Category Archives: Short Fiction

Working Class Junkie

“The problem with addicts,” said my aunt, “is they have no will power. If they had any sense at all, they would stop using. They all need to grow up and learn that life can’t always be one big party.”

            I was too dope sick to argue. It wasn’t really worth arguing, either. No amount of logic would change her mind; she was committed to her ignorance. I wiped the sweat from my forehead and pulled my black beanie over my ears. My Carhartt jacket was warm enough but lacked a hood, and it was a frosty, mid-November day in Nevada. The dawn sky was fretting gray and threatening snow. I felt a chill creep up through my bones as I stepped into the garage to leave, but that didn’t keep a steady stream of sweat from forming on my face. I was faintly sick and hungry. Even if I’d had money for food, I wouldn’t have eaten. Who knew if I’d be able to cop before I started puking?

            Anxiety gnawed on me like an abused dog—my thoughts chased each other in useless circles despite my attempt to breathe deep and calm the fuck down. I just had to keep it together until I could fix. What choice did I have? It wasn’t like anything was going to get better if I rested a bit. No, I’d be immobilized sick for a week or more if I went cold turkey now, and I couldn’t afford to miss that much work. There was nothing for it but to soldier on.

            The Aveo wouldn’t start in these temperatures without a blast of starting fluid, which meant popping the hood and unscrewing the cover to the air filter, then putting it all back together. First-world problems, right? It wasn’t my car, but I’d been driving it long enough to have become more or less efficient at the starting process. The need for me to find my own vehicle now that I lived far out of town weighed heavily on me, joining the wolfpack of anxiety running down my sanity.

            I drove the unregistered car thirty minutes to Reno, quietly thanking God for letting me pass undetected by highway patrol. I made some phone calls as I drove. It was too early for many drug addicts and dealers, but I might catch some still up from the night before, some may have even been up for days. The ones who worked construction, like me, were already at work for the most part. I had been laid off for several months, but had managed to stay busy with a friend of mine hustling side jobs for cash while drawing unemployment. My drug habit had grown quite expensive. Coupled with the sky-rocketing cost of gas, food, and especially rent, my life was completely unsustainable financially if something didn’t change. Yet another wolf in the pack. Some party, huh auntie?

            I showed up to Jimmy’s house, where we met each day before work. I went directly to the garage, where he was lighting the wood stove.

            “Morning,” I said. Jimmy looked up.

            “Morning. Not feeling well?”

            “Is it that obvious?” I asked.

He chuckled and returned to his fire.

Suddenly, my stomach heaved, and I gagged. I snatched up the wastebasket and violently dry-heaved over it, producing only a few tablespoons of frothy, yellow, evil-tasting bile. It was like a stain on my tongue. Again I grew hot, started sweating profusely, yet as soon as I slipped out of my Carhartt, the moisture on my neck and face seemed to freeze into ice, and a chill washed over me from the inside out. I yawned, suddenly feeling completely enervated.

“Can you get anything?” Jimmy asked. He knew what I needed. I always tried not to let dope sickness keep me from working, but once it got bad enough I was useless as a carpenter. Just as I was about to answer in the negative, my phone sounded a bamboo knock, indicating I had a new text. Thank fucking God!

“Tito’s gonna front me some blues. I’m gonna bounce and pick them up. I’ll meet you at the job.”

“Okay brother, see you there,” he said.

On the freeway, my nausea returned. All my symptoms were intensifying. I couldn’t pull off the road, and I didn’t want to puke in my lap, so I rolled down the window frantically, holding my vomit back with straining lips.

Belly mustard exploded out of my mouth, but at freeway speed it blew instantly back in my face—covering my sunglasses, cheeks, hair, and both the inside and outside of my buddy’s car door. At least I didn’t crash.

I arrived at Tito’s, feeling less nauseated, but boiling over with anxiety. My body ached like I had the flu. Walking up his shoddy porch steps winded me and left me with fever chills. I was soaked with sweat.

Tito sold fake pills made to look like 30mg Oxycontin, but which were actually fentanyl. That’s why I wanted them: they were strong enough to overcome my tolerance. They were also killing people who didn’t know what they were taking.

Tito served me up, and I promised to pay him on Friday. He still fronted me because I’d never burned him. A lot of dealers won’t front, especially the ones who serve fiends. And I don’t blame them. But Tito and I had a solid dealer/junkie relationship. Hell, he used more than I did, and that helped me feel less taken advantage of then if he strictly sold them.

I loaded one on a square of foil and melted it down, sucking up the burnt-popcorn smoke through the cut-off body of a Bic pen—a “tooter”. I held that sweet, savory smoke in as long as possible. By the second hit, I felt worlds better. My nausea vanished; I stopped sweating, and my anxiety lessened, one predator at a time until only the echoes of wolf hounds drifted into a soft background static. My body aches dissipated. I actually felt a smile emerging. I was ready to go to work. A sense of relief washed over me. I thought about my aunt, then, as I left Tito’s to work for the day. I thought about her enjoying the kind of party I’d had that morning so much she wouldn’t be able to stop, and I laughed for the first time that day.

Kamikaze Love

The fight was bad. Angela asked when she could come get her stuff. I told her the sooner the better, then made sure to box up any gifts she’d given me along with the handful of personal items she’d left there. I thrust the box at her when she pulled up.

