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?”



“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.


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


“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

Transistor pt.1

I stood there looking forward into what might as well have been the abyss. Some great, cavernous reality that was speeding forward at a rate that felt forever faster. It met me with beams of light that shifted from dimes to nickels to quarters to plates to a wall of yellow-white – a sprawling canvas of termination that was stretching out and away, reading itself for the paint of finality.

All the while, the world trembled and shook. Reality itself in the throes of a great, growing earthquake. The ground went from the slow oscillations of a giant’s hand steadily drumming upon a hollow drum of broken earth and grew in waves into a cauldron of storms that lashed out and through my mind – like a star gone supernova.
I clenched my hands, felt the wince of pain from where knuckles were still bruised, cuts were still fresh. I waited patiently. My other hand held the picture like a man of unwavering faith with a cross while he looked upon the growing visage of demons rising from the charred remains of a now-desolate church.
I waited.

And I thought about how I’d gotten here…

I sat across from James while I picked at scabs while simultaneously worrying about making them bleed. My knuckles were bruised, and I could tell by the looks I was getting that the black eye that I’d previously believed “wouldn’t be that noticeable” was anything but.

“The fuck you get into, man?” he said while he turned his tumbler around on the table as he was wont to do. The glass stuttered along as it turned back and forth – a noise that I always found somewhat grating. I found it even more so now.

In the distance, the TV was on but inaudible over the sound of other patrons.

I looked at it for a minute before looking back. “Got into a fight,” I said with the tone and timbre of a man who says such a thing nonchalantly, knowing I was anything but.

“And?” he said, eyes widening.

“We came here to drink, Jimmy. Can we just do that?” And who the fuck goes by Jimmy at your age? I thought to myself.

“No…I mean…” he shied back a bit, “Yeah…no, man. I’m not trying to pry…”

Yes, the fuck you are…

“I just…You know. I mean…”

“I’m me.”

“I mean, if someone’s fucking with you, man…”


“No. No one’s fucking with me,” I said with little finger quotes. “I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been.” I took a small drink of beer. “Lesson learned.”

James nodded, looked around a bit. “Where at?”

I gave a sigh the size of Texas and said, “Allensville.”

His face said plenty that his mouth didn’t. “Look, man, I know that shit’s been rough since…”

Don’t say her name…

“Well…since…well, you know.”

“It’s fine…”

“I’m just saying, man…”

“I…” I paused, “Wait. Are you saying…”

“Hey,” he said, his hands raise, “no judgment, man. I mean, hey, I know guys who pay for it. But, shit, man, you know. Just like…be careful.”

“You think I went there for a hooker?”

“You went there for not-a-hooker?”

I ran the words through my head. I thought about the truth. I thought about the lie. I thought about the lesser of evils.

“I mean, either that or you put a hood with bat ears on and go fighting crime,” he said with a laugh.

“Yeah, not really my skill set,” I said.

Silence stretched for a moment while the noise of the small bar moved to fill in the gaps.

“Just don’t tell anyone,” I said.

“Hey, no big deal, man,” he replied. “Who the fuck would I tell anyway, right?” he offered with a smile.

Literally anyone you talk to…

Yeah…no big deal, I thought while I picked at the scabs on my hand while trying not to make them start bleeding.

On the TV, I saw the news unfolding. I recognized the face I was seeing, even if I didn’t recognize the story that was circling around it. She’d been standing on a corner not far from where it had happened.

It was one of the only things I remembered clearly. Well…that and how much it hurt.

“How much did it cost you?” James asked playfully.

“More than it should have,” I answered.

Part 2

Aberration – pt. 6

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

I’m looking at a place that I’d rather not be.

It’s one of those moments like a drunk man staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like a drunk man staring at the door to an AA meeting.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

For me, the moment is caught in a freezeframe that would feel like a blink to anyone else. I’m moving past it and around a corner through an alley. I’m up the side of a building and over rooftops. I make speeding bullets look like darts thrown from the hands of a drunk man toward some shitty board in the dark corner of a hole-in-the-wall bar that only sad people visit when the sun goes down.

Inside, my mind is racing – a storm that’s louder than the one at the edge of the city. A storm that’s little more than the sound of a falling pin upon a feather mattress when compared to the one that I represent.

