Várathro – Pt.7

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


“It’s difficult, yes?” the voice was saying. It seemed too close by half.

Still, he couldn’t pull his eyes from the darkness that swam and plummeted before him. His vision was locked like the tide to some vacuous moon; his body felt stuck at an unnatural forward angle – that permanent feeling of taking a step and not feeling the stairs soon enough.

“So much had to be given, but that’s faith, isn’t it? The belief that sometimes you have to give and never really know if it’ll matter. Walking with your eyes closed into the darkness and telling yourself that if you open them you won’t be worthy to see the light…maybe you never were.”

William opened his mouth in some weak attempt to talk – to ask a question. But what? What the fuck would he even ask?

Life felt like some crazy, drug-fueled dream. Like he was running a temperature of a hundred and six with a belly full of mushrooms and LSD and everything that was happening – and everything that had – was just some fucked up manifestation of a mind that couldn’t parse reality.

“But look now,” the voice was saying. “Just look at it now…”

The tone of the voice struck him like when you see a face in a movie and your mind is trying to place who it is and where you saw them and then, later, while you’re in the shower you suddenly realize who and what and where.

Words replayed in his head as the owner of the voice offered him a card for someplace where the stay is out of this world.

William found himself feeling far too much like a pinball – the drop having begun with a briefcase and everything that happened after being little more than plastic paddles and rubber knobs moving him this way and that. Every movement met with an obstruction to shift him over and up and then down. Each one trying to catapult his trajectory into the gaping mouth that now stared back at him.

“Of course, no one ever wants to believe that the blood is going to be their own. Maybe that just makes it easier to tell the other people bleeding that it’s for the best. But then, one day, it was my sister. You get that feeling. That fear. The doubt. You see the cost and you think that perhaps you were wrong, yes? You think that, now that the cost is yours, perhaps it is a price paid in folly.”

William heard a sound in the darkness before him – though less a sound than it was a distinct lack of sound. As though before him was some empty place that was now swallowing the world around it – light and sound and time and who knew what else.

“Now Dira,” the voice said, “that was a believer. Came before you did. Went through without so much as a stutter in her step. Not a word. No tears. Nothing.”

The absence of all grew somehow larger, darker. It seemed to William as though it was rising now, spinning up and out and around. He felt his heart beating, so hard that it hurt, but so slow that each pulse seemed to send his body shaking for several seconds before the next one struck.

“But none of it would have mattered if not for you,” Kayro said. “You can slip all the bread you want under the prisoner’s door, sneak in as much water as you can find, but none of it matters if you can’t open the lock.”

William’s mind swam. His vision shifted to waves of black and blacker still. He felt the world around him reverberating like he was suddenly living inside of a painfully overactive subwoofer that played nothing but one heavy note over and over again. Each one sent his senses fluttering. He felt his skin rippling like water from a concussive blast.

He saw lights blinking in and out. In and out.

For a moment, the thrumming ceased and it felt like a fuzzy picture slowly coming into focus. As it cleared up, he saw what looked to be strangely colored lines and hazy mounds. Those sharpened into what looked like rivers or canals perhaps, but they seemed somehow displaced by the now crisp lines that were set in contrast.

A haze of melting colors gave way to a cityscape of parked cars that sat with flashing lights. Horns screaming where heads were now set to rest. Bodies set like broken mannequins littered the streets that were so obscured that he only knew they were black from his experience of driving on them in some other life.

Fires rose and fell from broken windows where the remains of random bodies were set like Christmas ornaments in a terrifying tree of metal and concrete.

Here and there a figure moved with lengths of purple dangling from open abdominal wounds while they shambled on in some state where they either didn’t know they were in pain or else were in so much pain they could no longer articulate it.

Regardless of the given state, each face wore eyes that were wide and wild. Mouths open like people who, with their dying breath, were still trying to scream.

“Do you see it now?” Kayro asked as William’s mind reeled and tried to process the nightmare that was playing out in his mind. “Can you see the way it looks at you?”

 

 

Várathro – Pt.6

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


The sound of wheels on the road rolled along like soft static while the false idea of air conditioning hummed a lukewarm song of broken promises. Dira sat stoically in the driver’s seat with the sound of life playing like the world’s saddest music station.

Part of him wanted to break the silence and attempt small talk, but everything about the situation, and the woman for that matter, made him feel like he was a small child in the principal’s office.

He cleared his throat and – in that instance – he felt like he’d somehow broken some kind of sacred pact. He was that guy in the library talking on his cellphone. He was the guy in the movie theatre kicking the chair in front of him. Even though – at a glance – he didn’t see Dira glaring at him, in his mind she was.

The days at The Saturn Inn had been an amalgam of uneventful boredom riding atop a horse of anxiety. Settled between the two was a saddle of worry and wonder.

William had a grand total of fuck all planned out.

Money. Check.

Not where Mike could kill him. Check.

Beyond that, the plan fell apart.

Every noise at night made him look out the window. Cicadas. Beetles batting at his door. Every time a car drove near. Every time a new visitor parked their car.

He heard death on the horizon – it wore the sun as an eye in the day and the moon at night and it watched him always.

It was with hesitance that he’d finally wandered into the lobby to ask Dira about how far away the nearest laundromat was – his poorly planned escape now being held hostage to the terrorist of basic hygiene.

“You remember how long the drive was coming in?” she’d replied. “About half that again.”

He’d nodded at that and then said, “Wait. You mean that plus half or just half of that?”

She’d looked at him like he’d just spit out his gum in the church collection plate so he’d decided that the answer must have been obvious enough that he didn’t need it.

He’d been prepared for something old-timey on the radio. In his mind, she was going to hop in her old white sedan and click the station over to something where they were quoting the bible or maybe some AM frequency that played country that only people born in the fifties would be familiar with.

Now, he found himself in a state of longing – looking back at that past moment and wishing, more than anything, that she’d just turn the fucking thing on to anything. Even the erratic noise of an unturned station would have felt less ominous than the sound of silence mingled with the cyclic hum of the car driving and the wind slipping over the windows.

“So,” he finally said, feeling like a kid interrupting a funeral, “is it much farther?”

Dira looked at him like a disappointed grandmother who just found out that he’d been caught smoking cancer sticks in the bathroom with the other hooligans.

“I mean…” he said as she looked back at the road.

His words just hung there like a fly whose life had just been relegated to windshield decoration.

In the odd atmosphere of ambient noise, awkward silence, and inner turmoil, he found himself with blinks that came slower and slower. It reminded him of when he was younger, in one of those old classrooms with the big heaters that ran the length of the wall and the summer heat sank into the room like dense fog and the teacher would drone on and on about The Red Badge of Courage and his eyelids would flutter and his pulse would drop and…

tick-tick

tick-tick

tick-tick

William opened eyes that felt newborn. The world was cast in flickers that strobed with flashes of yellow. Soft taps came erratically amongst the sharper clicking sounds that reminded him of some dreadfully old grandfather clock.

He blinked several times and looked around. The world was dark and little fireflies blinked here and there. Tiny brown beetles bounced against the windshield. Hazard lights clicked in a sonorous cadence and he realized that he was alone inside the car, his neck aching from whatever odd angle he’d settled in as he’d drifted off on his journey to a land filled with clothes that didn’t smell like he’d stolen them from a professional panhandler.

Looking over, he saw the driver’s side door was closed.

Nothing in the back seat.

He sat there and thought. He tried to convince himself that Dira had…something…something…and she would definitely be back. All the while, the rational part of his brain reminded him that nothing about this situation was conducive to the outcome where Dira opened the door and said something about how her friend is just too chatty for her own good.

Eventually, William opened his door and let in the sound of midnight – that odd sound composed of what was missing rather than what was there. Part of him wanted to say something, to call out a name, to send out that verbal assertion like a flare to alert someone to his presence.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he whispered to himself, “no one can hear you…”

He stepped without and looked at the flashing lights of the car on what he imagined must have been a road. Instead, he saw only trees around him.

None of it made sense.

The car was positioned like it had been thrown in a most haphazard fashion. Trees all around. No sign of a trail. Nothing that said, “A person was here and she went that way.”

The sound of something rustling set his nerves even more on edge than they already were.