            “Oh, that’s real nice,” she hissed in that quietly venomous way she had when she was monstrously angry. I raised an eyebrow and attempted to maintain a mask of boredom, like she wasn’t tearing my heart out of my chest by leaving me. She took the box, dropped my one-time gifts in the green, driveway trash bin, and hopped back in her car to drive out of my life for good. Or so I thought.

            A few hours and a several Coronas later, my cell phone rang. It was Angela.

            “Hello,” I answered.

            “Hey. I’m sorry, but I didn’t know who else to call.” Her voice was softer, shaken, not at all the way it was when I’d last seen her.

            “Why? What’s up? Are you oaky?” All the trite bullshit surrounding our argument dissolved in the face of whatever real-world tragedy must’ve prompted her to forget her initial anger and call me.

            “I’m okay, just a little shook up. I was over at Joy’s house when her husband came home drunk and started yelling at us and punching the walls. He threatened to hit me and Joy, but he didn’t. I knew he was a pussy.” She spoke tough, like she always did, but I knew she was no match for Joy’s husband, who was a pipefitter and supposedly some kind of martial artist. I’d met him once, and the thought of him threatening my girlfriend, whether or not we were currently together, filled me with rage.

            “I’ll be right there,” I said, any trace of resentment toward her gone. I jammed my car into drive and kept the needle at ninety all the way there, the possibility of a DUI never entering my thoughts. I pulled into the riverside trailer park that Joy called home. Her husband’s absurdly lifted truck was nowhere in sight. I located the girls.

            “Thanks for coming,” Angela said as she hugged me. Joy stepped forward to hug me as well, but I turned abruptly away, pretending not to see what she was doing. Angela’s hug felt like absolution from our earlier hostilities, like there were too many people against us in the world for us to waste time fighting each other.

            Joy’s husband had been drinking with his friend, who’d left his Volkswagen Bug parked in the driveway, so we knew they’d be back. We had convened to inside the trailer, and busied ourselves with passing a glass meth pipe between us. I felt my beer buzz retreat in the face of the stimulant. My previously dulled senses sharpened right up. I was ready for a fight.

            I waited outside, partially concealed in shadow, while the girls took a loop around the park in Angela’s car. They let me know via text that her husband and his ridiculous truck were headed my direction. I felt relatively calm despite the ice I’d smoked, and the possibility of impending violence. The girls beat him to the trailer, but not by much. Two men stepped out of the truck, one about my height and wearing coveralls and a beanie, the other slouching and goblin-like, his hair springing from his head in greasy curls. The taller one, Joy’s husband, stomped straight at me, while his sidekick wormed over to my left, attempting to flank me. I could hear Joy yelling something behind me, like some kind of evil cheerleader.

            “Don’t come any closer. Just turn around and go home.”

            He didn’t slow his advance in the slightest.

            “Don’t come any closer man, I’m telling ya.”

            He started to say something, but I was too busy closing the distance and hitting him on the side of his face to listen. I heard Joy yelling something like “not so tough now” and “kick his ass J—”. He staggered and fell, and I followed him to the ground and kept hitting him in the head. Joy’s cries changed to “stop, stop” and “don’t hit him anymore”. Many people think violence sounds like a good idea until they see the reality of it. His buddy was still slinking off to my side, getting closer to Angela and Joy than I cared to have him.

            “Watch that fucking guy!” I yelled and pointed at him. I was up on one knee perched atop Joy’s semi-conscious husband. Believing the sidekick to be more dangerous than he was, I decided to finish Joy’s husband as quickly as possible by driving my knife into the base of his skull. I reached for my knife, which I always kept clipped to my right-side pocket. Luckily for me, it had fallen off in the tussle.

            Before I could figure out what to do, Angela menaced the sidekick with a self-defense spike she kept on her key chain and shouted, “Back up motherfucker or I will fucking stab you!” I believed that statement more than anything she’d ever said up to that point. He took a couple steps back, obviously he was a believer as well.

            I’d been in plenty of fights because of girls before, but this was the first time one ever had my back in a street fight. The moment I heard Angela’s promise to ventilate that dude, I fell instantly in love. If we weren’t both divorced and disgusted with marriage, I may have proposed to her then and there.

            I let Joy’s husband up, and the two headed back into the night, a little bruised about the face and egos. I found my knife laying in the driveway. I picked it up, shaking a little as I realized how close I’d just come to spending the rest of my life in prison over a dumb-ass fight. Angela and I left Joy there and went back to my house and fucked each other silly. I always thought that was the best way to make-up after a fight.


She found him hiding in the far corner of the back yard where the brush had overgrown the barbed wire fence. He’d fallen asleep in the dusty, pungent shade beneath the deep azure of the Nevada sky.

            “Wake up,” she trilled, her voice envenomed with sarcasm and disdain. “What kind of man sleeps out in the weeds like a dog? What a loser. Sitting out here all alone in the dust when you should be inside spending time with your wife.” He felt himself growing more insubstantial, as if her words were heating up and cooking off the very essence of his being. “You know, most men prefer to spend time with their wives. They don’t try to hide from them. You are such a child. How old are you?”