Six days after my meeting with the nameless antagonist and I have answers that make me feel like Neo when he’s sitting across from Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie. I have that feeling like I can fight what’s being leveraged against me while facing the sad reality that I’m stuck looking at a loaded gun resting in my mouth – the only question is will I pull the trigger, or will he?

Their warning shot had been just that. But it was enough to let me know that this wasn’t a bluff. This wasn’t a game. This wasn’t some sad attempt to turn Superman into the Death Star.

Movies give us plots like that.

Movies tell us that there are bad men in the world that, when faced with supreme power, simply want to find a way to tuck it into their holster. Something to do with mommy issues or a small penis or something. I’m not Freud, your guess is as good as mine.

But this isn’t that.

This is a cold reflection of a mirror casting back an image of “You don’t belong here. You haven’t for a while. It’s time for you to go.”

I’m at the highest point in the city and I’m wondering what to do when I feel like I’m more of a villain than I thought I was. Wondering if this is how it works in the mind of evil. A thought process that says “I’m doing this for the right reasons. What I’m doing IS for the greater good.” A thought process that sits diametrically opposed to the virtues of another. And when those forces clash, both are villains.

Both are heroes – if only to themselves.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it means anything. Maybe it never did.

I’m looking out over the city and listening to a storm of vitriol. The sounds of shit humans doing shit things to people who already have enough shit on their plate without having to put up with so much shit.

I’m wondering if I’ve actually made that better.

I’m combing through the things I’ve done. The destruction I’ve caused. I’m trying to figure out how to balance it out.

How do you put numbers to faces? How do you tally the lives lost and lives saved. It’s like shooting bullets at the rain sometimes.

I’m watching a black car pull around the building and park. I’m watching the man get out. I’m wondering about a lot of options, and if any of them are answers, or if they’re just poorly worded questions.

I see him pause and reposition a flower that’s in his front pocket.

Message received asshole. Message received.

I’m barreling through a curtain of rain and leaving behind sounds that, when they strike, will mix with the roar of thunder…not that I care.

I’m looking at windows as they race by, at faces that don’t see and probably never will.

I’m standing at a place I’d rather not be. I’m not even moving. People stop and stare at me. They take in the horror of what I look like…not that I care.

Her birthday is in ten days, not that it really matters.

I can feel the reality of steel in my mouth. I can feel my own trembling fingers on the metaphorical trigger.

I feel like a man with his one year chip staring at a bar, or maybe it’s more like staring at the confession booth in a church.

Maybe the difference is negligible.

I’m realizing that sometimes when you shoot bullets at the rain, the rain is gonna shoot back. I’m terrified of what comes next.

I’m terrified of what will happen if it doesn’t.

Her birthday is in ten days. I don’t want that to matter.

Part 7

Aberration – pt. 5

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

I’m looking at the flowers.

I know you want to know.

Or maybe you don’t.

Everyone loves that moment of exposition. Everyone wants to understand the puzzle pieces. Everyone wants that moment when Neo was told about the Matrix, and no one wants the fucking sequel.

After the reveal, everything else is just a sad old man with a projector screen offering promises he can’t keep.

Tell yourself it’s a Dorian Gray kind of situation. Tell yourself it’s a curse from a warlock. Tell yourself that I was bitten by a radioactive monkey from Sector 9.

Let me ask you, sunshine, does the reason matter that much when you get shit-canned? Does it matter that much when you or a loved one catches a stray bullet that was meant for some nearby asshat, or, even worse, intended for no one because some jerk-wad is stupid, drunk, irresponsible, mentally inept, or some combination of the above?

Maybe it does.

Maybe it doesn’t.

I’m keeping my profile as low as I can which is lower than you’d expect. I feel like Dr. Manhattan hiding in a fucking petting zoo.

The messages stopped coming, and I don’t know why.

The trail of dead bodies is stretching like a newly paved highway in the roadmap of my mind. Rivers of blood are raging beneath those roads with the same fury as the blood in my own veins.

Every blip of a siren, every abnormal shift in the shadows puts me on edge.

I’m not afraid of people coming for me. I know that cops and feds and countless others from the alphabet soup of agencies are trying to get me…now more than ever. I’m not afraid they’ll hurt me. I’m not afraid of what they’ll do to me.