He had that horror movie moment. Part of him thought he should get in the car…the other part said to run. But what would he do in the car? The protection was meaningless when windows could be broken. And what could he do in the fucking forest when he had all the survival instinct of a fly in a mason jar?

Another rustle sounded. A noise came with it that he swore sounded like something being dragged across loose gravel.

Maybe he heard a noise.

Maybe he just thought he did.

Maybe he was just scared and his mind was a ball of stripped wires that were short-circuiting. Maybe yetis were real and they were the divine rulers of the earth.

Maybe injected itself into his brain like a high dose shot of adrenaline and logic fled.

He moved and stumbled.

He hurried with his arm out as if fending off zombies – every branch a would-be attacker, the dark ground making him perpetually afraid that at any point a hand would reach up, grab his ankle and send him tumbling.

A noise like the ocean filtered through the terror.

It ebbed and flowed. It moved like a rake through sand in a zen garden made for gods.

Like a man who believes that, if he can find a river he can find civilization, he followed the noise. His mind trying to move one direction, his feet another, his stomach another still.

A sound rose up to meet him as his toes met a precipice, like an echo in reverse or life speaking backward. The strange dissonant tone of life in a slow deliberate drip back up and through the hourglass.

It hummed in his head.

It pulsed in his veins.

He looked down and saw darkness that swallowed midnight and balked at its intended intensity while it sang a song made of slow reverberating waves in his ears.

He could see a face. He could hear a voice.

“The message is powerful, and so the messenger is made powerful by the extension of the message that he represents.”

There was a vacuum in the world around him. Sound ceased.

There were no fireflies. No beetles. No mosquitos.

Life paused.

“Nowadays, truth is set on dead pedestals like a fucking championship ring. Everyone thinks it’s some kind of Indiana Jones situation – people out there looking for ancient artifacts to secret them away for safekeeping. In truth, it’s assholes named Chad and Claude and Victor with the shield and spear of Aries set like a fucking hunting trophy on their mantle. Bragging to their friends about the shit they found at whatever the billionaire version of a yard sale is.

“Metaphorically…” he heard himself say.

“Yeah,” the voice said with a chuckle, “metaphorically.”

And then…

“You even know what’s in it?”

The haze settled a bit and William saw a bar, but it wasn’t. He saw a face staring at him, but it wasn’t.

It was the lobby of some too-expensive hotel, but the colors were warped like someone had taken the color palette of life and put it on its head and then punched it in the face.

“Above my paygrade…” he saw himself saying.

The face smiled at him.

“You want me to tell you?”

Sound ceased. The volume of the hotel evaporated. All he could see were those eyes staring at him with all the vivacity of the Cheshire cat.

“Where do you think they go?” it asked.

William looked around like a man who knows nothing about cars when looking under the hood of a smoking Camaro.

“They?”

“They…” a voice said.

William, his toes still hanging from the ledge like a man who had just found out that his job was forfeit on the same day that his wife had left and his dog had died, looked to his right and saw a face that seemed too familiar to not be familiar.

William couldn’t articulate words. It was like someone telling you happy birthday on some random day or that your shoes are nice when you’re barefoot.

“He could have been a set of sandals on some asshole’s fireplace. Just a placeholder for what once was. For what might have been…”

William heard the sound of darkness. It sounded like dust and sunset.

“He wanted to meet you personally. To say thank you…in his own way…”


Part 7

Várathro – Pt.5

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4


There are many words that William might have used to describe his time at The Saturn Inn, but “out of this world” was not one of them. Unless “out of this world” was some kind of new slang that meant quiet and uneventful.

The two other cars that were there became one car.

One car became no cars.

His time was mostly spent lying in his bed, watching TV, and looking out the window whenever that voice in the back of his head told him that he should probably look outside…just in case.

That voice was strangely active.

It told him frequently that there was a tap at his door, a strange sound on the other side of the wall next to his bed, a strange whining noise from outside that might have belonged to a cat being strangled if it were, perhaps, part bat and maybe one-third extraterrestrial…or maybe that’s just what the paranoia wanted him to think.

So far, he’d seen nothing to give any weight to his underlying fears and, as much as he told himself that that was something that should work to settle his nerves, it did mostly the opposite. Like a man who was afraid of rain seeing day after day of cloudless skies – he feared the worst and feared it more because it felt calm. Too calm. Unnaturally calm.

It was a feeling he’d had plenty of times before. Those awkward meetings where the people he met seemed too at ease. So much so that it seemed off-putting. If he were to explain it, it wouldn’t even sound rational, and he knew it, but it was there – this strange ‘out of place’ feeling like the people in the room with him were slightly off tilt.

Sure, they took what he gave them, did…whatever the fuck they did…gave him something else and he’d leave, but it was always a bit off tilt.

It was like being in a room with someone that makes you feel uncomfortable but you can’t put your finger on why. It’s not the way that they look at you, but it is. And it’s not the way they talk or that they don’t talk…but it is. This strange sensation like tension under a thin layer of water.

Unironically – or perhaps more ironically – it seemed all the worse during his last job – the one that had led him here.

It felt normal enough – go here, get thing, go there, deliver thing – get other thing, call Mike so he could come and get it. Basic. Fucking basic.

He’d done it dozens of times.

Get a number and make contact. After that, it was on him to keep things organized. Sometimes there were snags and reschedules, sometimes things not.

Send a text or make a call. Set up locations. Go to the place. Do your fucking job.

Simple.

Basic.

Fucking basic.

But he went to the place – hotel on Eastland Drive. Third floor. Room 317. He knocked. No answer.

He sent a text – no answer.

He called – no answer.

Shit like that had happened before. People got flighty or things went awry. Eventually, he always heard something from someone. Things always panned out, but it was moments like those that reminded him that he wasn’t in the employ of someone selling high-end, designer soap made with goat milk. He didn’t know what Mr. Arnold did, and he had a feeling that his life was better for the not knowing.

He went down to the lobby of the hotel – one of those nice places that had a full bar and half the people were dressed like they had the words “return on investment” and “risk assessment” tattooed on their tongue. The kind of people who know what all the funny letters mean when stock market information scrolls by.

He sat at the bar and ordered a drink – rum and coke – he knew better.

“This seat taken?” a voice had said.

William just shook his head and said, “Will be if you sit there.”

“Jesus,” the man said, “world’s gettin’ crazier every day.”

William offered him a half-hearted “yup” and thought little of it. He glanced up for a second to see the last bit of the frame on the TV behind the bar before it changed. He didn’t catch what it said. Probably something adequately dark and tragic because that’s what news tends to be.

“Mavros,” the man said.

William looked at the screen, half expecting to see something related to what the man had just said, but, seeing a commercial about laundry detergent, he tilted his head a bit, looked at the stranger and gave him a look that clearly said, “come again?”

“My name,” the man said, “Mavros. Kory Mavros. With a K.”

“William,” William offered, with all the alacrity of a man dealing with a stranger infringing on his personal bubble in a bar. “With a W.”

The man smiled as the bartender brought him a drink. “Business or pleasure, William with a W?”

“Business, Kory with K. You?”

Kory let out a big sigh. “Bit of both, I suppose. Family in the area or,” he did that thin with his hand like someone saying “eh…I mean…the thin is…” without actually saying the words. “well, they were in the area. It’s complicated.”

“Here’s to complications,” William said, holding his rum and coke up ever so slightly.

“May they forever vex us while we pretend otherwise,” Kory said, as he held his drink in a similar fashion before taking a drink. “So, what line of work? Looks like a nice briefcase. Real leather. Can’t be too bad.”

“There a fancy name for errand boy?”

“Hermes.”

“I…uh…Hermes?”

“Hermes,” Kory said again. “Messenger of the gods. Mercury in Roman mythology.”

“Yeah. I mean…I know that…just…sorry, I don’t follow.”

Kory put his drink down and turned to William, his face was more serious than it seemed it had any right to be.

“Hermes was the messenger of the gods, but he was also the god of trade, wealth, luck, and several other things. He was clever. He was quick. He was also important. You know why?”

“Uh…knowledge is power?”

“No,” Kory said shaking his head, “I mean, yeah, it is, but that’s not the point.” He took another drink. “Communication is also power. Being the go-between is power. The message is powerful, and so the messenger is made powerful by the extension of the message that he represents.”

