns you on like a switch. It doesn’t carry past the wall.”
          “So why aren’t you in there?”
          “I did something stupid once and I got myself in trouble. Don’t leave before the music stops.”
          “So you’re okay?”
          “Follow your bliss Lando.”
          With that he left and I suddenly didn’t want to chop, I just wanted to leave. Usman almost protested but I walked past. My little light and I walked towards home. Leaves scuttled and plastic bags whistled and one pair of keds patted the ground. I was in the dark and making my way. Then my light caught a knife.
          I saw a svelte man in tight blue jeans with long flowing blond hair holding a fillet knife. He saw a portly small frizzy ginger with a weird gun. Our eyes met but those little sparks never came, neither did the knife.
          But, somewhere the music was still playing. More the shame.

Long After the Plunge

          Words trickle and drip down the sink. Letter, periods, whole damn sentences get stuck in the traps, junction and lord forbid the sewer pipe. Plumbers have been known to become wordsmiths out of sheer immersion in the stuff. It’s not uncommon for a journeyman to be covered head to toe with it: poems on his hand, face smattered with awfully stupid philosophy, and an amateur novel just sprayed all over him. No matter how hard you clean you can still smell the literacy, just a little bit.
          Paul’s been a plumber for 20 years and a literati for 15. He’s got a new novel and he’s shopping it around but nobody’s biting. Roots still creep and drains still clog, so he’s not afraid of going hungry. Marla Oglesby of 212 Rivolli Blv has a problem with her drain. Her problem is she had decided to drop a perfectly good sentence down a s pipe. Careless, but she’s old. Paul tucked it into his bag           He tries to get her to switch to copper and she doesn’t. No one buys copper, it cost too much and isn’t better enough for your average jerk to switchover. The difference is, pvc was never built to hold your soul like copper was. Sure it’ll take your waste and water but those parts of you that are less tangible? Well, they’ll just drip into your crawlspaces and then you’ll end up leaving a part of you that you thought discarded. The next home owners definitely won’t want it.
          He walks out the backdoor. There’s nothing to be done for Ms. Oglesby. She’ll just keep on in her way until she meets the grave. Most people do. Paul secretly hopes he’s not part of that majority. The van starts on the second time and he’s off the clock. Home is where the heart is, which is why he doesn’t feel the need to hide the wire and the pipes. One story, one basement; it’s his cave now and it all works just fine.
          Immediately, he delves into the basement with that sack of dirty language. Heavy wash, regular amount of detergent, it’ll come up clean. There’s a light clamped to an old pipe above an old poker table that’s been overburdened since it’s acquisition. There’s a few sentences in various states of development:

The avowed protestants quietly worshiped their lord and savior Jesus Christ.
The girls were teases, everyone and Michael knew this. His blade was sharp, his mind keen.
I love you.

           More

The Big Zen Garden

Ron, you haven’t checked in for a while so I decided to hobble my ass to the slums. 10 stories and they all smelled like eggs. Phil (who was soused by the way) says hi. Jee…z he gets gropey when drunk.

So what’s the hold up, just stamp ‘em, ship ‘em.

Crap is that a pen in your hand? Tell me your not.

You don’t name the sand Ron. First thing they taught you. The sand names itself. You make the sand, you grow the sand, you watch the sand but sand names sand. It’s what we call freewill. We don’t give them any vote but we give them say. Say’s free, say keeps them happy and keeps our jobs cush. Without say, we’ve got a bunch of little nothings doing nothing. It’s boring as fuck. So we give them say and we don’t have to make cable tv and hooker allowances.

Why would you want to name one? Oh for, are you making a messiah? Do you have any idea what kind of fail rate Messiah’s have? Newsflash: avatars suck and prophets go offscript. Micromanagement is a no no.

Oh don’t give me that, this is different.

How? I was bored.

Uh uh my friend, I manage you, you have no idea what boring is until you manage you.

No. Breach of protocol, plus you need 200 more years before you’re up for promotion.

Just put… Evinrude back in the pile. Wait, Seriously? Fuck that, file a I527 Naming Intervention. Tina. Or Murphy. Get her an early adoption papers, parents could probably die in a meth lab explosion. Easily.
Okay, Charlie’s got a birthday party. Yeah he’s an asshole but he’s an unfair asshole and if you act all buddy buddy with him that could mean big things for you. I see the coffee pot is empty and dirty. I blame you.

Why?

Bored.