I’m afraid of what I’ll do to them.

I’m afraid of what they’ll do to her.

The coin of reality is flipping in my mind when a man walks by and I see him pull his hand from his pocket to check the time. A card drops from his pocket.

Say what you will about Nemesis Nancy, but the fucker has cloak and dagger down to a science.

I snatch the card and make a retreat. I don’t need to be near civilians when I decide to read what it says. A location. Old and out of the way. A payphone…one of the few remaining in the city.

I’ll cut to the chase. Moriarity wants to meet.

It’s a little building out of the way on Sheridan. Low traffic. Non-descript. No guards, which both surprises me, and doesn’t.

Inside I find him at a table. No fun shadow tricks. No all-white villain suit with a brimmed hat. No cigar. No fat cat in his lap. He looks like someone who should be named Brad and says things like, “Oh, for sure, man…for sure…” with a cocksure smile and an upper-management haircut.

Before I can do much, he pulls up a tablet and angles it toward me so I can see inside the room. I can see the flowers in that old vase that I always thought looked so tacky. I see a small red dot appear and move around the room and then it’s gone.

Message clear. Guns and what-not. No shit…

“I know you already know this, but I find that some people, in the moment, care less about what they know and more about what they feel,” he sounds like a man who spends times making above-board deals in nice rooms with well-lacquered tables.

“So let’s get to it, sunshine…”

“Now see…that,” he says, “that’s an interesting phrase. Makes you come off like some cocky anti-hero type. Like it’s a little quip. A jab.”

“Fuck you.”

“It’s always sloppiness, you know? That’s what gets everyone fucked up in the end. Those loose ends you didn’t tie. Those ones you let get away. You ever seen the movie Heat?”


“Whole thing turns to shit, and why? Because Waingro was a fucking cowboy who couldn’t keep his finger off a trigger? No. Because one idiot says, ‘Hey, cool it, slick.’ Every point from there is mere trajectory.”

“Cool story, Ebert. You gonna give me the ‘ol two thumbs treatment now?”

“What I want,” he says with a little sigh, “is for you to recognize your position and react accordingly.”

“You want Cerberus on a leash.”

“I want Cerberus back in hell where he belongs.”

“So dot that fucking i, Waingro.”

I hear the sound of where a bullet strikes. I feel a tightness in my chest. I feel a sharp pain creeping through my nerves an muscles.

“How hard do you want to make this on yourself?” he asks.

I wish I could tell you I had an answer.

Part 6

Dreamer – pt.7

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

“I see zeros and ones til zeros are done and I hear, oh, I hear, oh, the heroes and nuns disappear in the sun. I circle and circle and circle and circle and where are the words that I wrote?  They hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you, and hurt you with zeroes for sums and a mirror of one that can never reveal what you won’t…”

– Emily Chamberlain. Notes taken 08-02-2041. Third visitation.

The patient remains unstable. Further assessment required for a recommendation. The patient appears to have symptoms of psychological detachment. Root of condition currently unknown. Previous doctor, one Willam Salvatore, unreachable. Previous notes missing.

Personal note: Associated drawings and methods show elements of repetition and might be some mental concept that she has codified. Further analysis required.

He walked casually through the inky streets and their stained glass stars. He breathed in cool air that was like the tundra in his lungs. He could feel the disparity, like a man who drinks too cold water too quickly and now feels that strange freeze within his stomach.

He pulled the world to his view. Pulled forth miles of road that twisted and turned while his feet seemed almost inert. He called himself forward to the old wreckage of lean-tos and hold-fasts where things within the Mire would slink and slumber.

How many of them had become Mist? How many had always been? That line had always blurred for him and blurred rapidly.

He remembered asking once, “If we can enter and leave…can they?”

A lecture later, the question had been answered.

It always stuck with him, though, that he’d never once heard an answer of “no”.

He saw him standing there, amidst the people whose talked and gathered. A perfect scene that one might see in a movie where a crowd has gathered at the front of a theater building. No one saw the Mire as he did. No one felt the Fume the same. He could smell the shift about the man. The other faces looked like well-done oil paintings. His was crisp like a picture from an HD camera.

To the man, he would see a world that matched his own perception. So many did. It was how they failed. It was how they got burned.