“Uh-huh…”

“Hey,” Kory said, his demeanor suddenly relaxing, “not my words, just telling you what history says.”

“You mean mythology.”

“That too.”

William took his phone out and checked to see if he’d received a message, or rather, if he’d received one and his phone had decided not to vibrate to alert him.

“You wanna see a trick?” Kory said suddenly.

No new messages. William let out a sigh and said, “Fuck it. Sure. Why not.”

He was in a cab driving in a part of town he couldn’t place if a gun had been pointed at his head. “I’m tellin’ ya,” the driver was saying, “I’m pretty sure that ain’t a real address. I think you got your numbers mixed up or somethin’.”

After a small back and forth of William trying to pretend that he knew what the fuck was going on and the driver giving him several iterations of, “Hey, I just go where I’m told,” they found their way back to William’s home address where a bill that was north of two hundred dollars awaited him for what must have been one impressive excursion through the city.

He checked the cab and felt his pulse racing while the driver rambled.

He went inside his apartment and looked in all the places that he kept the things he was given to deliver.

He ran through the events over and over and over again trying to piece things together and kept coming up short like a man shopping on a tight budget with a failing sense of how taxes work.

In the end, he sent Mike a text that said, “Meeting got delayed. Will have resolved by Friday.”

Rain began to fall at The Saturn Inn. Something about it sounded strange…like the world was raining locusts.

Várathro – Pt.4

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Some part of William assumed that the distance between the airport and The Saturn Inn was more an exaggeration than anything – words from a man whose shift was almost up and who was looking forward to a banquet of something that came in microwaveable cardboard and a plastic film that you have to puncture to let the steam escape.

In truth, the drive moved from the neon landscape near the airport and then past the dimming lights of scattered houses, clustered apartments, and rows of identical townhouses. Soon, it was a lonely gas station and a street lamp standing like some ill-begotten traveler who just didn’t have the heart to head on down the road or turn back and stumble home.

Eventually, lights were fewer and farther between. Little mile markers grinned at him with moonlit smiles while one random sign let him know that someplace called Roland Hill was eighty-seven miles away.

As the time stretched in equal measure with the road, he thought to break the silence – say something – strike up a conversation with the driver. Ask about the weather or how that one team that plays that one sport did at the thing at the place and who would’ve thought that they’d pull that out like they did…

Instead, he held his tongue while the night seemed to seep into the car and wrap around it like a fog. Along the road, he could see the almost vacuous darkness as the road slipped away and the shoulder became a knife’s edge of grass that bloomed into a tangled wall of trunk and limb and leaf that made the road feel like it was somehow closing in. Some long, empty tunnel with nothing but white dashes beneath them like scars that had sealed old wounds, now cursed to remain the wrong color – an echo of shit that went wrong and never healed quite right.

The driver never seemed to make a sound. He didn’t clear his throat. He didn’t ask any questions. He didn’t even turn on the fucking radio.

The world became flickers of white on black and the rushing sound of wind merging with the labor of wheels on pavement.

Finally, the silence, or the darkness, or just the continuous fear and trepidation in the back of his mind got to him and he cleared his throat and said, “Shit, you weren’t kidding…”

In his mind, he already knew the conversation, but he didn’t care. He just needed to get out of where his head was. The driver would say, “Told, buddy, there were closer places,” and then he’d reply, “Shoulda listened, for sure. Any idea how much farther it is?” and the driver would say something like, “Hell, probably another twenty minutes. Turn off is right past this little mom and pop gas station a ways out. Hard to believe those things even exist anymore, ya know?”

But the driver didn’t say that.

He didn’t say anything.

William nodded like he was going through the conversation that wasn’t happening and then like a man who was trying to figure out where it was heading instead. “About how much farther is it?” he asked.

But the driver didn’t say anything.

The sound is what William noticed first. The sound of wheels picking up speed. The sound of the wind at the side of the car rushing by faster and faster.

Soon, the dashes on the road looked like one continuous line with only the slightest breaks between them. The engine was screaming.

William clenched his teeth. He felt his heart racing, his stomach sinking, and his chest holding the pressure of an elephant that he couldn’t tell was trying to push its way in or out.

“Hey,” William said as though he had something resembling control of the situation, or that he wasn’t on the verge of a heart attack, “little fast, yeah?”

The driver said nothing and the sound became worse.

It became this long, slow whine like where the wind is pushing into a small pinhole. It was a screaming sound like someone plummeting to their death but the volume was low, or else all the lows and mids were cut out so only the highest frequency poured in like a mosquito with a megaphone by his eardrum.

“Hey,” William said again. “Hey!”

“We’re here,” a voice answered back. A voice that seemed too familiar.

William looked to his left and saw the side of a face. The skin seemed too pale, the features somehow off like he was a caricature that was drawn and given life like a fucked up Frosty the snowman.

William swore he could feel his heart stop.

Mike looked over him. His skin seemed to sag. His eyes seemed too large, the sockets looked limp like they were made of clay that was too wet. His mouth was slack and the cheeks drooped. “One fucking job, Willy,” he said with a sick, dead expression, “but we’re here now.”

William wanted to scream but his voice wouldn’t obey.

He couldn’t hear the car anymore. All he could hear now was the blood rushing past his ears and the sound of his heart pounding like it was made of nothing but angry fists.

Mike leaned over, his motion odd like his body was being moved around by strings and pulleys. His face twisted as he smiled. The lips moved and warped like some invisible set of fingers was pushing and pulling to make his face work like some infantile recreation of what a human face would do when trying to smile.

“We’re here, Willy,” he said as the smile grew wider and his body leaned more and leaned closer. “We’re here.”

“Hey!” the voice said, “We’re here.”

William looked around and saw the lights of The Saturn Inn before him and the face of the driver looking back at him. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “much as I’d like to keep the meter running to let you sleep, I’d rather get home.”

“Right,” William said trying to calm his nerves and slow his heart from the seven or eight thousand beats-per-minute it was running at, down where it was just near cardiac arrest. “Yeah, shit, I musta dozed off.”

“No shit you did,” the driver said. “Not that I mind. Easy money.”

William opened his eyes wide and blinked a few more times to reorient himself and then got out of the car. He paid the driver in cash and watched him drive away.

The parking lot was mostly empty. Two other cars, each was parked in front of a door along a line of identical doors. The lobby had bright light pouring from a small window that showed him almost nothing of the interior.

Beyond that, there was little else to see. Past the road where the inn was situated were dense trees and it was far too dark for him to see how far they went in any direction.

Inside was a small, but bright room with one of those long desks that’s attached directly to the wall, shaped like an L. Behind it was a chair and a computer monitor that the 1980s meant to come collect.

Behind the desk was a closed door.

He decided to pace around the small interior for a second, his journey ending quickly enough when he turned to the wall across from the desk and saw a painting of what looked like a mostly empty field at dusk. In the distance, it looked like a small house, or maybe a barn. The features seemed strange like the perspective was off. Like the person who drew it couldn’t figure out how close they were when they were putting it on the canvas. The shadows were inconsistent. It looked like there was something by the side of the building and he squinted like people do when they think that squinting will help make sense of what they’re seeing.

“Now I thought I heard someone come in,” a woman said, pulling William from his thoughts.

“Yeah,” he said. “Just a second ago. Was just admiring the art.” He turned to look at her. She was an older woman. Older than he was, anyway. She had that look like you’d expect from someone who could tell you about ten years ago down at the ranch when the horses got out during the storm or about how to make a great pitcher of sweet tea. “You paint this?”

“That?” she said, her face crinkled up. “Been there since before me. Friend of my grandpa painted it forever and a day ago.”

“Huh,” William shrugged.

“So how long you lookin’ to stay?”

“Not sure, really. Kinda playing it by ear at the moment.”

“Well, it’s fifty-two dollars for the night. If you want to go for a whole week, it’s three twenty-five.”

“Let’s say a week, and we can go from there.”

“Alright,” she said as she sat down at her computer that William suspected might just be a typewriter with a fancy case around it, “let’s get you into the system. If I can get a name from ya.”

“William Rowe,” he said, spelling out his last name.

As she sat down, he was able to see the room behind her which had previously been blocked – first by the door and then by her standing in front of it.