The Thin Blue Lace

        I needed a win. Whatever else I needed, I needed a win. Charm and spite had worn away, and now was the winter of my time in the chair. It had been twenty seven hours and my wrists were raw against the zip ties. They were almost breaking. The room had a nicotine flavor and the dying yellow bulb was just enhancing the hue. Between me and the opposing wall was about enough for a twin size and a wardrobe, maybe a vanity. The bulb was begin to ghost on my vision but I didn’t dare look down for fear I was still dripping red.
        On that other wall, two men stood legs spread wide and arms crossed behind. They wore assorted articles from various uniforms with whatever equipment could be scrounged. They both had a blue shoelace tied just below the left shoulder. Behind them was an old wooden door. Outside that door was a man waiting for me to break. He was acting a bit like a first time cook: checking on the half hour, then half of that, then every other minute. All the while, he was hoping I would suddenly become what he wanted. The old knob turned and he walked in. I was still me but he was getting hungry.
        “Do you want to tell me what you were doing out there?”
        It’s a fair question. I was far from home, about as far as a human can go. It took legs, hooves and a Datsun Sunny but I got there.
        “A little boy dropped into the woods. I had to fetch him.”
    Never let it be known that you are a good person. Definitely never let Aziz know; crusades just seem to find me these days.
        “This boy who you dropped in the woods, how much was he worth? Did he come in bricks or little bags… or maybe a big wooden crate?”
        Some people see a forest beyond civilization and decide its a storage locker, others just die with their possessions.
        “He’s just a little boy.”
        “A little boy who poofed into Hell?”
        “He fell. Like I fell. Like you fell. Like everybody falls.”
        “I didn’t fall.”
        A native, you stop getting some for a while and you forget other people still do.
        “Well some people don’t end up in convenient places.”
        “Some people should stay at their end.”
        I stared at him, then through him. There was no man there, there couldn’t be a man there. It was just something that looked like a man.
        “You sure this boy is who you think he is?”
        Beyond men, they are others, some can look like men. This one was a boy. I had saved a scared little boy. Not that I would hold a lack of manhood against someone, glass houses and all that.
        “You’re. Not. Getting. Him.”
        My backhand sense was tingling. I managed to grin. His hand was cupped around a pistol. Maybe he didn’t have any bullets. Maybe he wanted me around for a little longer. I closed my eyes and thought of better places.
        I heard a jackhammer and then a knock at the door. There were new holes in the drywall. I slowly opened my eyes.
        ;My smile grew three times.
        “What are visiting hours?”
        “Criminals don’t get visiting hours.”
        The knock came again.
        “Sir there are people outside that would like to take Amber home.”
        “That’s me by the way.”
        “We do not give away criminals.”
        “Sir, all due respect, yes we do. At least today we do.”
        “Are you talking back to me son?”
        “Sir come out here.”
        “I’m busy.”
        “Sarge come out here!”
        This time it sounded like a cracking whip. Sarge’s shoulder pretty much exploded. One pig goes to Sarge, one pig to the door. The moment the knob turned another officer fell to the ground seeping from the head. My smile died. The two luckier officers ran to the porch of the police station. Forty five Hippopotamus later my zip ties were cut and I was being helped out the front of a shotgun shack. As my eyes attuned to the sun, I saw green, green metal haphazardly put together with treads and a cannon. A tank, a tank with a giant poking out holding a large rifle, my giant. As I trudge through the mud, Haley disappeared, shoved her gun somewhere and reappeared to assess me.
        “Can you climb?”
        I whimper.
        She accepts that as a yes. We slowly climb in. I’m greeted by a space cramped with groceries and an old lady driving.
        “I found someone going our way. So I opted to ride shotgun.”
        I look a little closer at the ‘shotgun’. It’s had a big fat clip, wood all over and iron sights. As far as I could tell, it couldn’t see through doors. We would talk about that later.
        “So a tank with a girl riding shotgun, but without a gunner.”
        The old lady pipes up.
        “We don’t have room for 4 and since we don’t have room for shells either, I told Phil to stay home.”
        “Well thank you. What’s my job?”
        “Make sure the eggs don’t break.”
    She handed me a basket. I sat down as comfortably as I could manage and attend to my duty. Haley leaned into a pipe, somehow comfortably. She could sleep there, she usually sleeps in worse places. We started moving.
        “Haley, what happened to the kid?”
        “He’s safe. He speaks not Arabic.”
        “Portuguese?”
        “That’s not Spanish.”
        “Farsi?”
        “That’s it.”
        ;“Do we have any frozen vegetables I can borrow?”
        Haley handed me a can of peas, which can’t help swelling. Oh well, I already had a win.

She That is I am

     It was black and oozing out her mouth, dribbling on the floor like a cast aside Pollack sketch. It was a thick ink and there was an ocean still inside. She could feel it urge up her and she could keep it there, in that breath. If she keeps calm and deliberate she can keep her insides for hours, days but those are far away hands. She can see a second spin into a minute and then she seizes in the shoulders and she can’t do anything but excise the poison.