He approached the man. No pretense. No foreplay. When their eyes met, he could see the uncertainty. He was trying to process. He recognized reality within rendition too late.

The scene froze, the sound like an old modem trying to connect. The crowd stuck with faces mid-sentence, but the oil texture moved like it was once again wet and running. The man was locked into a strange stance. Layer by layer he shivered and fluttered away as if made of salt in a wind tunnel.

Tyler watched him disappear. Smelled the scent of the surrounding Fume shift and churn. It smelled like burning cinnamon.

When it ended, the man was there amidst the crowd who resumed talking. This time, all the faces were oil.

Somewhere, in the land of Merit, a man would be sitting very still. His pulse little more than an echo. EKGs and whatever else a doctor might do would call him alive.

Tyler knew better.

He slipped away from the scene, noticed the ethereal eyes of trackers in the world around them. Dogs of the same pack, they no longer noticed his scent.

He pulled the world around him. Drew in the long dark alleys and wrapped himself through cold corridors and into old cathedrals. He listened for Echoes and felt the world for traces of the Glare. No one seemed to notice the dead spots in the Mire. Those places where life met lucid and melted together. No one noticed they were, in a way, all the same location in many different places.

He pulled himself through those broken halos. Drew forth the land where crimson waters churned under skies of bruised clouds and an angry black sun.

Tyler didn’t fear much, but he feared the Gallows.

Not far within the perimeter where rain fell like ash and winds wrote their fury in the sky like a whirling breeze within a room of thick smoke, he heard the sound of light coughing.

Behind a strange growth of earth and stone that curled and wrapped up into a mass of geometric boils, he saw him standing there.

“You look like shit, old man,” he said.

“I’ve been worse…”

“You sure about this?”

“Certainty is luxury we rarely get…”

Tyler let out a sigh. “Tell me what comes next…”

Warren stood up and put his hand on Tyler’s shoulder. “Follow my lead…”

This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.

Link for Part 8

Aberration – pt. 4

Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

The world is red and dripping.

Whatever this thing is that you might call my costume looks more like Deadpool’s suit, and I assure you it wasn’t that color sixteen hours ago.

I’m asking myself what Superman would do and I’m realizing that it’s a dumb fucking question.

I’m thinking about the view. I’m thinking about the flowers. I’m thinking about the note that I saw.

I’m thinking about the fact that you’re wondering why I didn’t sweat the messenger. Why I didn’t put my fists into his stomach and wrap my fingers around his spine and yank it like a fucking wishbone.

I’ve seen enough Homles vs. Moriarty to know better.

This isn’t a fucking comic book, Sunshine.

Superman knew that Lex Luther was fucking with him, but he held himself back because he was a fucking cad. He played the same one-note song that all the good guys want to play. The lyrics of “we don’t stoop to their level”.

Words that echo back in bloodshed when assholes don’t get dealt with, so they come back again and again and again.

Take some fucking responsibility.

Not killing an asshole means that the next person he kills is on you just as much as it is him.

So now I’m walking through a hallway with my focus making sure my steps don’t pulverize reality. It’s raining indoors like that scene in Akira where Tetsuo turns a few idiot henchmen into the equivalent of overfilled water balloons.

Much like that scene, I’d done pretty much the same. I just didn’t do it telepathically. I used my hands. I hit so hard that nerves can barely register what just happened. Blood vessels rupture.

Imagine the force of a semi coalesced into the size of a man’s fist and then imagine that speeding toward a human body with the equivalent speed of a B-2 bomber. What’s left is fine liquid mist and drips like thick red molasses that’s been mixed with very fine sand.

I’m tuning out the screaming while I’m trying to figure out how to track this cocksucker down. People are getting over their idiotic “I gotta do what I was told to do” complex. They’re scattering and hiding now. They’re not trying to shoot anymore, and I never understand why they waste time in the first place.

At the end of the hall, I take the door off the hinges with all the delicate grace of a sumo wrestler doing a belly-flop into a pool. It hits someone and I see red-stained clothes smashed against the wall where it comes to a stop.

Some sad sack of a man is in front of me crying and pissing himself.

I feel like shit. I don’t even know this asshole.

Some jackhole, businessman for a company named Rylan Industrial.

I’m not an idiot. My mind knows that it’s a clue to whoever is pulling my strings.