He saw another painting, a rather large one. In it, it looked like some strange figure drawn like the artist was in a hurry, like a brush being moved by fear and a very questionable understanding of how the human body should look. It was a man, tall and lanky. His arms seemed too long for his body and he was wearing nothing but seemed discolored by random smudges. His eyes were wide like they were made with blank thumbprints that were twisted back and forth.  There was no nudity, however, as he was hunched over slightly, his distended hands clutching a body and from his mouth hung splatters and lines of red and black from where he had bitten the head off of the form he was holding and between the torso and the missing head were ropes of what once connected the two.

William just stared at it.

“Now that’s, oh,” the woman said, “bit strange that one. Some people find it unsettling, so I don’t keep it on display.”

“The fuck is it?”

He could feel her purse her lips at him for using profanity. “That’s Cronus. Father of the gods or some such nonsense. Ate his kids or something. You know how Greeks were – gay sex and bathhouses and apparently eating babies.”

“Uh-huh…” William muttered.

“My brother painted it back when he was young and in college. Said that Romans called that same guy Saturn, so, you know, Saturn – Saturn Inn. I dunno. My brother was like that. Didn’t have the heart to tell him I didn’t want it when he was alive, and now, well, just seems wrong to get rid of it.”

“Uh-huh…” William said again, finally pulling his eyes from the painting.

“Anyway,” she said, “that’s gonna be three twenty-five, and oh,” she shook her head, “where are my manners? Name is Dira Root.” She put a key on the desk, not one of those card keys you see at most places nowadays, but an actual, metal key. “I don’t keep a big staff, so if you have any problems, you’ll have to wait till I’m in the office. Normally get here at about six though.”

“Thanks,” William said giving one more awkward glance at the painting in the room beyond.

“Room 106. Out the door and just follow it down, you can’t miss it.”


Part 5

Várathro – Pt.3

Previously: Part 1, Part 2


He sat with a white-knuckle grip on the arms of his economy-class seat with the sounds of so many others playing like a wall of static around him as the plane soared through the air. It would have given him a wonderful view of the square patches of farms and grid designs of cities below had he not been in the middle seat. To his left, by the aisle, was a large man, who was easily two days in need of a good shave and shower, who seemed content to put a sleep mask on and sleep – or else pretend to sleep – through the duration of the flight. To his right, by the window, was an older man with dark skin and salt and pepper hair and the look of someone who finds flying about as magnificent as drinking warm water.

“First time flying?” the man asked.

“What?” William said, his lips moving before his brain had actually processed the words. “Oh, uh,” he stammered, “no. I mean…I haven’t flown a lot, but no, not my first time.”

“You seem tense,” the man said, looking down at William’s death-grip on the arms of the chair.

“Oh,” William said and then relaxed his grip a bit, “just nervous I guess. Not about the flight, just…” he trailed off, not knowing exactly how to explain things without explaining things.

“Cairo,” the man seemed to say, though he said it with a sharp ‘a’, like in the word ‘hay’.

“I, uh,” William said confused, as he looked at the man and then around the plane as if by doing so he would gain some better understanding of things. “Uh, Port Wane…or, no,” he corrected himself, “Cape Wane.”

“Apologies,” the man said with a smile, “I mean to say that this is my name. Kayro. Admittedly, I’m used to the confusion. I find it amuses me, to be honest.”

“Ah,” William said. “William.

“So, what awaits you in Cape Wane?”

“Haven’t the foggiest. You?”

“Family,” Kayro replied. “I must say, it is odd for a man to travel to a place without knowing why, yes?”

“Uh…” William said. His mouth opened briefly and then closed. And then again. And then again. Feeling very much like a fish, he let out a heavy sigh. “You ever feel like the universe if just fucking with you?”

Kayro let out a chuckle. “I believe that life is a series of many tests. Some self-inflicted. Some…less so. But I suppose that, yes, the universe is, in a way, always ‘fucking with us’ as you say.”

William was certainly having a harder and harder time believing it was otherwise.

From the strange occurrence at the bar, to finding a plane ticket when he was looking for an exit route, to be able to slip through the strange process of having the ticket transferred from one Zachary Harold Schwartz to himself.

He’d been running through the details in his head all day Wednesday and during the early hours of the morning as he acquired a ride to the airport so as to keep his escape as well-concealed as possible. His internet search history was left mostly intact. He paid for his ride in cash and met it in front of a grocery store that he’d walked to so he could discard his phone in one of the trash cans that sat before the main entrance.

Even still, he’d been on edge the whole time he was at the airport. He kept waiting for security to stop and ask him something or for some airline worker to call his ticket or passport into question.

It was times like that that he remembered that being a criminal didn’t not make one inexplicably better at crime in general. This just wasn’t his wheelhouse – not even close. Truth be told, most things weren’t.

“Still,” Kayro said, “a strange destination all the same.”

“Is it?”

Kayro shrugged. “Seems so, at least to me. Rare moment to hear someone tell me that they mean to travel to Blackout Island.”

“Yeah,” William said, head nodding like someone who clearly doesn’t understand.

“That’s what people call it,” Kayro said, sensing the confusion, “or used to call it, anyway.”

“Site of some massive power disruption in the fifties or something?”

“Not exactly,” Kayro replied with a smirk, “or at all. You know how places are, they hold a moment of their past and then carry it with them. They carry it so long that sometimes the past ends up carrying the place.”

“Uh huh…” William offered. He looked around the plane briefly, “Seems like a pretty full plane for a place that not many people go.”

“Ah, much like Bunol, Spain for Tomatina, I suppose.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what that is.”

Kayro chuckled a bit. He had one of those smiles like a friendly dentist. “Small place in Spain, and on the last Wednesday in August, they celebrate Tomatina which is, well…” he paused, apparently trying to find the words or else how to say them, “it’s like a city-wide food fight. People throw tomatoes at one another.”

“That sounds fucking terrible.”

Kayro shrugged. “Not for everyone, surely, but people travel there for it and do so in greater numbers than one might suspect.”

William offered one of those pursed lips looks that said, “Well…okay then…” without actually using any words.

“So, what do you do for work?” Kayro asked, “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“No, I uh…” William squinted, his head moving back and forth a bit in thought. “I uh…I’m like a uh…like a proxy, I think you might call it.”

“A proxy?”

“Yeah, so like…” he mulled over how to explain it honestly and yet vaguely. “My boss needs someone to be somewhere that he can’t be because he’s got other things he’s doing, so sometimes I go instead.”

“Ah, so you represent him. Like a lawyer.”

“Uh…no. I mean, kind of. But mostly no. I uh…” he pursed his lips. “Like an assistant to a lawyer, maybe. Paralegal, maybe. Like…I get a…” he caught himself before he said the word ‘package’, “a file or something. Sometimes a little uh…maybe…like…a folio, and I get it where it needs to go. If there are questions, then I usually have a little bit of information like, I’ll be told, ‘If they ask about this, let them know that,” but usually I just make sure the uh…the information gets where it needs to go and then, maybe I get some, uh…you know…like, more files or something from whoever I’m meeting with and I turn those over to my boss, or his assistant.”

And, for the most part, that really was what William did. You could swap out the words for what he was taking where, who he was picking things up from or giving them to, but, at the end of the day, that’s what it amounted to. Go here and get this and tell Mike when it’s ready for him to pick up, or go here and get this and then take it over to there and then pick up this other thing and then tell Mike when it’s ready for him to pick up.

It was easy in that weird, skin-crawling, dubious, I-know-this-is-sketch-as-fuck kind of way, and even had he thought that the phrase, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” would have left him with breath in his lungs, he knew in his heart he would never try to stop. Not because it gave him that spike of adrenaline or because the money was just too good to turn down – which it certainly was – but because there was some fucked up part of him that desperately wanted to put his hand into the darkness and see how far it went before he regretted it.

Admittedly, he always assumed that the “regretting it” part of the equation would come in a different form, but that’s the way shit works when you play Russian roulette for long enough. You get so used to feeling like you know the weight of the gun, the sound of the cylinder as it rotates – you get cocky. You know the bullet is one to the left or one to the right. You’re a magician playing the bullet catch. And then one day, your ears trick you. One day, someone slips a fucking bullet in the barrel after you palmed the real deal. One day, the gun fires and the chamber isn’t empty anymore.