            He staggered to his feet and thought for a moment he might lose his balance. He opened his mouth to assert himself, to warn her not to speak to him in such a manner, but his voice cowered in his throat. Was he getting shorter? Though he stood at his full height, his gaze was level with her mouth. Jesus, her mouth—the fleshy portal issuing forth a constant miasma, the toothy gate to his personal Hell.

            “Nothing to say for yourself?” she continued. He didn’t lower his gaze, yet he was sure he was staring at a lower point on her face than he was a moment before. What was happening to him? “Go on. Explain to me what you’re doing out here. At least be man enough to tell me that much to my face.” He opened his mouth and shut it like a fish gulping air. He brandished his shaking forefinger to no avail. His face reddened, growing hot with his impotence, and he turned a stomped back toward the house. Dusk was approaching now, and he was glad. Perhaps the darkness would hide his shame. His wife called after him, “Great! Yeah. Just walk away. Keep ignoring me. Now you want to go inside. Isn’t that convenient? What kind of man did I marry after all? Are you even a man?” She was still taunting him when he slid the glass porch door shut. He jogged up the stairs, grateful for the reprieve of silence. He went straight to the bathroom and shutting and locking the door behind him. A moment later he heard the whisper of the slider opening.

            He looked in the mirror, determined to find out what kind of man indeed couldn’t stand up to his shrew of a wife. He was shocked when he realized he could barely see his eyes reflected because he was so short. He hadn’t seen a mirror from this elevation since he was a child. Even more disturbing than his lost height was his growing insubstantiality: he was becoming steadily less opaque. He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head, hoping to clear this hallucination from his vision, but when he gazed upon his reflection again, only the barest outline remained, like God had lightly sketched in his existence then gave up.

            She let fly another verbal volley of abuse. He knew now he was a goner.

In the Bowels of the Devil

“Bowels of the devil / let me tell you what the muthafucka eats” –Body Count

By February I’d made it into Lovelock, and just as I’d hoped, the screws placed me in the PC Unit. That stands for protective custody, but what it really means is Punk City. It’s where they put all the chomos and snitches—inmates the state has to segregate from the convicts who want them tits up and leaking out in the yard. Not that the state cares what happens to them, but the prisons have to project a façade of humanity and justice. PC cases make me fucking sick.

Now you might say to me, “Joey Cant, you’re a snitch, so you should fit right in.” Yeah, I’m a snitch. But on my skin, I didn’t rat anybody out to save myself. I’m no punk, and I can hold my mud. What I did, I did from a righteous place. I had a reason. I’m not happy about being a snitch. I swore I’d never rat on anybody. Seems like people often become what they hate. But I made up for it, believe that.

I had things rough growing up, so I jumped out at thirteen in order to get away from that apartment full of hell. My father was totally sober—no drugs, not even a glass of wine. He had other addictions. I took the opposite path. I stole my first twelve-pack from the grocery store at eight years old. I held it together long enough to walk in and walk out. No one noticed, and if they did, they didn’t care. I drank one after another in an alley behind the store while sobbing uncontrollably until I blacked out. I learned if I stayed drunk, I wouldn’t have to face what was going on. Drugs worked way better than booze. Pot was ok, and I gaffled anything with a prescription label I could find. Two days after my twelfth birthday some older cats at a party lined me out with some meth. That was the same night I met P—–. We became road dogs real quick. We did what we thought at the time was a lot of dope. P—– even learned how to cook from one of his uncles. When I left home, I had a good enough connect to sling dope, so that’s what I did. That crystal is a motherfucker though man; that’s no lie. I went from doing key bumps and tiny lines to keep up with the cluckers I was selling to, to melting puddles and snorting hot rails. I never shot it though; I promised myself I’d never mainline. I held my own for about three years, using, but not heavily.

After my homeboy learned to cook, we started smoking day and night. P—– helped his uncle out with his operation and we had plenty to sell and to smoke. I always had dope, so I always had pussy too. Shit man, I was living the American dream right? I had money and bitches. I worked my own hours. I didn’t own a big house with a white picket fence, but I could fly higher than any private jet. The dope game is capitalism in its purest form. But my American dream became my American nightmare.

There’s not a feeling in the world like that first rush after blowing out a huge rolling fog from a hit of crystal meth. It’s like a free-form orgasm and full body massage all rolled into one. Watching those shards melt as you twist the glass—and watching them crack back as they cool—is beautiful. It feels like being possessed by a demon of ecstasy. That feeling doesn’t last though. Before long, I was smoking just to keep from coming down. I’d sleep an hour, maybe two here and there. I wouldn’t even call it sleep, more like momentary oblivion while my body shutdown. When I finally crashed, I slept for close to a week. I was headed for prison by then.

I started geeking real hard. I saw trolls and gnomes popping out of bushes on a daily basis. LSD hallucinations got nothing on what you see, hear, and believe when you’re sleep deprived and twacked out. Day and night, whole communities of shadow people lived in my peripherals. I heard their whispering conversations, but they were elusive as mirages—always darting away when I turned to look at them. I heard voices in my heater vents. I spent hours peering out of a carefully lifted window blind into the parking lot below my apartment. If I turned the lights off, my whole living room would fill up with phantasms—dead friends and family members, old girlfriends, teachers from elementary school. I saw skulls leering at me with their empty sockets from underneath the cracks of a closed door. Someone traded me a pistol, a 9mm Beretta, for an eight ball. I kept it loaded and packed it in a stolen holster everywhere I went. I even shot it once after walking home from P—–‘s because I thought someone was following me.