I’m thinking about the guy who came to my home the last time and gave me the name of the target. And yeah, yeah, I followed him. No shit, Sherlock.

Dead end city – population: me.

Nothing but dead drops.

Two days later the messenger dies in a fucking traffic accident. So yeah, now I got that shit on my hands too. Whoever it is isn’t playing fast and loose.

I want to tell Rylan What’s-his-face that, at the very least, I’m gonna make it quick. I’m gonna make it painless.

Problem is…that’s not what I was told to do. I’m the flip-side of the previous henchmen, coming face-to-face with “I gotta do what I was told to do”.

I’ve heard a lot of people scream over the years, but this guy goes for longer than I wish he would’ve. He doesn’t pass out as fast as I was hoping. He keeps screaming. He begs. He promises me money. He says he’ll do anything.

The sound of bones and ligaments ripping and popping reminds me of how it sounds when you pull a drumstick off a turkey that’s still raw. But on a human, it’s louder. It’s worse. It’s bloody as hell.

What would Superman do if Lois was in danger? What if Lois was his yellow sun? What if she was his kryptonite? What if she was all those things at the same time?

I’m listening to this guy gurgle out his last syllables. They’re a slur of blood-soaked vowels.

I feel the phone that I was given start to vibrate. I answer it with blood-slick hands.

“Good job,” the voice says. It’s got some weird filter on it so it sounds like his voice-box fucked a robotic goat.

“Fuck you,” I tell him.

He just laughs.

The line goes dead.

Part 5

Aberration – pt. 3

Previously: Part 1, Part 2

I’m sulking. My disposition not so unlike the place I call my overly-humble abode.

Above, people talk. Newspapers proclaim. Everyone has a fucking opinion. None of them are gentle. None of them are kind.

No one asks the bullet how it feels. It’s just the extension of the gun, which is the extension of the hand, which is the extension of the sick mind that pulled the trigger.

So I’m the mind, arm, hand, gun, trigger, and bullet. I’m the blame in all directions.

I’m the fault line and the earthquake.

I’m thinking about Superman.

He could have ended it all, you know?

How many problems did the world have because of him? More than he ever solved. Villains showed up because of him. He never dealt with them appropriately. They came back. They did worse.

A dog with rabies bites someone, you gotta put it down. Cujo can’t be Mr. Cuddles anymore. No one wants to own that shit, but there it is.

And he could have put all the problems away. He knew the cure – it was kryptonite. He just didn’t have the balls.

I’m finding that I’m not so different.

I think about my own kryptonite. The thing that puts me down. The fucking off-button that I’m too chickenshit to push.

I’m sulking while the world above laments. I’m alive and well while countless others are dead.

I turn the details around in my head until I have a headache. Until it hurts more than I want to admit. I talk out loud – it’s the only conversation I get these days.

The time passes and the sound of water and rats plays for me like the world’s worst radio station. I’m on edge while I wait and wait some more. Wait for the message that I know is coming.

You don’t do this shit for as long as I have without knowing that some Lex Luther archetype is going to put the period at the end of the sentence that he started writing. It began with a capital asshole on building, punctuated it with a weakness that no one but me should have known about…and now…

I wait for the period and hope it’s not an exclamation point.

I hear the feet trudging through the water before I ever see a person. I can hear him breathing. I can tell it’s a he before he gets anywhere near me. I wait for him to do the classic movie villain schtik and stay cloaked in shadow – some shitty villain-of-the-week for some hack-written T.V. show.

He waltzes in, dusting his hands off like he’s just been touching all the things he must have touched to walk his candy ass all the way into my lair.

He doesn’t stop in a shadowed pose. He waltzes right in. Messenger boy of Mr. Mysterious. He’s got some balls on him, or he’s more afraid of the one holding his leash than he is of me.

But I’m not Leonidas. I’m not in the business of killing the messenger.

This isn’t 300, Sunshine.

“I’m sure you can already guess,” the man says.

“How do I know this is even legit?” I say. My knuckles are tense. I can feel the pressure of my entire body flexing. I want to pin this shitbag to the wall with my fists. The back of my mind is telling me that this isn’t some bullshit ploy. It’s telling me this is for real.

I don’t need him to know that.