“Sounds almost like a paralegal,” Kayro said. “My sister used to be a paralegal. Years ago, now, but that’s what her job sounded like. Go do this, go do that. All the leg-work for the guy with the big desk.”

“I mean…yeah…” William nodded, “not far off, for sure.”

“So what’s she do now?” William asked in an attempt to talk about literally anything other than himself.

“Now? Nothing, actually. That’s why I’m heading to Cape Wane.”

William nodded slowly in mock understanding, his head tilting slowly like a dog that was either confused or suffering from tinnitus.

“Funeral,” Kayro clarified.

“Oh,” William said with widening eyes. “Oh, shit, I mean…sorry. I mean, I’m sorry. You know, for your loss and…I should stop talking.”

Kayro smiled a bit, “It’s fine. Never easy to know what to say, you know? But no, we weren’t close. Not really. Not to say that it’s not still a terrible thing. Death is a terrible thing most of the time for most of the people.”

“It is…” William offered awkwardly.

“Do you have a place to stay when you get there?”

“I uh…” William found his mind scrambling, fearful that this random man was about to offer to let him stay at his family’s house or something, but he knew exactly two things about Cape Wane – one, he was heading there, and two, he didn’t know shit about Cape Wane. “I mean, you know, like…probably a hotel or something.”

“Well,” Kayro said as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a wallet, “I won’t lie and say it’s right near where we’re landing, in fact, it’s actually a bit out of the way, but there’s a place called The Saturn Inn. Owner is a friend of the family, so, naturally, I’m obligated to recommend it to anyone heading that way.”

“Oh,” William said as he took the card. It was mostly plain, the front was glossy with the image of sunset and palm trees and bold black letters that said ‘The Saturn Inn’ with a little line below it proclaiming, ‘Make sure your stay is out of this world!’ “Thanks,” William offered as he slipped the card in his pocket.

“And now, I feel as though I should get a small nap before we land,” Kayro said as he took his own sleep mask and slipped it on.

William wished he could have slept but it felt like there were hornets waging war in his stomach.

When the plane landed, he was still awake and Kayro only barely began to move when the voice came over the intercom letting everyone know that they would soon be exiting.

Even so far from his home, feeling like he’d done the best he could to disappear without a trace, he found himself looking about for familiar faces as he exited. He continued to do so as he entered the small terminal and he felt his stomach clench every time he saw a head or haircut that reminded him of Mike.

With what little he’d packed, he found himself inside a taxi.

“Where to?” the man up front asked in an accent that William couldn’t quite place.

“You know The Saturn Inn?”

“Nope,” the man said.

William fished out the card and rattled off the address.

“There’s closer places, you know…” the cabbie said without even looking back.

“Not worried about the fare,” William said.

“Your money,” the driver replied.


Part 4

Várathro – Pt.2

Previously: Part 1


Everyone was off in little clusters while the lights of an ambulance, several cop cars, and – for reasons that William couldn’t quite sort out – a fire truck cascaded the area with their own technicolor light show of national hues. Men and women in uniforms were asking questions, writing things down on note pads, stopping occasionally to talk into their coms and get half-cryptic messages back from some disembodied entity that was likely sitting in an office somewhere drinking burnt coffee.

“So, no one had ever seen him before,” the officer asked.

“No clue,” William answered impassively while he shrugged and readjusted the shock blanket they gave him as a consolation prize for sacrificing his shirt. “I mean, I know I’d never seen him.”

“You come to this bar often?”

“Not particularly.”

“So, you a doctor or nurse or something?”

“Nah,” William said with a small yawn, “seen a lot of episodes of that show House, though.”

The officer gave him a hard look – the corner of his mouth tightening. “That man is probably going to die tonight.”

“Yeah, I kinda got that.”

The officer sighed. “You know if he happened to have anything else on him? Identification? Wallet? Maybe a watch or something that might have his name on it?”

“Not that I remember. Like I said before, came in in a panic, holding his stomach. Started rambling. Grabbed me by my shirt and said something about how ‘you can’t see it’ or something like that and then he dropped. I sat there and waited for you guys to show up.”

“Right,” the officer said as he wrote some more notes. “Well, Mister Rowe,” the officer fished out a card and handed it over, “here’s the number for the station if you can remember anything else.”

“Right.”

“You got a ride home?”

“Walked. Only had two drinks.”

“Walk safe then.” The officer clicked his pen too many times to pull the roller back inside of it and secured it on his notepad and walked into the curtain of flashing lights. Others were still recounting the night’s events. Some of them would probably be bringing this story up for years – some anecdotal highlight of that one night where life went sideways and they saw madness crashing through their world. They’d spin the details a little bit. They always do.

William walked away from the bar and around a corner to where he’d parked his car, got in, rolled his head around like he was getting an imaginary kink out of his neck, and then headed home.

Before the multi-story wonderland that was his upper-middle-class apartment complex, he parked his car and took a few deep breaths.

Is the universe just fucking with me, or something?

He half-expected a bird to come crashing into his windshield and die on impact in answer to his question. A nice, resounding, “Why, yes, William. I am.”

He pocketed his keys and walked inside, forgoing the elevator that always seemed to be the slower method of travel, and heading up the stairs to luxurious apartment 2B. He felt the small touch of anxiety pinch his stomach as he pulled out his keys and unlocked the deadbolt, then the knob, and then he swung the door inward.

Inside, he tossed his shock blanket to the side and grabbed a fresh shirt, got a glass of water and pulled the wallet out of his side pocket.

“Zachary Harold Schwartz. Age forty-three. 920 Ballentine.” He flipped the man’s I.D. around. “Huh. Organ donor. Irony.”

The remaining contents were largely underwhelming. A punch card for a coffee place, only one punch away from a free cup; thirty-seven dollars in cash; an American Express credit card; insurance card; and a plane ticket to someplace called Cape Wane.

William pocketed the important stuff, put some others in the drawer in his kitchen where he kept flashlight batteries, tape, and all the odd screws and wooden pegs that remained whenever he assembled the occasional desk or side table.

When the knock came, his stomach tightened.

He didn’t need to look out the peephole, but he did it anyway. Some part of his mind wanted to believe that maybe it was Mrs. Jenkins from down the hall asking if he’d seed those suspicious people outside the building, or maybe a delivery person who had such severe dyslexia that they somehow ended up at his door.

Instead, he saw Mike standing out there with his face pushed forward like, if he tried hard enough, he would be able to see through the opposite side of the lens.

With a sigh of resignation, William opened the door.

“Well hey, Willy,” he said, “you mind if I come in? You don’t mind, right?”

William did, in fact, mind, but he also knew it wasn’t really a question just as much as he knew that Mike was aware of how much it bothered William to be called Willy.

He walked into the room while William was offering the words, “No, course not,” to the empty space where Mike had previously been – words offered with all the sincerity of a stripper telling the drunk man with the fat billfold that she was also a big fan of stamp collecting.

Mike sat down with the grace of a fat dog on William’s love seat and looked around in that weird way he always did – like he was expecting to see something that was supposed to be there but never was.

“Shit, Willy, sorry to swing by so late. You don’t mind, right?”

William, in fact, did mind.

“No,” he lied, “no bigs.”

“See, thing is, I called you earlier today and you didn’t answer. I was like, ‘hey, guy’s busy,’ ya know? So, not like I was worried or anything. But then I called again. What was it like,” Mike looked down at his watch as though knowing the current time was actually part of the information he was grasping for, “six or so? Seven? So I’m like, ‘Well, that’s weird,’ right? I mean, for a second there I’m thinking that maybe you’re dodging me or something.” As he said it, he even moved like he was a boxer bobbing and weaving to avoid phantom jabs.

“Now, Mr. Arnold,” Mike continued, “he starts thinking that maybe something’s goin’ on. Like, you’re not being straight with us. But I tell him, “Look, Willy’s a good guy. He’s gonna come through.’ I mean, you’re gonna come through, right, Willy?”

“Yeah,” William said hesitantly. “I mean…look, I always come through.”

“And see, that’s what I was tryin’ to tell him. I mean, I kind of puttin’ my own neck out there when I tell Mr. Arnold that he can trust you. I’m tryin’ to look out for you, Willy. You know that, right?”