I started staying home more—locked up in my pad, selling less—spending my time melting shimmering shards into bubbling pools and blowing clouds of pure white smoke. I turned the piece with precision, never burning the dope. I was obsessed with the ritual of glass, crystal, smoke, and flame. As I’ve said, it was beautiful. But my paranoia became an entity onto itself. It was my invisible boogey man, lurking in every shadow, every pipe. Often I crouched in darkness in my living room, hiding behind my couch, gun in my hand, listening to the clock tick, tick, tick, tick, tick until my muscles seized with the tension. I kept right on smoking though.

P—– met a broad named Leann, his own little Spinderella, who convinced him to give her the ice he was fronting me. I can’t blame him really. He wasn’t really fronting it anymore, since I wasn’t moving it. I’d become a meth charity case. He kept me in supply because we were both junkies and he thought he was doing me a favor. But even he didn’t have enough to support two big habits besides his own. At least she was giving up the pussy to stay high. I wasn’t even talking to him that much anymore. P—– cutting me off probably saved my life. I still had contacts, and I still stayed high, but not like I did when P—– was cooking.

It didn’t take long to smoke up what little I owned. After my eviction, I couch-surfed until I ran out of suckers to use. Then I took to sleeping by the river. During the summer, I didn’t really mind. I felt like I was camping. I spent most of my time watching girls in bikinis and panhandling. Somehow, I’d managed to hold on to my nine and two magazines. I jacked a few tourists and boosted electronics and tools when I could—this kept me in enough go-fast to stave off facing the things inside me that emerged in silence and sobriety. Even got me laid despite my filthy clothes and pungent odor. Summer went away and my life turned to shit. The cold weather made being homeless far worse. I developed a hacking cough like some kind of goblin. I had almost nothing left and nowhere to go.

On Christmas Eve I had a teener in my pocket and the muzzle of the nine in my mouth as I sat shivering violently under a bridge downtown. I don’t believe there’s a god in charge of this fucked-up mess of a world—and if there is, he’s a sick son of a bitch—but I had a revelation the moment before I pulled the trigger, like a celestial pimp-slap. I took the piece out of my mouth. For the first time in my life, I had a purpose. And I mean something other than trying to cop a sack. I had a reason to live—one worth dying for too. My path was clear. My tribulations faded into nothing. I existed to serve one righteous function now. I only felt freedom like that again one more time in my life.

I crawled out from under that bridge and trolled for rollers until I found a black and white parked at a Taco Bell. The pigs were inside eating, nice and warm, laughing—probably about some homeless woman they just threw in the frigid river. I stepped close enough that my breath left fleeting ghosts on the window. I reached underneath my stained hoodie and withdrew the piece tucked into my waistline. They saw me then. One made a shooing gesture and then patted his pepper spray without putting down his Chalupa. He didn’t see what I had in my hand. I stepped back, sat down on the hood of their car, and loaded the piece. That got their fat asses up. I flicked my lighter and brought the glass stem to my lips, twisting it from two-to-ten. As I blew out my hit, they blasted me with pepper spray. I exhaled one poison only to inhale another, nothing new to me. I busted the bigger one in the jaw. I told you I wasn’t a punk. My swing had no juice because of the pepper spray overwhelming my system, but I think I made my point. The pigs wanted to make a point too, so they went to work on me with their nightsticks. In the end though, I got what I’d set out for: a possession charge for the one-sixteenth of an ounce of methamphetamine I had left. The assault on an officer, the Berretta, and my priors ensured me a prison bit. How long didn’t matter to me. I was already locked-up inside my head. That’s why I put a gun in my mouth and almost pulled the trigger in the first place—I wanted to escape.

As soon as I’d healed up enough to speak, I started putting on the big show. I acted like the law expected a junkie should—out for myself and dumb as dirt. My priors pointed to trafficking, but they had never nailed me with anything big before this. Now they put the pressure on me to give up names, assuring me safety and a reduced sentence. Whatever. I rolled over on some Mexican cats I had scant dealings with in the past, some carnales connected to La Eme—effectively sentencing myself to death—but more importantly, ensuring that I landed in PC. I insisted they send me up to Lovelock as part of my deal, gave them some bullshit about feeling at home there. I hate Lovelock. I always have.

Turning snitch didn’t sit well with me. I pulled it off, but later, back in my cell, I wondered if it was all worth it. I suddenly wanted that pistol back so I could make everything right. But I kept my purpose in mind. I re-created the feeling of my epiphany under the bridge as best I could. Remembering helped—it got me through.

They processed me, sent me up to Lovelock Correctional Center, and placed me in segregation. I spent the time outside my cell keeping to myself as much as possible. I didn’t pry into anyone’s shit, and I didn’t let anyone pry into mine. It took me some time to adjust, to learn the ropes. Once I did, I took up watching chess games on my tier. I had played chess with my dad growing up, and he never once let me win. Only way I’d get better, he’d say. I had never played anyone but him, so I gave it try. I picked the game up quickly. I guess my pops taught me something after all. He taught me everything I know, really. I smoked one diddler and rat after another. After a few months, I’d beaten every player on my tier except one. Lloyd. No one knew his last name. People started bumpin’ their gums about how he was better than me, and how I wouldn’t play him because I was afraid to lose my rep as the best player. I kept saying I’d play him. I’d say what’s the rush? We got all the time in the world. That usually shut ‘em down. No one liked to head trip too hard on that reality.