     There are daisies, grass and a sun all made with thick strokes of black. House and cathedrals are all built in the same sloppy earnest frame. In the sky the majestic w flies. Somewhere above, the lady still drips and spews. Her fingers work tirelessly.

The Far Flung Future of 1999

          The future is a scary place with towering insurmountable white walls. It’s a three mile square smack dab in the middle of Dis and its residents are almost unknowable. I had business there. I had a bit of something that they didn’t want me to have. It might have been a battery, maybe a bomb; it was plasticine, purple and has a coil. Haley was nervous; I was nervous too but I knew I didn’t have a firearm. Haley was less comfortable unarmed, despite her arms being twice mine in strength and length.
          “Maybe you should stay behind.”
          She seemed a little hurt by that but there’s not much logic that says I was wrong. After 2160, Humanity gets jumpy and you can never quite tell what a man who’s decided to wear a white lycra bodysuit with a bright red tie thinks is sensible. There was one on either side scanning traffic going in. Their posture told me that the power tools in their hands were actually weapons. I could almost make out the text being displayed on their huge granny sunglasses. I suppose it was weather and sports scores, maybe celebrity gossip.
          This corridor was about long enough to cross a decent river and we were quickly approaching the point where leaving would be inconvenient or worse, suspicious. If I didn’t return the purple thingmabop they’d come looking for it surely. The scanners were quickly approaching and the solemn ridiculous guards were beginning to pick up on the nervousness of my friend. I promptly found Haley’s hand and she looked down at me. I tried to sing a little under my breath.
          …out of the blue and into the black…
          The trick to lullabies is there not for the baby, they’re for the parent. I use to sing Sex and Candy when fiddling with diapers. Kept me calm. I was never any good at it though.
          I was hoping that there was a transitive property to my calm, despite it never working before. Seemed to. I stepped through the scanner first.
          1999, Homo Sapient. 91 kilos. Cleared for Sector 1.
          The LCD seemed smug. I wasn’t going to argue, especially when I had a favorable answer at home. It was Haley’s turn.
          ????, ????, 120 kilos. Contaminant.
          Red lights, sirens and powered drills aimed at my friends head: calm was gone. I was pointing what looked like a studfinder back at them; stunguns didn’t even really look intimidating back in the day. Every part of the standoff was bluffing to a degree, but they had 3 clear advantages: (1) I knew their guns killed (2) I had one feasible shot, while they were 2 (3) My gun only stunned. To my surprises, Haley had not pulled out that revolver of hers. Too bad, the Old West somehow just knew how to stay imposing through the years.
          After a couple seconds I holstered my incredibly dangerous Builder’s Square bargain bin weapon. Slowly I pulled out the purple thing and put it at my feet, very calm, very cool.
          “This is yours. We’re done?”
          They didn’t speak English, they didn’t deem it prudent. Their Hiatachis lowered to the ground. Me and my friend slowly backed out of the line. After an awkward close to a mile backtrack we were out.
          “Sorry I cost you that finder’s fee.”
          “Oh, wasn’t like I needed it.”
          True, it was clothes I needed… and food.
          “Amber?”
          “Uh huh?”
          “You’re holding my hand again.”
          So I was.

The Clunker’s Soul

      It’s not a bad price to pay. I don’t mind really. The AC and heat both work. The stereo is aftermarket and way better than the standard Plymouth fare. I actually prefer stick, so that’s not a problem. I do wonder why one would have a dark green vehicle labeled Neon but I rarely buy a car for the color. It’s a perfectly working car and I don’t feel $500 was too much.
      “Can we go to the beach?”
      FM, AM, bluetooth, mp3 doesn’t matter, it’ll ask me just the same. It’s always such a low voice. Makes me wonder if the speakers are going out.
      “I can’t, this city really hasn’t got one.”
      The old girl always wants to go to the beach.
      “Is it warm out?”
      “Yes.”
      The heat is on full blast, it’s November.
      “Oh I can feel it.”
      I don’t doubt it, the heater is really powerful.
      “Are you comfortable?”
      “Oh I’m fine. Can we go to the beach?”
      I turn the fan up, I just need a little while with my thoughts. I’m kinda liking the idea of the beach too, but there are student loans to pay and rent’s due and I don’t know exactly how much groceries will cost. I’m just stuck.
      …So’s she. There is a little bit of her left in the wheelbase: you can’t ever clean it that well and she was all in there. I know because she told me back when we’d have longer conversations. I think most of her climbed up the lines and got trapped in the battery. The guy at Pep Boys doesn’t agree, but he doesn’t have to make sense of it. He just wanted to replace the battery, the stock battery, of a car made in 1996.
      Oh God.      $3.50 a gallon right now, 31 mpg highway…
      “Can we go to the beach?”
      “Soon.”
      It’s not a bad price to pay. Others pay more.

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