“Yeah,” William said, “I know you are, Mike.”

“I mean,” Mike looked around the room again, “you don’t have it already, do you? Because, man, that would be fuckin’ great if you had it. Then I’m happy. Mr. Arnold, he’s happy. Everyone’s happy. And when everyone’s happy, you know what that means?”

“I…uh…” William stammered, “that…everyone’s…happy?”

“It means that I don’t have to come over here and break your fucking arm.”

William felt what he assumed was the equivalent of a black hole opening up in his stomach and then turning itself inside out. He swallowed hard and tried his best to not look like he was holding back the need to vomit.

Mike stood up and walked over to William and put his hand on his shoulder. “Jesus, Willy. I’m fuckin’ with you. Lighten’ the fuck up, huh?”

William gave him a half-hearted chuckle that might have sounded like a man who was now terrified for his own personal well-being.

“But anywho,” Mike continued, “just seemed weird is all. I call, you don’t answer. I call again…” he moved his head back and forth as he spoke…”no answer again.”

“Mike…”

“If you’re about to tell me some great sob story you might want to make sure it’s something that’s either incredibly true or incredibly entertaining.”

“You know Ports?” William asked.

“Bar over there on uh…what the fuck is that? Winthorpe?”

“Yeah,” William said, “I stopped in for a second and some guy barrels in, blood pouring from his stomach like a fucking grenade went off in his stomach.”

“So he steal your fuckin’ phone or somethin?”

“What? No, just, bar went nuts. I was there for like two hours afterward talking to cops and paramedics about this guy I’d never even seen before. They finally tell me to fuck off, so I fuck off. Nerves still a bit on edge, I mean, this guy was out there, and just…Jesus, man, just a pool of fucking blood. So I got in my car and came here. Changed and you showed up.”

“Traumatic circumstances,” Mike said flatly.

“Look, shit’s gonna be on the news or in the paper if you don’t believe me.”

“I say I don’t believe you?”

“No, I just…I just mean. Look, shit just got weird tonight and I just lost my focus. Simple as that. You know I’m not exactly a blood and guts and guns guy.”

“No you’re not,” Mike said matter-of-factly.

He stood there for a while, quietly – his eyes fixed on William’s.

“Hey,” he said suddenly, causing William to jump slightly, “I call, you answer. And if you can’t answer, you call back. And you call back soonish, yeah?”

“Yeah,” William said sheepishly. “I know. Yeah. Absolutely.”

“Good,” Mike said as he patted William on the shoulder a few times. “I’m glad that’s sorted out. Glad there’s nothing to be worried about. I can go back and tell Mr. Arnold that Willy is as good as gold and that this Friday, when I come back here, Willy’s gonna have what he’s supposed to have because Willy comes through, right?”

“Yeah,” William nodded, struggling to maintain any semblance of eye contact.

“Good,” Mike said with a smile that was just as fake as it was threatening. “That’s all I wanted to hear. And now I’ve heard it.”

“Sorry, again,” William lied.

“Hey,” Mike spread his arms out as though he was really taking it all in stride, “no bigs, right? Misunderstanding. Probably the only time it’ll ever happen. You have a good night, okay?”

“Yeah, for sure. And, you too, Mike.”

Mike got to the door and opened it, stopped and turned around briefly. “Friday, Willy. Friday.”

And with that, he left and closed the door behind him.

William went to the kitchen and poured a small glass of whiskey and drank it down in one gulp. The fire in his throat was nothing compared to the pit in his stomach and the anxiety swelling in his chest. He poured another and drank it just as fast.

“Fuck,” he whispered to himself. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.”

He took a big breath and another.

“Okay,” he said to himself, “okay, okay, okay.” He sat down and then stood back up. Paced around for a second and sat back down. His heart felt like it was filled with hummingbirds.

He went into his bedroom and reached into his pocket and looked at the plane ticket.

Cape Wane.

Good a place as any.


Part 3

Várathro – Pt.1

He sat quietly at the bar with his drink. The kind of quiet that generally dissuaded others from trying to sit down in some feeble attempt to strike up a conversation, drunk or otherwise. He glanced around the room occasionally. Passively. Took note of the group of friends over in the corner as they got a bit louder with each new round of drinks. He caught those momentary glances between two of them. He wondered if their significant others noticed.

There was an old man down at the end of the bar, two women not far from him. A group of three men who looked like they just got off from a hard day’s work drank cheap beer while a man and wife sat at another table with their eyes making gentle love to their own cell phones.

“Still good with that one?” the bartender asked in a voice loud enough to be heard over the combined din of the patrons and the sound of the overhead television that had a baseball game on. He couldn’t have told you if it was live or not.

“Yeah,” he replied, “least for now.”

“Never seen you here before.”

“Never been.”

“Place is like ninety percent regulars, is all.”

“Here’s to being in the bottom ten percent,” he said with a slight raise of his glass.

She went away to check on the others with a smirk on her face while two servers moved through the room with trays and those short aprons that were the equivalent of a utility belt.

He looked up at the screen to see it move away from the dull action centered on men hitting things with sticks to see a shift to a news report. Rain in the forecast. Politicians apparently still hated each other. A small smattering of life reminding him that it was the same as it was yesterday, and would probably be the same tomorrow as well. In local news, there’d been a murder. Apparently, some woman had had it with her husband. Standard fare until they got to the part about how they found her covered in his blood; his intestines had been pulled out and she had ’em wrapped around her like some kind of macabre take on Lovecraftian jewelry.

After you hear about people getting high on bath salts and PCP and then eating someone’s face, none of it really feels out of the ordinary anymore.

He finished the last of his drink and set his glass down, the two little ice cubes in the bottom doing that sad dance they do when they can no longer swim.

“Call or fold,” the bartender said as she passed him by.

“Isn’t raise also an option?”

“You going for something stronger than whiskey?”

“Nah,” he said, “I’ll…”

It was like what you see in a movie or TV show. The door slammed opened, cutting his words off like a guillotine for sentences. The entire bar stopped. Everyone reduced to their default state of deers on a road full of headlights.

The man was talking, but his words just seemed like loud noise. The sudden shift of it, the immediate shock seemed to turn whatever he was trying to say into something more akin to when the parents talked in the Peanuts.

The man was clutching his stomach, conjuring an immediate moment of thought back to that story on the news from earlier. Granted, there didn’t seem to be any long sections of the man’s insides anywhere on the outside.

Reality finally snapped into place and the deers reverted back into the domestic creatures we’ve all begrudgingly become and suddenly one of the men, in blatant disregard for his piss water beer, leapt up and tried to help.

Like all good people who are actually terrible, guilt drove others to stand to the occasion as well. A small crowd trying to guide the man forward. The bartender was already on the phone calling 911.

“It hurts! Fuck, it hurts…” the man was saying in gasps.

“Anybody a fucking doctor or something?” one of the men shouted.

With a sigh of resignation and a glance at the drink that would never be, he stood up and moved near the action. “Not a doctor, exactly, but…”

“Well, fuckin’ do something!” a voice shouted before he could finish his sentence.

He didn’t bother rolling up his sleeves, and he knew there were only two things he could do for the man: jack and shit – but proclamations of that sort go over about as well as a wolves in a nursery, so he set his mind to simply go through the requisite motions.

The injured man started babbling. It wasn’t that he was using real words but they were so distorted from pain as to be incomprehensible, he was literally babbling. Just noise. Sounds. Strings of consonants and vowels like some novice programmer trying to make a random word engine without any understanding of how words are normally formed. And then he jolted. His limbs flailed. Two of the men nearby got knocked backward, hit a table that tipped over, spilling drinks and breaking glass.

“You can’t see it,” the injured man suddenly said as he tried to worm his way away from the people near him. “You can’t see it! It’s the way it looks at you! It’s the way…the way…” and as he moved away from the other patrons, his hands moved away from his stomach. The wound was like what you might expect to see from the exit wound of a shotgun – ragged and mangled and with his skin and the meat beneath curling outward like some grotesque flower. Blood poured from the wound like a waterfall.

One of the men backed away and began to vomit.