I knew one of the bulls, a dude named Jake who used to buy from me, so I’d chat it up with him whenever possible. I knew the effect these conversations would have, so I threw down on the first bitch I heard mumbling about me being a leg-rider. The fight got me pencil whipped and I racked up some more charges, but the talk stopped; I’d nutted up on him and stomped him when he was down. What did it matter what charges administration saw fit to add? I had no illusions about ever being gated out. I watched my back and kept on keeping on. I was clean now, had been since my stint in the ICU, courtesy of the Taco Bell pigs. Though I had access to dope in small amounts, I steered clear. My head felt cold and sharp. I spent too much time focused on getting by to be haunted by my past. Even when things were slow, my purpose kept my fear down. I when I abandoned my old life, I abandoned my ghosts too. Well, almost. I hit the iron pile daily. I was eating healthier than I ever had, I was working out, and I was sober. I was the fittest I’d ever been. Prison life honed my body, and my purpose honed my spirit. Like the Peter Tosh song, I was a walking razor. I kept up my conversations with Jake, and we helped each other out a few times, on the down so as not cause unnecessary trouble. There are no secrets in prison, but I only needed a little more time.

In spring, the screws held a chess tourney. I still hadn’t played the champ, Lloyd, though I made it known I intended to win the tourney. Lloyd was a quiet man. He had been some kind of accountant or data entry cat on the outside. Though I did my best to avoid him, I did catch a glimpse of him a few times at chow. He kept his eyes to his plate and his jaw trembled when he ate. I’d heard he taught illiterate prisoners how to read, often successfully. He had some kind of white-collar jacket, but nobody knew the length of his bit. The stories conflicted—some said a dime, others said he’d be gated out in a year. I even heard someone say he was a lifer. A white-collar lifer? That shit didn’t add up. I knew that already.

The day of the tourney came. Everybody talked it up, screws included. Everyone wanted to forget about where they were. Diversion. Diversion is what keeps you sane inside. Books, games, drugs, television. Not too different for most people on the outside really. The chess tourney was an escape from the nightmare routine of prison and, as such, generated a great deal of excitement. Lloyd and I began in different divisions, which I am sure was fixed to heighten the excitement. I defeated one player after another, never losing a match. Lloyd did the same. He kept glancing at me, never holding my gaze. I had bulked up considerably and not too many cats held my gaze anyway, especially in this unit. He looked at me the way someone does when they think they see an old friend in the supermarket, but they don’t want to walk up and start blabbing to a possible stranger. The timed matches lasted throughout the day until both Lloyd and I eliminated everyone in our divisions. Ours was the last game, as predicted. Finally I had my shot at Lloyd.

After a thirty minute break, the guards had set up a card table, draped with a sheet and arranged the pieces on a beat-up board. Jack stood by, waiting. He held a black piece in one hand and a white piece in the other. Due to his seniority, Lloyd would pick a hand thus determining the sides. We approached the table and Lloyd eyeballed me. He was clearly troubled by my presence, but I don’t think he knew why. I must’ve seemed familiar to him in some vague, forgotten way. When we reached the chairs I looked at Jake. A ghost of a cruel smile fleeted across his face and he dropped the pieces.

“Shit,” he said and bent over to pick them up.

“Hi Dad,” I said as if I were a middle-class kid just walking in the door of our suburban house after baseball practice. “Looks like it’s your turn to get fucked.”

He recognized me then, I could read that much in his face. I side-stepped the table before he could speak. Jake was still fumbling around with the chess pieces—he knew the real reason Lloyd was doing life in this shit-hole. Lloyd was slow, and didn’t even raise his hands as my initial thrust pierced the side of his neck. I withdrew the shank just as quickly as I’d inserted it, and he buckled as a gout of hot blood splashed over my arm. He released a gurgling, inhuman shriek—befitting the monster he was. A great cacophony of shouts and voices and clambering bodies descended around me, but I ignored it all, enraptured with executing justice. My mind emptied of all thought. I experienced freedom in pure awareness. I knew only the sensations of that fleeting moment—my arm pumping like a deadly piston, the sucking sound of contraband steel pulled repeatedly from his flesh, the stink of his innards and released bowels, his face contorted with agony, his eyes ablaze with terror. I wondered how many times he’d seen that same look in my eyes.

His screams ended as abruptly as they had begun, and I dropped the shank, panting heavily. The cacophony rolled over me like a tsunami. The floor reeked of blood and meat. The moment passed and my purpose died with my father.

I returned to my prison, and longed to be back under the bridge.

The General’s Head

“What is it now?” damn he’s annoying. All I want to do is finish my nap.

“I’m having a problem with him again. He won’t eat his gruel. Says it tastes like monkey poop.”

I want to fly out of bed and lock my hands around Jason’s skinny neck and squeeze until my fingers snap. Instead I take a deep breath and whip the covers out of my way. My pajamas are thin as rice paper, and I feel the cold air shriveling my nuts. Why did I get chosen to work in a stupid cave? What the hell did I ever do to anybody? I mean damn it anyway, I’ve sucked more ass than a gay mosquito, and still I get stuck babysitting a freaking head.

