Quell


Was there a spell ever cast
Or a series of words to instill
Within moments of mine
Something wholly sublime
Or is hell – to the last –
All the truth that I’m destined to feel?

What did the efforts provide
When momentum was suddenly strained
And the sun I beheld
Gave the proof that I failed
And so looking inside
Did I wonder, “What have I attained?”

Seeking a secret to quell
What had faltered and finally met
With the lowest of lows
An obsession that grows
Under smiles and veils
Like a harlequin mask of regret

So did the magic disperse
Like the ashes I needlessly clutch
In the hands of a man
Who cannot understand
That he’s seeking a curse
So this life merely shows him as much

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Adjudication


Life my execution, and I pray a sentence stayed
Asking for review, and newly evidence be weighed
So unto a guilty verdict, jurors, ye be swayed
If I could say, in a but a word, of innocence, I’d say betrayed

Breath the punishment and ‘lo I ask it be denied
Given to my peers to handle as they so decide
Seeing easily the broken promises inside
I would abide a firm decision knowing well what I’ve implied

Waking is the woe and so I wish it put to rest
Pause it for an observation, truthfully it’s best
Seeing any consciousness of mine in cold arrest
At my behest, I’ll glady wait and hope its value fails the test

I the curse released and now I hope to be dispelled
With the option given to the ones I’ve surely failed
Let them take the pound of flesh so virtue can prevail
For I can tell that you’d sleep better if you thought I was in hell

100 Words – pt. 11


Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10


There are questions that we inevitably ask ourselves.

How far are we willing to go and for what?

Are there lines we aren’t willing to cross?

Can we change?

Put the barrel of a revolver in the mouth of a hungover frat boy and maybe there’s a tinge of regret. Whatever service he was going to be for…whatever it was I was working against…had to be minimal. It had to be, right?

The old lady…that was one of those moments where the line moved. One of those moments where, had you asked me those three questions above, I would found that I had sorely misjudged myself. I was willing to go further. I was willing to cross that line. I was a coward, and that wasn’t going to change.

Ms. Kurtzman was a barrage of begging. A storm of tears and snot. A scene drowned out by the serpent sound in my skull that danced to a symphony of blooming sadism.

Part of me wondered how many words I even had left. Wondered where they’d gone. Wondered how I’d look when I was the one falling to pieces while Winston pulled his proverbial trigger.

And what had I done with the words I’d been given?

They’d been doled out in four-letter increments. The sounds of profanity when things went sideways…because things always went sideways. Just enough to make me think that it was never just dumb luck – it was the game, and it was rigged.

But that was the deal. They want you to win the battle, but they make sure you can’t win the war.

My hundred words – however many I’d used – was, if transcribed, something that would have looked like a dictation of an angry, teenage child playing an online shooter.

I took a moment while Ms. Kurzman wept, her voice so clogged with sadness that she choked on her words. While the serpent sang its merry song of a downward spiral that felt too much like a needle on a record that’s been playing too long.

I looked at Alice. There in her mother’s arms. Composed. Quiet. Center of the fucking storm.

I threw up. Right there. Doubled over and puked my brains out while the serpent laughed and Ms. Kurtzman cried. And then I ran.

Part of me wanted to just start screaming. Burn my words. Fuck em all. Take my medicine.

I knew. I knew there’d be repercussions.

I ran down the road and let my gun fall to the pavement. I cried like a man who forgot how to do it correctly. I wanted to speak, but for all that time, words seemed elusive – held hostage to some unknown time of disuse and fear.

“I can’t,” I said in a voice that I didn’t even recognize. “I can’t…I can’t…”

I kept running. When I heard the sirens I just ran faster. I don’t even know why I cared. Like a man falling off a cliff and flapping his arms. I have no idea what I thought was left for me. Redemption was done. Game over.

I ducked down an alley and I heard cars squeal to a stop. I heard doors open and feet moving. I heard a gun fire and felt a spray of concrete from where the bullet hit.