The injured man lurched forward, his hand, slick with blood, slid across the bar and he grabbed the one nearest to him. Eyes wide and wild. His breath was sour, and as his lips parted it left strings of thick, red saliva mixed with blood.

“You can’t…” he said in a hoarse whisper. “You can’t see it.”

His body relaxed after that as he fell to the floor unconscious.

Resuming his role as the makeshift medik, he first glanced down at where the man’s hands had held his shirt and sighed – he hadn’t had that shirt long enough for it to meet such an ignoble end.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” someone nearby said.

“Where the fuck is the ambulance?!” another yelled.

The room broke into a commotion that seemed more intense than the one that initiated the entire scenario.

Meanwhile, putting his tarnished shirt from his mind, he knelt down to inspect the man, or at least pretend there was something to inspect or something that could be done.

“Someone get an old shirt or something to put on the wound,” he said first. “Someone else, help me roll him over.” He knew full well that no one was likely going to raise a hand to assist.

“The fuck for?” someone asked instead.

“Because I need to see if this is an exit wound. If it is, then he was shot.’

“And if it isn’t?”

“Then he wasn’t.”

“The fuck…” the voice started to say.

“Look, either help or shut the fuck up. This guy is bleeding out. You wanna help? Help.”

A man came by, it was the husband – he wouldn’t have guessed he’d be the type and it was rare for him to read people so wrong.

“Okay,” the husband said, “so…like…how do we do this?”

“Just put your hands near his waist, I’m gonna hold near his shoulder, and we’re going to…very carefully…roll him over.”

“Here,” the bartender said as she offered out a towel from behind the bar.

“No good, we need a shirt or something similar. Nothing absorbent.”

“Nothing absorbent?”

“It’ll just pull the blood out. We’re trying to slow the bleeding, not pull it out faster.”

“I mean, I can see what else…”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He took his hand off the man’s shoulder and took off his own shirt and put it on the wound. He looked at the husband who was already looking far too green for his own good. “Hold this on his stomach.”

“I thought we were gonna…”

“You have two hands. One on the shirt, one on his hip.”

“Ok. Yeah. Yeah…okay…okay…”

“Now on the count of three. One…two…”

On three, they both moved the man over.

No wound on his back. He didn’t imagine there was gonna be one, but he also didn’t really give a shit if there was.

The weight suddenly shifted as the husband let go and backed away.

“Fuck…fuck…I’m gonna…” and the husband scurried up and away like he was looking at an appointment for circumcision without anesthesia.

“Fucking seriously?” a woman’s voice said above the din.

One of the ladies from the table of drunk people. Not the one with the eyes of a soon-to-be-cheater, but the other one.

“What else do we need to do?”

“Not much we can do at the moment. Keep him still. Try to control the bleeding.”

“Janet, by the way,” she said while she took hold of the shirt and pressed on the wound.

“William,” he replied.

“What do you think did it?”

“Not a fucking clue,” he replied.

It was the kind of wound that you might see if someone had a small explosive go off inside of them, or maybe if someone had a strong vacuum hose that also had a fucking meat grinder attached to the mouth. Nothing he could think of could logically explain it, and if there was a logical explanation, he wasn’t exactly excited about learning what it was.

Shit like that you can’t unlearn.


Part 2

Directory – Pt. 2

Part 1


“You can keep going with this woo-woo mystical bullshit if you want, but no one’s buying it.”

“Well that’s handy, ‘cuz I ain’t fucking sellin’ it. It’s a fuckin’ fact. Snatch. Guy Ritchie. No?”

“You think this is some kind of game?”

“I do.”

“Yeah, well, it isn’t.”

“Sure it is. You’re just pissed because you’re losing. And you’re losing because you don’t know the rules. And you don’t know the rules because you won’t accept that it’s a game.”

“Yeah, well, looks like we fuckin’ gotcha doesn’t it? Or you just biding your time? Planning your great escape?”

“Says the guard with a wooden baton to Magneto in the plastic prison.”

“Keep it up, tough guy.”

“Notice you’re not wearing your badge. Must have forgotten it, huh?”

“How’s this for a fucking badge?”

“Looks more like a gun. And you look like too big a pussy to use it.”


The rain is a meteor shower. Life is a tidal wave of red and white and green and yellow.

The world is streaks of color that yell out like angry geese with megaphones.

He’s screaming, “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” in his mind while his lips are silent – hands gripping the steering wheel like a gun-lobbyist on Christian morals. He’s frantic. The world a blur. Letters zip by, half-obscured by rain and dark, by the glare of street lamps where the insects of the night flock like Johns to brothels – like prayers to God…like rain to the pavement.

The rotation of blue and red and white like the star-spangled banner is playing in color is like a floating apparition in his world. It’s screaming at him like a harpy that’s being gutted. It’s a cat with a bullhorn in its mouth. It’s the exclamation at the end of the sentence that once said, “Shit always goes sideways. You can’t plan for it. All you can do is adapt.”

He’s thinking back to that night. The night she brought him the list.

“The fuck is this?” he asked.

“You need…” she looked so sad and he didn’t understand why. Maybe he never really did. Maybe he never really would. “There’s a lot that you need to have right and…” she looked away and sighed. She looked so tired but he was the one that felt like he needed a small coma. “Just memorize it, okay? Just…you need to know the words.”

“I don’t even believe in this shit. You know that right?” he said.

“It doesn’t…” she started to say.

“I swear,” he interrupted, “if you say some shit that’s akin to ‘Even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you’ line, I’m gonna vomit. Like…seriously. I’ll fucking vomit.”

She looked so sad. Why did she look like that?

She shoved the paper into his hand and looked up with those doleful eyes. Those eyes that said they’d seen too much and yet never seen half of what they’d wanted. Those eyes that were begging him to do what he needed to do and yet seemed to say, “I’m sorry. I’m so…so…sorry…”

He took it with a shrug and said, “What the fuck ever…”

It rained blood that night.

At least that’s what he saw.

“You’ll do things you never imagined.”

“You’ll do things that you wish you never had to do.”

“You’ll do things that, right now…in this moment…you would say you’d never do. But you’ll find yourself facing them like a broken mirror. You’ll have to choose which shard of glass to use as your truth.”

Letters and numbers flashed by like hieroglyphics in warp speed. He could hear the wail of America’s finest in pursuit while he tried to get his bearings.

He needed time to focus. He needed time to sort things out.

He needed time.

He needed time.

He swerved by a car that was taxi yellow, whether by mistake or by occupation, he couldn’t tell in a world where speed limits were suggestions and repercussions were theories. He saw it with clarity then. He almost grinned as he did.

Metal met with metal. Fiberglass warped and cracked. Glass erupted like a volcano of bad endings in every daydreamer’s worst nightmare.

His head moved forward with the urgency of life running from death and landing squarely in its embrace. His head like a melon as it struck the steering wheel, warping his skull and face like putty wrapped around a stick-figure frame of popsicle sticks.

In his eyes, he saw starlight even as the impact made the passersby suddenly shift backward like a bomb had gone off at their very feet.

He almost laughed at the irony.

Directory pt.1

“The thing you gotta understand is just how…unremarkable he was. You know? Like…he was one of those guys that you could talk to ten times in two years and none of it like…none of it really stuck. You know?”


“So wait,” Jim said. His bottle of beer hovered so close to his lips he probably felt the chill of the glass. The trajectory of a drink put on pause as he set the bottle back down. “You think you guys broke up?”

“Yeah,” Adam said as he took a drink of a rum and coke that had already devoured a single ice cube and was now working its way toward a room temperature consolation prize.

“The fuck does that even mean? I mean…” Jim chuckled and took a drink that seemed intent on making up for the one he’d previously put on pause. Like a print queue after a paper jam has been cleared. “Dude, that’s some shit you should probably know as a definitive yes or no.”

Adam knew the answer in black and white terms the way a person knows when they see a car wrapped around a telephone pole that the person inside is dead. Their head and the steering wheel unceremoniously joined in unholy matrimony. But sometimes people lived through those sort of things. There was always that lingering percent. That trail of zeroes that leads to some seemingly erroneous non-zero digit.

“I think it was a sneak attack,” he finally said. Humor didn’t make it seem less absurd, but it was a lovely bandaid for the moment.