“I’m gonna drown that moron in his gruel.” I take long strides, setting Jason’s stumpy legs scurrying to keep up.

“You shouldn’t talk about the General like that. He’s a great man. Without him, the slugs would’ve got us for sure.”

Jason’s sniveling slithers into my ears, threatening to drive me to rash acts. I stop and pivot sharply. The little rat bounces off my chest and stumbles back. As he tries to catch his balance I crack him a good one on the mouth with the back of my hand. He clutches his already-swelling lips and cowers as I make to smite him again.

“Don’t tell me how to talk about anyone, understand? Everyone thinks it’s so goddamn funny that I’m the Head Nurse, don’t they? Even you, you whinny little turd. I’ve caught you snickering behind my back! You can’t even feed the freakish thing, and you’re gonna tell me all about how great the General is? I’d rather the slugs have pulled me down into their stinking hell with the rest of the Southsiders. It would have been better than playing caterer to an ungrateful, gangrenous head. Now get yourself together, shut up, and let’s get this over with so I can get back to sleep.”

The twerp quivers like a wet chihuahua as he stands up and smooths out his muddy smock. I really don’t like Jason. I never have. We proceed the rest of the way to LAB 7a in cold silence. I slide my level one ID card through the slot and the laser instantly decodes the information. The reinforced steel door before me swooshes open, and like always, I feel like I’m in a goddamn episode of Star Trek.

LAB 7a greets us with the usual potent stink of formaldehyde and rotting flesh. I just never get used to that smell. My stomach jerks and tries to liberate my lunch. My mouth waters and fills with pre-vomit bile, but I force the whole delicious mouthful back from whence it came. I spot what’s left of the General.

General Justin Cornhower Jr., decorated war veteran, began his career as a draftee in the Conflict in the Middle East and soon discovered he had a penchant for military service. He rose through the ranks in the subsequent and frequent wars at an uncanny pace, finally landing himself inside the upper echelon of the Pentagon. About a year or two later the slugs came. It seemed a much-anticipated meteor was going to strike the Earth after all, but don’t panic they said, it’s much smaller than originally thought. What they didn’t say however, was that it was infested with colonies of semi-solid parasites that bore an innate hankering for human blood. Within a week, half the population of the southern hemisphere had been turned to gelatin and sucked into the ground. They drank us like soda pops on a hot day. General Cornhower, while de-escalating a nuclear pissing contest between India and Pakistan, fell victim to a slug and remains the only survivor of a slug attack to date.

He was subjected to considerably less of the body-dissolving goo than most victims, and some folks account his miraculous and gruesome recovery to this fact. And there are those still clinging to a tattered faith in a benevolent omnipotence that feel he was chosen by the Grand Wazoo to lead the human race to victory. Some even whisper that he’s the second incarnation of Christ, come to crack a few sinful skulls. Whatever he is, all he’s got left is his own head, pumped full of brain-stimulating chemicals and shocked to life every ten minutes. Since his attack four years ago, he’s learned to tune into the primal hive-mind shared by the slugs. All the science geeks figure it has something to do with the residual parasites still feeding on his flesh. He’s a living detection system and the sole early warning system for enemy attacks. All that aside, he’s a stinky, hateful prick.

He’s thrashing around on his serving platter, wallowing in overturned NutraGruel and howling as a surge of life-sustaining electricity rips through him. What’s left of his thinning hair stands straight out from his scalp, like gray needles stabbed into a pin cushion. I suppress my laughter with some difficulty.

“General, sir,” I choke out the words, trying not to sound like I want to play basketball with his moldy melon. “Jason tells me you’re giving him problems with the gruel again. We’re not going to have another incident, are we?”

“NutraGruel tastes like monkey poop and you know it! Christ in Heaven! Don’t we have any chicken noodle soup around here?” His words issue from speakers wired into his vocal cords in a disturbing, mechanical voice—kind of like a trash can trying to talk through an amplifier. Watching his head rock back and forth with the motion of his jaw makes me queasy, so I avert my eyes.

“Sir, as I’ve stated countless times, NutraGruel is the only sustenance you can intake when you’re lacking things like a lower body and a stomach. What the hell are you going to do with chicken soup? Slurp it up and piss it out your neck?” As I speak, I feel my tenuous control over my anger dissolving further. “You need this paste, and you need to let it absorb under your tongue. Like it or not. And if you’re not going to eat it on your own, I’m going to stuff you like a Thanksgiving turkey full of the nasty stuff.” That voice I try to ignore in the back of my head hisses at me that I’ve gone too far, that after all, he is a General. Too late now, I guess.

Gen. Cornhower shoots me a look born both of hatred and shock. I feel him willing me to die, trying to kill me through an act of sheer mentation.

I snort and force a grin.

“So how ‘bout it? Are you going to eat your dinner or choke on it?”

Silence. We stare at each other for what seems like an hour, locked in a kind of old west showdown. High Noon, just me and the head. Finally, I break and scoop up a double portion of monkey poop in my right hand and advance on the General in a semi-crouch. I see the strategic fires leap up behind his eyes, plotting, conniving. Damn, this isn’t going to be easy.