I ran into the open and kept going. I saw it – a cluster of old housing with the kind of yards that look like they’re on the verge of an accidental rummage sale.

“Freeze!” I heard someone yell.

I made it to the broken fence of someone’s dead, white picket fence dream and felt the sting of a bullet while I tried to get over it.

“Fuck!” I said. “Fuck…fuck…”

I felt my chest growing heavy. I heard the sound of the storm in my head. I felt the world going dark and darker still.

“I don’t…” I said.

That was it.

Those were my articulate last words. I didn’t get to look at Winston and tell him to go fuck himself. I didn’t get to stop and have some heartfelt confession with a priest. I didn’t get to tell anyone that I loved them.

I never got to say I was sorry.

While the world was going dim, I saw the man approaching, gun still in hand while he said something over his radio with that little walkie they always have clipped to their chest nowadays.

I didn’t hear the sound of eternity rushing forward. I didn’t see a bright light. I didn’t hear the roar of an engine, but I heard the impact when the car hit the officer.

I watched while the car sped away.

I watched while another man approached his body.

I didn’t need to hear to know that, when he knelt down to the wreck of a body left on the pavement, he was saying, “Do you want to live?”


“So why am I telling you this?”

She’s looking at me with those vacant eyes, her mouth starts to open, and I give her that look that says, “Really?”

“I’m telling you this because no one told me. I’m telling you this because you’re fucked. Sure as I was. You don’t win this game. You don’t find a way out. You just suffer…”

I take the last drag of my cigarette and I snuff it out in her ashtray.

“…and then you die.”

I let it sink in. I’m wondering how many times Winston tried to give people a head’s up. I’m wondering how many times he saw the same idiots do the same shit before he realized that it all rolls downhill – direction irrelevant. I’m wondering how many it’ll take before I become the same way.

“Someone once told me, and I’m going to tell you – everyone thinks it’s about the big fish, but it isn’t.” I point to the envelope that, until a moment ago, wasn’t there. “You’ll be getting those from time to time. You’re going to fuck up. Nothing I say is going to make that make sense. Sometimes we have to shoot ourselves in the foot a few times before we appreciate our ability to walk.”

I stand and walked to the door. I stop and look back at her – that look of confusion as thick as the indifference on my own.

“By the way,” I say. Then I sigh, “You know what? You’ll figure it out.”

100 Words – pt. 10


Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9


You’ve never had to dig a grave, have you?

No…That was a rhetorical question. I know you haven’t. For what it’s worth, neither have I. Not the literal kind. But we’ve all dug them metaphorically.

There’s that point where you find yourself torn between wishing you were done and hoping you never are, because once you’re done…once you’re REALLY done…that’s it, isn’t it? It’s over then. All those little whispers in the back of your mind finally stop deliberating. El Fin. Roll credits.

I’d been stuck in the efforts of digging since…I don’t even remember. Like a man who mines coal trying to remember his first callous. I couldn’t have told you what city I was going to or what city I’d started in. I couldn’t remember faces anymore. Time was some obscure concept like gravity – I knew it was passing, but I didn’t really understand it.

I’d fought the current. A man reaching for shore. A man scraping and clawing for a grip of driftwood, a vine, a rope, a hand…anything…

You can only do it for so long. You finally wear down. We all wear down. We realize that we’re reaching for yesterday. We’re reaching for what’s not there anymore. We’re reaching for God and finding Neizche.

And we finally let go.

Before we do – while we struggle for every breath – time is like syrup. It’s the slow drip of water from icicles in a cave that’s just barely warm enough for ice to melt…because for a while, at least as we see it, every second counts. Every second matters. Every second is the one before we’re saved. Before we find salvation. Before someone grabs our hand and pulls us ashore.

Once the illusion dies, everything changes.

Time becomes the stream itself – rapid and violent. It shifts and moves you like a leaf in a storm – like that fucking cow in the movie Twister. All that detail washes away – it’s all a big blur.