“She dress up in black garb like a ninja and leave a throwing star lodged in the wall with a red tassel and some obscure fortune cookie note or something?”

“Not quite,” Adam said. “That would have been more straightforward.”

Jim took another drink and gave Adam “the look”. Eyebrows seemingly both down and up at the same time. That sort of half-pursed expression that just said, “Dude. Duuude. Duuuuude.”

“So, you remember,” Adam began…

“Hold on, hold on,” Jim said as he flagged down a waitress.

She didn’t wear a name tag – it wasn’t that kind of place. She looked like a Sarah. Sarah? Maybe a Susan.

“Can I get another one, and uh…yeah…a long island for Captain Lonely Heart over here.”

Possibly Sarah or Susan smiled at that. She didn’t ask. That was something.

“Sure thing,” she said. “Both on your ticket?”

“Yup.”

“Alright.”

“Okay,” Jim said as she exited stage left, “so walk me through this. It might literally be the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“So, you remember when I moved?”

Jim sat with a bottle frozen at his lips for a moment – not drinking, but not setting the bottle down. “Not ringing a lot of bells,” he said behind his surgeon’s mask of brown glass.

“I don’t know that I talked about it much. Not like it was a huge deal,” Adam said. “Lease was up, found something else. Whatever.” He paused and finished his room-temperature rum and coke as the waitress returned and set their drinks down.

“Beer,” she said as she placed another bottle in front of Jim, “and a long island iced tea for Captain Lonely Heart,” she said with a bit of a smile. Sticking out of the top was a wedge of pineapple and, from the interior, – like some plastic Lochness monster – was a red straw that was shaped like a heart near the top and then swirled around and up so that you could actually drink out of it.

“Don’t officially get my Captain’s License until Monday,” Adam said jokingly.

“I won’t tell if you don’t,” possibly-Sarah or Susan said with a hint of a smile.

“So,” Adam continued as she exited stage right, “anyway, I moved. Or, I was in the process of moving. Standard stuff. She comes over and she’s helping me go through things.” He paused and took a drink and immediately clenched his teeth as the sweetened turpentine concoction that is a made-too-strong long island iced tea has the potential to be hit his tongue. “Anyway,” he said, trying not to cough, “she’s helping me go through things. I don’t really pay too much attention. Some stuff is going with me, some stuff with her.

“I unpack stuff at the new place. I get things put away. It doesn’t really occur to me that anything is out of sorts. I put her toothbrush there, deodorant, hair stuff. Whatever. But then, she’s not really texting very much, but she’s busy. I’m busy. We’re busy.

“But then I notice it one day. No shoes. No clothes. All the stuff that’s hers is the stuff that you could get at a Target on Tuesday. Like the remainder of a person who stayed at a motel for too long and was living on takeout. It was all random shit.”

“That’s…” Jim began, his word hanging in the air like cigarette smoke might have in the days before it wasn’t okay to smoke inside buildings – bar or not.

“Fucking brilliant,” Adam finished.

“Not exactly where I was gonna go with that,” Jim said with a quizzical look that he punctuated with another drink from his beer.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Adam said. “It’s messed up. It’s cold. But you gotta admit – it’s fucking brilliant. She hit the eject button right in front of me. I literally watched her grab her shit and leave and was like, ‘Makes perfect sense to me.'”

“You think she was cheating on you?”

“Nah,” Adam replied honestly, “not her style.”

“Man, that’s…” Jim started to say. “Actually,” he said suddenly, “You know what? I know…uh…oh it’s…” he pulled his phone out and started to scroll through it.

“Not really looking for a hooker tonight, but…I mean…maybe after this drink…”

“Ha-ha,” Jim said, “I’m looking for… … …Kim. I don’t know her that well,”

“Didn’t think you were that kinda guy,” Adam quipped.

“But she knows her,” Jim said.

“And,” Adam said, “that’s helpful because…?”

“Women talk,” Jim said – clearly he was having a Matlock moment.

“Ok…”

“I wanna see if maybe she said something to Kim,” he said as his fingers tapped out a message.

“Because…?”

“Because…I…” he held his finger up in that ‘uno momento, por favor’ type of way.

Adam waited quietly and took another drink of his long island. Either he was getting drunk enough for it to not feel like he was sipping on diluted napalm, or his initial assessment had been off the mark.

He was betting squarely on the former.

“Huh,” Jim said.

“Has she ruined the moment? Do ladies not, in fact, talk?”

“She says she hasn’t heard from her for a few weeks.”

“I dare say that context is going to be a factor here. Like, are they ‘we talk on holidays’ acquaintance or are they ‘we talk on the phone while we watch the same Netflix episode’ friends?”

“No clue, man,” Jim said. “I mean, she doesn’t sound worried about it.”

Adam shrugged and took another drink.

“Shit’s cold, man,” Jim said.

“Yeah,” Adam said flatly. “Cold, man.”


Part 2

Transistor pt.2

Part 1


A wall of yellow-white stretched out before me while a cacophony of a world gone wild played a symphony of iron drums, on clouds of steel that screamed out thunder made of rusted nails that scraped a blackboard of confusion. All around me was the whirlwind of inevitability – the final sum of things.

I held the picture so hard that I felt my knuckles strain, felt my fingertips driving into one another. Even had I brought it to my face, I don’t know that I would have been able to see it over the glare. I was being swallowed slowly by a miasma of forced circumstance.

I could feel my heart vibrating – pumping like cannon fire. My lungs squeezed and heaved, and I couldn’t tell at times if I were breathing or not. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t matter. Part of me wanted to run from that revelation as sure as I wanted to flee the raging torrent that barreled toward me – unrelenting. Ravenous. Unforgiving.

I almost let a tear form when I realized that I was not so different.


I spent days mulling over what to do. Like the appearance of strange advertisements on the sites I frequent online, I saw connections and told myself they weren’t there.

Unless they are.

I thought about heading back but thought better of it. I wasn’t a private detective, I didn’t need to return the scene of the crime. Even if I did, what would I say? “Hello, I’m…uh…well, actually you don’t know me…and so, yeah. Hey, do you recall about a week ago…”

I’d driven half the distance there on three occasions before I finally realized I didn’t have the stones to do it. I tried to find more information, but news has a strange way of not staying at the forefront of a news cycle when it isn’t big enough…dark enough…violent enough. I found little more than what I’d seen when it’d first been reported.

Boy returned home. He’d been missing for over a year. Person who had him had run a red light, hit a fire hydrant. He’d fled the scene, so the cops went to his house. He’d made it inside and died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Cops found the boy in his basement. I couldn’t imagine what he must have looked like. What came to mine was these big, vacant eyes – a catatonic expression…like a body whose soul was now missing.

Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit happens to bad people, too. Maybe it happens with the same frequency. Maybe we just hear about it in different quantities.

I still had dreams. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, my stomach tightened so hard that it was cramping, my teeth clenched so hard that my jaw ached.

James had been right, to a degree. Things hadn’t been going well. Not after…

Don’t say her name…

I didn’t know enough about drugs to try getting them from somewhere that I shouldn’t have. It was my own fault. Bad shit happens to good people. Sometimes bad shit just happens to people like me…not good…not bad…just…  …just… whatever…

I stayed home most nights after that. I didn’t have the stomach to put up with James. We’d been friends by default for too long, and actual friends almost never. Like that last two drunk people left in a bar that no one goes to anymore. We just kept talking. Maybe it was because we didn’t know who else to talk to. Maybe we just didn’t know how to talk to anyone else. Maybe we’d given up trying.

With a half a fifth of cheap whiskey in my stomach, I’d thought about that night. Half-pissed at myself for being stupid. Half-pissed at myself for being such a pussy. Fully pissed at myself for just being myself. The night turned into a blur of empty glasses and failed attempts to fill in the emptiness with the right song from the right artist or band. As if the right set of words or notes could make it better – a bandaid for a wounded soul.

When I woke up, my head was pounding. My skin felt tight and ill-fitting around my forehead. My right hand was cut but there was too much dried blood to tell where the wound was.

Two ibuprofen and a hot shower later, I put a bandaid on my left eyebrow and put gauze on my hand. I tracked down the part of the wall that I must have punched but couldn’t figure out what I’d hit with my head.

Two days later I got a call from the police department.


Part 3