“Touch me and I’ll bite your heathen fingers off, so help me Jesus,” he barks, snapping his teeth together to emphasize his threat. That’s when I bolt forward and try to snatch him off his tray with my other hand. Why is he grinning?

Ah, no, the shocks! How could I forget about that? Just as I grab a handful of gruel-greased hair, electricity rips through the both of us. I swear I hear him laughing.

I can’t scream. All my muscles contract at once in a burning symphony of galvanism. My teeth feel ready to crack in the vice of my jaw. I want dearly to let go of the General and punt him like a football, but my hands only clench tighter. The electricity ceases, and I collapse, hair smoking and nerves aflame. My last thought before I fade out is this: It’s not quite as funny from this end.

I open my eyes to behold Jason’s weasel-like mug grinning down at me. My body is blessedly numb from a morphine drip.

“I guess I’ll be spending time in the brig, eh?” I grunt more than speak.

“No, the General said you were helping him eat when the LifePulse fired out of sequence,” he says and his thin grin wriggles back into place.

Well I’ll be dipped. I thought the old stump would’ve ratted me out and asked that I be drawn and quartered.

It’s then I realize the General is a great man. Now the two of us get along fairly well. We have an unspoken understanding and mutual respect. I keep all that to myself, though, at least around Jason.


It was one of those days—a dark and stagnant day, devoid of joy or reason—black and cold and empty as distant space. Jeffrey marshaled his feeble resources and forced himself to take a shower. He wondered how a task could one day be mundane and common, yet the next take a feat of will power to accomplish. It was one more joyless thought in a stream of hopelessness. He had so much that needed doing—cleaning, writing a resume, finding work, finishing side jobs, making payment arrangements for his unpaid bills—and by late afternoon he had barely managed a shower.

Coupled with his emotional malfunction, Jeffrey was developing a monster headache. What started out as an uncomfortable pressure behind his eyes and tension at the base of his skull crescendoed to a brilliant star of a pain blazing in place of his brain. The slightest stimuli, be it sound, light, or motion sent lightning agony tearing through his head. The pain was enough to bring nausea.

The headache was an odd comfort, however, because it replaced the haunting apathy with something palpably wrong, which alleviated some of his spiritual angst despite the immense pain. By midnight, he longed to replace the headache with depression. Whatever comfort it had been at first had long dissipated. He lay perfectly still, not wanting to risk a chain reaction of misery by turning his head or adjusting his body. The tick of the clock and his ragged breathing were the only sounds inside his cold, dark apartment, and the clock crashed like thunder to him with each passing second.

Sleep came to him like an angel of mercy. His dreams were pained, relentless episodes of being overcome by quicksand, by vines, by bills, by death. He had a vague memory of birth and light upon awakening at three AM, but it faded like candle smoke in a gust.

The pain in his head had subsided to a dull ache, which was blissful by comparison. He thought it odd how the absence of pain could transmute into pleasure—but he was immensely grateful to feel any measure of joy: it was like a single breath of air to a drowning man—ephemeral as it was invaluable. For the first time in hours he was able to rise from the couch. He turned up the thermostat and listened to the heater kick on. He was surprised to find himself hungry. He’d been so devoid of desire the past thirty hours, the presence of it felt momentarily alien. But humans are nothing if not birthers of desire.

Eventually his hunger outgrew his apathy and motivated him enough to dress, find his keys and wallet, and venture out into the winter night. Unable to afford the registration and insurance on his Ford Fiesta, he opted to walk to the Latino corner store.

It was warm inside and clinically bright. Primary colors assailed his vision—rows of shampoo bottles, stacked next to beans, arranged next to a rainbow of hard candies. One shelf, six rows high, consisted of nothing but various hot sauces. Despite the low volume of the radio, a laughing shout accompanied by frantic, polka-like music was clearly audible. Cheap shampoo and bleach merged into one cloying scent.

Jeffrey paid for a frozen pot pie and a bottle of cream soda. There was no one in the store except for him and the cashier, and neither tried to bridge the language barrier, though Jeffrey did notice a widening of the cashiers eyes when the man looked up at him.

He left the store, followed by the electronic ding of the door and noticed the pain returning to the very center of his head. He caught his reflection in his front window as he unlocked his door and understood the cashier’s expression: his head was starting to swell. It was as if a grapefruit were pushing up beneath his scalp, right out of the top of his skull.

He hurried to the bathroom mirror to examine it more closely. It was red, hot, hard, and sore to the touch. The pain was steadily increasing. He wrapped some ice in a towel, leaving his pot pie, forgotten, to thaw on his cluttered kitchen table. He sat down on the couch, holding the ice to his head and worried. As his mind conjured fantasies of cancer, his free hand subconsciously touched the needle scars in the crook of his arm.

Though it did little for the swelling, the ice numbed the pain some, and his mind wandered from worry to day dreaming. A spark of inspiration glowed within him, and he discarded the ice pack to retrieve a notebook from atop his tv. A pen was clipped to the metal rings of its spine. He wrote slowly, neatly.

When? When I’m haunted

When the clock ticks thunder

When hope dies

When I long for escape

When I pray to Oblivion and observe the needle rites

When I lose reason and forsake joy

Then I wonder: When?