Everything but the names.

Jonathan Maravilla – 2901 Viola Drive
Joel Holmstead – 107 Rockmore Avenue – Apt. B
Margaret Fitzgerald – 23200 Sheridan Road
Darren Rouch – 6930 Magnolia
Rosalie Esposito – 4220 Hockenberry Lane

I could keep going, but you probably get the idea.

I don’t know where they lived. Not really. Time was a court jester juggling my perspective. Distance felt relative. Locations seemed ephemeral. A meeting with Winston in a Sbarros, another in an old apartment building – I don’t know if I was living there or not, another in an old garage that smelled like gasoline and grass clippings. There were others. There was pain – but never from him anymore.

You can’t outrun tomorrow. Once you realize that your fear of death is bigger than your fear of living – that your sorrow for the things you’ve done is outweighed by the fear of what will happen if you don’t continue…you walk forward like a man on pharmaceutical grade medication – glassy-eyed and docile.

I could tell you about the kills I remember. I could tell you about how I kept trying to piece it together, if for no other reason than to understand the how and why of it, but this isn’t one of those stories about redemption and truth. This isn’t the story of how I became John McClane and took down Hans Gruber.

I want to tell you how it came to an end. I want to tell you how I finished my words. How I left things.

It wasn’t pretty.

It wasn’t heroic.

The beginning of the end was Alice Kurtzman – 52119 Bradner Street.

I’ve had moments along the way where I was hesitant. I’ve had moments where I told myself that what I was doing was mercy for some. I’ve had moments that showed me the reflection in the mirror that I didn’t want to see – the one that let me know that I wasn’t a fleeing from a madman so that I could save others from his malice – I was destroying others with his malice so that I could flee.

I’ve had moments when I opened doors on the elderly. Been met with the apologetic eyes of the soon-to-be-dead who were mothers and fathers. I’ve heard preachers in a whirlwind of profanity and a sad woman who had just been beaten senseless the night before by a drunk husband pray under her breath for forgiveness.

I’ve put people in the ground who were better than I ever was or ever would have been. I’ve fed myself lines of justification, and you’ve heard most of them. Hollow words, but sometimes we need to tell ourselves a lie to make the truth sweet enough to stomach.

But when you kick in the door and see the picture on the refrigerator, lettering that’s not quite perfect, figures not quite drawn to scale, and the name written at the bottom is that of a child. And that name is Alice Kurtzman…

Time slows down all over again.

We’re at the moment that the river meets the waterfall. We grasp and we grapple all over again. We gave up hope, but only because we didn’t see the mouth of hell as it sped towards us.

I felt my stomach grow cold like I’d swallowed liquid nitrogen.

The sound of people crying was drowned out by the voice in my head. It was like a blender filled with ball bearings if one could laugh. And it just kept saying, over and over again, “Don’t they look like razor blades? Don’t they look majestic?”

100 Words – pt. 9


Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8


I’m aware of what you think because I found myself thinking it more times than you ever will. But I also don’t know what you’re thinking, just as much as you don’t know what I was…or am.

We have moments in our lives that we find define us more than others. Like a long series of events that becomes some strange and twisted sentence that’s going nowhere, but always in the same direction…until…

Monstrosity is a hard word to run from. I can look back at a lot and tell myself that – at least push had turned to shove. It’s a hollow logic, but once there’s pushback, it becomes a question of survival. You pull a knife and they pull a gun. Sure, you started it, but now one of you has to finish it. It’s a matter of wanting not to die.

I’d stood there for what felt like an eternity.

Listening.

Just listening.

And fuck if she didn’t know I was there. We get that feeling when someone is staring at us. We get that feeling that we’re not alone in the room any longer. She just kept talking. I just kept waiting.