“Next time you take in the view, pay attention to the flowers,” he says.

Right then, I know it’s for real. He doesn’t need to say anymore. I don’t need him to. I don’t want him to.

My teeth are clenching so hard I could sheer a steel rod with my fucking molars.

I’m not Superman. I don’t know what he would do. He wouldn’t be rattled if someone threatened his kryptonite. It would be like threatening him with a gold star sticker and a pat on the fucking back.

I listen to the man walk out as casually as he walked in.

This is how villains are made.

Villains…and sometimes…something even worse.

Part 4

Dreamer – pt.5

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

“You spend so long adrift in a world where nothing seems material. A landscape of oil paint and charcoal clouds. Those faces you see grinning back are the Cheshire cat. Until they’re not. You only get to make that mistake one…”

He moved slow, features cowered low behind a high collar – spindly body tucked tightly in the cloth of a too-large coat. His coughs came ragged and wet like a man wearing sickness in his veins as thick and heavy as most of the denizens of the Carmine wore booze and prism in their own.

Red light flooded like blood, pumping through the streets and alleys in the distorted rhythm of music that merged and echoed, rattled off the walls like ghosts of eternity doing battle with the threat of good morning.

Vacant eyes peered out with faces upturned to a sky that they probably couldn’t see.

People stood with cigarettes hanging from their mouths, serpents of ash slithering away from their lips before leaping to the ground in a declaration of resignation.

All Warren could see – all he could hear – was the hum that still vibrated in his very heart. Like a touch from a tuning fork had lept into his skin and refused to leave.

He’d left what breadcrumbs he could. He’d tried to thread the needle as smoothly as he could. Even then, the hounds at been at his heels the moment he tried to exit the Drain. The Fume was thin where he’d walked. A world that felt wrongly certain. Strangely whole. A land where water felt wet and winds were more than whispers.

He’d wanted to visit the Vista but the eyes were watching him now. They could smell him. They’d tasted his frequency.

His only other avenue was the Gallows.

Ducking through grimy avenues, he slipped into a house that made others look regal in a land that made carnal delights look divine and refuse looks like respite. Inside was the normal sort that he’d expect to find. Eyes mostly closed to hide pupils that were far too wide. Needles hanging from arms. Pulses were a luxury for most who lingered there. Most would see their own relegated to the past tense, or try their hardest to do so.

Calvin had not been so different. But then, Calvin had been entirely different.

They’d all been different.

Broken things that didn’t understand why their minds were the way they were. Trying to find an escape from some false insanity in a truer version of the same.

Trying to escape the very thing everyone else was trying to run to.

There was a sad irony in both cases.

Warren moved amongst the barely living and the mostly dead to find a place tucked far from where eyes would wander and minds would care. Cradled neatly in the detritus of those that the world silently hoped would snuff out their own candles so they wouldn’t have to watch it happen in the sunlight.

His feet were in the water as he pushed through the Valley and into the Mire. He tried to be quick. Called out to the waters that ran gray. Where the world felt solid in the way a dream does when it’s too much like the waking world. He waited for a moment – his mind like fingers on an erratic pulse. The fly feeling the web for the spider feeling for the fly.

When silence met his nerves he began to walk.

He called out for the waters that rolled black and reflected like blood in the moonlight. Called out for the land where every terror you’ve dreamt of was swimming in the murk like chaos in a pit of tar and ashes. He moved fast as the world changed to meet him. Felt the wind deaden, the Fume press against him like a towel pressed upon his face and soaked in motor oil. He moved with steps that sank into a world that felt of mud and sewage.

He felt the webs tremble. He heard the Tracer like the sound of funeral bell whose tone and timber built while sounding very much like it was playing in reverse.

The pitch of his own frequency railed and rallied at the sound like a little boy being called home by his mother. He felt the knots in his stomach as the feeling of the Glare grew like frostbite in the air.

He knew his steps were damned by either success or failure.

Not even tracers would follow into the Gallows. The land where nightmares rage and terrors toil. Even as he heard the Tracer slip away with a piercing shriek, he was granted his reward: a land where the clouds moved like monsters in the sky, looking with eyes of a million bend and bloated stars. Where all the shadows seeped and slithered and coiled about with a hunger of demons.

This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.

Link for Part 6