Just as he finished writing, a flash of blinding pain seared the inside of his head—enough to elicit an involuntary yelp from him. He clutched his head in both hands and writhed on the couch, squirming like a spitted worm.

He heard a sickening wet rip as his scalp split and glistening skull emerged like an egg. He had the surreal experience of hearing a scratching both inside and outside of his skull simultaneously, but the feeling was quickly forgotten in unbearable pain.

He screeched and convulsed as a sharp claw broke apart the skull from inside like a beak pecking apart an egg. First two, then four jointed, spider-like legs squeezed out of the hole, then trembled as they pulled a fist-sized, bright red, spherical body from his skull with a soggy pop. It was free now, perched on top his opened head on eight legs supporting a perfectly round sphere of flesh, in which an unblinking human eye was set dead-center. The eye looked frantically around before the creature scurried down his back and under the couch.

As quickly as it had appeared, the pain subsided. Jeffrey, still in heavy shock, reached up to feel the certainly fatal wound he’d just received, but felt only a deep gash where he expected to feel his brain. When the shock subsided some, he convinced himself he’d fallen and cut his head. He was already feeling better. Even his depression had subsided.

It watched from beneath the couch, waiting for the cover of darkness, to make its way into the world.

Drabble No. 1

Despite what one may find in the dictionary, apparently a drabble is a story that is exactly one hundred words long, not counting the title (I don’t think.) I wrote my first drabble and submitted it, and the editor was kind enough to give me the reasons why it was not accepted. I applied the advice as best I could and revised the drabble, which I present here to you.


Jenna hated her sister more than Satan’s witches did the rising sun. She pictured that pretty, frail wretch, letting the black ache swallow her. She savaged the mane of her plastic horse with a sharp, steel comb, picturing bloody scratches scribbled across the canvas of her sister’s pale flesh. She let hatred chew on her guts, singing a malevolent lullaby. She watched as the shadows grew around her, strangling the weak light bleeding from her small, white candle. She stabbed the toy horse again and again, reveling in the cries of pain from the room next door. Her sister’s room.


“That’s it.”


“It’s over.”

“Can’t be.”

“Yeah, you lost.  That’s it.”

“But I didn’t even start…”

“Doesn’t matter.  Look at her; she eying me.”

Johnny glanced at her—a stunning, night-haired jewel tucked into the corner of the smoke-choked bar. She sat, alone for the moment, sipping a crimson concoction. She gave Jimmy a demure look, inviting his attention momentarily before averting her topaz-colored eyes.  Jimmy was right, that bastard. He usually was, at least when he was on the prowl like this.

“You see that?” Jimmy asked.

“Yeah, I see it. But you haven’t won yet.”

“I’ll close the deal; I’m a closer, right? All day, every day. You know that. She won’t even know what hit her: like an earthworm on the freeway. I’ll give her the same treatment I gave that blonde bunny last night.”

“You got lucky last night. I almost snared that little hare.”

“But you didn’t, did you? And you still haven’t paid up, you dirty little welsher.”

“Yeah, well, this one’s double or nothing.  If you don’t net her on the first try, I’m going to snatch her up fast as a hyena on a kitten.  You’ve got one shot, slick. Better make it count,” Johnny said and took a sip of his Greyhound.

Jimmy grinned like a snake and said, “Man, you know me—I could talk a nun out of her black and whites.  Peep her vacant look; she’s dumb as a bag of boogers. She needs what I’ve got.”

“I hear a lot of talk but I’m seeing no walk.”

“Hold on man, you have to time these things just right. I don’t want to run straight over there like a chump. She needs to know I don’t need her; she’s just the next in line.”

“If you wait too long, she’ll lose interest.  Then she’s all mine.”

“Not a chance. I have her hooked already.  She’s a sexy tuna caught on my line, but my line’s so fine she just doesn’t know it yet.”  Jimmy took a swallow of his single-malt and adjusted his Windsor. He caught his convex reflection in the mirror of his glass and fine-tuned his well-practiced smile.  “Time to reel her in,” he whispered as he stood and stalked over to her.

Johnny watched a flower of delight bloom on her face as Jimmy administered his verbal sunshine. He couldn’t hear their exchange; he didn’t need to.  Jimmy gestured and spoke. She laughed.  Jimmy spoke some more and laughed. She repositioned herself so her whole body faced him.  Jimmy spoke, softer now, like a sorcerer weaving enchantments.  She touched his arm with delicate, outstretched fingertips painted red as wine.

Damn it, Johnny thought. I lost. He scooted away from the table, scraping his stool as rudely as possible and withdrew one hundred dollars from the ATM. Then he strutted over to the jukebox, slipped it some dirty quarters and played “Under My Thumb” by the Stones. The song salved his shame, like a Sunday hymn to a Saturday sinner. Jimmy was first back to the table, and greeted the loser with a simultaneous raise of eyebrows and a fresh scotch.

“Well?” Johnny asked. The question was, of course, mere formality.

“The Golden Package.”


“You bet your lily ass. I sold her our most expensive plan. I talked her into better medical insurance and life, which she’d never even considered before. Life insurance! What is she, twenty-two? If she gets creamed by a bus, she’ll have a rich cat. Or a lucky boyfriend. She was practically a virgin! She’s even going to send some of her friends my way!”

Johnny sighed and slid a handful of twenties across the table.