The static was not amused. A river of gravel and nails rotating in a vortex against walls of steel wool. It screeched and roared in my hesitation. It screamed at me with words I didn’t understand. But like an angry man with a gun in the midst of a tirade in a foreign language…I knew what it was saying even without the skill to translate.

Her words were their own sort of bullet when I heard her say, “You might as well get on with it, son.”

Reflex is sometimes stronger than self-preservation. That sudden movement to grab a falling axe with your bare hand because your brain is more afraid of dropping something than it is aware that you have fingers.

I barely heard myself say the word under the chaos inside my own head.

“What?”

I heard even less then when the static rose to a greater fury and roared so loud that my vision shook. Life was gripped in the hands of an angry titan. It was a wailing child in the hands of a cruel and drunk father who tried to make the noise stop in the worst way possible.

I didn’t hear what she said to my reply but she turned back to look at me and her eyes said plenty. Eyes of resignation. Eyes that said, “I don’t mind so much. I’m done here. The things I truly love are gone. You’re not taking anything away from me…only from yourself.”

I cried. Fuck, I cried. I couldn’t hear myself under the torrent of noise while I sobbed so hard that my stomach cramped.

Monstrosity is the line you cross when you destroy what isn’t even fighting back. When you grab innocence by its hair and its tearful gaze whispers, “I’m sorry,” as though it was the one at fault. It’s the mirror of a moment when you realize that whatever part of you was human is gone.

I was a man being chased in a high-speed pursuit, driving the wrong way on a busy highway. A man with a gun to his head, with my gun to another’s head.

Humanity is when you stop the car. It’s when you say, “No,” and you take the bullet.

The storm inside my head began to calm. Silence filled the air. She turned around and sat there quietly. Both of us were waiting for a decision to be made.

I wanted to say something profound. Apologetic. Kind. Meaningful.

Something…

Anything…

My tears finally ceased and my stomach eased its tension. My hand still shook while my mind sped along on the highway of self-preservation, wondering how many other cars would have to swerve and wreck so I could avoid doing so myself.

Sorry is a hollow word.

Most words are.

They pale beneath the glare of our actions. The weight of our decisions. The gravity of our self-inflicted truths.

I walked away that evening like a man caught in a dream of smoke and bent mirrors. A world made of ground that wouldn’t stop tilting.

The storm outside was somehow mute to me, as though my ears would not allow me the comfort of hearing heaven cry. Wouldn’t register the roar of eternity as it flashed its anger and roared with thunder.

The only sound I heard was that static in my mind. Soft and cool like an early spring morning. I heard it like a gleeful humming. I heard it laugh, if only just.

I heard it whisper to me. Whisper in a tone that felt like doom with its lips pressed against my heart. I heard it whisper like a lover’s dying breath…

“Monstrosity,” it said.

I didn’t have enough innocence left to say I’m sorry…

100 Words – pt. 8


Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7


In the city that I’d lived for as long as I could remember…

No…let me back up.

I didn’t remember when I’d first arrived. I had a hard time remembering when I’d left. Where had I left from? Had I ever left at all?

Time had a strange twist. It was a world where ten was followed by four and two was chiming twelve times too many.

I knew the sound that lingered longer in my mind. I knew it like I knew myself. I knew it better than I could recall my own voice. I heard it talk to me in words that I couldn’t quite make out. Words that said…

“Are you listening?” he said while he tapped his finger on the table in front of me. A small cemetery of cigarette ashes that had been growing in size for quite some time had finally leaped to its ultimate demise. It looked like an old man, gray and hunched had jumped from a small white building – a world where horizontal was the new vertical.

I could have sworn I answered. I heard myself say the word “no”. I heard the slushing static in my brain laugh with me when he gave me that look like when you ask someone the square root of something.

I should call him Winston. You know, because…

We laughed at that for a while. The voice said something that made me start to cough. I coughed so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath. Like I was exhaling sledgehammers. My eyes watered. I could feel the strain like my skin was being pulled too tight. It made me think of when women who were old enough to know better got facelifts to look like they were young enough to make such a terrible medical mistake.

“Hey,” Winston said, “try to keep it together.” He put his cigarette out in a small, glass ashtray that I’d bought at…

No…it was…

That’s right. That’s right. You’re right…

The no smoking signs that populated the exterior of the hotel was met with the Shyamalan twist ending of an ashtray in the room. And it’d been cleaned recently, so it’s not like it had been overlooked. I could see if maybe I’d found it behind a bed or…

The slamming sound of Winston’s hand on the table jarred me from my musings. I couldn’t remember when he’d gotten there.

“This is why things get fucked up, you know?” he said with a big plume of smoke trailing after the words. It made me think of a train. An old train. Screeching down tracks of old iron. I could hear the metal tearing into itself. His eyes like the bright lights of the engine barreling through a dark tunnel.

“Just don’t try to sew your mouth shut again, okay?” he said as he put out another cigarette in the ashtray. Apparently, he wasn’t keen on destruction of property if it was owned by hotels.

I felt my face for signs that I’d ever done such a thing. Had I done that? When had I done that?

“You okay?” he said.

No…it wasn’t he…

I was at the front door of a small house. It would have been terribly out of place in a city where buildings stacked up instead of our. Where vertical was the new horizontal.

It was salmon colored, stucco exterior. The roofing looked new. The woman had to be in her sixties if she was a day.

I just shook my head while my hand felt at the handle of the snub-nose revolver in my pocket. I took mental stock. A rare moment of clarity. Knife by my ankle. 45 auto behind my back, tucked into my pants. Small taser in my other pocket. Zippo lighter.

There’s always something flammable.

“It’s hot like hell in summer out there,” she said.

The voice laughed more than I did.

I could feel my fingers sliding along the grip of the revolver. A cold sweat ran down my back.

“Come on in and sit down a bit,” she said.

It was always easier when they just invited me in.

Her interior was the sort of thing you’d expect of a woman of such age. Oddly, she was at least eleven cats short of the number required to be an old cat lady. No dogs. Good. They can be a bother.

I sat in an old love seat while she left the room and came back with a glass of ice tea so sweet that the fucking Koolaid man would wince and sat down in a recliner that probably dreamed of a merciful death.

She started talking after a while. I could barely make out the words. My heart was pounding too loudly. She said something about a son. Something about a war. A husband. She was that sort of person who had a life filled with losses that had been replaced by too much time and too little company.

Part of me felt sorry for her.

I stood abruptly, but either her old age didn’t let her react quickly, or she just didn’t care.

Sometimes what I did was for the best.

A blessing in disguise.

A mercy.

“Bathroom’s down the hall, second door on the right,” she said.

It fucked up the moment like when you’re about to say something clever and a nearby car honks its horn. Selfish pricks.

In the bathroom, I looked in the medicine cabinet. Took stock of the array of pills that I thought I’d find and didn’t. There was so little there. Just a life slowly burning out like a candle in a room that no one goes to anymore.

I splashed cold water on my face. Stood in front of the cabinet mirror over the sink and opened and closed my mouth. I formed words that no one would ever hear. I was a man screaming the loudest silence the world had ever known.

In the living room, my hand was slick with sweat. I kept opening and closing my fingers slightly as if I’d get a better grip on the revolver. I put it to the back of her head, just far enough away that she wouldn’t even feel a disturbance in her gray, frizzy hair.

My finger caressed the trigger while she started to tell me about when she’d gone to beach the summer after her graduation. The day that she’d met the man she fell in love with.

Sometimes what I do is for the best.

Sometimes it’s a blessing in disguise.

Rust


So words have failed us
Weakness has propelled us
Gone, the pale blush
Now replaced with nail rust

The urge, a frail lust
Sadly, it assailed us
Feeling as a shell crushed
What has this availed us?

Left with only trail dust
No letters seem to spell “us”
The latency still tells us
That everything til now…
…lets me know what hell was